Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter 15

May 7th – Today is Sunday but I didn’t realize it until a couple of hours ago; I had other things on my mind besides wondering what day of the week it was. After some pretty weird dreams I woke up thinking about how I was going to save matches. I have maybe two dozen left out of the box if every one of them fire up. I decided one way was to use one fire to make as many meals as possible. I experimented and I like the results so well I’m going to do one experiment a day.

This morning my experiment started by digging a hole in the ground away from as many tree roots as I could. The hole wasn’t big, basically about 24” wide and 24” deep which was easy in the sand around the house. Grass doesn’t grow between the back of the house and the tree line that starts about fifteen feet out so all I had to do was rake the oak leaves back before digging the hole. I laid a good fire in the hole and started it with the help of some dry Spanish moss. Speaking of Spanish moss, I don’t plan on ever forgetting again that that stuff can have chiggers in it. Argh! For a while there I was going crazy with the itches.

Anyway while the fire was burning down I put the grate from the grill over the hole and then put two speckleware coffee pots full of water on it to boil water. When the water boiled I poured enough in my bowl to make instant oatmeal, a mug full for tea, and the rest went into a couple of thermos carafes for later. While the water had been boiling I put some dried pink beans into a Dutch oven and then poured a lot more water over them than they would need to plump up and cook in. I also added some dried chopped onion and a little salt and pepper. Last I put just a little sausage flavored TVP in there. TVP is OK but I wouldn’t want a steady diet of it; but when you don’t have fresh meat it isn’t anything to turn your nose up at. We used it at Good Eats to stretch the meatloaf sometimes or added it to the spaghetti sauce; no one noticed.

When the fire had burned down to coals I took the coffee pots off the fire, moved the grate, and put in the Dutch oven with the beans and stuff in the hole. The lid was down on the Dutchie plus I added a “hat” of aluminum foil for a bit of extra protection. I knocked some of the coals onto the aluminum foil and then filled the hole back in with sand. I stuck a stick where the pot was buried so I could find it again without too much trouble.

Right after breakfast I started gathering more wood. I brought in seven wheelbarrow loads to try and get ahead and stacked the wood neatly in the barn so it would be out of the weather and away from prying eyes. Hopefully that’ll keep the snakes out of the wood too. I saw a snake crawling over the old wood pile and I’m not sure what kind it was. I don’t think walking up and asking it would do much good either. Avoidance is the better part of valor in my mind these days when it comes to snakes.

With the wood I even brought in a load of branches that are about as big around as my wrist to some that are as big as my biceps. I’ll use the saw on those tomorrow to cut them down to better lengths. I was getting bored of gathering wood by lunch time so I stopped. I ate granola and dried fruit and drank cold water flavored with a lemon packet and a sugar packet. It tasted more like lemon water than lemonade but I was so hot I didn’t care. And by then I was feeling the first chiggey itch. We always kept plenty of calamine lotion at the house because some of the foster kids didn’t have a clue about country living and would go traipsing through the woods without socks, in shorts and tank tops. Someone was always playing in the poison oak. I’m one of those rare individuals that don’t have a reaction to either poison oak or poison ivy … chiggers on the other hand make me feel like I have aliens crawling under my skin. I slathered the calamine on thick and then went out to the orchard to do what needed doing.

I took the sickle and the swing blade with me and “mowed” the orchard. First I used the big swing blade down and across the wide paths between the trees and then closer to the trees and bushes I used the smaller hand sickle. Man oh man, what back breaking work! It was worse than that time I got suckered into the Lutz Trash Bash by my Debate Coach. There were six of us covering one of the trashiest two mile stretches of road in the area and jerks would come by as we were picking up litter and honk their horn and then throw more trash out of their windows and laugh like it was the funniest thing ever. Ignorant jerks.

