Friday, September 12, 2014

Chapter XXXII

      I wouldn’t say that Jude danced out the door Thursday morning but I could tell he was loaded for bear with caffeine.  After he left I snuck under my bed and pulled out an energy drink and practically chugged it.  It tasted disgusting but had the desired effect.

      The kids had to make do with oatmeal for breakfast as my motor just refused to fire on all pistons.  I was still trying to figure out what I had planned for the day when I heard the wagon creaking into the yard.  I stepped out to the porch and saw I wasn’t the only one yawning.  Butch, Clewis¸ Faith’s boyfriend who everyone called “Boo,” and Uncle Roe were climbing down and starting to take things out of the back end of the buckboard.”

      Feeling stupid I asked, “What’s all this?”

      Clewis snorted then asked, “Jude didn’t tell you?”

      I sighed.  “If he did I was brain drained at the time and didn’t hear it.”

      Butch gave an impatient sigh in Clewis’ general direction when he muttered something about it being hard to tell the difference of when I was and wasn’t brain drained before explaining, “The reason why Jude was late last night was because Mr. Schnell’s neighbor had someone put a booby trap in his field and it run a bunch of wire up into the stalk auger before they could get the combine stopped.  It was so bad they thought they would have to park the machine and wait until they could afford to have someone from the dealership come out and look at it.  Jude started fooling with it and while it took a few hours, managed to clear the auger and even cleared the trailings sieve that was getting messed up.”

      Knowing how expensive some of the big farm equipment could be I said, “Bet that man was relieved.”

      “Mmm hmmm … and Mr. Schnell too since they use the combine in shares.   Mechanical work goes for a good price around here and Mr. Schnell and his neighbor were happy to pay Jude for the work.  Jude was going to go pick it up Saturday but Mr. Schnell heard about the ruckus last night and he and his son are down at the house visiting with Dad, using the excuse of delivering things so they could get the news first hand.”

      I watched them sit bag upon bag of grain on the porch and then several bushel baskets of potatoes, two of carrots, three big heads of late season cabbage, another bushel of mixed roots with their tops still on, but the most amazing came out of a large picnic basket.  “Mrs. Schnell said you should get this down in a cool cellar as soon as possible; that they still needed to age a spell before you use them.”

      There were several rounds of hard cheese all waxed and stamped with the Schnell Farm logo and enough butter to fill two butter bells.  “Mercy,” I said beneath my breath.

      Looking up at Butch who was getting back on Magnolia to follow Clewis, who had turned the wagon and taken off without even giving much more than half a wave, I asked, “Shouldn’t this stuff have stayed down at the house?  Jude usually leaves stuff there before he comes back up here.”

      “Jude will probably say the same thing but Dad said that this is extra and not part of the agreement he and Jude have to help out the farm.  He’ll want Jude to have it.  If he stops by the house Dad will tell him, if he doesn’t you’ll have to.”

      “Gee.  Thanks,” I said imagining how that would probably fly like a lead balloon.  Butch gave a half smile reading my mind and agreeing with it before wheeling around with a wave so he could catch up with Clewis.

      The kids were peeking from the other end of the porch where they had hidden during the delivery.  Paulie would have come out, and the rest of them probably would have if it was only Butch, but Clewis’ uncertain temperament still kept them skittish of his company.  I looked at them and said, “Well?  Are you going to help me get this in the kitchen are you just going to stand there like a bunch of curious crows?”

      It took a lot longer to get everything into the house than it had for Butch and Clewis to deposit it onto the porch.  I didn’t move it further than the kitchen because I wanted Jude to see it and to make sure what he wanted me to do with it.  The grain stayed right where it was as had it been in fifty pound bags I might have been able to move it but it was in hundred pound grain sacks and there was no way I was hefting that up on my shoulder.

      I was beat and the kids seemed content to eat apple and nut butter and crackers for their noonday meal so instead I got started on dinner which would be Cottage Cheese Patties.  I had made cottage cheese from the raw milk that Jude had brought home and it needed to be used up before it spoiled since I wouldn’t be able to freeze water for the old antique ice box until the temperature started dropping below freezing at night.  I took a cup of cottage cheese and mixed in a cup of bread crumbs (slightly stale as I had found them on the same top shelf of the pantry as the brown sugar), a cup of rolled oats, a couple of scallions chopped fine, two tablespoons of chopped parsley that I got from the herb garden, and then two eggs from those sent up by Uncle Roe.  When the mess was well mixed I added some salt and pepper as well. 

      I took the slightly sticky mess and made it into patties which I then fried up just like I would have a hamburger.  When I was finished with that I started on the homemade mushroom soup by chopping up about a half pound of fresh mushrooms from the “forest grocery store” and rinsed them real well.  In a pan I melted four tablespoons of lard and then added four tablespoons of flour to it, mixing and browning but not letting it burn.  To that I added a little minced wild garlic (strong because it was out of season), a little chopped onion, a little chopped parsley and continued to stir til mixed and then added the mushrooms and let it simmer carefully for ten minutes.

      When it was simmered all the way through I added some cooked and cubed wild yam, a piece of bay leaf, and a quart and a half of water.  As it heated I added a tablespoon of vinegar, a dash of marjoram, and a little salt and pepper.  Then I simmered it for a little more than ten minutes.

