February 12th – It’s been a week since I’ve been able to put pen to paper. A long, hard week. I’m plenty worried. I guess, let’s see … yeah, I haven’t even written about Missy. The reason we didn’t hear last Monday is because it was Tuesday before the baby was born. Missy and the baby are just now finally out of the woods.
Apparently what happened is William Jr. … they’ll call him Billy until he is older … turned out to a big baby, a really big baby. Ken had warned both Bill and Missy about the possibility due to her size but they had kept it to themselves. She was in labor over twenty-four hours. If they’d been able they would have done a caesarean before the labor had gotten that far. Both Missy and the baby were in a lot of distress and Ken had to actually use forceps to get the baby the rest of the way out. He was blue and floppy when he finally made it but they got him breathing. I’ve been over and he sure doesn’t have any problem breathing now, I don’t think he stops crying except when he is latched onto Missy.
Missy is just off her rocker. She is very independent and suddenly to never be able to get away from the little person she had inside her is a huge learning curve for her. Sometimes all she needs to do is be able to walk away for a few minutes but Jr. starts crying to be fed. Missy is still in bed for the most part because of some sewing up Ken had to do (and no, I don’t want to even think about that part of it) and because she is just so tired from the baby wanting to nurse all the time. He’s a big boy.
Stress and being really sore is making it hard for Missy to … I don’t know, it has to do with making enough milk to keep the baby satisfied and some other stuff I heard Julia and the other women talking about in whispers. I suppose I should be listening but I don’t have time to get freaked out about that right now. I’ll get freaked when it is my turn and that will be soon enough.
We were both up early Tuesday morning, I hurriedly cut some mustard greens and pulled some radishes, and as soon Rand finished morning chores he rode Hatchet over to his uncle’s to find out about Missy. He got there and saw Uncle George crying on the porch and he thought the worst. It was actually just relief, Missy had just finished giving birth about thirty minutes earlier and the baby had finally started crying and was taking its first feeding.
Mrs. Withrow and a couple other ladies were over there cleaning things up and were happy to see the greens; Missy needed the iron. Everyone there was exhausted so Rand helped with their outdoor chores and helped a terrified Brendon to settle down. It’s hitting him that this baby stuff is for real. He could lose Alicia though of the three of them she seems to have had the least amount or problems pregnancy wise.
When I asked about how Jonathon was taking it Rand said that he thinks Laurabeth can do anything better than Missy and having a baby shouldn’t be any exception. Well, I figure whatever it takes to get you through the day. If that is what he needs to believe so be it, though I hope for his sake he keeps it to himself. Missy may be tired right now but one of these days she’s going to get up and then all heck could break loose.
While Rand was gone most of that day I had Austin help me start placing the seedling trees we had potted back in October in the places that I wanted to plant them. I had to do something to keep from chewing my nails off in worry. I guess I can understand why Bill didn’t put the info about Missy out over the radio, you never know who might be listening and looking for a weak spot to take advantage of, but it just underlines the problems with communication that we continue to have.
Most of the cedars I was able to save went into a line around the home site. I’m trying to add more of a privacy screen to what we already have. There are plenty of places around here that have cedars on the road side of their fence lines as a sound and privacy barrier so when these grow up they shouldn’t look too unusual.
We are taking over the remainder of the 80 acre section next door. We are already using a chunk of it for the cows and to take over the year round pond … which is about twice the size it normally is right now from all the rain we’ve been having. According to Rand we got nearly ten inches in January and we’ve already gotten six in February which is two inches more than we should have gotten the whole month. The garden is in a good high and dry area thank goodness or we would have lost some of it. We already lost a small section of the rye in the utility easement from too much standing water but the sink hole is keeping the worst of it drained off.
I had Austin help me to put the agave and then Spanish bayonet around the edge of the pasture since that isn’t something that the cows will eat. Rand had already laid out a grid where we could plant more fruit trees in the new area and I got the pots arranged and Rand and Austin have been planting them as time allows. All but a few are now in the ground.
Austin and I were both happy to see Rand come home and to hear that Missy and the baby were doing as well as could be expected. What we didn’t know was that two days later Alicia would go into labor early. They had a little boy.
