Thursday, January 22, 2015

Chapter LXX


      “You better now?”

      “Depends on your definition of better,” I answered.

            Jude tilted my head up so my nose wasn’t planted in his chest.  “Better as in you aren’t going to have a fit if I go talk to Dad.”

            I stiffened up, couldn’t help it.  “You do what you have to but Jude, I mean it … don’t go dragging me into anything even close to appeasement.  I do not want you to have to choose and won’t let you if you try.  But right now I just can’t go crawling down there and acting the way he expects me to act.  Maybe … maybe for … for your sake and the kids I can do it later … but it isn’t in me right now and I’m sorry.”

            “I’m not asking you to be sorry Dovie.”

            “And don’t go telling the truth either.  I know that sounds awful but it would cause even worse problems.  Just let my lie stand and I’ll deal with the consequences.”

            He sighed regretfully.  “I want to tell him … but …”  This time his sigh was one of frustration.  “There’s … there’s more going on … than …”

            “Don’t,” I said placing my hand gently across his mouth.  “It’s ok.  I don’t know exactly what is going on but like I told Clewis, it must be something big.  You’ve kept it to yourself for a reason … probably to protect people.  I won’t ask you to lie to me to make me feel better.  Just don’t tell me and we’ll work things out as they come along.  Don’t forget that Dad couldn’t talk about a lot of his work so I understand sometimes you have to … uh … compromise on things of that nature.  So don’t tear yourself up because I got it covered.”

            He kissed my hand then pulled it away from his face so he could say, “You are way too easy to get along with.”

            I nearly laughed in his face.  He had to be the first and only human being on the planet to ever say that and mean it even after getting to know me.  “Go if you are going.  I’ll have supper ready when you get back.”

            “Depending on Dad’s mood I might be back sooner … or a lot later.”

            I nodded.  “Ok.”

            Hesitantly he asked, “You … you sure you don’t think I’m being disloyal by going down there?”

            I rolled my eyes and told him, “Of course not.  Besides who are you being disloyal to?  They’re your family.”

            Quietly he said, “You are too.”

            I sighed, knowing he felt caught between a rock and a hard place and that I’d help to put him there.  “I trust you Jude.  You aren’t going to do or say anything to hurt me on purpose and you’ll make sure the best you can not to do it on accident either.  So go already.  I’m not going to shatter into a thousand pieces because you’ve got more responsibilities than just catering to me.”

            I heard him leave and then looked regretfully around the attic.  I had gotten next to nothing done.  I had found two more boxes of winter clothes that might be useful and I had found another box of Mom’s yarns that had somehow made it to the attic rather than the basement, but that was the most constructive.  I called Paulie and Bobby to take the clothes to Tiffany who was good at sorting sizes even when the tags were missing (or nonexistent because the clothes were handmade) and I took the yarns down to sort after I got everyone supper.

            I made the choke and groundnut casserole as planned and got some of the apples that were starting to get old and fried them up and then cut the last of the best ham off of the one that I’d been using.  I planned on using the meat that was left as well as the bone it was on to flavor a big pot of bean soup that I would cook over the fireplace tomorrow.  The color of the sky was that nasty shade of grey that spoke of a weather change … and one not for the better.  The fireplace would be burning all day so I decided to take advantage of it.

            I had almost decided Jude wasn’t going to be back for supper when I heard footsteps on the porch, more than one set.  I looked up and put my hand on my apron pocket and then took my hand away quickly when I recognized it was him … and Uncle Roe.  I went on about my business of getting the kids their plates while Jude just looked in at me and then shook his head.

            “Dovie, come out here please?”

            The kids stopped eating and looked at me.  “Finish up,” I told them quietly.  “I’ll be right back.  And if you finish before I get back in don’t start popping popcorn.  I’ve got a surprise for you all tonight.”

            I stepped out onto the porch.  “Anyone need something to drink.  It’s turning chilly and I can heat up some cider.”

            Uncle Roe sniffed and said, “Might take you up on that some other time.  Got business right now.”  I just stood there and waited.  Jude went inside but not into the kitchen.  I continued to wait Uncle Roe out.  When he started talking it was a strange question.  “You remember Poppa Killy’s sister Meg?”

            “Yes sir,” I answered carefully.  “I’ve still got the bed pillow that she crocheted for me that time she visited us in Florida.  She’d broken her leg water skiing.”

            Uncle Roe shook his head.  “Woman was in her 70s and bound and determined to try to water ski.  My aunt was lucky she didn’t break her neck.  You remind me of her a little bit.  She could be a right wound up woman.  My father would have had a fit had he still been living to see his sister acting so outlandish at her age.”

            “I only remember Poppa Killy a little bit.  He gave all of us kids peppermint sticks at Christmas … the real kind that is soft. And when I was sick he would make me horehound cough drops even if he had to send them through the mail.  They always came with a long letter telling Mom all the ways the doctors were likely making me sick instead of making me better.”

            Uncle Roe nodded.  Poppa Killy’s dislike of doctors had been well known.  “You remember your Mawmaw?”

            “Not a whole lot.  She liked gardening as much as Mom but for some reason they didn’t always get along.”

