Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Chapter XLIII

      Tiffany held the screen door open while Jude and Clewis carried something in and when I turned I realized it was a bunch of eggs.  And when I say a bunch I mean a bunch.  “Where’d those come from?”

      Clewis wiped his head looking tired and said to Jude, “I’ll let you tell her.”  To me he said, “We got in a fight over it but Crystal is eating the greens you said she needs to.  She’s already feeling better but I’m still in the hot seat for it.”

      “You want me to say I’m sorry?”

      He looked at me and gave a tired grin that was unlike his normal sass-filled attitude.  “Naw.  I’ll bear the heat so long as Crystal gets well.  She can’t afford to get sick now that cooler weather is setting in.”  What surprised me most was when he turned to Jude and said, “Thanks for helping me get that wall up.  Butch and I couldn’t get the thing squared up and all Dad could do was give the same advice that hadn’t helped the first time around.”

      Jude shrugged.  “Sometimes he only has one way of doing something and if you don’t get it he can’t see how to explain it to you a different way.”

      “Yeah … like that time he tried to teach Rochelle to drive the tractor with the trailer on it and he couldn’t get her to understand that you had to turn the wheel opposite when you wanted to back up with the trailer on.”

      They both smiled and Jude asked, “How many melons did we have to pick out of the gully that summer?”

      “I don’t know but after a while I started thinking Rochelle was doing it on purpose.”

      Jude snorted, “You and me both.  But don’t tell her I said that ‘cause I’ll deny with my last breath.”

      “You and me both brother.”

      Clewis took off and I heard him climb in the wagon and then the chains rattle as he turned to go back down to the main house.  “Was that really Clewis Killarney in this kitchen or did someone give him happy weed?”

      Jude smiled but then it dimmed when he said, “He’s really worried about Crystal.  She says she feels better but she don’t look it.  Getting dark under her eyes and kind of pasty-skinned.  Clewis wants her to go to the doctor but she’s refusing.  I think she is afraid of what they’ll say.”

      “Does it have anything to do with why she had a hysterectomy so young?”

      “Some I think.  She still has her ovaries.”  I internally cringed at discussing such a topic but I wanted answers and Jude had them.  “She had fibroids real bad as a teenager … I mean really bad … about like Mom’s sister did which is why she and Uncle Martin never had kids.  I overheard Mom and ‘Chellie saying that it could be anything … maybe even cancer; it has Clewis scared even if he won’t come right out and say it.”

      “Oh good gravy … it sounds like low iron or maybe all out anemia.  Why does everyone shoot straight to cancer as the reason?  When you and Butch go hunting tomorrow, if you can get a deer, ask Aunt Frankie to fix the liver up for Crystal.  Greens have a lot of iron in them which may be why she’s already feeling a little better.  If the vaccine is what did this to her I wouldn’t be surprised; one of the side effects of a couple of the vaccines that didn’t make it to market was that it inhibited mineral absorption in the body … especially iron.”  He gave me a look with both eyebrows raised.  “It killed the T-virus but the cost was practically death sentence for the vaccine recipient as well.”

      “Humph.  More I hear about those doctors that were supposed to be taking care of the Double Negatives the less I like.”

      “That’s what happens when people get jealous and start blaming you for something you can’t help like the color of your skin, the shape of your eyes, or whether you’re immune to something that is killing a lot of other people.  If you weren’t obviously Caucasian you tended to be allowed to fall through the cracks.  I mean you see me and the kids.  Paulie could have gotten out but he refused to go and I was too selfish to let them take him from me.”

      “Aw, don’t say things like that Dovie.”

      “Why not?  It’s the truth.  Tiffany and Mimi may not look like it but their great grandmother was Mongolian but that’s where their flat, round facial features come from.  Bobby’s father was bi-racial which is why he has that kinky wave to his hair.  One of Lonnie’s grandfathers was a Christian that got run out of Turkey when he was a boy.”

      “What about Corey?”

      “Someone thought he had Down’s Syndrome until they genetically typed him.  The only thing I could find in his chart was that his father was adopted so who knows.”

      “There’s nothing wrong with that boy.  He keeps up with the other kids pretty well considering he’s so little.”

      “I didn’t say that all of the medical personnel had good sense, I’m just telling you what they thought.”  Changing the subject I asked, “What’s with all the eggs Jude?  I thought they were scarce.”

      “Yes and no.  Mom has … had … been selling the eggs to try and have spending cash for groceries that couldn’t be grown in the garden but the guy she was selling them to went under when he lost his license to do business for failing to pass a pop inspection by the health department.”

      “There’s no one else she can to sell to?”

      “Sure, but only for pennies which doesn’t make it worth the while of all the input.  It doesn’t make sense to carry the eggs beyond the check point, pay the import fee …”

      “Wait … an import fee?!  They aren’t be carted between countries for pity sake … not even between states.”

      Jude chuckled but it wasn’t a nice sound.  “Dovie, you just don’t know what they try and do to the farmer in this country.  People think because we got land, big equipment, and food on the table that it comes from deep pockets.  The people that don’t have those things get jealous and don’t think it’s fair.  What they completely miss is the cost of getting food up out of the ground or getting the meat from cradle to slaughter house.  He stopped and shook his head.  “Don’t get me started or I’ll sound like Dad and Mr. Schnell.  Anyway with things like they are it ain’t worth selling at a loss because you can’t make it up in other areas.  Plus Dad wants to save the generator fuel for an emergency.  That leaves Mom with a cooler full of eggs.  What the Sam Hill she expects us to do with them I don’t know.  I like my eggs just as much as the next man but even all of us eating ‘em at every meal … just ain’t no way.  She’s still gonna have some spoil at that rate.”

