“Mimi …” I said warningly.”
“But Dovie, they’s so coot.”
Holding onto my patience by sheer will alone I told her, “You are too old to be talking like a baby just to get out of trouble. Try it again and see what happens. Do you want to kill those cats?”
“NO!” she yelped looking at me like I was killing her by asking such a question.
“Then stop letting the cold in on them. Those baby kittens need their momma’s warmth. The momma cat is too weak to generate her own warmth so we have to do it for her by keeping her warm in that box near the stove. Every time you disturb her and mess with that box you are upsetting her and letting in cold air. Her health can’t take it. Now you touch that box one more time and I am going to take this wooden spoon and pop your hand. Is that what it is going to take for you to think of someone else besides yourself?”
Jude walked in and asked, “What’s all the ruckus? I can hear you clear on the other side of the house.”
I told him, “There’s no ruckus … yet. But there is going to be one if Mimi does not stop being so selfish that she is going to kill those cats. She’s over there every minute lifting the lid when she was just told to leave it and them alone. I cannot cook, do the ironing, and keep her out of trouble all at the same time. I guess we just don’t eat and everyone can run around nekked since Mimi needs me to put her on a leash to make her mind. But I don’t want to hear it from anyone. You’ve got complaints about the way things are going to have to be then you can take it to the source. Maybe if she hears it from somebody besides me she will finally listen.”
My angry words had drawn the other kids and when they heard that there’d be no noonday meal or clean clothes and that it was because I couldn’t get my work done due to Mimi’s normal hardheadedness they turned on her en mass. Little Miss Trouble finally started to get the picture that the world did not revolve around her and that her actions affected other people and that sometimes those other people did not particularly appreciate the affect.
When the point had been made clear and all of the kids had vacated and returned to finishing their morning chores in hopes of the snow letting up enough that they could go out in the afternoon to sled I put the finishing touches on Jude’s lunch bag – I found a couple of heavy duty thermoses for his food in hopes he wouldn’t be eating popsicles at noonday. While I spooned in a hearty helping of bean soup Jude asked, “Dovie, I’m not trying to tell you your business …”
“But,” he added hesitantly. “Weren’t you a little hard on Mimi? Kittens are pretty hard for little girls to resist. I seem to recall you getting in trouble for going into a particular hay loft looking for the barn cat’s newest litter and you were older than she is.”
I sighed. “Jude, I get it. And if it was just about looking at the cats I wouldn’t have incited a near riot to get some help sorting her out. But I’ve worked with enough kids of all ages to know that there is a difference between kids wanting to do something and doing it once despite being told not to and having to tell the kid over and over and over not to do something and they just keep doing it anyway and then looking at you like you are the one that is stupid. On top of that I told her why she needed to leave the cats alone and she went ahead and disobeyed me several times after that as well. Mom always said if you can’t guide and direct a kid when they are little there ain’t no way you are going to be able to do it when they really need as they get older.”
“Still nothing. What if she starts taking it into her head that she can get into the supplies down in the basement just ‘cause she wants something? What if she starts wandering away from the house just ‘cause she feels like it? What if she starts telling our business to people that don’t need to hear it ‘cause she doesn’t think before words fall out of her mouth? This isn’t just about little girls and kittens Jude. I mean it is but not completely.”
He looked thoughtful. “OK. I can see where you are going with this; but, what do you plan on doing if she continues being a hard head?”
My shoulders fell. “I don’t wanna have to spank her but I guess if it comes down to it I will.”
“What did you do when you ran into a kid that was like that when you were babysitting?”
“Tell the parents. Let them deal with it if nothing else I tried worked. Some spanked and some didn’t. Usually they gave time outs or the kid lost a privilege or something which always came back on me because the kid would see it as my fault. If the kid got too much for me to handle for whatever reason I could walk away. But I’m the parent now … well, not the parent exactly but the closest thing to one they’ve got … and there is no walking away here. I’ll try letting the punishment fit the crime first but as a last resort if I have to spank her I will.”
“You could always take her down to Dad.”
I snorted. “Yeah, right. From what I remember Uncle Roe used to make a lot of noise but when it came right down to it he only spanked you guys maybe once that I can remember and then he made out like it was killing him.”
Jude continued to look thoughtful as he put on his winter coveralls and then his jacket and hat over that. “Dad’s disappointment killed me worse than a spanking ever did. I hated to see that look in his eyes. I stopped looking after a while it hurt so bad. Stopped listening to him when he would try and tell me I was on the wrong path. I used it as an excuse to just drink more instead of doing something about what was making him disappointed.”
“Uncle Roe has high standards that’s for sure.”
