Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Chapter XV


Chapter XV

 

      “Good Lord Dovie … are you still up?!  Do you know what time it is?!”

      I told Jude, “I’m sorry, did I wake you?”

      “Actually no … heard something outside.  Stay inside while I check it out.”

      With a disgusted sigh I said, “I heard.  I think it’s something getting into the compost pile I started.  I only threw the rotten stuff in there but I should have figured it would have been too much for the coons to resist.”

      “That’s no coon,” Jude said shaking his head.  “Coons will take the falls off the ground before they’ll root around for the same thing in the mulch of a compost pile.  Too much like work when …”  He was interrupted by a large crash.  “Stay here,” he ordered seriously before taking his shotgun out of the wall rack and quietly stepping outside, stopping only long enough to let his eyes adjust to the dark.

      I quickly turned the camp lamp off but then wound it a few times in case we needed light again.

      “Dovie?” Paulie said gliding quietly down the back stairs.

      “It’s ok … Jude has …”

      Urgently he shook his head.  “It’s hogs Dovie.  I saw them in the moonlight.  I counted five big ones and a bunch of little ones.  I was watching when the piglets fell into this hole in the ground and now the mother hogs are all upset.  And they’re big and ugly.”

      “Oh my Lord!”  I had an instantaneous flashback to Jack and Jay putting me and Paulie in a tree then Jack getting knocked around by a small hog when we were all little kids.  Jay had gone screaming for help and Butch and Clewis had been the first ones to get there and had scared it with their four-wheelers making it run away.  I vividly remembered the lecture we all got afterwards from Dad and Uncle Roe about how dangerous wild hogs could be.  I grabbed the Glock out of the kitchen drawer.  “Paulie, watch the kids.”

      “Tiff is up there with them.”

      “Then watch the door in case I have to come in quick.  I …”  A boom from the shotgun told me Jude had already found the hogs.

      I ran out onto the back porch and realized just how bright the night was.  That’s when I saw Jude making a limping run for safety.  He wasn’t going to out run what was after him without help so I leapt over the stair rail to get a different angle and took two shot as the lead hog who then went tail over snout when the front end stopped too quick to send a message to the reverse end.

      Jude fell on the bottom stair and then rolled and brought the shotgun up right before the other hog was on top of him, and made a mess of its face, blowing it nearly clean off.

      “Jude!  Paulie said he counted five of the big ones and a bunch of little ones.”

      I didn’t have to explain what I was talking about as I was trying to drag him up the stairs.  With pain in his voice he said, “I got the tusker then got surprised by a sow.  They were all worked up because their piglets fell into that open drainage pipe that goes into the shed and can’t get out.”

      I was only half way listening having gotten a glimpse of why he was limping.  I said in a stricken whisper, “Oh Lord Jude … your leg.”

      “Yeah, she caught me good trying to take a plug out.  But if we got three and he saw five that means there are still two on the loose,” he said reloading his gun.  “Where’d you get that cannon?” he asked when he saw I was rubbing my wrist.

      “I …”

      Paulie called through the screen door, “Jude … Tiff said she can see one of the hogs at the front of the house and the other one marching back and forth behind the shed but that the one at the front of the house is acting crazy like crashing into trees and shaking its head and stuff.”

      Jude groaned.  “Sow at the shed can probably hear the piglets but not see them and its confusing her.  She’ll rip into the shed door if I don’t stop her.  Don’t know why the one in the front ...”

      The hog in the front decided right at that moment to hit the porch.  “Crap!  That’s gonna take out a support.”

      “Not if we stop it first!” He let me haul him up and then he held onto me as we made our way cautiously to the front on the wrap around porch just in time to see the hog charge up the stairs.  Jude shoved me back and brought the shotgun into position and fired almost before I could get surprised that there was a hog on the porch.  The sow ran several more steps before realizing she was dead and then fell over, bleeding … well … like a stuck pig; all over the place.

      Jude muttered, “Must have hit an artery.”  Then there was a huge crash out back and he swore before saying, “Help me get down the stairs.”

      “I’ll come with you.”

      “No you won’t.  You’ll stay up here with the kids.  No sense in both of us getting hurt.”

      I wanted to stop him but he was already limping away and by the set of his shoulders I knew he meant every word he said.  Out on the road I might have played at being an amazon warrior or something along those lines, but here it was really hard to stray from the role I’d been assigned since birth.  I was “a girl” and I was “younger” therefore Jude was head of me in authority because he was “a guy” and he was “older” and therefore the one that took care of bad stuff because it was his place in the scheme of things to do so.  Stereotypes maybe, but ones we were raised to fill and trained for so well they were hard to break out of.

      Several times I nearly ran after him and did call out when the shotgun blasted not once but twice.  “Jude!!”

      He answered weakly, “I’m ok.  Gotta be the mother of all momma hogs back here.  I don’t think I’ve ever … *gasp* … seen a wild female sow this big before.  Can you come …”  He didn’t even finish before I was off the porch running in his direction, just barely remembering not to trip on the other two still lying in the yard. 

      I skittered to a stop.  “Oh my Lord!  That thing is freaking huge!” I said after finally getting a glimpse of what had been trying to destroy the small concrete block shed that the boys had built Dad to build a few summers before they went off to basic training.  “Jude let me look at your leg.”

      “No, I’ll clean it.  I … I hate to ask Dovie but I … I need you to run to the house and get Dad.  We need to get these hogs hung and drained while it is still cool and then get them down in the spring house until we can finish butchering them.  I think he’ll agree that this comes before getting another twenty mowed.”

      “At least let me get you up to the porch and into the kitchen,” I said.

      “Just to the porch.  I don’t want to make a mess in the house and I’ll need to keep watch to make sure the carcasses don’t draw other animals.  You just need to hurry … and take your cannon in case … in case …”  He shook his head.  “I better go.”

      “You better stay where I put you,” I snapped, my nerves on edge.  “I swear you are such a … a … a he-man.  I’m not made of spun sugar; I can run to the house.  With all the shooting I’m surprised someone hasn’t heard already if they are sleeping with the windows open.  But I swear, if you are really hurt and … and …”

      “I’m fine Dovie, just go get Dad,” he told me, patting my shoulder.  “The meat is more important than my leg right this second.”

      I told Paulie to tell Tiff to keep the kids upstairs and that he needed to fetch whatever Jude needed.  I grabbed a handful of bullets out of the drawer I’d had had the gun in and put them in my pocket before I lit off the porch like the hounds of Beelzebub were after me.