      Thinking about what he was say I asked, “By cooler you don’t mean the big meat cooler out in the barn.”

      “I most certainly do.  Why don’t you think we used it for them hogs?  Ain’t just eggs in there of course but that’s mostly what’s in there.”

      It took me all of two seconds to think of a way to save the eggs before me.  “Pickled.”

      “Huh?  You mean like from the deli?”

      “Yep.”

      “Can you do that?”

      “I already have.  I made a gallon from that first batch of eggs Uncle Roe sent over.  I’ll walk down and see if Aunt Frankie has thought of it yet or if she’s still too … uh … overwhelmed.”

      He barked a cynical laugh.  “That’s a nice way of saying fired up and angry.”

      I cringed.  “That bad?”

      “What do you think?  And because it ain’t worth keeping a flock the size of the one she’s got if she can’t sell the eggs, she’s going to cull a bunch of her layers.”

      “When?”

      “They’ve already started separating them out so they can start first thing in the morning.”

      I’ll admit my feelings were a little hurt.  “Why didn’t anybody tell me?  I can help.”

      Trying to hide the half a grin that kept trying to tug at the corner of his mouth Jude answered, “River mentioned it but Mom said she didn’t need you puking all over the place on top of feathers, blood, and guts.  Faith laughed and Wendalene explained to her that not even Aunt Malissa could get you to stop heaving every time a chicken went into the plucker.”

      I shrugged, accepting the truth but then told him, “That was then, this is now.  In Phoenix our next door neighbors were Spanish and had a food truck business.  The lady of the house taught me a few things when she realized …”

      When I stopped without finishing the sentence Jude, who had been digging at a splinter in his hand at the table surprised me by showing he’d actually listening. “Realized what?”

      I shrugged trying to make it not seem like a big deal.  “That I was pretty much taking care of things on my own.  Mom had gotten better, and did real good at work, but being home was real hard on her because everywhere she looked reminded her that Dad and the boys were gone.  And before you ask, yes, she’d seen a couple of doctors but all they wanted to do was give her pills that seemed to just make it worse.  She refused to join a grief support group or get any other kind of counseling … she just wasn’t there yet.  Plus with money being really tight … it made her even more depressed because it reminded her that no one seemed to even care enough to make sure the benefits that Dad and the boys had given their lives for …”  I stopped, unsure I’d be able to explain it to someone that hadn’t been there.  “It was just a mess.  I was doing the banking before we left Florida – taking over what Dad had mostly always done – and learned to forge her signature.  And when we needed more money I … well I went to work.  Uncle James hooked me up with some people in Phoenix that needed child care – the kind you pay for under the table so you don’t have to mess with taxes and health insurance – and most weeks I got forty hours or more.”

      Disbelieving as it probably affected how he had thought of my mom he said, “You did not.  School would have taken up too much time and I know Aunt Malissa didn’t let you stay out all night.”

      “I was normally home by midnight because I had to get Mom and Paulie up the next morning but I did pull a couple of all-nighters and got paid extra for it.  Besides, I didn’t go to school.”

      “Dovie Doherty, are you telling me you dropped out?!”  Then shaking his head in confusion he said, “Wait, you couldn’t have anyway, you were too young.”

      Explaining I told him, “Virtual school remember?  Same way the boys and I had always gone to school so we could work our schedule around Dad’s TDYs and when we came here so often.  And I wasn’t too young.  I turned sixteen out there, so stop squawking.”

      Then I laughed which didn’t set too well with Jude.  “Dovie, it’s nothing to laugh about.”

      “Maybe I should start calling you Gramps.”  I walked by and patted him on the shoulder on the way to the sink to wash some more fruit hoping it took the sting out of my words.  “It was ok.  I did what I had to.  Besides I was thinking about chickens again.  Did you know rich people … I mean really rich people … don’t know how to cook very much or claim they don’t have time to?”

      Not ready to be mollified Jude said, “Changing the subject?  We need to get back to the fact that you weren’t going to school.”

      “I was going to school so drop it.  And actually I was getting back on subject so stop distracting me.”  He curled his lip in exasperation but let me talk.  “Anyway a lot of those people I did child care for worked really weird hours or socialized a lot so they didn’t have time to cook.  Used to be most of them would have either hired a housekeeper sort of person to do the cooking for them or they would have eaten out; but, a lot of them had to economize because their investments were going in the toilet and the affordable housekeepers were all illegals and you know how Arizona was.”

      Shaking his head he said, “I thought you said you were getting back on subject.  Doesn’t sound like it to me.”  I could tell he was still disturbed for some reason.

      “Aw c’mon, don’t be that way.  It wasn’t a perfect life but we were together … all the way to the end which in hindsight is really all that matters to me.  But about chickens and cooking.  I started me a little side business in addition to the childcare.  I’d buy those chickens my next door neighbor raised … that were as illegal as they were by the way since we were living in the suburbs … and would prepare them and turn them into ‘free-range, organic’ meals.  Those stupid birds didn’t do anything but walk around in that big back yard and scratch for their food, eating the locusts and I don’t know what all though we had about as bug-free of a yard as anyone ever did, but they sure turned me a tidy profit.  It is amazing how easy it was to learn to tolerate the smell and mess of butchering when I knew that my family needed the food and money that I brought in from it.”

