“These are all really good Tiff. Do you think that if I empty the boxes of dishes down in the basement you can wrap the apples too?” A small, rare smile transformed Tiffany’s face and
brightened her eyes as she nodded.
Jude’s prediction of rain came true a little after noon time and it looked to be the kind of rain that would continue to fall for the remainder of the day. Jude said we needed the rain – despite the hay on the ground – as a lot of other crops were suffering. “And people too,” he added. “Very few people still have hand pumps. Dad had to install one on the house well and he’s run some pipes from the old spring to irrigate the kitchen garden with. He wants to try and hook the spring back to the house as well so at least there is water in the kitchen and the downstairs bathroom but that’s more work than there has been time for.”
“You kept hoping they would keep the power on around here because of the military?”
“Yeah. Where’d you hear that?”
“Wendalene mentioned it while we were slaughtering hogs. And speaking of your sisters, did Rochelle ever come by to look at your leg?”
“Right after you left. Why do you think I had it all hiked up and looking stupid while I tried to sort the walnuts the kids were bringing me?”
“It’s not that bad,” I told him.
“Hah! You try stretching muscles that don’t wanna be stretched in places they don’t have any business being stretched.”
I couldn’t help it, I snickered. “I told you just to relax but you insisted on helping.”
“Not in the mood to hear an I told you so Dovie.”
He really did look tired. “Then why don’t you just go back to resting for a bit, you’ve done enough. Honest Jude, all I’m going to be able to do now is empty some boxes so I can get the paper for the apples and then decide what I’m going to do with everything else.”
He didn’t argue but he did say, “Don’t try carrying anything heavy up those stairs.”
“Do I look crazy?”
“Don’t make me answer that Dovie,” he said with a pain-tinged smile.
“Smarty pants,” I said playing at the fact that I wasn’t worried.
I followed him to the bedroom and when the other kids weren’t within earshot I asked, “Jude, be honest, tell me how you feel.”
“Better.” At my look he said, “Really Dovie, I feel better than I did yesterday and that’s a fact. It isn’t even that the leg hurts though it smarts a bit I will admit.”
“I’ve … I’ve never been responsible like this. And right when I have the chance to prove that I’m … I’m not a giant screw up I get bit by a hog of all things. It’s like karma or something.”
Feeling a little naughty I said, “If it was karma you would have been bitten by a donkey. You could be a complete ass when you were drunk.”
I’d shocked him. “Dovie Doherty! That mouth!”
I giggled with a small feeling of guilt. “I know it wasn’t nice but you have to admit you opened the door and walked right into it.”
“Hmph. Yeah, maybe. But you better not make a habit of it and do it in front of Dad. Not even the girls are bold enough to do it. Wendalene almost dropped an F-bomb a couple of years back and Dad nearly called down Armageddon and all that actually came out was ‘frick’. You know what he is like.”
“He’s a giant chauvinist that has certain beliefs in how women should act and what their place and role in life should be. How he and your mom every hooked up … Oh Lord Jude, that didn’t come out the way I meant it.”
“Don’t sweat it Dovie. Maybe last year it would have caused a fight but … but I’ve had to get … realistic I guess you would call it. I knew things growing up and used them as an excuse to … well to behave badly. Your dad tried to talk to me a couple of times about it but I wasn’t in a place where I wanted to listen. But at least he tried and some of the things did get through. I’ve been regretting not telling him that.”
“Oh, he knows.”
“Did … did he say something?”
“No. But don’t you believe in Heaven? In Judgment Day?”
“Well then, if you believe that then you’ll know that come that day for each of us we’ll know all the stuff we do and how it affects those around us – nothing will be hidden – the sins or the good stuff. If you say Dad helped you, even if it was indirectly, then he’ll have found that out already.”
“I still wish I would have said something before … before …”
“Before he died?” At his nod I told him, “I’m not afraid of the words Jude. I had to learn to live with it quickly because Mom couldn’t … or maybe wouldn’t as the case may be.”
“The kids all as prosaic as you seem to be?”
“No. They might act like it but Paulie and Tiffany still cry every once in a while though they’ll never let anyone see … not even me. I only know because I’ve learned to watch for the signs that they need some time to themselves because they are getting full up. They’re only 9 and 10 you know. I don’t know how well I would have held up at that age, being asked to do what I’m asking them to do day in and day out. Oh, and before I forget, don’t ever give Bobby anything with artificial red dye in it.”
“Cause I don’t think you want another Reynolds on your hands that’s why.”
“You’re kidding me.”
