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.”
“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?”
“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.