November 5th – Paul and Sadie had a pretty wedding. It was chilly first thing in the morning, woke up and it was only in the 50s, but by the afternoon it was seventy-six degrees. From the sound of things I’m not the only one with a cough that won’t go away. Rand has said that we should plan on sleeping downstairs from here on out. Weather like this is what they call pneumonia weather. Cool to cold at night and then warm to hot during the day. It starts with a cold, then sinus drip makes your throat sore, next you start coughing, and then the yuck hits your stomach or your lungs. I’m sloshing around tonight since I've drunk enough peppermint tea to gag Santa. But at least I’m not hacking like I was this afternoon.
Sadie’s little sister was really cute too all dressed up in a made over princess costume. You could see she was just dying to role her eyes every time someone mentioned she looked just “adorable and doll-like.” She's small for her age but I don’t think at twelve I would have appreciated being called cute or doll-like either, She stayed pretty good natured about it until the boys really started pushing her buttons. Sadie’s little sister’s name is Hannah and I don’t know who is thrilled with whom more … Hannah or Momma O. Sadie has done her best under bad circumstances but Sadie and Hannah will both be much better off going to live with Paul.
There is some sorrow tinged with the happiness of the wedding though. You can just tell that Paul’s brother isn’t doing well at all. No one honestly expects him to survive the winter – he is prone to lung congestion and infections – and with no antibiotics or advanced treatment around it is highly doubtful that he’ll survive his next bad turn.
We got to the park while the sky still had that rosy, early morning glow to it. Pastor Ken was already there as were all of Paul’s family. Rand asked me to hold the wagon reins while he jumped down to run over and help Paul and the other men get Paul’s brother and wheelchair on the ground safely. The food we brought was boxed up but hidden under some hay and out of sight.
Rand was wiping his hands when he looked up and his eyes widened at something over my shoulder. I turned quickly and then released the brake and flicked the reins as I’d seen Rand do so many times and the mules pulled forward a little harder than I had expected, nearly pulling me off the wagon seat. Luckily Rand was there before I could lose control of the animals but the ruckus drew attention to the fact from everyone else that other people were starting to arrive and some of them were looking decidedly nosy.
What Rand had seen and why I had responded the way I did was because a woman was looking in the back of the wagon. They couldn’t see anything but it still bothered me. It always embarrassed me when kids I went to school with would gawk inside other people’s cars. “Oooh, leather seats. Outrageous sound system. Ew, there’s like a jock strap in the back seat. Can you believe someone actually still listens to that CD? I’d like to know how she affords those shoes … you know her father isn’t around and her mom is a waitress at the 1999 Club.” Stupid catty stuff, but it was like they just had to know other people’s business. Looking back I can’t believe our school didn’t implode with all the methane from the gasbags that went there. Those types of people would do the same thing to your hall locker or the gym lockers. You learned to keep everything in gym bags or to carry it around in your backpack just to keep people out of your business.
And now, grown people were doing it. But the woman did look hungry. When she asked if we had anything we needed help with I said the first thing that came to my head, “All taken care of but thanks.” It wasn’t exactly a lie but it sort of was and Rand was standing right there and it made me awful uncomfortable. He got up in the wagon seat and moved the wagon between Pastor Ken’s buggy and Paul’s big horse-drawn hack he rescued from the local railroad museum. Before he got down he kissed me on the temple and said so only I could hear, “Easy Honey, it’s OK. You handled it as well as I could have. Trust is something you earn these days. You don’t go snooping in other people’s stuff like that.”
I still hate lying and there is no way to work it around to make it right but at least Rand understood why I said what I did. About that time Mr. Henderson showed up and he had his own way of hiding the obvious.
“Yo, Joiner … some of you other fellas … come lend us a hand here. Had a dog pack sneak past the sentry and try to take down a heifer. We killed the dogs but we had to put down the heifer. Figured it was a shame to waste what looks providential … help us get her finished up and we’ll start grilling in short order.”
They had more than enough hands helping … Sunday best and all … which gave me a chance to slip down from the wagon and quietly move what we brought to the tables. That same woman was staring at me and giving me the evil eye when I carried the basket that had the cornbread, cheese, and butter in it over to the older ladies who were in charge of the buffet table.
