Monday, November 10, 2014

Chapter LIII

      I don’t know who made more racket … me shouting “Ahhhhh!  A bear!” or the poor bear giving a shocked yelp of “Ahhhhh!  A human!” before running back out of the rear door – taking it off at the hinges in case you couldn’t have guessed that one – forgetting that there was a four foot drop at the stairs which he took down at a fast tumble and then running head first at nearly 30 mph first into my mother’s gardening table and then the concrete block wall of the shed directly behind it and promptly falling over in a dead faint.  On second thought, it was most definitely the bear.

      Cold air rushed into the house from the open doorway and I grabbed my house coat and then my outdoor coat off of the rack by the door and added my boots at the very end.  I wasn’t quite sure what to do except to shut the door but I wasn’t going to deal with a bear wearing only a nightgown and bedroom slippers that looked like fluffy ducks … they used to even “quack” when I took a step though their quackers had given up the ghost some time back.  I peeked out of the window and the stupid bear just continued to lay there.  No way was I going to go out and see if it needed a douse of water or first aid to get it going again.

      Almost five minutes passed and it still hadn’t moved … and I still wasn’t going to go check on it.  What I wouldn’t have given for a working cell phone … or even two cans with a string tied between them … so that I could have called someone from the house to come up.  Well, I didn’t have a phone but I did have the Glock.  Not to use on the bear but to send an S-O-S … or at least get someone’s attention.  I knew they would at least hear the gunshots down that way.

      I went to the front porch, double checked that I wouldn’t be pegging a human, and then let off three shots in fairly quick succession.  My ears rang and my wrist was sore where I tried to do the first shot one handed.  Geez, stupid never learns.  I suppose I could have used one of Jude’s shotguns but I wasn’t a glutton for punishment; the Glock was bad enough, a double barrel shotgun would likely spin me around and put be on my hind end.  I went back to the back porch and waited.

      Sure enough a few minutes later I hear horses coming up fast.  I heard them dismount and Jude call, “Dovie?!”

      “Round back!” I snapped feeling angry now that my fright was all but over.

      He came running around and then he and Clewis skidded to a halt – Uncle Roe and Butch had more sense than to barrel around into the unknown – when they found me standing amidst the wreckage of the screen door.  I had my hands on my hips and said, “Will you look at this!”

      “Wha …?”

      I didn’t give him a chance to finish his question but pointed out to the dark lump that continued to lay where it fell.  “Kill it!”

      “Kill …?  Is that …?  Are you telling me you took on a bear with that cannon?!”

      “Do I look like I have lost my mind?  Don’t you dare answer that Jude Killarney.  For your information I did not take on a bear.  The stupid thing ran out of the house, fell off the porch, ran into the shed, and knocked itself out.  Now kill it!  I will not have bears thinking they can just waltz into my house any time they please, and especially not without an invitation.  It sets a very bad precedent.”

      All four men were looking at me then at the bear then at each other.  Jude shrugged and then gingerly stepped off the porch after asking, “How long has that thing been out?”

      “I gave it the courtesy of having five minutes before I set the Glock off to get up and get out of here but it chose not to take advantage of it.  It is still right where it fell over.”

      He eased up on it.  Slowly.  Slowly.  Slowly.  He was about to put a bullet in it when he took a closer look.  He called the other men over and they eased up on it too.  Slowly.  Slowly.  Slowly.  Uncle Roe turned and asked, “Sister, you sure you didn’t shoot this beast?”

      “The only thing I did was holler at it.  I thought it was Jude trying to sneak up on me so I jumped out of my room and roared thinking to scare him … only it wasn’t him … it was that bear.  Now is someone gonna kill it or not?”

      “Well Sister … don’t need to kill something that is already dead.”

      I noticed Clewis was trying not to laugh but then he snorted and said, “Dovie … you scared it to death.  And if you had jumped out at me in that get up you’ve got on I’d probably have died too.”

      Well I know good and well that wasn’t possible.  “Oh I did not.  You’re messing with me now.  It just knocked itself out and y’all are being too soft on it.”

      Uncle Roe wiped his mouth with his bandana, a sure sign that he was trying to control a smile of his own.  “Baby Sister, that bear is done dead already.  You might not have meant to but you scared it enough that it run head first into one of them ol’ tobacco spikes that were sitting on that little gardening table Malissa had your daddy build for her right here.”

      Since it was Uncle Roe telling me I didn’t have any choice but to consider it the truth.  “Wait.  It’s really dead?”

      Jude looked up and said, “As a doornail.  Spike must have been driven clear into its brain when it hit the wall.”


