Saturday, January 23, 2010

Chapter Forty-Five

Chapter 45

September 12th – No news is not good news. It was Hoss who came by this time to let us know that all official chatter on the radio has gone silent. A lot of the civilian stuff is so crazy it is hard to know what is the truth and what isn’t. Some of the more reliable signals or speakers or radio operators or whatever you call them are off the air with no reason given. Even the mainstream media outlets still using regular radio to broadcast are silent and went that way about four in the morning our time. I think shutting down the regular news organizations is just about the scariest part of it. That means that someone with enough juice to tell ‘em to shut up just did. That can’t possibly be good. And why would they say shut up? Maybe that’s the scariest thing of all instead of the other.

To be honest, if I think too hard about any of it I start itching all over like I’ve got hives. I don’t like being scared. I don’t like it at all. It feels like how out of control my life was right after my family was killed. Rand and I have promised each other that we’ll talk to each other more … not just about the love stuff but about other things that are on our mind. Keeping it bottled up inside us is something we both have issues with. He’s a “protector” type and tries to shield me from too much stuff. I don’t like being a “burden” because of my quirks. In a way we both need to get over ourselves but all of this stuff going on in the world isn’t helping.

Rand suggested that maybe trying to keep what he calls some “normalcy” will help, give us a focus, a constant, a structure so that we don’t go tearing off into bad habits that turned destructive on us. Good grief, I sound like Mr. Kramer. How weird is that?

I’ve been trying to get things done the best I can, trying to do stuff constructive that has to be done one way or the other. I harvested a full basket from my yellow crookneck squash today. I think my squash tastes better than the stuff that Aunt Wilma used to put on the table … even better than the stuff we used to serve at the diner and that was pretty decent. Maybe it is because it is my blood, sweat, and tears that went into growing it.

Rand said if I keep things harvested rather than just letting them sit and get bigger on the plants, the plant will actually make more in the long run. You can either get a handful of really big fruits or veggies off of a plant or you can get a lot more small and medium ones. The small and medium ones generally taste better. Sometimes if you let something get big it gets overripe or tough. I remember that from Momma’s garden.

For lunch today I pan fried some squash slices the way you do fried okra; sliced them like silver dollars and then breaded them. We also had cornbread, fried apples and I … ew! … fried my first squirrel all by myself. I caught a squirrel in the garden digging at my plants and it made me so mad that I threw the metal bucket I sit on when I’m weeding by hand. Well I didn’t really expect to hit it … the squirrel didn’t either apparently … but I did. I picked it up by its fuzzy tail after I figured out it wasn’t faking and took it to Rand who laughed so hard at my expression that he started coughing again.

He took it and cleaned it and then I fried it up just like fried chicken. It’s a lot harder to eat something when you know what the inside of one looks like up close and personal but I figure if I can handle chicken I can handle other stuff. It’s just going to take some getting used to.

If I could have figured out how to make gravy from the pan drippings I would have. Rand needs more fat in his diet. I don’t mind being thinner but I can’t seem to lose where I feel like I should lose. I feel like a mushroom. When I’m in the garden Woofer likes to get right up under me and sit in the shade I make. Blasted dog. I never thought I could be embarrassed by the affection of an animal but he’s a kisser and if you don’t let him he gets dejected.

But Rand’s cough was making me concerned. He’s not the only one I’ve heard barking. Hoss was doing it, Mitch was doing it yesterday, and Hoss said that Pastor Ken can’t seem to kick the cough either. I kind of remember Brendon wheezing a bit too. Normally I would do the honey and lemon thing but I’m running out of lemon. There are so many things that I need lemon for, especially canning, that I am too worried about running out. If what I did doesn’t help then I’ll break down and use the lemon next.