            Uncle Roe nodded.  “She could be controlling.  Both our parents could.  Guess I got a double dose of it.   Mother was sick a lot and got frail before Malissa was even going to school.  Daddy had the farm to worry about.  Aunt Meg came and helped when she could but she had her own house and husband in town to take care of.  That left me to do what I could with Malissa and I was ten years older than her.  All I wanted to be was a rattle trap like the rest of my friends were and here I was having to drag a little sister around ‘cause Mother needed quiet.  But I did it and learned to care more for her than my so-called friends.  Then I fell in love with the boys’ mother and … and guess I got a little wild.  Didn’t realize my sister was grown until I come in one night and Daddy lit into me for letting her get involved with some young yahoo from across the county line and that they were already talking about getting married and your Momma barely a senior in high school.  One thing led to another and about the time I was shocked to find out I was gonna be a father and dealing with that your momma ran off with your father.  And yes, I’m admitting that Butch was born a little bit sooner than he should have been though I’m sure that by now you’ve got a fair understanding of how such things work.  It was a wild time in my life.  Didn’t give me much of a chance to learn to let go properly.  Alroy and I eventually worked things out – Lord knows I had my own mess to deal with – and it went on from there.  But nothing will ever change that Malissa was my little sister and God how I miss her; she always had the words to calm me.  With her gone it’s like one of the lights in the sky went out.  I don’t want to lose you too.”

            Well you can guess that talking about Mom had pretty well wiped out my composure but I had spent over half my life dealing with kids that could wring tears from Ol’ Copper Abe and no way was I going to act weak this time.  I’d had my share of being suckered.  I was pretty sure that that wasn’t what Uncle Roe was trying to do but on the other hand my trust level had definitely tanked.  “You aren’t going to lose me Uncle Roe.  No matter what happens in this life or the next I will always be your niece just like I will always be my parents’ daughter, my brothers’ sister, and so on and so forth.”

            Dismissively he said, “Too many folks have gotten hurt, have gotten dead, over the last little while.”

            I finally looked at him and let him see inside me.  “Uncle Roe, forgive me for saying so but you don’t know the half of it.  I’ve seen more than I ever want to see again.”  Looking away I continued, “I came home hoping to escape it but let’s be honest, there’s no escaping it, not for any of us.  Not because there aren’t people here that are good and decent but because the jerks in this world outnumber you all.”  He harrumphed uncomfortably in the back of his throat but I didn’t let it stop me.  “I’m not helpless Uncle Roe.  When Dad died, then the boys, and Mom couldn’t handle it all who do you think stepped in?  It didn’t stop when we got here.  It didn’t stop when we went to stay a while at Uncle James’.  It didn’t stop in Phoenix.  The genie is out of the bottle.  I can’t go back to being a helpless girl if I was ever born to be one in the first place.  It isn’t your fault.  It isn’t Dad’s fault.  It isn’t Mom’s fault.  It is just the life that God put in my lap.  If He didn’t think I could handle it – with His help - He wouldn’t have let it happen.  I know there must be a reason to it all but for the life of me I haven’t found it yet so I just accept it and move on.”  I shook my head trying to outrun some of the memories.  “One of the ways that God has decided to give me a hand is people like you … and Jude.  And it just eats me up seeing it all from the outside like I do, learning who this new Jude is and seeing how hard he works all the time to keep on being a better and better Jude.”

            I could tell Uncle Roe didn’t want to discuss it by the growl in his voice.  “He’s got a lot to answer for.”

            I almost gave up right there but I didn’t.  Not for my sake but for Jude’s.  “Uncle Roe, you were no angel and didn’t always make the best decisions.  You just admitted it and even if you hadn’t I’ve heard Mom talk.  You were a rascal and that is putting it politely.  Maybe you weren’t a drunk but you never turned down a bottle … or a woman.  You were born with the Irish stamina so maybe it didn’t get you like it got Jude.  One of those there but for the grace of God things.  I’m not excusing him or his past actions, just saying that they are in the past.  Just like you keep trying to ignore the fact that I’m grown because you want to protect me, you keep doing stuff to tie Jude to his past to protect yourself.  You risked a lot to put your hand out when he’d dug his hole so deep.  I’m sure I don’t know the half of it though Jude has told me a lot.  Uncle Roe, I love you but you gotta step back a little and let both Jude and I grow.  I’m not the kid I used to be and neither is Jude.  You have any idea how much it had to hurt him to have you automatically take someone else’s word that he must be drinking again?  Just from a smell? And after being sober for so long?”

            “You don’t understand Little Sister.”

            A little out of patience I told him, “I’ll certainly agree with that.  He’s done everything you’ve asked of him and a lot you haven’t.  He talks about you all the time.  Dad this and Dad that.  He’s all but killing himself to help out and get the taxes paid off and not because he wants praise but because he just plain wants to … to be a good son.  And if he isn’t doing that he’s help to fill the larders at both houses.”

            “We’re all working hard.”

            “Exactly Uncle Roe.  Why should the work that Jude is doing be valued any less than anyone else’s?  Why should you of all people, going to church and knowing about forgiveness, having already experienced making a mess as a young man and finding forgiveness so you could move on, be the hardest on Jude and the first to assume the worst?”

            He gave me a long look.  e lH“So this whole thing isn’t just about you getting your tail feathers singed ‘cause I snapped at you.”

            I sighed.  “It didn’t help Uncle Roe.  Put yourself in my place … not as a girl but as you being you.  How would you have felt to be on the receiving end of that?  But mostly I’m just tired of it.  Tired of always feeling like people are surprised that I’m not as helpless as they keep thinking of me being.  And I’m getting tired of watching people do the same thing to Jude.  He doesn’t deserve it, not anymore, and neither do I.”

            “Well …”

            “I’m not telling you what to do Uncle Roe.  Honest, I’m not.   I don’t boss you and I wouldn’t even if I could.  You’re my uncle not my friend or one of the kids.  I don’t expect to be bossing anyone to be honest.  I don’t need to boss anyone for that matter.  I’m just tired of people bossing me because they don’t think I have the sense or ability to boss myself.”  There was a loud crash and I turned and ran in the house.

            Bobby was on the floor looking surprised and his chair was there too.  Jude had been in his room doing something but came out.  I sighed.  “Bobby, what have I said about keeping all four legs of the chair on the floor?”

