Ina Galbreath Remembers
Betty Wilson Beamguard
I was settin’ out here on the front porch early one morning, watching a batch of kittens play. I do that right often, set out here to rock and listen to the birds and look out on these green Tennessee hills. Purtiest place on God’s good earth.
That gal Mandy Lou come walking up the path yonder from her house. Settled in this rocker right here next to me and said, “Miz Ina, will you tell me about Robert running off. I can’t hardly remember him and there’s things I want to know. My pa won’t tell me nothing.”
I reckon it won’t hurt to let it all out now, I told her. You got a right to know, him being your brother and all.
“Yes’m, I need to know what happened.”
That was some thirteen years back, I reckon. Around 1886, I believe it was, when you was just a little bitty thing. I was settin’ right here on this very porch and seen it all. It was me snuck off through the woods to warn him.
Your ma was a good woman. Don’t you never let nobody tell you different. Some held it agin her for marrying a Cherokee, but your pa is a fine and respectable man, hardworking and honest as the day is long. And your pa treated your ma good. Can’t say the same for my man.
Long as Horace lived, I never mentioned it to nobody, for he’d a beat me black and blue if he knowed I warned Robert. But I was settin’ right here shelling butterbeans when your brother come walking up to start work for the day. First thing, Horace told him to go in the dog lot for the ax. That’s where he kept all of his tools, out there in that shed down yonder for his dogs to guard em.
Now I didn’t hear what Robert said to that, mind you, for they’d done set off down the hill, but I knowed he was afeared of them dogs and with good reason. Didn’t nobody go in that lot but Horace. Them big dogs was scared of him, for he was meaner than both of them put together. But didn’t nobody else mess with them.
I seen Robert shake his head and back up a little. That’s when Horace hollered loud enough to be heard plumb over at your house: “You goddamned, yeller-bellied half-breed. When I tell you to do something, I mean do it. Now you get in that lot and get that ax like I told you.”
Robert ducked his head and looked out the top of his eyes all sulky like, but he headed for the gate. He wadn’t but sixteen or so, wiry and dark like your pa, but with your ma’s blue eyes—a nice looking boy. Come to think of it, you favor him a right smart.
But anyhow, he eased on in that lot and when them two cur dogs come at him, growling and showing their big old ugly teeth, he didn’t do nothin’ but reach down in his boot and yank out a hunting knife long as my forearm.
Instead of calling off his dogs, Horace yelled, “Throw that knife down, boy. I’ll kill you if you cut one of my dogs.”
Them dogs started towards him, one on either side, and I thought Robert was a goner for sure. But he kicked down the one come flying through the air on his left about the same time he slit the throat of the one on his right. When the dog he’d kicked come at him agin, he laid it open just like the other one.
Horace come through that gate like the devil on lightning. Grabbed a hold of Robert’s shoulder and spun him around to wallop him. Robert come up with that knife and sliced Horace right across the jaw.
Then he lit out across the lot. Your brother could run like a deer. The land’s on a downhill slant, and he cleared the back fence. Law yes, honey, that boy jumped clean over that fence and kept on gittin’ it. I wish you coulda seen him.
Horace knowed he had no chance of catching him. Didn’t even try. Just hollered and cussed and kicked them dogs around with them limp as dish rags. Finally he come tromping back up the hill. Looked like he was fixing to bust into flames any minute, all red in the face and puffed up like a toad, with dog blood splattered all over his pants and his own blood running down his shirt.
Soon as I seen him heading this way, I set my pan of butterbeans down and run in the house for rags and liniment. Give him whiskey and sewed up that jaw enjoying every stitch I put in it, but I was careful not to let it show. He wadn’t one to be messed with no time, and I sure didn’t want to rile him no more’n he already was.
Soon as I got done, he stomped off and jumped on his mule without even taking them bloody clothes off. He’d done told me what he was fixing to do—hunt up some of his Klan buddies to teach Robert a lesson.
So I took off running down the path yonder, soon as he rode outta sight. Never stopped ‘til I reached your house. I said, Robert, with the Klan on your tail, you better get clean outta here and never show your face in these parts agin. And that’s what he done.
I figure your ma died of a broken heart, losing her firstborn like that, never to see him agin. I know she blamed herself for her children’s troubles on account of marrying a Cherokee, but wadn’t her done the wrong.
Betty Wilson Beamguard grew up in Middle Tennessee and lives near Clover, South Carolina. She writes short stories, humor, and magazine features, and recently published the book How Many Angels Does It Take, the true story of a woman with CP who drives a carriage with her feet.
Betty Wilson Beamguard