Thursday, January 28, 2010

Chapter Fifty-Eight

Chapter 58

November 14th – I felt like such a dope today. I needed to tell Charlene and Mick what to do but I really hated it. I tried to get up and do things too but every time I would try I would either get the shakes or start coughing like I was gonna hack up a lung.

Charlene started laughing when he said, “How come? Laurabeth and Alicia sure don’t have a problem bossing us around and they ain’t even as nice about it as you are!” Mick is a stinker; I can imagine my little brother saying something like what he said.

It was plain, even to me, that I needed their help if anything was going to get done. Tia Cia had canned a load of pumpkin and a load of the Delicata squash for me but that barely scratched the surface of what I needed to do. I feel so far behind.

First thing we got the Delicata squared away since it had been sitting out the longest. It is a winter squash and I didn’t even know that it was called “Delicata” until Momma O told me. Growing up we always just called it sweet potato squash and used it the same way since that is what it kind of tastes like. Memaw made a pie out of the puree that you couldn’t tell whether it was made out of real sweet potatoes or from the squash.

First we peeled and cubed the squash and then boiled them for two minutes. Then you take the cubes out with a slotted spoon and put them into the prepared jars. Take the water you boiled the squash in and pour it over the cubes leaving about an inch of headspace, wipe the jar rims, and process.

After the Delicata squash it was time to do something with the pumpkins that were beginning to look a little over ripe, at least in my opinion. Once the pumpkins were cooked we took quite a bit of it and just cubed it and canned it the same way we did the squash but another good sized batch of the cooked pumpkin we pureed and turned into pumpkin butter. For each batch of pumpkin butter you take three cups of cooked, mashed pumpkin pulp and you add to that two cups of sugar, one half teaspoon of ground cinnamon and one half teaspoon of ground cloves and one half teaspoon of lemon juice (which I’m getting very short of if truth be told). From there you cook it just like apple butter and can it the same way as well.

While the pumpkin butter cooked down we also got a lot of carroty stuff going; plain or spiced carrot jam, carrot marmalade, carrot relish, dilled carrots, pickled carrots, and spiced carrots. Tomorrow I have to think about cabbage, broccoli, onion, and Hickory King corn. That should make me feel nice and rejuvenated. Not.

I did manage to find the oomph to make biscuits and despite the fact that it is beginning to cool down the summer kitchen got so toasty that we left the doors and windows open. With the princess running full steam and the pot belly outside too, we made pretty good use of the daylight hours but it was also having one of the firepits up and running that made the real difference. Running four canners was a lot to keep up with but at least we cleared all of the produce on the counter top.

After we got the last batch of pumpkin butter going we still had a decent sized glop of pumpkin puree left. The longer I looked at that little pile of pumpkin the bigger my craving got for a pumpkin latte. I hadn’t had one in a long time. They were a special we made at the diner and it is just about the only way I will drink coffee. Aunt Wilma never did understand why I could never drink coffee, she was a coffee snob and my Dad could drink a pot or two of coffee a day by himself, my grandmothers kept pots of coffee on all day … I just never developed the taste for it. Instead I enjoy tea, all sorts of teas from herbal to earl grey. I used to try the nastiest tasting stuff just to freak Aunt Wilma out. I suppose you have to get your kicks where you can.

As for the Pumpkin Lattes though, totally yum. The trick was going to figure out how to make a “crock pot” because that is the only way I know how to do it. Well, I took an old stone crock and put it in the warming pan of the princess. I don’t think it is exactly the same but it worked for what I needed. For two really big mug’s worth you take three quarters cup of real strong coffee and whisk in two cups of milk, two tablespoons of pumpkin puree, two tablespoons of sugar, two tablespoons of vanilla (yeah, that much), and a half teaspoon of pumpkin spice and you let this cook crockpot-style for two hours.

Maybe I should watch the rich stuff in the future because Mick was pinging off the walls by the time Uncle George came to pick them up. When he asked, “What in the Sam Hill has that boy been into?” I gave him his own mug of latte and he didn’t ask again.

