Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Chapter XCII

            “They did what?!” I yelped in both surprise and fear.

            “I said they took him in for questioning,” Jude answered with a cautious look on his face.  I knew that look, he wanted me to tone it back and use some sense as there were others in the same boat milling about.  It was hard but I grabbed myself and put it under control; things were stressful enough, I didn’t want to make them worse.

            “Questioning for what?” I demanded to know in a more moderate tone of voice.

            “About stuff.”  I gave him the look that answer deserved and he sighed, his own frustration peeking out.  “Sorry Sweetheart, but how the heck am I supposed to know?  It is the same question everyone is asking but no answer is being given.”

            “Well aren’t the cops supposed to say why before they haul you off like that?”

            Jude shrugged thoughtfully.  “Not exactly; besides cops aren’t the ones that hauled him and the others off, guys from the Commander’s office did.  And they don’t have to follow the same rules as everyone else as they fall under the authority of DHS which kinda … er …”

            “Yeah … they get to use that old saw about national security.  But this isn’t national, this is North West Doodlysquat, Tennessee and everyone knows it.  If there are any national security issues then the military should be the ones handling it because of Ft. Campbell … and Fort Donnelson too if it comes right down to it.”

            Another good ol’ boy in the crowd milling around where we had all gathered, whose father had gotten hauled off in the same round up that Butch had gotten caught up in said, “Yup.  And that right there is the problem see.  Somebody done run to them boys out at the guard station and they in turn run to their commander or whatever you call that guy that bosses everyone over at the Base.  He done sent someone over here lickety split.  Commander Carlsburg done got a hair up his bum over how he was done over being kept to the city limits and it is just twisting that hair this way and that to be told that now even in the city limits he can get bossed by the military.”

            Outraged I asked, “So this isn’t anything but a grown man throwing a tantrum like a two year old?  There isn’t really anything to it but someone trying to prove how much authority they have?!”

            “Hush Dovie,” Jude said repressively.

            “Excuse me?” I asked drawing back getting caught off guard by the unexpected order.

            “Look, I don’t mean to snap but,” he stopped and scratched his head in aggravation.  Then more calmly he explained, “We’re both on edge.  We already run into a lotta crap while shopping today.  We gotta stay smart.   If this is over the same thing …”

            “Oh,” I said repentantly after a brief moment of thinking.  “Are you … you mean …”  I stopped and then asked quietly, “You think they took Butch because of me?”

            “I don’t know Dovie and that’s the truth.  But whether it is or it isn’t the reason, I don’t want to draw any more attention to you … or anyone else for that matter.  And you know Butch wouldn’t either so let’s us both … we need to stay calm.”

            One of the other men asked, “Whatcha mean Killarney?”

            Jude looked and later told me he recognized the man as having a stepson that had turned out to be a double negative.  “Seems someone around here has hard feelings over the Double Negatives and are starting to grill them and treat … well … track them is what we were told point blank.  We were trying to pay for things at the checkout and they wouldn’t even let us until they had gotten permission … like maybe we weren’t good enough to trade with no matter what the color our money was.  Was real funny … real … real strange the way they were doing and … and acting …”

            When Jude puttered off with a thoughtful and concerned look at me I explained further to a few others that had turned to listen in, “They haven’t said anything directly but it felt a whole lot like I don’t want to ever come into town again.  Tracking is only the first step; I’m afraid they’ll quarantine us again or something like that.  And now if they are after family ‘cause of me …”

            “What on earth for?” a woman wanted to know.

            I shrugged.  “Seems like just because they can.  The Nazis did it to the Jews.  The Japanese were thrown into internment camps here in the US during that war.  Not sure what is going on but I’m not liking it at all.  Now they’re going after the rest of my family.”

            Jude gently chucked me under the chin and said, “We don’t know that for sure Sweetheart.”

            I gave him the eye.  “Then what gives?  Butch is so straight he squeaks when he walks.”

            One of the men growled and said, “He don’t look like he is walking so straight anymore.”

            Jude and I jerked around thinking the guy was besmirching our family but we saw that he was staring at a military truck that had pulled up.  Some men were getting out of the back end with the help of some soldiers.  One of those men was Butch and he looked like he’d been worked over pretty hard.

            Jude and I ran over and put an arm around each side of him.  “Aw knock it off you two,” he rasped.  “I ain’t dead … and I can walk.”

            “Shut up Butch,” I told him.  “All we are doing is trying to get a little sweetening in because otherwise River is going to have our heads.”

