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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Tie (02/28/13)

TITLE: CruelTies
By Allen Povenmire


The midday sun scorched the humid August air. Twelve-year-old John’s sweat dripped down on the railroad tie at which he’d been flailing away with a man-sized ax. His slender arms and shoulders ached from the hours of chopping the stack of ties his stepfather had hauled home the night before. Not nearly half finished with the task, John allowed himself only a brief respite, then continued hacking away, his stepfather’s parting words that morning etched in his mind. . .

"You have those ties out back busted up for firewood by the time I git home tonight, or I'll beat the hell outta you.” John knew that it was no hollow threat.

His twice-widowed mother, Leona, had met this brute of a man at Murray’s Five and Dime, where she’d been working to support John and his three younger half-sisters. The Depression had been particularly cruel on Leona and the children, and the man provided some security that previously they had not experienced.

From the onset of the union, the stepfather was amiable, at times almost loving, toward his sisters, but he held some sort of resentment toward John. John had assumed a great deal of responsibility in the family, but any efforts on his part to continue with his role as eldest sibling were met harshly and violently. He’d worn many a bruise or scar from earlier encounters with this man. . .He continued chopping.

Another hour passed. John’s muscles burned with fatigue. The bright redness of his sunburnt neck stung sharply from sweat pouring down his head. His mother watched through the dusty kitchen window, feeling helpless, praying that God would somehow remedy this entrapment in which her son was bound. She dutifully carried John out a cheese sandwich and glass of cool water, for which he stopped only briefly. Their eyes met with mutual despair. The silence of the moment was punctuated by the backfire of Murray’s delivery truck motoring up the road to their house.

Mr. Murray owned another store, in Centerville, about 70 miles to the north, where John’s real father had been raised. His dad had died when John was two years old, from post-surgical complications. John had three uncles and two aunts living in Centerville. They were a loving, closed-knit clan. . .the delivery truck motored to a stop in front of their house.

Leona often had a letter or a package to send up to John’s uncles or aunts with whom she’d tried to stay in contact. Kind, thoughtful Mr. Murray always had his delivery driver stop at her house to see if he could take anything to Centerville for her. . .

“Hey, Miss Leona, got anything going north this afternoon?” the driver hollered, seeing her walking back toward the house.

“No, not today, Herb,” Leona called back weakly, her mind occupied by the cruelty of the situation behind her. But suddenly she stopped, her head turning quickly back toward the sound of the ax.

“Wait Herb, I do have something you can take. Can you give me five minutes?”

Running inside, Leona grabbed a tattered grip from the hall closet. She frantically threw in as many clothes and personal items as the old bag would hold. Tears of sorrow and relief streaming down her face, she composed herself as best she could, scribbling out a pleading note of explanation. Her hands trembled as she folded the paper over and tucked it into the top of the grip.

John looked up at his mother walking toward him, carrying the bag. Her tear-stained face was all the explanation he needed. Embracing in silence, save for the sobs of his mother, John looked over her shoulder and saw Herb awkwardly toeing at the ground.

“This is your chance. God has answered my prayer. I love you, son. Now, go.”

Defiantly, John buried the ax into the railroad tie he’d been laboring over. He kissed his mother on the cheek one last time and walked away from his dreadful life. . .

It was the first he’d ever spoken of it. The cancer that ravaged my 82-year-old father’s body had nearly taken its toll. Sitting alone in his hospital room, listening to him unpack the pain of his abusive childhood, I burned with hatred toward the cruelty inflicted upon him 70 years prior. His final words on the subject have stayed with me. . .

"I’ll never understand what I did to make that man hate me so.”

No doubt, the thoughts of many an abused child. . .

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This article has been read 417 times
Member Comments
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lynn gipson 03/08/13
Oh my, this was so sad, and touching that a mother would give her son up rather than see him abused.

