From Coolidge To Kauai

From Coolidge To Kauai

by J. Marc Merrill


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FROM COOLIDGE TO KAUAI takes readers from laughter to tears and unexpected twists, as in this scene:

Suddenly Daddy started clearing the top shelf of the refrigerator, throwing everything onto the floor with a vengeance.

"Stop it!" Momma shouted. "Stop it right now!"

"Shut up!" Daddy roared. "Get out of my sight!"

Standing at the fireplace, Momma reached up, took down Grandpa Burke's shotgun, broke it open and pushed in two shells. "No, Momma!" I yelled as I ripped open the bedroom door, nearly knocking Melinda to the floor. I heard Danny leaping off the bed behind me and crying out, frightened.

Daddy turned when I yelled. Seeing Momma with the shotgun he slammed the refrigerator door shut and then started for the living room. As he rounded the partition I could see her bringing up the double barrels, preparing to fire. I bolted out of the bedroom, running for Daddy, planning on pushing him out of the way.

The shotgun blast never touched him, but it knocked me off my feet, stinging my back and my head and hurling me into the partition. I bounced back, flopping on the floor, my vision quickly fading to total darkness.

An instant later I found myself in a park filled with light. Off to my right was a group of people. I didn't recognize any of them. Then a familiar figure walked past them and came up to me.

"Hi, Grandpa. What are you doing here?"

Grandpa Burke smiled, gave me a hug and then said, "I've come to show you something."

"Am I dead, Grandpa?"

-"Light from the Other Side"

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781477204566
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 05/02/2012
Pages: 330
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.88(d)

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Copyright © 2012 J. Marc
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4772-0454-2

Chapter One


October 1955

First light was still minutes away when Mark stepped out on the second-story landing and let the screen door snap back so that it would have made enough racket to wake even Uncle Malt if Dani hadn't put out her hand to catch it.

Mark slung his new twelve-foot cotton sack over his left shoulder, scrunched his bagged lunch under his left arm, closed the lowest snap on his Levi jacket, and then glanced at Dani through the screen. She was a dim figure standing in a dim hallway just outside their cramped apartment.

"Don't bother to come back," she said.

Mark left the cotton sack slung over his shoulder but grabbed the lunch bag with his right hand.

"Go back to sleep," he said. "You'll feel better."

Out on the dirt road that fronted the apartment building a truck resembling a World War II troop carrier pulled up and stopped. The driver, Carl Durfee, left the engine running while he rolled down his window.

"Get a move on, Tower! We're runnin' late!"

"Yeah yeah, sure sure."

Mark started down the stairs, not hurrying though. He glanced back at the screen door and waved. He received no wave in return. Dani only stared at him in cold silence.

At the bottom of the stairs, Mark put his lunch bag down long enough to close more of the snaps on his jacket.

"Come on!" Durfee growled, banging on his door.

"Anything you say, Carl old buddy."

Crossing the narrow strip of lawn, which was nothing but dried-up weeds and wild grass that in the daylight was a lifeless yellow, Mark began walking like he couldn't bend his knees.

"You're really pushin' it!" Durfee barked.

Mark kept his mouth shut, but gave him a mock-innocent look. When he reached the rear of the truck, he looked in under the torn canvas covering, saw there was only one seat left on the benches that ran around the three sides, shoved his bagged lunch under the end place on his left, wadded up his cotton sack and stowed it next to the bag, and then climbed inside.

He had just sat down on the rough plank when Durfee popped the clutch. The truck lurched forward and Mark was pitched sideways. He grabbed at the canvas to keep from falling out. The other pickers on the truck laughed.

The truck rattled down the washboard road, its headlights bobbing up and down. After a little less than a mile, it swung onto a two-lane highway, heading south.

The pickers riding the World War II relic were a mix of races, ages and sexes. Most of them, however, were men who ranged from the twenties to the forties. They were rough-looking, poor hard-up types who put in long hours for little pay. Migrant workers, they moved from state to state, from harvest to harvest. Some of them were black, some Mexican, but there were more whites than anything else.

In addition to the men, there were two women. They weren't much to look at, living the mean lives they did. One of them was holding a dark-haired girl on her lap. The girl was sucking her thumb and holding onto a dirty crib pillow, one corner of which had been twisted into a long point free of padding and that point was laid alongside the girl's nose. She was wide awake and looking from face to face as some of the pickers spoke to each other.