            Butch’s irritation dropped back a notch realizing we weren’t just babying him in public to embarrass him.  “I’m fine Dovie.”  He gave a pain-filled whisper to Jude.  “Get us out of here but don’t look in a panic; I don’t want to get stopped again or blamed for causing a stampeded.  They thought I was too knocked out to hear what they were saying but there’s a riot working this way and if what they said can be believed, the military boys are going to fence this place in and maybe let it burn long and hard to teach Carlsburg a lesson.”

            After a few choice words Jude was all business.  We helped Butch into the back of the wagon and I sat in the back with him to keep an eye on our rear until we could get beyond the last checkpoint.  Once past there we finally picked up a little speed not so fast that anything jarred loose, including our teeth on the rough road.

            Jude didn’t turn from driving but asked, “You serious about being OK Butch?”

            “I’ll live, just get us back home.  I already see a couple of plumes of smoke from the far side of town.  I don’t want to be caught out if they shut the roads down.  Just take it easy, whatever I’m sitting on is digging a hole in my …”


            “Sorry Dovie,” he said automatically rather than actually meaning it.

            Jude asked him, “You ready to talk?”

            Before he could start I asked, almost afraid to hear the answer, “Was … was it because of … of me Butch?  Did it have anything to do with …”

            Butch cursed more words in that one sentence than I think I’d ever heard him use in my whole life.  “Dovie, don’t you ever … ever … let them get ahold of you … them kids either.  I’m talkin’ to Dad and Clewis as soon as we get home.”  Addressing Jude and surprising him a bit he said, “Jude, I know you and Clewis have been up to something and I haven’t been too sure I wanted to know about it until now.  Dad kinda figures something is up too but is willing to ignore it so long as it don’t bring no problems down on the family.  But if it is about keeping Dovie and the kids safe, count us in.”

            I blanched.  “It did have something to do with us.”

            “Kinda yeah and kinda no.  It was part of it but it wasn’t all of it.  They started off that direction then keep taking rabbit trails.  It was like they had so many things to be nosey about that they didn’t know where to start or how to stay on topic once they did start.  It’s for sure that they don’t like the farm folks much at all.  They think we’re holding back, that we have more than we deserve to have – food, land, fuel, fresh water, everything.  They think we aren’t nothing but a bunch of ignorant redneck hillbillies.  And they don’t like the military much either.  I’ve never seen such a cluster @#$%.”

            My mouth fell open so far I couldn’t even get it hinged to yelp at his language.  I mean it isn’t like I hadn’t heard the word used before but I’d never heard it from Butch.  Jude got real serious and said, “Explain it so I can see it.  It was the DNs but it wasn’t.  Was it more about being jealous of country folks or less?”

            “Dang my head is ringing,” Butch complained, pinching the sore bridge of his nose.  “Give me a sec to try and clear my head so I make sense.  The guy caught me completely off guard and plowed me down.  Once I was down I got kicked a couple of times.  Lord knows where it would have gone because I had my hands zipped tied and was even having a hard time finding my feet to get up.”

            “Oh Butch.”

            “Don’t start Dovie.  There’s no time for that and I ain’t as big a wuss as my face makes me look like.  I worked the oil fields.  You learn to brawl to survive out there.  Didn’t do as much of it after River came into the picture but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have to every so often.  I was a crew leader and had some really rough characters under me.  I had to prove myself more than once ‘cause I was quite a bit younger than a lot of the others were.  But this what happened here … this was a different kettle of fish.  This wasn’t brawling … don’t know what I’d call it but it wasn’t a real fight, more like they were trying to … to teach me a lesson or something.  But somewhere along the way them guys turned into a dog pack, they lost control.  Two of us guys were already down hard and taking it in the kidneys with boots when them soldiers busted in.  Carlsburg better have a good dental plan because a couple of his boys got their mouth smashed by the stock of a few M16s.  Guess the soldiers had been telling someone to open the door to that area of the warehouse a few times when the racket started; they stopped asking and just came on in on their own by taking the door down.  If the space hadn’t been so closed in there probably would have been gun fire.”

            Jude muttered – and I could hear the fury in his voice, “Good thing they had the brains to control theirselves.  Ricochets and friendly fire can kill too.”

            “Tell me about it.”  He tried to sniff through his swollen nose and winced.  “Anyway, I ain’t got a real good idea of what they were supposed to be questioning us about.  I think it was a shake down that got out of hand but I don’t know for sure.  They asked some dip@#$% questions that didn’t make any sense since all they would have had to do was pull the information up on their computer or by swiping our ID cards on one of them terminals.”

