Friday, March 27, 2015

Chapter LXXV


            “Oh Jude.”

            “Aw, don’t start that again.  It’s just a steal nut that I filed down and soldered a little piece of pyrite to.  You could probably get something nicer out of one of those bubble gum machines they used to have at the pizza place in town.” 

            I glanced at Jude; his face was bright red.  And while he was trying not to show it I know he was hoping that I would like what he’d made.  Which I most definitely did.  Mom didn’t believe in girls getting expensive jewelry when they were still “little girls” as they weren’t “responsible enough.”  The closest thing to nice jewelry I had were the nickel-free stud earrings that I wore out of habit in my pierced ear holes and I was lucky to have that. 

            I slid the “ring” on my left finger and was amazed that it fit.  “How did you know what size to make it?”

            “I didn’t … well, not exactly … just sorta.  You carry the house keys on that loop you put your finger through.  I just looked at it and measured it by eye.  I guess I did get close didn’t I?”

            “Yes you did,” I told him before reaching over and giving him a kiss.  “I’m … I’m sorry I …”

            “Don’t start Dovie … I can hear the wheels turning in your head … you don’t need to do whatever it is you are thinking, I like you just fine the way you are.  I got frustrated … and you know good and well what I’m talking about … and tried to push a little harder than I should have.  Let’s just call it even … and have some great make up make out.”

            “Oh honestly …”  In the end however Jude was the one that called a halt and sent us both off to our respective – and cold – bedrooms.  It isn’t that I enjoyed the teasing because that knife cut both ways, but I’m not sure that I’m all that eager to take the next step. 

 

            We woke up to the first real snow of the season.  We’d had dustings before but nothing that hung around long once the sun came up.  When the kids saw the snow they were very excited.  By contrast I groaned.

            “Why Dovie?” Paulie laughed.  “Afraid you’re too old for sledding and playing in the snow?”

            “Brat,” I muttered under my breath.  To Paulie I said “Let’s see how much you like this stuff when you are doing your chores in it all day.”

            “Chores?!  But … but it’s new snow!”

            “You promised to go help Uncle Roe today.  You need to sit down and eat, get the boys, and get going.”

            “But …”

            “But what?” I asked giving him a look that dared him to try and get out of it.

            “Aw Dovie.”

            “Don’t ‘Aw Dovie’ me.  Playtime comes after work time, not before or instead of.”

            “Mom wouldn’t make us miss the fun after all the work we’ve been doing,” he grumped morosely.

            I swallowed my feelings and said, “I’m not Mom.  I’m me.  You made a promise.  You aren’t little like Corey anymore.  It is your choice whether you are gonna honor that, but I’m not going to protect you from the consequences if you don’t.  You know what’s right and what’s wrong.”

            Paulie didn’t stomp but it was in his voice when he told me, “That’s not fair.”

            Jude startled us all by putting his mug down with a snap.  “That’s enough.  Paulie get your butt in gear or miss your chance at breakfast.  And while we walk down to the main house you can explain to me why your feelings are more important than Dovie’s.”

            A confused Paulie said, “Huh?”

            “You just guilted her for not being your mom.  You did it because you know it would hurt her.  You try to say it’s her fault Aunt Malissa is dead and she’s all you got left that is willing to look after you?”

            “Jude,” I tried to interject softly.

            “No Dovie.  We all gotta live here and get along.  We do that by being honorable and keeping our word when we give it.  We don’t try and get our way being nasty to each other.”

            Immediately sorry Paulie turned to me and said, “I … I didn’t really mean to make you feel bad Dovie.  I just don’t want to miss the first real snow.”

            I sighed.  “I know Paulie and in your shoes I might feel the same way.  But I can’t do that anymore.  I got responsibilities.  And today it just so happens so do you boys because you made a promise.  Now hurry up, Jude’s not fooling.”

