I had nice winter boots, had even considered wearing them, but the weather was still too warm and they pinched my toes enough that I just shrugged it off. My legs would just have to show beneath the dress in all their glory; both the nicks and icky looking bandage. I was sure I was going to get a few comments and I was right.
Faith snickered and Wendalene laughed out right before asking, “Did you use a weed whacker on those legs Dovie?”
Trying to head off any more of their jokes I shrugged and said, “Nope. More like a bush hog. Now anyone got a joke better than that they might as well get it out of their system now because I’d rather not get Uncle Roe all hot and bothered at someone giggling in the middle of service.”
Clewis had to add his two cents with comments that included band saws and machetes but soon enough it was over, mostly because the other females remembered that their turn might come sooner rather than later and they didn’t want to be on the receiving end of what I was getting. Uncle Roe for his part stayed out of it but all he had to do was look at his watch and said, “It’s time.” And we were all scrambling to find a place in the wagon.
I was settling all the kids in the center of the wagon, away from the food baskets, when I heard Clewis ask Jude, “You fit to ride?”
“Then maybe you better take Dovie up behind you. Wagon is going to be crowded with the kids and food in there.”
Jude tolerated the mild bossing like a younger brother would but he approached me with caution. I sighed. “I’m not going to bite Jude. If you don’t want me to ride with you just say so.”
“It’s not that. It’s I normally ride Grits.”
Trying real hard not to make a face I said, “That horse hates me.”
“He doesn’t hate you.” Trying to bite back a smile that wanted to sprout from beneath his overgrown mustache he amended, “Or at least not much. It’s more he likes the way you squeak.”
Irritated I asked, “Talking to horses now are you?”
He didn’t let his feelings get hurt by my snappy comment. “Seriously Dovie. He should behave with me. He’s always been better with me than with Butch.”
Sighing I said, “Just don’t let him toss me over a hedge. Last time that happened I was still finding the briars under my skin a week later.”
Uncle Roe said, “We’re wasting time.”
That was a huge sin in Uncle Roe’s eyes as it had been his father’s before him … wasting time was not something readily tolerated. I was telling Paulie to hold onto Corey and Mimi when Paulie’s eyes got real wide. I turned just in time to avoid being where Grits’ teeth clacked together. Rochelle and Wendalene’s kids were laughing at the foolish dance I’d been forced to do but mine were scared and that made me mad enough that I lost my fear of that oversized pain in the rump right then and there.
I grabbed that animal where the noseband and cheekpiece met at a metal ring and jerked his head down. He tried to pull away but I’m a lot stronger than I look and had his reins in my other hand, not to mention I had had all I was going to put up with. I hissed right in his ear, “Now you listen to me you mule headed horse. I don’t know what I’ve ever done to you but feed you and brush you and clean out your ding dang stall. You can pick at me all you want but you just made a grave error in scaring my kids. Unless you want me to bob your tail, tie pink ribbons to your forelocks, and put you out to pasture with your only company being Old Man Morrison’s gay bull you will knock … it … off.”
Amazingly enough Grits stopped tugging and when I turned loose of him he just shook his head and turned away like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth … but he didn’t try the biting trick again. Butch and Jude had both jumped forward when they’d heard his teeth clack but all Butch said was, “That’d sure do it for me. What about you Jude?”
Jude snickered. “It ain’t me that’s got to worry. I just hope poor ol’ Grits ain’t traumatized ‘cause I can guarantee that Dovie will sure do it. She’s a momma bear where them kids are concerned.” He turned to Paulie and Tiff and said, “Ain’t that a fact?”
Tiff grinned bashfully – she was getting used to Jude’s occasional silliness – and Paulie said, “You ain’t seen nuthin’.”
Crossing my arms in embarrassment I told them, “Alright, that’s enough. Uncle Roe is ready to go so let’s go.”
Butch must have told Clewis what he’d overheard me whisper to Grits because he started laughing on the way to church so much that Uncle Roe wanted to know what the joke was. Clewis was smart enough to say, “Just thinking what people are going to say when they see that wagon full of kids. Mrs. Hopkins is going to think she’s died and gone to Heaven.”