            “But I like to rock.”

            “We rock in rocking chairs not in four-legged chairs.  Assuming you don’t wind up breaking your neck you are going to break this chair, and if you do you are going to be sitting and eating on the floor like a dog.  If you don’t think I’m serious you just try me.  I’m going to start making you do push ups like my dad made my brothers do if you don’t cool it.  The dining room table is no place for them kind of fidgets.  Now move so I can get this mess cleaned up.”

            Jude said, “Go on back outside with Dad.” I started to say something but he cut me off.  “Naw … Bobby made the mess, Bobby can clean it up.”  He turned to the miscreant who looked rather surprised that his hero was going to make him do such work.  “And he’ll keep cleaning until it is done right.  Understand me?”  Bobby gulped and then nodded.  Turning back to me Jude said, “Go on, I’ve got this.”

            I sighed and shook my head.  “The rug is going to have to be rolled up and taken outside and shaken out.”

            “He didn’t drop any food, just knocked over his cup.  Damp cloth will get it.  I’ll make sure nothing went through.”

            Deciding to leave it in Jude’s hands I turned to find Uncle Roe standing there scratching his chin.  “What’s that I smell?” he asked.

            I looked at the table and then knowing what he meant I scowled at Bobby and said, “Dessert assuming Bobby didn’t make it fall.”  I grabbed the oven mitts and opened the oven door and pulled out my baking pan; just in time too as the dish was just starting to pull away at the edges.

            All the kids breathed a sigh of relief.  Jude stood up and grinned.  “Is that what I think it is?”

            “If you are thinking that it is my mother’s Marmalade Pudding then you think right.”

            Both he and Uncle Roe almost had to tie a bib around their necks the way their mouths started salivating.  I just shook my head.  “Tiff, feel like helping?”

            She jumped up and ran over and then Mimi made a face and said, “I’m a girl.  I wanna help too!”

            “Stop whining and you’ll get your chance; keep whining and you can go to bed right now.”  That put a plug in her and as Tiff got the dessert plates I counted out the spoons and handed them to Mimi in a glass.  “You hold the glass and let everyone grab their own spoon.”

            I dipped out a spoonful for Uncle Roe first but then stopped and said, “Have you had supper yet?”

            He snorted.  “What’s that the kids used to say?  Life’s short, have dessert first?  Sounds like good advice to me.”  He looked at Jude and asked, “What about you Boy?”

            “I never turn down Dovie’s cooking.  It doesn’t matter what order it comes in.”

            “Well if y’all are going to be silly you might as well sit down so you can at least enjoy it.  I even used some of Mom’s homemade marmalade that I found in the back of a cabinet down in the basement.  The color is a little dark but it still tasted good.  Wish I had some ice cream to go with it but I used the last of the milk to make the custard with.”

            And just like that the whole kerfuffle seemed to be over.  Not over permanently but over enough so that we could all go on about our business and living without it hanging over our heads.  Mom used to say that good food could work magic on people and I guess she was right.  It certainly seemed to work on Uncle Roe at least for the moment.  And it was gratifying for me to see them eat something that I had fixed with my own two hands and be so appreciative of it.  But I was under no illusion that I wouldn’t be facing this issue in some form again.  I suppose that is what family is; it isn’t always heaven but it sure beats the alternative.

 

Marmalade Pudding

6 slices stale bread

¼ cup fat

2 egg yolks

1 tablespoon corn syrup

teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

1 cup marmalade or preserves

Mix eggs, corn syrup, salt and milk. Dip bread and brown in frying pan. Spread with marmalade or preserves. Pile in baking dish. Cover with any of the custard mixture which is left. Cover with meringue. Bake 15 minutes.

Chapter LXIX


            I didn’t know what to say so I just sat there feeling bad and not a little ashamed that he came home to find yet another mess of my creation.

            “Get that look off your face Dovie,” he said gruffly.  “I ain’t gonna act like Dad and chew your head off.”

            I sighed.  “You probably should.  Wait.  Why are you home from work so early and how do you know what happened?”

            “Work was shut down early ‘cause of some convoy that is coming through and we needed to get out of the way.  I was almost finished putting my tools up when rumor came flying through that they’d found the guys that had busted up three Contractors – and man were they a mess when they came in and there is talk all over town with people asking what does ‘JD’s Looters mean – and I nearly panicked thinking they’d picked up someone innocent.  Then I found out they were a couple of guys on the run from a work camp up in Cincinnati.  Then I really started to panic when I heard they’d been caught trying to steal some little girl and that the older girl taking care of her had pinned one of them to a tree with a pitchfork.  The story had Dovie Doherty written all over it.   I was on my way back home at a fast trot when I met Clewis coming to meet me and tell me the rest of the story.  Before we go any further I wanna know if it is all right if I go hug Tiff; I don’t want to scare her.”

            Those words were no sooner out of his mouth then he gets pegged in the back with a sheep who had latched on.  By the hands around his middle we could tell it was Tiffany.  It surprised the heck out of me because she’s not normally real demonstrative; she’ll let you hug her but she keeps herself to herself otherwise.  We finally get her loose so Jude can turn around and she latches on again. 

“Easy there.  Easy.  Let me look at you.”  I could literally feel Jude getting angry as he saw the bruises and scratches.  “They can’t hurt you any more Tiffany.”

“You promise?”

A little sorrowfully he said, “Yeah, I promise.  Those men were three time losers and … they were taken care of.”  Jude spied Paulie who was peeking around the doorframe.  “Whoa, look at you little man.  C’mere and let me see that shiner.”  When he’d given it a once over Jude said, “Mimi ain’t gonna have the record for the biggest shiner anymore.”

