Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Chapter LXXI


            “What ya doing?”

            I turned to find Jude leaning on my bedroom door.  “I thought you were going to try and get some stuff done?”

            “Did it.  Bored.  So … what ya doing?”

            I rolled my eyes.  “You remember what my mom used to do whenever she heard anyone say they were bored?”

            He smiled slightly.  “Yeah.  Even I wasn’t dumb enough to say it around Aunt Malissa more than once.  Clewis took a few times beyond that but eventually even he learned to hold his tongue.  So … you gonna tell me what ya doing?”

            “What does it look like I’m doing?”

            “Spinning a web with all that string.”

            “Oh for .. it isn’t string, it’s yarn.  And I’m not spinning, I’m sorting; this skein just came undone in the box somehow.  I’m trying to figure out whether to sort the yarn by texture, by type, or by color.”

            “You sound like Aunt Malissa.”

            “Ugh.  Not about this.  I like things organized but I’m not quite as manic about it as Mom was.  She would have sorted by all three.  Ick.  I’ll be honest, she wouldn’t have had so much organizing to do if she hadn’t been addicted to sales on craft supplies and material or those estate sales and auctions she liked to go to.  We’ve got enough here to stock our own store.”  Then I sighed.  “I’ve got such a mess still to go through.  It’s an organized mess but still.  And I don’t know where I’m going to put it all.”

            “It’ll get done when it gets done.  Look, got a question for you.”  I looked at him as if to say so ask already.  “You got any plans for Christmas?  They’re going nuts down at the house trying to figure out what to do.”

            “I didn’t think Uncle Roe let that stuff in the house.”

            Jude shrugged.  “Last couple of years he’s kinda backed off.  He even hung around once Travis and Trent got old enough to notice such things.  He don’t like things to get too wound up or too much money to be spent but he doesn’t throw a fit and do the ‘damn the commercialism of the season’ speech anymore.  So do you have any plans or not?”

            “I was going to bake a ham and do some fixings for it.  I’ve got something for each of the kids I’ve found and have hidden away.  None of it will be new but it will be new to them.”

            “I can bring in a tree.”

            I squelched my automatic refusal.  “Ok.”

            He sensed my reluctance and said, “Come out here and sit with me for a minute.  I wanna talk.”

            “No lectures Jude.  I … I can’t handle any more today.”

            “I know Sweetheart and since I didn’t say it before I’ll say it now … thanks for going easy on Dad.  You didn’t have to but you did and even he doesn’t know it I do.  So no lectures but I do wanna talk.”

            I figured it was sooner or later so I just followed him out.  I blinked at how bright the lamp was when he turned it on.  “You shouldn’t be working in so much dark.  You’re going to ruin your eyes.”

            I responded, “The firelight was fine for what I was doing.”

            “Sure it was,” he said a little sarcastically.  “You know you could take that wind up lamp in there with you.”

            I shook my head.  “My room is on the front of the house.  Light that bright could draw attention at night.”

            “Mebbe so but you still need more light to work with.  I’ll see if I can’t think of some kind of reflector.  I think I saw a couple of mirrors inst amongst that mess in the attic.  Now sit here with me where it is warm.”

            Not giving him time to ask too many questions I said, “Jude … it’s … it’s complicated. And hard to explain.  Don’t get all over me for it.”

            “Paulie didn’t have any trouble explaining.  I got it out of him when you avoided your birthday.  Knew there had to be something to it; when I found out I didn’t say anything.  But now I am.  Your … your mother wasn’t quite … well, she wasn’t real stable right then.  I’m guessing you protected Paulie from a lot of it but he still sensed that things weren’t right.  I’m guessing Dad doesn’t know how bad they were either.  You’re a private little thing when you put your mind to it.”

            A little protectively I said, “It wasn’t Mom’s fault.”

            “I never said it was Sweetheart.”

            “She didn’t even remember she did it most of the time, it was like she just fuzzed out and then picked up as if nothing had happened; but every holiday that came after Dad and the boys … you know … she would get a little … little …  It was just bad.  We had always been flexible with the holidays, waiting until Dad was home or doing them a little early if he had to leave.  I tried to do stuff for Paulie but it was just really hard.  She’d still sense it and … and really nose dive.  She would have worked her way out of it eventually; she even tried for Paulie’s last birthday before she … before she died.  There just wasn’t time and at the medical facilities it was just plain hell Jude.  Any kind of religious stuff was absolutely forbidden and that meant most of the holidays.  Their reasoning was that the populations at the facilities was always so diverse but to be honest I just think some of the staff were plain mean and maybe even sadistic.  And holidays mark time passing.  They never liked people to ask how much longer they were going to be in quarantine or protective custody or whatever they were calling it.  So, I don’t know, maybe I’m just out of the habit.”

            “That’s bull and you know it.  You got the crap beat out of you at that medical facility by those women because you had a little secret Christmas party for the kids you were taking care of.  They didn’t like it because you were being Christian.  You know what I’m talking about.”