            I handed him his plate of breakfast – grits, cornmeal biscuits with busted down gravy – and he wolfed it to catch up with everyone else.  Indeed, Jude wasn’t fooling.  He was no more looking forward to his day of working in the snow than I was and keeping promises was one of his hot buttons.  If anyone had written one of those bodice-ripper romances about Jude they would have called him a reformed rake.  I wasn’t quite sure what that meant completely but I had a generally good idea though.  Jude used to be a scallywag and a drunk and a ladies man … all the things a rake is supposed to be.  Only he isn’t anymore and is reformed so takes on a little more sharply when people step out of line.  I’d never call him a rake to his face, reformed or not, because I didn’t want him to think I was completely loony.

            Turning to the man in question I said, “I packed you some lunch and I hope it stays warm.  When you drop the boys off can you give this other bag to Aunt Frankie?  I know the boys are supposed to take their noonday meal down there and hopefully this will help.”

            He took both, the one to the main house held hickory nut stuff eggs.  Jude asked me, “You really set on doing laundry today?  It’s looking gray and likely to get grayer.”

            “Yeah though like Paulie I’d give a lot to be able to put it off.  I’d also give a lot if Mom’s old barrel agitator was electric and inside.”  When he looked concerned I told him, “Don’t mind me, it’s just laundry day blues.  I couldn’t wash last Saturday because the wood pile got wet when the tarp blew off.  We have two weeks’ worth piled up.  Until I get everyone wool socks knitted we’ll have to use the old store bought socks that have to be boiled to get clean.  And I could make a sail for the Titanic with all the dirty underwear that needs washing.  I don’t even want to talk about the jeans and bedding.”

            Jule snickered.  “Do what Clewis does … go commando.”

            “Ew!  TMI Jude!”

            He snickered again and then looked around trying to get us a little privacy to say good bye with.  Unfortunately it wasn’t happening.  He was momentarily grumpy but then smiled when I surreptitiously placed a hand over the “ring” I was wearing under my long john shirt.

            “Plan on being back before dark,” he said.  “But if I’m not don’t worry.  Might snow later, can’t say for sure, so while I know you want to get your washing done, don’t let the wood boxes inside or on the back porch get empty.”

            “Yes Jude,” I answered meekly.  I wasn’t being a smart mouth either; I know how to live in the winter with snow but I’d never had to do it for more than a week or two at a time for vacation.  Doing it full time was a real learning experience.  Wood had always just magically appeared when it was needed.  At worst Dad or Jack or Jay had split some but being responsible for keeping the wood pile full – and using it responsibly – was definitely something that I was having to learn quickly.

            I watched Jude and the boys until they were on the other side of the gully then shook myself.  There wasn’t time for day dreaming.  A dump truck full of dirty laundry awaited my attention.

Chapter LXXIV


“I’m seventeen.  I’m just seventeen,” I mumbled trying to remind myself.

            “Huh?” Jude and I practically ran into each other coming around the corner, him from the kitchen me from the stairs.

            “Nothing,” I said.  “Watcha got?” I asked referring to the mugs he had in his hands.

            “Poured us some cider.  I thought we could sit and talk a bit.  Unless … I mean unless you’d rather be doing something else.”

            “Tell me you are just being funny and aren’t serious.  If either way, stop teasing.  You know I look forward to sitting with you for a while every day.  I know we don’t always get time to … oh … or maybe … I mean … if you need to get some rest or something.”

            “Now who is teasing?” he said with a small smile as he guided us both over to the sofa.

            “I’m not teasing.  I guess I just assumed … and I shouldn’t have.  Maybe you need some you time and …”

            “Hush.”  It was cold in the house even with the fireplace.  I had put up the heavy drapes and had put draft stoppers at the doors of all the unused rooms but it was still more than cool.  The old house definitely needed some insulation.  I know that had been on my parents’ list to do before they moved in full time but they had never gotten around to it.  Jude and I had gotten into the habit of sitting facing the fireplace in the evenings after the kids went to bed and then pulling a quilt over us for warmth. 

            We were both sipping the little bit of warmish cider that had remained in the tea kettle – lightly spiced like we both enjoyed it – when Jude said, “What’s with the ‘I’m seventeen’ thing you were mumbling?”

            “I don’t know.  Just sometimes at the end of the day … I don’t know, I just feel … well certainly not seventeen.  It’s just weird I guess.  Mostly I don’t care but when I come down stairs and about the only thing I can think about is when I need to go to bed so that I can get up in the morning and start all over again?  Just too … look, I can’t explain it.”

