John Steinbeck

"The Grapes of Wrath Chapter 8"

THE SKY GRAYED among the stars, and the pale, late quarter-moon was insubstantial and thin. Tom Joad and the preacher walked quickly along a road that was only
wheel tracks and beaten caterpillar tracks through a cotton field. Only the unbalanced
sky showed the approach of dawn, no horizon to the west, and a line to the east. The
two men walked in silence and smelled the dust their feet kicked into the air.
"I hope you're dead sure of the way," Jim Casy said. "I'd hate to have the dawn
come and us be way to hell an' gone somewhere." The cotton field scurried with
waking life, the quick flutter of morning birds feeding on the ground, the scamper over
the clods of disturbed rabbits. The quiet thudding of the men's feet in the dust, the
squeak of crushed clods under their shoes, sounded against the secret noises of the
dawn.
Tom said, "I could shut my eyes an' walk right there. On'y way I can go wrong is
think about her. Jus' forget about her, an' I'll go right there. Hell, man, I was born right
aroun' in here. I ran aroun' here when I was a kid. They's a tree over there—look, you
can jus' make it out. Well, once my old man hung up a dead coyote in that tree. Hung
there till it was all sort of melted, an' then dropped off. Dried up, like. Jesus, I hope
Ma's cookin' somepin. My belly's caved."
"Me too," said Casy. "Like a little eatin' tobacca? Keeps ya from gettin' too hungry.
Been better if we didn't start so damn early. Better if it was light." He paused to gnaw
off a piece of plug. "I was sleepin' nice."
"That crazy Muley done it," said Tom. "He got me clear jumpy. Wakes me up an'
says, ''By, Tom. I'm goin' on. I got places to go.' An' he says, 'Better get goin' too, so's
you'll be offa this lan' when the light comes.' He's gettin' screwy as a gopher, livin' like
he does. You'd think Injuns was after him. Think he's nuts?"
"Well, I dunno. You seen that car come las' night when we had a little fire. You
seen how the house was smashed. They's somepin purty mean goin' on. 'Course
Muley's crazy, all right. Creepin' aroun' like a coyote; that's boun' to make him crazy.
He'll kill somebody purty soon an' they'll run him down with dogs. I can see it like a
prophecy. He'll get worse an' worse. Wouldn' come along with us, you say?"
"No," said Joad. "I think he's scared to see people now. Wonder he come up to us.
We'll be at Uncle John's place by sunrise." They walked along in silence for a time,
and the late owls flew over toward the barns, the hollow trees, the tank houses, where
they hid from daylight. The eastern sky grew fairer and it was possible to see the
cotton plants and the graying earth. "Damn' if I know how they're all sleepin' at Uncle
John's. He on'y got one room an' a cookin' leanto, an' a little bit of a barn. Must be a
mob there now."
The preacher said, "I don't recollect that John had a fambly. Just a lone man, ain't
he? I don't recollect much about him."
"Lonest goddamn man in the world," said Joad. "Crazy kind of son-of-a-b*tch,
too—somepin like Muley, on'y worse in some ways. Might see 'im anywheres—at
Shawnee, drunk, or visitin' a widow twenty miles away, or workin' his place with a
lantern. Crazy. Ever'body thought he wouldn't live long. A lone man like that don't live
long. But Uncle John's older'n Pa. Jus' gets stringier an' meaner ever' year. Meaner'n
Grampa."
"Look a the light comin'," said the preacher. "Silvery-like. Didn' John never have no
fambly?"
"Well, yes, he did, an' that'll show you the kind a fella he is—set in his ways. Pa
tells about it. Uncle John, he had a young wife. Married four months. She was in a
family way, too, an' one night she gets a pain in her stomick, an' she says, 'You better
go for a doctor.' Well, John, he's settin' there, an' he says, 'You just got stomickache.
You et too much. Take a dose a pain killer. You crowd up ya stomick an ya' get a
stomickache,' he says. Nex' noon she's outa her head, an' she dies at about four in the
afternoon."
"What was it?" Casy asked. "Poisoned from somepin she et?"
"No, somepin jus' bust in her. Ap—appendi*k or somepin. Well, Uncle John, he's
always been a easy-goin' fella, an' he takes it hard. Takes it for a sin. For a long time he
won't have nothin' to say to nobody. Just walks aroun' like he don't see nothin' an' he
prays some. Took 'im two years to come out of it, an' then he ain't the same. Sort of
wild. Made a damn nuisance of hisself. Ever' time one of us kids got worms or a
gutache Uncle John brings a doctor out. Pa finally tol' him he got to stop. Kids all the
time gettin' a gutache. He figures it's his fault his woman died. Funny fella. He's all the
time makin' it up to somebody—givin' kids stuff, droppin' a sack a meal on somebody's
porch. Give away about ever'thing he got, an' still he ain't very happy. Gets walkin'
around alone at night sometimes. He's a good farmer, though. Keeps his lan' nice."
"Poor fella," said the preacher, "Poor lonely fella. Did he go to church much when
his woman died?"
"No, he didn'. Never wanted to get close to folks. Wanted to be off alone. I never
seen a kid that wasn't crazy about him. He'd come to our house in the night sometimes,
an' we knowed he'd come 'cause jus' as sure as he come there'd be a pack a gum in the
bed right beside ever' one of us. We thought he was Jesus Christ Awmighty."
