I was just a kid in the 1950's. Life back then in Southern Illinois was pretty bland considering what I took as enjoyment was me usually watching the world pass from the backseat of the old family Dodge. Life did have its moments, however, and road trips certainly never disappointed.
My adult role model was an industrious stepfather who tried (among other things) his hand at The Gospels, doing so on street corners, preaching to all that would listen. His behavior clearly at odds, him with a bottomless thirst for the "devil's drink" -- as if calling it that put him on the Lord's good side.
In what seemed to me even then as blatant theatrics, I recall seeing Dad many times, him saturated as a skunk, climbing from the old Dodge, his sleeves pushed to the elbow and pumping that old brown leather bible of his ever higher into the air, all the while shouting Scriptures and spitting slurred condemnation for an invisible but apparent multitude of sinners. A lumbering dance always ending the same: Pleas for donations to support spreading The Word.
There could be no question, still speaking of that old family Dodge of ours, it was a rattle trap. But one built of solid stuff; its bullet-nosed front was like an army tank. And that could be a good thing as the car was nearly always operated with "a snoot full" as we kids (that would be me and my two half brothers) jokingly called the intoxicated, staggering effects of Dad sipping too much of his home brew throughout the day -- The fermentation of such concoction often waking us kids at night as the pressure inside the glass bottles loudly 'popped' a random cap or two -- The fun part was trying to guess how many would blow as Dad howled his dissatisfaction from the darkness.
Now there was this one trip I remember, it just happened to be Halloween, and after our 'trick or treating' was supposed to be over, and after being persuaded by us kids to take us all for eats at the local Spotlight Diner. In his attempt to park the car, Dad's foot slipped from the brake pedal -- and -- inadvertently slamming on the accelerator -- propelled us through a plate glass window with such 'trickery', with such jarring, splintering force, to cause the Dodge to rest hard up against the serving counter. The result, a mixture of engine roar and breaking glass and shouts of panic as affected patrons scattered to safety from their suddenly compromised perches. Pumpkin pie and dishevelment everywhere.
"Makin' a quick tavern stop, boys!" responsible for that one.
And not to belabor things here but there was this far longer trip we made, it being yet another Halloween memory, of all things, that we all made to stepdad's boyhood home. Sn isolated, dilapidated, old farm along a graveled road lost deep in the hilly Missouri backwoods, near the Arkansas border.
On the trip down, the Dodge blew a tire. Dad wrestled the car to a stop and after a few choice words way too serious for our young ears, exited the car only to return to the passenger window and announce angrily that although we had a spare, we didn't have a jack. He couldn't replace the flat; saying we were stranded until someone helped us. What seemed a very long intermission with only a few cars passing, and no one providing assistance, a car did finally pull behind. Dad got out and spoke with the driver. And within minutes returned with a smile and the necessary jack, a loaner from the Good Samaritan.
Dad started right in on the repairs. We were ordered to remain inside the Dodge, all the while the occupants of the rescuing vehicle looked on. Dad said it would only take a few minutes and for the Good Samaritan to return to his car, no reason to get his hands dirty. A good Christian thing to say, considering.
Completing the tire exchange, Dad threw the flat along with the loaner jack in the Dodge's trunk, and slamming the lid shut, raced to the driver's seat where he commenced to speed off in wild laughter and a shotgun blast of spitting pea-sized gravel.
Slow to react, the other vehicle gave chase, blowing its horn and blinking its headlights, but soon fell far behind and was lost due to the speed the Dodge was doing escaping down the highway. Eventually, we turned onto a 'crunchy' road; and a few miles further, onto a hard-packed and rutted dirt driveway.
Seeing the farm, Dad said to us, "Hate to tell you this, boys, but it doesn't get much better. No television, no electricity. Fret not though there is a cozy, be it a bit smelly, outhouse out back for when nature calls." He laughed.
That night, having met with all the in-laws and related out-laws, I heard Dad's brother ask if he was "... Ready to perform the exorcism on Mother?" I had never heard that word before, exorcism, and had no idea what to expect. The two discussed her behavior of late and her refusal to accept help from outsiders. Dad had been called upon mainly because of his qualifications as the sole preacher man in the family.
The farmhouse was dimly lit. The only only light came from a few smoking oil lamps, the kind with a blackened finger printed glass chimney and little brass wheel with adjustable wick. Everyone seemed excited. Dad's brother spoke again, this time urging everyone to find a seat, and before long the room grew quiet as people moved around inside the flickering, shadowed orange-and-black uncertainty. I too found my place, on the floor, near the wall, promising an excellent view.
A straight leg chair was placed on a throw rug in the middle of the room. I noticed the rug nicely hid the worn linoleum there. And that stepdad's mother had undone her surprisingly long, gray hair as she was escorted to the chair, where she sat down; and clenching the wooden seat beneath her, immediately commenced rocking on her hands. This apparently the cue for Dad to walk to the woman. Neither spoke, not at first.
With the Bible I had seen so often now clenched tightly to his chest, his other hand out, fingers stretched wide and wavering as if battling an unseen force, Dad said a few words sounding biblical. This all seemed so familiar as his words came slurred and repeated:
"In the name of the Father... (hiccup) ... Be gone, Satan!" And with that, placed the Bible on top his mother's head.
Suddenly, the woman stopped rocking. And with the guttural 'roar of a lion' jumped to her feet; and then just as quickly, collapsed to the floor, sobbing, where she was eventually assisted by onlookers.
I'm not sure what others saw that night, there was some discussion about that later, but what I saw was a demon, something misty, something with horns, come out the mouth of that old woman; and with one continuous movement the apparition vaulted out the window into the night leaving two linen curtains whipping in the breeze.
I couldn't take my eyes off my stepdad. His hands trembling from this unexpected psychotic outburst, his dark oily hair having fallen over one eye, turned in my general direction, and with the demeanor of a truly sobering man, asked "What the hell was that?"
That fidgeting old woman and my Bible thumping alcoholic stepfather with a heavy foot for the accelerator scaring the living hell out of me again, on Halloween!
"That's what the hell that was!"
Spring Branch, Texas 78070