After I cut the grass I had to rake it up into mounds. I forget how many loads of grass I hauled off but instead of carrying it off into the woods I took it over to the nearest fence line and dumped it on the other side. There were some mangy, skinny cows off in the distance. They’d eaten over the whole field – I guess it was their pasture at some point – where they were roaming and I don’t guess they were getting anything extra from their owner. Whoever owned them wasn’t moving them around enough because even I could tell they weren’t giving the grass and weeds time to grow back. The cows had even eaten all of the palmettos and the oak sprouts on their side of the fence and stuck their head through the fence and eaten what they could on my side of the fence as well.

By the third load of grass I dumped the cows had come over and were jerking the grass out of my hands as I was trying to toss it to them. I had one butt me through the fence. I don’t think she meant to but I landed on a cactus and it took me a while tonight to get the last pokey out of my backside. Darn cows. I feel so bad for them. I suppose it can’t hurt to throw a couple of loads of grass over the fence each day. It’s not like I don’t have a lot that needs trimming up.

After I had finished “mowing” the orchard I took a good look around. Just like Momma said there would be there were a couple of blueberries that were ready to eat. I pulled them and put them in my shirt pocket then took the tools back to the shed and hung them up and locked the door for the evening. I went inside and put my blueberries in a plate and washed my hands really well. It was time to finish preparing my dinner.

First I took a clean, empty thermos and put in a little instant rice; just enough for my dinner. Then I put in an equal amount of still extremely hot water from the thermos carafe and added a couple of pinches of powdered margarine from a big can of the stuff I found in the dormer room. You don’t have to put butter in with your rice but to me it gives instant rice a smoother flavor. I closed the thermos up and set it on the counter and then went outside to dig up my beans.

Something had knocked over the stick that I used to mark the spot so next time I do this I’ll use a rock or something. It took me a few minutes to remember where I had buried things and then some more time to un-bury them. The coals were still hot so I made a sort of s’more out of some marshmallows, a candy bar, and a couple of cookies that I found over in house number four where I got all the junk food from. I knocked the dirt and coals off of the aluminum foil I used to cover the Dutch oven and used that to wrap my s’more in before setting it on the now just warm coals.

I was nervous about opening the Dutch oven. I figured if things didn’t work out I would at least have some rice and a s’more to eat for dinner; but I was hungry. I finally got up my courage and carefully took the lid off with a heavy stick. I got just a little sprinkle of left over sand in the pot but I was able to keep most of it out. Next time I’ll use a brush or something on the lid before I open it up or be more careful to cover the lid better while it is in the ground.

The experiment was a success. There were a couple of beans that were a little chewy on top and a couple of beans on the bottom that were a little burnt and I put a few too many onions but despite that the beans weren’t really bad at all. The rice turned out OK too. Beans and rice – oniony beans and rice – hit the spot after all the work I did today. I don’t know if I’m fit for company to be around but since there isn’t anyone else around who cares. My belly is full and that’s more than some can probably say. The s’more was a little rich but still oowey goowey good, and I’m saving the blueberries for breakfast.

After dinner I covered the hole with a piece of sheet metal to save having to dig a new one in case I want to try this again another time. I cleaned up the dishes and utensils using the second carafe of hot water. And then it was time to clean myself up. While I shivered in the cold bathwater I kicked myself for not putting a bucket of water on to the coals instead of the s’more.

Now that I’m sitting up here in the dormer room all fresh and clean listening to Fraidy purr as she licks her fur back in place sitting in a sunbeam I’ve had time to think about what I learned today.