The rest of the group consisted of teenage boys. One of them—Paul Gunderson—sat next to Mark. He had his legs stretched out and crossed as he stared at Wesley Cramer, another boy sitting across from him.

Cramer had his head bowed and his eyes closed, but that didn't keep anyone from noticing how ugly he was now that the sky was beginning to lighten. He had thin reddish hair that might have been combed but it was impossible to tell because of the cowlicks that sent untamed hair sprouting around his head. Lower down, he had a scab on his weak chin and a fever blister on his lip. And he was short and scrawny like a sick chicken.

Gunderson dug Mark in the side with his elbow.

"What?" Mark said.

He didn't particularly like Gunderson. They had gone to Coolidge schools together and Gunderson could be a pest at times.

"Look at Cramer. Look at his sack."

"What about it?"

"He's got somethin' in it."

"So what?"

"Know what it is? It's cotton. Cramer's a cheater. He always starts out with a pound or two in his sack so he can get a jump on the rest of us."

Cramer opened his right eye and looked at Gunderson. The look wasn't friendly. Gunderson grinned back at him. Cramer shut his eye again.

"Sounds like a good idea," Mark said. "Think I'll try it."

The little girl was listening to the conversation. When it was ended, she got to her feet and with her mother holding onto one arm she took her thumb out of her mouth and pointed at Mark.

"Hi, honeybun!" she said, shouting over the noise of the truck. "I think you're cute!" She giggled, jumped back onto her mother's lap and resumed sucking her thumb.

"Maria, stop teasin' the boy," the mother said, but not too harshly.

Gunderson dug Mark in the side again.

"Hey, Tower, she's got a crush on ya. Why don'tcha ask her for a date?"

"Why don't you? She's your age—about four, wouldn't you say?"

Gunderson laughed. "I'll give her a few years."

"By then she'll have enough sense to know you're a clown."

"That's okay, girls like clowns."

"To laugh at, yeah."

"Sometimes they do more than laugh."

"That's right, they vomit too."

* * *

The field was white, ready to be picked. In fact, as the truck pulled up and parked close to the empty trailer, which would begin to fill with cotton as the morning wore on, Mark could see that a number of pickers were already at work. These pickers had used their own transportation: pickups, station wagons, cars, jalopies, motorcycles, even bicycles—all in rather sorry condition.

The truck emptied, with Mark being one of the last to climb out. He yawned and stretched and watched as the men and the women pulled on gloves—gloves that had the fingertips cut out so the cotton could be plucked cleanly out of the bolls. He made a note to himself to keep an eye on some of the men to see if the gloves speeded up the work or hindered it, then he would decide whether or not he would buy a pair for himself.

Mark grabbed his cotton sack but left his lunch bag under the bench, along with the other pickers' lunch bags. Striking out pretty much on his own, he headed into the field, going down a row that had not yet been claimed. He went all the way to the end, where he shook out his sack, tied it around his waist, spread open the mouth of the sack and started picking. He picked both sides of the row, starting at the top of the stalks and working his way methodically to the bottom and then moving up to the next stalks where he reversed the procedure.

At the head of the field, Coy Hibberts, the field's contractor, drove up in a pickup, in the back of which was a set of weighing scales and a large metal tub filled with ice and a variety of soft drinks. Hibberts parked alongside the trailer, got out and looked over the field.

Durfee, who had been resting inside the cab of the truck, hopped out and hurried over to his boss.

"Mornin', Mr. Hibberts."

"Mornin', Carl. Set up the scales close to the trailer so when they start weighin' in you can keep an eye on it. I don't want any dirt mixed in. First one to do it gets his butt kicked outta here."

"Yes, sir. Be glad to do it."

* * *

Mark's sack was about a tenth full, with all the cotton stuffed into the mouth of the sack, when he stopped picking momentarily to untie his sack and shake it to force the cotton to the bottom. At that moment the little girl entered his row a few feet in front of him. Still clinging onto her crib pillow and sucking her thumb, she started toward him.

Suddenly she stopped. For good reason. Startled, a rattler coiled in defense in the center of the row, its tail indicating it was ready to strike. Mark looked up, saw the threat, and without thinking he bundled up his sack, ran forward to throw the sack on top of the rattler, then jumped over it, snatched up the little girl and carried her a little ways down the row.

Maria looked up at him, a smile on her round face.