The girl in question did her own peeking and said, “He was saving Tiff just like in a fairy story.”

Paulie rolled his eyes and looked beseechingly at me and ask, “Can you tell her to stop saying that?  Travis and Trent will get a hold of it and they won’t ever leave me alone.  I was just doing what a man’s gotta do when his family needs him.”

Well there isn’t much that can be said about that when it comes from a ten year old boy so Jude and I just gave the rest of our little sheep what they were wanting and once they were satisfied they trailed back down to the play room to get warm again.  For my part I felt like crying.  Not just from reaction from what Paulie said but from all of it.  I was feeling overwhelmed.  It was just too much.  And everywhere I turned I seemed to be failing the kids, Jude, and now was at sixes and sevens with the rest of the family.  I gave a thought to maybe we had been better off to stay in Arkansas and take our lumps there … or maybe it would have been more fair to the kids to find homes for them, homes that could really take care of them because I was doing such a crappy job of it.

“I know that look Dovie.  Don’t go there.  None of this was your fault.”

“Are you kidding?!  Of course it is … from beginning to end.  I’m the one that encouraged you and Clewis.  I took the kids out and like an idiot didn’t take the Glock because I didn’t think anyone would be out after last night.  I’m the one that let the kids wander away and was paying too much attention to what I was doing.  I was the one that went berserk.  I was the one that had words with Uncle Roe.  Maybe he’s right.  Maybe I’m just … just not fit.”

“Now whoa right there.  Did Dad say you weren’t fit?  Did he use those words?”

“No.  But he might as well have.  He told me I was always getting into scrapes other people have to pull me out of … and it’s true.  It’s just been one thing after another since I brought the kids here.  I’m ruining their lives Jude.  I don’t know what I’m doing.  And now I’ve drug you into it.  You’re stuck ‘cause you’re too good of a man to …”

“When you gonna take them rose colored glasses off that you seem to put on every time you look at me?  I’m not stuck Dovie, I’m right where I want to be and right where I aim to stay.  As for the rest … you saved those men and Clewis and I too from murder ‘cause that is exactly what we were going to do to them.  The Glock thing … well, that wasn’t smart but you wouldn’t have been able to use it with the kids between you and those two men and it sounds like you scared ‘em worse doing it the way you did.  Had you just tried to threaten them they might have taken the kids hostage or taken the gun away from you instead.  You shouldn’t have to be so careful on your own land but these days apparently you do, ‘specially since we’re backed up to some vacant land.  You went berserk because you can’t help who you are.  Uncle Alroy told me one time that someone in the family always has it in ‘em.  Reckon that’s why him and Dad were always real careful in how they dealt with each other.”

“They both just loved Mom,” I explained.  “They didn’t want to hurt her so they did what they could to get on together.  Uncle Roe just couldn’t seem to … I don’t know.  You know how protective he was with Mom.  It was like two dogs fighting over the same bone but for different reasons.  They just never came right out and let loose with their fight ‘cause they were both afraid of damaging the bone.  Used to drive Mom crazy.  But I’m not Mom.  He wants me to be then seems upset when I’m not.  Wishing for me to grow into her isn’t going to make it happen.  I’m still my father’s daughter too.”

“Yeah, you’ve got the problem down all right.  But that is Dad’s issue, not mine.  I like you how you are just fine.  It means that when I’m not around I know that you aren’t afraid to do whatever has gotta be done even if it means trouble.  I was a little uncomfortable with it at first, I admit it, but it’s actually been good to know it so that I can go work in town and not have to worry so much.  Doesn’t mean I don’t worry but not as much as I might.”

“You’re just being nice Jude.  I’ve created a horrible mess.”

“So we got a mess.  Let’s find us a broom and dustpan and clean it up.”

I looked at him like he was crazy … cause he was … crazy that is.  “How can you be taking this so lightly?  You should be tearing into me and hollering and everything else.”

“Says who?  That’s not my way Dovie.  I never have liked yelling and screaming to win an argument.  Doesn’t seem like a win if you got to shout down the other person to make them give in.  I ain’t crazy that you lied to Dad.  I wish you would have just let things ride instead of making up a story to take the heat off me.  You’re so darn sensitive about people being people … too sensitive; they’ll either believe in me or won’t and that’s just the way it is.”

“We aren’t talking people, we’re talking family and your dad in particular.  We can’t tell him about the other so I had to do something. You and Clewis took care of those men to protect the family.  Someone in the family needed to step up and protect the two of you.”

“Can I hold you now or are you still needing to walk the polish off this floor?”

I huffed, “This floor doesn’t have any polish on it, this is the attic and it hasn’t seen a good cleaning since Methuselah wore training pants.”

He snorted.  “OK, so come here so I can hug on you.”

“Why should you want to?”

“Because you’ve turned into my security blanket woman now get over here.”

I was caught up in the fact that he has called me a woman and just barely stumbled over.  I was enveloped in a hug that seemed to draw off all the cold that had been building up inside me.  “Oh Jude, I’m so sorry.”

“Save your sorry.  The way I hear it from Clewis, Dad and Butch didn’t have any reason to tear into like that beyond the fact that they’d gotten a bad scare.  Those soldiers had come to the house to ask questions and then demanded access to the backside of the property so that they could do some tracking. Having the kids running all over probably saved us in more ways than one.  They had you all in sight when Tiff screamed and that’s when they realized the two men didn’t belong … Clewis said they seemed to pop up out of the shrubs cause not even he saw them and Clewis is a fair tracker himself.  They started running almost as soon as you did … you scared the horses with that doggone banshee yell of yours and the men had to fight ‘em which is why Butch and Clewis got to you before you could figure out a way to skewer the other one.”

“I couldn’t have skewered him, the pitchfork was in the tree.”

