Tuesday was a repeat of Monday except a wide eyed and nearly over-excited Paulie went off with Jude before the sun had even come up and the kids and I went out into the woods with a pitch fork and hunted up ground nuts and Chinese yams. We also found a hickory nut tree that had just started to drop its nuts and we managed to snatch quite a haul from beneath the whiskers of some very irritated squirrels. I swear it took those tree rats forever to stop barking their displeasure.
We also stripped the old crabapple trees that grew just on the other side of the property line of Uncle Roe’s land on a gone to seed eighty acre old homestead site that isn’t used for anything but hunting last I heard. The old cabin on the land has long since fallen and I didn’t let the kids go near it in case there was a root cellar or well cave in … or snakes.
“Dovie?” Tiffany asked.
“If this isn’t Uncle Roe’s land should we be on it?”
“Good question. Technically we should have asked permission first, and if we were going to go further in I probably would have asked Uncle Roe who owns it now. But as far as I can see no one is doing anything with it right now and these apples are just going to mush. If someone complains I’ll take the heat but I doubt anyone will, not over some old crabapples that no one is paying any attention to if they even know they are here. Most people don’t even think twice about them anymore when they have farmed trees to use.”
“Domesticated trees … the kind that grow the apples you used to see in the grocery store.”
“I haven’t been in a grocery store in a long, long time,” she said with a little frown between her eyes like she was trying to remember what it was like.
“Me neither. Nature is our grocery store for now so let’s not pass up a good sale.” That made her smile and soon enough we were traipsing back to the house once again.
When we came around the smokehouse I found Uncle Roe and Butch sitting on the porch looking at the ground nuts. “Hello!” I called happily.
They looked up and waved and then came down to help when they realized we were carrying bushels of crabapples between us. “Yowee Sister, that’s some load you’ve got there. What do you plan on doing with all this?”
I wiped my face with my sleeve and smiled in satisfaction. “The ground nuts and yams will go in the root cellar. The crabapples I’m going to pickle or bake down into apple butter. The hickory nuts I’m gonna peg at Jude any time he irritates me too much.”
Bobby, not realizing I was joking said, “Don’t do that Dovie, he tells good stories.”
Trying not to smile too much I said, “I’ll take it under advisement.” I turned to Tiff and told her, “Why don’t you take them inside and get them some water.”
After they went inside I said, “OK, what’s up?”
Butch said, “Oh, just coming down to check on you is all.”
“Uncle Roe, you going to spank him for fibbing like that?”
Uncle Roe snorted a chuckle. “I swear you get more like my sister every day.” He shook off the momentary sadness and then admitted, “Just wanted to see if you and Jude are getting on. Seeing you two together on Sunday I wasn’t sure.”
Surprised I said, “We’re fine.” When Uncle Roe raised his eyebrow I added, “Really, we are. I don’t think either one of us would know what to do if we couldn’t blow off steam every once in a while.”
“He doesn’t boss you too hard?”
“Uh uh.” Wondering whether I should say it I did anyway. “Please don’t send Clewis and Crystal up here to live. Jude is much easier to get along with and doesn’t have so many prickles I have to watch out for.”
Butch looked at his father and said, “Told you so.” Turning back to me he said, “Jude was worried that you might be upset that he took Paulie this morning.”
With a complete lack of respect I said, “He’s cracked. He asked me last night and I agreed to it. I don’t change my mind with the wind and he should know that and I’ll tell him so.”
Uncle Roe shook his head. “Don’t. I don’t want Jude to get the idea that I don’t trust him and that I’m checking up behind him.”
“But you don’t and you are,” I told him.
“No Sister I’m not. I’m just trying to keep the peace in my house.”
Thinking about that for a moment I realized what was going on and muttered, “Well she just doesn’t give up does she.”
“Who?” Butch asked all innocent.
“Crystal and you know what I mean. You’re big ol’ ears were probably turned on maximum reception yesterday when we got back from church.”
Butch shrugged and said, “You weren’t yelling but you weren’t exactly having a private conversation either.”
Sighing I asked, “What have I got to do to get her off my back?”
“Now Sister,” Uncle Roe said warningly. “She’s a good girl, she just feels strongly about some things.”
“And I feel strongly about do-gooder busy bodies that can’t seem to understand that even if I had someplace else to run to I would have still picked here and I would still pick this life. I don’t want to have to act dumbed down to keep the peace Uncle Roe. I’m not some ditzy teenager more interested in painting my nails than anything else. And I don’t want her messing up what Jude and I have worked out.”