            “I think I know what you mean.  I feel kinda the same way.  But it isn’t necessarily bad.”

            “I never said it was a bad feeling, just a bit much to handle sometimes.”

            We sat almost a full minute and I was finally comfortably warm when he took my mug out of my hand and then pulled me up into his lap startling me.  We had rules and one of them was no sitting in his lap as the one time it happened before it led to some things that were too far on the other side of our safety line.  I stiffened up, “Jude?”

            “I know Dovie.  I … I promise not to go so far as last time but I wanna talk and I wanna hold you when I do it.”

            I still wasn’t sure about the move so I gave a hesitant, “Ok.”

            “Look … do … do you want … more kids?”

            Completely caught off guard by the question I asked, “Huh?”

            “Talking about Clewis and Crystal has me thinking.  We need to … uh … have a plan beforehand.  Know what the other wants, expects, or don’t wants … want … heck you know what I mean.”

            “I guess,” I told him still unsure what road he was taking.  Thinking about it I shook my head then said, “I mean … ok, so I don’t know what you mean.”

            He sighed.  “I know we’ve both already got a lot on our plates.  And I know there are already six kids up there that consider you a type of momma even if they don’t call you that.  Even Paulie knows it in his own way even though you are his sister.”

            “Ok.  And?”

            “And I’m just wondering if that means that you don’t want any more.”

            “I … well, I haven’t thought about it.  I kinda haven’t exactly had time to think about it and I didn’t really expect to meet anyone and I was ok with that.  Then there was you and … and I’ve been trying to be careful about where my mind wanders and you know doggone good and well what I mean so don’t make me say it.”

            He pulled me a little tighter to him and he said huskily, “Yeah.  Yeah I know what you mean.  I’ve been trying to do the same thing.  But some of this needs to be thought of.  I know you’ve said that we haven’t talked much but we’ve talked enough.  Are you going to say yes when the time is right Dovie?  ‘Cause I know I agreed with you that we got some time before we can get married but I’m getting anxious for a commitment.  We can keep it quiet but I want to lock it down between us.”

            I thumped his chest lightly.  “Well don’t you just have an awful idea of my character if you think I’d just sit in any guy’s lap, especially after last time.”

            He refused to play.  “I’m serious Dovie.  In my mind it has been long enough.  Say yes or no already.”

            I sighed.  “Let me up.”

            “What?”

            “I said let me up.  I can’t think with you surrounding me like this.”

            Disappointed he said, “So you have to think about it?”

            “Don’t turn this into a fight.”

            “I’m not.  You’re the one …”

            “ … that is trying to make sure I don’t make a complete and utter donkey’s behind of myself and fail because in case you’ve forgotten this isn’t just about me.  Now turn loose.  I don’t want this to be just about hanky panky – and don’t you dare laugh at what I just called it - and I don’t want you to get it in your head at some point and wonder if you pressured me one way or the other.  You get me all twisted up when you start touching me and stuff.  You were in such a good mood and now you turn me on my head by starting something I didn’t expect.  You start talking about making babies and then before I can even answer you on that you are saying you want to nail it down right this second.  Now you’re angry at me because I’m trying to take this seriously and need a little space to give you my answer only apparently that isn’t good enough either. My head is about to explode.”

            I finally managed to get untangled and because he was still looking angry I turned and walked to the second floor and then to the door and stairs that took me to the attic.  Nearly broke my neck going up the last flight of stairs on the riser that was a little different from all the others but I finally stood there in the dark.  It was cold as all get out but that only helped to clear my head.

            And I was doing fine until Jude stumbled in, tripping over the same riser I had, and said, “What in the Sam Hill do you think you’re doing?  It’s fr-freezing up here.”

            “You see this Jude?  You see this mess?  I’m trying to deal with the mess, trying to get it organized and put things to good use.  Yet every time I turn around there is something pulling me away from the task.  I’ve only got so long to get this done … absolutely must get this done before spring comes and planting starts … because if I don’t get it done by then maybe it will never get done because there will be too many other things that have to take priority.  I’ll be just like Mom … and everyone that came before her … just shoving stuff up here to get it out of the way rather than deal with it.  Nothing but mess on top of mess.  And the attic is running out of space for mess Jude.  Mom’s mess might be organized but it is still part of the mess.”