Chapter XIV


Chapter XIV

 

      “Drink your tea Reynolds.  I only made it especially for you because you said you were thirsty.”

      “This is my tea!” he shouted.

      “That’s what I said,” I told him trying to stay calm.  “I wouldn’t have made it for anyone else.  It’s my mom’s special recipe.”

      “You’re mom’s not here.  She’s dead.”

      “Yes, she is.  Drink your tea.”

      “I wanna play with the kids.”

      “I thought you said you were thirsty.”

      “I am.”

      “You can’t drink and play at the same time.  But if you drink your tea then Paulie said he would play with you.  If you get too hot then you can’t play or you’ll get sick.”

      “I wanna play with all the kids, not just Paulie.  That’s what’s fair.”

      Between one thing and another I finally got him to drink three glasses of the chamomile and lavender tea.  He liked it because it was sweet and a little tart where I had snuck in some lemon balm.  It took three glasses before it started taking effect.  All three of those herbs have a sedative effect.  I was just praying I wasn’t poisoning him in the process but he’d come over so frantic that I hadn’t known what else to do.

      He never did completely settle down but he settled down enough that Paulie and Bobby could actually play with him.  Tiff stayed on the outside looking in, keeping score.  Reynolds seemed to enjoy it when the little ones clapped so he tried to keep playing the game right.  I kept close by separating apples out that were blemish-free and good enough to wrap and put on the shelves down in the fruit cellar.  The rest I would quickly cut the gashes and bruises out of and then slice them and put them in a big pot that I was going to cook down to applesauce.

      Suddenly Reynolds said, “Ok, I’m done.  Bye.”

      “Wha …?”  But he was off so quick I couldn’t stop him.  “Oh Lord, Uncle Roe is going to kill me for letting him run around on his own.”

      “No he isn’t.”

      I jumped a mile.  “Jude!  Just how long have you been standing there?!”

      “You mean how long have I been hiding over in the bushes?”  At my glare he said, “Long enough to see you must have the golden touch.”

      “If you mean with Reynolds it wasn’t the golden touch … it was tea … several glasses of it.  You coulda come out and helped you know,” I huffed.

      “Bad idea.  Mom’s got Reynolds thinking … aw never mind.”

      I smelled trouble.  “Does this have something to do with why you are sleeping here?”

      “Can we talk about it later?”

      I nodded.  “So long as we really talk about it and you don’t come up with another excuse.”

      He sighed.  “Aw, whatever.  You’ll find out sooner or later anyway.  Mom … she’s disowned me.  Says I … I was a love child and don’t have the same dad as the girls do and that I’m a … an embarrassment or bane to her existence or that I always side against her to be mean or something along those lines.  To be honest I always wondered ‘cause I’d heard stories from my uncles and I look so different from the girls but …”

      Shocked but at the same time not … you hear things when you’re a kid that don’t always make sense until you are older and hear other things I said, “Does that matter anymore?  Uncle Roe adopted all four of you when he married your mom and you call him dad and everything and always have.”

      “You … you don’t care?”

      “Well, I suppose I care if you do.  But if you’re asking me if it changes anything then don’t take this the wrong way but that’s a dumb thing to think.  You can’t help who your parents are or aren’t.  And regardless of who your father was when you were born Uncle Roe chose to be your dad when you were little.  I decided to be … well, I don’t know if a mother is what I am to the kids but I decided to keep them myself and I’ll fight tooth and nail against someone trying to take them away.”

      “You gave that baby away,” he reminded me, hurting me more than I wanted to admit.

      “Yes I did … because Baby needed something that I couldn’t give him and it would have been selfish to hold onto him only to watch him suffer for it.”  Looking away I said, “Doing the right thing isn’t always what I want to do but it’s what I try to do … most of the time anyway.”

      Regretfully he said, “I put my foot in my mouth didn’t I?”

      I shook my head.  “No.  It’s the truth.  I might as well learn to live with it now.  And that still don’t … dang it, you have me talking just awful.  That still doesn’t … not don’t … doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that your mother isn’t … well … I’m sorry Jude but she’s not always very nice.  And she is the least nice when … when life is frustrating her.  You just happen to get caught in the crosshairs this time.”

      He snorted.  “’Suppose that’s one way to put it.  But now you know why I’m sleeping here.  It just keeps the peace.”

      “Sure it does.  All it really means is that your mother and sisters have an excuse not to look after you like they are supposed to.”

      “Hey!  I’m a grown man in case you haven’t noticed!”  I had let the words come out of my mouth before thinking about them and I hurt his pride when he was already low which made me feel bad.

      Trying to make amends without embarrassing either one of us further I said, “A grown man coming out of the seat of his pants and barely able to cook enough to keep himself fed.  At the very least … well maybe not Faith because she’d probably stitch your skin as often as your pants … anyway, one of them should have stepped up.  Speaking of which, what is your waist size?”

      Still a little embarrassed he asked, “Huh?  What are you talking about?”

      “Your jeans that’s what.  I can see through them in places in the back and what’s underneath don’t … doesn’t … look much better.  I think some of Jack and Jay’s old things can be made over to fit but I might as well start with something that is at least close so I don’t have to do too much to them.”

      “You … you don’t need to … I mean …” he sputtered trying to see what the back of his jeans might look like to me.

      “Look, if I’m going to take care of you too I don’t want people saying I treat you harsh or that I don’t know how to take care of you and the kids.  That’s all I need, someone coming along and telling me that since I can’t do it that they’ll find someone that can.”

      He stopped looking over his shoulder and looked at me and then finally said, “I told you Dovie, I’m a man, not a child.  You don’t need to take care of me.”

      “And you don’t need to hunt for a houseful of people that are practically strangers to you either but you did,” I said pointing to the small field-dressed deer I could finally see that he had hung up in a tree to the side of the house where we had gradually been moving so we could talk away from the kids who had gone back to picking apples.

      “Welllllll …”

      “That’s a deep subject, and one deeper than I am up to getting into,” I told him.  “Let’s just call it … call it mutual support or something like that.  OK?”

      In instant relief he said, “Sure.  Why not?  And before I get busy with that deer … you remember how to take care of the meat?”

      “You mean cook it?  Yeah.  I’ll pressure can some of it … or do you want me to turn it into sausage or jerky?  ‘Cause if sausage is what you mean I’ll need to find Mom’s recipes and see if we have the right seasonings.  And I guess see if we have muslin bags to stuff it into so it can be hung in the smoke house.”