The mother, who was three rows over, untied her sack and stepped across the rows to reach Mark and her daughter. And Cramer, who was two rows over on the other side, dropped his sack to the ground, pulled out a pocket knife, cut a branch off a cotton stalk, trimmed it until he had a dependable fork, then pushed other cotton stalks aside to get to Mark's row.

Gunderson was four rows over. He stayed where he was and watched.

Cramer whipped Mark's sack out of the way, deftly pinned the rattler's head to the ground with the forked branch, crushed the rattler's head with the heel of his heavy clodhopper boot, took the snake by the tail, whirled it over his head and let it fly toward the end of the field.

Without a word, Cramer glanced quickly at Mark and the little girl and her mother—and in that instant Mark caught a glimpse of Cramer's left eye, which was not a pretty sight. The eye was shrunken and skewed to one side and it was virtually colorless.

Cramer retreated back to his own row, retied his sack and resumed picking.

Gunderson regarded Cramer with a hint of new respect. "Cool, Cramer, cool."

Cramer ignored him.

Mark looked away from Cramer and Gunderson as Maria's mother took her out of Mark's arms. "Maria, you need to stay put." She met Mark's eyes. "Thank you," she said simply but sincerely.

"You're welcome."

Maria watched Mark over her mother's shoulder as she was carried away. She was still smiling. Mark waved at her, then he retrieved his sack. He glanced at Cramer but decided to leave him be. He went back to work, ignoring Gunderson who was grinning like a dope and shaking a finger at him.

* * *

Durfee stood by the weighing scales while Hibberts sat on a wooden stool behind a card table on which rested a money box and a ledger to record the amount of money paid out during the day. The two of them watched as Mark and Cramer came out of the field with full sacks. Gunderson was still in the middle of the field, his sack only three-fourths full.

It was mid-morning and Mark had his Levi jacket now tied around his waist. He was sweating some, as was Cramer. Both had their sacks balanced on their right shoulders. Cramer was slightly ahead of Mark, so Mark waited while Cramer helped Durfee tie his sack to the scales for weighing.

"Hundred and twelve pounds," Durfee announced to Hibberts, who recorded the weight in the ledger and then added the amount due to Cramer.

Cramer untied his sack and let it drop to the ground while he collected his pay. Mark took Cramer's place at the scales.

"Ninety-eight pounds," Durfee announced and again Hibberts recorded the weight and the amount due. Mark let his sack drop just as Cramer pulled his out of the way.

"How could you let this scrawny little rooster out pick you?" Durfee asked, talking to Mark.

"He may be a scrawny little rooster," Mark said, helping Cramer throw the sack back over his shoulder, "but he's a genu-wine picking machine."

Cramer stepped over to the ladder and started up. Mark went over to the card table for his pay.

"Bein' a smart aleck will get you into trouble, boy," Hibberts told him as he handed over the cash.

"Who's bein' a smart aleck?" Mark said. "I was just statin' a fact."

Hibberts glared at him but Mark shrugged it off, claimed his sack and climbed the ladder to join Cramer on the plank that ran across the width of the trailer. Cramer had already emptied his sack and was looking out across the surrounding country.

Cotton fields stretched out in all directions. In the distance were mountains under a bright blue sky.

Mark dumped his cotton, bundled up his sack, made a quick sweep of the country too, then went back down the ladder. Maria was waiting for him on the ground, a cold bottle of root beer in her hand.

She handed the bottle to Mark and then ran back to her mother who had just finished weighing in and was standing by the tub of ice and soft drinks. The mother's lips almost, but not quite, formed a smile as she nodded at Mark.

Mark saluted her with the bottle, took a swig and saluted her again. He was thirsty and the root beer tasted great. He turned and followed Cramer into the field.

Hibberts stood up and yelled after them: "Keep it clean, Cramer! No dirt or rocks!"

If Cramer heard him he didn't show it. He kept going.

"You too, Tower!" Hibberts added.

Mark stopped, spun around and saluted with his free hand.

"Yes sir! Thank you, sir! Will do, sir! Anything else, sir? No, sir? Very well, sir! Good day, sir!"

He spun back around and continued on. Behind him, he could hear Maria laughing her little head off.

* * *

Late in the afternoon, just before the sun was about to set, the truck began the return trip to Coolidge with the same pickers on board. Mark sat in the same place, on the end of the left bench. He held his hands up and looked at them. They were scratched and gouged and sore from the sharp bolls.

