We met our main character in the first segment of Mountain Laurel last week. So far, all we know about him is that his name is Mr. Roberts and he’s obviously a country music star in Nashville. We also know he lost his father in a coal mining accident when he was a young boy. A reporter is trying his best to get an interview out of him and so far that isn’t going well. Let’s head back to the bar and see how he fares.
I had a little brother, Timmy, seven years younger. Timmy had been born different. They said his brain never developed the way it should. He’d sit for hours and play with the dust that danced on the sunbeams through the windows, lost in his own little world. Oh, how Papa doted on him.
After that fateful day in the coal mines of Kentucky, the life we’d known as children of Robert Anderson was over. Mama fell into a deep depression and locked everyone out. If it hadn’t been for April, us Anderson kids might’ve starved to death.
My one solace was music. I’d often disappear for hours at a time, taking my guitar with me. A stream ran a few hundred yards from our miner’s shack on the side of the Cumberland Mountains. That’s where I’d go. I played my guitar and sang to the fish that jumped out of the water, turtles that sunned on a log and frogs that leaped from stone to stone.
The fat man cleared his throat loudly. “Mr. Roberts, I don’t think you’ve heard a word I’ve said. Would you at least answer one question?”
Oh yeah, I’d forgotten all about the insistent reporter. I turned to look squarely at him. “What’s your name?”
“Lewis Washington, sir. What inspired you to write your hit song, Cumberland Mines?”
“It was a tribute…to my father.” I motioned to the bartender and returned to my thoughts.
Not too long after we lost Papa, the local welfare lady came. I hid under the porch and listened.
“Mrs. Anderson, we’re sorry for the loss of your husband, but it has come to our attention that your young son, Timmy, may need to be placed in an institution where he can get the kind of help he needs.”
I didn’t have to see Mama’s face to know she gave the lady a blank stare. That’s all she’d managed to give any of us for months.
The welfare lady droned on and on. By the time she drove her ’49 Ford down the dirt road that had brought her to our shack, I knew she’d be back to get Timmy. I crawled out from under the porch and kicked at the dust that settled under my feet.
Anger took over and I bounded up the porch steps and into the house. Brushing past April, I went straight to Mama. Nothing I said would make her look at me. She was gone.
The worst thing a boy can do is cry in front of his older sister. Once I’d said my piece, I grabbed my guitar and headed for the creek as I’d done a hundred times since Papa died. Oh, how I pounded on the guitar that day. The more I cried, the harder I hit the strings. But, by the time I dragged myself back to the house, I’d written my first song about a tragedy in a Cumberland Mountain coal mine.
“Ahem. I heard Andy Roberts ain’t your real name.” The reporter didn’t give up.
I glanced at his flushed face. “Nope.”
“What’s your real one?” The way he held the pencil over the paper reminded of me a bird about to dive for its prey.
“You’re getting awful personal,” I growled. For a long minute, I considered punching him in the face.
TO BE CONTINUED……