      “I didn’t mean anything in particular so any of it is all good … just so long as we get the loins for dinner tonight and don’t waste none.  I’m starving.  Mom went on strike and the girls only fixed grits and greens for lunch and that don’t stay with you long when it is only a little bitty bowl of the leftovers from the bottom of the pan.”

      “Want some apple?  I’m cooking down a batch of sauce to put up.”

      “Can you poke a slice in my mouth?  My hands are a mess.”

      The kids took it as a game to take turns feeding Jude when he brought me cuts of meat from the deer.  He made them laugh by being silly which made me think.  I couldn’t remember Jude being like he was acting and then couldn’t decide if it was because he hadn’t been or because I’d just never noticed.  He was always with older kids that my parents didn’t want me hanging around so maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t.  I’m beginning to think that “wasn’t” isn’t nearly as important as “is” these days.


 

Chapter XIII


Chapter XIII

 

      I woke up before the sun came up and made my way to the kitchen nearly tripping over Paul who had gone to sleep on the floor outside his bedroom door.  “Paulie, what on earth?!”

      “I … I heard what Jude said last night.  I was standing guard so you could sleep.”

      “Oh Paulie,” I said bending down to give him a hug.  “Look, we’ll figure it out but Jude is around so it isn’t just us anymore.  Besides if you don’t sleep, how are you going to help me during the day?  We have a lot to do before winter gets here … and I think we’ll start with those apple trees.”

      The sound of muscles stretching and bones popping came from the other side of the sofa where he’d chosen to sleep instead of the screened porch.  Jude sat up and said, “That sounds like a plan I can get behind.  I gotta help Dad mow the side twenty but we lay off early in the day so we can get other things done.  If he don’t need me I’ll come back here and help clear the tops out so you don’t have to climb up in ‘em.”

      “How do you mow if you don’t have gas for the tractors?”

      “Don’t use tractors.  Mennonite family that bought that farm next door refused to get vaccinated and the whole lot of them fell to the virus.  Most of their cattle went back to other Mennonites but we got some of their big draft horses cause Dad helped build all the coffins they needed.  Parents, both sets of grandparents, and all eight kids; and they weren’t the only Mennonites that happened to.  The mower and other attachments was our grandparents’ that Dad rebuilt to sell to an antique house but never got around to it.  Now we use ‘em.”

      “How awful for that family,” I gasped.

      “Dad said you get paid consequences for standing on your principles … sometimes it’s good pay, sometimes not.  Sometimes it all depends on how you look at it I guess.  Either way there’s grits in the cabinet and some smoked hog jowl hanging in the pantry … er … if …”

      “Let me wash up first.  Have you been doing your own cooking since you started sleeping here?”

      “If you wanna call it that.  Something upset the ducks last week and they stopped laying or you’d have some eggs to go with the grits and jowl.”

      “Fox?” I asked heading for the hand pump that stood at the foot of the back porch steps.

      Jude shook his head, waiting his turn at the pump.  “Something bigger.  Mighta been a dog … or a person.  Hard to tell the difference sometimes, And there weren’t any tracks left worth spit after Rochelle’s kids walked all over the area before we could get to it.”

      “How’s all that going … up at the house I mean.  Uncle Roe had mentioned that the girls were going to have to find their own places before we left for Phoenix.”

      “And they did for a while.  But when things got bad in town they all ran back out here and Mom told them to stay before Dad could say otherwise.”

      “You know Uncle Roe wouldn’t have turned them away Jude.”

      He said, “Oh you’re right about that … but they done got surprised that he don’t let ‘em just sit around like they used to.  None of us do.  You won’t recognize the girls.  Rochelle and Wendalene are half the size they used to be and I ain’t joking neither.  Faith … well Faith is in some kind of funk but she ain’t that pasty color she used to be from where she would never go outdoors and do nothin’.”

      “What do you mean she’s in a funk?”

      “Can’t explain it, she just is.  Think she is having a hard time with all her plans coming to nothing like they have.  She never planned on being a farm girl and hates it but the rules is you don’t work you don’t eat.  The boy she took up with after you all left ain’t half bad; Dad likes him.  And while he don’t know much about farming he’s a doggone good welder and seems to be teaching himself how to smith enough to fix things that break and bring in some work.  My uncles found out the hard way Dad wasn’t fooling and tried to start a feud over it, but Dad stood tough.  Mom don’t like the way things are going ‘cause there’s been a few times folks have gone to bed hungry, her included.”

      Trying to keep any judgmentalness out of my voice I said, “They could always snitch from the pantry.  I’m surprised they don’t.”

      “They tried that.  Once.  Dad padlocked it … and the basement too.  And he sleeps down there now.  He caught one of Butch’s kids trying to unscrew the board off a basement window and had him thrown in the back of the pick up truck and was going to take him down to the county offices.”

      “Oh Lord.  Butch must have had something to say about that.”

      Jude snorted, “Yeah … like have a nice life, next time follow the rules.”

      “No!  You’re joshin’ me.”

      “If I’m lying I’m dying Dovie, I swear it’s true.  I tell you though no one has tried that a second time, especially not the kids.  Don’t mean Dad don’t keep a watch to make sure it doesn’t.  Dad’s a good man Dovie but he don’t take much pushin’.”

      I sighed.  “I can see folks are gonna be just thrilled at seven more mouths if they are already protective of what they have.  I gotta get to planning … doing what Mom always talked about when we were here.”

      Jude nodded cautiously.  “Might be a good idea at that.  I ain’t saying it can’t be done but … the gardens aren’t bringing in as much because we haven’t had the fertilizer or pesticides to keep ‘em going like in the past.  Same with the field crops.  About the only thing that didn’t get bugs real bad this year was tobacco and a good thing too.  Folks have takin’ to smokin’ just to forget how hungry they are.”

      I started water boiling to make the grits and then got the kids up and moving and told them when they were finished getting dressed to start bringing everything into the house out of the car.  “Grab what you can and I’ll get the heavy stuff out, just put it neatly in the back room so I can go through it and figure out where to put things.”

      “I’ll get the heavy stuff Granny,” Jude amended.  “You just cook if you don’t mind.”

      “I don’t mind … and stop calling me Granny.  I’m thankful to be able to give the kids something besides crackers and granola bars.”

      I was putting breakfast on the table when Jude walked in with eyes nearly as big around as the kids had been at the sight of Uncle Roe.  “What?” I asked him getting worried.