“Well, glad to see you’re doing better but that cough still sounds nasty. Rand … son … might have some weeding goslings for you in a couple of days. Bertha Ferguson lost one of her geese and has too many eggs for her flock as it is. She says if you’ll promise to come help to mow their back forty she’ll give you some of them.”

I was getting shaky and cranky and all I could think of was, “Great, more responsibilities for me to make time for.” Rand looked at me and said, “It’s OK Babe … the goslings will pull their weight literally by helping to weed in the garden. That’s if they are the right kind of geese.”

“They’ll do the job all right though they’d be more use if they were spring hatchlings. They’re a White Chinese breed. Kiri girl, you should see a bunch of goslings mow through any kind of broadleaf vegetable patch. Now, I wouldn’t let ‘em in the corn until the corn was up quite a bit but they do a fine job on just about anything else, including strawberries which I see you’ve got yourself a fine patch of.”

Which was Uncle George’s way of saying I needed to weed the strawberries since they were looking sloppy. Nice man, but some of the ways he tries to give advice make me want to grind my teeth on bad days. It’s not like I didn’t feel bad enough about all the grass growing in the tower already.

After Uncle George left with Charlene and Mick about all I had energy to do was make dinner. Rand offered but he’s no more rested than I am and besides, I make less mess. And speaking of cleaning up, Charlene gave me an idea for doing something with all of those blasted acorns that started raining down last month. Charlene was talking about how everyone is beginning to run out of both flour and cornmeal unless they’ve figured out how to grind their animal feed. Then she said that Alicia was experimenting making other types of flour … millet, potato, sweet potato, rice flour … and acorn flour.

I know I’ve got the directions for this someplace in Momma’s files because I’ve seen it. I would have started it today but frankly after Charlene and Mick left I was too tired. I’m sitting here at the little secretary table that Rand set up for me in the bedroom. He wants me to have a warm place to write as the weather becomes cooler; I’m far enough away from the stove that I won’t roast but close enough that I’m not going to have cold feet either. Now I just need to find the energy to climb into bed. I need to ask Rand what he did with the step stool I kept tucked under the bed; when I say climb into the bed that’s exactly what I mean.

Hopefully Rand won’t fall asleep up in the dormer room listening to the radio. I don’t know if I even have the energy to go get him up if he does.

November 15th – Feeling a little better today. Didn’t cough as much although I’m still snuffly. I’m sorry, using a bandana to blow your nose in just feels gross, having to wash the bandanas is even worse. I suppose I could have used some of the toilet paper we have left, but as a girl I feel like I already use more than my fair share of it.

No help today and boy do I feel it. I've decided to put the acorn flour off though I have gathered a bunch of acorns and they are sitting in the kitchen waiting for me to get around to them.

Brendon came over early to tell us Janet had another really bad spell last night. The spells are getting further apart, which is a good thing, but the spells themselves aren’t getting any easier on her. From the sound of things she is very congested still this morning even though the fever broke. Ron’s aunt is over doing some kind of therapy on her … postural something or other … where she is put in different positions and she is basically kind of whacked on the back with a cupped hand in specific locations. Brendon said that it helps knock the mucus loose so that she can clear it out.

And apparently, Rand and I aren’t the only ones that are questioning Uncle George’s insistence on keeping Janet still and quiet all the time. Ron’s aunt … I can’t keep calling her that but the idea of calling that starched up woman Aunt Buzzy like Ron does gives me the shivers … has told Uncle George that Janet is in desperate need of exercise. She needs to increase her lung capacity, not just put up with the diminished capacity she has right now. As soon as … um … Aunt Buzzy (ew, shiver) … helps get Janet through this latest crisis she has said that Janet is going to start on a stationary bicycle and if Uncle George doesn’t like it that is just too bad. Brendon said his dad looked like a trout out of water with his mouth opening and closing but nothing coming out. And then he just gave in.