      I will likely never, ever hear the end of it.  None of them from the main house can even look at me without snickering.  Jude is trying not to but can’t seem to help it either. The kids, mine and the others, keep going on about a bear skin rug.  Worse, I actually heard them out in the yard fighting over who got to play “Dovie the Bear Killer” next … and that a boy wouldn’t work because only girls could play the part; but the boys could play the bear of course, the girls really liked that particular idea.

      It took forever to get things calmed down.  They strung the bear up and field dressed it and then took it down to the house to put in the cooler for the night.  Lorne seems to have a talent for leatherwork and tanning and is real interested in trying his hand at a bear hide.  I’m not at all sure I want the blasted thing in the house.  Uncle Roe could only wipe his mouth with the bandana again and told me to think it over before I made a decision.

      Jude … aw,  I’m not even gonna go there.  Everyone finally agreed that if I was up to scaring a bear to death, being up out of bed likely wouldn’t hurt me.  But now every once in a while Jude just gets up and walks into his room and I can hear him trying to smother a snicker and laugh.  He comes back out, tries to have a straight face, but his eyes are all watery and sometimes he coughs into his elbow … only it isn’t coughing.

      If they’d knock it off I would admit to seeing a little bit of funny in it myself but I won’t because then they really would feel free to bray like a bunch of mules.  I swear, on some days, a girl just cannot win for losing.

Chapter LII

      I miss Mom and Dad like crazy.  And the twins too.  I just haven’t felt as safe since they died.  Being back here has helped but it hasn’t taken away all of that … that feeling that there is a vital piece of the puzzle missing.  But being that wasn’t a constructive thought and I was trying to be constructive I turned away from it and wandered down more gentle memories.

      Mom was organized.  Some people could have been rude about the extent and depth of her need for organization but not in my hearing they didn’t.  Mom was a gentle soul but anyone that knew her knew that everything had a place and everything better be in its place when not in immediate use.  How organized was she?  Let’s just say I knew how to alphabetize before all the other kids my age because of our household library.

      Open any door, cabinet, or drawer in any house we lived in and you would find nails, hooks, and containers all more neatly labeled than the local hardware store with matching, color-coded Sharpie permanent markers.  Mom should have owned stock in the Sharpe company.  When they came out with those special Sharpie pens for writing on checks that didn’t bleed through to the paper beneath it you would have thought she’d died and gone to Heaven.  She had a shoe box full of Sharpies but she always has her “good” set with eleventy dozen colors that no one touched for fear of loss of limb(s).

      Same with her good scissors.  My mother actually labeled each pair of scissors so everyone knew which was which and where they lived when they weren’t working.  General kitchen shears, meat and bone shears, pinking shears, the scissors she used exclusively for silk and satin (Ginghers) and those for general sewing (Fiskars), paper scissors, tool box scissors, garden and pruning shears, Exacto blades, box cutters, etc., etc., etc.

      And boy did Mom love shoe boxes; not for shoes naturally, but for organizing.  She also loved labels … all sorts of labels and all sorts of labeling devices.  She could pack a whole house in a single day and then unpack it and put it back to rights the next just by packing all of her well labeled boxes, files, and crates into more boxes for the movers to haul from one place to the next.  To Mom organizing could have been a competitive sport … and she would have won every play off and gone to nationals every year.  Her organization is what made it so easy to take over when she got sick.  It has also made it so much easier to find things we need when we are looking for them to set this house up as our permanent residence.  Doesn’t matter whether it was strung from the basement to the attic all you have to do is look at the packing list taped to the outside of the box and you know exactly what is inside and where it ultimately belonged.

      The one black hole that was the exception to her mania is two of the attic rooms.  Our attic is divided into three distinct sections that correspond to three major build outs over the many years this house has sat on this foundation.  Even for her those two other rooms are a bit much.  I’ve only had a couple of peeks inside the first one since I was little and I remember it looks like Alice’s Wonderland puked up everything and then some out of the mirror.  I have no idea at all what might be found blocked up in the oldest section all the way over to the end of the house.  The window on that end of the attic has been blocked in since at least my great great grandparents were alive and nothing has seen the light of day in there for who knows how long.

      This house started out as a one room cabin with a loft.  Then a kitchen and three downstairs bedrooms were added at the same time the original hole in the ground where they put the milk to keep it cool was enlarged into an actual cellar … what we now call the basement.  The basement is deep and has granite block walls.  The floor was nothing but dirt before Dad got a hold of it to deal with a corner that was always damp.  I’m not sure who it was that did it but some time before the Civil War there was another enlargement made that added the second story. 