Alicia is very sick. She developed some kind of fever. It was gone in forty-eight hours but the house was upside down. The little boy is … well he is very small and they aren’t sure what is going to happen. One day he will seem like he is strong and the next day he seems to be failing, almost gasping for air. They’ve named him George Randall Crenshaw and we pray every day that he survives.
The never ending rain isn’t helping things. Lots of colds and sniffles going around. I ought to know, I’ve seen it while working in the Shack. That’s one of the reasons that I’m so tired.
See with both Bill and Missy out of commission and Alicia and Brendon as well … the guys try but they are so distracted and constantly running to check on their ladies and babies … that has created a real problem. Uncle George and Jonathon and Mick and Tommy are doing what they can but they all seem distracted too. But that still left the Shack unattended and the community needs the Shack.
So Rand and I talked it over with Bill and this is what we have come up with. We get up early, get our animals taken care of and I put food on for Rand and Austin through the day. Pastor Ken comes by and picks me up on his way to check on Missy and Alicia … he’s looking rough around the edges again, he needs a helper of his own, this house call stuff isn’t what I would call easy. I ride with him, work in the Shack with one of the local men standing guard on the porch and Bill running in and out throughout the day. Rand and Austin show up about mid afternoon, help do a few chores for Uncle George and then I ride home with them where I try and get my own house chores completed.
I don’t know how much longer Rand and I can keep this up. We are both exhausted. I don’t even know what you want to call what Austin is. Rand just let him sleep this morning, the poor kid just can’t keep up with this though he is finally started to put a little more meat on his bones; but none of it is fat.
February 15th – Missy and Alicia have been given a clean bill of health though neither one of them is what I would call frisky or one hundred percent back to where they need to be. Billy has gotten better as well and Missy’s milk finally came in all the way and he is a much more contented baby now that Missy has gotten the feeding him thing more under control. Georgie … that’s what they are call Alicia and Brendon’s son … is still frail but with the cool weather mostly gone, and plenty of helping hands to keep an eye on him, Ken expects him to do better as the weeks go by. He was technically a preemie but nothing too radical – somewhere between three and four weeks. His lungs were fully developed, he is just really weenie in size. All of the baby clothes Alicia and Brendon had for him swallowed him up so mostly they just keep him swaddled and I sewed him some fleece booties and caps during lulls at the Shack.
I don’t have to work at the Shack anymore and the reason why is pretty fantastic. I mean that in more than one way. It is hard to believe but it is kind of cool at the same time. On Tuesday who should show up on our doorstep but Ram. It wasn’t just Ram though; it was Concha, her little boy, and her mother and her new husband and her new husband’s seventeen year old son. I had already left for the Shack so poor Rand was stuck filing Ram in on what had happened and getting Ram’s story in return.
Things aren’t going so good for the federal government. They really can’t afford to keep a huge standing army housed and supplied with all of their needs much less pay them. What they’ve done is allowed a large number of troops to revert to reserve status; they can be called up at any time but aren’t full time solders any longer. Fewer troops took this option than was expected, a lot of them simply have no home to go home to these days, or none that they want to go home to. Some are also counted on their military benefits to feed their immediate, and sometimes extended, family. Ram had been building his options up just in case something like this occurred and he was ready. The only thing he hadn’t been able to do yet was create a good home location to work out of.
While south Florida had its appeal it was seeing constant fighting between different ethnic gangs and incursions by foreigners. The military was a big presence down there but in a sense that was dampening his ability to set up his supply pipelines. The interior of central Florida had its own set of problems including transportation of goods and services. He had a lot of contacts around Steinhatchee but that wasn’t an area where he wanted to raise a family and have his main holdings. He’d been talking to Mr. Henderson about settling in this area and negotiations were under way but circumstances had speeded up faster than either man had expected.
Word had been relayed to Mr. Henderson through one of his patrols and he and Mitch had come to check out who the migrating family was. Round and around things went and when a potential solution was worked out Mitch rode over to talk to Bill about it. There was a square eighty on the other side of Bill and Missy’s place … Bill is no farmer and never will be but uses the acreage he and Missy are on as forage for Uncle George’s animals … that has been abandoned for months. The plan is to have Ram and his newly enlarged family move onto that land. There is no house on the land but from what I understand Ram had planned in advance that he might need to build a house on whatever land he finally settled on. Right now they are camping out in very rainy weather but from what I understand everyone is so happy to be out of all the fighting down in Miami that they hardly notice the damp.