Seriously Uncle Roe pointed out, “You feel pretty strongly for only being back a week Sister.”
“Yes sir,” I told him. “Don’t ask me why because Jude and I never spent much time together before; he’s closer to the twins’ age than mine. And I didn’t care for the friends he had there for a while but he seems ok now and like I said, he offered to help before I even thought about asking him to. I don’t understand what people are getting so wiggy about.”
Uncle Roe looked like he was wondering how to say it but Butch being Butch just spit it out. “You hit the nail when you brought up who he used to hang around with. Jude is no angel Dovie. He’s changed so much, so fast in the last few months that sometimes it is hard to believe in it.”
I nodded. “He told me it has been nearly a year since he’s had a drink. And I guess he was kinda wild. But you should have seen his face when he was talking about the Howard twins last night. I don’t think he has much patience with the way some of his old friends are apparently still acting. He’s not hypocritical about it, all holier than thou, but you can tell – or at least I can – he’s not too interested in going back to the way things used to be. He seems real stuck on proving himself to you Uncle Roe.”
Something in my voice caught Uncle Roe’s attention. “He told you all of it did he?”
“I don’t know but he’s told me enough. What happened in the past can stay in the past if people would let it. You’re the one he calls dad Uncle Roe. I … I don’t want to get in the middle of something with Aunt Frankie … and I won’t so you don’t need to look at me like that … I just wish she could see beyond her own hurt feelings to see how she is hurting Jude. Her choices back then aren’t his fault.”
All Uncle Roe would do is sigh and look at the sky but at least I had said my piece. I knew things between a husband and wife were different and that Uncle Roe isn’t the type to go off and talk about Aunt Frankie behind her back. I just wish there was some way to smooth things over so that no one had to feel bad.
To change the subject Butch said, “You think if River came up here you could show her how to fix these? She knows what they are … can identify the plants I mean … but I don’t think she knows how to cook them. Might be a good thing if we weren’t so dependent on field crops.”
“Sure. I guess, if she wants to.” I saw Uncle Roe make a face. “Oh, I forgot, they make you sick.”
“As a dog. Lucky that way I am.”
His face said something clearly the opposite so instead I gave them a couple of the long roots of the wild yams I had dug up and kept all of the ground nuts for us. I looked at Butch and said, “Peel, slice, and fry … or bake. About the same as a sweet potato. Butter and sweetening if you want it candied or just salt and pepper like Irish potatoes. You can mash them after you boil them or even boil them and let them cool and then dice them and use them like a sort of potato salad. Up to you.”
Uncle Roe smiled at the surprised look on Butch’s face. “Got that boy or do you need it writ down?”
Butch shook his head slowly and said, “I’ll just send River up here if I can’t remember something.”
Soon they were gone and I was setting fresh made wheat crackers, walnut butter, and apple quarters on the table for the kids while I indulged a guilty pleasure and ate nearly a whole sliced raw turnip all by myself. I love raw vegetables and hadn’t had any in what felt like forever.
The rest of the afternoon we spent cleaning, preserving, and storing what we had brought home from what Tiff had the other kids calling the forest grocery store. I thought it was cute and was smiling at yet another reference to it when I heard a wagon. I put my hand on the Glock but when I looked out the window I recognized Grits pulling, and then both Jude and Paulie on the wagon seat.
I had missed my little brother and ran out onto the porch and waved. Jude waved back and Paulie was a second behind him. They were both filthy and tired. “Supper is almost ready,” I told them while looking at concern at how pinched and tired Paulie looked.
Jude ruffled his hair and told me, “This boy can work Dovie.” Paulie smiled proudly but was
no less tired. Jude helped him jump from the high sided wagon and told him, “Go on in and wash up for supper.”
“Don’t I need to help get stuff out of the wagon?”
“No, you helped me get it in there, I can do the rest.”
I watched him stumble into the house and I called after Tiff to get him a towel. I turned back to Jude but before I could say anything he told me, “He did real good Dovie. Better than I expected. I’ll have to be careful if he goes with me to any other jobs. He doesn’t know when to quit, tries to keep up with the older kids more than I expected he would. He might be a little thin for his age but he is all heart.”
“I know. I’m glad you saw it but did he have to work so hard?”