            “Oh Lord,” I whispered horrified.  “I told the kids I fell down the stairs.  How did they know?”

            “Tiffany heard some of the women talking about it when she was getting her blood drawn.  Heard you gave as good as you got and they were all for leaving you alone from that point onward.  She told Paulie who asked some of the older kids.  They told him not to say nothin’ about it because you’d get in trouble.  Wanna explain why you would get in trouble when they’re the ones that started it?  That part I don’t understand.”

            Looking into the fire, remembering, I told him, “I’d already gotten in trouble several times already.  Some of the adults could be … could be kinda crazy … and vicious.  There never was enough of anything to go around.  The kids that had a parent or relative to look out for them did OK but my kids … or kids like my kids … it could be dangerous.  It was like living in a prison – or a mental health hospital – and all the psychological stuff that affects people in places like that.  The adults would steal our food, our toiletries, shoes, clothes, other belongings … even if it was no use to them they’d take it to trade it for something that they did want.  I took to wearing my backpack all the time, even when I slept there for a while.  When I got to sleep.  I kept us all in the same room and shoved all the mattresses together and since the doors didn’t lock … someone had to keep them safe.  The staff didn’t care what we did so long as the rooms were back to being neat and tidy in the morning for inspection.  Someone in security finally got a compassion bone – shipped a lot of the kids out to relatives if they still had any that would take them or put them in foster care since people were hollering for kids and Double Negatives were very desirable.  Those few that were left they segregated as far away from everyone else as possible.  That had its pros and cons.  We had privacy but we were also far away from security.  The few times people tried something I did whatever it was I had to to keep them from getting the kids.  So that brought me some trouble.  The biggest trouble though was when Ol’ Hatchet – what we all called least stellar example of doctorhood we had to deal with – found out I was keeping track of the kids’ birthdays and tried to make that date special for them.  Basically I was told if they caught me breaking the rules again – and apparently birthdays are religious to somebody so nobody could do them – that they would take the kids from me.  I didn’t listen but kept things even quieter.  The kids didn’t mind.  The place was taking a toll on them too just like it was everyone else, even the staff.”

            “So … if you had complained about the beating and they found out why …”

            “Yeah.  But that’s not the reason I don’t make a big deal of holidays and stuff.  I’m just … I’m worried about doing the wrong thing.  I have no idea what the background of the other kids are.  Bobby … well he’s easy and doesn’t make a fuss.  I don’t think he got a lot of stuff like that in foster care and seemed surprised that I would try and do it when it caused me trouble.  Tiffany and Mimi, I’m not sure.  She doesn’t like a ruckus and the few times I tried to get her to talk about what they used to do she clammed up and didn’t want to talk about it.  I think she might have lived with an extended family under one roof … or at least one of her grams lived with them.  They might have had money, I’m not sure.  Some of the things she has let out makes it sound like it.  It’s like she doesn’t want to remember or has chosen just to let it go or something.  Mimi doesn’t remember at all … her only memories seem to be from shortly before they became part of our group.  There is the bad before and then she was with us … that’s the best she could explain it when I tried to tease it out of her.  Tiff used ask to see the pictures in their files every once in a while but she started asking less and less.  I asked her when we got here if she wanted me to find a frame or book for them so she could look at them all the time and she said no.  Just the one word and she hasn’t asked to see them since.  Lonnie is about like Mimi.  He just stopped talking about his family a little bit at a time.  Corey is so little I doubt he really has any memories of before the medical facilities.  He was a little baby when he was taken in and isn’t quite much more than that now.  I used to try to get them to talk so they could remember … so I could write things down for them … but they fought me tooth and nail sometimes.  I probably should have made them anyway, now it’s too late, and I’m scared I’m going to really ruin them.”

            “Why?  People who get adopted start new lives and it don’t seem to ruin them.”

            “Different circumstances.”

            “Not that much.  Remember them kids they used to have on those commercials on TV?  Them kids would get adopted from places where they were starving and poor and abused.  You used to see pictures of kids stacked like cordwood in these foreign orphanages that needed good homes and people to adopt them.”

            “I don’t want to replace their parents Jude.  Paulie and I would never have let anyone try and replace Mom and Dad.  I just want to love on them and try and make their lives as good as I can.”

            “Is that why you have all of them call you Dovie instead of Momma?”

            I rolled my eyes.  “Now wouldn’t that confuse them all to pieces?”

            “Maybe not.  If that’s the way you want it then fine, I don’t see that hurting them either.  But you ain’t gonna destroy ‘em by trying to give them happy memories Dovie.  That’s what you want to do, or so you say.”

            “Of course that’s what I want!”

            “Then just do it.  Give ‘em some holiday.  Let ‘em know you care enough to take the risk … for them and for yourself.”

            I gave him a disgruntled look.  “Don’t psychoanalyze me.”

            “I’m trying not to.  I just wanna understand and help.”

            “You do.”  I sighed but it was more like I was girding my loins rather than a sigh of sadness.  “You’re … you’re right.  I’ll give it a try.  I just hope they don’t think … I don’t know … I don’t want to replace their good memories, just want them to have more good memories.”