            Something clicked.  “Betcha they’ve been locked out and they are trying to build their own private database.”

            Butch gave me a thoughtful look and Jude asked from him place on the wagon seat, “You mean you think they’ve been cut off how?”

            “Maybe the military and DHS are starting to step on each other’s toes or maybe trying to … to … heck I don’t know.  But remember how wiggy that guy was when I said something about their computers at the Exchange?  How he got all defensive?”

            “Yeah, but that’s a stretch based on a lot of guesses and assumptions.”

            Admitting it I said, “OK, maybe it is.  But why else would they be looking for information they should already have?”

            Butch, ever the one with commonsense said, “Don’t go off on a tangent Dovie.  The DNs weren’t the only thing they were asking about.  They also wanted to know about how much food our families had and that sort of thing.  One of the other guys got a good thump for asking why they needed to know since Carlsburg didn’t have any say over what went on outside the city limits anyway.  ‘Nother guy said something about if Carlsburg wanted to know so bad he could ask those raiders that he’d been sending out that have been trying to sneak around the military patrols.  That more than anything is what really hacked off those guys that were questioning us.”

            I said, “And people think I have a smart mouth full of sass.  Even I would have had the sense to keep my teeth clamped on a comment like that.”

            Butch snorted, “I should hope so, especially now that you’ve got responsibilities.  And speaking of … River thinks she might be … you know … and I don’t want her more shook up than needed in case she is.  So’s we keep some of this stuff to ourselves.  Got it?”

            Bossy Butch.  But Jude apparently agreed with him, if not for the same reasons.  “No one needs to know all of it until we’ve had time to think about it and talk things out.  I guess we gotta bring Dad in on it though I’ve been trying not to.  We had a couple of things happen to us today that needs airing out too.”

            “That why Dovie is all bent about the DNs and wanting to know if it was her fault I got took.”

            “Hey,” I said.  “I’m sitting right here.”

            But Jude and Butch kept talking like I wasn’t as Jude explained about the Exchange and the Bx.  Butch said, “Figures.  You can always count on when things seem like they are just about to settle down is right when they are going to pick right back up again.  Reckon we got us a lot of thinking and doing to talk over the next little while.”

            I stared at the horizon where a few more plumes of smoke were beginning to rise in the distance from the direction we had just come and I hoped everyone else had had the smarts to get out of town. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Chapter XCI

            OK, I’ll just flat out admit it right here, I enjoy all the parts of being married.  Jude and I were close before but now … just wow.  Every day that goes by some part of it seems to get better.  Oh, not that things are easy but easy isn’t what makes better, better gets made from work.

            It hasn’t been as awkward as I thought it would be sharing a room with Jude in front of the kids.  In fact it has turned out to be natural.  Every so often Paulie will come to me privately and ask an awkward question but a simple answer usually sets him at ease or satisfies his curiosity.  And the questions are coming farther apart, like he’s getting comfortable with sharing me with Jude in a way that perhaps he hadn’t been before.  Or maybe I am just reading something into it that isn’t there.  It is working out whatever the origin of his questions, so I’m not going to rock the boat.

            After the wedding we had one humdinger of a snow storm but since then all we’ve had is cold.  I’m not just talking about normal cold but cold as in you step outside without gloves and a hat you are going to be in serious trouble kind of cold.  One of Rochelle’s boys got the next best thing to frost bite on the ends of his fingers from getting his gloves wet fooling around breaking ice down by the creek.  Let’s just say Rochelle went Mama Bear all over his backside and gave the rest of the kids a good what for as well.  They weren’t supposed to be down by the creek to begin with much less playing in it.  Now the kids are restricted to their respective yards except for Paulie who has been deemed both old enough and mature enough to follow directions.

            To no one in particular he grumped, “Gee, thanks.  Now I’m the only one that gets to be a runner between both houses.”

            Jude said, “Felt the same way at your age.  You’ll appreciate it one of these days.”  Then Jude winced.  “Geez, I sound like Dad.”  I laughed knowing how he felt; I’d been noticing that I sounded like Mom every so often myself.  Paulie wasn’t offended and actually laughed at the horrible face that Jude had made so all was good.

            Work slowed way down for Jude and the other men here on the farm.  Or let me rephrase that, paying work slowed way down; work and projects for here on the farm were just as busy as they ever were if not more so.  One of the projects that the men finally had time for was the ice house.  We were lucky that the hole was already below the frost line and that no digging in frozen ground was necessary.  But that was the only easy thing about the job. 