      “Co … co … coffee.”

      I looked and realized he was carrying the garbage bag that I had collected the powder out of the vending machines in.  “It’s instant.”

      “Ask me if I care.  Can I have a cup?  Please?”

      “Well goodness Jude, of course you can.  What?  Does Uncle Roe ration it out?”

      Jude hands shook as he dipped some boiling water out of the kettle I had on the stove.  “He would if there was any to ration.  It run out months ago.  You better keep this to yourself or you’ll have everyone up at the house down here all day long.”

      “But I can’t keep it all if Uncle Roe doesn’t have any,” I told him.

      He nodded.  “I understand that but you let Dad decide what to do with it and you don’t tell no one until he does.”  He’d finished stirring and then shivered.  “Good gosh this is good.”

      Nearly gagging at the remembered taste I said, “It’s nasty vending machine coffee.”

      “You only say that ‘cause you ain’t had to give it up for so long.”

      “I say that because it’s nasty vending machine coffee.  Tomorrow I’ll perk some of the real stuff.  There’s some around in those boxes and bags some place.”

      “Now you’re joshin’ me.”

      I shook my head.  “Go wash up and then come eat.”

       a bit later I was wiping Corey’s chin and telling Lonnie to stop kicking the table leg when Jude put his fork down and asked, “Where’s your plate?”

      I shrugged.  “I’ll grab something in a bit.  I want there to be enough left to put some grits in a loaf pan so that it’ll set and I can fry it up for dinner.”

      “You gotta eat.”

      “I will.”

      Paulie and Tiff said in unison, “She won’t.”

      Outraged that they’d go turncoat I said, “Hey!  Whose side are you on you two?!”

      Tiff said, “It’s true.  You don’t eat much.”

      “I … I just got out of the habit.  Besides, I’ve been eating those Clif bars.”

      Jude made a rude gagging noise.  “Gawd Dovie, those things taste like twice chewed cud.”

      Getting irritated I said, “Oh yeah, and your taste buds know good when it hits them.  You think vending machine coffee tastes like Heaven.  I told you I’m fine … just out of the habit of eating a lot.”

      “It shows.  You ain’t much more than skin and bones and don’t play it ain’t true.  I’ll keep an eye out while we mow and try and bag some ground hogs … they’ve been bad this year … or some of your name sakes.”

      At Tiffany’s apprehensive look I said, “He means doves … birds.  They’re like small chickens.”

      She got a glazed look in her eyes and then said quietly, “Cornish hens … Grandmother used to call them Cornish hens.”

      I nodded, “Even smaller than that but they are just as good.  Now if you all are finished eating you can go play for just a little bit then as soon as I get a few things figured out we need to get to work.”

      They all nodded and got up and pushed their chairs in then put their plates in the sink and filed down the hall to Paulie’s bedroom.

      Jude stared after them then asked, “What’s wrong with them?  They’re like Stepford kids or something.”

      “Don’t Jude,” I told him warningly.

      “Relax Dovie, I ain’t making fun of them.  I mean it, what’s wrong with them?”

      I sighed.  “You think you know how bad it was but you don’t, not really.  I’m Ok … come to terms with it.  They’re just little kids and they’ve lost everything.  I can’t even give them much of a family history except for what is in their medical charts that I swiped before we left that facility.  They don’t have anything from the lives they had before I got them unless there are pictures in their file.  Corey and Mimi don’t even mention their parents anymore.  I think Lonnie might have once or twice since we left the facility.  Bobby … didn’t have any to begin with; he started out as a foster kid.  Tiffany … talking about her grandmother is as close to talking about her past as she has gotten in a long time, and Mimi is her biological sister by the way.”

      “Like I couldn’t have figured that out with both of them having the same exact eyes and nose.  Any of the boys related?”

      “No.  Like I said, Bobby came in from the foster care system and I think he’d been there most of his life.  He latched onto Paulie like nothing I’ve ever seen and that’s how he wound up as one of ours.  He’s better now but poor Paulie couldn’t even go to the bathroom without Bobby being glued to him.  After the two of them connected they started collecting the other kids and I came de facto Nanny or something.  And all the stuff in the quarantine camps and medical facilities and then us on the road and all they’ve seen.  I didn’t have any choice but to have rules and to keep them quiet.  We wouldn’t have made it otherwise.  They’ll loosen up but it might take a while.  None of them are real trusting outside our group.  Uncle Roe got more words out of Tiff than I thought he would.”

      “Well that’s Dad for you; he’s got the magic.  I remember when Mom and him first started dating.  I wanted to hate him but wound up praying every night that she wouldn’t get tired of him like she had all the others.”  I hadn’t known that and Jude seemed suddenly embarrassed at having let it slip out.  “Anywho, don’t stray from the yard today.  I know you’re used to having the running of things but … but until you get your feet under you around here …”

      “It’s alright Jude.  You don’t boss the way Butch and Clewis do.  And you tried to help with Reynolds … you know before.  I know you aren’t saying it to be mean.”

      He relaxed and gave me a small grin then stopped looking consternated.  “Dang it.  Ain’t used to … look, I gotta run but there’s some of my guns in the broom closet.  Can you put ‘em where they can’t be got to?  I don’t want the kids to get into them and get hurt.”

      “I’ll put them in the master bedroom closet and lock it like Dad always did.”

      “Good deal.  I’ll try my best to bring something back but it might not be until close to supper.”

      “If you can’t I know how to make do.”  And I did.

      After he left, a bag slung over his shoulders and a rifle in his hand, I went back to the bedroom and told the kids, “You don’t need to all sleep together like this you know.”

      I watched them move together like a bunch of scared puppies.  Paulie answered for them saying, “It’s all right Dovie.  We don’t mind.”

      I sighed then said, “Well I suppose but if you’re going to why not use the big room upstairs.  There’s two beds plus a trundle under each one.  There’s also a fireplace in there and it will be warmer once Indian Summer is over with.”

      Paulie grinned, “We can use the big room?  For real?”

      I laughed, “I don’t see why not.  If you want to.”

      Paulie marshaled his troops and said, “C’mon.  This is going to be cool!”  Even Tiff looked intrigued and followed them up the stairs with some vigor.  As for me, I went and sat on the porch to soak things in and think.