While all of this was going on I was working in the Shack without a clue. When Rand came to pick me up – I had been wondering where Bill was and whether I should just lock up early because of the rain that had set in and run all the customers off – he and someone else were backing into the Shack carrying a big crate between them.
“Hey Babe, look who the cat drug in.”
“Ram!” I was so surprised. But not near as surprised as Ram was. I thought he was going to choke on his one teeth for a second.
“Hermanita! How are you … what?! When did this happen?!!!” and that was followed by a lot of fast and hot Spanish that I’m not even going to bother writing it down. When he found out how far along I was he got hot all over again. As soon as he calmed down enough for me to get a word in edgewise I told him to get over it since Rand and I had already had enough fits over things for all of us combined and it was time just to go forward.
“Are you sure you are alright little sister? I mean, you are so small and … and … there are no … no … doctors … and …”
“Ram, I’m warning you, my nerves aren’t going to put up with any more smothering than I’m already getting.”
“Already getting? Ah, so Rand has things well in hand hmm?”
What a chauvinist pig. But somehow he’d grown into even more of a big brother even with him not being around. That’s when it was my turn to be surprised as I had all the details filled in. Ram had brought the whole family with him and I was reintroduced to Concha who introduced me to her little boy who was asleep, to her mother who’s name was Marta. Marta was a handsome woman in her late forties and she introduced me to her new husband Rubio (also named Diaz but no relation to Ram) and his teenage son Anthony. Uncle George, Bill, Brendon, Clyde, Jonathon and several of the other neighborhood men showed up right after that and we got the Shack closed down for the night and got Diaz families set up in tents and tarps on a piece of clear land between the Shack and Uncle George’s place.
I couldn’t stay any longer, Rand needed to get home and he said so did I. I thought he was picking up Ram’s bad habits until we actually did get home and I saw what Ram had brought us.
Rand pulled back a tarp from off of some cardboard cases and mesh bags he had locked up in the barn and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, limes, loquats, and even some lemons … I was in citrus overload. I realized real quick it was going to be more than we could eat fresh.
“Babe, whatever you can do to preserve this you better try and make it last. Ram said this may very well be the end of these types of gifts for a while, especially the citrus. The feds have taken over most of the remaining citrus groves to try and prevent scurvy in the troops and for special WIC programs around the country.
“Scurvy? Isn’t that something pirates get?”
When Rand was finished laughing at me – and I guess it was kind of stupid, I wasn’t really thinking when I asked the question because I was busy counting the crates and bags and imagining what I could do with their contents – he told me that scurvy was something sailors used to get yes but it was also a bad problem for everyone that didn’t get enough Vitamin C in their diet. It’s just that all I could think of when he said scurvy was a pirate waving his cutlass around shouting, “Avast ye scurvy dogs!” Oh well, maybe my brains are leaking out of my ears. I accidentally put salt in the tea yesterday too. Luckily it was my own small pot of mint tea and I don’t intend on telling anyone else about it.
I was so tired that night that I went to sleep before Rand did which was a rarity. He said he was in the middle of telling me some of the stuff that Ram had been sharing and he looked over and I was curled up on the end of the sofa with my head tucked into the crook of my arm. I don’t even remember going to bed.
Yesterday I went back to the Shack only to find out that Bill, Ram, and Rubio had been making arrangements. Bill and Ram had been planning to go into business together in some form or another all along. They’d been conducting some salvaging operations and using Mr. Henderson’s connections to get things back and forth … for a cut of the profit of course. Ram hadn’t been able to do much up to this point because he had to be careful in his position on the Colonel’s staff but now that he was out he intended on really going to town.
How they are going to arrange things is that Missy and Concha would help Bill with the storefront. Marta and Rubio – both of whom grew up on small working farms in rural south Florida – would manage the eighty acres, growing food for the family as well as for trading at the swap meets and at the Shack. Ram is going to be the traveler. He’ll hunt up salvage himself or hook up with people to make trades with. Anthony will ride with him – which I think is going to be a relief to Uncle George because Charlene took one look at Anthony and developed an instantaneous crush on him according to Rand.