      The tunnel off the basement was dug during the Civil War and has all sorts of family rumors attached to its original purpose … from a stop on the Underground Railroad, to running guns and shine to the Confederates, to a room where they kept a crazy cousin that lost her husband and sons during one of the battles of Clarksville.  Since most of my relatives of that time period were either illiterate or too busy to keep a journal one rumor is just about as believable as the next … or unbelievable depending on who was telling the tale.

      The last major expansion was done by my great grandparents during a time of tobacco prosperity when they squared off all of the odd angles and corners and re-sided the house and got rid of the wood shakes for a slate roof.  This added the parlor, the formal dining room, and extended the porch so it wrapped around the entire house.

      My grandparents decided they preferred living at the front of the farm – incidentally giving my grandmother some peace from her father in law who could be a rough man on most days with a not too high opinion of women – that was closer to the highway and flatter so built their own place a few years after they got married, though theirs was of bricks and mortar rather than wooden tongue and groove and hand whittled nailing pegs.  That’s the house that Uncle Roe inherited.  They did modernize the plumbing for my great grandmother who refused to live anywhere besides what became known as the Old House after she became a widow and ran wiring that was pretty good for the times as well. 

      My parents upgraded the plumbing and wiring after Mom inherited the place – something next to useless now – and had plans to add a turret on the outside corner of the house where the master bedroom is but I guess that isn’t happening now.  It was to give the master bedroom a sitting area and enlarge the smallest bedroom directly above it.  But it would have required cleaning out the attic and Mom always pushed it off as unnecessary and something that could wait until they lived there full time.

      Since I obviously wasn’t cleaning out the attic any time soon I moved on to the next thing Mom did and that was to make a weekly menu … sometimes a monthly one.  She said knowing what was planned kept wasted time down to a minimum.  I like that idea.  I like even more that we had enough food to warrant a menu.  And a menu is a way to use that food most efficiently so that it will last as long as possible and go the furthest.  The fact is it is also something constructive I could do while stuck in my ever loving bed so I got up just long enough to get my papers and pencil from the dresser drawer where I store such things.

      The first trick is to stretch the cultivated foods with my wild forage so that both last as long as possible.  The second trick is to make it happen in a way that no one notices what I am doing, or if they do eat it anyway.


Day One:

B:  Acorn Muffins, hog jowl, grits

L:   watercress butter for fish, water cress cooked the Chinese way, hushpuppies

S:   apple-spearmint salad, Judas’ Ear mushroom soup

Dessert = popcorn


Day Two:

B:  cornmeal nut muffins with persimmons, hard boiled eggs

L:   mushroom butter on baked chicken, hickory nut stuffed eggs, canned kudzu

S:   chickweed & cress salad, meat pies

Dessert = persimmon quick bread


Day Three:

B:  acorn griddle cakes and syrup

L:   spearmint sauce on baked possum, burdock roots with pineapple chunks

S:   Sunchoke salad, ham pie

Dessert = mint sauce over plain cake (to make up for serving possum at noonday meal)


Day Four:

B:  Oatmeal with fried apples

L:   Venison burgers, fried mushrooms, hominy

S:   Ground nut stew, oatmeal scones, and leftover venison burgers if there are any

Dessert = black walnut pie


Day Five:

B:  cornmeal biscuits, fried eggs, ham & red eye gravy

L:   raccoon baked with apples (which serves them right as they ate a lot of them all season long as well)

S:   bean burgers, gravy, cornmeal ragged robin rolls

Dessert = persimmon custard


Day Six:

B:  sunchoke biscuits, squirrel sausage, scrambled eggs, fried mush

L:   fried rabbit, carrots, and some other cooked greens

S:   Eggless corn bread, stewed potatoes, white beans (with ham hock for flavoring)

Dessert = marmalade pudding (don’t have to use any of the leventy dozen jars down in the basement but might as well since they’re there)


Day Seven:

B:  leftover hash (use sunchokes to piece out the potatoes and make them go further)

L:   Ham soufflĂ© with parsley sauce, mixed veggies and/or cooked greens

S:  split pea pancakes, scalloped ham and hominy (use up any ham that didn’t go into the soufflĂ©)

Dessert = poor man’s cake


      I thought that first menu looked pretty good.  It could stand some fine tuning here and there of course but I would do that as soon as I asked Jude if he would actually eat it … I wasn’t too sure about the ‘coon and ‘possum.  Paulie and I would without a problem though I’ll admit yet again that ‘possum isn’t my favorite but I wasn’t sure how tough a sell it was going to be to everyone else.

      Thinking about what the other men had said about what was available locally and hadn’t been hunted over I tried to think of ways to use grouse, woodcock, beaver, muskrat, nutria, and goose (sometimes they hung around in December).