            I turned to look out the attic window.  The moonlight that came through barely lit anything because of the gray clouds that had hung around all day.  Jude said, “You aren’t talking about the attic are you.”

            “No!” I told him irritated out of all proportion.  “I am saying this is what the inside of my head looks like.  Geez, could we just keep it to one major topic of discussion at a time?  Or do we need to absolutely talk about everything in one grand slam?  You pull me on your lap so that is sex.  Check.  Then you go from sex to babies.  Check.  Then you tell me that basically you are going to have an answer or else. Check.  Dovie losing her mind?  Check.”

            He sighed.  “I didn’t say ‘or else’ and I didn’t mean for you to take it that way.  I’m … I’m just frustrated Dovie.  I know what we’re missing.  You don’t.”

            “You mean you’ve slept with leventy dozen girls … news flash Jude¸ not making me feel better or less strung out.”

            “Dang, you’re touchy tonight.”

            “Dang, yes I am.    And I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to ruin the moment or whatever you call it.”

            “C’mon down stairs, it’s freezing up here.”  So I followed him downstairs and back to the living room feeling totally out of it.

            “C’mere.”

            “You don’t have to Jude.  I already told you I know I ruined everything.”

            He snorted.  “You didn’t ruin anything much less everything.  I just wish you would have been a little more … look, hit me in the head next time you need to talk … you’re better at hiding stuff than I ever was.  I didn’t realize that you were getting the sweats again.”

            “God that sounds so … ick.  Ladies glow, we don’t sweat. At the most we perspire.”

            “Sweetheart you’re doing it again.  Don’t joke around it, just talk to me.”

            “The answer is yes.”

            “Excuse me?”

            “You wanted an answer, that is my answer.”

            “I didn’t want an answer under these circumstances.  Now I’ll feel like I pushed you into it.”

            I sighed, exasperated.  “I was trying to stand apart from the rest of the chaos and tell you yes so that you would know you weren’t pressuring me.  I swear I cannot win for losing.”  Suddenly I was angry.  Angry, tired, frustrated but mostly I’ll admit that I was scared … and angry.  I was supposed to have all the answers, all the patience, all the understanding, all the time … and dang it I just didn’t.  I’d already been feeling challenged and it was like Jude hadn’t heard a word I had said.  At that moment I wondered if I would ever be enough of anything for anyone.

            “Lean forward.”

            “What?”

            “Lean forward.”

            “Jude …”

            “Relax.  I liked it when you did it to me the other night when I was bent out of shape, wondering if there would be enough money to pay off the taxes.  Give me a chance to see if you like it.”

            I wasn’t in the mood to “like it” – or anything for that matter – but against my best intentions him rubbing my back, neck, and shoulders actually relaxed me.  When he ventured into space that was forbidden territory I tensed right back up.  “Jude …”

            “Ok, ok … that was … well …”  He sighed.  “Can’t fault a guy for trying.”

            “Oh yes I can.  And just because I said yes doesn’t mean that yes means right now.”

            I turned around ready for a fight but he was grinning like an idiot.  “That’s my Dove, just as sweet and gentle as her namesake.”  He laughed at my expression and pulled me to him in a hug.  “Got something for you.”

            “Oh no, I’m not falling for that either.  I might not have any experience but I’m not completely stupid.”

            That made him laugh despite my blush.  “I don’t mean that so get your mind out of the gutter.”

            I wanted to thump him and would have but he grabbed my fist and kissed it and then took something out of his pocket.  “I know it isn’t much.  It isn’t even store bought.  Likely it will turn your finger green if you try and wear it so keep it on this string and wear it around your neck.  But I made it and I mean what it is supposed to mean Dovie.  And thanks for saying yes.”

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Chapter LXXIII


            A muffled voice through the window said, “Holy smokes, I’ve been smelling that since the gully.  Please tell me it is as good as the whiffs I’ve been getting.” 