I have to admit I was feeling a little left out of all their plans until Rand acted like he was relieved no one expected us to be heavyweight enough to play in their game. They didn’t think less of us but Rand said it was nice to know that we still had a few secrets. After I took the time to think it through I suppose he is right. And besides, I like our privacy and like that we can call our time our own for the most part. I was going a little bonkers having to be nice to all those people that came and went at the Shack on those days I was there. Having to make conversation with all the family also made me itch. I like them, but at arms length most of the time. I like it best when it is just Rand and I … and Austin.
Austin seems content for it to be just us as well as long as he can see either Rand or I (and Woofer naturally). He enjoys being with Mick and Tommy but he doesn’t get lonesome when they aren’t around either. I think the way he was forced to grow up made him a loner; not as bad as me but he learned to be content with whatever he had at any given moment and isn’t upset too much if it isn’t there the next.
Today I’ve been canning citrus. Or actually what I’ve been doing is going through all of our food storage and what a job that has been. First I found a bunch of dried apricots that I had to do something with so I decided to try and experiment and it really paid off.
I rehydrated enough of the dried apricots so that I wound up with four cups once I chopped them up. Then I grated the rind off of an orange and then seeded the orange and chopped the pulp up. I put the apricots and orange through a food mill together then added two tablespoons of lemon juice to the resulting mess and then three and a half cups of sugar to that. I mixed it well and then put it in a pot and cooked it until the pulp was thick as apple butter. I ladled it into prepared jars and got about three half-pints to process. I had maybe half a ladle that wouldn’t fit in the jars which I gave to Rand and Austin to put on their biscuits at lunch.
I also made some lemon marmalade, lime marmalade, orange marmalade, tangerine butter, orange sections, grapefruit sections, tangerine sections, and loquat preserves. I juiced and canned all the juice I could, especially the lemon juice. I also preserved some lemons and limes using a recipe I found in Momma’s files.
You take as many lemons or limes as you wish to preserve and stud each with 6 cloves. Pierce the skins with a skewer to save your thumbs because I can guarantee you that poking those little cloves in my hand hurts. Place the clove-studded fruit in a glass jar and cover completely with oil or white vinegar. You have to put this someplace where it will stay cool so I stuck it in the cabinet where the hand pump is. They are supposed to be ready in 3 to 4 weeks; I didn’t do many just in case it was a flop.
I didn’t let anything go to waste, or not much anyway. I’ve got all the citrus seeds that didn’t get cut saved and even though Rand thinks it is a waste of time I’m going to try and sprout my own citrus fruit. If they do sprout – and even I admit that is a big if – I’ll need to grow them in pots and then build a large greenhouse to keep them in during the coldest months. Wouldn’t it be something though if in a few years we had a tropical garden conservatory or something like that.
Some of the peel I grated and dried to refill my spice bottles that I empty faster than I can find a substitute for. I can make my own lemon pepper seasoning or orange tea.
And the peel I didn’t grate I candied. You take the peel off of any kind of citrus you have, just make sure you cut away any of the white pith. Make sure it is washed also; no one wants to eat sand or dirt in their candy. The best sections are a quarter inch wide, almost like a string of peel. Put all of your peel in a pot and cover with water, cover it, and bring to a boil for thirty minutes. Drain this water (I used it to make my tea with) and then to the peel left in the pan add one box of fruit flavored gelatin (six ounce size), two cups of water, one cinnamon stick, and ten whole cloves. You are going to bring all of that to a boil, put a lid on it, and then simmer it for fifty minutes or until most of the syrup has been absorbed by the peel. You have to stir this a lot, especially towards the end, to keep it from sticking.
Then you take the peel out of the pan with tongs and roll it all in about two cups of sugar. You want each strip to be heavily coated with sugar. Cool the strips on and then store in an air tight container. I did three batches of this; the first with orange jello, the next with lemon jello, and the last with lime jello. I suppose I could have done something different like a strawberry or grape jello but I decided to go the traditional route.
Since Rand had to go back over to help Uncle George again I asked him to ask Ram if I could have any of the peel and seeds he didn’t want. Marta and Concha sent me a bunch and I’m sitting here waiting for the last batch to dry so that I can put it away and go to bed.