He glanced at the pickers who had worn gloves. Their hands were fine. And the gloves hadn't hindered their speed or proficiency at picking, so gloves were the order of the day.

His eyes shifted to Maria, who was sucking her thumb again. That looked like a good idea at the moment so he stuck his thumb in his mouth too. Maria giggled and pointed at him.

On Main Street in Coolidge the truck pulled over to the curb and stopped just long enough for Mark and Cramer to hop out with their sacks and lunch bags.

Maria shouted after Mark. "Bye, honeybun!"

Mark winked at her.

"Bye, honeybun!" Gunderson shouted, trying to sound like Maria.

"Gunderson, you chucklehead."

Mark made a fist and Gunderson guffawed.

The truck lurched forward and rattled on down Main Street. Its spot was taken by a glossy black 1955 Dodge Coronet that swung out of the traffic and braked to a hard stop. Donald Borg, the driver, and his buddy, Ralph Kagle, both eighteen, gawked at Mark and Cramer as if they were looking at a pair of freaks.

"What's this?" Kagle said. "Whatta we got here?"

"Queers if I ever saw any," Borg answered.

Mark turned to face Borg. "How'd you like a flat tire, Bozo?"

"The name's Borg and don't forget it."

"The name's stupid and I ain't about to forget it."

"He's stupid?" Kagle said. "How is it he's drivin' a new rod and you're hoofin' it?"

"How is it I'm gonna stuff you in this sack and roll you down the street?"

"Let's see you try it."

Kagle started to open his door. Mark kicked it shut, his boot leaving a dusty print on the glossy surface.

Borg was outraged. "Getchur dirty feet off my car!"

"Watch it," Mark told him, "or my feet're gonna be in your mouth."

Kagle shifted his attention to Cramer. "Whatcha say there, Gorgeous George?"

Cramer stared at him with a dark expression but he said nothing.

Borg joined in with: "Hey, Gorgeous, had any lovin' lately?"

Borg and Kagle roared with laughter. Cramer put his sack and lunch bag down and started toward them. Borg stomped on the accelerator and peeled out into the street. Cramer watched them go, then he turned, collected his sack and lunch bag and walked away without so much as a glance at Mark.

Mark hesitated and then walked in the opposite direction.

* * *

Mark knew Cohen's Department Store quite well and he had no problem finding the gloves. He tried on three pairs, selected the ones he thought would be most comfortable, took them to the cashier and dug in his front pocket for some money.

A man in his early forties, well dressed, prosperous looking, came up beside him and watched the transaction.

"Picking cotton hard on the hands?" the man asked.

"Yeah," Mark said, without looking at his father. "The bolls are like needles."

"Heading home now?"

"Guess so."

"I have to go your way. Want a ride?"

Mark hesitated, then said, "Sure, why not?"

* * *

Gordon Tower's '55 Chrysler New Yorker moved slowly through the town as Gordon drove south. Mark looked out the side window.

"How's Dani?"


"Any problem paying your bills?"


"Picking cotton must not pay so bad after all."

"Three cents a pound."

"So a good picker makes what? Ten dollars a day?"

"Something like that."

"What do you think you'll do after the season is over?"

Mark waited a minute, then shrugged. "Can't say for sure. Have to wait and see."

The Chrysler pulled up close to the stairs at the west end of the apartment building and Mark opened the door and got out. His father leaned over to talk to him one more time.



"If for some reason you decide to try college in January—or even next September—let me know. Okay?"

Mark stuffed his new gloves in his back pocket, gathered up his sack and his lunch bag off the floor without speaking.

"Your mother and I will be glad to help with the expense," Gordon said.

Mark's response was flat: "Okay, Dad. Thanks for the ride."

"Why don't you and Dani have dinner with us Sunday?"

"Maybe. I'll ask her."

Mark closed the door and stepped back out of the way. His father waved at him, then backed up and Mark watched for a minute before he turned to go up the stairs.

He liked his dad but no one was going to pressure him to do something he didn't want to.

No one. Not now, not ever.


Excerpted from FROM COOLIDGE TO KAUAI by J. MARC. MERRILL Copyright © 2012 by J. Marc. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Run for the Border....................89
Light From the Other Side....................105
The Commonest Thing....................138
To Talk with Bennie....................160
Breaking Bones....................176
Fort Apache: Old Battlefield, New Warrior....................220

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