“At least Dad had the sense to get out of Ol’ Buzzard’s way … “

Rand snapped “Brendon!”

“Aw come on Rand, you used to call her that yourself. That woman is … is … I don’t know what she is but she is definitely something. You should see how she manages Mrs. Winston. I don’t know what Mr. Winston would have done if Buzzy hadn’t been willing to step up. Rumor has it she did it because she and Mr. Winston used to have a … thing for each other before Mrs. Winston caught his eye and won’t that give you nightmares if you think about it too much.”

Brendon may be more mature than he used to be but I can guarantee you that if his mouth and mine got into a contest I wouldn’t be able to say for sure that I would come out the winner. Brendon finally left after doing everything he could to wind Rand up.

No matter how much I tried I could only run three canners today and I was pushing it to do that. I almost let the cornbread burn but caught it just in time; it was dark brown but still edible.

Rand is ragged around the edges too. I can tell he has lost weight again and he hasn’t shaved in quite a while. Not that I mind, I've got the same thing going on with my legs, though I can tell now that he isn’t trying to do everything himself he is beginning to have time to notice how having a beard itches. I caught him scratching under his chin several times today.

A lot of the milk Rand got over the passed week had to be given to the animals. He saved all the cream he could but the skimmed milk gave the pigs and chickens a little change up in their diet. Mick and Charlene drank their fill yesterday and even helped me to churn the cream that had been saved. Luckily neither one asked how Rand has been saving the cream. Charlene isn’t all that much younger than I am but she has led the petted and protected life I would have if my dad had lived. It’s made her … soft, less observant I guess you would call it. That was good for us yesterday but might not be good for Charlene in the long run.

Rand put off any major projects today and mostly stayed in or around the house. He neatened and prettied up around the wood stove in the bedroom. He also helped me shuck and clean the popcorn so we could put bags of the kernels in the freezer for a couple of days. From there we’ll dry it back out and store it in some of the Tupperware containers I’ve saved. He spent most of his time on small projects like sharpening his tools and working out all of the salvage material he is going to need for a couple of different projects he has in mind. That mean he was on hand to help me move the canners when I started running out of oomph right after lunch.

Rand tried to get me to lie down when he noticed how tired I was getting but I was feeling too far behind and in a rush. I really wish I could have but I’ll rest went all of the crops are in When I told Rand that he snorted and said, “No you won’t. You’ll find something else that you think needs doing, but you’ll do me the favor today by not canning anymore before dinner. OK?”

Rand doesn’t really pull the I-am-the-man card very often but it was pretty clear that’s what he was doing right then for all he said it like I’d be doing him a favor. I think maybe I scared him when I got sick.

The other night, before I had even gotten well enough to get out of bed, he started talking about us needing to have rules and such. He went on to talk about how I was overbooking myself and trying to do too much. Rand is the only guy that I’ve ever been with and if I didn’t trust him … some part of me already loving him … I would never have married him and given him any kind of authority in my life. But, even with Rand I have “authority issues.” With anyone else I would have probably ignored them and done what I wanted anyway, but I like the peace I share with Rand and have learned to think before I act when it comes to him.

“You’re right,” I told him after thinking it over. “This way I won’t have to worry about you so much either.”


“Yeah, this will be really great. You’ve lost too much weight and I get worried at the end of the day when you are so tired. Now that you’ll be quitting work so much earlier … “

“Now wait. I didn’t mean … “

“And … “

I could see Rand doing his own quick thinking. “Well, this is all hypothetical of course. We need to think about having rules and after I get through these next few projects we should sit down and talk about this.”

Whew. Averted that one. I really don’t have a problem if Rand wants “rules,” I just want them to apply to both of us. I don't think he expected me to try and turn it around on him quite so fast. I doubt that I've heard the last of this subject so I better get prepared to deal with it when it comes back around.