      Jude had finished messing with his splinter and planted his elbows on the table and was just staring at me.  I asked, “What?”

      “Dad always makes out like … I don’t know … like you are a sweet and innocent little thing and that someone needs to look after you and protect you.”

      Wiping my hands on the apron I was wearing so that I could pick up jars without worrying they’d slip through my hands I told him, “I used to be, used to need protecting that way too.  Dad protected Mom and Paulie and me from a lot of stuff.  Even Jack and Jay did though I never really thought of it like that until I had to do it myself.  Then they were all just gone.  What was I supposed to do Jude?  Sit around and wait for someone to come take their place?  That’ll never happen.”

      “You mean you weren’t looking for a husband?”

      I rolled my eyes though he couldn’t see it since my back was turned, thinking he was a chauvinist after all.  “I was a little young for that in the beginning, doncha think?”

      “Oh.  Well yeah.  Sorry.  It’s hard to … I don’t know.  I know you aren’t that old but at the same time the way you are now it’s hard to … to keep separated from the way things were.”

      I sighed.  “Yeah.  Tell me about it.”  Using a jar lifter I took jars out of one canner and refilled it so that another batch could be processed.  “Look, someone had to step up.  Uncle Roe probably would have had we stayed here but … but your family was going through their own rough patch and no one knew how bad things were going to get.  It’s no one’s fault, it is just the way things turned out.  And to be honest … not to sound vain … it suited me, and I was glad it was me and not someone else.  We kept family business to ourselves so that busybodies didn’t come in and make things worse, didn’t separate us.  Mom knew she … that she wasn’t herself.  It embarrassed her at the same time she didn’t feel she could be any other way.  But she was getting better … I would have been happy to keep doing what I was doing for as long as it took, forever even.  We just all ran out of time and then the world got real nasty real fast.  I just learned firsthand a little earlier than a lot of people that waiting on someone else was a good way to be waiting forever.”


 

Chapter XLII

Granny Cherry’s Persimmon Butter

3 cups of persimmon pulp
¾ cup apple cider
1 ¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Put everything in a heavy bottom cooking pot that has a lid.  Cook it on medium to medium-low, stirring often to keep the mess from scorching or burning.  Continue cooking until mixture darkens and gets thick.  Take lid off to cook it down to butter consistency.  Spoon into hot, sterilized jars, seal, and then process in a boiling water bath.


      My first batch of persimmon butter never even made it into jars but covered the corn dodgers that I had made to go with the fried ham slices and beans that I had cooked for supper.  I had to switch to sorghum molasses (courtesy of Boo’s bring home pay being shared around) after that batch otherwise I would have to use up all the brown sugar in the house and that just wouldn’t do.

      I was up late into Sunday night cooking down the kudzu and getting it canned up.  I didn’t mind though because as Jude had predicted the front brought a little rain and then a damp cold that if you stood still long enough wanted to seep into your bones.  I had opted to use the old woodstove to cook with and the heat from the kitchen would rise and go up into the bedroom the kids were using right above me.  Eventually however I did give out and go to bed.

      Monday morning was not just cool but cold, even in the house.  There was frost on the ground as well though not a really heavy frost and it melted as soon as the sun was up a couple of hours. 

      “Jude, where is your coat?!”

      “Relax Granny, on the porch airing out.  It smells like a cross between tobacco smoke and moth balls.”

      “Ew.  You don’t even smoke.”

      He laughed.  “Old pack of cigs in the inside pocket – probably someone stuck them in there to hide them at the house but then forgot about ‘em when I brought my stuff up here; it’s Rochelle’s ex’s brand, Lorne don’t smoke.  Mothballs in the front pockets were likely put there by the girls before it was packed away last winter.  Ew don’t even start to describe it … try wearing the thing.  When it warms back up you think you can wash it?”

      “Sure.  But until then I’ll spritz it with some stuff that …”

      “No … no perfume … that’s all I need.  Besides it will mess up going hunting and Butch and I are going in the morning if the creek don’t rise.  I hope by then the mothball smell is gone.”

      Tiff had walked into the kitchen right on the tail end of Jude’s sentence and she asked with huge eyes, “It’s gonna flood?”

      I grinned and gave her a hug.  “No Tiff, that’s just an old timey saying.  If the creek don’t rise means that if nothing else gets in the way of what was originally planned.”

      “Oh.  You sure have a lot of funny sayings that don’t mean what they sound like they mean.”

      “You’ll get used to it.”  I spotted her feet which were bare inside the house slippers that I had found for her to wear.  “Girl go get some socks on!  You want to get a cold?  You haven’t been over the sniffles all that long.”

      After she’d left – hopefully to share the wisdom of wearing socks with the rest of the kids – I turned to Jude and told him, “No perfume … water and baking soda.”

      It took him a minute to backtrack and then he said, “Oh … ok.  Just no perfume.  The coat stinks bad enough as it is.”

      After breakfast Jude took off to help cut wood down at the main house and I got back to making preserves and going through boxes … this time with the help of the kids which got some of it done quicker.