I found weevils in one tin of pasta shells but I was lucky that was all. By the end of March I think we’ll have used up all of the commercially packaged foods that we got from salvaging except for stuff like boxes of Jell-O, pudding mixes, and odds and ends like that. I think I’ve pieced things out just about as far as I can. Of course I still have stuff from Momma and Daddy’s stuff and the stuff that Aunt Wilma had stashed in the box springs but even that is getting used up. I really need to increase the chicken flock this year if I can. I’d like to be able to have a chicken dinner every so many Sundays and we definitely need to have more eggs. Warmer and more regular milkings has brought the milk production back up but Austin drinks a lot of it and for that matter so do I. It also is getting used up making butter and cheese.
Looks like I don’t have time for another cup of tea after all. The candied citrus peel is dry and as soon as I put it up I’m going to bed. Even with my slippers on my feet are cold.
February 16th – Couldn’t be helped, I had to harvest the spinach, turnips and the first of the lettuce in the rain today.
Rand is really upset. It looks like we may have lost a quarter of the rye harvest to this rain. The field where it was planted is flooding on one corner. He’s dug a trench to try and get the water to drain into the sink hole faster but the sink hole itself is nearly full.
The pond where the cows graze spread even more during the night. Rand had to clean the cows off when he brought them in. Taz and company enjoyed some buckets of water being poured on them and a good rub down as well. Rand wound up putting a ring through Taz’s snout and puts a leading string on him when he gets testy. Won’t have to move them too much longer; Rand almost has their own little barn all finished. Next he needs to make one for the goats, especially now that the nannies have their babies. We now have Ol’ Billy, the two nannies, and three kids. The kids are nearly as feisty as Ol’ Billy and worse than Fraidy as far about getting tangled up in my feet. I think they like me because they know when I bring stuff out to their mommas that they’ll stand still long enough for them to suckle until they are satisfied, usually the nannies make the kids run after what they want.
The garden is looking good despite all the rain. We do need a little sun but so far so good. I’m just tired of wet feet so I imagine some of the plants are too. Even though it isn’t too cold outside anymore we have to keep a fire going someplace in the house to drive off the damp.
February 17th – Doggone this rain. No swap meet today because of it. I can’t remember the last time I saw the sun for more than just a few minutes.
February 18th – We’ve had to start moving wood into the barn and onto the porch so we have some dry to burn. No church today but we still heard the news. Ram came over and wanted to know if he could borrow the donkeys that he’d left here last time. They have started clearing the land for the house but it is mostly just scrub in there and they just want to load it on the donkeys and take it out to the burn pile they’ve started.
Rand and I couldn’t see why not and it meant that we wouldn’t have to feed them for a couple of weeks while Ram had them.
“I like what you’ve done to the place. One of these days we’ll have one too. Maybe not a brick house but something nice that will fit the family.”
“Is it OK? I mean living with Concha’s mother and her husband?”
“Oh sure. When I wasn’t in foster care I lived with my abuela and it was her and three of my uncles and their families. All under one roof. There were two bedrooms for all of us kids to split; one for the girls and one for the boys. My two married uncles had their own bedrooms and the babies slept with the parents and my unmarried uncle slept on the lanai unless it rained or was too hot or cold and then help slept on the sofa. Abuela had the small bedroom all to herself. It wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad either. Concha didn’t have it quite so tough growing up but Marta is a good woman and I like Rubio. He’s even tempered, we get along. Anthony is a good kid, a little too serious, but his life hasn’t been easy. He’s actually Rubio’s grandson but it’s not really talked about if you get my meaning. His momma was a wild one and then ran off. The state wasn’t helping so Rubio and his first wife just adopted him to keep him from going to the biological father’s family.”
“Ram I didn’t mean to get into your business.”
“Hey, no problem chica. It was just easier to tell it all up front than playing the twenty questions you hate so much. So, when is this baby supposed to get here. I hear from Rand’s family it was a big surprise.”
“They tell me the middle of July but who knows. And yeah, big surprise.”
“And the boy? The one out helping Rand in the barn?”
“That’s Austin. I was … I had a …”
“Yeah, the blood pressure thing. George said it was bad.”
