I kept going and ran right into Uncle Roe’s open arms. Before he could ask me what had happened I said, “Oh Uncle Roe Jude is hurt and there were hogs and a sow hit his leg and he says he needs you and I guess Butch and Clewis better come too because there were five of them and Jude says they need to be drained and put in the spring house and …”
“Slow down girl and say it again but this time put some air between those words so’s I can understand you.”
I did as I was told and I glanced to see Butch – and another man who must have been Clewis though I hardly recognized him – zipping into coveralls and tying on shoes. “Uncle Roe, his leg looks bad and he wouldn’t let me do anything for him before I left.”
“Might just be bloodied then Sister,” Clewis said. “If it was that bad he would have been calling for his momma.”
A small growl escaped surprising everyone including me. “Clewis?” I asked getting his attention. “Don’t. I know you and Jude don’t … don’t get along but this isn’t the time to rag on him. He wouldn’t even let me help when he was injured and went to take on the last of the hogs and that sow is bigger than two of me. He just limped out there and … and coulda been …” I shivered and turned away. “Just don’t. He doesn’t deserve … at least not anymore from what I can tell.”
“Humph … he’s sure impressed you.”
Snapping back around I told him, “And I’ll impress your head with shovel if you don’t knock it off. I mean it. I don’t want to hear you say stuff like that around me or my kids. Jude is the one that went hungry hunting to feed my kids … not you. You haven’t even come down to say hello or nothing.” I turned to Uncle Roe and said, “I’m running back to the house.”
Butch said, “You can ride behind me while Dad and Clew bring the wagon. You still remember how?”
“As long as you don’t get smart and take any hedges like you did last time I was on the rump of a horse.”
I heard a female snicker and turned to see a much diminished in size Rochelle, Aunt Frankie’s oldest. “Ain’t back a whole day and you’re already bossing everyone.”
“I didn’t mean for it to come off that way ‘Chellie. I apologize if it did.”
My apology caught her off guard then she shrugged. “Grow a sense of humor Dovie. I was only joking.” She sighed. “I’ll ride over with Dad and take a look at Jude’s leg if you think it is that bad.”
“Thank you,” I told her and got another surprised look. “I’d appreciate someone knowing what they are doing looking at it.”
Uncle Roe pulled my braid and nodded in an approving way before pushing me towards Butch who headed out the door.
He rode a chestnut mare with one white stocking and white chest. Once he got on he pulled me up behind him and then went at a slow walk until we reached the road and then he picked the pace up, but only a little because the trees made shadows across the road. “Jude really hurt or is he just making noise?” he asked.
“I’ll tell you the same thing I told Clewis … don’t make fun of him Butch. He doesn’t deserve it.”
“Ok … settle down … just making sure that you and Clew weren’t knocking heads and as a result exaggerating. He … he got a little rough around the edges out in Dakota.”
“Compared to you Clewis has always been rough around the edges.” We slowed down as the moon went behind the clouds. “And what is this I hear about Aunt Frankie disowning Jude over something she did before he was even born?”
“You wiggling is not going to get us there any faster Dovie and may get you dumped on your head. Sit still; you’re making Magnolia nervous.” I sighed and stopped trying to see where we were at and he said, “Is that how Jude explained the situation?”
“No. He told me that she disowned him and when she was mad some stuff came out that probably didn’t need to come out that way. I’m putting two and two together.”
“And making three. Frankie got mad at Jude ‘cause he took Dad’s side about putting Reynolds in a special in-patient program at the state hospital. He dug his grave when he told her that she was keeping Reynolds from growing into being what he might be capable of. There was a big, nasty blow up and she told him she should have known he’d turn out ruined … you know how she is. The stories had been going around for a while but no one really believed it was true, especially not Jude. I think he would have left for good and never come back except Dad asked him to stop and think first and then offered him shares on the farm.”
“And what do you and Clewis think of that?”
“I never wanted the farm and to be honest neither did Clewis … but Clew is bent out of shape … jealous a little I guess. Like you said back there, he and Jude never really got along being so close to the same age and all. He thinks Dad is favoring someone that isn’t his blood son over us. But with things being like they are for who knows how long I guess we’re all stuck.”
