Jude brought in enough corn and wheat to double what Uncle Roe had already given us. He also brought in nearly a bushel of rolled oats and several produce boxes full of beets, turnips, and parsnips that could be added to what came in the night before. I looked in the boxes cautiously until Jude laughed and said, “No snakes in these.” I started to put my hand in one of the boxes until he added, “At least I don’t think so.” I involuntarily jerked my hand back and then just growled at him which only made him grin unrepentantly.
Supper included baked crab apples with a little honey to sweeten them with though they barely needed it as the heat had taken the sourness out of them. I also had a pot of sweet and sour chard, thin slices of ham, and mashed wild yams.
Jude had showered and was able to sit at the table with us but no one was saying much. Worriedly I asked, “Uh … is everything ok?”
Jude looked up in surprise and said, “Mm mmmm mmm mmmm mm mmmmmm.”
He swallowed. “It’s good. I’m just busy eating.”
“Oh. That’s ok then. You kids like everything?” They all nodded including Corey although he couldn’t seem to keep his face out of his cup. All the kids were enthralled with the milk.
Soon enough supper was finished – no leftovers – and clean up commenced but Paulie was excused because by the time everyone had finished eating he was almost face first in his plate. Jude wasn’t far behind him and the rest of the kids ran a close race for third place. I shooed them all to bed after the dishes were dried and put away before setting some water on the stove to boil so I could scald the milk pans and then clean out the Schnell’s milk can so it could go back clean. Until the water was hot enough I started carrying the produce down to the basement to go in the root cellar.
I nearly had a coronary when I turned around in the narrow space only to run into Jude who asked, “You sure this area is sealed? I’d hate to have to deal with mice over the winter.”
“Don’t you know how to make noise?” I asked trying to surreptitiously put my heart back under my rib cage.
“I make plenty of noise. Not my fault if you don’t hear it. So what about it? Mice or no mice?”
“No mice. They aren’t coming through fiberglass enforced concrete walls or steel doors. And the drains in the floor have the covers screwed down with plumber’s tape.”
He whistled. “When your folks do a thing they really do it.”
“Tell me about it. You know how I am with snakes?” I sensed rather than saw his nod since even with the lamp there were a lot of shadows. “That is how Mom felt about rodents. She wasn’t all that fond of squirrels either for that matter. Called them tree rats.”
I heard him chuff a tired laugh, “I remember now that you mention it.”
“Yeah. Look, why don’t you just go to bed?”
He sighed. “I will. Um … Butch said he was up here and you and the kids had been digging out in the forest. You know to be careful right?”
Irritated I asked, “Did he set you to lecture me?”
“Naw … just … just I wouldn’t want any of you to get hurt. We probably cleared out the worst of the feral hogs with that last batch and Dad is awful happy to have the meat and the piglets. But there’s feral dogs and cats and … just … I know I can’t ask you to stop. One, I know you won’t and two, you gotta do what you gotta do. Just tell me you’ll be careful.”
I bumped him with my shoulder. “I’ll be careful. I’ll even promise though you didn’t ask me to. OK?”
“I can’t ask more than that.”
He helped me to pour the milk into the stoneware milk pans that would make the cream easier to collect after it rose and then agreed to sit and tell me what he’d done that day while I scalded the milk can. “Paulie really did do well Dovie.”
“I’m glad. But I’m also glad he doesn’t have to go with you tomorrow. He’s not used to the work and still needs to build himself back up from where we were on the road so long with sucky food.”
“Look who’s talking. I can see your shoulder bones even under that shirt.”
Nonchalantly I told him, “Well then stop looking.”
He was quiet for a moment before saying carefully. “It doesn’t look bad … just … you need a little soft on all those angles.”
I rolled my eyes and said, “Geez. It’s not like I’m looking to win a beauty contest Jude. If I was all I’d need to do is look in the mirror.”
“You listened to Buttface. I swear I didn’t know he was going to be at church. He rarely is these days.”
“If you are talking about that guy Hennisey he isn’t the first one to think I’m a ‘furiner with slanty eyes.’ There’s been plenty of others to mention it as well. Even before things went to heck in a hand basket. I’m a throw back and there’s no getting around it. Sometimes it’s funny to see how people react when they find out I’m not adopted or illegitimate.”
“Hey … I didn’t mean …”
“I know you didn’t. I’m just saying … you know? No use hiding from the truth. And no use in wallowing in it either.” I wrung the dish cloth out and hung it to dry so it wouldn’t sour and then sighed. “But I do admit that Hennisey is a bit much to take. When we were leaving did you see him breathing on that badge and shining it up before showing it to that blonde woman he was talking up? I nearly choked.”
Jude laughed like he got a kick out of the picture I drew with my words. “He did not.”
“I swear it’s true. If I’m lyin’ I’m dyin’ Jude.”
“Well ol’ Buttface better be careful. If that ‘blonde woman’ is who I think it is she is some kind of relation to his boss and if I’ve heard correctly, he isn’t anyone to fool with. Dangerous game Hennisey is playing.”
I shrugged. “Well let’s hope he doesn’t lose and they set someone worse in his place. You ready for bed?”