            A horrible lot of junk was pulled out of the hole.  Grass, leaves, old limbs, bits of old furniture, and then there was the metal stuff most of which was so rusted you could only guess what it had started out as sometime back in the dark ages.  There were a few skeletons down in there too but happily none of them human. 

We burned off what could be burned off and then piled the metal bits and blobs into a wagon to haul them off to the mandatory recycling center.  Most people would have ignored the “mandatory order” if there hadn’t been an incentive of a cash reward per pound.  You had to sort the scrap by type of metal and some metals were more valuable than others but to keep the scavengers from robbing houses and farms, you had to prove ownership for most items like house siding (your mortgage papers), frig or stove (warranty papers or purchase receipt), copper piping or wiring (plumber’s bill, electrician’s bill, or receipt for replacement parts), etc.  It made the process of turning in the scrap more tedious and time consuming but that was the whole point … most thieves want a quick buck and to get out the door without having to give their names.  

We used the duly notarized ownership papers for Uncle Roe’s farm and just said we were cleaning out the gully.  Some guy from the environmental agency was there and made a big deal out of how good a thing we were doing.  We left Butch to handle it as he had a much higher tolerance for that type of stuff than we did.  And for bonus points Jude and I were able to time it so that I was able to go to the Exchange and lucked out that I was able to go to the Bx at the same time as well.  I spent a hefty amount at the Exchange and then pretty much cleaned out the rest of the card on shoes at the Bx.

            I have to say the Exchange was run completely different from the way that it had been the other time I was there.  For one the line was a whole lot longer to get in.  For two, the restriction on the number of items you could buy was gone as well but it didn’t seem to matter.  People would walk in, take forever to decide what they wanted, and then only walk out with a very few items.  The last difference was the strangest; most items were sold in bulk and were kept behind a long counter or in the back warehouse.  There were some individually packaged items for sale but they were behind another long counter.  You had to fill out a slip for each item you wanted to purchase then you would hand your slips to a clerk who would then measure out each item and bag it up and put a label on it.  Before they would do this you had to give them your benefits card to show you had enough points or cash to make the purchase.

            The guy that took my slips when it was my turn just about went cross-eyed.  “Are you sure this order is correct?”

            “Yes,” I told him primly.  “Here is my card to validate to show I have enough points.”

            The guy got suspicious, called over a manager or supervisor or whatever they are called, and I got royally interrogated.  Lucky for me that Jude was there because I was fast losing my patience.  I snapped at the latest supervisor that questioned me, “Look, I’ve done everything exactly like your sign said I needed to do and did it before I got up here so that you wouldn’t have to wait on me taking forever to dot the I’s and cross the T’s.  I was trying not to hold up the line.”

            Jude put his hand on my shoulder to gentle me and said, “Easy Dovie, I’m sure these fellas are lashed down with rules six ways from Sunday.  On top ‘o that I bet they get kicked hard for any little thing wrong with them receipts at the end of the day.”

            I looked at him and gave him the suspicious squinty-eye for his good ol’ boy act.  “Maybe,” I responded.  “But how the heck am I supposed to mess around with the info on that card when Commander Blankenship had the stuff put on it?  It doesn’t make sense.  Don’t military computers track the data?  Are the computers bad do you think?  Maybe they need to …”

            “No, no, no … nothing wrong with our computers.  We’re hardened against hackers.”  Which told me they likely hadn’t been at some point and that they had had problems.  “And that is former Commander Blankenship … Commander Carlsburg is in charge now.  It is simply a matter of getting the correct approval.  You are a double negative.”

            At that non sequitur I responded, “Yeah.  So?”

            “Commander Carlsburg has ruled that all DNs are to be tracked and …”

            That made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up and my temper get just a little hotter.  I’d already suffered under the harsh hand of “the state” once for being a Double Negative, I wasn’t going make it easy on them to do it again.   “I live in the county, not within the city limits.  And I’m already on file with the military as you can plainly see by my ID.  Maybe I should contact …”

            An obviously senior staffer came up and hurriedly said, “No!”  Quickly changing to a more weasley countenance he said, “That won’t be necessary.  Of course we must be zealous of the safety of our community but since you are already on file I believe we have everything we need.”  He turned to the poor, hapless clerk and ordered brusquely, “Finish this order so they can leave.”

            I held my tongue after that but once Jude and I had everything in the wagon I asked, “Do I have cooties or something?”

            Jude snorted, “I was wondering if you noticed that.  Let’s get you out of here and back home.  Something unhealthy is going on around here.  Even the hair in my pits is curling.”