“Guess you don’t remember Clewis taking a broken branch out of your hand.  You were holding it like a knife.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.  Oh.  Now you look at me … things played out like they did.  The world hasn’t come to an end.  I didn’t even get the sweats smelling that liquor on my coat all day.  Figured Ronald Darcy would get word to Dad when I met him on the road and he got all prune-faced, just didn’t know he was going to do it so quickly.  I thought I would have time to come up with something myself.  Although …”

“You were hoping that Uncle Roe would have some faith in you and you not have to come up with a story.”

He winced then sighed in disappointment.  “Yeah.  Yeah I guess I was.”  He shook it off and said, “But it didn’t happen that way so we’ll deal with the way things did happen.  Can’t live in shoulda-coulda-woulda land all our lives.  Now you tell me the truth Dovie, we’ve talked about the kids, about Dad and about me … but are you OK?”

“You’re asking if I have the sweats ‘cause of the way I was talking.”

“Yeah, yeah I am.”

“I was holding it off but when you showed up it was like the dam burst.  I’m better now but … but everything … no matter what you say … it still feels like it is my fault.  And it still hurts that Uncle Roe thinks what he does.”

“It likely does hurt I’m sure; it’s the same for me.  Change and Dad just don’t get along real well. It took him a good long time to accept that Reynolds was always going to be different but after he did he was super supportive and treats him like he’s as normal as the rest of us.  Always took him forever to change things on the farm … the bean were grown here, the tobacco there, the melons in that patch and the kitchen garden was always where it was.  He would rotate crops but even the cycle never changed from what he deemed it was supposed to be.  I swear he still does things the way Poppa and Mawmaw Killy did like it is sacrilegious to do it any other way.  It is going to take him at least as long to believe that I’m gonna stay sober.  You know that I know I absolutely want to stay sober yet there are a lot of days when I still struggle with the wanting.”

“And you’d think that would make Uncle Roe even more proud, that even though you want it so bad you refuse to do it.  I know it makes me proud of you.”

“Aw Dovie, don’t start.  We’ll get off track.  We’re talking about you right now.”

“Yeah well, that’s not much worth talking about so let’s drop it.”

“No, not going to.  And stop saying things like that.  You’ll give yourself a complex.  Dad and Butch hurt your feelings right after you’d been through something traumatic, it just reinforced it and made you feel even worse.”

“Oh good gravy, I hate it when you go all Mr. Psychology on me.  I can’t understand why you do it.”

“Because if I don’t get to the root of things they’ll build up and I don’t have anyone to be able to depend on helping me through.  No AA meetings out here and can’t get to town to go to them even if they did get a permit to meet.”

I know he didn’t mean to but it hurt to hear him say he didn’t have anyone to depend on.  I sighed dejectedly.  No matter what he tried to tell me I know that Uncle Roe was in part correct; his delivery sucked but he was still stating a fact.  People had been digging me out of scrapes ever since I got home.  They had to share food and resources. Sure I provided some of my own but not near enough to take care of the kids.  I’d been bickering with Clewis and Crystal, maybe not bad-horrible but bad enough.  Then there were the things where my inner divining rod seemed to find trouble way too often.

“Are you listening to me Dovie?”

I told him, “Of course I am.  You’re a good man Jude.  I expected you to yell and everything else and instead you are trying to make me feel better and I just don’t … I just can’t right now.”

“You’re overtired and upset.  Why don’t you lay down and I’ll take the kids down to the …”

“No!” I snapped not meaning to.  “I am not taking nothing from them anymore.”

“Dovie don’t be like that.”

“Well I am going to be like that.  I’m tired of being a burden, being seen as a burden.  I’m done with it.  I’m not stupid enough to think I can just give them back everything that’s been given to me up to this point but I’m not taking anything else.  Any scrapes I get in I’ll figure a way out on my own.  If we need food I’ll get it myself.  I’m not helpless and if they are so fed up with us being around …”

“Nobody said thing Dovie.”

“They didn’t have to.  I’m tired of being at the bottom of the pecking order around here.  Just plain tired of it.  I may not be perfect but I’m not a child … and they sure as heck ain’t perfect either.  So since I’m such a problem for them I’ll just remove the problem.”

“You’re making me choose between you and them.”

“I am not.  They’re your family and I expect you to abide by what all that means.”

“They’re your family too.”

“Jude just stop.”

“No.  You’re mad and I can understand that.  I’m mad too.  But for once I’m more than glad not to be a Killarney or Doherty by blood.  I ain’t never seen nobody as hard headed as you bunch can be.”

That just made me mad.  “You ARE a Killarney!”

“I never said I wasn’t though you gotta admit there is room for debate there,” he said carefully.  “I just said I wasn’t one by blood.  Now cool down.  I don’t think you got your mad all out.  Maybe they should have let you work off some of it on those men.  If they were going to put ‘em in front of a firing squad anyway …”

I went still and asked quietly, “What did you say?”

“Your eyes are as big around as silver dollars,” he told me putting a piece of my hair behind my ear where it had come loose from my clips.  “They were both three time losers Dovie.  They’d been brought up and convicted three times on serious breaches of the law. Fourth time was the charm and they were executed.  The way I heard it first time was one guy was just into some serious looting … twice of a government facility.  The other guy was a real sicko though … rape, kidnapping, drug running.  Then there was the charge for breaking out of prison.  Them attacking the kids was actually number five that I know of.  They were going down one way or the other.  You just helped catch them before they did more damage.”

Shakily I told him, “You’re trying to make me feel better again.”

“I’m trying to get you to see reality.”

Shrugging I said, “I’m not liking reality too much right now.”

“Then how about we fix that ‘cause I wouldn’t mind shifting my reality a bit either.”