            I jumped back and yelled, “You nut!  Scare me to death why don’t you.  And why are you so late?!  And do you know what temp the thermometer says it is?  I held dinner as long as I could but …”

            I looked out in the dark because his face was no longer at the window and then jumped again as he came inside with a bang.  “Be right back he said,” running towards his bedroom.

            “What on earth?”  He was back in less than a minute and took his boots off.  Thank goodness I’d finally found something to stop them from stinking so bad.  It took about a week of nightly doses of baking soda in the shoes but now that I’ve finally broke the cycle of the blasted stinky bacteria from passing back and forth between his shoes and his feet all we have to do is put a knee-hi full of used coffee grounds down in the shoes each night and it absorbs any dampness then hang the “destinkifier” as the kids call it out in the fresh air the next day.  About once a week, or if his feet get really damp more often, I’ll spritz his feet with cider vinegar as the acid kills any gunk trying to grow there.

            He turned to see if the kids were looking and then slid his hands under my flannel shirt.  I nearly hit the ceiling – not because he was pushing the naughty factor but because his hands were like ice cubes.  We both wound up snickering quietly.  “Behave yourself.  You need a good swift kick Jude Killarney.”

            “Probably,” he answered.  “But I promise to be good if you’ll just feed me.  Lord I am starving to death.”

            I huffed.  “They could have let you use one of the other horses.”

            “Uh uh.  Now that everyone is over whatever that crud was that was going around Dad is trying to get that ground plowed under and get that cover crop turned before it freezes hard.  Boo took Grits to get him reshod … dang that ornery animal anyway, this is the sixth shoe he has lost this year, off the same hoof, and always when it is least convenient.  Dang clutzy thing, he steps on it and that’s all she wrote.”

            Shaking my head but keeping my mouth shut on my opinion on the said “clutzy thing” since he was not my favorite animal to begin with I asked, “Were you able to get a ride at all or did you have to walk the whole way?”

            He was rubbing his hands together until I put a mug of warm spiced cider beside him.  He picked it up, took a quick sip, and then said, “Going in but not coming back.  Most of the guys were going to spend a bit of their last check celebrating the New Year a little early.  I went to get the certificate of payment from the county offices and that was celebrating enough for me.”

            I asked, “So it’s all paid?”

            “Yep.  And I wish you could have seen Dad’s face.  He’s been bracing himself and counting which of the livestock he can afford to give up.  It took him a full minute of looking for the remaining balance before he realized there wasn’t one.”

            I took his plate out of the warming compartment and put it in front of him and then put a bowl of small biscuits beside it.  I gave him a kiss on the cheek and said, “I’m proud of you and it doesn’t matter what kind of face Uncle Roe was making.  I just hope he said something nice.”

            “Nope.”  I was about to get upset when he said, “He was too choked up.  Butch figured it out about a half second after Dad did and just stood there with his mouth open.  That was almost as good as Dad’s reaction.”  He chortled.  “I’m just relieved to have it from hanging over us.”

            “Did he say anything at all?”

            “I don’t need him to say anything.  I’m telling you his reaction was enough for me … and I want it to be enough for you.  You gotta understand Dovie … it’s a man thing.”

            I rolled my eyes.  “I’ll remind you how dumb that sounds next time you get irritated when I explain something by saying ‘it’s a woman thing.’”

            “Fair enough.  Now tell me what I’m eating woman before it disappears so fast I don’t figure it out.”

            “You sure are full of it tonight.”  Jude just grinned like a crazy man and all I could do was shake my head.  I was glad he was in a good mood.  He had been really anxious the last two weeks, trying to get every extra hour he could.  He even worked the afternoon of Christmas Day.  He’d obviously lost weight no matter how I tried to get him to eat though there weren’t a lot of extra to go around.  I fried the doves that Paulie and the other boys had hunted up in lard to try and add some fat instead of using the olive oil I had.  Maybe I should have fried them in bacon grease, I don’t know.

            “Sit with me?” he asked giving me one of those silly puppy dog faces that boys give when they want something.

            I didn’t mind, I was pretty tired.  Working up in the cold of the attic just sort of took it out of me.  “Fried doves with spicy apple glaze.”

            “Huh?”

            “What you’re shoveling into your mouth so fast you can’t be tasting it before it goes down your gullet.  And be sure and say something to the boys … they used a net to catch the doves believe it or not.”