The preacher walked along, head down. He didn't answer. And the light of the
coming morning made his forehead seem to shine, and his hands, swinging beside him,
flicked into the light and out again.
Tom was silent too, as though he had said too intimate a thing and was ashamed. He
quickened his pace and the preacher kept step. They could see a little into gray distance
ahead now. A snake wriggled slowly from the cotton rows into the road. Tom stopped
short of it and peered. "Gopher snake," he said. "Let him go." They walked around the
snake and went on their way. A little color came into the eastern sky, and almost
immediately the lonely dawn light crept over the land. Green appeared on the cotton
plants and the earth was gray-brown. The faces of the men lost their grayish shine.
Joad's face seemed to darken with the growing light. "This is the good time," Joad said
softly. "When I was a kid I used to get up an' walk around by myself when it was like
this. What's that ahead?"
A committee of dogs had met in the road, in honor of a b*tch. Five males, shepherd
mongrels, collie mongrels, dogs whose breeds had been blurred by a freedom of social
life, were engaged in complimenting the b*tch. For each dog sniffed daintily and then
stalked to a cotton plant on stiff legs, raised a hind foot ceremoniously and wetted, then
went back to smell. Joad and the preacher stopped to watch, and suddenly Joad
laughed joyously. "By God!" he said. "By God!" Now all dogs met and hackles rose,
and they all growled and stood stiffly, each waiting for the others to start a fight. One
dog mounted and, now that it was accomplished, the others gave way and watched
with interest, and their tongues were out, and their tongues dripped. The two men
walked on. "By God!" Joad said. "I think that up-dog is our Flash. I thought he'd be
dead. Come, Flash!" He laughed again. "What the hell, if somebody called me, I
wouldn't hear him neither. 'Minds me of a story they tell about Willy Feeley when he
was a young fella. Willy was bashful, awful bashful. Well, one day he takes a heifer
over to Graves' bull. Ever'body was out but Elsie Graves, and Elsie wasn't bashful at
all. Willy, he stood there turnin' red an' he couldn't even talk. Elsie says, 'I know what
you come for; the bull's out in back a the barn.' Well, they took the heifer out there an'
Willy an' Elsie sat on the fence to watch. Purty soon Willy got feelin' purty fly. Elsie
looks over an' says, like she don't know, 'What's a matter, Willy?' Willy's so randy, he
can't hardly set still. 'By God,' he says, 'by God, I wisht I was a-doin' that!' Elsie says,
'Why not, Willy? It's your heifer.'"
The preacher laughed softly. "You know," he said, "it's a nice thing not bein' a
preacher no more. Nobody use' ta tell stories when I was there, or if they did I couldn'
laugh. An' I couldn' cuss. Now I cuss all I want, any time I want, an' it does a fella
good to cuss if he wants to."
A redness grew up out of the eastern horizon, and on the ground birds began to
chirp, sharply. "Look!" said Joad. "Right ahead. That's Uncle John's tank. Can't see the
win'mill, but there's his tank. See it against the sky?" He speeded his walk. "I wonder if
all the folks are there." The hulk of the tank stood above a rise. Joad, hurrying, raised a
cloud of dust about his knees. "I wonder if Ma—" They saw the tank legs now, and the
house, a square little box, unpainted and bare, and the barn, low-roofed and huddled.
Smoke was rising from the tin chimney of the house. In the yard was a litter, piled
furniture, the blades and motor of the windmill, bedsteads, chairs, tables. "Holy Christ,
they're fixin' to go!" Joad said. A truck stood in the yard, a truck with high sides, but a
strange truck, for while the front of it was a sedan, the top had been cut off in the
middle and the truck bed fitted on. And as they drew near, the men could hear
pounding from the yard, and as the rim of the blinding sun came up over the horizon, it
fell on the truck, and they saw a man and the flash of his hammer as it rose and fell.
And the sun flashed on the windows of the house. The weathered boards were bright.
Two red chickens on the ground flamed with reflected light.
"Don't yell," said Tom. "Let's creep up on 'em, like," and he walked so fast that the
dust rose high as his waist. And then he came to the edge of the cotton field. Now they
were in the yard proper, earth beaten hard, shiny hard, and a few dusty crawling weeds
on the ground. And Joad slowed as though he feared to go on. The preacher, watching
him, slowed to match his step. Tom sauntered forward, sidled embarrassedly toward
the truck. It was a Hudson Super-Six sedan, and the top had been ripped in two with a
cold chisel. Old Tom Joad stood in the truck bed and he was nailing on the top rails of
the truck sides. His grizzled, bearded face was low over his work, and a bunch of sixpenny nails stuck out of his mouth. He set a nail and his hammer thundered it in. From
the house came the clash of a lid on the stove and the wail of a child. Joad sidled up to
the truck bed and leaned against it. And his father looked at him and did not see him.
His father set another nail and drove it in. A flock of pigeons started from the deck of
the tank house and flew around and settled again and strutted to the edge to look over;
white pigeons and blue pigeons and grays, with iridescent wings.
Joad hooked his fingers over the lowest bar of the truck side. He looked up at the
aging, graying man on the truck. He wet his thick lips with his tongue, and he said
softly, "Pa."
