“Dovie … pssst … Dovie?”
I jerked awake. “Paulie? What are you doing uuuu …?” That’s when I realized bright day light was streaming through the windows. “Oh crap. What time is it?”
“About eight I think but we forgot to wind the alarm clock and it stopped. We tried to wait but Tiff said we better go ahead and wake you before you got really mad for sleeping so late. Why did you sleep in the chair? Don’t you like your bedroom anymore?”
It felt like I had just gone to sleep, that I still needed hours and hours of shut eye just to feel human. “I like my bedroom just fine … I just fell asleep in the chair is all. At least it is warmer this morning than it was yesterday. I need to go check on Jude then I’ll get y’all breakfast.”
“Jude’s fine,” said a groggy male voice coming down hall. “Jude just feels like …”
“Crap Dovie. Jude feels like crap. What did you think I was gonna say?” came his smart aleck question tinged with a bit of wicked smile.
“You know good and well what I thought Jude was gonna say.” I stomped my foot. “Dang it, now you have me doing it! Talkin’ like Jude is … dang it I mean you are … aw forget it.” Grumbling and out of sorts due to going to sleep with a deep worry on my mind and not sleeping well I stumbled to the back porch, leaned down on the stairs, then pumped the handle until cold water cascaded over the back of my head.
When I was done I stood up but when I turned to go inside I saw Jude sitting on the boot bench. “You ok?” he asked cautiously.
“You don’t sound fine.”
I nodded. “I know. But right now this is as good as it gets which means I’m fine.”
“You should take a day off Dovie, you don’t look good.”
Putting as much sarcasm into each word as I could I told him, “Gee, thanks sooooo much. That’s just what I need to hear.”
“Sorry,” he said not sounding sorry at all. “But it’s the truth.”
Something in me snapped and I slapped my water through the stream of cold water coming out of the spigot of the hand pump sending a stream at him. “I get it OK?!” I stopped and forced my temper back under control. “Look, I know you can boss me Jude. I also know that if push comes to shove I would probably let you just because … because for some weird reason I would. But don’t … please. I gotta do what I gotta do. I worked on some ideas last night to put stuff up for the winter and I need to get started on it today, not tomorrow or the next day.”
“Well add this to your plan Dovie; we’ll be heading to church day after tomorrow and I’ll get a few offers to help mow or harvest or something else ‘cause I got the cattle to do it whereas most others don’t. Those that are willing to pay the cost of fuel are still running their tractors and need experienced drivers that won’t waste the little they have. Either way I’m the man for the job because I’m fast and straight, clear the field clean, e was Hand I’m willing to work for barter rather than cash. The tax man will get me before I’m even out of the field but I’ll still be able to bring in something. I’ll have to owe Dad for upkeep and use of the animals but there should still be some to add to what he brought over yesterday.”
“You don’t have to …”
“Yeah I do,” he said interrupting. “Dad and I talked it out. Ain’t no way you can take care of all them youngins by yourself. Ain’t no way to add all of ‘em down to the house … and you wouldn’t want to even if there were. Ain’t no way I can go back to living there either … it causes too much ruckus. So that leaves you and me throwing in together like they used to do in the old days.” The look on my face must have been something to behold because he leaned away and said, “Don’t go blowin’ your stack Dovie.”
“I’m not gonna … going to … blow my stack. I just would have liked someone to ask my opinion before you planned my whole future out for me.”
Jude shook his head. “It isn’t your whole future Dovie, just some of it. And if I was in your shoes at your age I would probably have fought it too.”
I rolled my eyes. “You haven’t begun to see me in a fighting mood. And stop acting like you are a million years older than me. I’ll grant you are older but you aren’t that much older. And I’ve been responsible for a lot of things earlier than you ever even thought about.” I stopped and sighed and sat down on the top stair. “I’m not fighting you. I might have Clewis, maybe even Butch, but you don’t … don’t … poke at me and make me feel like you are a know it all.”
“I didn’t do anything but tell you the same thing they would have if they were here.”
I snorted. “But you said it differently than they would have. They would have just laid down the law and not discussed it. You said and I quote ‘throw in together’ which makes us partners and kinda sorta equals. Biiiiiig difference from the way they would have done it.” I turned to look at him and saw that I had surprised him. “You’re bossing me Jude but you’ve got a way of bossing that doesn’t set my teeth on edge and make me want to fight.” I stood back up and changed the subject. “I’ve got breakfast to get going. You feel like anything this morning?”
