Back to the World
by James Shaffer
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Johnnie Rae Piper is born in a tarpaper house outside Amarillo, in the Texas Panhandle, in 1950. His mom raises and home-schools Johnnie while his father, Tom, is off fighting in the Korean War. When Tom comes home, he’s changed: he has drinking and gambling addictions.
In 1969, an unlucky number in the draft lottery sends Johnnie to Vietnam. When he returns home, a year and half later, he finds he has exchanged one set of problems for another. A local loan shark is putting the muscle on Tom, and the criminal organization is widespread. Johnnie tries to help his father, with the aid of three cowgirls: Darlene, Jamie Sue and Kelly Jo. All of them are in for a wild ride.
I landed on this earth on April 24, 1950. “Landed” was the way my mother, Jenny Lee Piper, described it. She laughed every time she told the story. I’d heard it many times.
“It happened right outside Amarillo. Yesiree. Hard to believe, I know, ’cause nothin’ much ever happens inside Amarillo, but that’s the way it was. I was there.
“We was livin’ in what they call a tarpaper house off a flat piece of dirt road in the middle of some fields in the middle of nowhere. We had running water ’cause we had a well, but if the windmill wasn’t turning, we didn’t have much pressure. Electricity didn’t run out as far as we were from town, so we had a gasoline generator that worked half the time. The other half, old kerosene lamps did the trick. I wouldn’t call it hard times, just our times, the times we were livin’ in.
“Tom was already in the Army, and he’d be off fighting the Commies in Korea later, in the summer. He wasn’t around to watch his son gettin’ born. But I was there.
“The local midwife was Helen Pearl. There was no ambulance out where we were. You did for yourself back then. Helen knew what she was doin’ anyway. Hell, she’d delivered lots of babies. It was my first, but I weren’t scared. It sure hurt though. People try to tell you ‘bout the pain, but it don’t do no good. Talkin’s one thing. Doin’s another.
“Anyway, we boiled water and spread out clean sheets on the bed. Helen brought in her supplies of linen cloths and birth utensils. She thought she had everything she needed. I did too when she brought in her bags, rattling and clanging worse than a tinker’s wagon.
“I climbed on the bed when the contraction pain started coming fast and furious. I thought, Let’s get this done. I laid back, pulled up my legs and placed my feet flat on the bed. When I spread my legs open, they looked like butterfly wings. I knew I wasn’t going to fly away anywhere for a while yet, but in the grip of some of them spasms, I wished I could.
“Helen kept watch and timed the contractions. I started working on pushing. This went on for some time until Helen said, ‘I can see the head, Jenny!’
“Damn! ’bout time!” I yelled. The contractions were coming. I couldn’t stop pushing. ‘One more push,’ Helen said. She had her hand under the baby’s head. With my arms spread, I grabbed hold of the spindles in the old headboard up behind me. I got a good grip and bore down for the final push. At the last moment, my feet slipped. I kicked the footboard hard, and it flew away from the foot of the bed. With no support, the foot of the bed thudded right down to the floor.
“Helen toppled off the canted mattress. She hit the floor and banged her head on a leg of the footboard. With the bed at that angle, my first-born child slid right out of my body onto Helen’s white linen cloths. I grabbed his foot so he wouldn’t end up on the floor with Helen.
“When I jerked his leg to pull him up on my tummy, he let out a wail I was sure could be heard all the way to Amarillo. I tell you. That cry stirred Helen, who’d been out cold. She sat up. ‘It’s a boy!’ I laughed, beaming.
“She stood up beside me. ‘You OK, Jenny?’ Helen took her job seriously.
I laughed. ’Twas a smooth landing.’ I laughed again. ‘Lord, Helen! Cut this baby free,’ I cried. ‘He’s landed on earth!’ I just couldn’t stop laughing.”
Copyright © 2015 by James Shaffer