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November 15, 1941 - Image 1

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1941-11-15

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University Of Michigan Literary Magazine
by Jay McCormicrk

T HE CAPTAIN and aunt Del were
talking in the next room and it
was about me because every once
in a while I heard one of them
say Jim or Jimmie depending on whe-
ther it was the captain or aunt Del who
said it. For maybe a half hour they had
kept their voices low so that all I heard
was a deep rumble I could feel through
the floor too or the extra breath wheez-
ing at either end of what my aunt said.
But they started to get sore and their
voices. got louder and I guess they fig-
yred when you are five years old you
go to sleep and don't lie there crying
a little and thinking about your mother
being dead, so I could hear most of what
they were saying.
Aunt Del was not married. She taught
school and lived in an apartment close
to the schoolfwhere I would go next fall.
Her apartment was nice, it looked like
a picture in a magazine, with all the
things in the right place, and that was
the way aunt Del looked too, but even
if she was a teacher and dad just a lake
captain we had way more books in our
house than she had, and we read ours
so they were around in different places
lying open, not always in the bookcase,
and in our holse no matter how a chair
looked if you sat in it you could squirm
down and hunch up your shoulders and
feel warm and pretend the chair was a
fort or a little boat until yos got reading
a book and all the pretend was in your_
head and in the book. We had a fire-
place too, and every fall the captain
brought two or three cords of birch wood
from Alpena and a truck brought it up
from Wyandotte and piled it in our back
yard and we climbed on it and peeled
the rough dirty bark off, then the clean
smooth white bark and the layers of red
and the dark spots made it look like
playr piano rolls and once I tried to
play some on the piano next door, and
winters when the captain was home
off the lakes we sat in front of the fire
and sometimes my mother is there and
sometimes it is just the captain and me,
none of us talking, only the soft snap
of fire and the occasional turn of a
My mother taught me how to read,
and once I can remember wading at a
beach with her in a funny bathing suit
and there were times when someone soft
and cool and nice smelling came to my
room at night when they had been away
and talked to ne quietly, holding me in
her arms and letting my face rub against
the fur collar of her coat, and then sud-
denly there is a doctor an my aunt
Del crying but trying never to let me see,
telling me stories and ordering me
around or sending me out to play with
the kids who seemed strange and afraid
of me, and dad, the captain with a look
in his face that I did not understand
until they took me into the room and I
saw the flowers on the bed and her
looking a way I cannot remember, but
eyes shut and perfectly still, no response
for me when I touched her face. I was
not supposed to know what all this
meant so I could not cry until I was
alone, and I didn't, but some of it must
have been in my face like the captain's,
because aunt Del came to me crying and
said "Cry, Jimmie, go ahead and cry"
which made it harder not to, but the
captain didn't so neither did I except
just a little at the funeral when Mr.

Lloyd dropped the pieces of dirt into the
place they put her and said "The Lord
giveth and the Lord taketh away."
That is all I remember of my mother.
She was pretty, the captain has told me
so, and I have a picture of her wearing
a fox neckpiece and a big hat, but I
can remember only sitting beside her
on the davenport as she read to me and
pointing now and then to a word and
asking what it meant. Only this and
hanging onto the skirt of her bathing

ing upon what they decided there in the
next room. I was afraid, so afraid that
I shivered and held my breath as long as
I could in order not to miss anything
they said because of the whistling in my,
ears. Once I climbed from under the
covers and knelt on my bed and said
"Now I lay me down to sleep" over twice
because I wanted to be with the captain.
Then I thought about my mother being
in Heaven now and it made me self-
conscious to think of her hearing me

with me," the captain broke in, and I
could tell by his voice that he was point-
ing his finger at her, shoving his jaw
out 'he way he did just a few times
wl r I saw him being a captain and
noo taking any back talk about it. When
I graduated into the pulp magazines I
saw the same stern gesture under the
caption "You" or "Are You?" to adver-
tise correspondence courses, but there
was a difference and even at the war
birds stage I could tell it, because the
captain was an easy going man, and
most of the time he gave no sign that
he was boss, so when he did he was mad
and when he was mad his eyes were cold
black and behind the pointing finger
he was a very big man. . ,
"I won't have him babied," he said,
"I won't have him grow up with a wo-
man teaching him the things a man
should teach him. Eight months out of
the year he'd be alone with you, and I
don't care how smart you are nor how
much you learned at college about sci-
entific child care, you'd spoil any kid
who lived with you. If you want kids,
why the hell don't you-" then he stop-
ped suddenly. "I'm sorry, Del," he said,
and he wasn't mad now.
I was afraid because' they weren't
talking, and the captain would be sorry
and he might try to make it up to aunt
Del by letting her have her way.
But he started to talk again. "Look
Del," he said, "I need the kid with me.
It isn't only what's good for him, but
me, how do you think I feel? I know
you want the same thing for him that
I want, but Del, look at it this way, I
know that he needs me, and I know I
need him. If it doesn't work out, if he
gets sick o' he's lonesome or I see I'm
wrong, I'll send him to you, I won't be
Epig headed. But until I find out I'm
wrong, I'm going to keep him with me.
I hate to hurt you Del, but you can't
have him."
"You're being selfish, Jim," aunt Del
said. "You say you're taking him on
that boat for his own good, but you know
perfectly well he'd be better off here.
It's only for your sake you're doing this,
for yourself because you don't think you
can face it alone now. You're too weak
to do what's right. You were a drinking
man before you got married, Jim Flan-
agan, and you'll be a drinking man
again. But remember this, maybe now
I can't stop you from taking Jimmie
away, but if I hear that you're drinking
heavy again, I'll go to.court and take
him away from you."
"You'll do no such thing, Del," the
captain said. He was sort of laughing
at her as though he liked her guts.
"You're not the kind of a woman who
goes to court about things. If you can't
get what you want, no matter how mad
it makes you you won't take any help.
We're both of us used to getting our own
way, but right now you're licked, Del."
"Licked?" aunt Del said, as if she was
going to get madder. She didn't say
anything for a minute, then her voice
was different, softer. "Licked," she said
again. "Yes, I guess I am."
"Jim'11 have to go to school next fall,"
the captain said, "I'll brin him to you
then. Youre a good woman, Del."
"Take good care of him. Tell him
goodby from his aunt Del," she said.
(Continued on Page Two)

suit and the smell of her when she
came in at night. The rest of 'her is
made up or pieced together and added
to these.
I had been lying awake thinking about
her, crying now and then because I felt
sorry for myself, a poor little boy with-
out a mother just the way some of them
in the books were, but it wasn't until I
realized what the captain and aunt Del
were arguing about that I got scared
or really had the thing hit me. They
were mad at each other because both of
them wanted to take care of me. I was
suddenly something that people were
bitter over, a cause of anger, and I saw
first and frightened the future, the
thing, a fork in the road that I could
not now. I saw too that it was a double
thing, a fork in the road,t hat I could
be with aunt Del or the captain depend-

pray up there so I got back under the
covers and listened.
He said "Del, I'm taking him with me,
there's no two ways about it. He's a fun-
ny kid, don't think he doesn't know just
because he doesn't bawl. I'm taking him
away from here, I don't want him griev-
ing around the house here, he'll be bet-
ter off on the boat."
"Jim," aunt Del said," don't think I
don't understand Jimmie, I've had more
to do with children than you have. I
know how he feels, and I know what he
needs, he needs a woman. You take him
on the boat there with alot of men and
hell never get the grief out of him, he
won't want to be a cry baby and he'll
keep it all locked up inside him. He
needs to be babied a little, Jim, and God
knows he didn't get much-."
"That's exactly why I'm taking him

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