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 décor 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.

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