1. I can be resourceful if I put my mind to it. I remember a lot more from scouts and of what Momma and Daddy taught us while camping than I thought I did. I just have to actively try to come up with new ways of doing things and not just assume something will turn up when I need it to.
2. Make a chore worth more than just one job. I needed to cut the grass in the orchard but it also was a way to feed the cows. Tomorrow I need to cut the grass under and around the clothes line so that will be the cows’ food for tomorrow.
3. The cooking pit is a good idea but I can make it better by starting the beans the night before and making it enough to cover both lunch and dinner the next day instead of just one meal. And once I dig the pot up I can use what is left of the heat in the coals to warm wash water in one of the metal buckets.
4. Thermos cooking is another good thing to do and I need to figure out how to cook more food that way.
5. Wear gloves when I work and I won’t have so many hurts the next day. If I keep this up I’m going to run out of Band-Aids fast. I’m wearing four of the things right now, not including the one on my backside from the cactus trying to turn me into a pin cushion.
6. Never underestimate a hungry animal. They might not mean to hurt you but hunger can make them desperate.
7. You eat more food when you are working hard than when you are at rest, that means cooking more food; and that means that the food I have isn’t going to last the four months I thought it would if I’m not careful.

I’m going to try and learn something new every day. And I think experimenting will be a good thing too. I also need to think about stopping earlier in the day as far as working goes because I need to have daylight left to read by. The only thing I have had time to do tonight was write in my journal and make a big year-long calendar.

I was going to use the posterboard for the calendar but there aren’t twelve sheets of it so I decided to use a big roll of bulletin board paper I found in the neat little house (house #2). I figure someone in that house was a librarian or a teacher or something like that. I think I did a pretty good job; there is lots of room in each day’s square to write. In each square the things I do will be in ink and the things that I plan to do will be in pencil. I used the markers from the first house and the craft supplies from house #4 to mark off special days. Next Sunday is Mother’s Day and that has been hard for me ever since the wreck. Aunt Wilma used to offer to take me to the cemetery for that day so I could put flowers on their graves but after the first time I never wanted to go back again. I cried so hard I puked down the side of Uncle Charlie’s new car.

I remember when I was little Daddy having a bit of a tiff with his sister over the fact he didn’t see the sense in spending a lot of money on my grandmother’s headstone. He gave in when his other siblings had their say but basically Daddy thinks too many people treat cemeteries like the old Egyptians did. Expensive funerals, being buried in fancy and expensive coffins, and headstones that are as pricey as pyramids. Then people would come back and “worship” the dead with more reverence than they treated the person when they were alive. Daddy kept fussing that his mother wasn’t in the coffin or in the ground, that she was in Heaven with better stuff than any funeral parlor could give her. That kind of talk makes people uncomfortable. And I guess I know who I took after the most. Momma always said I got my Daddy’s stubbornness. Things eventually smoothed out but Daddy wrote up a paper saying what he wanted when he died and it wasn’t a sad, expensive funeral. He wanted people to have a party to celebrate his “home going.” He felt very strongly about this; Momma did too but not so loudly as Daddy did. As far as I know it didn’t happen. I was in a coma and they couldn’t have an open casket so everything was done very quiet. Daddy and Momma were passed caring at that point but I don’t think they would have minded; guess I’ll find out one of these days if it even matters by then.

But that made me feel guilty about not saying any words over Uncle Charlie even though he had come to Sparkleberry Ranch without me or not even thinking about that dead guy over in the loblolly pines just laying out in the open. Uncle Charlie will be easy. I saw a piece of limestone that will work for a marker just on the other side of the fence where the cows were. I’ll get it tomorrow. I never really connected with Uncle Charlie; I always found him too superficial or something. It’s like he didn’t want me to get to know the real him. I honestly don’t think he liked me much but he at least tried not to show it and I know he really did love Aunt Wilma and her crazy causes. They were like peas in a pod, only Aunt Wilma was the louder pea.

The gangbanger is going to be harder but I suppose it is the right thing to do, whatever that means. I’m not looking forward to the burying part though. I keep having these memories of those two people in that house I went into when I was on my bike trek.

May 9th – I’m sitting here by the window in the dormer room playing catch up in my journal while I try to wrap my head around the last two days. Didn’t write anything yesterday; didn’t get finished with all the stuff I had to do until dark and by then I was just too tired to stay up.

