One Nation, Under & Counting

By Gale Acuff

One Nation, Under

Behind Miss Hooker’s desk in Sunday School

next to the Crucifix, that’s a fancy

name for cross, stands the American

flag, also known as Old Glory, I think,

or the Stars and Stripes or maybe I mean

and the Stars and Stripes, anyway I fell

asleep for a moment while Miss Hooker

was going at it about God again

and thought I saw Him nailed to the flagpole,

Jesus that is, I can’t remember if

He and God are one and the same, maybe

so but He’s also known as the Son of

God, Jesus is, I’ll ask Miss Hooker that if

I don’t forget but anyway the red

stripes pass for blood and the white bandages

and as for the stars, I guess stars mean stars

and all the states to boot (Puerto Rico

not included) and the blueness the sky

but why you’d see stars in a blue sky, who

knows, I ought to ask about that one, too,

and suddenly Miss Hooker called me to

attention and told me to lead the class

in the Lord’s Prayer and I did but half


-way through the thing it came to me it was

the Pledge of Allegiance so of course all

my classmates laughed, damn ’em, and Miss Hooker  

cracked a couple of smiles so I stopped right

where I was, wherever I was, for which

it stands, maybe, and finished up with Give

us this day our daily bread and on ’til

the end and then that Amen, which we all

almost choked on, sometimes when you’ve been talk

-ing to God by the end of your spiel you’re

short of breath but I remained steadfast like

a good soldier for Miss Hooker until

she told me to sit. Which I never did,

she set my classmates free, then marched over

to me, my eyes still on the cloth if not

on Jesus hanging there. That was fine, Gale,

she said, which was a lie but a good one.

Yes ma’am, I said. And then I fell again.




When Miss Hooker’s not looking I slip back

into the Sunday School classroom to ask

her if she’ll be my girlfriend even though

she’s plenty old, maybe 25, to

my 9 but I’m in love so I don’t care

because love is bigger than ciphering

or take-aways or multiplication

or division and numbers aren’t that real

anyway, not like people are, or they’re

real in a different way, like Jesus or

God or the Holy Ghost. I’m not too sure

because I’m still a kid, in the third grade

and I’ve got about nine more years to go


before I graduate and know it all

–they’ll give me a paper that will prove it,

sheepskin, it’s called, and I’ll wear a robe

and a funny hat with a swinging string

and I’ll march up the aisle and then climb steps

and walk on stage and wait my turn and take

it from the principal, I guess, or the

President of the United States at

the time, and all this to music, and my

father and mother and maybe my dog

will be sitting in the audience, in

folding chairs, and applauding and crying,

well maybe Mother but maybe Father,

too, if he’s drunk, and my dog might arf arf

and maybe I’ll wave. And somewhere out there


is Miss Hooker, my Sunday School teacher,

who will be–but I failed arithmetic

in second grade–34, and she’ll be

waiting for me to shake my father’s hand

and to be kissed by Mother and my dog

can shake hands, too, but he’s not much of a

kisser, and Miss Hooker and I will find

each other in the crowd, and another

good word for crowd is throng, I learned that in

school last week but I’m sorry to say not

much more, and she’ll say, Congratulations,

Gale, which will sound like I love you to me,

and I’ll say, Thank you, Miss Hooker, because

though I’ll know her first name by then I won’t

know whether I should use it or not but

she’ll take my hand and I’ll look right in her


eyes to see what I wish her mouth would say

as if the words were boiling to the top

like beans and I hope they come together

as If you ask me to marry you now

I’ll do it. But when we’re alone in class


and she says, Why, Gale, there you are again,

I thought you’d left with the other children,

what can I do for you? I don’t know what

to say except, Can I erase the board

for you and then clap the erasers and

stack the hymnals back on your desk and

close the window and walk you to your car?

Those aren’t the words of love I meant to say


but I’m nervous, what with her red hair and

green eyes and the mole on her nose and those

freckles–if I connected the dots then

we’d be there until next Sunday but that’s

love, which is better than education

or a story from the Bible, saving,

of course, David and Goliath, and that

Lazarus, come forth!–maybe not better

but almost as good. Miss Hooker says, Why,

that’s very kind of you, so I clean up

and walk her to her car, and open her

door and look away as she settles in

so I don’t see her legs and any more

of what I’m not supposed to know but that’s

not her fault, and when she’s in I slam it

and take a chance, like guessing the answer

in arithmetic, I love you, but her

window was rolled up, I forgot, so she

rolls it down and asks, What was that you said,

and God comes to me and gives me courage

so I repeat, I love you, Miss Hooker,

and keep my eyes on her eyes when they’re not

on her freckles or both lips and she says

Why, I love you, too, you sweet boy, see you

next week, and I stand clear as she drives off

and I don’t move until she’s out of sight

and what’s left is dust and heat and exhaust.

I don’t know how to top it next week so


I might ask her to marry me then and

if she says no then in another week

I’ll ask her if she can wait at least ’til

I’m old enough and not marry any

other man, not that I’m one now but I’m

counting. If she says no again I’ll just

pray like Hell every night she’ll be mine

one day. Or maybe she’s mine already

and this is as far as love goes but I

don’t think so. We still have to multiply.