The pork roast with juniper berries went over really well … or so said the silence around the “table” that Paulie and Reynolds help me to set up by putting a sheet of plywood from the shed across a couple of saw horses. All I really did was take the fresh roast, slice it deeply, sprinkle a little crushed juniper berry between each slice along with some salt and pepper and shredded mushroom – in this case some hen of the woods that I’d collected at the woodlot’s edge, place a couple of sprigs of thyme across the top from the overgrown herb garden, and then had Paulie dig me a hole that I could put my biggest dutch oven down in.
“Where do you want these coals Dovie?”
“Jude! Are you supposed to be up on that leg?”
“Don’t blow your britches out Granny, I’m hobbling with a cane. Just tell me where to put this bucket of coals down at.”
“Ha ha, very funny,” I said but was comforted to see that he was indeed using a knobby old stick that Paulie and Reynolds found and cut down for him. “There is fine. I’ll need them for the dutchie. How’s the leg holding up?”
He sighed then looked around. I realized after his question that he’d been watching for Clewis. “You have a tea to take the edge off? Maybe something like you gave to Reynolds yesterday?”
Answering him quietly I said, “I’ve got something but it isn’t a tea. I found … um … some strong stuff along the road.”
“I don’t want anything that is going to knock me out. I just want the throbbing to go down some so I can concentrate and help get these hogs taken care of. Dad acts like my leg was nearly cut off instead of just a little chewed on.”
“I can make you something but it will still probably make you groggy. I have some advil that might help.”
“Hey, what are you two whispering about? There’s work to be done. Or is little Jude not up for anything?”
Glaring in Clewis’ general direction I said, “I’ve still got that shovel handy.”
A snort was my only answer. Jude asked, “What’s this about a shovel I keep hearing?”
“It’s going to have a dent in it the shape of Clewis’ head if he doesn’t stop irritating me. How did he get someone like Crystal to marry him? She seems awful nice and sweet.”
“Search me. But don’t underestimate her just because she is a pretty little thing. She’s a teacher and can use a whip and chair with the best of them.”
I heard a feminine laugh before a young woman came around the corner of the house saying, “Don’t you forget it Jude Killarney. And Poppa Roe is looking for you and it isn’t out here in the yard. You are supposed to be sitting and cutting the pork down into the right size pieces.”
Without another word Jude hobbled back where he’d come from. Crystal though continued to stand there like she didn’t know how to say something. “What?” I asked her as she was making me nervous.
“Actually …,” she stopped and sighed. “Did you medicate Reynolds when he came over yesterday?”
“Did I what? You mean give him pills? Of course not. Why?”
“He was so calm when he came home that … well it was like he’d been given something. Butch said he was even better than normal … which from what I’ve heard and seen isn’t all that good to begin with. Medication doesn’t do anything unless a child is taught behaviorally what is appropriate and what is not.” She sounded like a teacher all right.
“Well I kinda did give him something but certainly not pills. I managed to get him to drink some herbal tea. Rochelle will know what it is … and if she doesn’t Aunt Frankie certainly should. Mrs. Cherry, Aunt Frankie’s grandmother, taught Home Ec to my mother and after Mom and Dad got married she sent her a book full of her old ‘yarb receipts.’ Do you know what those are?”
“Uh huh. Mom said some of them were old wives tales and placebos but she said a lot of them were for real,” I told her. “My mom swore by a few of them and the one I made for Reynolds was a stronger version of the one that I had started to make for Mom every so often after …”
I had tapered off, unwilling to go into a long explanation. Crystal seemed to understand without me having to which was a relief. “You should tell Rochelle. She’s the one that thought maybe you had supplies.”
Heeding Jude’s caution I said, “Supplies of what?”
“That you had come with a bunch of supplies and food. She said there was no other way you could have made it cross country otherwise.”