"What do you want?" old Tom mumbled around his mouthful of nails. He wore a
black, dirty slouch hat and a blue work shirt over which was a buttonless vest; his jeans
were held up by a wide harness-leather belt with a big square brass buckle, leather and
metal polished from years of wearing; and his shoes were cracked and the soles
swollen and boat-shaped from years of sun and wet and dust. The sleeves of his shirt
were tight on his forearms, held down by the bulging powerful muscles. Stomach and
hips were lean, and legs, short, heavy, and strong. His face, squared by a bristling
pepper and salt beard, was all drawn down to the forceful chin, a chin thrust out and
built out by the stubble beard which was not so grayed on the chin, and gave weight
and force to its thrust. Over old Tom's unwhiskered cheek bones the skin was as brown
as meerschaum, and wrinkled in rays around his eye-corners from squinting. His eyes
were brown, black-coffee brown, and he thrust his head forward when he looked at a
thing, for his bright dark eyes were failing. His lips, from which the big nails
protruded, were thin and red.
He held his hammer suspended in the air, about to drive a set nail, and he looked
over the truck side at Tom, looked resentful at being interrupted. And then his chin
drove forward and his eyes looked at Tom's face, and then gradually his brain became
aware of what he saw. The hammer dropped slowly to his side, and with his left hand
he took the nails from his mouth. And he said wonderingly, as though he told himself
the fact, "It's Tommy—" And then, still informing himself, "It's Tommy come home."
His mouth opened again and a look of fear came into his eyes. "Tommy," he said
softly, "you ain't busted out? You ain't got to hide?" He listened tensely.
"Naw," said Tom. "I'm paroled. I'm free. I got my papers." He gripped the lower
bars of the truck side and looked up.
Old Tom laid his hammer gently on the floor and put his nails in his pocket. He
swung his leg over the side and dropped lithely to the ground, but once beside his son
he seemed embarrassed and strange. "Tommy," he said, "we are goin' to California.
But we was gonna write you a letter an' tell you." And he said, incredulously. "But
you're back. You can go with us. You can go!" The lid of a coffee pot slammed in the
house. Old Tom looked over his shoulder. "Le's surprise 'em," he said, and his eyes
shone with excitement. "Your ma got a bad feelin' she ain't never gonna see you no
more. She got that quiet look like when somebody died. Almost she don't want to go to
California, fear she'll never see you no more." A stove lid clashed in the house again.
"Le's surprise 'em," old Tom repeated. "Le's go in like you never been away. Le's jus'
see what your ma says." At last he touched Tom, but touched him on the shoulder,
timidly, and instantly took his hand away. He looked at Jim Casy.
Tom said, "You remember the preacher, Pa. He come along with me."
"He been in prison too?"
"No, I met 'im on the road. He been away."
Pa shook hands gravely. "You're welcome here, sir."
Casy said, "Glad to be here. It's a thing to see when a boy comes home. It's a thing
to see."
"Home," Pa said.
"To his folks," the preacher amended quickly. "We stayed at the other place last
night."
Pa's chin thrust out, and he looked back down the road for a moment. Then he
turned to Tom. "How'll we do her?" he began excitedly. "S'pose I go in an' say, 'Here's
some fellas want some breakfast,' or how'd it be if you jus' come in an' stood there till
she seen you? How'd that be?" His face was alive with excitement.
"Don't le's give her no shock," said Tom. "Don't le's scare her none."
Two rangy shepherd dogs trotted up pleasantly, until they caught the scent of
strangers, and then they backed cautiously away, watchful, their tails moving slowly
and tentatively in the air, but their eyes and noses quick for animosity or danger. One
of them, stretching his neck, edged forward, ready to run, and little by little he
approached Tom's legs and sniffed loudly at them. Then he backed away and watched
Pa for some kind of signal. The other pup was not so brave. He looked about for
something that could honorably divert his attention, saw a red chicken go mincing by,
and ran at it. There was the squawk of an outraged hen, a burst of red feathers, and the
hen ran off, flapping stubby wings for speed. The pup looked proudly back at the men,
and then flopped down in the dust and beat its tail contentedly on the ground.
"Come on," said Pa, "come on in now. She got to see you. I got to see her face when
she sees you. Come on. She'll yell breakfast in a minute. I heard her slap the salt pork
in the pan a good time ago." He led the way across the fine-dusted ground. There was
no porch on this house, just a step and then the door; a chopping block beside the door,
its surface matted and soft from years of chopping. The graining in the sheathing wood
was high, for the dust had cut down the softer wood. The smell of burning willow was
in the air, and as the three men neared the door, the smell of frying side-meat and the
smell of high brown biscuits and the sharp smell of coffee rolling in the pot. Pa stepped
up into the open doorway and stood there blocking it with his wide short body. He
said, "Ma, there's a coupla fellas jus' come along the road, an' they wonder if we could
spare a bite."
Tom heard his mother's voice, the remembered cool, calm drawl, friendly and
humble. "Let 'em come," she said. "We got a'plenty. Tell 'em they got to wash their
han's. The bread is done. I'm jus' takin' up the side-meat now." And the sizzle of the
angry grease came from the stove.