      In a voice loud enough to rattle crockery Paulie called from the basement, “Dovie!  We got the boxes emptied that were in front of the pantry!”

      Stepping over to the stairs and looking down I told him, “Geez, you don’t need to bellow at the top of your lungs like that.”

      I could see him shrug from the bottom of the stairwell.  “I wanted to make sure you heard me all the way up the stairs.”

      “Ever thought of walking up the stairs?”

      Another careless shrug was followed by, “Yeah, but I’d just have to walk back down again when you gave me something else to do.”

      Well, it was the truth but I was beginning to understand why Mom sometimes looked cross eyed at us and warned us not to sass even though we hadn’t really meant it the way she took it.  I took the last jar of pickled apples out of the canner and then replaced them all with more persimmon butter, put the lid on so that it would come back up to a boil and could process the jars, and then went down the basement stairs to see what, if anything, was in the cabinets.

      A few cobwebs and a lot of dust was all I noticed at first.  All I could do was sneeze and cough when I opened the cabinet door and a stack of vinyl placemats fell from the top. 

      “Here … (sneeze) … Tiff.  Take these … (cough) … up stairs and put them in the … (sneeze, sneeze, hack) … sink so I can wash them.  I was wondering where they had all gone.  Using them will keep the tablecloth and table beneath it cleaner and we won’t have to keep changing the linens out.”

      I sniffed some more and then rubbed the dust out of my eyes and took a good look and started smiling.  “Yay Mom,” I said quietly.

      There were several different homemade condiments in there just like I had remembered … grape catsup, mushroom catsup, green tomato catsup, apple catsup, blueberry catsup, peach catsup, walnut catsup, cherry catsup, banana catsup, blueberries pickled in molasses.  Then there were other things like her homemade cordials and liqueurs which gave me a small pause for Jude’s sake, and some “exotic” jams and jellies from the fruits so easy to obtain when we lived in Florida, but nothing that really added a whole lot of meat and potatoes to our food supplies.  Don’t get me wrong, something was certainly better than nothing, but a girl can hope.  And then I realized on the bottom were glass gallon jugs of dried beans and several jugs of vinegar.

      “Yahoo!”

      “What?” the kids wanted to know.

      “Beans, dried beans.  They might take forever and a day to cook soft but they’re still good to eat.  And the vinegar has a mother in it.”

      When the kids asked Paulie what I meant he said, “You don’t want to know; it’s gross looking.”  I closed the cabinet up and then had the kids start carting stuff from the boxes upstairs and putting it away where it made the best sense to.  Most of it was sewing and craft stuff and some more books.  After that the only unpacked things down in the basement was all of Mom’s gazillion empty canning jars that she had been collecting over the years from yard and estate sales.  Dad had surprised her a couple of years ago with a large bulk order of tattler reusable rings and lids and spare rubber rings since he’d had to miss her birthday for the third year in a row but Mom hadn’t gotten a chance to use many of them.  I also knew for a fact there were slightly under a freakton of traditional rings and lids in some sealed up five gallon buckets over in the corner because I had carried them down myself after we left Florida.  Having something to store food in is not the problem, having food to store is.

      I knew the frost, mild though it was, pretty much heralded the end of harvest season for field crops.  It gave me the shakes to think about it.  There would still be a few things in the “forest grocery store” but the colder it got the less there would be and I needed to be careful not to over harvest the wild stuff or there wouldn’t be anything come spring time.  I looked around and the piles of things that I still needed to do something with.  It was comforting but at the same time I knew that the cooked and canned up results wouldn’t take up nearly the room that the uncooked, unpreserved originals did and as such wouldn’t look like near as much food.

      I hauled up another basket of persimmons and then went down for a basket of small green Granny Smith apples and had Paulie and Bobby bring up the other speckleware water bath canner from where it hung on a nail.  If I was going to use the wood stove to cook on then I might as well make use all the burners and not waste the wood.

 

Apple Pickles Made With Honey

10 cups of quartered firm apples with the skins still on
1 cup of mint vinegar (or plain vinegar, mint just adds another layer of flavor)
2 inches of stick cinnamon
2 cups of honey
6 whole cloves

Combine honey, vinegar, and spices and heat to boiling.  Cook two to three cups of apple at a time, handling them gently.  When they are transparent lift them out and put them in a bowl.  Continue until all apples are cooked.  Remove spices but keep liquid hot.  Place cooked apples in prepared jars and then cover with the boiling vinegar and honey mixture.  Seal and process like you would for apples at your elevation.
 

      After the noon meal I told the kids to get out of the house while the getting was good or I would put them back to work.  An hour later when I was beginning to wonder what they were up to because it had gotten too quiet I hear a bunch of screaming and hollering.  I nearly broke my neck on the stoop trying to run outside thinking that the bear had come back but then stopped and wondered why on earth Paulie was running around with a fishing net laughing like a loon.

      “Dang it! Give me a heart attack why don’t you Paulson Doherty!  What are you all doing out here?!”

      Tiff, much calmer than the rest of them walked over to me and said, “They’ve been hunting squirrels.”

      Momentarily speechless I finally realized that there was indeed something caught in the net.  “Are you telling me they actually caught one with that old fishing net?”

      “They caught three in one swoop.  Only they don’t know what to do with them now.”