I shook my head and told him, “Am not. I swear it. I just about killed this lunchroom lady at the medical facility because she thought it was a joke to give him red jello every time I turned around. I thought it was sugar issues until I stole their medical files right before we took off on the road. I tested it once by giving him a little bit of red Gatorade – the kind without sugar in it – and I swear I will never, ever make that mistake again.” Looking at his face I said, “But you don’t seem as surprised as I thought you would be.”
He shrugged. “They’ve tested Reynolds for every allergy you could think of including wheat, corn, and food dyes. I must have been the only guy in town my age that knew what gluten-free actually meant.”
“Did a special diet help?”
“It did sometimes, depending on what medicine they had him on. There’s no way to get him the special diet stuff now so I don’t know if it was the medicine or the food. Don’t have any choice but to accept him as he is.”
Looking around I said, “I’m surprised he isn’t here after the fuss he made yesterday.”
“He’s got the sniffles and Mom is up in arms and blames him hanging around …” His explanation petered off into silence.
“My kids?” At his nod I said matter of factly, “That’s probably true. I keep expecting to come down with them myself. You too.”
He shook his head. “I don’t get sick very much. You used to get sick all the time though.”
“I outgrew it; doctors said my body finally got over being born when Mom had the flu so bad and then me catching it in the neonatal unit.”
“Yeah, I remember that.”
“You didn’t even know me then.”
“I know, I meant that I remember that year. Mom almost died and lost a baby because she caught that flu too. That’s where Mom and Dad met … in the hospital. Granny Cherry had asked some of the folks from the church to come pray for her … and the rest as they say is history.”
“You know I don’t think I ever heard that story.” He shrugged and I felt bad for keeping him
up. “Sleep Jude. Really. If we are going to have to go to church you’ll need to be able to get up and around and you’ve only got one more day to heal in.”
“Oh I’ll be up and around. The only excuse not to be in church around here is if you are well and truly on your death bed.”
I left him to his fitful rest and went to get some help from the boys. As I would empty a box they would carry things up to the kitchen or whatever room I told them to put it in. I wasn’t just looking to make room on shelves or get newspaper to wrap the apples and pears in; the kids needed clothes and so did Jude.
I had already picked out one of Mom’s dresses to wear on Sunday. It had to be a dress for two reasons. One, Uncle Roe. Women wore dresses to church and that is all there is to it. Two, I could get away with wearing Mom’s dresses, not so much her slacks which were baggy in places that it would take me a long time to grow into. For Tiffany I think we’d have to do the same thing only with my clothes that had been left behind when we moved out west. I was thinking in particular of a shirt dress that had been one of my favorites and which I took extra special care of. Hopefully it would be something she could use if we put a belt on it; and when it got colder there were a couple of matching turtle necks and tights sets to change the look from summer to winter. Mimi and Corey I planned on making matching rompers. Mimi’s would be a little dress and Corey a jumper that buttoned at the shoulders. I had already found some navy plaid material to make the outfits with. The pattern was the same one that Mom had been using for years that wouldn’t even take an hour from the first snip with the scissors to attaching the buttons at the end; and that was even using the old pedal sewing machine that Mom kept because the Old House never had been reliably wired for electricity except when Dad was there to run the generator.
The boys were going to be the problem. Bobby and Lonnie might fit in some of Paulie’s old clothes if I could find them and the moths or anything else hadn’t gotten to them. But for Paulie I was going to have to get creative. I could make it happen but that meant spending most of Saturday sewing when I needed to be gathering food.
A few hours later Paulie stuck his head down the stairs and said, “Dovie, Uncle Roe is here.”
“Good gravy, what time is it?”
A second male head stuck his head in my light and said, “Time for you to get up here and tell me where you want these eggs before I drop them.”
“Eggs?! Butch where’d you get eggs?!” I said, nearly running up the stairs.
He stood with a Coleman cooler at his feet and was opening his mouth when I heard Jude hiss loudly before snapping, “Dang it Rochelle, little warning would have been nice.”
I put my hands on my hips and scowled. “What is she doing to him?”
“Probably ripped the tape off and took most of his leg hair with it.”
I arched an eyebrow at him and said, “Sounds like you’re familiar with her technique.”
He gave a playful shudder and said, “Clew and I both are. Trust me, unless you have rocks in your head, having Rochelle doctor on you once makes you a much more careful man from thereafter.”
Knowing there was nothing I could do for Jude but pick up the pieces after Rochelle left I bent down and opened the cooler. “Aw Butch … this is too much. Aunt Frankie is going to flip a switch.”
