Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Chapter LV


      Went to the church yesterday for the first time since the dinner-on-the-grounds.  It was nice but you could cut the tension with a knife.  Brother Shirley got everyone refocused on why we were supposed to be there but it took a bit and the initial singing was pretty pathetic.  By the time the sermon started however the hymns were pretty raucous – Power in the Blood, Give Me That Old Time Religion, Battle Hymn of the Republic, When the Saints Go Marching In; it really got the blood pumping.

      After church though we had to forego all the usual visiting and catching up because there are some pretty stiff new rules on people congregating in groups of any size for any purpose.  Church services are exempt – after a lot of tug o’ war with what I hear people call the powers that be – but it was a close thing.  Darn those rioters anyway; if they want to mess up where they live that’s one thing but why is it necessary for them to mess things up for the rest of us?  I’m afraid I’m just not thinking very Christian thoughts about people that can’t keep their own house cleaned up so seem to not be able to help themselves when it comes to making a mess in other people’s homes.  But then again, maybe I would feel differently if I was them … but I just don’t see myself ever being that. 

      Even as a kid, and that is despite the fact that some people still consider me one, I did what I had to to improve the lot of my family without making it harder on other people.  I accepted help when it was offered, but I never demanded help like I was entitled to it.  Some people might consider that I went to the Exchange as an entitlement but I look at it as something my father and brothers gave their lives for and I went for the family, not for myself alone.  And I’m not going to expect any more than what we already got; if it happens it happens, if it doesn’t then I’m not going to whine about it because I shouldn’t be counting on other people like that in the first place. 

      There are so many things going on out there in the world right now, I’m not sure what to make of everything; especially all these new rules.  Some people seem to think that compromising for safety’s sake is tolerable for a while.  Some people think any kind of rules and regulations might as well be a declaration of war against the people.  It’s hard to know what to think.  If people would just obey the basic rules and laws already on the books there wouldn’t be the need for everything getting like it is; but of course they don’t.  I keep my mouth shut and my opinions to myself even here at home because even in the family the opinion varies depending on who you speak to and how wound up they are at the time.

      Jude caught me down in the basement last night and I had a time of it trying to figure out how to answer him.

      “So, what did you think of church today?”

      I shrugged.  “Music seemed to get people in the mood, that’s for sure.”

      He nodded, “Sure did but I meant, well, not church exactly but the rest of it.  How people were acting.”

      “I think folks are plenty stressed out and some of them don’t seem to do much but complain about it.”

      “Some of ‘em can’t do much but complain about it because it’s almost too late to do anything else.”

      I rolled my eyes.  “No one ever has to complain, you choose to open your mouth and say the words.  And if all you have left is complaining, you shouldn’t do it blaming other folks for the spot you find yourself in from not thinking ahead and seeing where things might go.”

      “Little hard on folks doncha think?”

      “Yeah, probably.  But it’s not like I’ve exactly had it easy.  I know I’m lucky to be where I’m at and getting the help that I am.  But we’ve kept it in the family.  Too many of those folks are growling because they think the government – or worse, other folks that they think have more than they do – aren’t doing enough, that they should be providing them with things they think they have a right to.  They’re mad about social security, medicare, food stamps, commodities, subsidies, banks, taxes, wages, child support not being enforced, and I don’t know what all else.”

      He snorted, “You’re showing your age.”

      I shrugged.  “Oh yeah, like you’re so old.  And what do you want me to say?  I can’t help my age.  But you asked so I said. I just won’t answer you next time.”

      He shook his head.  “That’s not what I meant.”

      “Isn’t it?  Why do you think I stayed out of that conversation that you men were having up at the house at the noonday meal?  You bunch ask for someone’s opinion and then when they give it and it is different from yours you gotta set in to trying to change the person you asked or criticize them for what they think.  I swear if I hadn’t gotten up and left the table I would have dumped a bowl of greens all over Clewis and Crystal both.”

      “You don’t care for them much do you?”

      “Of course I do, they’re family.  What I don’t care for is their holier than thou attitudes.  I mean they’re almost like those what-do-you-call-‘ems you hear about on the radio … anarchists.  Everything is just fine and dandy if it gives them what they want when they want it but don’t you dare put any rules on them.  On the other hand they get bent out of shape when other people doing what they want when they want gets in their way.  Now does that make any kind of sense at all?”

      “Why didn’t you tell ‘em that?”

      “’Cause I gotta live here.”

      “Now who isn’t making any sense?”

      I hesitated before explaining.  “Look, you’re different.  I can handle you bossing me and the kids because you think before you boss … most of the time anyway and the times you don’t really don’t matter much because you’re usually right anyway.  You give more than you expect in return.  It makes it so much easier to trust and respect you.  But Clewis … and to some extent Butch and even Uncle Roe and the rest of them … they … they expect to hold a position for no other reason than their place in the pecking order of the family.  Butch is oldest male child.  Rochelle is oldest female child.  Uncle Roe is the patriarch.  I’m not saying that … oh I don’t know.  I’m done talking about this, I’ve got work to do.”

      “No, go on.  I’m wanna hear it.”