            I rolled my eyes but refused to run like a rabbit.  “Not until I finish what I came to do.  I refuse to be scared off.  I’ve done nothing wrong.”

            “Now hold up.  I didn’t say you had done …”

            “I know you haven’t.  If I’m reading your signals though you won’t want me or the kids coming to town any time in the near future … or at least until you have things figured out.”

            “And?” he asked defensively.

            “And nothing.  Once we get out of here I’ll be happy to be the obedient wife even if it does make me feel chuckle-headed.  However, I figure since we’re here we might as well do what we said we were going to do which is empty this card.  Just let me go into the Bx, get the shoes, and then you can hide me away all you want.”

            “Not a matter of hiding you away Sweetheart.”  I gave him the look Mom had always given Dad under similar circumstances.  “Oh fine, maybe it is.  I just want to keep you and the kids away from what looks to be a developing mess.  I don’t like what just went on, something doesn’t feel right.  Next thing you know they’ll be asking all of the DNs to pin white stars to their outer clothes … or maybe get tattooed across your forehead,” he said, ending on an irritable note.

            I put my hand on his arm.  “We already are tattooed if you think about it … we’re chipped.  And for the record, I agree with you; it doesn’t feel right to me either.  But we have needs.  We’ve already talked about this.  Come planting season things are gonna be hard enough for you to bring in money.  We can’t know when or if I’ll be using the benefits again … might only count for Paulie once our marriage gets officially recorded.  Let’s use what we’ve got access to right now and then not worry about it again for a while.”

            Jude didn’t like it but he recognized the truth of it.  “Can’t afford to leave the horses in the stable anymore and it is too cold to leave them standing.  Couldn’t anyway ‘cause we’re loaded with goods.”  He stopped and thought.  “Do you object to buying used?”

            I rolled my eyes.  “Do you remember who you are talking to?”

            An unwilling chuckle escaped him.  “Sorry.  Just mean the Bx has an outdoor sale area where they set up their thrift store.  They take bennie-cards there plus I can keep an eye on you without leaving the wagon.”

            I nodded my agreement but added, “If I had been smart I would have gone to the Bx first and then the Exchange.”

            “We didn’t find out the Bx sale until we were already in line inside the Exchange otherwise I would agree with you.”  He pulled up to the drop off point.  “Need help getting down?”

            “No.  I’ll get done as quick as possible.  I’ve got our list and I’m sticking to it.”

            “Just be careful.  And remember we still need to go get Butch though knowing him he is still jawing with folks at the fuel depot.”

            I nodded once again and then hopped down.  And I was quick with my shopping; not as quick as I had meant to be but I didn’t lollygag either.  I had to look through the shoe section and really dig in bins to find boots for Paulie.  Luckily he had big feet and could wear a man’s size nine.  Corey and Mimi were another problem but I finally found several matching shoes of various sizes in a large pile of cast offs that barely cost anything.  As soon as the ground dries up I’ll switch them to moccasins and then sandals once it turns warm.

            I found a pair of boots for Clewis as well; the sole was flopping on the one pair of winter boots he had.  The only other items I needed for sure were bras for me.  Mom’s didn’t fit and I had felt totally strange trying them on.  The ones I had were getting uncomfortably raggedy.  Underwear I could sew but a good support bra was another thing unless I wanted to use a bikini top pattern and I wasn’t that desperate yet.  I also don’t have any desire to wear double barrel slingshots made out of bandanas, ace bandages, or halter tops which is what I heard Faith and Wendalene leaned towards.  I was more like Rochelle and Aunt Frankie though without the proportion issues … I didn’t mind a little jiggle when I walked but too much was just too much and made me irritable and self-conscious.

            Then it turned out I had to buy a laundry bag because they didn’t provide boxes or bags for the thrift store which meant getting out of line and hunting around some more.  By the time I was walking out of that area I was more than ready to get outta Dodge.  I put the bags in the wagon bed and then climbed onto the wagon seat.  Jude took one look at my face and asked, “Somebody give you a hard time?”

            I answered, “People are idiots.”

            “Yep.  Any idiot in particular bother you?”

            I heard the protective tone in his voice and did what I could to shake off my anger.  “Just more of the same as at the Exchange.”

            “You sure that’s all?”

            “People are stupid.  I sure hope this crud doesn’t spread.  I don’t know what I’ll do if people at church start acting this way.  I don’t know how I would explain it to the kids … not because they haven’t seen people act this way but because they’ve never had anyone they really knew turn on them because of it.”