Tiff asked Paulie, “Whose Mrs. Hopkins?”
He rolled his eyes. “Old lady at the church. She wears lots of perfume and likes to hug on kids. You can always smell who she has gotten to because they wind up smelling as much as she does. And you better hope that she’s done enough kissin’ before she gets to you or you’ll be wearing lipstick on your face too.”
I had to hide my face in Jude’s back so the kids wouldn’t see me almost laughing because it was true; we’d all grown up getting what we had called “the treatment” from her. Mrs. Hopkins is as sweet as can be but she tends to leave a lot of herself everywhere she goes. Her favorite scents are White Linen and Youth Dew, both easy to overkill with unless you use caution. Dad had once said that she must get a commercial discount because she had to buy it by the barrel full and spray it on with a garden hose. I remember Mom whapping at him with the potato masher she had been using at the time but we all just laughed. Memories like that hurt, but I won’t give them up for nothing because bittersweet is still better than the plain bitterness of having no good memories at all.
Soon enough we got close enough that I could see the old church building and was surprised to see both wagons and trucks all over the place. Clewis said, “Somebody let it out there was going to be a feed put on.”
Uncle Roe said with some satisfaction, “Not until after everyone gets a good dose of the Holy Spirit.”
I heard Bobby ask Paulie, “Is that the name of the perfume that hugging lady wears?”
Uncle Roe had been listening closer than he had looked because I saw him cough a couple of times into his hand and smooth down his beard to hide his own smile.
By the time we parked the wagon, tied off the cattle, got everyone out of the wagon and took the food over to the back building so that the ladies in charge could put it on the right tables there wasn’t time for any socializing. Uncle Roe went to sit in the Amen-pew and was the youngest man there. Aunt Frankie took as much of the family as would fit up to the family pew. The pew where my family normally sat when we were visiting was full of people I didn’t know so I looked around but couldn’t find anything where I could keep the kids together without stacking them like Lincoln Logs. Jude caught my eye and with a jerk of his head I saw that he was setting up old metal folding chairs along the back. “Paulie, go and help Jude. Tiff, pick up Mimi and I’ll handle Corey. Bobby, Lonnie, you get over there and help too.”
Jude sat on one end, Paulie next to him, then Bobby and Lonnie. I sat on the other end with Corey in my lap. Tiffany sat next to Lonnie and we had Mimi between the two of us. Brother Shirley stepped to the pulpit and rubbed his hands together like he was a man with a plan and said, “My goodness it is so good to be in the House of the Lord today. Just looking out over all these faces … it inspires with the Spirit, it surely does.” Then he was off and running.
Everything went well as Brother Shirley is one of those preachers that likes to keep things on a schedule. Opening prayer and a praise and worship hymn, next a hymn for handshaking and hugging, then announcements from the pulpit and another hymn, then another prayer, the offertory and special music, then he slid right into his sermon complete with notes that were in the bulletin – and which we were all expected to discuss afterwards with Uncle Roe leading the questions to make sure we listened – and then a monkey wrench got thrown in.
“Well folks, looks like we are going to have to sing the doxology a capella as our pianist and organist had to go back and set the dinner up and Sister Jenkins’ arthritis is acting up and she’s unable to play.”
That’s when I heard Uncle Roe say, “Dovie.” It was not a request.
I sighed but not so that anyone could hear me, after all you did not embarrass the patriarch of your family by making a fuss in public, and certainly not in church. It would have been nice had he asked when was the last time I had played, much less played the doxology, but we were all in luck as it was one of the first hymns I had ever learned to play and was stuck like gorilla glue in my brain.
I stood but wasn’t sure what to do with Corey who was nearly asleep until Jude reached over and took him from me. I nodded my thanks and then stepped out into the aisle and walked to the front. If people’s stares had been needles I would have bleed out before I made it to the ancient piano that had sat where it was even before my mother was born. I sat down on the bench and in the silence the squeak of the old springs was horrible.