For one thing I overslept on Monday and Fraidy made a mess that took me a while to clean up. I don’t think kitty is going to be staying inside until I can figure out a litter box for her. That was just too nasty first thing in the morning and the family room stank so bad that I couldn’t stand it. I put some perfume on a piece of cloth and sat it out but that made it worse; for a while there it smelled like someone had pooped really cheap perfume, most definitely not cool. I gagged it was so bad and I thought I was past being grossed out by anything. I’m not sure I want to know what she has been eating.

For breakfast I just fixed a glass of milk and put some dried fruit and granola in a bag and took it outside to eat while the house aired out. That gave me the time to get the rest of the sleep out of my brain and make a list of the things I wanted to do that day. I should have done it the night before but I forgot. It just feels stupid to put down on my list of things to do to make another list of things to do, but it looks like that’s what I’m going to have to do. Sometimes my short term memory for details doesn’t work so good. The doctor’s say that is from the coma but it isn’t near as bad as it used to be. Lists and calendars help me though so that’s why I use them. So do pictures and diagrams and written directions. It’s mainly when people are talking at me that I have a hard time.

I guess that might be one reason why I have trouble being around people. After the coma I was diagnosed with this stuff called APD or auditory processing disorder. One of the doctors said I may have had it before the accident but was able to compensate for it enough that no one noticed. It is very “mild” but it can be a pain in the rear bumper. For instance, if more than one person is talking to me at a time or if someone is trying to talk to me while a bunch of other sounds are occurring I don’t “hear” the person talking to me even if they are right next to my ear. Their voice blends into all the other sounds around me. I can “hear” them only if I concentrate really hard on what they are saying, usually I just read their lips. I also have to look at the person that is talking to me and sometimes I stare really hard which freaks people out. Not many people got it, or if they did they would forget, so I had to ask people to repeat themselves all the time which is totally embarrassing. People used to think I had a hearing problem so when they talked to me they talked really loud which always made people look. I hated that. It isn’t my hearing that is the problem; it’s that my brain can’t always decode the sounds my ears hear.

I just gave up after a while; it was simpler for all of us. My grades stayed really high and I only participated in things at school that didn’t make my APD obvious so Aunt Wilma didn’t blow a gasket and left me alone about it. The only exception to my rule was Debate and our coach used to laugh and tell me to keep staring at my opponent because it shook them up and made them lose their stride. Not exactly fair of me but it wasn’t fair that I got stuck with this stupid disorder either. At least it is good for something … I have a real talent when it comes to ignoring someone that I don’t want to listen to. All I have to do is hone in on another sound and “poof” it’s like the other person isn’t even talking anymore.

So lists and calendars and schedules rule. Ra-ra-ra-ship-boom-ba. Of course that is only if I remember to use them which I ought to know by now that I have to. But I forgot and that’s all there is to it. No excuses. Maybe I didn’t want to think about what I had to do.

It was no good putting it off for long; but things just got all turned around no matter what I tried. First I went to go get the limestone rock for Uncle Charlie’s marker. The cows were back and practically ran me over looking for grass. I couldn’t do anything so I had to backtrack and get the swing blade and cut the grass under and around the clothes line to give them something to do while I got the rock.

Have you ever been goosed by a cow? Let me tell you it makes you feel pretty stupid. I was bent over trying to lever the rock up out of the sand when I got a nudge to remember in a place that no one should be nudging me. I jumped pretty high and squeaked. I have a feeling if cows could laugh those would have been rolling on the ground. I wiped the cow slime off of my pants … yuck … and finally managed to get the big rock over to the fence and dump it into the wheelbarrow. If the rock had been any bigger it would have had to stay where it was.

I caught my pants on the barbed wire climbing back over and poked myself pretty good. There was a little bit of blood but it made me glad that the owner of Good Eats had made all of the employees get a tetanus booster when they started to work at the restaurant. Story was she had lost a brother to tetanus way back in the 1940s when she was a little girl. I guess it was her way of making the memory of her brother serve a higher purpose or something. I looked up tetanus once just to see how bad it was or if it was a blow off thing. After reading about tetanus I promised myself I would never let my tetanus booster run out. That is some nasty stuff. I wonder if we’ll ever have tetanus shots again?