      Then I heard a squeak on the floor board in the living room.  Uh huh.  None of them was going to sneak up on me and check to make sure that I was still sitting in bed like a naughty preschooler; I knew every noise this house made.  I carefully slid out of bed prepared to scare the bejeebers out of them. 

      I tippy toed carefully to the door and then, when I thought I had them, I jumped out of the bedroom door and went, “ROARRRRRR!!!!!”

      Oh crud … it wasn’t Jude.


Chapter LI

      There had to be something useful to occupy my time, something that moved me forward rather than left me feeling further behind.  I tried to remember the things Mom used to do to keep on top of things and organized.  It might make me feel sad but I’d rather feel sad than stupid and useless.

      First thing that came to mind was her weekly chore schedule that we stuck to heck or high water … or at least as much as life allowed barring catastrophe or Dad leaving TDY.

      Monday was wash day.  Dainties were washed by hand as necessary.  Any other clothes too filthy or rancid were spot treated and/or rinsed by hand then hung on the drying rack to keep them from mildewing or staining before the next wash day.  Our dress and school clothes were separate from our work and play clothes and never the twain should meet … at least until they were beyond repair or beyond being someone else’s hand me downs.

      Tuesday was a continuation of Monday and is when we did all the ironing, mending, and sewing.  With three brothers and a father you know there was a lot of all of that going on.  Dad’s uniforms had to conform at all times and Mom made sure his blues and his fatigues were perfect.  The boys learned to do their own during ROTC because they’d have to know how for Basic and beyond unless they planned on spending an arm and a leg on drying cleaning.  And that’s all the distance down that road I went except to remember Mom always spent that evening working on some handcraft project or other.  She claimed it relaxed her.  When she was teaching me how to sew I have to say I found the time anything but relaxful because if a stitch wasn’t right I had to take it out and do it over again … and that happened a lot more than I wanted it to.

      Wednesday was gardening but during many parts of the year this day spread out into every day of the week but Sunday and even then we would pick anything that was too ripe to last another day on the vine.  But, Mom did try and restrict working in her “pretties” to this day of the week … her African violets and roses and the like.  Both are gone now except for the wild roses that are just a continuation of the roses transplanted there by some ancestress or ‘nother.  There were none I could save from the duplex, and even if I had they never would have survived the trek to Idaho and then to Tennessee.  I did manage to squirrel away some flower seeds from her annuals but I have no idea if they will germinate in the spring; we’ll just have to wait and see.

      Thursday was a repeat of Wednesday except that it was for food preservation.  Up until Dad died there were very few Wednesdays that there wasn’t a canner of something going … usually more than a single canner.  I tried to keep it up – that’s actually where I did most of my learning through too many mistakes but it was hard because we were always pinched for money, especially for the electric bill.  One time and one time only Dad made a crack about the electric bill being too high from Mom canning so much.  I think that is the closest I ever heard them get to an argument where we could hear it … and it wasn’t about the electric bill in particular so much as about money in general.  The twins were in college but were still living at home and groceries were getting so expensive.  The boys could only work so many hours and still go to school full time and do their ROTC stuff.  Dad was doing what he called retirement planning and I guess the anxiety of it all just hit both of them, especially after the IDP (imminent danger pay otherwise known to most civilians as hazard pay) had been cut yet again despite the fact that Dad was deployed to some pretty crappy places.  They worked it out – and Mom kept canning – but I know for some months afterwards they talked repeatedly of Dad putting in for another tour beyond his twenty even if it meant putting off retiring until after Paulie graduated.  In the end I guess none of that mattered very much.

      Friday was cleaning day.  Not that we didn’t clean every day of the week but Friday was the day we did all the deep cleaning stuff … the baseboards, the inside of cabinets, the oven, the bathroom from ceiling to floor (sometimes literally).  We washed out all of the trash cans, checked the sofa cushions for change that tried to escape from people’s pockets, dusted, vacuumed the fans, etc.  Dust bunnies were nearly an extinct critter in our home; they were certainly on the endangered species list.  If Mom saw one she killed it right then and there so that it couldn’t find a mate and multiply exponentially.

      Saturday was baking.  Mom hated most store-bought bread and she spoiled the rest of us because of her dislike.  She used the electric bread maker Dad gave her one Christmas for our everyday bread but on Saturdays she would make rolls, buns, cookies, cakes, pies, or whatever else was on the menu for the following week.  Saturday was also the day of Little League, camp outs, and school projects.