I had placed my stiff hands on the keys and was in the middle of a swift prayer begging for help when Brother Shirley said, “Well now, since it seems our ladies might need a few more minutes why don’t we have a little praise and worship to keep us occupied. Dovie, why don’t you pick since you got volunteered for this duty?”
I didn’t know whether bang my head into the keys or get down on my knees and thank God that he hadn’t asked for some suggestions from the congregation; I would have been petrified to attempt to play something for the first time in front of a whole crowded church of people. Trying not to look at anyone I started off with “I Love To Tell the Story,” then with barely a pause went to “Trust and Obey,” and then followed that one up with a double whammy of “Rock of Ages” and “Amazing Grace” and nearly wept in relief when Brother Shirley nodded at me which meant he was going to say a quick prayer over the food after which I could play The Doxology and then escape.
And escape I did, just as fast as I could get down from the stool. I wove my way back to Jude and took Corey from him only to watch him bend down and pick up Mimi before he told her, “See, I told you that you would get your turn. No need to have your curls fall out.”
I looked at Tiffany who told me, “She got jealous.”
“Where are the boys?” I said looking around frantically.
She said, “They went off with Reynolds when Uncle Roe said they needed to come help set up the blankets and stuff for the family.”
Cautiously I asked, “How did Reynolds seem?”
She shrugged. “He’s not banging his head into anything.” I suppose that was a blessing to
be thankful for.
By the time we got outside the line through the buffet was already fairly long but Jude had already mapped out a campaign. He whistled for the boys – Reynolds came running too – and told them, “Run and grab the plates out of the picnic basket for everyone. You trail beside us and we’ll fill your plates but you drop ‘em you are going hungry because with all these people there isn’t going to be any extra.”
That was when I heard River laugh. “Honestly Jude, you make it sound like you are going into battle.” She shook her head and then said, “We’ve already got plates started for all the kids at the children’s table. All they need to do is sit and eat.” She turned to me and asked, “Are any of them allergic to anything?”
At the same time Paulie and Tiff said, “Bobby can’t have red dye.”
River looked at me and asked, “That bad?”
“Let’s just say there would be two Reynolds running around.”
At her alarmed look she said, “I don’t think so but let me go check real quick. Will they come with me?”
I looked at Paulie and Tiff and they nodded. Mimi did not want to get down from Jude’s arms until Reynolds said he’d give her a piggy back ride if she promised not to kick. Paulie took Corey and I whispered to him, “Don’t let him throw her over a hedge.”
Paulie nodded seriously and followed. Jude started pulling me back into line. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t want to miss anything.”
“So don’t miss anything. I can …”
“No,” he said suddenly mulish. “Dad said to make sure you eat because you are scrawny.”
Highly offended I told him, “I am not scrawny Jude Thomas Killarney.”
Aunt Frankie came waltzing by with Uncle Roe and asked, “Does someone else need to sit at the children’s table?”
I felt like stomping off. I could have, no one would have stopped me, but I didn’t want the kind of trouble that would have brought. Instead I bottled it up and just stayed silent.
A couple of minutes later Jude said, “Are you being ornery on purpose?”
I bit off a, “What now?”
“You aren’t putting anything on your plate.”
“Are you blind? I’ve got white beans, stewed potatoes, and I’m gonna have cornbread if there is any left.”
“That’s not much.”
“It’s all I want.”
“That’s because you haven’t been eating much.”
“No, it’s because it’s all I want. I don’t like to waste food Jude and if I put more on my plate I might not be able to eat it … that’s wasteful.”
“Oh for pete sake Granny,” he muttered, rolling his eyes for good measure. “The scarecrow in the kitchen garden has more stuffing to it than you do. Afraid you’re gonna lose your figure?”
“Why would I care about my figure one way or the other? Will you stop pestering me?”
“I’ll stop when you stop needing to be pestered to remember to eat. And you’re going to put a kink in your neck looking for the kids. River said they were set up at the children’s table.”
“They don’t know how that works. I thought I would be there to show them.”