“I know who you are. You’re that girl that goes around killing people.”
“Word gets around. You kill people or you get people killed … you figured out which it is yet? Either way it ain’t healthy to be around you. Sooner or later your man is gonna find that out.”
With that she turned around and left. I have to say it made me sick to my stomach. No one with any sense wants to have that kind of reputation. Who wants to be known as a killer?
Pastor Ken made me jump when he came up behind me, “Don’t listen to her. She’s bitter. She’s from over in Mayo. Her husband left her years ago with five boys to raise on her own. The oldest turned out all right. Last I heard he was still alive and working in Orlando in EPCOT’s hydroponics farm. The youngest boy isn’t too bad either and went to go live with his brother in some kind of apprentice program … free labor for training. But the middle three were more trouble than even their dad was. All three of them joined the roving gangs. Her second oldest was killed back on that raid at the Food Depot. The next to youngest boy lost his leg from the knee down and three fingers on one of his hands from the same battle. The middle boy is probably the meanest of the lot but he’s slow from pickling his brain with homemade hooch from an early age; he’s all fists but no intellect if you know what I mean.”
Dumb and dumber might not be a threat right now, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t be a threat down the road if things continue to shake out like they are doing. I filed the information and talked to Rand about it tonight. I also asked him to watch his back. I’ll never forgive myself if something happens to him because someone is out for revenge over something I did. He promised but … it is awful hard not to sit around worrying.
At least I don’t have to worry anyone noticed all the food we brought. Mr. Henderson’s surprise eclipsed everything. I’ve begun to think that maybe that was the plan. After the service and as people began to load up on beef and other stuff from the buffet, I kept hearing Henderson and his men talk up how they’ve doubled the guards and how this was a one off event and how nothing (or no one if you were reading between the lines) was going to get to the ranch or animals any more. They sure as heck impressed some people with all the guns they were carrying around.
I think Cassie and Julia are on the outs with one another. They are polite but I could tell that Julia made a point of Cassie seeing her walk … well, waddle considering how big she is now … over to me and ask me how to crochet an edge on a little bonnet that she was making. The thread she had was pastel green, yellow, and white and it made me think about how people weren’t going to be able to plan for exactly what flavor of baby they were going to get any more.
I showed her how to put a real simple scallop edge on the bonnet. She was telling me thank you and then started crying. I didn’t know what I had done and she kept saying that I hadn’t done anything that she just couldn’t seem to help it. She got herself under control, thanked me again, and then waddled off. I think she is scared. She was holding onto her belly like she could protect it or something. I guess if I was going to have a baby and two-thirds of the stories I’d heard hadn’t exactly ended “happily ever after” I wouldn’t be feeling real confident either. I keep seeing bits and pieces of a girl that I’d like to be friends with, that I could understand why Rand would have liked her … maybe, in some weird way, we can be friends at some point. I mean if Ron Harbinger, with all the stuff he’s gotten up to in his life, can change then surely a girl like Julia can too.
The fellowship went longer than Rand and I had expected it to. We needed to get home and tend to the animals and try and get some rest before this coming week of work. We daren’t leave the animals out while we are both gone but it wasn’t fair to leave them locked up in the barn too long either. We said our goodbyes and then tucked the gift of dried fruit in with the other gifts the couple had received and packed up to head home.
We had the wagon on US90 when we heard a buggy coming up behind us fast, not racing but catching up. Mitch Peters pulled up beside us with Cassie on the seat beside him. You could tell Mitch already leaned heavy in the direction of I-wish-I-was-any-place-else-but-here. He desperately tried to start up a conversation with Rand but Cassie was complaining too loud.
“I don’t see why I had to leave the party. It was just getting good. There was going to be music and … “
“You’re grandfather told me to take you home so you could help get dinner ready for the men who didn’t get to go to the services or fellowship. He won’t be staying much longer himself, only until they get the last of the meat divided up between the families that are the most in need.”
“Why do I have to … “
“Because your grandfather said so.”