Pa stepped inside, clearing the door, and Tom looked in at his mother. She was
lifting the curling slices of pork from the frying pan. The oven door was open, and a
great pan of high brown biscuits stood waiting there. She looked out the door, but the
sun was behind Tom, and she saw only a dark figure outlined by the bright yellow
sunlight. She nodded pleasantly. "Come in," she said. "Jus' lucky I made plenty bread
this morning."
Tom stood looking in. Ma was heavy, but not fat; thick with child-bearing and
work. She wore a loose Mother Hubbard of gray cloth in which there had once been
colored flowers, but the color was washed out now, so that the small flowered pattern
was only a little lighter gray than the background. The dress came down to her ankles,
and her strong, broad, bare feet moved quickly and deftly over the floor. Her thin,
steel-gray hair was gathered in a sparse wispy knot at the back of her head. Strong,
freckled arms were bare to the elbow, and her hands were chubby and delicate, like
those of a plump little girl. She looked out into the sunshine. Her full face was not soft;
it was controlled, kindly. Her hazel eyes seemed to have experienced all possible
tragedy and to have mounted pain and suffering like steps into a high calm and a
superhuman understanding. She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position,
the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken. And since old Tom
and the children could not know hurt or fear unless she acknowledged hurt and fear,
she had practiced denying them in herself. And since, when a joyful thing happened,
they looked to see whether joy was on her, it was her habit to build up laughter out of
inadequate materials. But better than joy was calm. Imperturbability could be
depended upon. And from her great and humble position in the family she had taken
dignity and a clean calm beauty. From her position as healer, her hands had grown sure
and cool and quiet; from her position as arbiter she had become as remote and faultless
in judgment as a goddess. She seemed to know that if she swayed the family shook,
and if she ever really deeply wavered or despaired the family would fall, the family
will to function would be gone.
She looked out into the sunny yard, at the dark figure of a man. Pa stood near by,
shaking with excitement. "Come in," he cried. "Come right in, mister." And Tom a
little shamefacedly stepped over the doorsill.
She looked up pleasantly from the frying pan. And then her hand sank slowly to her
side and the fork clattered to the wooden floor. Her eyes opened wide, and the pupils
dilated. She breathed heavily through her open mouth. She closed her eyes. "Thank
God," she said. "Oh, thank God!" And suddenly her face was worried. "Tommy, you
ain't wanted? You didn't bust loose?"
"No, Ma. Parole. I got the papers here." He touched his breast.
She moved toward him lithely, soundlessly in her bare feet, and her face was full of
wonder. Her small hand felt his arm, felt the soundness of his muscles. And then her
fingers went up to his cheek as a blind man's fingers might. And her joy was nearly
like sorrow. Tom pulled his underlip between his teeth and bit it. Her eyes went
wonderingly to his bitten lip, and she saw the little line of blood against his teeth and
the trickle of blood down his lip. Then she knew, and her control came back, and her
hand dropped. Her breath came out explosively. "Well!" she cried. "We come mighty
near to goin' without ya. An' we was wonderin' how in the worl' you could ever find
us." She picked up the fork and combed the boiling grease and brought out a dark curl
of crisp pork. And she set the pot of tumbling coffee on the back of the stove.
Old Tom giggled, "Fooled ya, huh, Ma? We aimed to fool ya, and we done it. Jus'
stood there like a hammered sheep. Wisht Grampa'd been here to see. Looked like
somebody'd beat ya between the eyes with a sledge. Grampa would a whacked 'imself
so hard he'd a throwed his hip out—like he done when he seen Al take a shot at that
grea' big airship the army got. Tommy, it come over one day, half a mile big, an' Al
gets the thirty-thirty and blazes away at her. Grampa yells, 'Don't shoot no fledglin's,
Al; wait till a growed-up one goes over,' an' then he whacked 'imself an' throwed his
hip out."
Ma chuckled and took down a heap of tin plates from a shelf.
Tom asked, "Where is Grampa? I ain't seen the ol' devil."
Ma stacked the plates on the kitchen table and piled cups beside them. She said
confidentially, "Oh, him an' Granma sleeps in the barn. They got to get up so much in
the night. They was stumblin' over the little fellas."
Pa broke in, "Yeah, ever' night Grampa'd get mad. Tumble over Winfield, an'
Winfield'd yell, an' Grampa'd get mad an' wet his drawers, an' that'd make him madder,
an' purty soon ever'body in the house'd be yellin' their head off." His words tumbled
out between chuckles. "Oh, we had lively times. One night when ever'body was yellin'
an' a-cussin', your brother Al, he's a smart aleck now, he says, 'Goddamn it, Grampa,
why don't you run off an' be a pirate?' Well, that made Grampa so goddamn mad he
went for his gun. Al had ta sleep out in the fiel' that night. But now Granma an'
Grampa both sleeps in the barn."
Ma said, "They can jus' get up an' step outside when they feel like it. Pa, run on out
an' tell 'em Tommy's home. Grampa's a favorite of him."
"A course," said Pa. "I should of did it before." He went out the door and crossed
the yard, swinging his hands high.
Tom watched him go, and then his mother's voice called his attention. She was
pouring coffee. She did not look at him. "Tommy," she said hesitantly, timidly.
"Yeah?" His timidity was set off by hers, a curious embarrassment. Each one knew
the other was shy, and became more shy in the knowledge.
