Saturday, January 23, 2010

Chapter Forty

Chapter 40

August 7th – What an awful two days. On Sunday we were running late and had just gotten up to US90 when we ran into Mitch Peters. We could both tell right away that something was up as he wasn’t exactly walking his horse and it looked like he was heading back towards the Henderson place.

“Please. Y’all need to know I didn’t have a thing to do with what’s been going on. Mr. Henderson and Judge Walker have tore some people up one side and down the other and it’s taken care of most of the fence sitters but there are still some hardcore … “

Rand stopped him saying, “Yo, Mitch … little back story needed.”

“Sorry Rand. I’m just … well, it ain’t polite to say what I am at the moment. That trouble you and Kiri had, it started with my stepmom and her family. Jared Harbinger took part in it but Ron’s coming all unglued about it, screaming at them when he found out this morning. He’s actually the one that told Pastor Ken and Mr. Henderson. He saw the danger of it to the rest of us right away.”

I looked at them and asked, “What danger?” I wasn’t sure I wanted to know but considering the circumstances I had to stiffen my spine and climb out of my shell.

As we rode the rest of the way to the park, Mitch returning with us, they explained, “It opens a whole can of worms, them bringing the notice of the government to this area. A lot of people, based on what your lawyer friend said, are going to be in trouble. Anybody that has fallow ground could lose everything. No fuel to even turn the ground to make it look like it is being worked. No money to buy seed to plant even if you could turn the ground. Bringing that point up is what got most of the fence sitters and some of the others on the other side to rethink their opinions. They’ve already started building one of those relocation centers out at the old supply depot because the airstrip is still useable. They’ll branch out from there, looking for places to move people out into the community.”

“It’s all because of what I did to Chase isn’t it?! Oh Rand I’m so sorry, look at what I’ve caused and … “

I didn’t get any further, wasn’t allowed to go any further. Neither of them would listen to a thing I said which was a little upsetting on top of everything else. “Kiri, he was my little brother and I loved him despite his faults but he made his choice. He loved the drugs more than he loved his family. I knew as sure as I'm talking to you right now that if he didn’t get done with the drugs permanently they were gonna kill him or something he did while he was drugged up was gonna get him killed. I’m thankful that he didn’t take anyone with him and it hurts to say that like you don’t wanna know.”

All the rest of the way there they were discussing how we should handle things, but I knew I needed to take responsibility somehow and draw the heat off of the people that didn’t deserve it. How I was going to manage that without making Rand angry was actually my main concern at that time.

We finally arrived and if I hadn’t known ahead of time that there had been trouble I never would have realized it. There was a small knot of people hanging together and I recognized Mr. Jared Harbinger among them but none of the others. Everyone else was staring a little bit but no more than usual. What was strange was that Ron Harbinger came up and shook Rand’s hand and made a point of talking pretty loud about the work they had done together the day before and making some plans to maybe do some mowing and plowing together in the near future. Julia stood off to the side and was looking embarrassed and sulky but Ron didn’t let her get too far away from him. And if it wasn’t Ron leashing her, it was these two other women that looked to be about Mrs. Winston’s age boxing her in and not letting her wander off and talk to whomever she was trying to get off to see. I assumed those were Ron’s two unmarried aunts.

Momma O called me over and she and Judge Walker’s wife made a point of asking me how things were going and then asking for my recipe for different types of pears. Apparently Alicia, Laurabeth, and Missy had already been out and talking me up. Once Momma O and Mrs. Walker started talking to me about that sort of stuff several other ladies came over and started talking and they wanted to know how I was managing it without electric or gas and I told them over an open fire and then we all really took off with the older ladies giving some other tips.

I said I wished we could all get together and share this stuff or that everyone would slow down so I could write it down and Momma O laughed and said that was a fine idea and that she’d discuss it with a few of the other ladies she knew and that maybe we could get together and have an idea exchange, sort of like a ladies’ social or a quilting bee or something.

No sooner had I gotten excited about that than it was time for us to get back to our families so that the Pastor could start the sermon. I was surprised but I actually remembered the words to over half the songs that were sung; well the first verses anyway. They were the old songs … Amazing Grace, Rock of Ages, I Love To Tell the Story, In The Garden, and a couple of others I recognized from when I was little. Pastor Ken was on a role, talking about the need to be a community and support one another and to behave in Christ-like fashion. He warned against vices such as gossip-mongering, jealousy, envy, revenge, stealing, lying, cheating … drinking and immoderate living too … wasn’t too many he didn’t seem to cover to be honest.