            “Hmm.  Explain crud.”

            “Like in the beginning of it … at least what I heard after we had been quarantined.  Anyone that was a DN were viewed with suspicion and thought of as a foreigner even when they weren’t.  We just about lost all of our Constitutional rights in quarantine.  And you remember how that guy Hennessey was; guys like him were pretty typical of the staff in quarantine.”

            “Lotta people like that at the Bx?”

            “Well, maybe not a lot, but enough.  I heard so much whispering and felt so many eyes on me – unfriendly eyes – that I feel like I need a bath.  It was like being in a tank of slimy worms all rustling against each other and me.”

            He reached over and gave me a hug.  “Sorry Sweetheart.  I should have …”

            I wouldn’t let him feel bad.  I said, “You don’t have anything to be sorry for, let’s just pick up Butch and head home and get away from this stuff.  I’m done with town for a while but I’m still glad we got done what we did, at least we got that accomplished despite folks’ attitudes.”

            But picking Butch up proved a little more difficult than it should have.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Chapter XC

“Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today in the presence of God and these witnesses, to join this man and this woman in matrimony, which is commended to be honorable among all men; and therefore is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, discreetly, advisedly and solemnly. Into this holy estate these two persons present now come to be joined. If any person can show just cause why they may not be joined together, let them speak now or forever hold their peace.”

Brother Shirley looked around nervously while I looked daggers at Uncle Roe daring him to do what he was probably thinking of doing.  He just stared back innocently. 

            When no one said anything the whole church seemed to give a sigh of relief.  We did the traditional do you take such and so’s and then went on to where we told each other:

            Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after you, For where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. And where you die, I will die and there I will be buried. May the Lord do with me and more if anything but death parts you from me.”

            I promise to love and care for you, through times of joy and times of sorrow, to rejoice when you are happy, and grieve when you suffer, to share your interests, and hopes for the future, to try to understand you, even when I do not agree, to do all in my power, to help you be your true self, the person God calls you to be.  In all this, I ask God's help, now and in the days to come.”

            It was so quiet in the church you could hear some of the ladies crying like they always seem to at weddings, and not a few of the men that seemed to need to blow their knows at that moment as well.  Then Brother Shirley did the “By the powers vested in me” bit which I didn’t really hear because Jude was looking at me like he was going to swallow me up right quick.  Then I heard something about “you may kiss …” but Brother Shirley didn’t get to finish before Jude was on me like a starving man at a banquet.

            For the next little bit everything was a whirlwind.  There was laughing and cheering and a general loud ruckus.  We didn’t even march back down the aisle; people simply pulled us down and into their embraces.  I got passed around a bit as men took their turns kissing the bride.  I heard Jude cough a few times from all the backslapping going on.  Eventually we wound up back together and pulled along by what seemed like a sea of people.  Outside we were suddenly up in the air being carried along on men’s shoulders.

            “What’s going on?  Wait, I can’t see the kids!”  I didn’t know whether to be alarmed or laugh.

            Clewis was one of the ones holding me up and he said, “Relax!  Frankie has it all planned out.  She already has them over at the Hall.”  I looked over at Jude who just shrugged and laughed, confident that those that loved us and that we loved had a plan in mind as we marched down the road a piece. 

The VFW Hall … or just the Hall as most people called it … appeared before us and Jude and I were set down and then escorted inside.  At the first glimpse of the inside my breath caught and the look on my face must have been worth a look because people around me laughed good naturedly.  There were ribbons and streamers all over the place.  There were cloth covered tables, a huge punch bowl, plates, and a buffet.  But the table of honor held a huge cake.

            “How?  When?  I … I …”

            Uncle Roe came up to Jude and I.  “I don’t know whether to call you daughter or niece.  All I do know is that you are my sister’s child and there was no way I was going to let you slip off with something less than what she and your daddy would have wanted for you.”  He turned to Jude.  “And you Boy … you’ve turned into someone any man would be proud to call his son.”  To both of us he said, “You two are practical.  You know how things stand.  Things are tight but friendships are tighter.  These people, they want … no they need … to celebrate with you.  It gives us all hope to see these kinds of beginnings, the joy of it.  Everyone here has contributed in some way.  Especially this man right here.”

            He turned and another man stepped forward.

            Shocked I said, “Uncle … Uncle Eamon?”

            The man, looking much less robust than the last time I had seen him reached out and gave me an awkward hug.  He sighed.  “Missed Alroy’s wedding.  Decided I wasn’t going to miss yours.”