I wheeled the rock over to Uncle Charlie’s grave and then just dumped the rock on top of where I remembered it being; the rain had flattened everything out so I’m not exactly for sure. I had a hard time coming up with something to say that didn’t sound all preachy and insincere. I figured I owed the man sincere if nothing else. That’s when I realized I wasn’t talking to Uncle Charlie or some group of people, I was talking to God. After that it was easy, I just thanked God for putting Uncle Charlie in my way even if I didn’t always understand why things had to be the way they were. I said I was thankful for the things I had learned from Uncle Charlie even if he hadn’t really meant to teach me anything. And I said I appreciated him and Aunt Wilma taking me under their roof. Like I said, I think I owed the man’s memory that much.

Next came the part I really wasn’t looking forward to, but I made myself take a break first and drink some water. No lunch, I knew that would be a mistake.

Got a bandana to cover my face with and took the gloves and shovel with me as I walked to the dogleg turn by the gully. The wind was blowing my direction as I got out of the trees and the smell was really bad. Worse were the turkey vultures that were all over the place. I nearly turned back. I knew I shouldn’t though because just in case I needed to make sure none of that gangbanger wound up in the gully … a place I might need to get water from at some future point.

I walked around the gully and climbed the fence. I pushed my way through the trees and grass, knocking vultures out of my way every once in a while. I knew I was headed in the right direction because the smell was getting worse. When I got there my brain just sort of turned off, I turned around and walked all the way back home and then just sat on the porch for a while.

He hadn’t been all there, just like Uncle Charlie, only it was worse because he was … fresher I guess you would call it. God created the order of things in this world and I know it got corrupted by Adam and Eve’s fall from Grace but man … I just can’t understand why things have to be the way they are sometimes. What used to be a man had obviously been partially tore into by a predator, vultures couldn’t do that. It wasn’t a gator because there wasn’t the right kind of water close enough for that. Maybe coyotes … or dogs. All I know is that insides were outside and outsides were spread around. God is just going to have to clean this one up because I now realize that there are some things I just can’t do. Maybe if it was closer to the house I could force myself to but I just can’t do that right now.

I just didn’t feel like doing anything else the rest of the day so I went up to the dormer room and started looking for Daddy’s gun cabinet keys again. I found the keys in the first place I should have looked. Momma used to say that Daddy would find the oddest things funny. It must have tickled him to hide the keys in relative plain sight. They were in his filing cabinet taped to the inside of a hanging file entitled “lost and found.” I didn’t find it funny but I can see Daddy thinking it would have been.

When I opened the Sentry gun safe I got a surprise; there were five long guns in there. Three are rifles and two are shotguns; I know this because the rifles have smaller diameter barrels while the shotguns have great big ones. There were also a couple of more handguns than I expected to find. There was the German officer one that had the “SS” engraved on the butt of the gun and the Mark III that looked like a cool James Bond gun just like I remembered but there were three more and I didn’t know what they were. They all looked alike and they came in hard-sided gray plastic boxes. The guns were black and there was a book in the box that said “Smith & Wesson” on it. I guess at some point I’ll need to read one of those books and see what I’m supposed to do with them.

The other thing in the gun safe was a big manila envelope with “JOYCE” written on it in big, black letters. Joyce was my mom’s name and I wondered why dad would put that in there. I opened it and inside was a bunch of legal papers: insurance, military records, deeds, and stuff like that. There was also a set of blueprints for this house and the out buildings and aerial photos of Sparkleberry Ranch itself. I wouldn’t have thought anything of it except that on the aerial photos I realized Daddy had drawn in where he had buried the two cache tubes for the roll down poles and extra sets of keys. I had already dug up one set and the other one was marked right where I remember it being buried.

