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.”
“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.