            “What kind of net?”

            “That old fishing net they’ve been playing with.  I guess they figured if I nixed them playing by the pond they’d put it to some other use.  Paulie got the idea out of some book he read. They’d set the net up and then flush the doves toward it if I understand Paulie’s explanation.  Either way it was a good bit of work to catch enough for both houses even with Travis and Trent helping with a net of their own.”

            “To me it sounds like a good bit of work wringing all those little necks.”

            “Don’t remind me.  My hands are sore but I don’t know if it is from the birds or getting into all of the boxes and tubs up in the attic.  I had no idea how much stuff Mom had stored up there.  The further I go into the stacks the worse the mess gets.  I’m still nowhere near close to reaching the door that goes into the second section of the attic.  And yes, I did see some mirrors but they are on top of a couple of pieces of old furniture and in back of some other piles of stuff.  How you spotted them I don’t know.”

            “I was up there when the sun was coming through the window and I guess the light caught ‘em just right.  You know some of that stuff is probably from where Aunt Meg died and your mom helped clean her place out.  You know her daughters didn’t want anything … didn’t fit their d├ęcor or something like that if I remember the ruckus that it caused.”

            “Oh yeah, I’d forgotten all about that.  I didn’t get into the house stuff very much because I had been assigned to look after Aunt Meg’s great grandkids.  Nice kids really and sad more because their mommas were sad than because they really knew what was going on.  You’re right though, I bet some of what I’m finding is from that and from those auctions and estate sales Mom would go to when she was in the area ‘cause I sure don’t recognize any of it.  You know there is enough stuff up there to finish out my hope chest, start one for Tiff and Mimi and enough beyond that for a few more girls?  By the way, I put another box of stuff in your room for you to try on.”

            “More?” he said nearly complaining.  “I’ve got enough clothes Dovie.”

            “Not all of it is clothes per se.  There’s a couple of pairs of leather chaps … they’re stiff but I think I can beat ‘em soft again … and there are quite a few work coveralls with some of them being those heavy winter ones.  I even found another big tub of boots and shoes, all different sizes.  Some of them aren’t worth much, and none of them are new, but there were a couple in your size and they have steal toes too.  And I nearly choked when I found about a dozen more cases of old jars.  I’m gonna die if I have to find any more space for empty jars.”

            Jude laughed.  “Well don’t croak on me yet.  I’ve already got my next project all lined up and it might help make a place for you to put all them jars you keep complaining about.”

            “Another job?  Already?”

            “Yeah but it’s bartering rather than for cash.  Boo helped me find it.  The Mennonite he works for needs to expand his smithy and his son came back from his trip to their people in Pennsylvania with a steam engine that he wants to set up to saw lumber with.  I’m going to get the old engine up and running and help the son get his set up going and Boo and Rick are going to help the father expand the smithy.  Boo and Rick’s work will finish paying off the dairy cow and calf that Boo has been working on for down at the main house and for my work I’ll get some lumber.  Dad said if I can get enough wood, he’ll have everyone come up and help me build a shed over that sink.  With all of us working it shouldn’t take more than a day or two to clean it out and another day or two to get the shed up.”

            A little suspiciously I asked, “Why are they helping?  They’ve never come up here before.”

            He chuckled, “’Cause Sweetheart, they want ice too and it would be too much work … at least for this year … to dig out something like that down at the main house.  A week’s worth of work to have ice during the summer?  You bet they are more than happy to pitch in.”  When I didn’t say anything he asked, “It is ok isn’t it?  You don’t have any objections?”

            I shook my head.  “No, not objections.  I just want credit to go where credit is due.  You never get credit.”

            He put his hand over mine where it had been on the table.  “You worry too much about that.”

            “I worry a lot because you don’t worry at all.  Would you like it if it was me in your shoes?  I know you don’t need statues and trophies but if they’d just adjust their attitude it would go a long way.”

            “Eh, don’t sweat it Dovie.  Their attitude helps keep me on my toes.”  He took a bite of biscuit then stopped and looked at it.  “Uh … what are these?”

            “Uh oh.  You don’t like them.”

