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.”


 

3 comments:

  1. Thank you Kathy.

    This is one of my favorites, glad to see it getting nudged along.

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  2. Thanks for posting to this story Kathy
    Wayne

    ReplyDelete