            I looked at Uncle Roe who told me, “Eamon here, roasted a boar for the buffet.”

            I turned back, “Oh … Uncle Eamon.”  I decided whatever had gone on between him and Dad could go lie in the grave where it belonged.  I reached out and gave him a tight hug and after a brief moment felt him return it.  “Have you heard from anyone else?  Uncle … Uncle James.”

            Uncle Eamon sniffed.  “Now none o’ that.  This is your wedding day and Roe here has told me most of it though I’m sure there is some other as well.  I can’t stay but a moment more ‘cause I have to get back.  My wife is ailing and the boys have their hands full getting her to settle when I’m not around.”  He hugged me again, shook Jude’s hand briskly and said something to him I didn’t catch.  Then looked at Uncle Roe and nodded before quickly walking out.

            “Uncle Roe?” I asked and I guess I sounded a little lost and not a little shook up because Jude put his arm around me. 

            Uncle Roe pointed to some people in the corner of the building and suddenly there was happy music and the clatter of dishes as people got in line to get some food.  To us he said, “Y’all git over to there and sit.  Frances is seeing to your food and drink.  And don’t scowl Jude, it is just plain punch.  Can’t say their won’t be any of the hard stuff being shared around but it won’t sneak its way into anything you are imbibing.”

            “But Uncle Roe …”

            “Not now Dovie.  This is supposed to be a happy time.  Eamon left you a letter that you can open tomorry, but right now we are going to have us a party.”  He looked over my head.  “Jude, you see to it.  Tomorry will be soon enough for the rest of it.”

            Jude and I went and sat.  I sighed.  “Guess that means that it’s bad.”

            “Likely is.  Can you wait?  If you can’t I’ll find the letter for you.”

            I looked at Jude.  At my husband.  So concerned for me, wanting to do for me whatever I wanted.  Not to spoil me, because he was man enough to tell me no when it needed saying, but to honestly make me happy.  “No.  If it has waited this long it can wait ‘til tomorrow.”  I could feel him relax where our knees touched beneath the table.  I looked around.  “Did you know about any of this?”

            “I knew they were planning something but I didn’t know it would be anything like this.  Look at that cake.  How do you reckon they managed it?”

            Aunt Frankie came over with our plates and said, “Dovie made me think of it.”

            I gurgled a laugh.  “How did I do that?”

            “Wanting to get into Grandmother’s old recipe box.  That recipe seemed to jump right out into my hand.  It is a hard time cake … no butter, no milk, no sugar, and no eggs.  Everyone will get a surprise when they cut into the different layers.  Some are wheat, some are cornmeal, and some are rye flour.  All the ladies brought what they had and we put it together last night.”  She laughed at my expression and said, “Eat.  Roe and everyone else expects you two to dance and have a good time.  Don’t disappoint them.  We all need this.  It’s a hard winter for folks and the Spring don’t look to be much better.  Let us celebrate and have a good time.” 

            And that’s exactly what we did.  So much was going on that the rest only came through in flashes.  The smell and taste of the roast pork, the texture of the side dishes that tasted just as good.  The tartness of the punch that would likely never be able to be duplicated as it was basically made up of whatever people could spare out of their cabinets.  The music of the fiddle, piano, guitar, banjo, bass fiddle, mouth harp and a saxophone of all things.  Jude and I dancing our first dance together as man and wife then both of us taking turns with all the kids and then after that with as many folks as wanted to partner us in a turn.  Cutting the cake.  All the blessings and good wishes that people stopped to give us.  Laughing and carrying on more than I ever remembered doing. 

            Then it was time.  Aunt Frankie and Uncle Roe had insisted that the kids were going to stay with them for the night.  “You might not get a honeymoon but we can at least give you some privacy for your first night.”  I don’t know who turned redder at that pronouncement, Jude or me.

            “We’ll bring the kids home after we finish cleaning up.  There is so much pork left I think we can send some home with everyone.  It’ll be a good way to repay their time with us.”

            We were followed out the door by everyone.  Rice and bird seed was too precious to simply throw but cheers followed us into a small buckboard that Jude had managed to piece together.  Reynolds ran up and yelled, “I tried to tie cans and stuff to the wagon but Grits didn’t like it.  But I made a sign and all of us signed it.”

            “All of us” turned out to be the all of the children.  Someone had even signed for Corey.  I reached out and hugged Reynolds who looked alarmed at the attention and ran off to hide behind his mother and aunt.  Uncle Roe nodded proudly and waved to us as Jude lifted me up and onto the seat since there was no way that I was doing it in the dress without showing the world what was underneath it.