I made horehound cough drops. You make a half cup of very strong tea from dried horehound and water. First you mix two cups of sugar and one cup of honey or corn syrup. Since I had the honey I used it. It made the drops extra dark but that doesn’t matter. You need to boil the sugar mixture really hard until it reaches 290 degrees F. Lucky me I have a couple of candy thermometers but you can also do the hard ball stage test by dropping a drop of the candy into cold water. If the drop can be snapped it’s at the hard ball stage. Then you stir in the strong tea. You pour this onto a buttered cookie sheet and then after it has cooled for just a minute or so but is still very pliable you want to run a buttered knife through the candy to “score” it into the size pieces you are going for. After the candy has cooled to the point that it cracks or breaks you need to go ahead and break the pieces apart then spread these pieces out to let them cool completely. Once that happens you shake them up in some powdered sugar to keep the pieces from sticking back together and then store them in airtight containers and keep it out of the sun the same way you would any kind of hard candy.

Horehound was Momma’s favorite hard candy flavor – my personal faves are green apple or Rootbeer – so I knew all about horehound making good cough drops. I’d eaten enough of them as a kid. I also know how to make them and even Aunt Wilma had sworn by it because her “herbalist” recommended them. There was a good sized can of dried horehound from the health food store left over from the last time we had come up. I thought I was going to save it to make Christmas candy with but it was better to use it for this.

I’m thankful to say that Rand isn’t coughing nearly as much anymore. When Mitch came by I made him pop one in his mouth and then take a little bag of them to Pastor Ken who is still convalescing at Mr. Henderson’s ranch. Not an hour later Mr. Henderson shows up with this woman I’d never met. She has really dark hair and eyes but you can tell she is older, not as old as Mr. Henderson but somewhere near there.

“Ola chica. You must be the little senora that mi gallo speaks of.”

It was a while before I could look at Mr. Henderson with a straight face. Gallo is Spanish for rooster and I’m not sure that he isn’t a little too proud of the nickname.

Basically she wanted me to show her what I had done and I explained about the horehound. She is very nice and told me to call her Tia Cia as all of the men that work for Mr. Henderson do. Tia in Spanish means “Aunt” and Cia is short for Hortencia. I like her. I had assumed she was Mexican but now that I’ve met her I know she isn’t. If I had to guess I would say Cuban or maybe a Spaniard but more than likely a Cuban. She said she was a little girl when her family immigrated and her father had been a doctor before that but became a shoe salesman once he came to this country.

I explained that I didn’t have any more horehound and she said, “Not to worry muchacha dulce. I have more than enough for all of us. It grows like a weed in my herb garden. As soon as I get enough dried I will make sure you get some more. Gallo I need to get back to my kitchen and make some of these candy drops. I grow weary of all of the cough-cough-cough all day and all night.”

I found someone else that has Mr. Henderson wrapped around their little finger. Rand said that more than one person has said that Mr. Henderson and Tia Cia should get married since they seem to get along so well but they never have. “Aunt Rachel said one time it was because of Cassie. Apparently Cassie wanted Mr. Henderson all to herself when she was little and was constantly jealous of anyone else in his life. He spoiled her pretty badly. She could be pretty obnoxious when we were younger and she and Julia were real close, maybe still are; I don’t know.”

Every so often Rand will let his mask slip when he talks about Julia and I can tell he is still hurt and confused by what happened. I try really hard not to let it bother me. Julia is with Ron Harbinger now … and dealing with whatever she has going on in her life … and Rand is with me. I trust him and I promise if it is the last thing I do I will make him forget all those nasty things her parents said to make him feel like he didn’t have a lot to offer a girl. Their stupid is my gain … and I intend on keeping it that way.

September 13th – Today we had a spoonful of sugar with the medicine … but the medicine was very, very bitter and the sweet didn’t make up for it.

Rand had gone to the main gate to see what he could do about camouflaging it or making it stronger or something. We aren’t sure what we are going to do. I was about to walk up and see if he needed any water when he came back leading what looked like the back end of a bread truck being pulled by a team of six mules. For a second all I could think of was Santa and his sleigh only without Rudolph. I was a lot closer than I could have possibly expected.

There were two really big men sitting on a makeshift wagon seat. Rand just stepped beside me but didn’t say anything. The first one hopped down and came towards me. He was about as big as Bill is. He handed me a letter. Rand still didn’t say anything, just put his arm around me so I opened the envelope and a piece of fancy writing paper fell out.

