“Com’on, Sis,” he pleaded. “Quit it.”
His fingers, aching and pink, strained at the two gallon galvanized pail he carried. Each step was a debate between child and man. The pup kept dropping the remnant of a baseball, now dark with dirt and saliva, at Benji’s feet. She kept dropping it at the boy’s feet, eyes hopeful, tempting him back to childhood.
“No Sis. I said no!” He tried to use his best grownup voice.
The sound of mules and men working nearby fields in the desperate heat of an Alabama July drew him down the trail. He assured himself he would not relent all the while sloshing water from the pail as he moved it from right hand to left. His father and brothers were waiting to slake their thirst and it was Benji’s first time to deliver their relief.
“We can play later. We have work to do, Sis.”
Somehow the young Pointer understood and picked up the ball and raced toward the same sounds that drove Benji to the fields now opening before him. He was greeted with pride and relief as he approached his father and brothers. His walk into the fields was same a walk into manhood his brothers had taken before him.
As they dipped their cups into the water Benji dropped to one knee trying to look more man than boy. He clenched and unclenched his fingers, sore and stiff, trying to regain feeling in his hands. He sucked in the hot moist air, pushing Sis away who had come to plead with him once again.
“Benji,” said his Father said gently.
“You’re welcome, Daddy–Dad,” he corrected himself
“Yeah, Benji. Thank you,” added Luke.
With their approval and gratitude Benji felt his strength returning, as his middle brother Lon added “Thanks, Benj.”
For a moment Benji, barely nine years old, was a man in the company of other men. Today, they were all baptized in the same dirt and sweat and smells and the hope for rain and a good harvest. Brothers and Father. Men. Each one the keeper of the others in a time and place where boys grew up too fast and good men often died too young.