      Sunday was church day and ostensibly a day of rest but with Mom I never was quite sure if she truly believed in such a thing.  That was the day she worked on her scrapbooking or recipe collection, when she did her letter writing, and when she would sit down and read a book though the book was usually about something useful like gardening or some kind of sewing.  Dad was the same way.  If he wasn’t on a swing shift or something like that, on Sunday afternoon you could find him fishing in one of the local ponds or lakes or puttering around in his shop … that’s assuming he hadn’t eaten too much of Mom’s good cooking after church and fallen asleep in his recliner or in the hammock outside.  I remember one time at one of those silly block parties people like to organize a neighbor asking them why they worked so much, that it was the modern era and people should have more leisure time.  Dad answered for both of them and said there’d be plenty of leisure time once they were dead and buried and they preferred to take advantage of the daylight while they had it.  Shut the know-it-all neighbor up, that’s for sure.

      Ever since I took over the household responsibilities I realized more and more I had a pretty cool set of parents.  Every once in a while it was like living in a Dr. Demento movie but looking back I’m fairly certain that it didn’t happen nearly as often as modern psychology and physics dictated that it should have for normal human beings.  And they both worked outside the home – Dad in the military, coming and going as dictated by his superiors, and Mom part time in the church day care during the school year.  Yeah, I’ll count myself a real woman if I get even half way as good as my parents were at facing, dealing, and living the life that they were given.


Chapter L

      I was sick and tired of being bossed around.  “I’m fine.  I’ve done nothing but rest the last two days.  Doggone it; I’m tired of these four walls.”

      Jude, looking almost as stubborn as I’d ever seen him said, “Mom and Dad say one more day.  You want me to get Rochelle up here?”

      “Aw go ahead.  She’ll just tell you that I might not be fit to bale hay but that me getting out of bed isn’t going to cause the world to end.  I’ve … got … things … to … do.”

      “Listen hard head, I’ll sit on you if I have to … better yet, tie you down to the bed frame.  You are gonna stay in that bed.”

      I was really tempted to turn on the waterworks but I had my pride and would not stoop to using Wendalene or Faith’s tactics to get what I wanted.  “You just don’t understand.”

      “I do understand and better than you likely want to believe.  Look, I know you didn’t appreciate Rochelle’s bedside manner yesterday but even she says you are working on a hard row to hoe if you don’t take better care of yourself.  She said and I quote, ‘you are just lucky you are young and healthy to start with or you could have wound up with pneumonia’ end quote.”

      I told him, “But I didn’t.”

      “But you could have,” he told me right back.  “And still might if you push yourself into a relapse.  Why is it so much skin off your nose to take one more day in bed?!”

      “Because!”  I hadn’t meant to shout so I stopped myself, took a breath, and then started again only this time doing my best not to sound like a screeching banshee.  “Because it is the end of the second week of November and I am losing time.  I’ve got to get the rest of the acorns and chinkapins before the animals do.  I’ve got day lily roots to dig up.  I’ve got sunchokes to deal with and mark off before all the above ground parts disappear and I forget where the patches are.  I need to bring in mints and get them dried … assuming the frost hasn’t destroyed them all.  I need to dig some sassafras roots.  I need to get the prickly pear fruits before they all disappear … Paulie told me this morning that one patch that I had been counting on has already been stripped by something.  I need to go see if there are any more persimmons.”  Adding to the list in my head I said, “Oh, how could I forget?!  The mushrooms … I need to see if the chanterelles, oyster ‘shrooms, and Judas’ ear ‘shrooms are still worth gathering or if the frost got all of them too.  Hickory nuts … we didn’t …”

      “Stop Dovie, your list making is giving me the fidgets now too.”  He shook his head and sat down on the edge of the bed.  “Look, I know.  I understand.  How do you think I felt when that stupid hog laid into me?  And I bet you are feeling pretty crappy still, just trying to convince yourself that once you get up and in motion it will be ok.”  Since that was pretty much what I had been thinking I ignored his blasted perception.  “Even if you get up you aren’t going outside today.  It’s cool and damp.”

      “Then why are the kids out in it?!”

      “They aren’t out in it.  They are down at the house giving Mom and Aunt Twila some help.  Mom likes them to help because it shames the rest of them into working better.  And I’ve got work to do too but I can’t go do it if you won’t mind.”

      “I’m not two years old Jude.”

      “Then stop acting like it and cooperate.”

      “Go … away.  Now.”  I growled at him. 

      He knew he’d plucked my last nerve and whether deserved or not had not just made me madder than I already was but had managed to hurt my feelings as well.  I already felt bad enough and useless, he’d just heaped coals on my head; however, it didn’t cause him to back down. “For once will you just admit that you need someone to look after you?  You’re only sixteen for gosh sakes!”