      I put down the basket of nuts I had meant to bring upstairs and leaned against the wall.  “Jude, one time I asked Dad why he saluted certain people.  He explained it had to do with authority.  But then I asked what happened if someone wasn’t as good as they thought they were and maybe didn’t deserve the authority they had.  So Dad explained about chain of command and how things are supposed to work.  The higher you go the more qualified you are supposed to be … because you earn your way there and you have more and more experience as you go up the chain.  Now that I'm grown I understand it doesn't always work that way, but it is supposed to."  I almost kicked him when I caught him trying not to roll his eyes when I said I was grown but did my best to ignore him and continued, "I give Uncle Roe obedience because I know he loves me even though it is mostly because of Mom.  It is also because he has done a good job of holding things together and has a lot of experience.  He deserves to be the patriarch of our family and deserves my respect for the job he has done and continues to do.  Butch is like his second in command down there even though I don’t think he really wants the job long term.  Farming was nothing he really wanted to do; he wants to drive trucks or maybe even have his own supply company.  You know how he is; telling all that stuff where it is supposed to be, how it is going to get there and when would just totally do it for him.  But he has done a lot of sacrificing for the family and means to do the best job he can even if it isn’t the job he wants.  I respect him for that, but he is bossy and Uncle Roe has to be there to knock the hard edge off of his bossiness.  Rochelle, as much as it pains me to admit it, is a rockin’ doctornurse.”

      Snorting in response Jude asked, “What’s a doctornurse?”

      “Whatever it is that Rochelle is.  That’s what I call it in my head.  The thing is, though she hides it, I know she is studying because I spied her through the window the other day face down in a book and sleeping.  Lorne told me not to say anything but that she falls asleep most nights just like that … studying all of those books she had for school classes she never got to take.”

      “You like to live dangerously,” he said.  “If Lorne told you not to say anything …”

      “I’m saying it to you so you’ll understand what I mean.  Rochelle still rubs me like a rusty cheese grater but I gotta respect her for the effort she is putting into things, for how she is trying to help not just our family but other people too.  Then there is Wendalene and her Rick, Lorne, Boo, River … they all are trying even though Wendalene is another one that makes me feel like she is pinching me every chance she gets.  She does know her livestock and she takes a lot of work off of Uncle Roe and Aunt Frankie.  Faith … for the life of me I don’t know what on earth she does.  It’s like her disappointment that life isn’t turning out the way she expected has drained her ambition for everything.  She’s just there … kinda sorta anyway. She hasn’t addressed more than a handful of words to me directly since I’ve been back.”

      “And does any of this have to do with my original question?” Jude asked sarcastically.  “They’re my family too.  I know they ain’t perfect but that don’t mean I’m afraid to have an opinion around them.”

      “I’m not afraid to have an opinion either, I just know that my opinion is better off kept to myself.”

      Getting irritated he said, “And what is that supposed to mean?”

      “It means that no matter what my opinion is there are so many people above me in the pecking order that someone will get their tail feathers singed over it … likely more than one.  And that means that they’ll do their best to sway me to their way of thinking because they don’t have much confidence in my ability to have my own opinion and it be a valid one.  And to be honest, I don’t need the trouble that would cause me.  And don’t tell me there wouldn’t be any trouble because that is just a fantasy.  Flying under the radar means that people can ignore me.  I start getting noticed and people might want to start doing something about me which would likely interfere with what I’m trying to do here with the kids.”

      “Crystal been talking again?”

      “Has she ever stopped?”

      “Probably not.  But … ok, you’re getting me turned around.  Forget about everyone else, I’m asking what you’re opinion of things are.  And I won’t go carrying tales to any of the rest of ‘em.  Just talk to me.”

      “You aren’t going to leave me alone about this are you?”

      “No.”

      I sighed.  “You are going to think this is a cop out but I don’t know what to think right now.”

      He gave a sarcastic agreement by saying, “Yeah, that’s a cop out.”

      Getting upset I told him, “Well I don’t mean it to be.  Look … there’s a war.  Regardless of who started it or why there should be rules because if we lose the war it will be worse than anything anyone around here imagines.  I’ve seen enough DBs … real live dead bodies … to last me a life time and I don’t want to see any more.  I’ve read enough history to know that whoever wins will be all over us like a mob of hungry crows pecking at our bones.  I’ve got those kids I promised I would take care of and I don’t want anyone or anything making it harder than it already is.  If people would just follow the rules things wouldn’t be so messed up.”

      “Now you sound like Butch.”

      “No,” I said shaking my head.  “I don’t believe in rules for the sake of rules.  I just mean commonsense rules and laws.  There doesn’t need to be a ton of them telling us what we have to do every minute of our lives, just general ones that fall on the side of commonsense and people minding their own business without doing things that interfere with other people’s lives and private business.”

“OK, that’s fine and dandy but reality is that people aren’t following the rules.  So what do you expect the rest of us to do?  Sit around and say nothing and let people walk all over us?”

      “I don’t know!  Stop pestering me about it!”

      “Dovie you are going to have to …”

      “See?!  You are just like the rest of them,” I told him, my feelings hurt enough that it surprised me.  “I can’t have my own thoughts and have you accept that they are my thoughts.  Oh no, you gotta make sure that my thoughts line up with your thoughts cause we can’t have dissention in the ranks.”

      I made to run up the stairs but he grabbed my arm, “Hey!  Hey I didn’t mean …”

      “Let go Jude.”

      “I will, just slow down and let’s talk about this.”

      “You don’t want to talk … you want to boss me into submission and cover it up by making it look like I just changed my mind and that the decision was my own.”

      “Now that’s not fair.”

      “Anymore fair than you telling me that you want to hear my thoughts, that you won’t go carrying tales, yet when I tell you what I think you try and beat me over the head ‘cause I’ve got thoughts to begin with?”

      He wanted to be mad for about two seconds and then sat down on the bottom step and tugged me down.  “C’mon, sit … I’m not gonna fuss at you.”

      Seeing as how he spread out in the narrow stairwell and I would have had to literally climb over him like a jungle gym to get back upstairs I sat, though it was definitely against my inclinations.

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