“I think he is getting senile or something. He’s never treated me this way before. I haven’t done anything to .. “
And then my mouth took over. I leaned around Mitch and said, “You’re right, you haven’t done anything. In fact, you are so good at not doing anything that your butt is going to get so wide you won’t be able to fit on that wagon seat much longer. And you just keep right on not doing anything. That way Mitch won’t have to be so careful not to hurt your grandfather’s feelings when he opts out of trying to have any kind of relationship with you. Keep right on not doing anything and …”
“Now listen you little … you better watch your mouth. One of these days my grandfather isn’t going to be around to protect you and … “
“That’s right Tweedle Dee. Your grandfather isn’t going to be around forever but his legacy will be. His legacy includes the ranch. It supports and is the livelihood of a lot of people these days, including some of your own family. So think … on … this … Chica. You claim to know your grandfather so well. Do you really think your grandfather is going to take the risk of leaving that ranch to anyone that isn’t completely capable of taking care of it and taking care of the people that have been under his care? Do you fit that description? Without your grandfather you … are … nobody. You are nobody because you don’t do anything. Until you learn to do something with your time besides moan and groan and complain that your life isn’t as easy as it was before you are going to stay a nobody. Get over yourself, everyone else already has … even your grandfather.”
Rand and Mitch cringed like they were waiting for a nuclear explosion.
Cassie, tearing up said, “You can’t talk to me that way.”
“Uh … newsflash … I just did. Didn’t see anyone or anything stopping me. Did you?”
Then her bottom lip started to quiver. “Rand, how could you … you pick this … this … “
“Forget it Cass. You aren’t capable of understanding. But for the record it goes like this: I love her, she loves me, we’d both die for each other, we never lie to each other. And we both work as hard as we can so the other person doesn’t have to carry any more of a load than is necessary.”
“I … I … “
That’s when Mitch stepped in and sighed, “He’s right Cass. And so is she. You just either can’t or won’t see what is right in front of your face. Your grandfather isn’t a young man. The way things are today any of us could be gone before nightfall but your grandfather especially is under a lot of stress doing his best to take care of his people … and you aren’t making it any easier on him. You cause problems with the workmen and their families. You’re thoughtless, rude, and spoiled rotten. You've got to be the most wasteful person I've ever met. You treat Tia Cia like she is nobody when without her your grandfather wouldn’t be the man he is. You know they could have already been married and maybe have given you a young aunt or uncle to grow up with but it is too late for that now. But, I don’t think your grandfather plans on waiting any longer for you to grow up Cass. I think he and Tia Cia are going to get married sooner rather than later with or without your approval. And I’m just about done waiting on you to grow up too. I’ve waited this long for your grandfather’s sake. But I’m to the point where I’m thinking that no matter what kind of hope their might have been to begin with, there isn’t much left now. You don’t have too many choices left. Either straighten up and get serious about contributing to the welfare of the ranch and its people or … or be prepared for the consequences. You know your grandfather won’t ever turn you out but you are using up even his patience at this point.”
Uh huh. Mitch flicked his reins and the last I saw of them was Mitch’s sharp and forbidding profile staring straight ahead and Cassie sitting there looking at him with her mouth hanging open.
Rand and I were quiet the rest of the way home. I couldn’t help but think I had stepped in it again. Rand pulled around the blind and up to the barn.
“Rand, I’m … I know … oh boy … I know my mouth got ahead of my brain again.”
“With Cassie … I’ll apologize and … “
“Oh no you won’t! Now looka here, did I make you think that I was mad at you?”
“That’s not what I meant. I meant that … “
“Yeah, I know what you mean Babe but you need to stop being willing to always be the one that apologizes. Besides, sometimes things need to be … aired out. Maybe someone else would have said it different but the plain fact is that no one else has.”
“Rand I don’t want to cause problems … I … I … I’m afraid one of these days I’m really gonna turn into an embarrassment for you.”
“Never say never. I can be … “
“ … Exactly what I need and never had the sense to pray for. Look Babe, what you said needed saying. Cassie needed to hear the bald truth. What she does with it is up to her. But from here on out she can’t say nobody explained it to her in simple terms. And there are witnesses so she can’t lie about it, not even to herself.”
“But … “
“No buts, I meant it. It gave Mitch the … opening or push or courage maybe … to lay it out for her; to give her one last chance and to tell her its her last chance or he’s gonna move on.”
“Are you sure? Should I say something to Mitch? I never meant to put him in a bad spot.”