That made me look at the house blueprints closer. At first I thought I was only looking at Daddy’s notes of things he wanted to do to the house or where he had put in access panels for repairs and maintenance of plumbing and wiring and stuff. But when I matched his pencil marks up with the dormer room I realized that the room dimensions were wrong. I walked back to the part of the dormer room that was over my parents’ bedroom and comparing the drawings to the room again saw an “x” that corresponded to a cabinet. I opened the cabinet and instead of it having a solid back there was a vent cover. Using the solar lamp for light I took a screwdriver and removed the vent cover. There was a small finished cubby hole behind the wall. Nobody could stand up in it but I could squeeze in there and squat if I didn’t mind the claustrophobia. There were metal boxes lined up on top of little wooden pallets and when I opened them up they were full of bullets … a lot of bullets … boxes and boxes of bullets. About half of the metal boxes had little boxes in there that said .22LR on them. Some of the remaining boxes had shotgun shells in them in all sorts of colors; I remember what those were from my Granddaddy’s farm. The rest of the metal cans had boxes in them that said 9mm. I guessed that this was one of my dad’s “surprises.”

I knew there were other surprises and I saw some other X’s marked around the house, the barn, and the shed but it was getting too late at that point to go hunting. I was too … something … to really eat but I fixed some milk and soup and made myself eat anyway. I cleaned up the fire pit, put Fraidy outside so I wouldn’t have another mess to clean up, put away my dishes and decided to sleep up in the dormer room. I feel safer when I’m up here. It doesn’t matter that I keep the accordion shutters closed and the roll down doors down, it just feels … it feels like Daddy is watching over me when I’m up in the dormer room. I know that isn’t true but it feels like it.

It took me a while to fall asleep and I woke up to Fraidy’s normal singing only it was right outside the dormer window that I had left cracked to get some air. Somehow the crazy cat had gotten onto the roof and knew just where I was; silly ol’ thing. I opened the window all the way, removed the screen and then opened the accordion shutters just enough for her to come in. The sky was beginning to lighten so I knew it was time for me to get up. I relocked the shutters and put the screen back in and by the time I turned around Fraidy had climbed onto my bed and gone to sleep. Silly ol’ thing.

I went downstairs, got dressed and made a command decision that my outside chores could wait. I wanted to know what those X’s were about. But first I needed breakfast since I hadn’t eaten much the day before. I decided to do another experiment.

Working at Good Eats taught me a lot. One of the things Mrs. Belle – that was what the owner asked us to call her – taught me was how to cook things in a skillet you didn’t normally think could be cooked in a skillet. One of the favorite week day breakfast take outs at the restaurant was Pan Biscuits. They could be made with dried fruit and we sold six or seven different flavors that depended on what Mrs. Belle could get on sale through her supplier. I had a box of dried cranberries so that is the flavor I tried to make. I had never made the biscuits on an open flame before but I was willing to give it a try.

In one of the Swiss Colony gift packs from house #4 was a baking mix. I took a cup of it and added two tablespoons of dried milk, one tablespoon of sugar, and the little box of cranberries. Then I added one-half cup of cool water and mixed well so that there weren’t any dry lumps left. Mrs. Belle always said, “mix it don’t play with it.” She meant that you mixed it only as much as it needed mixing and then you left the dough alone.

I heated my skillet over the open fire and then sprayed in a really thick coat of non-stick spray. We used olive oil at Good Eats but I didn’t have any. You dump the dough into the hot skillet and then spread it out. I had to keep moving the skillet around because at the restaurant we had it over a low heat for five minutes. At the end of five minutes I sprayed the uncooked side with spray and then flipped the giant “biscuit” over. I had burnt the bottom a little bit but it was still looking and smelling good. You let that side cook for five minutes on low heat and then you take the skillet completely off the heat, flip the biscuit onto a plate and drizzle it with honey. Gosh that was so good. I hadn’t realized how much I had been missing bread.

When I took the skillet off the heat I put water on to boil. When the water boiled I poured it into the thermos carafes again. The coals of the fire were burning down but they were still hot so I put a big metal bucket of water to absorb what heat was left.