My Dear, Dear Girl,

By the time you read this letter I will have gone on to be with my wife and son. While my days on Earth have been fewer in number than I expected, I can say in all honesty that they have been quite satisfying.

Illness has swept Tallahassee, cholera to be more precise. My age is not a help, nor is my already frail health from a persistent cold I suffered for several weeks prior to my contracting this dreadful disease. Loss of life has been quite high as the hygiene of this city’s inhabitants is not what it should be. I was certain I was on the mend but I continue to have set back after set back and have come to the realization that the Lord is merely giving me time to clear my desk so that I may rest with no regrets.

Do not mourn me child for I go to a much, much better place. My only concern is that you still do not seem inclined to care very much for your financial security. I am confident your young man will help in that regard so it pleases me greatly to hand all of your case files over to him. While I hope you do not become upset by this rather chauvinistic appearing move I truly do feel it is for the best until such a time as he can hopefully have more luck convincing you of the necessity than I have.

My nephews will deliver what I have been able to acquire for your benefit. It is not nearly as much as I had hoped but relying on my cherished niece’s suggestions I think it will be more beneficial than perhaps some other investments that I had considered until recently.

I have taken the liberty of paying my nephews a goodly sum for delivering this to you directly themselves rather than risking it to anyone else. This is for your security as much as for their benefit. The recent news we are hearing leads me to believe that things will soon deteriorate further and I hope that my nephews and their mother can find a better place to reside that will suit their talents away from the constant bureaucracy handicapping them here.

Blessings to you my dear girl and to your young man. Remember Psalm 27:4-6 my dear. It has been a comfort to me many times over the years.

Your friend and mentor,

Barabbas Barnes, Esq.

September 14th – I didn’t feel like writing any more yesterday for a lot of reasons. Sadness is some of it. No time was also in the list. And fear … the news keeps getting worse. There was another round of explosions, this time in retaliation perhaps. Word – more like gossip and assumption - has it that the ground in the Middle East looks like Swiss cheese about now. Every country capable decided that it would be a good time for payback. I’ll explain how we found that out later.

All I could do was walk into Rand’s arms yesterday and hold on. I complained about Mr. Barnes but at the same time he has been a constant in my life ever since my family died. I never wondered, not once, if he was on my side or not. He asked more from me that I felt I could give but he never gave up trying to change my mind, never gave up on me period. That’s a lot more than I can say for other people. And now he is gone, my last tangible living link to that part of my life. I still can’t think about it without crying and I hate that. Rand put me to bed early last night. That sounds so stupid, I'm not a child, but I was just to the point that I was so overwhelmed and I couldn’t take in anything else.

“Uncle Barry, he thought you were something special. He told us to make sure that no matter what it took to get this stuff to you we did it, but we really can’t stay though we appreciate your offer. Our pass expires in less than twenty-four hours and it’s going to take that long to get back where we left Mom and get our own gear and get out of town while we still can. Where can we unload this stuff? Some of this is heavy.”

“This” filled up about half of the enclosed wagon. There were barrels, a couple of large boxes, and plastic tubs of all sorts of things. “Mom told Uncle Barry that instead of sending cardboard boxes and bags, to pack things in containers that could be reused. She helped pack most of this stuff herself so nothing should be broken. Those barrels over there have seed grain in them. Mom wanted to send more groceries but there just aren’t that many to be had. Got you a small barrel of rice but had to pay an arm and a leg for it. Instead of groceries Mom had Uncle Barry send out seasonings and stuff like that. You’ll have to look through the rest of this stuff to see what it is. Mom took care of most of it after Uncle Barry got really sick but he dictated some notes that are stuck in some of the containers. But this thing here, this was the biggie. He wanted you to get this especially. He got one for Mom as well and we’ve already set it up in our new place.”

The biggest box held something that nearly floored Rand. You would have thought he would be the one cooking on it the way he made a fuss over it. I tried to as well but all I could do was sniff and then start crying again. It was a wood cook stove, something called a Pioneer Princess. Rand helped them maneuver the box over to the summer kitchen and they just slid it inside. Today Mitch came by and he helped Rand take out the old stove and stick it in the barn and move the princess into the newly vacant space, it barely fit. It isn’t one of those really fancy looking cook stoves like you see in museums but I like it. It has a 20 gallon water reservoir … no more cold showers unless we want one … and has a warming oven above the cooking surface. It’s boxy compared to the one that Alicia brought with her when she married Brendon but … well, it suits where we put it and I’m thankful to have it.