“You mean to teach them to keep other kids from grazing off their plates?” At my reluctant nod he looked over the heads around us and said, “You don’t need to worry about that. Reynolds and Paulie know what they are doing and have them all corralled. Reynolds just punched the arm of one of the Carlson boys – can’t tell which one from here – for trying to take something off of Tiffany’s plate.”
“Oh good gravy,” I mumbled. “I don’t want them to learn like that Jude. And what if Reynolds gets a wild hair and takes off?”
“You can’t protect them from everything Dovie. And Reynolds won’t take off. He’s gone sweet on you because you brought him some of that tea he likes. Which Mom wants the recipe for but won’t ask and Rochelle doesn’t quite believe in it.”
“Aunt Frankie already knows the recipe,” I told him, getting my plate before he could slap something else onto it besides the green beans he’d snuck on while I wasn’t paying attention. “I told someone, can’t remember who now though it might have been Rochelle, that it came out of those receipts that Granny Cherry gave my mom.”
“Well then you tell her.”
“Fine, I will … and stop that.” Greens had miraculously sprouted in the spot I had been saving for my cornbread.
I did manage to get the slice of cornbread that I had wanted but turned to find Jude had enlisted Mr. Schnell in his deviltry and they both tried to look like angels when I spotted the slice of smoked beef that covered almost half my plate. “I’m going to go sit with the kids.”
“Not unless you plan on sitting in the middle of a game of red rover. The kids finished eating and are now being rustled into games.”
“Corey is too young …”
Wendalene, who was passing by on her way to the dessert line said, “Corey is passed out on a quilt beside Taylor and Loretta. What do you do? Drug that kid? He never makes noise.”
Jude snorted, “Oh he makes noise, you just can’t hear him underneath all the noise that Mimi and Bobby make.”
“They aren’t that bad,” I said, defending my charges.
“No they aren’t. And it was a relief to finally see them act like normal kids. I swear I thought you had them hypnotized for a while.”
I refused to bicker about it, especially as I was suddenly enveloped by a perfume laden cloud. My eyes wanted to water. “Mrs. Hopkins!”
I turned to find that hers already were. “Oh my lands Dovie, just look at you … all grown up or as good as. I’m so sorry about your Momma honey … but you know she just wasn’t happy without your daddy and brothers.”
Mrs. Hopkins loved everyone with abandon but she had all the tact of a bull in a china shop. All I could say was, “Yes ma’am. Paulie and I have tried to look at it that way.”
“And now you’re home and you’ve brought me a bunch of little ones to just love to pieces. That Tiffany is such a little lady. Reminds me of my sister Rosemary at that age.”
I opened my mouth to respond but she was off to fumigate the next person on her list of must sees. I looked at Jude and said, “Not a word.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it … but you’ve … uh … got a couple of lips on your cheek.”
I sighed and we finally found a place to sit down on the blankets.
“Bought time you got here,” Aunt Frankie said around a bite of some kind of cake. “What have you been feeding Reynolds. He isn’t himself at all.”
Beginning to wonder if I was ever going to be able to eat what I had on my plate whether I had wanted it there or not I opened my mouth to explain when Brother Shirley came by and said, “Not himself? Why the boy is out there playing better than I’ve ever seen him play. I was just coming to ask what you were doing different Frances.”
Wendalene stuck her foot in it by saying, “Some old recipe of Granny Cherry’s.”
Trying to smooth the smolder I saw developing in Aunt Frankie’s eyes I told Brother Shirley, “Granny Cherry – Aunt Frankie’s grandmother – knew all the old time ways of doing things. Aunt Frankie always had Reynolds on a special diet … all natural foods and stuff … and it seemed to suit him better than when he ate just any old thing. The tea helped my mother and poor Reynolds has been suffering since his doctors have cut him off. It looks like Aunt Frankie has been right all along and that Reynolds needed to stick with the all-natural approach.”
“I do believe I remember you saying something about that at one point Frances,” Brother Shirley said.