“Bad enough but no problems since and I wish people would stop spreading my business all over the place.”
Ram laughed, “Chica that’s never going to stop happening. You are too interesting. But really … no more problems?”
“Really. No more problems.”
“And you two have everything you need?”
“Ram we’re fine.”
“Yeah, yeah. I know you have … look, I didn’t even think … Rand is not angry that we did not include him in the … “
Rand came in and said, “Don’t sweat it Ram. I’m no shop keeper. I wouldn’t mind being let in on some deals but … “
“That’s a sure thing. Dios mio, it wasn’t until I heard how your family talked – like you were just sitting out here in the woods with nothing – that I thought that maybe I was wrong. Don’t they know how much you have and how far you’ve come?”
I said kind of sarcastically, “Family can be blind like that.”
“Hmmm. Maybe. Or maybe they are … never mind. It’s none of my business and from the look on your face Rand the less said about it the better. I wouldn’t have made it as long as I did in the position I was in if I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. But they won’t be blind for long my friend. Once the weather lets up people will be begging you to come help them put in their gardens … I know Rubio wants to talk to you himself.”
It wasn’t long after that Ram left with the donkey’s on leading strings behind him … and a big gun across his saddle. I asked Rand, “Should he be out by himself? When I was at the Shack I heard all kinds of stories.”
“He’ll be fine Babe. Hoss is going to meet him up at the county road and ride with him. It’s his day to go visit his family over there. And speaking of news, we may have to go without the radio tonight. I don’t think we’ve had enough sun to replenish the batteries. Bill is looking for a couple more so we can have a larger bank of them but those deep cell batteries are getting hard to come by. I hope none of the ones we have go bad.”
“Don’t even think it. The only thing worse than hearing some of the stuff we’ve heard would be to be left wondering what is going on.”
Rand grunted in agreement and kept fiddling with the radio, trying to see if there was anything to pick up. Mostly all we heard about is the flooding of the rivers. The river has spread out and boats are getting caught on hidden snags that used to be part of the river banks. With the river spreading the current has slowed down so even those willing to be on the river in this area are having a hard time.
Heard a woman in north Georgia claim to have seen several caravans of people heading south. Most of them look pretty pathetic but she guessed that it wouldn’t take much to rile them up if there was something they were looking for.
The Caribbean is boiling over again as many of those island nations don’t have the natural resources to support even their shrunken populations. South Florida is definitely having problems but the military has reverted to zero tolerance down there and rumors on the airwaves say that every night sounds like a battle. You’d think eventually they’d run out of bullets but that seems to be the only thing they can find in sufficient amounts. They say the battles are over resources like food, fuel, and medicine but it seems to me that if they put as much energy into creating things as they did into destroying them there wouldn’t be the shortage that they have right now.
February 19th – It’s official, I am half way through this whole having a baby thing. Austin went to bed early tonight; he’s got a cold or the beginnings of one. If it gets any worse I’ll dose him with something, depends on where the cold tries to settle … his head, his throat, or his chest. After Austin fell asleep Rand and I got to talking and he pulled out the booklet. Or maybe I should call it The Booklet the way he treats that thing. The pages are dog eared even.
Last night as we lay in bed I could say for absolutely sure that I felt the baby moving. It was just so weird. I’m not even sure I could explain how it felt. Rand wants to feel the baby move so bad. I think it will be a little while yet before he can but he has made me promise to tell him every time I feel the baby move. It tickled me because he was so serious. It’s a little bizarre because sometimes he makes me feel like a science experiment and other times he makes me feel like I’m some treasure he is responsible for. The booklet says the baby is now about ten inches long and weighs about the same in ounces. I guess … I guess … well suddenly the baby is a lot more real than it was before.
February 22nd – Just when I start to think of my baby as a real live person something … we’ve lost so much. Why do some people think that life is so cheap?
Tuesday was a beautiful spring day. The rain had finally let up but there was still a lot of flooding all over the place; the rivers were high, the ponds flooded, the ditches full, the potholes still muddy.
I suppose we should have realized that all the flooding would push them out of their normal routes, make them desperate … or bold, depending on how you looked at it.
I thought I was ready to deal with this. I just can’t.