I can’t use it yet because Rand has to run the exhaust pipe stuff but it is still pretty hot so cooking outside is better anyway. Rand said, “We’re lucky that your parents had the electric oven on an outside wall. That’s going to make my job a lot easier and I’m double lucky that it won’t interfere with the bonus rooms right above.” I’m glad he knows what he is doing.

I really am blessed to have Rand. Even if I didn’t have all of this stuff from Momma and Daddy or any of this stuff that Mr. Barnes had sent out to us I think between the two of us we could still make out OK … but I’m no fool, I’m grateful and not ashamed to say so. His knowledge and experience are worth a lot more than he gives it credit for being.

Mitch told me a lot of people around here have a wood burning stove for heating their homes after heating oil went so high a few years back. Some people only have heat because they have stoves during the winters, especially the older houses. Living in Tampa for so long I have a hard time imagining houses without central heat and air but I guess you can get used to anything; I’ve actually gotten used to not having AC although if I didn’t have the well pump full of cold water that would probably be a different story.

Mitch also told us people that don’t have good house set ups are pulling stuff from vacant houses or are moving lock, stock, and barrel to some place better. The older homes that have been kept in good repair are especially attractive to folks. I asked him but what about the government taking it away from them and that’s when he shared some of the news that they’ve been getting.

“Now, this isn’t gospel. Mr. Henderson hasn’t confirmed any of it yet. That relocation stuff they were doing? It’s been put on indefinite hold. Too many things went wrong. The riots, the sicknesses, the cost of moving the people and trying to feed them … it just all went bad. Turned into a big money pit.”

Rand wanted to know, “Where did you hear that? I thought the radio had quieted way down.”

“It has, it surely has. It’s actually that friend of Kiri’s … Ram Diaz. His commander is a smart man. He knows that the only way they are going to be able to stay around here comfortably is if they create some goodwill with local residents. He’s also been over to see Bill Sawyer.”

I wanted to know, “What’s Ram been up to now? Not that I don’t consider him honest, but he can be a stinker.”

“Yeah, he said you are pretty suspicious of people so if you trusted Mr. Henderson and the others that you introduced him to that he could pretty well take that as they’d been tried and found worthy … or something like that anyway. Made the Judge laugh and made the Pastor blush. Mr. Henderson just rolled his eyes but you could tell … well, as much as you ever can with him … that he appreciated what Ram was saying.”

“So? Come on man, was that all that guy said?”

Rand still calls Ram “that guy” so I step easy when I talk about him. I hope eventually Rand isn’t so sensitive about it. Ram was one of the better of the foster boys. I was still in the wheel chair for a couple of months when he was there and he was one of the few that never tried to prank me with it.

“Well … look, this really can’t go any further Rand, not even to your family. Your uncle is a good man but if he thinks he can help his neighbors by saying something he will and Mr. Henderson really doesn’t want this going further until we get some independent verification. He may be inclined to trust Ram but that doesn’t mean he trusts him all the way yet.”

We sat there just waiting for Mitch to decide whether he was actually going to say something or not.

“Things are a lot worse than the government is letting on. You might as well say there is a kind of world war going on but it is so … I guess you could say it is a very disorganized kind of war … it’s happening everywhere, no country is being spared. Everybody has a grudge they’ve been holding. It is like lots of wars within a big war … individual grudges plus battles within coalitions with their own agenda and purpose. Oil and other natural resources have a lot to do with it. China is fighting multiple fronts … Africa, Australia, and they are even rumored to be supporting some of the terrorism that occurred trying to bring the US down several notches so that they’ll be easier to draw into their new “empire.” But the ones that they originally supported are doing their own empire pushing. Some of the Middle Eastern countries believe it is time for a new world order based on Islam. Everything is crazy. The bad guys and good guys change on a daily basis. Your friends of today are your enemies of tomorrow and vice versa.”