      I looked to the heavens for guidance because I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them either but Jude and Clewis picked that moment to drive up in the wagon.  I took one look at them and being purely inspired I called, “You deal with it!” before walking in the house.
 
      It was a few moments before I heard both Clewis and Jude laughing as hard as the kids had been if not worse.  A few minutes after that I heard, “Gross!”  “Ew!”  And Bobby’s, “How fast can we cook ‘em?  I’m hungry.”

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Chapter XLI


Uncle Roe wanted a quiet day so he could think and pray on his thinking so everyone complied by doing their own thing.  After a breakfast where I made Eggless Doughnuts – which tickled the kids to pieces, not to mention Jude got his fair share – I organized down in the basement until the dew dried up outside.

      The Eggless Doughnuts were a treat that mom had made up when we all thought Jack had developed an allergy to eggs.  You take a cup of hot plain mashed potatoes … except I was saving the few potatoes that we had so I used hot mashed Chinese yam … and mix in two tablespoons of butter, one and a half cup of sugar (I mixed half sugar and half honey), and one and a half cup of room temperature milk (except I used have sweet milk and have buttermilk because that is what I had to work with).  I then sifted together four cups of flour and four heaping teaspoons of baking powder.  I beat the flour into gooey stuff to make a stiff  but pliable dough that I then rolled out onto a floured counter to half an inch thickness.  I used an old doughnut cutter that my parents had gotten as a wedding present to cut doughnut shapes that I then put into hot lard to cook.  When I was done with the doughnuts I also friend the doughnut holes for Mimi and Corey.  I warmed and thinned out some honey and then brushed the top of the still warm doughnuts instead of sprinkling them with more white sugar like Mom would have … again because that is what I had to work with.

      They weren’t exactly like momma fixed ‘em but on the other hand there was stone cold silence around the table except for the occasional moan when someone had realized they’d eaten their last bite.

      I had one more tower of boxes to empty and move to get to the pantry cabinets when Jude called down the stairs, “You want me to help you get more kudzu or not?”

      Brushing off what dust would come off I came up the stairs and asked him, “Who burnt your biscuits in the last half hour?  If you’re feeling sour go do something else.”

      He turned around and I saw a huge goose egg bump on his forehead.  “What on earth?!  Jude!”

      “Don’t get you knickers in a knot Granny.  Wind caught the smokehouse door when I was carrying wood in there and smacked me.”

      “Smacked you?  It looks like it tried to kill you!  Are you all right?!”

      “I’m fine,” he grumbled.  Then grumbling some more, “Didn’t mean to snap at you.  Just feel stupid and my head hurts.”

      I was wetting a dishcloth with some cool water from the pitcher and folding it into a compress and looked out to see the kids running around like wild Indians out in the yard.  I told him, “Stupid because the door slammed?  No.  Not too smart about letting the kids play instead of helping you then yes.  I left them up here to help you, not for you to do all the work for them.”

      “Now you really do sound like Granny,” he said beginning to grin. 

      “It’s not funny Jude.”

      “Yeah, it is.  Now that I can see it anyway.  I must have looked like a cartoon.  And besides, it’s Sunday, the kids work every day, let ‘em have Sunday off.”

      “Jude …”

      “C’mon … let ‘em,” he cajoled.  “I’ll help you get the kudzu and they can stay here at the house and watch Corey and Mimi.  It isn’t going to hurt anything Dovie and it might help.  You said yourself they haven’t put on any weight since you got off the road.”

      “Oh … oh fine.  Just stop making me feel like a monster,” I huffed, embarrassed.

      “You’re no monster Dovie,” he told me kindly.  “You work hard and the kids kinda get dragged along for the ride.”

      “I don’t have any choice but to work hard.”

      “I know and that’s what I’m here for … to help.  Let the kids have most of the day off.  I’ll help you with your gathering.  I’ll read to ‘em or something tonight while you do what you gotta do and they’ll be out from under your feet.”

      “I don’t mind them under my feet.”

      “I know … but you still need a break from it every now and again.  Mom always made sure she got breaks from us; said it kept her sane and from killing us.”  Then he said in consternation, “Assuming nothing comes up and Dad doesn’t need me for something.”

      “You’ve got that look on your face again.”

      “Huh?  What look?”

      “That look you get when you are planning something out in your head.  I’ve seen you do it twice … in the buffet line at church and then at the Exchange.  You look like you are mapping out battle plans.”

      He rolled his eyes but then shrugged.  “Sometimes it feels like that.  Just want to get as much done in as little time as possible before something has the chance of interrupting.  I find that if I work things out in my head first it means fewer mistakes on the backend that I have to fix.  And them clouds tell me a front is going to move through here directly, though probably not before tonight.  If they don’t get some outdoor time and sun today it may be a while before they do.”

      I turned to see where he was looking and sighed.  “Doggone it.  I was hoping for a few more clear days.  You know, getting that stuff from the Exchange was nice, made me feel good for a little while, but after really looking at what was left once we’d split it with the main house … it really isn’t going to go all that far.”

      “Ease up Dovie, it’ll help to piece things out and it was more than we had before.  Don’t get so down.  Besides, won’t be much rain I don’t think, but it will be cool and damp behind the squall line.”

      “How do you know?”

      He shrugged.  “Because that’s the way they look.”

      I looked back at the clouds and they just looked like a front to me but I decided to take Jude’s word for it. 