"Tommy, I got to ask you—you ain't mad?"
"Mad, Ma?"
"You ain't poisoned mad? You don't hate nobody? They didn' do nothin' in that jail
to rot you out with crazy mad?"
He looked sidewise at her, studied her, and his eyes seemed to ask how she could
know such things. "No-o-o," he said. "I was for a little while. But I ain't proud like
some fellas. I let stuff run off'n me. What's a matter, Ma?"
Now she was looking at him, her mouth open, as though to hear better, her eyes
digging to know better. Her face looked for the answer that is always concealed in
language. She said in confusion, "I knowed Purty Boy Floyd. I knowed his ma. They
was good folks. He was full of hell, sure, like a good boy oughta be." She paused and
then her words poured out. "I don' know all like this—but I know it. He done a little
bad thing an' they hurt 'im, caught 'im an' hurt him so he was mad, an' the nex' bad
thing he done was mad, an' they hurt 'im again. An' purty soon he was mean-mad.
They shot at him like a varmint, an' he shot back, an' then they run him like a coyote,
an' him a-snappin' an' a-snarlin', mean as a lobo. An' he was mad. He wasn't no boy or
no man no more, he was jus' a walkin' chunk a mean-mad. But the folks that knowed
him didn't hurt 'im. He wasn' mad at them. Finally they run him down an' killed 'im.
No matter how they say it in the paper how he was bad—that's how it was." She
paused and licked her dry lips, and her whole face was an aching question. "I got to
know, Tommy. Did they hurt you so much? Did they make you mad like that?"
Tom's heavy lips were pulled right over his teeth. He looked down at his big flat
hands. "No," he said. "I ain't like that." He paused and studied the broken nails, which
were ridged like clam shells. "All the time in stir I kep' away from stuff like that. I ain'
so mad."
She sighed, "Thank God!" under her breath.
He looked up quickly. "Ma, when I seen what they done to our house—"
She came near to him then, and stood close; and she said passionately, "Tommy,
don't you go fightin' 'em alone. They'll hunt you down like a coyote. Tommy, I got to
thinkin' an' dreamin' an' wonderin'. They say there's a hun'erd thousand of us shoved
out. If we was all mad the same way, Tommy—they wouldn't hunt nobody down—"
She stopped.
Tommy, looking at her, gradually dropped his eyelids, until just a short glitter
showed through his lashes. "Many folks feel that way?" he demanded.
"I don't know. They're jus' kinda stunned. Walk aroun' like they was half asleep."
From outside and across the yard came an ancient creaking bleat. "Pu–raise Gawd
fur vittory! Pu-raise Gawd fur vittory!"
Tom turned his head and grinned. "Granma finally heard I'm home. Ma," he said,
"you never was like this before!"
Her face hardened and her eyes grew cold. "I never had my house pushed over," she
said. "I never had my fambly stuck out on the road. I never had to sell—ever'thing—
Here they come now." She moved back to the stove and dumped the big pan of
bulbous biscuits on two tin plates. She shook flour into the deep grease to make gravy,
and her hand was white with flour. For a moment Tom watched her, and then he went
to the door.
Across the yard came four people. Grampa was ahead, a lean, ragged, quick old
man, jumping with quick steps and favoring his right leg—the side that came out of
joint. He was buttoning his fly as he came, and his old hands were having trouble
finding the buttons, for he had buttoned the top button into the second buttonhole, and
that threw the whole sequence off. He wore dark ragged pants and a torn blue shirt,
open all the way down, and showing long gray underwear, also unbuttoned. His lean
white chest, fuzzed with white hair, was visible through the opening in his underwear.
He gave up the fly and left it open and fumbled with the underwear buttons, then gave
the whole thing up and hitched his brown suspenders. His was a lean excitable face
with little bright eyes as evil as a frantic child's eyes. A cantankerous, complaining,
mischievous, laughing face. He fought and argued, told dirty stories. He was as
lecherous as always. Vicious and cruel and impatient, like a frantic child, and the
whole structure overlaid with amusement. He drank too much when he could get it, ate
too much when it was there, talked too much all the time.
Behind him hobbled Granma, who had survived only because she was as mean as
her husband. She had held her own with a shrill ferocious religiosity that was as
lecherous and as savage as anything Grampa could offer. Once, after a meeting, while
she was still speaking in tongues, she fired both barrels of a shotgun at her husband,
ripping one of his buttocks nearly off, and after that he admired her and did not try to
torture her as children torture bugs. As she walked she hiked her Mother Hubbard up to
her knees, and she bleated her shrill terrible war cry: "Pu-raise Gawd fur vittory."
Granma and Grampa raced each other to get across the broad yard. They fought
over everything, and loved and needed the fighting.