Today we cut the dry stalks of the Hickory King corn and the reason we had to cut them is because they were too tall for me to reach. The stalks all reached between eight and twelve feet tall and every one of them had two ears which was pretty doggone good. Rand and I measured it out; each dried ear yields a half pound of corn kernels so each corn plant is giving us roughly a pound of dried kernels. The shucked ears are sitting in bushel baskets in the summer kitchen waiting for me to have time at night to rub the kernels off and that most definitely requires gloves.

I put most of the broccoli to dry but I made broccoli and cheese today and I have a few late bunches that I’ll use as they mature. The onions were pretty easy to bring in and what I did with them was to take old pantyhose … and yes, they are old but clean hose … and I dropped an onion all the way down to the toe of one leg and then tied a knot. Then I dropped another onion down to the knot and then tied another knot above that onion. I kept doing that until both the legs of the pantyhose were filled. It looked like a bizarre garland and I have two pair of pantyhose hanging like this in the pantry. The other onions I am going to dry or can tomorrow.

I know it doesn’t seem like I did much today. I didn’t even get the bed curtains cut out that I meant to start on. I got some stuff done but I am very tired and tomorrow is cleaning day so I’m going to go to bed and curl up next to Rand. I have found a good way to stop him from snoring in the middle of the night. If he wakes me up really going at it hard I sneak my cold feet up under the back of his knees.

I need to write a funny down before I forget. Last night Rand was snoring so bad that not even Woofer could stand it. He came over to my side of the bed and made a doggy noise and I told him it wasn’t my fault, to take it up with Rand … so he did. Woofer went over to Rand’s side of the bed and stuck his cold nose right in Rand’s ear. Oh … my … goodness. You would have thought someone had thrown a bucket of cold water on him. I laughed until I started coughing again. Then we got into a bit of a pillow fight. Then we made up.

Still … I hope Rand doesn’t snore so much tonight. I can always judge how tired he is by how bad he snores. My goal is one day not have him snoring at all.

November 16th – I am so tired. I think I over did it too because I’m coughing again. It was probably the ammonia I was using to clean with; not smart. But, I don’t have all that many options for cleaning lately and I most definitely needed to give the house a thorough cleaning today. The house feels truly clean for the first time in a couple of weeks. I did floors, walls, and bedding today.

Or maybe I’m coughing from the wet feet I got while doing the sheets and bedding. I did get kind of cold. Rand says he might have an idea, he isn’t sure. Every day he finds something new to think about in Daddy’s files. There were these directions for building a passive solar hot water system. I don’t know how well it will work in the cool weather but it is definitely something he is figuring out how to mount on the roof. But what he was thinking is that he could also mount one on the roof of the barn. Then he could run the hot water pipe down the outside of the barn and into a lean to where he could set up a wash tub and wringer.

I really like this idea. One, it would keep the washing mess out of the house and I wouldn’t have to spend time mopping up the inevitable drips that get on the floor. Two, it would save time by me not having to haul bucket after bucket of water or heat water to wash the grungiest stuff in. Three, it would save water because I could drain the wash water into a bucket and use it to water the orchard or whatever. Right now I’m letting the water go into the septic system. And, Rand said if he can find all the parts he plans on putting together an alcohol fuel distiller; and if he can create alcohol fuel then he’ll build me an agitating washing machine that will run off of a combustion engine. And this guy was getting his business degree!? He should have been going to school to be an engineer. I said that to him and he said, “No way! Too many rules back then on what you could and couldn’t do. I prefer small scale projects and like building stuff for us but that’s about it Babe.”

November 17th – Sad day. Paul’s brother passed away in the night. Pastor Ken said his internal organs just gave out and failed this time. The family has decided not to have a big wake or home going service, not even a graveside service. As a matter of fact when Rand rode over there first thing this morning after finding out from Mitch he was just in time to dig the last two feet of the grave. There is a small graveyard that has been in the family for years in the back corner of their yard lot. Paul’s dad says they don’t know what they are going to do for a headstone so they’ll just mark it with some limestone chunks like I did the place where Uncle Charlie is buried.