We’d gotten close to the house and Butch having grown into some sensibilities at some point stopped talking about it so that our voices wouldn’t carry to where anyone else could hear them. “Jude?”
“Back here,” came his weaker than normal voice though he was obviously trying to sound like nothing was wrong.
Paulie came running then skidded to a halt when he got a look at the horse. “Sorry Magnolia.”
“How did you know its name?” I asked him sliding off with Butch’s help.
“It’s the same horse as the other night and I heard what Butch called her … and don’t call her an it; you’ll hurt her feelings.”
I rolled my eyes. Paulie has always been a bit horse crazy, just never had much scope to exercise it. “Pardon Magnolia,” I said to the horse’s rump just to get Paulie settled down. To Paulie I asked, “How’s Jude doing?”
Paulie opened his mouth but Jude leaning on the porch railing said, “Well his ears work and so does his mouth so you can stop talking about him like he’s on his death bed.”
“You know,” I told him. “That speech would impress me a whole lot more if you didn’t sound like you’d just been gut punched.”
Jude grunted and I heard Butch wheeze an involuntary chuckle. “She’s gotcha there.” He’d tied Magnolia off and climbed the porch. Then he must have gotten a look at the leg. “Damn Jude, it’s a good thing Rochelle decided to drag herself over with Dad and Clew. That’s gonna need stitches at the very least.”
Jude was letting him help him sit down but then tried to stand back up. “Clewis is coming?”
Impatient I snapped at him, “Sit down or I’ll take a shovel to your head the same as I told Clewis I’d take one to his. I won’t put up with that around the kids.”
“You sound just like Granny.”
“You watch and see if I’m not as fast with a willow branch as she was too. I mean it.” I passed by him and sailed into the kitchen to find Tiffany staring at me. “What? Are the kids scared.”
She shook her head. “They went right back to sleep while Jude was telling them a story. Did you really fall through the floor of a hay barn?”
I stared daggers out onto the dark porch. “Yes I did and it served me right for being in a dilapidated old barn I’d been told to stay out of. There was an old, forgotten cellar below the tack room and the floor gave way. I was stuck for most of a day because I had told my mother I was going up to the house to play but had gotten side tracked getting into trouble and that’s where it landed me. Jude and his old hound Curly found me. And if my ankle hadn’t been the size of a bowling ball I would likely have gotten my butt spanked. So don’t let Jude’ ‘stories’ give you or any of the other kids ideas.”
“That’s what Jude said,” Tiffany responded.
“Well good,” I said after hearing the unexpected admonition. “Did he use the first aid stuff?”
“Just to clean it. He used an old towel to try and stop it from bleeding. He wouldn’t let me see it though.”
“Men are like that. They always gotta be tough,” I told her so she wouldn’t be offended that Jude was probably trying to protect her sensibilities. “Go on back up and lay down Tiff. There’s gonna be a lot of mess and noise shortly and in the morning you’ll need to help. OK?”
“OK. But what about Paulie.”
“He’ll be up soon. You just try and sleep if you can.”
She went slowly up the stairs; not because she was reluctant but because she was tired and it was very dark in the stairwell. I went over to the stove and lit it up and got a big pot of water heating. As soon as that was done I heard the wagon jangling which meant they were this side of the gulley.
“I hear ‘em,” he said from out in the yard. “And you were right, these is some big hogs. I can’t believe you took ‘em on alone Jude.”
“Didn’t know they were hogs until it was too late. Didn’t know how many there were nor how big until the other side of too late. What about the shots Butch,” Jude said worriedly. “I didn’t have time to aim as well as I should have. Did I spoil a lot of meat?”
“I don’t see that you spoiled anything but the head on three of them. Frankie will squeal about that but all things considered I wouldn’t worry about it. I’m not that fond of souse meat myself. Now that tusker was a good shot.”
“Yeah well, that’s right when the sow slammed me. If it had been the big one she would have broken me like doll.”
“I hear that.”
The wagon pulled up and I heard Uncle Roe climb out and then say, “What in the Sam Hill?! Had one climb the porch?!”
Butch called, “Back here Dad … and if you think that one’s big you ought to see the other four back here. I swear there’s an old sow that would make a record if we reported it.”