      My raising had been a little unconventional.  Dad was TDY a lot and when he was Mom tended to bring us to the farm to live or visit depending on how long he was going to be gone.  Sometimes Jack and Jay would fuss about it, especially once they got into highschool and worried that it was going to keep them from graduating and getting into the military but for the most part it worked out fine.  It meant I learned the skills to be both a city kid (when we were in Tampa or wherever we were stationed) and a farm kid (when we were in Bear Spring).  I’d mostly been using my city kid survival skills up to that point, now it was time for me to get back in touch with my farm kid side.

      I grabbed a note pad and sat in the swing that had hung on the front porch for as long as I could remember.  On the pad of paper I listed:  food, clothes, shoes, cooking, warmth.

      We’ve got a roof over our head … does anything at the house need fixing? Is the ax sharp enough that I can chop wood with it?  Need to go through the cedar closet to make sure we have enough blankets.  Need to go through all the boxes that never got unpacked from Tampa.

      How full is the propane tank and can we get more? How much will it cost and how do I get the money that was in the bank or the benefits we were supposed to get?  If we can’t does the wood stove still work?  Is there a bird nest in there like last time?

      Might have to make clothes for the kids but that’s ok as there should be a ton of stuff like that still packed away.  Bobby can use Paulie’s clothes that he’s outgrown.  Lonnie can use Bobby’s.  Corey and Mimi need clothes.  Tiffany can maybe use some of my old stuff still packed away.  Maybe I can use Mom’s old clothes if I sew them up in places.  Might see if Jude can use some of Jack and Jay’s old things ‘cause I ain’t looking at his drawers coming out of the seat of his pants much longer.  Why isn’t Aunt Frankie or his sisters looking after him?

      Shoes I don’t know.  Ask Jude.  If he doesn’t know ask Uncle Roe.  Winter boots should still be packed away in the storage tubs in the attic.  Need to find them.

      Food … food … food … food.                                                                                                      

      Food was the thing.  We’d need a lot of it and I was no longer going to have rest stops and stores to go digging through to find some.  So I flipped the page and started a new list.

      Drink:  water from the pump, coffee while it holds out, boxed drinks for juice, powdered drinks that I’ve been collecting.  I see that the mints have gone crazy in Mom’s herb garden.  Pick some and dry it to drink so that other people can have the vending machine sludge.  Hide all the sodas under my bed and only have one as a treat when I absolutely can’t stand it anymore.  Maybe give all the diet ones to Aunt Frankie and the girls as a peace offering so they’ll stay off my back.

      Sweetening:  packets of sugar, fake sugar, and honey that I’ve been collecting.  The bags of stuff like that from offices and vending machines.  Syrup boiling but that doesn’t happen until spring and can we do it this year if there is no propane to keep the fires lit?  Honey like the Mennonites have?  What else do the Mennonites do for sweetening?

      Meat:  ducks from the pond if they haven’t all flown south.  Bullfrogs from the ponds but don’t let Jude tell them that stupid story about the legs jumping around in their stomach.  Squirrels?  Raccoons?  Quail?  Doves? Ground hogs?  I don’t like possums but I’ll eat them if there isn’t anything else and just won’t tell the kids what it is.  Jude said there might be some hunting but not much … what about deer?  I don’t want to ask but does Uncle Roe still have his pigs, chickens, and the goats?  Can I work at something somehow so that he’ll give me enough for the kids?  Crows hang around all winter long.  Is there really such a thing as blackbird pie like in the song Old King Cole?  Maybe we don’t have to eat meat every day if the vitamins hold out.  Can you eat muskrats?  Are they still in the creeks?

      Vegetables:  need to get Jude to be ok with me walking in the woods.  Take Mom’s lists and forage and try and bring back enough to can some of the greens and mushrooms.  What else can I find in the woods in October?  Look for that little reference book Mom used to use all the time when we were here, the one she wrote all those notes in. 

      Fruit:  What is on the trees in the old orchard?  Apples, canning pears is the only thing that would be on them in October.  What about the rose hips?  Did they make this year?  Has a lot of Vitamin C in them and makes good tea.  Those packets of lemon juice might come in handy.  Sumac lemonade tastes like fruit but it isn’t (should put this under drinks).

      Other:  See if any home canned goods are left down in the basement closet and see what date they have on them.  Or did Jude and Uncle Roe take all that stuff away?  Mom’s wild grape catsup and mushroom catsup might still be in there.  What about grains?  I have some oatmeal left but that won’t last.  Bread?  Only thing I have is crackers and those meal bar things.  What about medicine in case the kids get sick?  Have all those first aid kits but no serious medicine if they get bad sick.  Need to read Mom’s books on teas and stuff like that.  How do I make bread if I don’t have flour or cornmeal?  I remember when Gran was still alive we used acorns for stuff so look in Gran’s old recipe book or ask Uncle Roe if he remembers.

      I could feel myself getting edgy about all the things we didn’t have.  The only thing I knew to do was work with what we did have.

      I stuck my head in the front door and called up the stairs, “Paulie?!”

      “Yeah?”

      “Need you all down here.  We’re gonna start gleaning the trees.”

Chapter XII


Chapter XII

 

      “I’d a been back sooner but I didn’t want to push the horses in the dark.  Rochelle didn’t come but Butch did.  He’s tying off.”

      Uncle Roe called out the door, “Get in here boy and greet your cousin!”

      “I’m coming Dad.  You shouldn’t say it so loud.  Someone might hear.”

      A large man walked in with hair nearly the same color as Mom’s had been.  Uncle Roe said, “I want ‘em to hear.  Want the whole county to hear.  Might chirk ‘em up to know that miracles are still happening.”

      Paulie stuck his head out the bedroom door and waved carefully then said, “Dovie, they’re scared.  It’s … I think it’s all the strange men.”

      I stood up.  “Hi Butch.  I’ll say it properly when I get back.  Just give me a second.”

      I heard Butch ask who “they” were and Uncle Roe and Jude start to explain.  It took a few minutes for me to get the kids settled down but finally they did and they were all asleep except Tiffany and Paulie both of whom agreed to come out for a minute.

      Uncle Roe, despite being rough, loved little kids and asked right away, “And I guess this princess must be Miss Tiffany.  I’ve heard what a help you and Paul were on the long trip home.”

      I let Uncle Roe charm Tiff and turned to look at Butch who leaned against the wall.  I said, “I guess you expect a hug or something.”

      I could see his smile even in the dark.  “And a kiss on the cheek just to make sure to ruffle your feathers properly.”  After said hug and peck he set me back and looked at me.  “Jude told us about those men.”

      “Oh.”