      “You just don’t know when to leave a person alone do you?”  At the mulish look on his face I told him, “I’ve already admitted six ways from Sunday that I needed help and that I appreciate all that you do, not just for me and the kids but your place here in the family.  I let you boss me even and that ought to tell you something right there.  You don’t need to rub it in like salt in a paper cut.  Have my feet hit the floor yet?  No they have not.  And for your information I’m seventeen.”

      “You are not.  I know for a fact that you are sixteen and you even admitted it.”

      “Then you better check your facts ‘cause my birthday was October 31st the same as it has been since I was born.  We used to go to the harvest festival for my birthday when we were here in town.  One of the best presents I ever got was that year I managed to drop Clewis in the dunk tank with only one baseball.”

      He opened his mouth but not a sound came out until he muttered, “Dang.  You’re right.”

      I rolled my eyes.  “Duh.  I kinda know my own date of birth you know.”

      Getting riled up again he asked, “Then why didn’t you say anything?”

      “What’s to say?  It’s a day.”

      “But …”

      “But what?  It’s just another day and I don’t want to talk about it.  Just go off and do whatever is so necessary and leave me the heck alone.”

      I turned away from him and ignored him.  He was silent for a moment before saying, “You better not get out of that bed.  I’ll know if you do.”

      “Whatever,” I responded carelessly because he’d touched a sore spot in more than one way.

      He was angry enough that I expected the front door to slam but it didn’t.  I did spot him when he tried to sneak a peek through the bedroom window without me seeing him.  I pretended I didn’t notice but it was hard not to laugh when he tripped over the foundation wall and almost fell.  Served him right for not taking me at my word.

      I know I was being a brat, but you know what?  Right then I didn’t care.  I hate being bossed like that and I hated feeling useless and I hated getting further behind in my work and I hated that people didn’t think I had two brain cells to rub together.  I wasn’t planning on running nekked through the woods; I just wanted to get out of bed.


Chapter XLIX

      I sputtered and coughed but was finally actually able to swallow some of the blessedly cool liquid before choking to death.

      “Better?” he asked.

      There was a smart aleck comment on my tongue but instead I said, “Yes, thank you.  But what do you mean it is midafternoon.  I can’t have slept that long.”

      “Can and did.  The kids have been pestering me since we got back to wake you up so they could check on you.  I finally came in here and sat down just to keep watch so they would stop sticking their head in here every two seconds … though truth be told I was starting to get a little worried myself.  You didn’t even move much when Paulie put a damp cloth on your forehead.”

      “Oh,” I said feeling embarrassed.  “Give me a sec.  Y’all must be starving.”

      “Move out of that bed and I’ll throw you right back in it.”

      His voice was just this side of angry and startled me.  “You … you angry at me Jude?”

      He sighed.  “No.  And yes.  And don’t mind me ‘cause neither one is your fault.  Mostly the kids have been telling stories of some of the things that went on at that facility and on the road.  Geez Dovie … who do you think you are?  Wonder Woman or somethin’?  No wonder you’re thin enough to see daylight through.  We won’t even go over some of the meanness you had to deal with from adults at those places you all were held in ‘cause that don’t make no sense at all though why I’m surprised I don’t know since I know for a fact people can be nothing but a bunch of jackasses; pardon my French.”  He put the bowl of acorns it looked like he’d been shelling on the nightstand so he could sit back down.  “Plus once you escaped you give the kids most of the food you found along the road and most of that sounds like a half load of crappy junk.  Eating dandelions and dollar weed soup when you run low on food when aid stations stopped doing much but forcing people a little further down the road.  Just … I heard stories on the radio but … but they didn’t make a dent in my feelings except the normal kind.  But to hear it wasn’t just stories but the way my … my family had to … had to live …”  He shook his head.  “No wonder you’re traumatized.”

      I tried to snort but it came out more like a squawk when I realized my throat was sore.  “I am not traumatized.  Don’t make it worse than it was.  We survived.  We’re here now.  And here we’re going to stay now that we’ve got things worked out.”  I had just woken up but was already I was already tired again.  My hand shook as I raised the glass to my lips to drink more water.  After I drank about half a glass I said, “Aunt Frankie was up here this morning.”

      Jude nodded.  “I know you didn’t want Rochelle but no way was I going to just leave and not have someone keeping an eye out.  Dad is down in his back or he’d likely been up here first thing.  Mom said it was better to give everyone a little extra sleep anyway.  She must have been concerned enough by what she found to take the kids back with her.  Startled me when I saw them all racing to get chores done so that Mom would let them come back up here.  Got a buck and a couple of turkeys by the way.  Anywho, I nearly said something but she said she’d come up a couple of times and you were dead to the world and needed the sleep.”