“I’ll take whole bear and half a horse if you don’t mind,” he drawled.
Despite the small spat we’d almost had his words made me want to laugh. “I take it you are hungry.”
“Yeah … but feed the kids first.”
“You’ll all eat, just give me a minute to get going. And don’t make such a fussy face. Ask Paulie and he will tell you that for months I took care of almost all of the house stuff because … because Mom just wasn’t up to it.” I could tell I had given him something to think about which wasn’t what I had intended to do but I wasn’t going to hide the truth either. I loved Mom but it was a plain fact that she had been really, really bad off there for a while and never really had time to come back from Dad, Jack, and Jay dying.
I walked back into the house and found the kids lurking on the stairs. “What are you doing up there like a bunch of curious crows?”
Paulie answered, “We thought you and Jude were gonna have a fight.”
I snorted, “Shows what you know. Now, did the beds get made? Everyone washed up and brushed their hair?”
Since I could tell that not one of them had they went off to do that while I scrambled to figure some breakfast. I decided to make oatmeal fritters. They aren’t fancy food that you would find in a restaurant, not even a poor man’s café, but they sure stick to you for a while and that’s what I needed them to do in case I wasn’t able to cook again until supper.
I made up a batch of thick oatmeal and then added diced apple to it and a little bit of brown sugar from some that I found in a Tupperware container in the top of the pantry closet we must have missed when we were putting things away to go west … and a little bit of cinnamon from the spice jars that were left here as well. I dropped globs of the mess into hot lard by the teaspoonful. By the time I had a big plate of the resulting fritters everyone had gathered in the kitchen.
“Tiff and Paulie can set the table Jude, you need to get off that leg.”
He didn’t argue so I knew the leg still hurt. Or maybe we were already dividing up our authority. He was boss of me in some things and I was boss in others. I could live with that.
I put a pitcher of honey on the table and that helped to sweeten things up a bit. Jude was feverish again but nothing like he was the day before so I gave him some Tylenol and though refusing to go back to bed he did at least lay on the sofa. The kids helped to clean up the kitchen so it didn’t take that long. Since it was still fairly clean I poured the leftover lard into a jar and set it aside to be reused in the next couple of days. Then I lined everyone up on the porch and gave them their assignments for the day.
“OK it’s like this, we need the apple and pear trees completely cleaned off. Paulie you are in charge of that part of it. You are part monkey any way I just don’t want you taking any chances. Tiff, you helped me to separate the apples out the other day so as they bring the apples to the porch you just keep doing what I showed you how to do. Paulie, you have Bobby and Lonnie to help. Tiff, you have Mimi. I’ll take Corey to keep him out from under foot. I’m going to go get some more kudzu and then I’ll be back to the house as soon as I can. I have to get the last of the hawberries picked, finish with the rose hips, get the kudzu canned, and later on I’m going to need some help getting the basement shelves cleaned off so we can start storing stuff down there. Just on the off chance that you boys finish all the trees, you can start on the walnuts that are falling from the trees out front; Paulie you know the drill.”
Tiff said, “Just leave Corey here Dovie. Please?”
“I can’t ask you to watch Mimi and Corey and do the apples Tiff.”
“Corey is company for Mimi and Mimi will complain if Corey gets to go and she doesn’t.”
Still intent on my plan I told her, “Mimi is supposed to be helping you, not playing with Corey.”
From the screened window Jude called, “I’ll watch ‘em Dovie. I’m gonna sit on the porch anyway.”
“You’re supposed to be resting Jude, not babysitting.”
“I don’t mind and the two littles can pick up the walnuts and bring them to me and I’ll separate out the bad ones. I have had enough of my own company to last a while and need to be doing somethin’. At least this way it will be somethin’ useful.”
“You sure?” I asked him as he hobbled out onto the porch.
“Sure I’m sure. Now git if you’re going. There’s clouds coming from town’s direction. If it rains you aren’t going to want to be out in that kudzu for a couple of days, certainly not until the mud dries up.” That was the truth so we all got busy doing our respective list of chores.