Behind them, moving slowly and evenly, but keeping up, came Pa and Noah—Noah
the first-born, tall and strange, walking always with a wondering look on his face, calm
and puzzled. He had never been angry in his life. He looked in wonder at angry people,
wonder and uneasiness, as normal people look at the insane. Noah moved slowly,
spoke seldom, and then so slowly that people who did not know him often thought him
stupid. He was not stupid, but he was strange. He had little pride, no sexual urges. He
worked and slept in a curious rhythm that nevertheless sufficed him. He was fond of
his folks, but never showed it in any way. Although an observer could not have told
why, Noah left the impression of being misshapen, his head or his body or his legs or
his mind; but no misshapen member could be recalled. Pa thought he knew why Noah
was strange, but Pa was ashamed, and never told. For on the night when Noah was
born, Pa, frightened at the spreading thighs, alone in the house, and horrified at the
screaming wretch his wife had become, went mad with apprehension. Using his hands,
his strong fingers for forceps, he had pulled and twisted the baby. The midwife,
arriving late, had found the baby's head pulled out of shape, its neck stretched, its body
warped; and she had pushed the head back and molded the body with her hands. But
Pa always remembered, and was ashamed. And he was kinder to Noah than to the
others. In Noah's broad face, eyes too far apart, and long fragile jaw, Pa thought he saw
the twisted, warped skull of the baby. Noah could do all that was required of him,
could read and write, could work and figure, but he didn't seem to care; there was a
listlessness in him toward things people wanted and needed. He lived in a strange
silent house and looked out of it through calm eyes. He was a stranger to all the world,
but he was not lonely.
The four came across the yard, and Grampa demanded, "Where is he? Goddamn it,
where is he?" And his fingers fumbled for his pants button, and forgot and strayed into
his pocket. And then he saw Tom standing in the door, Grampa stopped and he stopped
the others. His little eyes glittered with malice. "Lookut him," he said. "A jailbird. Ain't
been no Joads in jail for a hell of a time." His mind jumped. "Got no right to put 'im in
jail. He done just what I'd do. Sons-a-b*tches got no right." His mind jumped again.
"An' ol' Turnbull, stinkin' skunk, braggin' how he'll shoot ya when ya come out. Says
he got Hatfield blood. Well, I sent word to him. I says, 'Don't mess around with no
Joad. Maybe I got McCoy blood for all I know.' I says, 'You lay your sights anywheres
near Tommy an' I'll take it an' I'll ram it up your ass,' I says. Scairt 'im, too."
Granma, not following the conversation, bleated, "Pu-raise Gawd fur vittory."
Grampa walked up and slapped Tom on the chest, and his eyes grinned with
affection and pride. "How are ya, Tommy?"
"O.K.," said Tom. "How ya keepin' yaself?"
"Full a p*ss an' vinegar," said Grampa. His mind jumped. "Jus' like I said, they ain't
a gonna keep no Joad in jail. I says, 'Tommy'll come a-bustin' outa that jail like a bull
through a corral fence.' An' you done it. Get outa my way, I'm hungry." He crowded
past, sat down, loaded his plate with pork and two big biscuits and poured the thick
gravy over the whole mess, and before the others could get in, Grampa's mouth was
full.
Tom grinned affectionately at him. "Ain't he a heller?" he said. And Grampa's
mouth was so full that he couldn't even splutter, but his mean little eyes smiled, and he
nodded his head violently.
Granma said proudly, "A wicketer, cussin'er man never lived. He's goin' to hell on a
poker, praise Gawd! Wants to drive the truck!" she said spitefully. "Well, he ain't goin'
ta."
Grampa choked, and a mouthful of paste sprayed into his lap, and he coughed
weakly.
Granma smiled up at Tom. "Messy, ain't he?" she observed brightly.
Noah stood on the step, and he faced Tom, and his wide-set eyes seemed to look
around him. His face had little expression. Tom said, "How ya, Noah?"
"Fine," said Noah. "How a' you?" That was all, but it was a comfortable thing.
Ma waved the flies away from the bowl of gravy. "We ain't got room to set down,"
she said. "Jus' get yaself a plate an' set down wherever ya can. Out in the yard or
someplace."
Suddenly Tom said, "Hey! Where's the preacher? He was right here. Where'd he
go?"
Pa said, "I seen him, but he's gone."
And Granma raised a shrill voice, "Preacher? You got a preacher? Go git him. We'll
have a grace." She pointed at Grampa. "Too late for him—he's et. Go git the preacher."
Tom stepped out on the porch. "Hey, Jim! Jim Casy!" he called. He walked out in
the yard. "Oh, Casy!" The preacher emerged from under the tank, sat up, and then
stood up and moved toward the house. Tom asked, "What was you doin', hidin'?"
"Well, no. But a fella shouldn't butt his head in where a fambly got fambly stuff. I
was jus' settin' a-thinkin'."
"Come on in an' eat," said Tom. "Granma wants a grace."
"But I ain't a preacher no more," Casy protested.
"Aw, come on. Give her a grace. Don't do you no harm, an' she likes 'em." They
walked into the kitchen together.
Ma said quietly, "You're welcome."
And Pa said, "You're welcome. Have some breakfast."
"Grace fust," Granma clamored. "Grace fust."
Grampa focused his eyes fiercely until he recognized Casy. "Oh, that preacher," he
said. "Oh, he's all right. I always liked him since I seen him—" He winked so
lecherously that Granma thought he had spoken and retorted, "Shut up, you sinful ol'
goat."
Casy ran his fingers through his hair nervously. "I got to tell you, I ain't a preacher
no more. If me jus' bein' glad to be here an' bein' thankful for people that's kind and
generous, if that's enough—why, I'll say that kinda grace. But I ain't a preacher no
more."