I snorted, “Not hardly. The dregs out of destroyed vending machines? Soap out of the dispensers in public bathrooms so we didn’t stink so bad we couldn’t stand ourselves? Praying that there was a working water pump in a doggy doo run? Yeah, that’s really living high that is. The diet soda I’m giving Aunt Frankie is all we had left when we rolled in except for a little bit of junk food we’ve since eaten. If it wasn’t for Jude we’d have empty bellies except for some apple falls I found. Jude brought in a deer after mowing all morning with Uncle Roe and the boys … uh … I mean Butch and Clewis. Guess I can’t really call them boys anymore now that we are all grown.”
A shrill voice interrupted our conversation. “Dovie Killarney Doherty! If you think that I’m going to clean up this mess that you and that boy made then you can think again young lady. Get your butt in gear and stop wasting your time socializing while the rest of us work.”
I rolled my eyes and my mouth took off. “Aw Aunt Frankie. I guess you mean Jude but if you don’t like his name enough to use it then you shouldn’t have called him after that stupid Beatle’s song.”
“I did not name him after that Beatles song, it is a nice Biblical name I’ll have you know; one of the brothers of Jesus Miss Smart Aleck.”
I grinned and said, “Yes ma’am. Then …”
“Dovie!” Jude called from the porch.
“What?!” I said irritated at being interrupted like he was calling a dog.
“You know what. And besides, Dad is ready for you to start rendering the lard.”
Muttering under my breath I growled, “Oh fine. Be that way.”
Dealing with the hogs was a tiring, nasty job. We got all five hung and drained and rather than take them to the spring house we simply kept processing them until we were finished. The day didn’t get hot … frankly it barely got close to warm which was a decided change or so everyone kept saying … but the fires to boil the carcass so we could scrub the bristles off made it feel that way and standing over the rendering kettle was like standing over a little corner of hell.
It took about three hours to process each hog and that was doing it like an assembly line with almost all hands on deck. At one point we had everyone working to hang the shoulders and hams for smoking; rendering the lard and then canning the cracklings, pickling the pigs feet, and then dicing and grinding all of the remaining meat to go into sausage that was then stuffed in muslin bags and hung in the smoke house as well; and then finally preparing the ribs and everything else that wasn’t canned or ground. Uncle Roe even took the chittlin’s because he said he had a neighbor that would barter for them. Ugh. Hog guts, I just never could force myself to eat them.
River and Wendalene were taking the pork ribs off of Uncle Roe’s barrel cooker at the same time I was pouring the last of the lard into the heavy stoneware pots that my grandparents had traditionally used for storage.
River said regretfully, “I hate to serve just these ribs and that pork roast.”
Wendalene and Rochelle didn’t have anything to say. I groaned knowing no one would do it if I didn’t. “Kudzu. If we don’t eat it then it is going to take over the world.”
“Kudzu?” River said doubtfully. “Isn’t that stuff poisonous?”
I looked for support from Wendalene but she just rolled her eyes, on the other hand Rochelle said, “Not poisonous at all. It isn’t my favorite but better than going hungry; Granny Cherry used to cook it, make kudzu jelly, and weave baskets from the vines. Just don’t tell the kids what it is and they’ll probably eat it; they should be hungry enough by now.”
That wasn’t exactly any help but at least if I went to the effort I knew that someone would eat it. I climbed the porch and called, “Tiffany? Paulie? Reynolds?”
I think everyone was surprised when I called Reynolds’ name but heck if I was going to leave him to go digging around the house with nothing to do but get into trouble. Only I had to change my plans when Aunt Frankie intervened. “Come on Baby,” she crooned to Reynolds. “Let’s get you home for a little bit.”
“Well, there goes that idea,” I mumbled. “Paulie, looks like you are volunteered to mind the boys here at the house. I’ll take Tiff and Mimi and run over to get some greens to go with dinner.”
“Aw Dovie … that’s …”
I gave him the evil eye. “What you almost said better not actually fall out of your mouth in my presence. Everyone learns to do everything just in case at some point there aren’t enough people to split the jobs between. Got it?”
“Aw Dovie … fine,” he said obviously in a snit.
The last thing I wanted was to hear my little brother was turning into a chauvinist pig. And if I found out that Clewis had anything to do with it then it might not just be the shovel that was going to be dented.