While Rand was over there I made up a large bowl of tangerine slaw. It’s basically a sweet slaw. You take shredded cabbage and add Miracle Whip or mayonnaise, a little bit of sugar, some raisins, and drained canned Mandarin orange sections. I kept back some for Rand and I and then put the rest in a plastic container with a lid and was walking up the road when I met Rand coming back. Mitch was with him. They had come to get one of those chunks of limestone out of the eighty next door to our forty; none of the chunks at Momma O’s was movable. Rand kissed my forehead and took the slaw back with him when he left in the wagon. When he came back I could tell he needed to talk.

“He was a big as a grown man but when we lifted him to put him in the ground … he weighed less than some kids I’ve picked up. He didn’t starve to death but he his muscles were all atrophied and he must not have had any kind of bone density. Looking at him now it is a wonder he lived as long as he did. They were providing around the clock care for him. At least he lived long enough to be at Paul’s wedding. Thank goodness for Sadie. She’s giving Mrs. DeLois and Momma O something to focus on.”

That wasn’t the last of the sad news. Julia’s mother escaped; she gnawed her restraints in two if you can believe that. She’s in nothing but a nightgown … assuming she left it on … and they’ve been looking for her all day. Rand went to help when Hoss came by to tell us about it. Someone brought their hunting and tracking dogs and they had her scent and followed it for almost five miles but lost it in a fresh skunk spray and they weren’t able to pick it back up. The search was called off when it got dark, Rand didn’t get home until almost nine o’clock and I was getting worried.

“The path she was taking doesn’t make any sense. It looks like she may just be wandering. As many times as we had to go in circles it is a wonder we didn’t trip over her. It looks like she might be heading out towards Ichetucknee. I have a hard time seeing her make it that far but if she does we might never find her if she falls in.”

“Rand, I want to help look tomorrow.”

“What?! You just got over being sick and … “

“Rand, I’m the last person to really care about how things look but … we don’t need people thinking that either one of us is holding any kind of grudge against any of the Winstons. That’s the kind of thing that can fester and maybe cause us problems down the road.”

“I know, I’ve already thought of that … and gotten some comments from people today. That’s why I’ve made sure and not gone off looking by myself. I don’t want anyone to say anything other than I tried as much as everyone else.”

“So … “

“Look, I understand what you are saying but you were bad sick. You’re still coughing.”

“Not as bad.”

“OK, not as bad but still I don’t like it. And Kiri, some of the people that are helping in the search … they aren’t exactly the kind of people that … that … Look, I don’t even know how to say this without sounding …” He mangled his hair and then continued, “Babe, I don’t want you around some of those people. Some of them are strangers but some of them … they’re people … they’re people Chase and I used to hang out with when we were at our worst in highschool. Some of them still carry a grudge against me for turning my back on them.”

“Well, you shouldn’t be near them either!”

“It’s different. I can’t look weak. But if you come with me tomorrow I’m going to worry and if they see me worrying they’ll know you are a weakness and they might try … “

“Rand Joiner, are you forgetting who you’re talking to? I’ve spent the last few years of my life surviving in a house full of trouble teenage boys. I’ve … I’ve … Well, I’ve defended myself as necessary. I love you for wanting to protect me but don’t forget that I can protect myself as well.”

“I know … I just … look, let me think about it. Oh heck. Fine. But you are going armed – pistol and rifle – and I want you to carry that big screwdriver you’re so fond of. And that kukri of your dad’s too. The kukri will help you get through the underbrush and … and if you keep it in hand it will be good for self defense.”

So I put together two packs, one for Rand and one for me; food, water, and a few other odds and ends. They aren’t very big and there isn’t much in them … we’ve actually stuck some stuff in our pants pockets or inside our jackets … we don’t want to draw too much attention to what we have but trying to fit in isn’t going to do us much good if we get hurt trying to hide in plain sight.

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