      A couple of hours later as I was snipping kudzu tips I felt the first cool breeze against the back of my neck where I had pinned up my braid.   “Brrr.”

      “Yep,” Jude sad nodding.  “First week of November.  ‘Bout time we got some cooler weather.  You better get all the kudzu you can this time Dovie because there’s frost in that front.  If it is a hard frost it likely won’t warm back up enough to keep the kudzu growing.”

      “Fun, fun, fun,” I muttered.

      We had brought the wheelbarrow and whenever we had enough baskets filled Jude would sit them in the barrow and trundle them back to the house and set them in the kitchen.  Many bushels of kudzu later we switched to something else; a large tote full of kudzu roots and Chinese yams.

      “Whoooweee, you get a work out doing this doncha,” Jude muttered.  “I’ll be ready for supper.  Good thing you put them beans to cook in the ground before we came out here ‘cause I don’t reckon you’re going to feel up to cooking after this.”

      “You’re silly,” I told him.  “Somebody has to cook unless we all want to go hungry; might as well be me.”

      “Don’t you miss just being able to run out and get a bucket of chicken or sammich from the deli?”

      I shrugged.  “We only did that when Dad was home.  Mom was very anti-fast food.”

      “The deli wasn’t really fast food … just sammiches and pickles and that sort of thing; sometimes you could get potato salad or macaroni salad with it if you had the time to eat it.  I miss the thick slice bologna.  You could get it on any bread you wanted, maybe fry the bologna if you wanted, choose from a buncha different cheeses, get fresh lettuce and tomato … Lordy that was good after a long morning on the tractor.  And then wash it down with a big glass of sweet tea.”  He shook off the memories and then said, “You know, I don’t remember Aunt Malissa ever having a thing against fast food.  She’d eat it when she was here.”

      Shrugging noncommittally I said, “But you never heard her bring the idea up on her own.”

      “I …”  He stopped and thought about it.  “Huh, you’re right.  So you didn’t get any Happy Meals when you were little?”

      “Mom thought it was spending money wastefully.  About the only two things she would occasionally get a taste for would be pizza and Chinese food.  When I came home from girl scouts one time and showed her I had learned to make thin crust, veggie pizza going to the pizza parlor went away.”

      “What about Chinese food?”

      “She took a class and learned to fix it herself.  And then insisted that I learn too.  I can rock a wok.”

      He laughed, “A what?”

      “A wok,” I told him smiling.  “It’s that round pan that you make stir fry in.”

      He just shook his head.  “If you say so.”

      I was gathering some mushrooms I had spotted on a fallen tree while Jude used a fork and spade to lever up several roots for harvesting.  “Jude?”

      “Hmmm?”

      “Who owns that land?”

      He stopped and looked at me with a silly look and then said, “Need you to be a little more specific.  In case you haven’t noticed we are standing in the middle of a whole bunch of land surrounded by a whole bunch more land.  What land in particular are you talking about?”

      “Oh … uh … that land just on the other side of Uncle Roe’s fenceline … has a really old and fallen down cabin on it.  I picked crabapples near the cabin but as far as I could see the land was all fallow.”

      “Oh!  I know where you talking about now.  For a long time it belonged to these people called MacRae but they were old, old … like ancient old … and they were living in town even before Mom and Dad got married.  They died and their estate would lease the fields out but mostly for hunting.  Eventually it just got to be too much for their people to keep up with so the land got put it up for auction.  These folks named Hamner from out of state bought it … five, six years ago mebbe … but they never did anything with it.  I think they had some idea of coming up and building a vacation home or some such eventually.  We’d see the husband around a couple times a year, riding around on a four-wheeler and drawing like he was surveying the place.  Wife came once a year to camp with their kids.  It was listed on the tax sale last year but as far as I know no one ever bought it.”

      “So those crabapples aren’t going to come back to haunt me?”

      “Nope … unless maybe you eat too many little green ones and get a belly ache.”  He got a thoughtful look on his face.  “You know, there’s a grove of persimmons a little way on the other side of that cabin.  Mr. Hamner had me trim the deadwood out of them the last time he was up here.  Might still be some fruit on ‘em.”

      Remembering an incident from my childhood I told him, “If you’re thinking about tricking me with an unripe persimmon …”

      He laughed.  “I’ll admit I thought about it but actually I was remembering those persimmon bars your mother used to make.  I remember Dad and Aunt Malissa having one of their discussions about whether persimmons needed a frost to sweeten up but I can’t remember what the outcome was.”

      “They don’t,” I said remembering Mom’s lecture after I was foolish enough to fall for my cousins asking me to try how good the persimmons were.  They ate the ones that were ripened and gave me one that was less so.  I shuddered remembering the taste.  “It won’t hurt them though if I can’t get to them today.”

      “Well, I’m ready for a break.  Let’s go look for the heck of it.”

      I looked towards the house even though I couldn’t see it.  “Let me go tell …”

      “They’re fine.  I gave Paulie a whistle in case of trouble and told him if I caught him blowing it without there being an emergency it’d be the last time he saw a horse for a while.”

      “You’ve got his number all right.”

      He nodded.  “Thought I did.  So do you want to go or not?”

      Throwing caution to the wind since I was in the mood for a change as well I said, “Sure.  Why not?”