“I don’t blame him for that as it ain’t necessarily a bad thing. I made a lot of excuses when I was a kid. My head was screwed up but it was more screwed up from drinking and the people I hung out with than by the other stuff going on. Mimi has had it rough but for a little kids she ain’t too bad. She’s like five.”
“Almost six. And that’s old enough to know the difference between right and wrong. It is crazy how different she is from Tiffany but it has been like that from day one. Did you know they have or had a brother older than I am?”
He stopped checking his pockets and just looked at me. “No. You never said a thing about it. Do you know if he made it?”
“He was away at college at … get this … at MIT.”
“MI … wait, that college for geniuses?”
I grinned. “You don’t have to be a genius to go there but it isn’t what I would call a school for dummies either. They used to have all these free classes online and I knew some homeschoolers that would use them. I liked the ones for history and they had one called Kitchen Chemistry that was pretty cool.”
I stopped grinning when he gave me a concerned look. “You should be planning for college and stuff like that instead of planning what we are going to have for supper.”
“Well that ain’t … isn’t … happening so don’t get in a mood about it. It was never a sure thing that I would be able to go anyway. Money doesn’t grow on trees … then or now. And I didn’t want to go ROTC like my brothers did. I would have probably just kept doing what I was doing, helping to support the family, and then maybe get some kind of accreditation or something. I didn’t really have time to think about it although Dad used to push me to land on something. I just never seemed to be able to focus on anything.”
He looked outside at the sound of a shout then turned back to me. “They’re here with the wagon. Gotta go.”
“Don’t forget your food.”
“Thanks,” he said taking it from my hand. “We’ll talk about this some more.”
“Talk about what?”
“You, school, that stuff.”
I snorted. “Waste of time. And you better go, they don’t look like they’re too happy to have the horses standing.”
“Not a waste of time but you’re right, gotta go. You … you wearing your ring?”
“Of course,” I told him putting my hand over my chest where the chained held the circlet snug and warm.
He nodded then made like he was going to say something but stopped and shook his head. And with that he carefully made his way off the porch and out into the yard.
I closed the door and tried to shut as much of the cold out as I could. I heard the kittens mewing pitifully. I hated to lift the lid but if they were pestering the momma cat I’d need to do something about it. Sure enough they were stepping all over her. I don’t know if she was just easygoing or weak or both but she just gave me a long suffering look when she saw it was me. “Easy there momma kitty. Let me see if you will eat more of this stinky food you seemed to like so well last time.”
Sure enough she started purring as soon as I put a small lid with some food in it where she could reach it without moving around. For such a tiny thing she sure could purr loud when she wanted to. She watched cautiously while I upended the kittens and bathed them for her, especially their bottoms. Neither had their mother’s coloring but they did look like they were going to have long hair. One was a mess of black and chocolate brown … I dubbed her Night. The other was a sort of a fuzzy orange tabby color … I dubbed her Day. At least I am pretty sure they are both girls … kinda small and obscenely fuzzy so I might be mistaken.
The cats taken care of I took care of the kids. Mimi wasn’t the least bit subdued but she made a big deal out of ignoring the box with the cats in it and then the little dickens tried to lecture Corey because he got too close to the box. It was very hard not to laugh but I managed it. The last bite of food had been forked into everyone’s mouth when the kids from the main house showed up sounding like a bunch of noisy geese. It was time to sled.
Faith and Wendalene were right behind the kids and volunteered to watch them all. “Even Corey and Mimi?” I asked.
Faith said, “You’re not the only one that knows how to look after kids Dovie. How much trouble can those two get into anyway? They’re so small.”
Startled I glanced at Wendalene but she just rolled her eyes. She looked at me and said, “Dovie, we got ‘em. Mom plans on meeting us over on Watch Out Hill.”
I looked over at Mimi whose eyes had become cautious. She’d run afoul of Aunt Frankie once. Once was all it took. I watched them go off and then almost didn’t know what to do with myself then decided that now was as good a time as any to see how much further back into the attic I could go.
What a couple of hours that turned out to be. The deeper into the pile, the older the flotsam obviously became. Some of it had notes from my mother taped to boxes, or inside chests, or stuck inside drawers. I found another treadle sewing machine and using a furniture dolly pulled it to the side to be moved down stairs. I knew Aunt Frankie was using Granny Cherry’s old treadle machine so she didn’t need one. Seemed senseless to have two but then again I thought of perhaps saving one to teach Tiff how to sew – and eventually Mimi if she didn’t drive me crazy before then.