“Well we ain’t reportin’ it,” Uncle Roe said walking around the porch and looking first at the mayhem in the yard before turning with concern to Jude who was grimacing at Rochelle’s not so gentle handling.
She turned his leg into the light of the camp lamp I’d put on a stool and then eased up a little. “Jude this isn’t going to be fun to clean up. And I’m going to have to sew on you a bit.”
“Figured,” he said trying to sound tough.
She looked at me and said, “I’m going to need some clean water.”
“I started a whole pot boiling since I didn’t know how much would be needed.”
She nodded brusquely. “Why don’t you go tell Dad and the boys what happened and take Paulie with you.”
“You don’t need help?”
“If I do I’ll call you,” she said leaving me in no doubt she wanted to be alone with Jude.
I took Paulie down the stairs and over to the hogs. Uncle Roe saw me coming in the lamp light and asked, “Where’s this giant sow you were talking about?”
“Behind the shed. And I guess the piglets are still in the vent pipe.” Clewis snorted disbelievingly
and started to go off that direction. “Clewis be careful, she’s right …” There was a clatter and then some cursing as he all but tripped over the carcass. “ … there. She’s kinda big.”
“Dad! You gotta see this monster pig!”
I looked at Paulie and rolled my eyes. He smiled and then asked, “Can I go look at the horses Dovie?”
“You better get Uncle Roe’s permission first.”
The man in question had heard his name. “What? Oh … sure Paulie, just stay away from their hind quarters and don’t tease them.”
“I wouldn’t ever Uncle Roe,” he said reproachfully before turning to walk standing tall over to the horses where he started up a conversation with them.
Uncle Roe chuckled, “Think I hurt his feelings?”
I shook my head. “He is horse crazy but he’ll mind the rules or knows he’ll lose privileges.” Changing the subject I said, “What about the hogs Uncle Roe? Jude was awful anxious about them. Is meat really that hard to come by?”
He sighed. “Free meat is. And bought meat is too expensive unless you’re a Rockefeller. Butch is going to set up the hanging frame. We’re gonna field dress ‘em and then haul three to the spring house. I’ll take one for Frances and the girls to deal with and the boys and I will get you started on one here but …”
He seemed to hesitate and then look towards the porch where Rochelle tended Jude while we all tried not to hear him grunting in pain. “Uncle Roe, rather than making two messes, why not just hang and butcher here? The kids can fetch and carry and Jude can boss me around about how I should do stuff and it won’t bother me.”
“Frances … well, she’ll prefer to stay up at the house.”
A little wickedly I said, “Well that’s too bad because I would cook for everybody … a fresh pork roast with juniper berries and a side of wild greens to go with the ribs that will need to be cooked … and then she’d be able to look over these diet sodas I had thought to give her. But if she doesn’t want to I can’t make her.”
Uncle Roe looked at me and then bellowed a laugh. “Sister I swear you are just like your momma. But before I go sticking my foot in it, you really got that soady or you just talking through your hat?”
“I have almost three cases of cans that I’ve been collecting out of vending machines. I can’t drink them because the artificial sugar upsets my stomach too much, the same way it does yours. I was going to give them to Aunt Frankie anyway but this way they’ll do some good.”
“Alright, here’s how we’ll work it. Rochelle will go back home after she finishes tending to Jude. The boys and I will stay here. If we can lure Frances, she’ll come with the boys’ wives – River and Crystal, you haven’t met them yet – and Faith can help Rochelle watch all the kids. If Frances won’t come we’ll still get Wendalene because she fancies herself something of an expert when it comes to pigs.”
I told him, “I remember … FFA champ four years running in highschool.”
Uncle Roe used his handkerchief to wipe his nose and hide a smile which I pretended not to notice and he pretended not to notice that I was pretending not to notice. “That’s right. Doubt you’ll see Faith unless her curiosity moves her.”
“Jude said she is having a hard time with things changing so much and in a way she hadn’t expected.”
“She had her heart set on school and that’s the truth of it. Feel bad for the girl but she’s been moping long enough. Maybe with you back she’ll have someone close to her age and it will chirk her up.” I loved Uncle Roe but he was a little blind in a few areas.
He nodded like it was all settled and said, “OK boys, time to get to work.”