“What is there to say? I’ve known Mitch a long time. Chase wasn’t the only one that Mitch used to drag out of trouble. Mitch … he’s not … Look, Mitch and Cassie can work out if Cassie will just give up a lot of those stupid ideas she’s gotten from romance books. Most guys aren’t like that. Mitch is just a regular guy … feed him, water him, remember to pat him fairly often and he’s good to go. He hates drama … those types of women were more his dad’s style.”
“But Cassie acts like such a drama queen.”
“Yeah … acts like a drama queen. She’s spoiled that’s a fact. But she’s also a decent person … or can be. She used to be real good with the little kids at church. Mitch likes little kids too. He says they don’t get rotten until they turn into middle schoolers. And she … well, as far as I know anyway … was never the … uh … promiscuous type. She dated a few guys steady in school but when she wouldn’t put out they moved on.”
“Well I don’t know her that well. I’ll take your word on it. As long as you don’t think I’ve caused more problems.”
“Babe, the problems were already there. All you did was shine some light on them. Now … I’m tired of talking about that spoiled brat, the ball is in her court. She can get over herself or not. We’ve got enough problems of our own to spend time working on and I don’t see anybody jumping up and down trying to help us. Right now I’m going to finish up Bud and Lou and let the rest of the animals out for a couple of hours before it gets dark. After I finish with that why don’t you meet me in the loft so we can … talk.”
So after we “talked” we mapped out some of the things we want to do this coming week. We’ve got a full list as usual. One more cup of strong peppermint tea and then I’m off to bed.
November 8th – Been too tired and snuffly to write at night, all I’ve wanted to do is climb in bed and curl up and hope I can sleep for a couple of hours without waking up coughing. Rand says that we are moving downstairs this weekend, sooner if the weather turns cool again. I would have tried to argue him out of it if I’d had the energy. It got over 80 degrees today and I couldn’t decide if I was hot or cold.
The reason Rand is trying to wait is because he is running wires trying to give us a few solar operated LED lights. They are going to be small but he said they could give us the edge. The other thing he is in the middle of doing is putting in a small wood stove in the corner of the room. Rand is worried that the fireplace might not heat that side of the house enough or would be a wasted heat at night. The little stove came out of one of the half destroyed trailers not too far from the house where the chickens came from. Rand found it when he’d gone over there looking for some heavy-duty bolts to put the pig house together with.
It’s been more work to install than he expected. We actually had to build a fireproof box for the wood stove to stand on so that we could get below the maximum ten feet of vertical venting height. We also had to joggle the location a little bit to work in the minimum distance from the walls, miss all my dad’s stuff he did up in the attic area, make sure we had complete fire safety, and lots of other stuff.
I don’t even bother asking where Rand learned all this stuff anymore; it’s either “Uncle George,” 4H, or Daddy’s files. I wish he had a recipe for making this cold and cough go away.
I spent Monday and Tuesday picking watermelons and doing what I could to can some and eat as much as we could. What did I learn? In addition to all of the water in the watermelon they should come with a warning label that says “this watermelon contains an enormous amount of fiber and the results will be predictable.” Rand and I laughed about it but it also seemed to make me even more tired … or at least that is what I thought it was.
This morning I felt a little more rested and decided to tackle the garden but got sidetracked when I realized that all my nantes carrots are ready to harvest. I had the second batch going in the canner and went out to the garden to get the next bunch to clean and chop when … poof … I don’t remember what happened. I came to when I felt cold a cold rag being put on the back of my neck. I inhaled real sharp and then started coughing so hard I started seeing spots. With Rand banging on my back I finally coughed up a wad of that gross crud that gets stuck in the back of your throat when you are sick. I didn’t care if it was lady like or not, I spit that stuff out before it made me gag.
“That’s it, you’re going to bed.”
“I can’t. My carrots!”
“I’ll take care of the carrots. How long have they been on?”
“I don’t know … the timer … is the timer going?”
“Yeah and it’s time for the jars to come off the heat. Sit here and don’t you dare move,” he said as he propped me in one of the lawn chairs.
After he moved the carrots off of the heat he helped me into the bathroom and I had to suffer through a blasted cold shower and then when I was shaking so bad I couldn’t hear myself think over my teeth chattering he carried me upstairs and basically restricted me to bed and this is where I’ve been every since.