      “Oh Jude, don’t get in a quarrel with Aunt Frankie.  She’s seems to be … I don’t know …”

      “I know.  Don’t know what I’d call it either so don’t strain your brain looking for the words.  And you might as well get that other look off your face too, you ain’t getting’ out of bed and that’s that.  Mom sent a big pot of soup back with me from several jars out of their pantry of stuff that needed rotating before they got too old.  I don’t know what you call it but it tastes good and the kids are eating it.  There’s plenty left for supper and I’ve got enough sense to know how to make cornmeal cakes to go with it to make it go even further.”

      I nearly cried I was so thankful.

      Alarmed he ordered, “Hey, none of that.  Soup ain’t nothing to cry over.”

      “I know it.  Just for so long …  Anyway, having family … people that act like family … is better than you can imagine.  I gotta remember and do something for them.”  It popped into my head with almost no effort.  “Hey, how’s Aunt Frankie’s hands?  They were bothering her when we were doing the chickens.”

      “About like Dad’s back.  Sore.  Why?”

      “Just ask Paulie to come here unless you have him doing something.”

      He shook his head.  “Might as well get this over with but then you are gonna eat and go back to sleep.”

      He walked out of the room and I heard him cross the house and then the squeak of the screen door.  A few seconds later it sounded like a herd of elephants slammed into the house.  If there hadn’t been a sturdy door stop on the door and a baseboard for it to hit, I would have had a doorknob sized hole in the wall to fix.  “Yo!  Take it easy Monkey Man.”  And when I saw the other kids all piled behind him I said, “And that goes for the rest of your posse too.”

      What I hadn’t expected was Tiffany, so stoic for so long, to practically fall on the bed and start crying.  Mimi tried to tune up but I nipped that in the bud by telling them all, “Look, I’m fine.  I look like road kill I’m sure but a bath and a hair brush will take care of most of it though some of it is likely just my natural looks and there’s no help for those.  No need to scare yourselves silly.  Jude wouldn’t lie to you and you know it.”

      It only took a couple of moments – Tiff really doesn’t like ruckus, not even her own – and everything was fine again.  But then I was on to other business.  “Paulie?  You know what chickweed is right?”

      “Yeah.  That stuff you had us digging out of the herb patch the other day.”

      “Yeah, that’s it.  I need you and Tiff to do a very special favor for me.  It’s for saying thank you to Aunt Frankie and Uncle Roe and I wouldn’t entrust this to just anyone.”  They both perked up at that.  “Is the wood stove on?”

      Jude called from outside the doorway, “Naw … but the fireplace is.  Since we were just heating the soup I didn’t see the sense in making more mess than would then have to be cleaned up.  The swivel arm crane is strong enough to hold all you might need.”

      The fireplace in the living room was fairly large and the original room of the house.  As such all the cooking had once been done in that very fireplace and Dad had refurbished it when the chimney had to be rebuilt after a limb had come down on it.  The fire place in the kitchen was smaller but up off the floor and used to be a firebox oven – my great grandmother and grandmother had made most of their breads in it – though it wasn’t used for much in recent years and was covered by a decorative wooden cover; but behind the wood was the original cast iron door.  “OK, let me think.  My brain is scrambled.”

      “Chickweed,” Paulie reminded me.

      “Oh yeah.  Tiff, get a pint of oil … don’t matter what kind just not lard and nothing that is rancid.  Ask Jude if something smells funny and he’ll be able to tell you if it is bad or not.  Take a pint of the oil and put it in that heavy pot with the wooden handle; then, set that on a metal trivet – Paulie knows what that is and use the one that looks like a rooster – and push it near the coals but not in them.”  She nodded her understanding but I glanced at Jude who nodded as well.  “Paulie, your job is to get the chickweed, two big handfuls, and put it in the oil and push it down in there.  You need to let that infuse about two to three hours in the oil.  Before bed time Jude – if he’s able – can pour the oil through Mom’s herbal strainer.”

      Jude asked, “What is that?”

      Paulie answered, “I know which one it is.  It’s hanging on a hook inside the cabinet door where Mom keeps … uh … kept … keeps … anyway, it’s there with all her other medicine making stuff.”

      I nodded though I was running out of steam really quickly.  “Strain that stuff into a funnel put down the neck of one of those fancy pint bottles up in that cabinet.  Let it cool a bit and then stick the stopper in it.  That will be like a hand lotion sorta … or more like an ointment maybe.  I don’t know.”  I hadn’t meant to but I must have made a face when I rubbed my forehead which was sore. 

