Sweet Home Alabama
Chapter 5

Copyright© 2013 by Robert McKay

After a bit Cecelia and I left Daddy to work on the baler, and went into the barn. Darlia would have made her bed up in the loft, having even less acrophobia than I do and my case is mild, and being determined not to let it get in her way. Cecelia went up the wooden ladder like a sailor up the ratlines, but I had to take a breath and move more slowly. I don't freeze when I get 10 feet off the ground, but I do hold on more tightly.

Darlia was in a pair of jeans and a cowboy shirt that she'd chopped the sleeves off of after ripping one of them on a barbed wire fence in Lanfair Valley. It had been mine at the time – I can't remember now why she'd been wearing one of my shirts – and was still just a bit big on her, but not too much. Cecelia's clothes are bigger on her than the shirt was on Darlia – Cecelia deliberately makes her shirts about three sizes too big, insisting that skinny women need to conceal rather than display the fact that they can't cast a shadow. Actually that's my wording, not hers, since she uses words of about 23 syllables whenever possible.

Darlia was standing at the door where in the old days they'd have hoisted hay up with a block and tackle. The barn faces north and south, with the hay door on the south end, so the light rested on the left side of her face while the right side was still in shadow. She heard us – her ears are very good – but didn't turn as we walked across the wooden floor of the loft. "I love it here," she said as we came up behind her.

"Here in Leanna, or here in the loft?" I asked her.


I grinned, that being one of my tricks. "If I had to live in a place where you can swim in the atmosphere, this would be the one I'd choose," I said. "But it's 'cause of family."

"I love the place," Darlia said, "as well as the family. It reminds me of the rez."

I raised my eyebrows at that. "The rez is pine trees and mountains," I told her.

"Yeah, but it's also green and moist and good for farming and fishing."

"Takin' you to Red Hawk that time was a bad idea – now you're a fishin' fiend."

Now she turned to look at me, a grin showing me the white teeth that contrasted with her golden brown skin. "If I'm a fiend, Daddy, you're the father of a fiend and worse than I'll ever be."

"I can remember when you couldn't say 'Albuquerque' right."

"And now I chop logic with the father of fiends?" She laughed, the rasp there as well as in her speaking voice. I love that rough throaty voice of hers that reminds me of Ana Gabriel, a Mexican singer who's also got a distinctly rough voice. "I'm growin' up, Dad. I'm 14 now."

"Not quite yet," I said, and looked at Cecelia, who hadn't said a word so far.

"Yeah, look at Mom," Darlia said, still grinning. "You think she's ever gonna be on your side?"

"Nope – y'all women stick together."

"Yep." Darlia turned back to the door, standing right at the edge, where even my mild phobia wouldn't have let me put my feet. "We stick together, which means you an' Gramp are in trouble."

"Oh, I'll just call Albert over from Dothan."

"And I'll call Aunt Bella." She pronounced the honorific ant, as I'd learned to do growing up, when no one ever said it awnt.

"An' with you sleepin' in the barn this trip, her room'll be free." Daddy and Mama have fixed up the three extra bedrooms for each of their kids – we always sleep in "Cissy's room" on our trips to Leanna, and Darlia had used Bella's room for years. "Should I just surrender now 'fore I get any more behind?"

"Yep," Darlia said. "An' there's Gram, wavin' at us. I think your breakfast is ready." She turned and made for the hole in the floor where the ladder came up.

"I don't eat no breakfast, an' you know it."

With one foot on the ladder, Darlia turned her head to look at me. Her hair was unbraided, combed straight back from her forehead as she always has it, and fell below her waist ... down to the bottom of her bottom, I could see, for aside from occasional trim she's never in her life had a haircut. At that moment she was the second most beautiful woman on earth, and I knew that whoever she married would be a most blessed man.

"You'll eat breakfast an' like it," she said, "no matter what stories you tell yourself." And laughing she scurried down the ladder.

I looked at Cecelia, who just grinned at me before setting her own feet on the ladder, and descending even more nimbly than Darlia had – she doesn't have any phobia at all about heights. I shrugged my shoulders and followed. I know by now that however much fun it may be sparring with my family, I do in fact come off second best. They've got the looks and the wit. I'm just the guy what follows around behind them amazed at how such wonderful people could ever love me.

I've not eaten breakfast since I was a kid, and what I ate that morning wasn't breakfast. It's true that Mama had indeed made waffles, and it's also true that I demolished quite a few of them, but it was just a very early lunch. I'll endure months of torture before I'll eat breakfast.

Cecelia, Darlia, and I helped Mama clean up afterward, and with four of us it was quick work. While we were putting away the last dishes I heard the tractor fire up, and knew that Daddy must have convinced the baler to behave. And sure enough, here he came chugging around the house, the baler jouncing along behind, headed no doubt for Jeremiah Webb's alfalfa field. These days Daddy doesn't need to do anything for money, not with Cecelia's money, and the help that Bella and Albert chip in, but he's proud of the fact that he can still earn a living. And while what he can earn would never cover the maintenance and property taxes on the place, it most certainly could cover food and gas, and the rent or even the mortgage on a place just big enough for him and Mama. He and Mama stay in the big house because they've had enough of shotgun shacks, and because they love the children who made the house possible.

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