My understanding of Divine Intention is uncertain when I am ten years
old, but one thing I'm pretty sure of: it's better not to be fat. Our
skinny preacher says that the flesh is of Satan and I believe that one.
It adds up. Gary Cooper and Randolph Scott and John Wayne are not fat.
Sidney Greenstreet is fat. Sidney Greenstreet is of Satan.
I'm a little fleshy myself, not enough to be of Satan but enough to
feel guilt. And enough to nearly get a foretaste of eternal punishment
when the Sparks boys light a fire underneath me after I get stuck in the
chimney. They're the neighbor kids my mother won't let in our house
because, she says, they're wicked and they don't have a brain in their
It is 1944 so it happens because of the war. The Sparks boys and I
have built a bomb shelter in the alley. We've dug a hole maybe seven
feet square and maybe four feet deep, covered it with a flat roof of
scrap lumber, then covered the scrap lumber with the dirt from the
hole. We squat inside in the dark and wait for the Japanese and Germans
to attack Southwest Kansas.
When we get tired of the dark, we make lanterns of little jelly
jars half filled with bacon fat. We stick in a piece of rag for a wick
and it burns bright enough that we can read our Smilin' Jack comic
books. Our favorite character is Fatstuff, the guy whose shirt buttons
are always popping off into the mouth of a chicken who follows him
around. That knocks us out.
We feel guilt because we aren't giving the bacon fat to the War
Effort the way our folks think we are. We know the War Effort makes
explosives from bacon fat, and we know explosives are important. But
it's also important to have light so we can read Smilin' Jack and keep
our morale up until the attack comes.
And I feel guilt because my folks told me to stop playing with
matches last Christmas when I caught my sister's hair on fire. When we
light our bacon fat lanterns, technically we're playing with matches.
It's the matches that give us the idea of building a fireplace.
It's just before Christmas and it's cold down there. So we dig a
fireplace hole into the wall from the inside, then go outside and dig a
chimney hole down into the fireplace hole. We admire the way you can't
tell the bomb shelter is there, except for the chimney hole and the
entrance hole and the way the dirt is piled up on top of the scrap
lumber. It will really be hard to see from the air, I say, so I won't
be afraid when the attack comes.
One of the Sparks boys says I might not be afraid of that but he
bets I'm afraid to be Santa Claus and go down the chimney into the
fireplace. I forget for a minute that the Sparks boys are wicked and
don't have a brain in their heads, so I put my legs into the chimney
hole and try to get my fleshy bottom in too. That's when I get stuck.
The Truth, Mainly
"Santa Claus is stuck in the chimbley," one of the Sparks boys
says. "Let's build a fire in the fireplace."
So that's what they do. I think of hellfire and I start kicking.
Before I even get hot, I've caved in the dirt around the chimney.
"Hey," one of the Sparks boys says, "you ruined the fireplace."
"Hey," the other one says, "you put out the fire."
To pay me back, they set the underside of the scrap lumber ceiling
on fire with the bacon fat lanterns. We watch it burn for a while, then
we think we put it out by throwing handfuls of dirt at it. But the next
day the ceiling is collapsed and smoking, like maybe during the night it
got attacked by the Japanese and Germans.
My sister says it serves me right for setting her hair on fire and
my mother says that's what I get for playing with the Sparks boys. The
Sparks boys say it is my fault for being so fleshy in the bottom. My
dad just shakes his head but he doesn't say anything about fleshy
because he has the biggest belly in town.
That's why he's the town Santa Claus who passes out sacks of candy
from the back of a '39 Ford pickup. He looks real with that big belly.
More than our skinny preacher does when he puts on the Santa Claus suit
to give us our sacks of church candy. His pillows won't stay put.
The church sacks don't have peanut clusters in them the way the
town sacks do. Our preacher says it's because the War Effort needs the
chocolate, but my dad says it's because the preacher's sermons would
make the chocolate melt. The preacher says chocolate is of the flesh
and the flesh is of Satan, but my dad says that's a skinny man's
theology. I rub my fleshy bottom and feel guilt.
Then my dad sings the beginning of "We Three Kings of Orient Are,"
and tries to look like a big-bellied Wise Man. He offers me a peanut
cluster and I do eat.
Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.