“Huh?”

We didn’t come up for air for a long while.  We each needed the comfort for our own reasons.

Chapter LXVII/LXVIII


      December is not what you would call the best time to be foraging but then again it isn’t the worst time either if you are talking about being hungry.  If you know what you are doing, even in December you can find something to add to the dinner table; and not to brag, but I know what I’m doing.  I spent about half the morning with the kids out in the forest digging sun chokes and ground nuts.  It was one of the dishes that everyone fought over scrapping the casserole dish.

 

Chokes and Groundnuts

1 tablespoon butter or oil

2 cups Jerusalem artichokes scrubbed and sliced

1 cup groundnuts, scrubbed and sliced

1 small onion, chopped

½ cup flour

1 tablespoon Wild Herb Seasoning (Chapter 18)

Salt and pepper, to taste

½ cup sour cream or milk

1 cup grated cheese

 

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease the bottom of a baking dish with butter or oil.  Spread artichokes, groundnuts, and onions on bottom of baking dish.  In a small bowl, mix flour, herb seasoning, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle over the roots.  Spoon sour cream or pour milk over mixture.  Top with a layer of cheese.  Bake for 40–45 minutes.

 

      The kids were just happy to have an extended period out of the house so I let them go a little bonkers and definitely get a little louder than I might normally be comfortable with.  As it turns out it was a good thing. 

      Tiffany let out a blood curdling scream and I turned to find two men in the middle of my kids.  One of the men had Tiff by the front of her blouse where her coat was unzipped and I was just in time to see the other one backhand Paulie.  The other kids had picked up branches and limbs and started hitting the men trying to get them to let go. 

      The entire world went away and all the sound and color seeped out too except for a red haze.  I ran downhill with the potato-digging pitchfork like it was a lance.  They told me later I beat Tiff’s scream by several decibels and whereas hers had been a scream of fear mine was a battle cry.  I just remember charging.

      I must have put the fear of God … or something anyway … in them because they took one look at me and tried to run.  One took off but I caught the other one’s arm and literally pinned him to a tree like a bug mounted for the science fair.  Part of me knew he was screaming in pain and shock but I was too busy looking for where the other man had gone to.  I was off after him like a shot but something caught me from the side.

      I come to myself shouting “He hurt my kids!  He hurt my kids!”

      “Dovie!!  Settle down before I wind up hurting you!  Stop it!!  Dad she ain’t hearing me.”

      “Hold her son.  Pen her arms.”

      “Don’t hurt my sister!”  And then Paulie was in my face.  “Dovie!  It’s all right!  Dovie!!  You got ‘em and they didn’t steal Tiff away!  She’s all right but you need to go to her.  She’s crying and wants you.”

      I froze, breathing hard like a race horse.  I ground out, “Turn me loose.”

      “You back to yourself now?”

      I realized that it had been Clewis and Butch both trying to hold onto me.  “Yeah but if they’ve hurt any of my kids won’t nothing stop me.”

      A man in a uniform came up but I ignored him and went back to where the kids were huddled around Tiffany who was rocking and whimpering.  I wrapped her in my arms and she tried to crawl into my lap.  Next thing I know Paulie and Reynolds both are there and Tiff and I are mushed in the middle of all the kids in a great big group hug.  Then Lorne rode up with Rochelle on the back with him, he got her down and she was over like a shot peeling kids off one at a time until she got down to Tiffany.

“Let me see Tiffy.  C’mon, let Aunt ‘Chellie see.”

       The collar of her shirt had been ripped where they had grabbed her as were the buttons there. 

They’d gotten some skin when they grabbed her and there bruises quickly coming to the surface of her fair skin.  Her collar bone looked bad and she whimpered when Rochelle touched it.  She looked at me and said, “I don’t think it’s broken but the skin over it is gonna be tender.  Let me take her back to the house and get it cleaned up.”

            I didn’t want to turn loose of her but I knew it needed to happen.  I hadn’t been paying attention to the mess behind me but now that I knew Tiff was ok I knew that I needed to.  I turned to look at Paulie and let out a yelp.  “Oh Paulie …”

            “Aw, don’t Dovie.  I’m not a baby.  I was defending my family.”

            “Oh Paulie …”  I said again but this time with a different kind of regret.  “I shouldn’t have gotten so far away.  I should have …”

            Uncle Roe came over and said, “None o’ that.  Paulie, you take the kids and mind whatever Rochelle tells you to do and let her look at that face.  You got busted a good one Boy but you’ll live.  Dovie needs to come answer some questions.”

            I watched them go with Lorne putting both Rochelle and Tiffany on the horse and then leading them all.  Paulie picked up Mimi and Bobby had Corey on his back and they were probably able to get back to the house before having to put the two of them down.

            Uncle Roe took me by the upper arm and pulled me gently over to the men that had been on horseback.  “Miss?”

            I finally turned around and I saw the man had a uniform on.  “Yes?”

            “I just need you to give me your statement.”

            Not real focused yet I asked, “What is it you need me to say?”

            “We saw most of what occurred but for the report I need to know what you saw.”

            “I was digging chokes and groundnuts …”

            “What?” he asked confused.

            A young man with him sighed and said, “Poor folks’ food sir.  Uh, they’re kinda both like wild potatoes.  Not all that good for the digestion and some people they make sick.”

            “Oh,” the first man said like he was embarrassed that he’d met someone that was so poor they had to grub roots in the forest.  “Well … you were out … er … foraging.  Then what happened?”

            “I heard my girl scream …”

            “Begging your pardon Miss but you don’t look old enough for her to be your girl … er … daughter I mean.”

            “She’s my ward.  Commander Blankenship was there when this man cleared my file and gave the kids and I our identification cards … uh … his name was … uh …”

            “You have official ID?  We’ll need to see your cards.”