            “Then tell ‘em that.  Paulie and Tiff will understand and the younger ones will eventually.  The holidays are for celebrating.  We’re alive … uh … I mean … gosh dang it.  I’m sorry Dovie, that didn’t come out right.”

            I smiled softly and kissed his cheek.  “It came out just fine.  I know what you mean.  And you’re right.  I guess celebrating that we’re alive isn’t the same thing as being happy that other people aren’t.”

            He pulled me close and I laid my head on his shoulder.  “No it isn’t Sweetheart.”  We sat there quietly for a few moments then he said, “I’ve made something for each of the youngins … ours came first and I’m almost finished with something for those down at the main house.  Wanna see?”

            “Sure.”

            I followed him to his room but he stopped me on the threshold and then got a box out of the chifferobe where I put his clean clothes.  Bringing it over he said, “It ain’t much but I figure it’ll fit in the toe of a stocking if we hang ‘em on the fireplace.”

            When he opened the box I said, “Oh Jude.”

            “Aw don’t.  I told you they ain’t much.  Just you’re always callin’ ‘em your sheep.  They get a kick out of it, ‘specially the little ones when they make that baa noise.  So I carved ‘em a sheep and put their names on ‘em.  I colored’ em with walnut stain.  I know Paulie and Tiff might be a little old for it but …” he shrugged.  “I figure I can settle up with Paulie when he needs a pocket knife or something – I got a couple of spare ones that he can take his pick of – and maybe you can do something for Tiff.”

            Looking at him and finding out yet another new thing about him I said, “You’re pretty smart at this.”

            He shrugged a little bashfully.  “I just figured … you know.”

            “I know,” I told him giving him a hug.  He put the box back and we’d just sat down when I jumped up again.  “Snap!”

            “What?!” he asked surprised at my sudden upset.

            “Do … do you think all of them are going to expect something?   I don’t mean … I mean … Oh Lord …”

            “Relax,” he said pulling me back down on the sofa.  “Dad already laid down the law.  He said everyone should focus on the kids.  If couples wanna do something for each other then they do it in private and not say nothin’.”

            I went limp in relief.  “It’s not that I don’t want to but I don’t see how to pull it off … except maybe …”

            “Put a brake on them wheels … you’re making smoke,” he said with a chuckle.  “Dad doesn’t even expect the houses to get together.  It’s to be a quiet day.  Some celebrating like a good meal but other than that …”  He stopped shrugging.

            “Hmmm.  About like when we would come here to visit at Christmas time then.  We kept to ourselves and y’all did your thing.  Most of you were off going to parties and everything on Christmas Eve anyway and then sleeping in on Christmas Day unless there was church.”

            “Yeah, sounds about right.”  I was able to finally relax and then Jude said, “Dovie?”

            “Hmm?”

            “I … I’d …” he sighed and it sounded real disappointed.  “All of the money I’ve made needs to go to the taxes.  I hadn’t counted on this forced day off and the couple of days we were sent home early.  There’s no cushion at all.  I was hoping there would be a little something left over.  I can’t even get you a new hair clip or a package of bobby pins or nothin’.”

            “Oh Jude,” I said kissing his cheek.  “I don’t need anything.  I’m not a little kid that is waiting around for presents.”

            “No you’re a young woman that should be able to expect her man to give her nice things.  And I can’t.  I … I can’t even … Dovie I wanna give you a ring but …”

            I blushed.  And I felt funny in the pit of my stomach.  “We haven’t talked about that yet.”

            “Haven’t we?” he asked a little grumpy.

            “Well, maybe a little.  But talked about waiting a little bit too.  And get your face all out of you belt buckle.  It isn’t because of money or anything else.  I just wanna make sure I’m the right person for you.”

            “Shouldn’t that be the other way around.”

            “No,” I told him.  “I like you just the way you are and I don’t want to mess things up for you and make you wish to start drinking again.  I’m … I’m just a little messed up Jude.  The holiday thing is just some of it.  I’m … I’m still finding my feet and getting comfortable … or stable if you want to say it a different way.”

            “Now that I can understand.  I still get up every morning and have to remind myself to take it one day at a time.  It’s been easier since you and them kids got here.  I got more reason but I can’t use you to be the only reason.  So … just so long as you know what my intentions are.  Suppose we would have to wait anyway.  There’s lots that is gonna start happening after the beginning of the year … or so it seems.”

            That last phrase was to draw my attention away from the correlation between the beginning of the New Year and that new man taking over.  I let it pass; Mom always did when Dad had said something about his work and regretted it.  “Will you be done with the expansion by then?  By the beginning of the new year?”

            “We better or there’s going to be heck to pay.  They have us working in all kinds of weather.  Speaking of, I better make sure the fire up in the kids’ room is banked for the night and then we both better get some rest.”

            I was dozing lightly on the sofa when Jude came down the stairs carrying Corey.  “Dovie, he’s hot as a firecracker and breathing funny.”


 

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