“Actually it was Frankie’s idea. She and Dad … er … made up last night and are acting like a couple of lovebirds again.” We looked at each other and made a face and then snickered a little in embarrassed understanding. There are facts of life that just are, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily want to know about them. It must have been difficult to have so many living under one roof; everyone always knew everyone else’s business … even the private stuff.
I saw the evidence with my own eyes when Uncle Roe practically floated into the kitchen. I did my best not to laugh aloud but it wasn’t easy. He had a horribly goofy looking grin on his face … the same sort of grin that I’d seen on my father’s face after he and Mom had had some time alone after one of his TDYs. “Hey Uncle Roe.”
“Hello Little Sister. See you were able to do some work before the rain set in.”
“Yes Sir. I’m making room down in the basement for fruit to go on the shelves.”
His smile faltered. “That’s gonna draw mice Dovie.”
“Not the basement proper Uncle Roe … the room off the tunnel that Mom had Dad and the boys fixed as a fruit cellar.”
“I ain’t never been fond of that tunnel,” Uncle Roe muttered. “Hated it when I was a boy and had to come up here and help my grandmother with chores down there.”
“Dad didn’t like it either until he went in there and carved it out better and then shot concrete on the walls that has that fiber stuff in it. It’s fine now. He even got rid of the moisture down in the basement so it could be used for storage and stuff.”
“That I agreed with. Just don’t like being closed off in that tunnel.”
“If I was as tall as you are Uncle Roe I’d get tired of bumping my head down there too,” I told him as if I didn’t know for a fact that his problem actually lay in the fact that he was so claustrophobic that he swore he wanted to be cremated rather than laid in the ground in a casket like the rest of the family. “Do you want to see what I’ve been doing?”
Quickly he said, “Naw Sister, I believe you … you’re covered in enough dust to add an inch of dirt to the garden. And we need to be getting as it is before it starts raining in earnest again. I do want to remind you that church is day after tomorrow.”
“Yes Sir. I’ve already got it all planned out. Do you want me to bring a dish or something down to the house?”
He sighed, “About that, we just got word that there is gonna be dinner on the grounds after service. Every family is expected to bring something for the stone soup and then a side dish or dessert. Jackson Schnell is being forced to cull his cow herd or face some heavy taxes. He’s got a beef hanging so is providing the meat which should bring in quite a crowd since we’ve got three church families all meeting under the same roof.”
Thinking fast, knowing for Uncle Roe it would be a matter of pride that our family make a good showing I slowly turned to look at the hawberries sitting in the sink waiting for me to do something with them. Trying not to sound reluctant I told him, “I’ll make a big batch of haw sauce and … if I can find enough I’ll make Mom’s deerberry cobbler. How’s that?”
He beamed a smile at me that was bright enough that it would have lit up the area I was working on down in the basement. “That sounds fine Sister, just fine as a frog hair.”
Rochelle came sailing into the kitchen muttering about some people having a sad lack of appreciation and said, “I’m ready to go Dad.”
“Wait,” I said. “What about your cooler Uncle Roe.”
“Honey, you keep that one. If you sit it down stairs it should keep the eggs for a few days. Given how many mouths sleeping here they won’t last long anyway. I’ll collect the cooler directly when we need it.”
It had only been three of them and they didn’t stay long but when they left it was like they’d used up a lot of the energy in the house. I looked in on Jude who was tight lipped, silently handed him a couple of headache pills and a glass of water which he downed and then turned away to fake sleep. I walked to where the kids were quietly playing a game of Hi-Ho Cheerio for the umpteenth time on the sleeping porch and asked, “Guess what I found down in the basement?”
“What?” Paulie asked, always leery when I grinned that much.
“All the boxes of books and games we left behind when we moved.”
I laughed at his relief. “For real. I told you I would look for them. I have an idea that you can use my bedroom for a library and toy room, at least for a while, if you’ll come help haul all of that stuff up there.”
Tiffany said, “But where are you going to sleep?”
I’d given it a lot of thought. “I think I’m going to try sleeping in the big bedroom. If … if I can’t then maybe I’ll move into Paulie’s old room. We’ve got time to figure it out.”
It didn’t mean much but an answer to Tiffany who willingly got up and went to grab the first load of books. Paulie did understand however. “That was Dad and Mom’s room.”
“Yes it was,” I said quietly, on the lookout for any problems he might have with that.
He thought for a moment and then said, “I guess you better. It isn’t good for you to sleep in the chair so much and Jude is in the guest room.” And with that he found his enthusiasm to rediscover toys and books that he hadn’t seen or played with in at least a year.All I could think was, “That was easier than I thought it would be.”