There were boxes and tubs full of threads, yarn, embroidery floss, notions, material, and I don’t know what all as I haven’t had the courage to get much beyond the top layer of each container. Once I got beyond the stuff that must have been Aunt Meg’s I ran into rotten rugs that needed to be pulled out and used for compost; a lot of old furniture some of which I was going to tell Clewis to take for his and Crystal’s cabin; a trunk of old children’s toys; old sports equipment including a couple of sleds and snow saucers; a lot of old clothes some of which might actually be salvageable; some metal grills that I have no idea what on earth they were originally part of; several trunks of old books; and, what I suspect was most of an old still.
What tickled me most of all though was that I had managed to find the door to the older part of the attic. What was a little intimidating was that I only knew there was a door there because the old newspaper used to paper the wall was peeling off and I saw the corner where someone had nailed the door shut. Made me wonder what, if anything, was shut away on the other side.
I came down just in time to hear the kids trudging in. I thanked Wendalene and a rather traumatized Faith for looking after them so that they could go sledding. Wendalene laughed. “Thank Mom. I think she had as much fun as the kids did.”
Trying to envision Aunt Frankie going down Watch Out Hill on a snow saucer was beyond my ability so I asked, “How did Reynolds do with all the noise?”
“Are you kidding? He was making most of it he was having so much fun. I never seen him have a better day. He’s so tired from all the running around I bet he falls asleep face first in his supper dish.” She snickered and added, “I doubt Faith here wonders ever again how much trouble watching kids is.”
I looked at Faith and said, “Uh oh.”
Doing a fair imitation of an outraged broody hen she said, “They all ganged up on me. I was just telling them the best order they should go on and giving them some pointers … and they turned me into a snowball target. It was … was …”
I bit my lips but had to say, “They just wanted to play with you Faith.”
“Play?! It was like being blitzkrieged. Although I suppose you don’t know what I mean by that.”
Forestalling her I said, “I get it Faith. They pelted you good. Thanks for hanging in there. The kids will respect you more for it next.”
Her face went blank and she said, “Next time?”
Wendalene laughed again and herded the main house kids and Faith down the road so they could start their afternoon chores before it got dark.
Walking into the kitchen I found Tiff pouring warm cider from the pot I had kept on the back of the stove. I shook my head and said, “You guys …”
Paulie snickered and even Tiff hid her face so no one could see her giggle. Bobby said, “She wouldn’t stop talking so we helped her. That was totally fun. Can we do it again?”
“Sled? Yes. Give poor Faith palpitations … uh … no … at least not until she has recovered from this time. Now finish your cider and get going on what you need to do. Water barrel needs filling. Wood boxes need filling … and bring in a little extra small wood and set it near the stove so I don’t have to dig any out in the morning. I want the snow off the porch all the way around.”
Paulie groused, “It’s just gonna blow up there again.”
“Maybe so but leaving snow up on the wood doesn’t do it any good and makes for dangerous walking. I’ve ended up on my backside one too many times to want to do it again. That porch doesn’t have much give to it when you hit.”
That had the kids snickering but it also reminded them of their own slipping and sliding around so they knew what I meant. After they had put their mugs in the sink and trooped outside to do as I had asked I started heating the soup we would have for supper and checked to make sure the pan of cornbread I had made earlier in the day wasn’t drying out too much around the edges. I fed the cat again and she ate like she was starving but she actually seemed more interested in the water I had put in there. She also swatted weakly at my hand when I picked up Night to see if she needed cleaning. “Ok, ok … just trying to help out. It’s not like I actually enjoy wiping their butts you know. I’m sure your dignity is offended when I have to clean you up too but Miss Kitty you are officially in cat hospital and can’t get out and about so go easy if my bedside manner isn’t to your liking.”
She was fine with my hands in the box. She was fine with me patting and paying attention to her. But she was becoming protective of the kittens which meant one of two things … her strength was coming back or something was disturbing her or both. I decided to move the whole box to my room where it was quieter. It would mean keeping another fireplace going but maybe being out of all of the foot traffic would be better for them anyway.
Supper was long over. Dishes were done and put away. I looked out the window. It was cold and dark and there was not a star in the sky. The wind blew forlornly and I heard a few of the limbs on the maple creaking. I tied the curtains back and set a lamp in the window of the front room.
“Whatcha doin’ that for?” Lonnie wanted to know.
“It’s so dark outside I don’t want Jude to miss the house.”
Paulie looked at me in concern and asked, “Should we go look in the gully?”
Cringing mentally at the idea I shook my head. “No. Jude is too careful; he won’t fall in. He’s just running later than he expected.” At least that’s what I told them. My worry bone had started thumping as soon as the sun had set and Jude hadn’t come home. And with the snow beginning to fall harder I was really wanting to know where he was.