      “We don’t need to say any more about it.  Bad things happen to bad people when they get what’s coming to ‘em.”

      I relaxed.  Out of all my cousins on both sides Butch could be a bit of a stiff.  It is why he and Jude had trouble getting along when Jude would get wild.  Butch and Clewis’ mom – a woman named Jennifer that I never really had much to do with – is even stiffer so that’s where he picked it up from.  If Butch wasn’t going to give me a hard time about it I doubted anyone would; but it still wasn’t something I wanted to advertise.  “Can we … not … not tell everyone else?”

      “You won’t catch me carrying tales,” he said.

      Jude added, “I only told Butch and Dad because I figured they needed to know what you’d been through.  That is the only time that …?”

      “We avoided people when we could,” I said hurriedly by way of an answer.  “It was just safer that way.”

      Uncle Roe broke in and said, “Reckon these two need to be hitting the hay Dovie.  And I don’t want to leave either but they’ll be going crazy up at the house and Clewis ain’t gonna be able to handle them all by hisself.”

      I hugged him and said, “And the sun comes up early on a farm.”

      He chuckled at the family saying and said, “Earlier every day.  Jude seems to think he’s got enough groceries to fix breakfast with but tomorrow we’ll get you outfitted so you can take care of yourselves better than you have been.  We’ll give it a couple of days for the kids to settle down and then on Sunday we’ll have a big meal all together after church.”

      “Yes sir,” I told him knowing he was taking it as a given that we’d all be attending if the doors were open.  “But I don’t know if I have enough gas left to go but once or twice.”

      “Don’t take that car girl; it will stand out like sore thumb.  You walk up to the house and we’ll all fit in the wagon.  Jude’ll explain it.”

      He was waiting for me to say something.  “Yes sir.”

      That wasn’t it so Uncle Roe just asked outright, “You all right with Jude staying here?”

      “Jude already asked me that first thing and I said sure.  So long as you think it is OK I don’t have a problem with it.”

      All three men must have been tense because I could tell they all relaxed at my reply which I thought a little strange.  “That’s good then,” Uncle Roe said clapping Jude on the shoulder.  “Jude’ll catch you up on how things stand and I won’t have to worry more than I already will.”

      After Uncle Roe and Butch left I turned to Jude.  “OK, something is up.  What is it?”

      Jude shook his head and said, “I told them you weren’t a little kid anymore and would catch on just like you had when your Ma was so bad off.  It’ll take time for them to see it though so be prepared.”

      “I figured that,” I told him.  “But it’s more than just they still think I’m a little kid that needs looking after.  Have I brought us half way across the country only to wind up standing in an ant pile?”

      “It ain’t that bad but as a girl you’re gonna need to be careful.”

      “What’s that supposed to mean?”

      “It means what it means.  The military and the cops are around but they don’t get involved unless they absolutely have to … and you don’t want them to get involved ‘cause when they do it just causes different trouble.  And you stay away from town.  Ol’ Buttface is Santy Claus compared to some that are hanging around there.  You’ll get propositioned to get safe passage to cross the road and don’t act so dumb you don’t know what I mean.”

      I nodded carefully.  “Of course I know what you mean.  I hadn’t intended … to be honest all I’ve been thinking about is getting here in one piece.  I didn’t … I mean …”  I sat down and started shaking a little.  “At least on the road we could run.  Now we’re here and there’s no place to run to.  I guess we’re really in trouble now.”

      “Hey.  Hey don’t.  I didn’t mean to make you cry.”

      “I don’t cry … at least not much.”

      “Well … be that as it may I didn’t mean to scare you but you need to know.  As for trouble, yeah there’s trouble … but that doesn’t mean you’re in trouble.  We just gotta work out how we’re gonna feed everybody this winter and still have seed for the spring.  The one thing is … you don’t tell no one what you have, not even folks at church.”

      “Huh?”

      “There’s … there’s things going on.  Anyone that looks like they have anything has been hit … sometimes by gangs from town though that’s tapered off now that gas is hard to come by … sometimes folks just disappear and their place looks like it’s been ransacked.  The worst is when there is an order of confiscation from the courts.”

      “What’s an order of confiscation?”

      “It’s a legal way of saying that you’ve got something the government needs or wants and they redistribute it to other people who need it or want it.  It is supposed to be so things will be fair but mostly they do it to keep the riots to a minimum or to …er … put the screws to anyone that they consider might be getting too big for their britches.  I say block them rioters in and let ‘em go for it and kill each other off so’s there’s fewer of ‘em … but I ain’t no one that anybody listens to.”

      “Jude …”

      “I think that’s about all you are up to hearing for now.  You’re about as shook up as you need to be.  I ain’t doing too good either.”

      “Yeah, you look like you are getting the sweats … is it bad?”

      “The wanting a drink?”  At my nod he said, “Not as bad as it was.  I worked some of it off running back to the house and bringing Butch over.  I’m just beat.”

      I thought it would take forever to get to sleep but surprisingly my exhausted side won out over the side that wanted to come crawling out of my skin.  It was a little hard to believe but I was actually sleeping in a bed I’d called my own since I was old enough to sleep in something besides a cradle.

Chapter XI


Chapter XI

 

      “Dovie?   Dovie Killarney Doherty is that you?!”

      I turned at the sound of my name and found they came from a familiar face.  “Jude?  Jude?!”

      I whimpered without meaning to.  Then Paulie saw him, “Jude!!”

      “Good gawd,” the man whispered before bracing himself for Paulie’s leap and strangled cry of joy.

      “Jude, they said we can’t …”

      Jude turn to the gatekeepers and said, “I can vouch for them Hennisey.  They’re my step-dad’s sister’s kids.”

      “All of them?” the man asked suspiciously.

      Jude, to his credit looked in the car and then at me and then turned to the man and told a bald faced lie.  “Yeah, it’s been about a year since we’ve seen ‘em but they’re all ours all right.”

      “You know what I’ll do to you if I find out you’re lying.”

      Jude just stood there and looked at the man.  Finally the one called Hennisey snorted and put a stamp on a piece of paper and told me to keep it on the dash.  “And get a damn proper ID.  You look like one of them friggin’ foreigners with your half slanty eyes.  Someone will scoop you up and throw you in the holding pens no matter who you claim your people are.”

      Jude stepped in front of me and with a look cautioned me to take what I could get and to get out of there.  Paulie scrambled into the back and like he did it every day Jude handed his bag of stuff in and then climbed in after it.  He whispered, “Pull out slow and easy.  Act like you are doing your best to follow the rules, like you believe ol’ Buttface deserves your respect.  Once we get about a hundred feet on the other side of that roundabout they’ll have forgotten and be on to the next person they can give a hard time to.”