"Say her," said Granma. "An' get in a word about us goin' to California." The
preacher bowed his head, and the others bowed their heads. Ma folded her hands over
her stomach and bowed her head. Granma bowed so low that her nose was nearly in
her plate of biscuit and gravy. Tom, leaning against the wall, a plate in his hand, bowed
stiffly, and Grampa bowed his head sidewise, so that he could keep one mean and
merry eye on the preacher. And on the preacher's face there was a look not of prayer,
but of thought; and in his tone not supplication, but conjecture.
"I been thinkin'," he said. "I been in the hills, thinkin', almost you might say like
Jesus went into the wilderness to think His way out of a mess of troubles."
"Pu-raise Gawd!" Granma said, and the preacher glanced over at her in surprise.
"Seems like Jesus got all messed up with troubles, and He couldn't figure nothin'
out, an' He got to feelin' what the hell good is it all, an' what's the use fightin' an'
figurin'. Got tired, got good an' tired, an' His sperit all wore out. Jus' about come to the
conclusion, the hell with it. An' so He went off into the wilderness."
"A-men," Granma bleated. So many years she had timed her responses to the
pauses. And it was so many years since she had listened to or wondered at the words
used.
"I ain't sayin' I'm like Jesus," the preacher went on. "But I got tired like Him, an' I
got mixed up like Him, an' I went into the wilderness like Him, without no campin'
stuff. Nighttime I'd lay on my back an' look up at the stars; morning I'd set an' watch
the sun come up; midday I'd look out from a hill at the rollin' dry country; evenin' I'd
foller the sun down. Sometimes I'd pray like I always done. On'y I couldn' figure what
I was prayin' to or for. There was the hills, an' there was me, an' we wasn't separate no
more. We was one thing. An' that one thing was holy."
"Hallelujah," said Granma, and she rocked a little, back and forth, trying to catch
hold of an ecstasy.
"An' I got thinkin', on'y it wasn't thinkin, it was deeper down than thinkin'. I got
thinkin' how we was holy when we was one thing, an' mankin' was holy when it was
one thing. An' it on'y got unholy when one mis'able little fella got the bit in his teeth
an' run off his own way, kickin' an' draggin' an' fightin'. Fella like that bust the
holiness. But when they're all workin' together, not one fella for another fella, but one
fella kind of harnessed to the whole shebang—that's right, that's holy. An' then I got
thinkin' I don't even know what I mean by holy." He paused, but the bowed heads
stayed down, for they had been trained like dogs to rise at the "amen" signal. "I can't
say no grace like I use' ta say. I'm glad of the holiness of breakfast. I'm glad there's
love here. That's all." The heads stayed down. The preacher looked around. "I've got
your breakfast cold," he said; and then he remembered. "Amen," he said, and all the
heads rose up.
"A—men," said Granma, and she fell to her breakfast, and broke down the soggy
biscuits with her hard old toothless gums. Tom ate quickly, and Pa crammed his
mouth. There was no talk until the food was gone, the coffee drunk; only the crunch of
chewed food and the slup of coffee cooled in transit to the tongue. Ma watched the
preacher as he ate, and her eyes were questioning, probing and understanding. She
watched him as though he were suddenly a spirit, not human any more, a voice out of
the ground.
The men finished and put down their plates, and drained the last of their coffee; and
then the men went out, Pa and the preacher and Noah and Grampa and Tom, and they
walked over to the truck, avoiding the litter of furniture, the wooden bedsteads, the
windmill machinery, the old plow. They walked to the truck and stood beside it. They
touched the new pine side-boards.
Tom opened the hood and looked at the big greasy engine. And Pa came up beside
him. He said, "Your brother Al looked her over before we bought her. He says she's all
right."
"What's he know? He's just a squirt," said Tom.
"He worked for a company. Drove truck last year. He knows quite a little. Smart
aleck like he is. He knows. He can tinker an engine, Al can."
Tom asked, "Where's he now?"
"Well," said Pa, "he's a-billygoatin' aroun' the country. Tom-cattin' hisself to death.
Smart-aleck sixteen-year-older, an' his nuts is just a-eggin' him on. He don't think of
nothin' but girls and engines. A plain smart aleck. Ain't been in nights for a week."
Grampa, fumbling with his chest, had succeeded in buttoning the buttons of his blue
shirt into the buttonholes of his underwear. His fingers felt that something was wrong,
but did not care enough to find out. His fingers went down to try to figure out the
intricacies of the buttoning of his fly. "I was worse," he said happily. "I was much
worse. I was a heller, you might say. Why, they was a camp meetin' right in Sallisaw
when I was a young fella a little bit older'n Al. He's just a squirt, an' punkin-soft. But I
was older. An' we was to this here camp meetin'. Five hunderd folks there, an' a proper
sprinklin' of young heifers."
"You look like a heller yet, Grampa," said Tom.
"Well, I am, kinda. But I ain't nowheres near the fella I was. Jus' let me get out to
California where I can pick me an orange when I want it. Or grapes. There's a thing I
ain't never had enough of. Gonna get me a whole big bunch of grapes off a bush, or
whatever, an' I'm gonna squash 'em on my face an' let 'em run offen my chin."
Tom asked, "Where's Uncle John? Where's Rosasharn? Where's Ruthie an'
Winfield? Nobody said nothin' about them yet."