Aunt Frankie went from cranky to preening at the sound of approval in the preacher’s voice and then a couple of nearby ladies started asking her about it and off they went to town. Aunt Frankie was in her element – she was not a dumb woman, just vain – and I was finally able to eat.
Jude who had been a silent observer leaned over and whispered, “Smooth move.”
I whispered back, “You should try it some time.”
“Don’t have to,” he said with a sigh. “You heard her address me directly yet?”
I thought back and realized suddenly that I hadn’t. All the peevishness that I’d been feeling towards Jude evaporated. I ate what I could on my plate without comment or complaint and then when Corey woke up I mashed up the beans and potatoes I had left and forked them into his mouth so no one could say that food had been wasted.
I was sure I had escaped when Jude came back with a scoop of the deerberry cobbler. “I got the last of it so you better eat up.”
“You eat it.”
“But you made it; you should at least get some of it.”
“I’m stuffed. Besides there’s more where that came from. I found a bumper crop of deerberries not too far from the house. I know they aren’t real sweet to some people but they are sweet enough to make a cobbler with.”
“What do you think? I feel like I’m gonna have to roll back to the house as it is. Poor Grits isn’t going to be able to carry both of us.”
Jude ignored the comment and started shoveling the cobbler into his mouth and when he was done with that he started scraping the large pan I had cooked it in. I looked at him and shook my head. “You’re nuts. You gonna start licking it next?”
“No,” he mumbled with a spoon his mouth. “But the thought is tempting. This stuff is good.”
A voice behind me said, “It shore was Honey. An’ was them deer berries did you say?”
I turned and then smiled, “Yes sir Mr. Schnell. Mom would make deerberry cobbler if we were here while they were in season. I just used her recipe.”
“Wanna share it? I got a whole dang field of these that the deer normally eat, but they’s white tails be kinda scarce this year. Might as well eat the berries myself if they are worth somethin’.”
“Well, I’ll give you the directions for a nine by nine pan and you can double it if you need to.”
“Sounds good Punkin, but can you writ it down fer me? I’ll never remember all the directions to give to the missus and then she’ll skin me. While you’re at it might as well add that haw sauce recipe … she wants that one as well or I really will get skint fer forgettin’.”
I laughed because Mrs. Schnell wouldn’t say boo to a goose and everyone knew it. So I wrote the directions down in a little notepad he took out of his pocket and by the time I was done with that it was time to clean up and get back to the animals and after that the evening chores.
I was helping to pack things up when I heard a vaguely familiar voice say from behind me, “Well, it appears that poor ol’ Jude was somewhat truthful. You do belong to the Killarney clan though it’s hard enough to believe with them slanty eyes.”
Already on edge because of the tone I turned to find it was the man Hennisey that Jude had help me with.
My respectful response seemed agreeable to him because he struck a pose with his hands behind his back and his chest all poofed out. It would have been more impressive if his mustache hadn’t looked like a small dirty caterpillar that was trying to decide which side it was going to slide off when the glue holding it there gave out.
Accidentally noticing the man’s zipper was only at half-mast I could hardly find where to look when he asked me, “I hope you are behaving as you ought.”
I nearly choked on my answer of, “That’s the plan Mr. Hennisey.”
“Very good, very good,” he said before strutting off.
Had I looked anyone in the eye I would have burst out laughing which likely would not have been a good thing. As a result Uncle Roe thought I was upset. “Was he bothering you Sister?”
“No sir. I … uh … just don’t want there to be trouble.”
“Don’t mind that boy. He ain’t got no real authority around here and everyone knows most of his brains have been crowded out with rocks. If he bothers you, you just tell me or one of the other men. Boy has a reputation of sticky fingers and wandering hands.”
It wasn’t often that Uncle Roe was so … er … descriptive in his opinions about people, at least not on a church Sunday, but his words somewhat explained Jude’s lacking-in-respect nickname for Hennisey. Since no one seemed to be concerned about him showing up I let it go and went back to helping to put stuff in the wagon.
On the way home everyone was silent but it was a pleasant kind of quiet and not a brooding one.