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.”
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?”
“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.”
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.