            “Hang on, I’ve got them right here.  The Commander said I was never supposed to go anyplace without them.”

            I handed them over and it was like they were surprised I was telling the truth.  Then they saw the designations on the cards.  “You’re all first gen T-Negatives.”

            “I’m afraid I don’t know what ‘first gen’ means but yeah, we’re all immunes.  That’s why they are my wards. I take care of them and have since we evacuated from the Phoenix medical facility.  Anyway I heard my girl … uh … my ward scream and … and those men were … were …”  I had to stop because it was suddenly hitting me and I heard a ringing in my ears.  “They were trying to take my kids and hurt them.”

            Clewis stepped forward and said, “Easy there Dovie.  If you’re gonna pass out on us then just sit down and put your head between your knees.”

            I snapped, “I’m not gonna pass …”  Before sitting down unexpectedly. 

            I felt stupid with my head between my knees but I guess it was less stupid than upchucking in front of strangers would have been.  The younger soldier had shook his head and said, “My mom does the same thing.  When my sister and I were little a bad dog got inside our fence and tried to get us.  Momma tore that dog up and it lay over in the corner of the yard with its tail tucked by the time the neighbors ran over to help.  As soon as the threat was over the woman who had just whooped up on a big ol’ dog takes a nose dive and passes out.  My sister is like that too … great in the middle of a crisis but once the trouble is over and everyone is safe she’ll bust out crying and takes forever to shut up.  It’s some kind of crazy female thing sir.”

            I almost told him if he opened his mouth one more time he was going to find out what a crazy female really was but apparently once it was put into perspective of some hormonal PMS-like reaction the Captain of that uniformed group seemed to act all understanding.  He said, “Ah, mother bear kind of thing.  So you saw your wards in danger and just tried to protect them.”

            I lifted my head and replied, “They were hurting my kids.”

            “Yes, well you don’t need to worry about that any more ma’am.  We’ll take care of them, don’t you worry about that one bit.”

            All I could think looking at that supercilious boy’s face was that I was taking care of them only you men got in my way.  But of course I didn’t say it; you gotta learn when to keep your mouth shut.  So I did the shyly grateful female thing and fluttered my eyelashes and both Clewis and Butch nearly choked and had to turn away.  “Oh thank you just so much.  I was so scared.  But, sir, if I could ask, how was I so lucky to have you men show up just like superheroes?”

            I felt Uncle Roe pinch my arm, telling me I was laying it on a little thick.  The men in front of me didn’t seem to notice however, the bunch of preening peacocks.  “Well ma’am, we were sent to hunt down some desperate criminals that attacked three men out in these woods last night.”

            “These woods?  What were they doing out here and at night?  That’s a good way to get hurt.”

            “Excuse me?”

            I explained, “We’ve had trouble with raiders and horrible men.  They nearly had to hang some right out near our property.  It was just plain awful.  They can’t be locals.  Local folks know not to do something so silly as to go hunting across people’s land.”

            “How do you know they were hunting?” the man asked suspiciously.

            “Well what else would they be doing this time of year and at night?  Decent people use the roads.  And there isn’t anything else out here except people’s outhouses and you said they were grown men and not boys.  Boys might be tipping outhouses over but surely grown men wouldn’t be getting up to such larks.”

            “Hmmmm,” was the only reply I got.  “Well, we’ve obviously caught the two men that attacked them and we need to return to base.”

            Houston, we had a problem.  Apparently my strength and intent buried the pitchfork hard and deep into the tree trunk.  It took Butch and another big guy to pull the pitchfork loose.  Then they had to load the bowl of jello calling itself a man up on a horse with the other prisoner and then they were off.

            Immediately I said, “I need to go …”

            “You need to answer me some questions young lady.”

            I turned to look at Uncle Roe wondering just exactly what I had done to make him look like a thundercloud who was about to let loose.  “Yes sir?”

            “I want the truth and I’m gonna get it.”  He swallowed and asked, “Has Jude been drinking and you not told me?”

            “What?!”

            “I had a man from the church come tell me that he met Jude on his way to town and said he reeked of alcohol.  I figured something was up when Clewis took the horse to him this morning and then he took off rather than coming by the house like he normally does.  To think that I …”

            My temper hadn’t disappeared quite as far as perhaps it should have done.  “Are you gonna let me answer or are you going to judge him guilty and sentence him without even a trial?”          Uncle Roe did not take kindly to my mouth but at that moment I didn’t care.  “First off why should Clewis know anything about anything?  He certainly wouldn’t help cover up anything for Jude … more than likely would be the one run carrying the tale.  And second off, why the automatic assumption of guilt?  Jude was home all night except for a turn he took outside where he’d gone to cool off because we’d had some words … mostly my fault.  And then to make it worse I forgot to move some bottles from where he told me to move them and when he went downstairs to get a tote sack to take with him to work, one of the bottles fell, broke and soaked him.  I tried to get him to wear one of Jack’s jackets but he won’t because he says they look too nice and that people will talk.  Only they are talking all right.  Nice bit of gossiping there Uncle Roe.  I really like the believing someone else before you give your own son a chance to explain.”

e H

             Clewis just stood there look at me like he couldn’t believe the lies that had spilled off my tongue.  I was a bit surprised myself and I figure one of these days the flames of hell will probably singe me for it.   Butch’s scowl was for a completely different reason.  

            “Now see the trouble you’ve caused Dovie?  If you had done what Jude had told you to in the first place none of this ruckus would have happened.  There’s a good reason for rules.  What if Jude had been tempted by those bottles … and I figure you are talking about Aunt Malissa’s brandies and such … what if he had been tempted by those things?  Do you think that was fair to Jude?”