“I didn’t ask him to. In fact had to tell him a couple of times to sit down and rest. I think it is mostly the big glass of milk and cookies that Mrs. Schnell gave him before we started back that has him looking like he’s ready to crash.”
“That’s going to spoil his dinner.”
“No it won’t. He’ll be hungry again just as soon as he takes a shower and wakes up a little. I’m telling you he did a lot of work today. He must’ve moved over a hundred dozen jars all by himself and then helped Mrs. Schnell pick and sort apples. Mrs. Schnell said she can tell someone has taught him how to do it the right way and fast. Oh, and she sent these cookies for the other kids so they wouldn’t feel left out.”
I took the cookies but said, “That’s a lot of flour Jude.”
“They’ve got it to use. Mr. Schnell had a bumper wheat crop last season and didn’t sell much because the price had dropped out of the market because so few people could afford to buy with the virus hitting everything and everyone so hard. He’s got a bunch of Corn in his silos too. That’s one of the reasons he is so upset about having to cull his herd of cattle; he has plenty of feed but the taxes on each head will kill him. The one chance he has of getting ahead is being routed out by the government.” He made to get down from the wagon then thought better of it. “Brought you something else too though I should let Paulie show you but I need to get it in and down in the basement. Mrs. Schnell said you’d know what to do with it.”
He stood up on the buckboard seat and reached over into the wagon and pulled out a large, stainless steel milk can. “Grab the other handle. This thing is heavy.”
I was speechless as we took it to the porch, stopped to let me catch my breath and then carried it into the basement. All I could do is look at it with my mouth hanging open. Paulie came down the stairs and then started laughing when Jude said, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you struck speechless before. I think I like it.”
Ignoring him in favor of satisfying my curiosity I asked, “How? Where? I mean …”
Jude smiled and turned to Paulie who said, “I did it Dovie. I helped Mr. Schnell milk and then he let me milk a cow all by myself. He said I have the touch ‘cause I didn’t even leave a drop of waste in the udders.”
“Well my … my goodness,” I told him completely and utterly flabbergasted.
Paulie laughed and then asked, “Can we have milk with supper?”
“This is your milk Monkey.”
His boney little chest puffed out and said, “Well then, we’ll have some for supper and some for breakfast but the rest Mrs. Schnell said you would know how to make into butter and cheese.”
“It will make some butter and maybe a little cheese Paulie,” I said cautioning his enthusiasm.
“Oh I know. Mrs. Schnell told me but like you say, some is better than none right?”
At his anxious look I sought to reassure him and told him, “You bet Monkey.”
Satisfied he went back upstairs to make the announcement to the other kids and I turned to look at the milk can again. Regretfully Jude told me, “I’ve got to take the can back tomorrow Dovie.”
“Huh? Oh, don’t be upset. I’ve already found Mom’s stoneware cream pans and I’ll pour it out so the cream will rise overnight. I just hope I’ve got some clean cheese cloth to drape over the pans to keep dust and other stuff out.”
He relaxed when he realized I wasn’t going to make a fuss. “I have to take the wagon back tomorrow too. Mr. Schnell just paid me in advance since he said he didn’t worry about me coming back to finish the job. I’ve already dropped off part at Dad’s. I’ll have a few more things tomorrow, but they should fit on a pack horse. Dad is glad he doesn’t have to give up the wagon, he’ll get a day ahead bringing in what I bailed right before that dang hog took me down.”
“You don’t seem as tired today,” I told him as we both climbed the stairs back into the kitchen.
“A couple of Mennonite men came over and offered to help in exchange for oats for their father’s horses because their crop failed. You can tell they’ve been working as a team for a long time; they weren’t easy to keep up with on my own. The last of the hay will be moved by end of day tomorrow and I’ll be glad to see the end of it. I like Mr. Schnell but I hate getting cut to ribbons throwing hay, bad enough I’ve still got a bunch of grass I’ve got to figure out how to pile for Dad’s animals this winter. I’m glad it is still warm enough they are able to forage. Gonna be bad for us if we can’t set enough hay aside to get us through til spring.”
Sighing I said, “I guess in that sense it’s good that Uncle Roe doesn’t have the goats to worry about on top of everything else.”
“Actually goats would be easier to take care of than horses. The thing is they may make milk and meat but you can’t hitch them to a team to plow a field.”
I laughed at the picture that made and he went out to bring in everything from the wagon.