So poignantly written and a very well told story. I loved this, despite the tears in my eyes. Thank you for this fine entry.
Virgil Youngblood 03/08/13
I liked the way you built suspense throughout the story. The ending came as a surprise and put a powerful close to a tender, well written memoir.
Judith Gayle Smith03/08/13
I am in tears - what a sacrifice, what great love. This is so poignant - so beautiful. My heart is yours . . .
Lillian Rhoades 03/08/13
Overwhelmingly emotional, especially since I've been a child advocate most of my life. I loved the title.

A few syntax problems noted, but overall, a story with great flow that held my attention.
Lillian Rhoades 03/08/13
P.S. I love the term, "unpack his pain."
Noel Mitaxa 03/08/13
That close packs a wallop that I never saw coming, but you have conveyed so much emotion and pain in such a graphic economy of language. I hope this rates well, as it deserves to. It also invites more chapters that retrace the father's story. Clever title too.
Cheryl Harrison03/08/13
Wow. So sad that you father kept the pain in for so many years. The twist at the end took me by surprise. Keep writing.
Danielle King 03/09/13
This is one of those pieces that stay with you for a long, long time. Brilliant writing. Should rate well.
Bea Edwards 03/09/13
So many children have been the objects of an adults inability to parent. Forgiveness is the only outlet for the cruelties inflicted. This is the only way to set the abused free and it puts the responsibility for justice with the ultimate Judge.
Thank you for writing this heartfelt piece!

Allison Egley 03/09/13
Oh, this is good. My only "complaint" is that it could have been longer so I could have seen what happened after he escaped!
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 03/09/13
Wow this is so intense. You did a fabulous job of pulling me into the story right away. I immediately could visualize the scene.The conflict just oozed off the page in a thrilling, suspenseful way.

Toward the middle, you drifted into showing. It's easy to do with true stories, because to you every bit of the back story is vital. I don't know that the reader needed it all though. Perhaps you could have used John's thoughts to give that info. This is just an example to show you what I mean (I put his thoughts in quotes because I can't use italics here)
As John chopped, his anger grew. "Why did Mom marry him? I know the depression was hard on us, but the way he treats me hurts way more than a hungry belly." He swung again, allowing the anger to ripple through his muscles and exploded from the blade of the ax.
Like I said that's just an example.

Overall you did an awesome job. The ending had me shaking. My heart hurts that you feel so much hate. My son hates a man who hurt me and I worry about him at times. Child abuse, especially back then was often a dirty secret. I commend you for sharing this powerful story. I also think you did an incredible job of tackling the topic in a fresh and creative way. I again, I give one of my highest praises-WOW!
Alicia Renkema03/09/13
I can't help but wonder because of the intensity of emotions in the story especially, if it is a true one. I hope not, though I know God uses all things for His glory and we can become more compassionate people through situations such as these. i too have been a victim of physical and emotional abuse and Bea is so right, the only thing that truly brings peace is forgiveness. If this is a true story, I pray that the abuser found the Lord and I pray for the victims that they will have the anointing oil of our Lord Jesus upon their wounds. I also pray for the Lord's glory in the whole situation to come full circle and redeem. Your writing was very vivid and descriptive and it made me hurt with every tie that the MC's ax had to chop. That was such an irony, chopping ties while he was trying to cut the ties so he could break free. One thing that I found out the hard way -- whether one runs to a situation to try and remedy it, or away from it, without the Lord in the center it falls apart. There was one awkward sentence I noticed and I too would have liked to know what happened to the MC after he left. But it was painful to see that he carried all of that pain with him to his death bed. Blessings on you...
Joseph Veseli03/10/13
Very good piece! I'm a big proponent of seeing it in my mind's eye reading, if that makes sense... Well, you satisfied that and knocked it out of the park. I really felt like I was there as a visitor, watching and hearing the story play out. From the beginning I was drawn in, and the relief I felt when his mother found a way out of the misery for her son, bravo!

Thanks for sharing this with us.
Richard Hicks03/11/13
Very touching story. im well aware of the hate that comes from a abuser. I think you did a excellent job conveying the message. I felt the sorrow and joy and pain in your writing. Keep writing.
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 03/17/13
Congratulations on ranking 33 overall!