After breakfast I went on a treasure hunt. I started in the house. There was an X in the summer kitchen, an X under the kitchen sink and an X up in the second bonus room. The X in the summer kitchen was behind Momma’s cookbook shelves I took all the cookbooks off the shelves and still couldn’t figure out what I was looking for. I was getting frustrated so I looked at the blueprints again and realized that the X looked like it was on a door but there wasn’t a door there. I opened the cabinet door beside the shelves thinking maybe Daddy’s X was in the wrong spot. I looked and on the side of the cabinet next to the shelves there was a latch. Only a short person would notice it, anyone taller than me wouldn’t see it unless they bent down and were looking for it. I pulled the lever and the shelves made a popping noise and moved a little bit but still wouldn’t move. After playing with it for a good fifteen or twenty minutes I finally figured out you have to pull the release latch, push the shelves and then pull on them. If you didn’t push the shelves the hook from the latch didn’t fully disengage. I don’t know if Daddy built it like that or if something needs greasing but I finally was able to pull the shelf and it swung open just like the door on the blueprint.

There was a long narrow room that ran the whole length of wall with the summer kitchen on one side and the formal dining room on the other. I found Momma’s “fruit cellar.” Daddy had built her tall narrow shelves that had extra strips of wood across the front to keep the jars from falling out. The shelves were full of empty jars. I smiled thinking about how much Momma must have loved this. Then I noticed a box on one of the lower shelves … it had a bunch of rings and lids in there. I knew that if I could figure out how to make the boiling water bath canner work on an open fire I would definitely have the jars and lids to can with.

I put the cookbooks back where I found them if not quite the way they came off the shelves. I’ll have to fix that another day.

The X in the kitchen was easy to locate but there wasn’t anything there. Either there had never been anything there or someone had found it already. It was just a very small box behind the wall so I don’t know what it was supposed to hold.

The X up in the second bonus room was a pain in the tush to get to. I had to move out all of the boxes I hadn’t gone through yet and then I had to move some furniture that had been stored up there. That wasn’t a total waste of time because I found my great grandmother’s treadle sewing machine. I think it is missing the belt that fits on the wheel that makes the needle go up and down. I might be able to rig up something but I still have to find needles and stuff like that to make it work.

I finally got back to the wall and moved a desk that was in the way. There was another big vent cover like in the dormer room. I wiggled around and unscrewed it and there was another finished cubby hole kind of storage area.

It was full of those big cans but there were no paper labels on them. I pulled one out, it wasn’t very heavy, and then I remembered. Momma had gone in partners with a couple of women and had a friend to get them permission to use the LDS cannery. I remember going with Momma and her telling me to sweep and pick up litter so that we could show our appreciation by leaving the grounds cleaner than how we found them. I remember asking Momma what LDS meant but I can’t remember if she ever told me. Of course I know what it means now. I pulled out can after can -- #10 size now that I’m thinking about it right – and saw that Momma had written what was in each can on top in black marker.

Some of them had dried beans in them and wheat in them. Some of the heavier ones had dried veggies and fruits. One said it had Tang in it and one of the really light cans said Kool-aid packets. The heaviest cans had rice and sugar in them. I counted, there were forty of those cans in there; not as many as had been in the dormer room but it for sure added to my supplies. Then in the back corner there were big glass jugs with Heinz vinegar labels; I checked and the seals were all still good. There was three little barrels of honey, four of sorghum molasses, two of cane syrup, and one of maple syrup. I don’t remember seeing the containers of sweeteners before, that must have been something that Momma got from her brother and sister in Kentucky. Now I guess I understand why Momma fussed at Daddy that time; she could can things herself and it would be cheaper that buying it from somebody else.