He was hitting home with some folks. There were a lot of nodding and innocent looking faces but there was just as many squirming backsides and feet and hands that didn’t seem to know what to do with themselves. I know the revenge warning made me rethink some of my own actions and the gossip-mongering made me squirm like a worm in hot ashes. I could have put it down to necessary information gathering but if I did I sure would be cutting it a fine line.

I was happy to be heading back home after the service because I had a lot of thinking to do but that’s right when the trouble started. Chase’s mother … who I found out was a tall blonde woman named Lurlene Houchins since she’d retaken her maiden name after her second marriage also failed … started twisting some of the things that Pastor Ken had said and making a lot of statements that were supposed to be innuendo but that were pretty plain who she was talking about and why.

Rand grabbed my hand and we were just going to leave. Neither one of us were wanting trouble, certainly not in what amounted to church. We were trying to cut her some slack as she was grieving for her son and looking for something tangible to blame for his death. Then Jared Harbinger started up and brought up all that old stuff wondering aloud about his son Fred’s death and how it was some kind of conspiracy or something equally crazy.

“Dad, Fred got Fred killed by messing around with that girl after her dad and brothers had told him that the next time they caught him around what they were going to do to him. He thought he was too big and too bad and he was just flat out wrong. It could have been me just as easily but it wasn’t … and I aim to try and do better from here on out. I married Julia and whether the baby is mine, Fred’s , or Chase’s we’ll raise it like mine and it won’t grow up doing the things that I got away with doing. You and the things you do were part of the problem … I’m not going to let them interfere with me no more so give it up. He was my little brother and my best friend … and the person I led into trouble more often than not … but he is dead. Let him rest in peace.”

I could see Julia was horrified at what Ron was saying but was even more upset that no one came to her defense.

Then it was Mitch’s turn. “Lurlene, you know that Chase had problems. How many times did you pay to send him to rehab? I know Dad paid for it three times and when he just went right back to doing what he wanted to do he wouldn’t pay no more. Your parents sent him at least twice that I know of. Face it, Chase could act pretty … “

“You weren’t a brother to my Chase! I heard what you did … letting that lunatic over there throw him in with that dead woman!! How dare you pass judgment on him like that. What have you done since he’s been dead?! Nothing … you stick up for his murderer is all!! I wonder what other of our men that little (blipped out in the interest of my own piece of mind) has led astray. Chase was just an innocent with a few problems he would have grown out of if he had had the chance. She took that from him … and from me! I will not be denied. I will have justice for my son!!”

Life had suddenly turned into a horrible cowboy movie where everyone always seems determined to settle things with a gun. Thankfully Ms. Houchins is a worse shot than me and couldn’t hit the side of a barn if it jumped right out in front of her. Unfortunately what she did hit was our little wagon, the wagon I had just ducked down on the bench of when I saw her aim at me. I wasn’t holding on to anything and Bud rear up joggling the wagon pretty bad. Rand grabbed his head quickly but I lost my balance and went head first over the side.

I couldn’t breathe and all the screaming and carrying on didn’t help my concentration any. I landed on a stump with my chest. It was high enough to trip over but not so high that he stabbed me; it was about eight inches across, it felt like that time in school when a baseball had taken a bad bounce and caught me in the one place a girl really hates to get hit. I was up on all fours trying to crawl away from the wagon in case Bud decided to run when I felt Rand pulling me up and into his arms. Everyone thought I’d been shot.

It was a while before I was able to take a full breath and I have a horrible rainbow bruise on my right … on the right side and I it hurts to carry anything with my right arm. I’d seen angry people before but I’d never seen an angry mob. These same people who’d just been sitting down calmly listening to a church service had suddenly become … scary. They looked like they were going to lynch Ms. Houchins and Jared Harbinger and maybe a couple of the others too right there in the park.

It took me a couple of tries but I made Rand help to stand me up and I said, “Stop it! … I said STOP IT!!!! Please don’t do this. I did kill her her son … I don’t see how I could have done any different unless I was to let him kill me first but that doesn’t mean that I’m not sorry for it. And she’s half crazy with grief. I’ve been there myself when I found out my family had been killed. Just … just stop it … please. This isn’t … this isn’t going to help anything and you won’t like what you have to live with afterwards.”

I was running out of breath again but I was also to the point of tears. It seemed every time I thought I had something good and that everything was going to be OK something came along to try and destroy it.

Thankfully Rand understood and with me in his arms he said, “Haven’t we got enough problems people? You think they’re going to stop with Kiri now that they’ve noticed our community? If you do you’re crazy. Listen to Mr. Henderson. They’re already setting up one of those relocation centers up in Lake City. They’re going to spread out from there in the coming weeks and months. Stop wasting time and spend it cultivating a garden, keeping your house in good repair and lived in, securing your winter supplies somehow. And if you have somebody come up and say ‘We’re from the government and we’re here to help’ I suggest you be real careful about accepting anything they’re offering.”