      I heard Paulie marshaling his troops.  “Bobby, you come with me so I can see whether you remember what chickweed looks like.  Lonnie, you help Tiff.  Mimi, you and Corey better behave or I won’t play blocks with you for two … no three whole days.  Maybe a week if you’re rotten.”

      If I had felt better I would have been in danger of smiling or laughing.  Instead I lay back down.  Jude asked in a voice that sounded like he was trying not to laugh himself, “You want a couple of those pills with your soup Granny?”

      “It’s not fair to smart off Jude when I’m not able to smart off right back.”

      “Who told you life was fair … Granny?” 

      When he came back Tiffany was with him.  She carried the water pitcher and Jude carried a tray with a bowl of soup on it.  “Don’t give me the face Dovie.  Mom said you needed to eat this after you woke up.  And drink plenty of water too.”

      I sighed.  I knew he was right and I didn’t really have a fever so I hadn’t no excuse.  It was just a clear broth anyway.  “Tiff?”

      She was so eager just nearly jumped when she answered, “Yes?”

      “Can you heat up some water and when it is warm pour two cups of it into my big tea mug that I use in the mornings and then measure in a tablespoon of poultry seasoning?  It’s in the cabinet in a jar with a red and white label on it.  Not a heaping tablespoon, just flat tablespoon like I taught you.  Then just bring it here.”

      She ran off to do what I requested and Jude asked, “Do I want to know what that is for?”

      “It’s my hurry-up-and-get-well tea when I’m not feeling good.  Poultry seasoning has rosemary, marjoram, and thyme in it and they are all good antiseptic herbs that will work from the inside out with this chicken broth.  I refuse to be sick any longer than I have to be.”  I downed the pills and prayed my head would stop thumping.  I’ve never been hung over but I could imagine that’s what it must feel like.

      Jude continued to lean on the door frame and was still there once Tiffany had come and gone to go back to going through some of the boxes in the attic looking for winter clothes for everyone.  I could tell by the look on his face that Jude wanted to say something and I finally told him, “Whatever it is just spit it out.”

      “I hate to bother you while you ain’t feelin’ good.”

      “Jude …”

      “Alright.”  Still looking uncomfortable he finally said, “Would you mind if I asked Paulie to take that liquor you have in the basement pantry and bring them up here and lock them in your chest at the foot of your bed?  I wasn’t snooping, just I was down there looking at what all you had been doing and trying to find some space to put jars of venison chili that Mom sent back with me.”

      Distracted by the idea of chili I had to put it away for thinking about later as I had forgotten about the liqueurs and other stuff.  “Of course I don’t mind … but I trust you Jude.”

      “Oh.”  After a moment he said, “You shouldn’t.  Not about that.  Not yet.  I’m not sure I trust myself yet if it is going to be that close and easy to get to.”

      He looked so upset I said, “Jude, I trust you.  But … if it makes you feel better of course you can just have Paulie and the boys bring it up here.”

      He nodded succinctly and with more assurance than he started out with.  “Yeah, it does make me feel better.  I can do it out in public … look at a bottle and not have to have it right then in there … but sleeping in the same house with the stuff?  That’s still a ways off I’m thinkin’.  Now I’m done bothering you.  I told the kids I’d roast some chestnuts for them tonight … if you don’t need them for something else.”

      “Jude, you do whatever you think is best and feel like.  I’ve made up everything that I can of them right now and they need to be used up before they mold.  Chestnuts don’t keep that long without freezing and since we don’t have one – a freezer I mean – the sooner they get used up the better.  I hate wasting food.”

      He got a thoughtful look on his face and then asked me, “Aunt Malissa ever tell you what that little sink next to where your parents had that burn pit?”

      “You mean that funny hole in the ground on the other side of the clothes line?”


      I shrugged, “They always just said to stay away from it.  All they needed to say was that snakes could be down in it.”

      He shook his head at my extreme dislike of snakes.  “Used to be an ice shed built over the top of it.”

      “An ice shed?  You mean like a cooler sort of thing?”

      “Well I don’t know about a cooler but at one time it was deep enough you had to climb down in it with a ladder.  They’d lay hay all around the floor and walls and then in the winter, once water started freezing solid, they cut blocks out of the stream and layer them like bricks all around the walls.  There would be so much ice down in there that it would last all the way until almost the next winter so long as the trap door was kept shut.”

      “How do you know that?”

      “Dad and Mr. Schnell talked about it one time … aw, it was years ago and I was doing some kind of lame project for school.  Anyway, maybe the school project was lame but the idea might not be.  It’s gonna take a lot of cleaning out but … maybe …”  Then he said, “Tell me to shut up already.  Eat your soup and then go back to sleep.”

      And that’s exactly what I did minus the telling him to shut up part.