PHIL AND DAVID and I crept along the yard fence on our bellies and elbows, like sol diers on a battlefield. In the lead, my older brother, Phil, gave a hand signal for us to lay low while he proceeded.
Within minutes, David and I were scrambling up on the golden palo mino mare as Phil untied her from the fence. Our older sister, Pat, came blasting out the screen door into the front yard.
“You little brats!” she screamed. “She’s my horse.”
“Just ’cause you’re the oldest doesn’t mean she’s yours,” Phil yelled as he jumped on Maybelle and kicked to get us going.
Maybelle trotted toward the back pasture of our farm with the three of us bouncing bareback and clinging to one another. Sis pursued us on foot. As we passed the barn, I turned and could barely see her, a speck near the creek. After a few minutes I heard the screen door slam. Phil pulled the mare to a walk, and we rode off toward the blackjack thicket that surrounded our Oklahoma farm.
“She’s a good old babysitter,” Phil said, patting the mare’s neck.
“I’m no baby,” David said, with a pout. “Don’t need no babysitter.”
“Phil just means that Maybelle is calm and can be trusted,” I said. “That’s what Dad says. He calls May belle a natural babysitter.”
“Mama will be comin’ back soon,” my younger brother proclaimed. My fouryearold brother had remained adamant that our mother would re turn to the farm.
Phil pulled on the reins, Maybelle stopped and all of us slid off into the kneedeep bluestem grass. He tied Maybelle to a lowlying limb, and the three of us walked through the weeds up over the pond dam. Grasshoppers jumped up around my bare legs. At the sound of our approach, a pair of wood ducks flew off the water and bullfrogs splashed into the muddy pond.
“Mama won’t be coming back to live with us,” Phil said. “She and Dad got a divorce. But we’ll see her sometimes.”
David stamped his foot, sending blackbirds flying from a cottonwood tree. “I’m mad at her.”
Embracing the truth that our mother was gone for good seemed too much to bear. “Well I’m mad at God,” I blurted.
Phil grinned at me. “That a girl, Sissy, go straight to the boss.”
It irritated me that he always remained so calm about the disruption that had rattled our world. I picked up a dirt clod and tossed it at him. “Knowitall.”
He pulled fishing line and hooks from his shirt pocket. “Let’s catch some grasshoppers and fish.”
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