            I looked around and finally spotted Paulie a little way off.  I would have been concerned if he hadn’t been grinning.  He ran over just as we were pulling away and said, “It’s ok when things change.  ‘Cause sometimes that’s what they need to do.  Right?”

            I nodded and Jude said, “What won’t change is me doing everything I can to make your sister happy and making sure that you kids have a place that’s safe that you can call home.  We’re a family now.”

            Paulie laughed and then ran off with the parting shot of, “We were a family before.  Just now you and Dovie can do the mushy stuff without getting into trouble.”

            “Oh you!” I called after him that didn’t do anything but make him laugh more.  Tiff and the others ran up to him and they all started waving as we took off down the road.  I watched until someone – Aunt Frankie probably – called them back inside where everyone else was heading.

            I turned back around and Jude pulled me to him. “ If you’re cold there’s a blanket under the wagon seat.”

            “No, I’m fine.  The air actually feels good after just about suffocating in amongst all those people in that one room.”

            “I hear that.”

            We were silent for a bit; just enjoy each other’s company that was somehow new even though we’d been in each other’s company almost every day for months now.  Jude said quietly, “I’ll wait if you need it Dovie.  I know this has all gone pretty quick.  And …”  he snorted.  “This has been some kind of exciting day.”

            “No.  I don’t need to wait.  Just go slow and let me catch up.”

            He hugged me tight to him again and said, “I can do that.”

            We talked about the people we had seen and even mentioned Uncle Eamon but didn’t go into too far as we were trying to keep it light and happy.  But in the back of my mind it was the people I hadn’t seen that stood out.  People that I thought would have been there if they could have.  Some I knew where they were – gone to live with relatives, too sick to attend, that sort of thing – but some I had heard were simply gone, their homes seemingly abandoned when runners went by to invite them to the wedding.  I knew that Jude and Clewis and their group would be investigating it, maybe even tonight.

            “Do you need to go with Clewis?” I asked.

            He clucked Grits to get him to pick up a bit of speed when he seemed to want to dawdle at a bush that the weather had leaned out towards the road.  “No.  I don’t have to be involved in every little thing.  Clewis and the others can manage it.  If I’ve only got the one night to get this right I’m not going to waste it chasing shadows.”

            “You can if you need to Jude.  I’m not all set on tonight being perfect or right.  Aunt Frankie said it would likely take practice.”

            I was a little too embarrassed to look but felt him nod.  “I suppose that’s true, but I aim to do my best to show you that practicing is worth looking forward to.”

            I grinned in spite of myself.  We arrived at the farm and wedding night or not there was work to do.  Jude had to care for our faithful stead.  He unhitched him and rubbed him down so he wouldn’t get sick and then gave him a nosebag of feed and then latched the barn door.  Turning to me he said, “They shouldn’t be too much farther behind.  We could wait for someone to take us to the house if you don’t want to walk.”

            “Walking is fine.  This dress is damaged anyway and these boots,” I said hiking the dress up out of the snow.  “These boots have about had it too.  I’m not sure if they’ll ever be white again.”

            “Want me to carry you so you don’t have to walk in the snow?”

            “All the way up to the house?” I laughed.

            “You’d have to ride piggy back but I could do it.”

            I laughed again, “No way.  By the time we got to the house you wouldn’t have energy for anything else.”

            “Wanna bet?” he said coming at me playfully.

            It was like that all the way to the house and up the porch.  I don’t think I’ve ever really laughed so much as I had that day.  I couldn’t stop smiling now that the marrying part was finally out of the way.  He took the house key from his pocket and opened the door but before I could go inside he finally did pick me up.

            “What are you doing?!”

            “Carrying you across the door way.  That’s the way they do it in the movies.”

            “In case you haven’t noticed I don’t look like a movie star.”

            He smiled gently and said, “You do to me.”

            I chuckled and said, “Then you need glasses.  After that ruckus this morning I look like something that cat drug in.  Speaking of …”  He sat me on the floor and I went to check on the animals.  Momma cat and Night and Day were all snugged and gave me an affronted look when they caught me spying on them. 

            I closed the lid and then stepped out of Jude’s room.  Well, it wasn’t Jude’s room anymore; he was moving into the master bedroom with me.  I told him, “If you want, I’ll start moving your stuff in here tomorrow.”

            “Tomorrow will be fine.  Right now I’d like it if you would come here.”

            And the rest of this part of the story is no one else’s business.