      The walk wasn’t all that far but it was a little arduous as the way was all uphill; the Ridge rose steeply where that land and Uncle Roe’s met.  And old path through the cedars and other trees meant we didn’t have to cut out way but I was still glad Jude refilled our canteen each time he went back to the house because by the time we got where we were going I was parched.  “Easy, you’re going to make yourself sick,” he told me.

      “I’m out of shape.  I remember being able to run up here with Jack and Jay and not even break a sweat.  Now I’m gasping like I really am a granny.”

      “You’ll get it back, it’s just going to take time.  So what do you think?  Are these ripe?”

      I looked at the fruit hanging on the tree and all the fallen fruit on the ground.”

      “I’m surprised there’s any left on the tree with as many as have dropped.  I’m even more surprised there hasn’t been something up here eating them … look at all this squished fruit on the ground.  I’m also surprised someone hasn’t gotten to these before us.  I know this isn’t exactly close to the highway but still, if people are that hard up you’d think they’d be out here foraging all they could.”

      “Probably would if they knew about it; remember this land ain’t been farmed or even lived on in quite a few years and on top of that most of those it was leased to since then were from out of town.  Mr. Hamner used to complain about how standoffish the people around here are but to be honest he didn’t make much effort to be friendly either.  Didn’t shop local very much and when he did, always complained about the prices and selection.  Didn’t want people on their land when they weren’t around yet people had seen them hunting across other people’s property.  My guess is that people just kinda forgot about ‘em … kinda sorta on purpose.  Like I said, the reason I know about these trees is because he hired me to prune ‘em up.  And let me tell you, he was a worse skinflint that Carlson is.  He tried to pay minimum wage by the hour instead of paying me simply by the job like most people with sense would have.  Had I been the type I could have milked him dry by dragging the job out.  Should have though; we had an agreement and he still tried to deduct from what we’d agreed on because he thought I was going to haul the brush off and take it to the dump.”

      “But the dump doesn’t take yard debris out here in the county.”

      “You know that.  I know that.  Hamner wouldn’t believe it until he called and found out for himself and even then he grumbled that someone needed to come in and ‘fix’ the way they did things around here.  Made me want to ask him if he didn’t like it so much then why he’d bought land here in the first place.”

      “People are weird.”

      “Now that’s a mouthful right there,” Jude agreed.

Chapter XL


“Corn pones, greens, ham and red eye gravy, and fried apples.  That sound ok?”  Everyone nodded their head so hard I could hear their marbles rattling.  “OK, then help Jude get everything into the house.  After that Paulie you and Bobby do whatever Jude tells you to do next.  Lonnie, you help Tiff set the table and corral the terrible duo.  What’s with the crankies?”

      Tiffany said quietly, “They’re hungry.  Paulie wasn’t kidding about the grits tasting nasty.”

      “You didn’t get anything at Uncle Roe’s?”

      She nodded, “Apples, but we had a lot of chores to do too.”

      I sighed.  “OK, I’ll get everything going as quick as I can.  Jude?”

      “Huh?” he answered from where he was dropping the back end on the wagon.

      “It might be dark before I can get everything finished.  Will that give you time to get Grits and the wagon back to Uncle Roe and then come back for supper?”

      “I’ll be back before it’s dark but whenever you finish is fine.   My cooking isn’t much better than River’s is so you won’t hear me complaining.”

 

      Dinner was over and clean up finished.  The kids washed up and off to bed, albeit reluctantly.  The stuff from the Exchange taken down to the basement but it wasn’t put away yet as I as waiting for daylight to come through the basement windows so I wouldn’t have to use the lamp.  I was taking a last swipe at the table when there was a knock on the door.  “Jude, it’s me.”  Clewis.

      Pulling his hand back from the rifle he’d been reaching for Jude stepped out onto the porch.  I heard them talking.  “No church tomorrow.  Military is out and about in force.”

      “Where’d you hear this?”

      “Preacher sent runners out and it’s been spreading that way.  There’s a curfew of dusk to dawn that stretches outside town.  Everybody is to stay home and off the roads.  There was some kind of riot that started in Clarksville and it’s been sending sparks out in every direction.  Mr. Schnell was here earlier telling Dad he’d heard things on the radio; that it had gone into Hopkinsville too.  Dover’s mess is small compared to Hoptown and Clarksville but that’s where some of the Protection Zone’s administrative offices are so they are going to come down just as hard in this area as in the bigger cities.”

      “Dad mentioned it.  OK, thanks for letting us know.”

      “Dovie around?”

      He knew good and well I was, he could see me through the screen door.  Jude shrugged and called inside, “Dovie?”

      As I came out he went in, but he didn’t go far.  Clewis scratched his nose and said, “You know I didn’t mean it.  About you buying any of us.  I … I didn’t mean to make you grieve for your folks.”

      “OK.”

      “You sure?”

      “Yeah.”

      “Well … Ok then.  And Crystal said thank you … for thinking of us.”

      I asked, “How is she?  Butch said she isn’t feeling good.”

      He seemed to wilt in relief.  “She isn’t and I was wondering … that tea you give to Reynolds is like a miracle drug … you got anything like that for Crystal?”

      “I don’t know.  What’s wrong with her?”

      “Real run down … tired … get’s a cold real easy ... gets depressed for no reason … loses her appetite … she’ll sleep for a couple of days and then get up tired but almost all better.”