      “Jude … I … I …”

      “You mind giving me a ride back?” he asked like it was something else he did every day.

      “Do you even need to ask?!”  I had to hiccup to hold back the tears.  “Of course I’ll give you a ride.  Heck, I’ll tie the whole family on and cart them wherever they want to go just to get a glimpse of home.”

      He looked and me and then cautiously said, “You’ve had it bad.”  It was a statement, not a question.

      “Yeah.”  Then I drew my courage around me hoping for the best but trying to be prepared for the worst.  “Jude?  What about … about the family.”

      “Everyone is alive if that’s what you’re asking.  Butch and Clewis and their wives are back from Dakota too.”

      My hands started shaking and I was having a hard time breathing.  “Hey?” he asked concerned.  “You sick or something?”

      I shook my head.  “I’ve been driving thousands and thousands of miles.  Praying we could make it here.  Wondering if there would be anyone left when we arrived.  And now that … I mean … there you are … and we’re sitting here like … like nothing … and … everyone is …”

      Quietly Jude told me, “Pull off under that maple up there.”

      I did and then he asked me to get out and sit on the hood.  “Paulie, nothing against you, but I need to talk to Dovie.”

      “You don’t think Uncle Roe is going to let us stay?” Paulie asked fearfully.

      “Naw.  That ain’t it, I promise.  It’s …”

      “… grown up stuff?” Paulie finished.

      “Yeah, Monkey … kinda sorta like that.”

      I was still shaking when I got out and we both sat on the hood.  “Go ahead and tell me Jude.  How bad is it?”

      “It … it isn’t bad exactly.  At least I don’t think you makin’ it back is bad.  And Dad’ll probably break down when he sees you and Paulie and want to go to church or somthin’ to spread the word since he’s had you on the prayer list since we got word about your momma and that you’d gotten taken to one of those quarantine camps.  He tried to find you and has all sorts of inquiries with DHS but it’s like your paperwork got lost and you don’t really exist.”

      Still shaking a bit in reaction to finally getting some place almost called home I said, “I can believe it.  You don’t … I mean the things I’ve seen … I …”  I stopped and just shook my head.  If I got started on that I’d never hear what Jude had to say.  “So what is the big ol’ but I keep hearing in your voice?”

      “The farm is overrun with people.  Dad tried to control it but Mom kept letting people come in while he and I were out working the fields.  All three of the girls are there and they got their   latests with them.  Rochelle claims to be married to hers but I have my doubts.  Butch and Clewis are there with their wives.  Dad did manage to finally throw off Mom’s brothers but it was a near thing with guns drawn.  Since then Mom hasn’t been speaking to Dad all that much and he’s told her if she don’t like it she can go find someplace else to live and whoever wants to follow her can live with the consequences.  That shut the girls up, and those with them, which as you can guess has Mom’s tail feathers burning even more.  You know Butch and Clewis and I don’t get along when we have to be together too much so … er … Dad told me to go stay in the Old House to keep people from tearing it up.”

      That stopped me cold.  “Is … is that gonna be a problem?”

      “No, not for me.  I’d like to keep on staying there if … if it’s ok.  All I’ve done is been spending my nights out on the screened in sleeping porch since the nights have been so mild.  And little kids don’t bother me none.  But I gotta be honest Dovie … the winter is gonna be hard.  Food ain’t exactly easy to come by and … and … with that car full behind us …”

      I’d already been thinking along those lines.  “What about game?”

      “Scarce.  Lot’s of people have turned to hunting to feed their families and what’s left is scrawny and underfed because fields and stuff have been left fallow because there wasn’t fuel to run the big tractors.  What’s made it worse is that a lot of folks have had their city kin show up thinking things will be better in the country.  That’s gone over poorly for some of them.  Part of the reason I am staying at the Old House is to keep squatters out of it.”

      “Oh Glory and it’s only October.  What about the apple and pear trees?”

      “The ones around the old house are still full but only ‘cause Dad ain’t been able to get the girls to get their butts out there and deal with them.  They’re slow as molasses and are still working on the ones up at the main house.”

      “So they haven’t gleaned anything in the acreage?”

      He shook his head, “Not to my knowledge.”

      “Ok, at least I’ve got someplace to start.”

      “Speaking of starting, we better get going.  I know you want to see Dad but it might be better off to just go to the Old House by way of the back roads and let me walk up and tell him.  Uh …”

      “Uh?”

      “Look.  I ain’t tellin’ you nothin’ you don’t already know when it comes to how Reynolds is but you don’t know how bad he has gotten.  You need to be careful.  He runs loose in the woods a lot ‘cause Mom can’t or won’t control him.  She’s got scared of him just like a lot of other people have.”

      “What?!  Reynolds was always a pain but … but only for those he could bully.”

      “You’re right and I admit it even if he is my brother.  But in the past Mom could control him because she could always give him an extra pill when he’d get out of hand.  Ain’t no more pills though and trust me Dad has looked.  The doctors say he is experiencing a kind of … of withdrawal.  He goes all spacey for a couple of days, then he’ll be as normal as he ever got … scatterbrained but willing to listen and at least try to act like a normal kid without ever quite managing it … but then he’ll swing to the other side of the pendulum and he’ll run loose in the woods like an animal; act like an animal too, cunning like a predator.  A couple of times he’s gotten violent and Dad’s been forced to lock him up.  I mean he gets honest to God bat house crazy.  His room is all tore up and Dad doesn’t bother trying to fix it anymore.  He’s got a mattress in there now and that’s about all except for the bars on the window and the window ain’t nothing but Lexan to keep it from being broke out again.  Plaster on the walls and ceiling is all cracked.  Fixtures all tore out.  He’s nearly took the door off more than once.”

      I asked apprehensively, “You think it is going to be bad for Paulie?”

      Then Paulie who had obviously been listening stuck his head out of the window and said, “He can try.”

      Jude turned around and gave him a surprised look.  “Well listen to you little man.  You got it right, just don’t go starting anything.  Reynolds ain’t right in the head … he ain’t going to react like you might think.  The doc says that when he gets through this he might be better for it … but he also might be stuck in worse.  You just watch your p’s and q’s … and your back.”  Turning to face me he said, “We’d better get before Buttface changes his mind and sends a patrol this way.  The guy used to be cool but now he’s let his position go to his head and he thinks he’s God or something.”