“What about nukes? Were there any?”

“Ram says not to his knowledge but that isn’t a definitive yes or no. It just means that the information hasn’t made it down to his level yet. A lot more US cities saw explosions than were reported. If there was a major university with a significant Middle Eastern student body then there was an explosion. Doesn’t mean the students did it but maybe people trying to blend in with university students did it. A lot of the big dams were damaged or blown all together ... Hoover, Wright Patman, Flaming Gorge, the dam on Lake Lanier ... lots of them and too many for me to name right here. Mr. Henderson is putting together a map and I'll see if I can't copy it for you sometime soon. The locations that we know about for sure as far as city explosions go are multiple explosions in NYC and several in NJ too; LA is so bad off that you can’t tell the difference between what was damaged by riots, what was damaged by the explosions, and what is from the two recent earthquakes out that way; the DC area couldn’t get much worse but they tried it with more explosions around the epicenters of the original explosions; Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia all went bonkers too … but whether that is Islamic extremist or work of extreme members of the Nation of Islam is anyone’s guess. Additional reports are trickling down to Ram's commander every day but he isn’t privy to them all. What he has said is that we better prepare for things to be very bad this winter. And this coming spring might just be even worse.”

“How can things possibly get any worse?!” I wanted to know.

“No electric, no fuel, no food … the winter is going to keep people focused on personal survival but folks that do survive the winter are going to be angry. The fewer people the farther the resources will stretch and that will pacify some into submission but that isn’t going to stop a lot of people from being angry. As soon as they thaw out enough to figure the cavalry isn’t coming no matter how much they bought into all that hope and change crap they are going to want to take their disillusionment out on someone. That could mean widespread rioting … or even civil war.”

Rand and Mitch went on about that last possibility and all I could do was pray that we didn’t see it. They were talking about citizen fighting citizen … friend fighting friend … families being torn apart … lives changing forever … and lots of death. We had already had enough of that in my opinion.

I was both fascinated and repulsed by the stories of what happened during the US Civil War in school. I must have watched that Ken Burns documentary enough times to have it memorized. There is no way that I want to live through a repeat of that. Too many women lost sons … too many women lost brothers … too many lost husbands. I could feel my chest tighten up at the very thought of Rand going off to fight a war, especially that type of war. I couldn’t even listen to them talk about it.

After Mitch left Rand and I finished what chores we could for the day and then we sat on the porch swing and just cuddled. I want to hold him here, to me, not let him go off to fight some crazy war that someone else started because of their own stupidity. I think I’m beginning to understand how Momma must have felt when Daddy went off to places that she knew weren’t safe for a US soldier whether he was there to fight or there to train. You are so proud on the one hand and on the other you are terrified that like the Spartans they’ll come back “on their shields.”

Maybe I am getting hysterical or exaggerating or something. For now all we can do is sit and wait to see what else happens; or see if anything happens at all.

September 17th – Been a busy few days. We were supposed to have church services today but Pastor Ken wasn’t up for it and too many people are still sick or they are in the process of recovering.

Friday I tried baking in the cook stove for the first time. It really is nice; it even has a temperature gauge you can set. But boy does it heat up a room, even with just a small fire in the fire box. I had the doors and windows open just trying to breathe. It is a good thing that it isn’t anywhere near the wood cabinets and that Daddy ran the granite backsplash all the way down behind the stove to the floor with the scraps left over from the countertops; the slate floor helps too according to Rand.

I’m reading the booklet that came with the stove … it is actually a second hand one that was refurbished or whatever you want to call a second hand appliance … and you are supposed to be able to cook eight loaves of bread in the oven at a time. The diagram shows that you have to fit them in there like a puzzle but I only cooked two loaves, some biscuits, and some cookies for the cookie jar that Rand can empty faster than I can fill it up.

Rand and Brendon spent the early morning hours seeding the field they had set aside for oats. It’s not a big area, only an acre, and it took three bushels of what Mr. Barnes had sent in one of the barrels. Rand was glad not to have to use what was in his feed supplies. It didn’t take but a couple of hours and it wasn’t even lunch time when Brendon left. I wish he had stayed a little longer, I think he would have gotten a kick out of what happened next.