      “Has Aunt Frankie made her any rose hip tea?  It has a lot of Vitamin C in it. And she should eat a lot of greens.”

      “She don’t like greens very much.”

      “Too bad,” I told him ruthlessly.  “They’re high in iron and calcium as well as vitamins A and C.  If she is run down she needs all that.  If she absolutely will not eat greens you need to get her to drink green broth soup made from dandelion greens, collards, and things like that … it would be better though if she would eat the greens too.  Hang on, I’ll give you the rose hips but you need to get her to eat the other too.  If this doesn’t work – the rose hips and greens – we’ll try some of Granny Cherry’s other receipts.”

      After I gave him a handful of hips to put in his pocket he lit off the porch and rushed back the way he came.

      I watched him as far as I could in the moonlight in case he tripped at the gully.  Jude said from where he was sitting, “You make it too easy for people Dovie.”

      I turned to look at him.  “Huh?”

      “To … to … aw forget it, I’m the last person to talk about taking advantage.  I’m as bad as Clewis.  Now come sit down, I don’t know about you but my butt is dragging and I can’t sit comfortable until you get off your feet too.”

      “Hang on,” I told him and then slipped into my bedroom, reached under my bed and pulled up the loose floorboard and pulled out what I had hidden there.  I walked back in, dropped the bag in his lap and then flopped on the other end of the sofa from him.

      Holding the heavy bag in his hand he asked cautiously, “What’s this?”

      “What you said we’d talk about later.”

      He opened the bag – it was really an old shaving kit – like a snake was going to jump out of it.  The bag was filled with other bags.  Some of them held stones, some cold globs of cold metal, a few held really expensive looking pieces of jewelry.  “What in the Sam Hill?”

      I sighed.  “Remember I told you about them guys … the ones that … where I … “

      “The men that tried to talk you into giving it up without a fight,” he said so I wouldn’t have to.

      “Yeah, them.  Anyway … spoils of battle or whatever you want to call it.  I didn’t touch the drugs they had but I took this and hid it under the spare tire in case I needed it to bribe my way out of another situation like that.”

      Grumbling he said, “This would more than likely get you into a worse one you knuckle head.”  Scooting down closer to me he added, “This is dangerous stuff Dovie … men … men would kill for this.”

      “Yeah, well I got news for you Jude … men will kill for any reason and for no reason at all, it’s the way some of them seem to be born.”

      He looked at me and said, “You’re too young to be that cynical.”

      I asked, “You telling me it isn’t true?”

      “I didn’t say it isn’t true.  I said you are too young to have to know it.”  He sighed and shook his head.  “You really expect me to just waltz up to Dad and say ‘Here … use this to pay the taxes.’?”

      “I don’t know what I expect Jude, that’s why I’m asking.”

      He shook his head.  “Maybe last year this would have paid a king’s ransom but the price of gold and silver is in the toilet right now.  You can’t eat gold, you can’t eat silver, and there’s nothing to really spend this on.  And the government point blank won’t accept it for payment of taxes or anything because the exchange rate is too volatile right now and most of it down.  If no one is taking it in trade, not even the government, the average man ain’t interested in it.  If the average man ain’t interested in it, it’s just a pretty toy to play with.  I can take these dollar bills … they look like they’re out of someone’s coin collection and won’t raise too many questions … and use it to pay some of it but the rest of it …”  He thought before saying, “You’re better off hiding this stuff again and maybe some place down the road, if gold and silver are worth something again, you can trade them for something then.”

      “So it won’t help?” I said dejectedly.

      “Hey, get rid of the long face.  You helped today … everyone has to pitch in around here, not just one person.  Since I’ve got work, Butch and Clewis, Rick and Lorn, can help Dad around the farm.  Boo has got another job – he’s really getting good at smithing and one of the Mennonite elders is more than happy to have the help and teach him more at the same time – River can’t cook but she has the green touch and is helping Mom with the tail end of the garden down there.  Crystal gives the kids lessons; at least when she feels better she does.”

      “And I get to come late to the game and benefit from all their hard work.”

      He caught me off guard and swatted me with a little, poofy sofa cushion.  “Stop being a hard head.  You are doing stuff up here for these kids and reminding everyone that groceries don’t have to come on shelves or out of the kitchen garden.  You know that kudzu dish has already spread far and wide by word of mouth and there’s a lot of people with full bellies that were going hungry before because of it.  The stuff just hangs everywhere and people look at it every day … but hardly anyone remembered you could eat the stuff.  Now that’s something right there,” he said, popping me again with the pillow.  “And deerberries and hawberries … people have forgotten the old ways; even the old folks have forgotten them because they didn’t need ‘em anymore.  You’re reminding people of them.  And that’s your contribution … so stop your fidgeting over it.”

      I sighed.  “But that’s nothing. That’s … that’s just stuff I learned from Mom.”

      “Maybe it’s nothing to you but I can guarantee that a lot of people think it is something.  And I’m wondering what else you have rattling around up there.”

      He popped me again … or tried to.  I grabbed the pillow from him and scowled.  Yeah, like that was going to make him repentant.

      “Look Dovie, don’t worry it so much.  It’ll come.   But right now I want to lock down the house and get to bed.  I don’t know if Dad is going to want to break the Sabbath tomorrow with work or not but either way I’m tired and we need to rest.”

      He was bossing me again … but he was right, so that’s what we did.