Pa smacked Sam with a razor belt, until a trickle of blood ran down his fingers.
"Stop! Please Pa!"
A steady whine lifted over jagged fields of stone, to a tempest sky. It was a hollow cry, since most people in the Ozark wilderness favor God's timing, to a neighbor's meddling.
Sam held a fetal position until finally, Pa was out of breath, fell back on a tree stump, and twisted his back. He sprinted toward the creek to hide his remaining tears, and soak his burning hands.
A purple haze grew on the horizon, while completing his chores of feeding the blind mule, and fixing a hole in the chicken coop from coyotes. Sam forgot where he tossed the picture book he pretended to read, hoping it would to stay dry until morning.
He took his wrecked body to a feather bed under a patchwork quilt Ma made. A fresh mountain breeze surfaced at his window. The sweet air soothed his wounds, and melted the chalk from his parched lips. Pa was heard snoring down the hall, passed out drunk from moonshine, on a clapboard floor, while an oil lamp flickered at darkness. Ma knew to keep her distance for a while, just in case.
With the freedom of his thoughts, never stolen, his mind imagined a day when he would learn how to read. His eyes grew heavy with sleep, but his dreams were no burden.
Years passed, when one day Sam noticed his father, feverishly dragging a bale of hay, when he could easily throw one over his broad shoulders. This caused considerable concern on his father's weathered face. During a seldom, but awkward stare, he recalled a bible story about Samson, who kept his strength a secret until the right moment. Perhaps one day, he would rip the old fence line, and throw the pieces of timber at Pa like toothpicks.
One late afternoon Pa came at him in a drunken rage, to corner him in the barn. Sam wrestled him to the ground, until he couldn't move a muscle.
When the old man was let up, he said; "Okay, I get my gun now."
Fortunate for Sam, he kept hidden in the barn, some of his father's cash, a pack of matches, and an old oil lamp. While climbing between the fence-line, the sun settled in a fiery orange glow.
He quickly found favor with a widower near town, where every day he worked to mend the owner's fence. While there, he spied the rose of Benton in a homemade cotton dress, walking the black dirt road home from school. Her name was Ella Nash. It wasn't long before their eyes would tangle. One day she bravely took a path to offer him spring water. She could see past his muscular frame, and took notice of his kind hazel eyes. She didn't look at him as poor, but saw riches in his character.
Months later they married at her father's house, but set up home on the far end of the widower's field fixing an old cabin, much to his delight, since she made the best cornbread in town, and her specialty, rhubarb pie, made the widower's taste buds quiver. Every afternoon she made a meal, and took a beat path to deliver his "manna."
As the years passed Ella was blessed to give birth to three healthy boys. Sam loved her all the more, and told her because of it, he was a wealthy man, and felt sorry for the poor. One starry night when the kids were fast asleep on stories of the "Wild West," Sam turned to his lovely Ella, whose blue eyes sparkled near the fire like sea glass, and said; "I can't read a lick. Could you teach me?"
She looked at him sidelong, but reached for her "King James Bible." Each night they would read until the oil emptied from the lamp, that once marked his freedom. She was not shy to tell him how light can overcome darkness. It was like coming out of a pitch-black cave when he read, in a stammering voice, "Jes-us c-c-ame to se-ek and to save."
Sam had a way with all three boys. He never cursed, or spanked them, although at times Ella wisely held a switch to their hide. When he talked to the boys in a deep voice, with sad wet eyes, it was enough to make them melt into his arms.
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