      It was still light but I had heard the first cricket.  Jude had said he was only working half a day but I thought something must have happened to make it take longer.  I was about to tell the kids to go ahead and wash up when I heard something hit the front porch.  Rolling pin in hand I ran that way only to find who I had just been thinking about in a fine snit.

      He saw me but didn’t say anything but kept taking his boots off.  I knew that look.  I had seen it on my dad’s and brothers’ faces enough to know that here was a man that it would be wise to give some space to.  I backed up and closed the door quietly and shooed the kids back to the kitchen before they could set off the tinderbox.

      Paulie whispered, “What’s wrong with Jude?”

      “I’ll tell you when I figure it out.  Maybe he just had a bad day at work or something.  You know how Dad got sometimes.  I think y’all just need to eat and then get scarce until it runs its course.”

      I had wanted the supper to be something special even if it was just ordinary food since I had worked hard on it but it didn’t look like that was going to happen.  I was putting patties on plates with some wilted dandelion greens and friend wild yams – these savory rather than sweet – and giving them a small cup of the mushroom soup when I heard the pump being worked up and down.  The kids got real quiet when Jude wrenched the door open and came in.  He looked around at the produce sitting around the kitchen and then caught sight of the way the kids were acting.  I edged around the table to head him off if he was going to blow up, to make myself a target if need be to keep him from going off at the kids, when he just sort of slumped.

      “I’ll eat out on the porch I guess.”

      I told him, “Only if you want to or need the quiet.”

      “Seems kinda quiet in here,” he muttered.

      “You … uh … seem like it’s been a … mmm … a hard day.  We thought maybe you would need it.”

      “You mean you were worried I’d chew somebody’s head off.  I won’t.  Already did it.”

      Afraid to ask I said, “Clewis?”

      “Naw.  Hennisey.”

      Really worried I said, “But I thought it wasn’t a good idea to get on his bad side.  You said …”

      “It isn’t a good idea for you.”

      “Then … ?”

      “Paulie can you keep an eye on things?  Tiff you too.  I need to talk to Dovie and not all of it is polite talk I want the little kids to hear.”

      Paulie looked at Jude cautiously and asked, “You aren’t gonna yell at her are you?”

      “Huh?” he asked looking at Paulie and then realizing how it must seem.  “Naw.  I’m in a foul mood but not at her.  OK?”

      “Ok Jude.”  Paulie would grow out of the hero-worship eventually but it seemed like it was going to take a while.  Anything Jude said was fine by Paulie.  Once Paulie was satisfied Tiffany nodded as well.

      Jude looked me and then jerked his head outside.  We stepped off the porch and he started to walk towards the gully.  “We won’t go far but I don’t want the kids – any of them – to hear this.”

      “Jude, what’s going on?”

      “Starting to scare you am I?”

      “Not hardly,” I told him with an impatient huff.  “But something is going on and you don’t like it which means I probably won’t either.  So just spit it out.”

      When he deemed us far enough from the house that little ears couldn’t hear he said, “I stopped at the store today.  Just to hear the gossip and say hello to a couple of people I thought might be there.  I got in there and a few started asking me about what happened last night.  It made it all fresh in my head, every word that was said.  Then I remembered Caleb’s comment.”

      “Which one?”

      “The one about you being … being …”

      “Slanty-eyed?  He’s not the first one to say it Jude,” I told him not sure where he was going with it.

      “No, he wasn’t the first.  Someone else said it before they did.  You remember who?”

      I shrugged and then realized what he meant.  “Hennisey?  Tell me you didn’t get into a fight over that.”

      “Not over that exactly but it did get me to thinking.  Then who should show up?”

      Cursing fate for delivering the obvious I said, “Hennisey.”

      “Yeah.  And I swear he was actually shaking people down to move their pass applications along a little quicker.  I’d heard he took bribes but I didn’t realize he’d gotten so brazen about it.  Then … then the peckerwood asked me, ‘How’s that slanty eyed gal working out?’ and gives a nasty laugh.  Maybe I wouldn’t have said anything but some others in there snickered too.  I couldn’t let it pass Dovie.”

      “Oh yes you could have,” I told him.  “What do I care what a bunch of brainless wonders think?”  That’s what I said but I will admit I was really embarrassed and offended though trying not to show it.

      “Oh no, I could not have.  Had I let it pass it would have just kept growing and eventually become a real problem.  If people didn’t think I respected you, or that the family respected you, then they wouldn’t either and nothing you could do would change it.  As it was some of those men in the store are friends of Dad’s.  If I let them laugh and didn’t say anything that would be the same thing as saying Dad was … you know … condoning what they think we’re doing.  It would eventually get back to him one way or the other.  You know how he is.”

      “Oh Jude,” I sighed.

      “But most of all is that it might not … I mean … what if I’m not here and one of those men suddenly decided that … that it might just be ok to come up here and see for themselves … how you are.”

      That stopped me and made me think, but only for a moment.  “Well, I guess we’ll just have to be more careful.  I’m already disappointed in folks, this shouldn’t surprise me anymore than what happened last night did.”

      “Now that ain’t right Dovie.  And that’s what I mean.  I couldn’t let it pass.”

      “I already told you …”

      “I know you did but I just couldn’t.”

      “I’m almost afraid to ask but … what did you do?”