      I asked him, “You want to drive?”

      “You need a rest?”

      “It’s not that … I’ve driven this far.  It’s … I don’t know.  You just seem … different … and to be taking things in stride.  I didn’t know if maybe I’m supposed to let you drive or something.”

      He snorted, “Oh I’m going off like Black Cats inside.  I’ll drive if you need me to but you’d better if you don’t.  I feel like my heads in a blender.  Shock I guess you’d say.  And right now I need to focus and letting that stuff out ain’t gonna help.  I spent all day at the markets in Dover and only came back with a quarter of what I was sent to get and that cost twice what was expected.  I run into someone I was just about expecting to be singing with the angelic choirs up on high and you got a car full of kids that I don’t know who they belong to.  I think on it too hard and I’ll want a drink and I ain’t let myself have one in almost a year.”

      “A whole year?”

      “Almost,” he said and I heard a pride in his voice I’d never heard before.  “Right after you left Dad offered me shares on the farm if I could prove I wasn’t going to throw it away by drinking it up.  No way was I gonna pass on a chance to have my own piece of the business.  I only get a taste for the hard stuff every once in a while these days … but I can feel it coming on.”

      “I’m sorry,” I told him though I wasn’t sure exactly why I said it.

      “Don’t be,” He told me.  “It ain’t your fault.  At least I ain’t as hard up as Clewis who is trying to give up cigarettes.  He tried switching to snuff and chaw but his wife hates it and when she don’t like something she lets you know it.”

      I snickered because the idea of Clewis being whipped was kinda funny considering how he was always such a he-man, women belong in the bedroom and the kitchen type.  I looked at Jude and he must have been thinking the same thing because he was biting his lips … what I could see of them anyway.  I asked, “When did you grow a beard?”

      “When I got chewed out for trying to borrow one of Faith’s razors.  The girls hoard them like they’re gold.  It itched for a while, and sometimes it gets hot, but I just keep it trimmed up above my collar with scissors so it’s not too bad.”

      I thought of my legs and pits and cringed.  The kids didn’t notice things like that but I can bet Jude, Butch, and Clewis would … and likely not be shy about saying something.  Oh well, life was hard but they had best not rag on me too much or they might find theirs harder as well.

      “Dove?”

      “Yeah?”

      “You … you really here and not some dream I’m having?”

      I slowed down on a curve in the road and then looked at him.  “I promise I’m not so long as you promise me the same thing.”

      I heard Tiff ask Paulie, “They aren’t going crazy are they?”

      “No,” he answered sounding awful old for a ten year old.  “They’re just grown and sometimes grown people say weird things like that.”

      Jude looked over at me with interest and asked, “So you’re all grown now?”

      Shaking my head I said, “I don’t know about that but I feel old.”

      Quietly he said, “You really have had it bad.  You up to telling me or you want to wait for Dad?”

      The rest of the way to the house was spent with him listening to the highlights of what had happened after we moved to Phoenix and then from the illness to Idaho to seeing him.  I hadn’t quite finished when we pulled onto the gravel parking area by the Old House.

      He was in the middle of climbing out when he said, “I’ll get you inside and settled and then run over and tell Dad.”

      “Tell Dad what boy?  I been worried sick.  Gone all day when you should have been back before supper.  And who the Sam Hill you drug home in that hot rod?”

      “Dad … I brought you something.  Hope you like it,” Jude said with a snicker in the dark.

      “Now what the bloody blue blazes you up to boy?  You know I’m done putting up with …”

      I didn’t let him finish.  Paulie and I were both scrambling out of the car and hollering, “Uncle Roe!”

      The man nearly fell of the porch getting down to us.  He was as long and lean as I remembered and his skin felt even more like old leather the way it would have after long summer in the sun.  I think he was going to squeeze the breath right out of us if he hadn’t needed to sit and get his own breath back.

      “Dovie … Paulie … aw kids …”

      “Uncle Roe … I have some … some …”  I stopped and started again.  “Uncle Roe, I’ve got five other little kids with me … orphans … that … well, I guess you could say I adopted them because they don’t have anyone.  I want to keep them and raise them here.”

      I’d flummoxed him but he caught on quickly.  “Jude, get the house open and let’s get these young’uns in before the bugs drink ‘em dry.  Then I want you to run up to the house and let Butch and Clewis know what’s going on and if Rochelle wants to come back with you and bring her doctoring kit saddle her a horse but I doubt she will with it being dark.  Dovie can fill me in until you get back.”

      I got the kids out – Mimi and Corey could barely keep their eyes open though they whimpered when they got a look at Uncle Roe who could look scary even though he wasn’t – and since they started fussing about being separated Paulie said they could all sleep together in his room until we worked things out.  Paulie said he’d stay with Tiff and the others so we could talk grown up but gave Uncle Roe a last hug that nearly had the man in tears before he picked up Corey and shepherded Tiff who was carrying Mimi followed by a nervous Lonnie and Bobby into his room then came back and dragged their stuff out of the car while Uncle Roe and I talked.

      “Boy has done some growing,” Uncle Roe said with quiet approval from where he sat at the table in the dark kitchen.

      “Yes sir.  In more ways than one.  Uncle Roe, please say it is all right that we’re here.”

      A big hand reached out in the dark and gave me a pat.  “Of course it is Honey.  This is your home.  I’m sorry about my sister … ain’t rightly been able to take that in even after all this time.  But this place is yours through her and I’d like to see anyone say otherwise.”

      It was a relief and I told him so.  “That’s what I thought from you but … but there’s … there’s been so much … I just didn’t know who would still be here.”

      “You mean who’d be alive and who’d be dead?”

      “Yes sir.”

      “Don’t blame you.  ‘Cause of the National Guard camp at Fort Donnelson and the military at Fort Campbell this area got the vaccine early so we wouldn’t be a danger to the troops.  People still got sick but not in the numbers you see other places.  Four counties around here got blanketed pretty good … Stewart and Montgomery here in Tennessee then Christian and Trigg across the state line in Kentucky.  There were some deaths but mostly the people that you’d expect in a bad flu year and the ones that outright refused to be vaccinated for one reason or another.  Reckon we need to get you kids vaccinated as soon as possible too.”

      “We don’t need it,” I told him and that’s when my explanations started.  I had just gotten to the part where I’d heard Jude call my name when we heard the same voice.
      “Don’t shoot Dad; it’s just me.”