That was it for the house and I was eager to see what was out in the barn and shed. The barn hideaway was the easiest to find and the room was also the biggest. It was behind Daddy’s work benches. There was a closet there that was supposed to be for coveralls and stuff but it was empty. In the closet were pieces of the pot belly stove that we used in the lean-to when we came up to the property in the winter before the house was finished enough for us to sleep in. But that wasn’t what the X was for. There was a short door inside the closet and when I opened it I saw a long narrow room that I could stand up in, even a grown man could stand up in it. There were shelves all down one side of the room and the shelves had all sorts of little bins and containers on them. The bins held nails, screws and lots of stuff like that. In a box in the corner of the room were long fluorescent bulbs; I guess those were spares for the barn and shed lights. There were all sorts of old hand tools but they were all kind of greasy like they’d been oiled up or something. I had found Daddy’s junk room. Momma never cared what Daddy drug home – well, she didn’t care much – so long as it wasn’t left out for my brother and I to get into. Daddy was always bringing home stuff from flea markets and yard sales and from out at the base; Momma was just as bad but Daddy would even do something called dumpster diving and that did make Momma cringe. I think my parents would have been called pack rats if Momma wasn’t such a bear about keeping everything neat and organized.

Last place I looked was the shed. It took me a while to figure out that the bench that was inside the shed opened up for storage and in the bottom of the storage was a false bottom that lifted out. Inside was a concrete lined space and in this space were two little canisters of propane. I guess Daddy meant to have more in there but there hadn’t been time. Two was more than I had before but I left them were they were. Daddy stored them in the shed for a reason and I had enough mess in the house. Besides something had been chewing on the paper labels on the canisters and that was pretty gross. I figure from the way it looks that it was roaches.

I completely skipped lunch but I was starving by the time I’d found everything. I was tempted to use the camp stove and propane that I had found but I decided to save it for an emergency since I was doing fine without it so far.

For dinner I put some pasta in the thermos and dumped the near boiling water over them and closed the thermos and set it on the counter while I took my first really warm bath in a while. Wow, I couldn’t believe how much cleaner I got. It was really gross scrubbing all that dirt and dead skin off but I feel so much better it was worth turning into a prune. Tomorrow the hair gets the same treatment. The other gross thing though was I found a tick behind my earlobe. How gross is that?! I bled like a stuck pig when I finally got it out and I put lots of peroxide and then triple antibiotic salve on it. Yuck. It has to be from carrying that grass to the cows. I’m going to need to be more careful. I’ve been checking Fraidy every day and so far so good … no ticks, no fleas. I don’t know what I’m going to do when her collar runs out of juice.

The pasta noodles were OK but were still chewy. I probably didn’t put enough water in there or too much pasta. It didn’t matter, I added the squeeze cheese and I ate yummy macaroni and cheese for dinner. I cleaned up, put Fraidy out, yada, yada, yada and then came up to the dormer room to think.

It’s been an interesting two days but now it is time to get back down to business. The mysteries have all been solved and I’m 99.9% sure that I’ve found everything there is to find. These are the tasks for tomorrow: cut grass for the cows from around the where the garden is supposed to go and then lay tarps down to start killing the grass and stuff underneath, take the food out of the cubby closet in the second bonus room and put it in the summer kitchen, gather some more big wood and stack it in the barn, try and finish inventorying and bringing in one-third of the stuff that remains in the barn, open and put away two boxes of my parents’ stuff, look for canning recipes for blueberries in Momma’s books.

I have felt really close to Momma and Daddy the last two days; like they have been looking out for me somehow. But just like eventually I would have had to grow up if they were still alive and do things for myself and make my own way in the world I think maybe the same thing is going to happen from here on out. Their sacrifices gave me a place to go and a chance to get on my feet, but from here on out I have to start planning for a future that doesn’t include stuff that they left hidden. One day I’ll use up all the stuff, probably sooner than I expect. When that happens I have to be able to provide more stuff for myself. And I can’t wait until the last second to do it. You can’t cram for this exam.

Uh oh, I hear a boy cat off in the woods; I sure hope Fraidy is fixed.

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