Pa said, "Nobody asked. John gone to Sallisaw with a load a stuff to sell: pump,
tools, chickens, an' all the stuff we brung over. Took Ruthie an' Winfield with 'im.
Went 'fore daylight."
"Funny I never saw him," said Tom.
"Well, you come down from the highway, didn't you? He took the back way, by
Cowlington. An' Rosasharn, she's nestin' with Connie's folks. By God! You don't even
know Rosasharn's married to Connie Rivers. You 'member Connie. Nice young fella.
An' Rosasharn's due 'bout three-four-five months now. Swellin' up right now. Looks
fine."
"Jesus!" said Tom. "Rosasharn was just a little kid. An' now she's gonna have a
baby. So damn much happens in four years if you're away. When ya think to start out
west, Pa?"
"Well, we got to take this stuff in an' sell it. If Al gets back from his squirtin' aroun',
I figgered he could load the truck an' take all of it in, an' maybe we could start out
tomorra or day after. We ain't got so much money, an' a fella says it's damn near two
thousan' miles to California. Quicker we get started, surer it is we get there. Money's adribblin' out all the time. You got any money?"
"On'y a couple dollars. How'd you get money?"
"Well," said Pa, "we sol' all the stuff at our place, an' the whole bunch of us
chopped cotton, even Grampa."
"Sure did," said Grampa.
"We put ever'thing together—two hunderd dollars. We give seventy-five for this
here truck, an' me an' Al cut her in two an' built on this here back. Al was gonna grind
the valves, but he's too busy messin' aroun' to get down to her. We'll have maybe a
hunderd an' fifty when we start. Damn ol' tires on this truck ain't gonna go far. Got a
couple of wore out spares. Pick stuff up along the road, I guess."
The sun, driving straight down, stung with its rays. The shadows of the truck bed
were dark bars on the ground, and the truck smelled of hot oil and oilcloth and paint.
The few chickens had left the yard to hide in the tool shed from the sun. In the sty the
pigs lay panting, close to the fence where a thin shadow fell, and they complained
shrilly now and then. The two dogs were stretched in the red dust under the truck,
panting, their dripping tongues covered with dust. Pa pulled his hat low over his eyes
and squatted down on his hams. And, as though this were his natural position of
thought and observation, he surveyed Tom critically, the new but aging cap, the suit,
and the new shoes.
"Did you spen' your money for them clothes?" he asked. "Them clothes are jus'
gonna be a nuisance to ya."
"They give 'em to me," said Tom. "When I come out they give 'em to me." He took
off his cap and looked at it with some admiration, then wiped his forehead with it and
put it on rakishly and pulled at the visor.
Pa observed, "Them's a nice-lookin' pair a shoes they give ya."
"Yeah," Joad agreed. "Purty for nice, but they ain't no shoes to go walkin' aroun' in
on a hot day." He squatted beside his father.
Noah said slowly, "Maybe if you got them side-boards all true on, we could load up
this stuff. Load her up so maybe if Al comes in—"
"I can drive her, if that's what you want," Tom said. "I drove truck at McAlester."
"Good," said Pa, and then his eyes stared down the road. "If I ain't mistaken, there's
a young smart aleck draggin' his tail home right now," he said. "Looks purty wore out,
too."
Tom and the preacher looked up the road. And randy Al, seeing he was being
noticed, threw back his shoulders, and he came into the yard with a swaying strut like
that of a rooster about to crow. c*ckily, he walked close before he recognized Tom;
and when he did, his boasting face changed, and admiration and veneration shone in
his eyes, and his swagger fell away. His stiff jeans, with the bottoms turned up eight
inches to show his heeled boots, his three-inch belt with copper figures on it, even the
red arm bands on his blue shirt and the rakish angle of his Stetson hat could not build
him up to his brother's stature; for his brother had killed a man, and no one would ever
forget it. Al knew that even he had inspired some admiration among boys of his own
age because his brother had killed a man. He had heard in Sallisaw how he was pointed
out: "That's Al Joad. His brother killed a fella with a shovel."
And now Al, moving humbly near, saw that his brother was not a swaggerer as he
had supposed. Al saw the dark brooding eyes of his brother, and the prison calm, the
smooth hard face trained to indicate nothing to a prison guard, neither resistance nor
slavishness. And instantly Al changed. Unconsciously he became like his brother, and
his handsome face brooded, and his shoulders relaxed. He hadn't remembered how
Tom was.
Tom said, "Hello. Jesus, you're growin' like a bean! I wouldn't of knowed you."
Al, his hand ready if Tom should want to shake it, grinned self-consciously. Tom
stuck out his hand and Al's hand j*rked out to meet it. And there was liking between
these two. "They tell me you're a good hand with a truck," said Tom.
And Al, sensing that his brother would not like a boaster, said, "I don't know nothin'
much about it."
Pa said, "Been smart-alecking aroun' the country. You look wore out. Well, you got
to take a load of stuff into Sallisaw to sell."
Al looked at his brother Tom. "Care to ride in?" he said as casually as he could.
"No, I can't," said Tom. "I'll help aroun' here. We'll be—together on the road."
Al tried to control his question. "Did—did you bust out? Of jail?"
"No," said Tom. "I got paroled."
"Oh." And Al was a little disappointed.

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