            Well, it was my own fault for painting myself into that corner.  “I didn’t say it was a smart thing or fair Butch.  I just said it happened.  And it wouldn’t have been a big deal if some people would stop always expecting Jude to come up short, always thinking the worst of him.”

            Uncle Roe snapped, “And some young girls need to learn their place and watch their mouth.”

            The injustice of it nearly took my breath away.  It might have been better if it had.  “I know what my place is.  It just seems that lots of other people don’t want to let me have it and keep trying to stick me back in diapers like I have no sense.”

            “If you didn’t act like a child you wouldn’t get treated like one.  Someone is always having to look after you and get you out of scrapes.  Now get back to the house right now.”

            I was furious.  And hurt.  Furiously hurt and hurting furiously.  It took every bit of what I had left in me to clamp my jaw shut.  I grabbed the pitchfork and picked up the sack of chokes and groundnuts and left without another word. 

            I was a quarter of the way home when Clewis caught up.  “Steam is coming off of you.”

            “Leave … me … alone.”

            “No. Give me that bag before you drop it.”

            “I can do it myself,” I told him in a clipped voice.

            “I know, but it gives me an excuse to follow you home and make sure you get there without lighting the forest up.”

            “Very funny.  Ha.  Ha.”

            Suddenly Clewis stopped joking.  “I should have said something.  I will say something.”

            I turned on him.  “Oh no you won’t.  They had a choice whether to believe the worst of Jude and then me.  I’m sick of it.  You won’t say one single word.  I don’t trust them no more not to make things worse.”

            This time it was him that stopped me.  “Don’t say things like that Dovie.”

            I hissed quietly, “It’s the truth.  They made their choice now I’m making mine.  I might have told a lie, and I’ll bear the burden of that, but had I felt they could be trusted …”

            “Jude isn’t going to like this.”

            “Jude isn’t going to have a choice.  We did what we did to those men … and get that sour face off, it was my idea in the first place and I provided some of the tools of war so it is definitely we … and to keep safe we gotta keep it quiet.  I haven’t talked to Jude yet about all the implications of what those men were doing but it means something and I’m thinking that the two of you know more than you are saying; you’re getting thick as thieves and I thought only the Second Coming would be able to pull such a feat off.  So whatever it is it is big.  No … I don’t need to be told … at least not right now … but I’m not blind or stupid.”

            I turned and started for the house once again.  Clewis said, “Dad will cool off and then feel bad.  It just scared him is all.  He never has liked that berserk thing that Uncle Alroy used to do.  He was always worried that Jack or Jay would pick it up, it shocked him to find out it was you and not them.”

            I hunched my shoulders.  “Of course he doesn’t like it in me.  I’m a girl and he doesn’t consider it very lady-like.”

            “That’s not it and you know it.  Your dad was a soldier.  He killed men.”

            “Duh.  During times of war that is what a soldier may be called on to do.”

            “You know what I mean.”

            “I know he wasn’t real happy about Mom and Dad getting married which is why they ran away to do it.  I thought he’d gotten over it.  You telling me he hasn’t?”

            “I don’t know what I’m saying.  Just you scared him and Dad doesn’t care for being scared.”

            “Scared for me or scared of me.”

            Clewis winced.  “Dovie, don’t turn this into a feud.”

            At the porch steps I said, “I’m not the one that started this.”

            “No, I don’t guess so.  But you know the more you fight him the stiffer Dad is gonna get.”

            “Don’t push me Clewis.  There is no reconciliation in me.  I’m just too mad right now.  On top of that I’ve got a scared little girl to take care of – and did Uncle Roe give two wraps about that? It doesn’t look so – and I’ve got to explain to Jude what happened and we both know he is not going to be happy about it.  So just leave me alone.”

            I snatched the bag from his hands and went into the house trying to put my best face on for the kids’ sakes.  Rochelle and Lorne left and the kids were silent and upset.  I asked them to play quietly and let me do some work to get over my upset.  Most of them thought I was still upset about the men … and some of me still was … but mostly I was upset about my words with Uncle Roe.  A few hours later Paulie found me up in the attic doing nothing more constructive than moving piles from one place to the next, never making much headway.

            “Why did you lie to Uncle Roe?”

            “How did you …?”

            “I had gone up the trail to see if you were coming and I heard … all of it.  Why did you lie to Uncle Roe?  Why couldn’t he know the truth?  Why did he think that Jude had been drinking?”

            I explained without giving too many details but that didn’t satisfy him.  “But why did you lie?  You tell me lies only make things worse.”

            “I know it Paulie.  I regret not being able to find some other way to deal with it.  And I was mad … still am.  It isn’t fair to Jude … or me.”

            “But why not just tell him the truth?”

            “Because right now Uncle Roe can’t seem to handle but so much of the truth at a time.  He takes forever and a day to take something in and accept it.  You try and give him too much and he gets all stiff and unyielding.”

            “That doesn’t make sense.  He’ll only be madder when he does find out.”

            “I know Paulie but it’s all I got for you right now.”

            Paulie said in a hurt voice, “You act like you’re mad at me now.”

            I shook my head and sighed.  “No I’m not mad at you.  I’m just mad at everything.  And I’ve got a headache.”

            Paulie patted my shoulder.  “You always get headaches when you go berserk.  You haven’t done it in a long, long time.  Not since those men.”

            I sighed again.  “I know.  Look, can we not talk about it?  On top of all this I have to tell Jude what I’ve done and it isn’t going to be pretty.”

            “Will he not want to live with us anymore?” 

            “Jude wants to live with you all forever so don’t worry about that.  Go downstairs Paulie.  I need to talk to Dovie.”

            It was way too early for Jude to be home but there he was and it was time for me to pay the piper.