            “I didn’t say that.  I just bit into them expecting regular biscuits but these aren’t.”

            “I’m experimenting with ways to make the wheat go further.  Found this recipe in an old war bride cookbook.  Instead of using two cups of white flour you use a cup of whole wheat flour and a cup of soybean meal. Here, drizzle some sorghum on them and it will cover the taste.”

            “Sweetheart, I didn’t say I didn’t like them.  I said was expecting one thing and got another.  Kinda like I did with you.  I was expecting an innocent, helpless little thing and turns out you’re strong and have hidden depths.”

            “Hidden …?  Oh for pete sake, now you’re just being silly again.  Finish eating so I can wash those dishes and finish cleaning the kitchen.”

            “I’ll wash.”

            “No you won’t … at least not dishes.  Finish up and those get cleaned up so you can relax a little.  The boys are so tired they aren’t going to last much longer and Mimi and Corey need some extra sleep too … this cold weather is making them tired and foul earlier than usual.  I’ll let Tiff stay up and read if she wants to but she could probably use the extra rest as well.  I heard today that Crystal wants the kids to start coming to the main house every day and take lessons with the rest of the zoo down there.”

            “Might not be a bad idea if you … uh … want my opinion.”

            “Of course I want your opinion.  Is she really going to teach them or just play at it?”

            “She’s pretty good from what Rochelle said.  Does things hands on and it keeps the kids’ interest.”

            “I suppose you’re right.  It just irritates me that she talked to the kids about it before she talked to me.  I don’t have any objections per se, just that I would have preferred to have heard her proposal from her rather than the kids asking whether they have to go or not.  When I asked her she was even hinting that I should be sitting in on classes too … because of my age and all.”

            That last bit had him strangling on his cider.  “She said that?”

            “In so many words?  Yeah.  Not flat out but might as well have.”

            “You musta misunderstood.”

            “Sure I did.  And that’s why Faith and Wendalene were snickering the whole time.  Even Aunt Frankie caught it.  She pulled me aside later and just said to ignore it if I could, that Crystal had a hard time getting over herself on occasion.  I mean … what am I supposed to say to something like that?”

            Looking a little disturbed by something he answered, “I have no idea.  Do you want to go to school?”

            “Do I look like I have time for it?  Get real Jude.  When I want to learn something new I ask or I look it up in a book.  I’ve always been like that.  Homeschool, virtual school, half and half … I’ve done it all except be in a classroom full time.  Frankly, I don’t know if I could sit still that long.  Paulie might enjoy it, but he is worried about being the oldest and getting treated like a baby.  Tiff won’t go if he doesn’t.  Those two will set the tone for the rest of them.  I’ll keep Corey because he is too little but I’m still not sure how Crystal expects to run it with my five and the rest of the kids from down there and all of them at different levels.  It sounds like chaos in the making.”

            “Mebbe.  Still wouldn’t be a bad thing to at least let ‘em try and see if they can do it.”

            “They can do it without a problem.  The question is whether Crystal is up for it.  You would have thought after Christmas Eve she would have second thoughts.”

            Jude snickered around the last bite of biscuit.  “Now that you mention it she did look a little frazzled when I got home from work.  Guess next time she’ll think a little ahead before volunteering to take them all on a nature hike around the farm.”

            “You’d think wouldn’t you.  I don’t know who came back looking more bedraggled, her or Clewis.  Or maybe it’s her and Clewis’ way to reinforce that they are happy they aren’t going to have any of their own.”

            “Possibly,” he said thoughtfully as he got up from the table.  “Though I said something once that they could always adopt and Clewis said ‘Crystal doesn’t want kids.’”

            “Well, that’s what you told me before.”

            “It was the way that Clewis said it that makes me think that if Crystal changed her mind he wouldn’t be totally against the idea.  I’m not sure.  They better make up their minds though before it gets set in stone.  I didn’t think much about kids myself until I got around that bunch out there in the living room, now I like there being a houseful of them around.”

            .Good thing he liked it.  No sooner did he get cleaned up than the kids were clamoring for their nightly dose of story.  He’d started to read them “The Swiss Family Robinson.” It was fun to watch the kids’ reaction to the story; it was just as fun for me to watch Jude’s.