I can’t get sick. There is too much to do. Tomorrow a bunch of the popcorn is going to be dry enough to bring in and I can’t just leave it out there; the squirrels and ‘coons have already tried their darnedest to take their share and ours too. The delicata squash are going to be ready to pick too if we don’t get any rain overnight. By Friday the pumpkins and cabbage will need to be picked and processed. And Saturday is laundry day again.
November 9th – This sucks. I can barely breathe. I tried to get out of bed and nearly fell down the stairs during a coughing fit. Rand won’t help me down the stairs. I drug myself over to the dormer window and watched him take the shocks of popcorn into the barn. He looked up and caught me and his face and finger pointing made me understand I had better get back in bed real quick. Well, it wasn’t quick, but it was faster than he could get up the stairs.
“Girl, I’m gonna staple you into that bed. I’m not kidding Kiri. I can’t get my work done if I have to worry about you not staying in bed where you belong.”
So I did and here I am, slowly dying a painful death as my brain rots away from boredom.
November 10th – Shaken, not stirred. That’s how my brain feels.
November 12th – Feeling a little better but I’m awful embarrassed. Tia Cia brought horehound tea to help get rid of the crud in my chest. She also had Cassie with her this morning … that’s the embarrassing part. I hate for people to see me like this.
November 13th – I’m still coughing a little but at least I can breathe again. I am so stiff and sore it feels like I’ve been biking forever, especially my neck and back. Rand helped me take a bath this morning but by the time I was finished he had to lift me out of the tub and help me dress. I feel like such a baby.
But even with that, between the horehound tea and that echinacea and astragalus tablets that Tia Cia had me taking I’m feeling a lot better than I was. Pastor Ken has been by almost every day. He diagnosed me as having acute bronchitis.
I can just vaguely recall Rand carrying me down the dormer stairs and laying me in the master bedroom bed and promising me that he wouldn’t be gone any longer than necessary. I found out later that he had ridden Hatchet to the end of our road and over to Momma O’s and left word that he needed Pastor Ken as soon as he could. Momma O had Paul ride over to the Henderson Ranch … Pastor Ken was treating a man that had lost a toe after it was crushed by a bull stepping on it … and Tia Cia insisted on coming with him and bringing her satchel of herbs.
The next thing I remember is Rand getting upset and the Pastor telling him, “Rand, it happens. She’s young and strong and if we can get that stuff broken up she should be all right.”
“Rand … I wish I could make guarantees but I’d be lying if I did. We just don’t have any more antibiotics in the area. We went through all of the fish antibiotics we scavenged from the feed store during the last wave of the pandemic.”
I remember hearing Tia Cia’s calming voice telling the two of them to take it outside if they were going to get “muy macho.” I wanted to laugh and tell Rand not to worry so much but I went back to sleep instead.
It feels like I’ve been living in an episode of the Twilight Zone. Not asleep but not awake either. Time didn’t feel like it was running the right way. It wasn’t until this morning that I had the energy to even cry about all the waste in the garden.
“Hey … hey, hey, hey … don’t Babe. Nothing has gone to waste. Come on now, it’s not like you to cry.”
I couldn’t help it, “You’re just saying that. I know … “ and I just kept crying.
“No I’m not. The Popcorn is in the barn. I sliced and put a bunch of the carrots in the dehydrators and the rest of them are just fine where they are at until you can get to them. The winter squash and pumpkins are sitting on the counter in the summer kitchen and Tia Cia is coming by today to process some of them. The cabbage can stand to wait a couple of more days too. And tomorrow Charlene and Mick are coming. Laurabeth and Alicia wanted to come as well but Pastor Ken nixed that since they’re pregnant and just got over colds too. This weather has everyone a little loopy. Now dry those eyes and get some rest.”
Of course I couldn’t rest, not really. And when Tia Cia showed up with Cassie I could have just died. I’d already seen what I looked like in the mirror. But I can’t recall her making fun or snickering or saying something nasty at all, not even when we were alone in the room together. She gave me some strange looks but that is about it.
I’m out of energy again. This is so stupid. Tomorrow come heck or high water I am getting up.