We had a visitor today that I recognized from our wedding. He was the man that brought the roasted pig. Our place tickled him. He said he’s lived in Live Oak his whole life and it had been “many a year” since he’d gotten lost trying to find someone’s house. “That dang road’ll fool you all right. You start out knowing you are getting some place and then you start to wonder if it isn’t a road to nowhere. Then you hit that gate right at your forty and you think you’ve found where you need to be and then you get half way back here and start wondering if you are heading the right direction all over again. I like it. Good location. The only thing you’re missing is a year-round pond and I see ya got ya one on that eighty next to yer.”

His name is Mr. Coffey … Thaddeus Coffey. When I write down what he says there is no way I can make up his deep southern drawl. I thought Momma had a southern accent when she would say things like “warsh” instead of “wash” but Mr. Coffey goes way beyond anything that Momma used to sound like.

I like him. I’m not just saying that because he said he liked us, “I says to myself, Thaddeus, them two done good by each other. They ain’t biggety a tall like some folks is these days.”

Seems Mr. Coffey was looking for the “right feller to hep him out.” He’s a bit like a smaller version of Mr. Henderson, “I ain’t laid up but I ain’t no spring chicken neither no how. So’s, I say gots ta get some hep to get that sorghum in or it’s gonna rot in the field. Who do I know what’s wants some pay but will aktully work for it and take it in sumpin other than cash on the barrel? Well, you and that crazy cousin o’ yorn’s comes ta mind. I like to have thrashed that Brendon some kinda good a couple o’ years ago when him and that cornsobbin Roberts boy went a hot roddin’ through my corn but when Brendon dried out the next day I didn’t have to hunt him up. He came all on his ownsome and apologized and then worked off the damage ever day after school and on the weekends without a word o’ complaint and brought his own fixins to eat too, not expecting nothing. I recall hearing tell how you wusn’t no saint neither ‘til recently but I won’t get into it as your missus is standing right here.”

Rand looked like a deer in the headlights and it took everything I had not to laugh right out loud. I had to run in the house to get my face straight and brought out some bread and preserves as an excuse with some fresh cold tea. “Well, if I ain’t gobsmacked. Boy, you better hold on ta this ‘un. Better ‘an that old ‘un ya had. And keep her close. I hear tell of men of all ages looking to trade in what they got on a better model and if word gets out she can cook like this you’ll be fightin’ ‘em off with a shotgun.”

After Mr. Coffey left Rand went to go catch up with Brendon and work out where they would meet up in the morning. Rand will be using Bud and Lou and probably Hatchet too. He hopes to get a decent amount of grain and sorghum out of the work deal.

I baked apples for dinner – the red ones are coming in now on three different trees – and made cornbread patties that we ate with the leftover beans from lunch. For some reason I got the giggles all over again and Rand only made it worse when he asked, “Yer needin’ hep with the dishes woman?”

We must have laughed off and on for the rest of the evening. It felt so good, almost as good as the cuddle before Rand fell asleep. I know there are bad things still happening out there but in here, in our home, this is our safe place. It seems like if we can keep a corner of this world set aside so that we can live and worship as we see fit then no matter how bad it gets out there we’ll still be OK.


  1. Moooooaaaaaaaaarrrrrr!!!!!

    *cough* *cough*

    Ooops. Wrong story. *blush*

    You are an absolutely amazing storyteller Mother Hen. I would like to see something you've written that isn't in Journal form, but it is clear the Journal is a natural form for you, and you have a clear mastery of it. I now have *TWO* of your stories to follow. I don't know how I can find the time to read them, let alone how you have the time to write them, but I do really appeciate them.

    I'd offer to send you some cookies I just finished baking, but as I burned them I don't think you'd want them....Even it was your fault. I got so engrossed in Chapter 27 that I didn't register that the timer had gone off until the end of Chapter 28.


  2. Sorry for the burnt cookies. Now that's a tragedy. LOL! Thank you for your kind comment.