Uncle George hobbled up without his crutch for the first time in a while and said, “Me and mine are working to save what we’ve got. There’s other in the community doing the same. There is no time to waste. No one is coming to the rescue. No more work days. No more ration books. No more handouts. The only thing you are going to get is what your own back and hands can provide for your family. I suggest you all think on that and remember what it was like in the old days … ‘cause that is all we have and that is all there is. To think anything else is foolish and dangerous to yourself and the rest of us.”

I can’t say that we really influenced anyone but it didn’t feel like a bunch of hyenas were loose in the park any more either. We left at that point. Ms. Houchins was having some kind of hysterical fit and the older folks Rand said were her parents along with Mitch were talking to the Judge. I guess they were trying to figure out what was to be done that would satisfy enough in the community that people would let it go.

Eventually Rand and I got home, escorted by some of Mr. Henderson’s men. When Rand saw how bruised I was I thought he was going to go off again and I literally begged him not to, that I just wanted to shut the gates and us take care of us.

I couldn’t do much work and Rand was wound too tight to do much more than stick close to me. When I tried to practice with the pistol it hurt but was bearable but when I tried to practice with the rifle one shot nearly had me puking my lunch up. After that Rand wanted me to go back to the house and lie down for a while but I told him I needed to pick the dried black eyed pea pods first.

Rand helped me to do that and then he tossed the bushes into the compost pile. I’m going to have to start another pile pretty soon but Rand also found a design for taking a barrel and making a rotating compost container that works scraps into compost a lot faster than it gets done in a regular compost heap. Dad wrote on the page that it came from the website but it was just like the one in an old Rodale gardening book I was reading. Rand promises that when he is done I’ll be able to turn it even when it is full. If I can believe everything Momma wrote in her notes – and I have no reason to believe I can’t – Rand and I are going to need lots and lots of compost to keep the garden going, especially since we’re not going to have all those fancy fertilizers when what we do have runs out.

After that Rand really did pull the guy card and made me lay down for a while. He laid down beside me and we both wound up sleeping nearly an hour and a half. Rand didn’t want me to get up but I couldn’t just lay there no matter how good it would have felt because I knew he was going to go downstairs and work.

When the guys had been by that last day they had helped Rand set seven twelve-inch cypress posts in the ground outside of the summer kitchen. Today he added some rafters and trusses and as he gets the materials and the chance he will deck in a small roof and then cover the decking over with cypress shingles that he “liberated” from the scrap yard of the old log cabin company between our place and Lake City on US90. As a matter of fact, he and the guys had “liberated” quite a bit of cypress in logs, siding, shingles, and other stuff like that to help build the additions and houses at the Crenshaw farm and Rand had taken some for a few projects he had in mind as well. Rand also brought back four little wagons full of cypress sawdust for animal bedding. He says there is a lot more where that came from and that we can compost it separately when we clean the barn; the sawdust will make clean up in the barn easier … especially the wet stuff. One of the many projects on Rand’s list is a dirt floored barn but that is a cooler weather project that will take lots of hands.

While he scrambled around like a monkey messing with the porch he is building me so that I can preserve food out of the sun, I sat and worked on our calendar trying to figure out what was coming in the near future, whether I had enough jars, where I was going to put everything and what I would like to stock up on if we ever have the chance.

Rand wouldn’t let me cook last night and we ate a couple of the MREs that Missy had sent in our “honeymoon box.” They aren’t bad but I wouldn’t call them good either. They remind me a lot of cafeteria food.

I spent a restless and uncomfortable night and was grateful for the nap I took. I can’t imagine how tired I would have been tonight if I hadn’t gotten that little extra bit of sleep. We woke up to the smell of smoke … not the good kind from a cooking fire but the kind you get from something burning out of control.

Rand and I ran until we found the fire at the first salvage house, thank goodness the house is in a good sized clearing and not right up against a bunch of trees. We dug the best fire break we could under the circumstances and then did our best to put out any embers that flew away from the house. Mr. Henderson, Mitch, Bradley, Hoss, and a couple of other men I didn’t recognize came galloping up and helped us. A patrol group has seen the black smoke and called for back up Someone had set it on purpose is the only thing we can think of. To scare us or who knows what maybe or just as likely just to set a fire; some people are like that. There had been a few reports of building fires in other places in the county.

It didn’t take long for there to be nothing left of the little house. Rand and I thought of the other houses at the same time and we took off to check on them. Rand wanted to send me back to the house but he didn’t want me going by myself so I got to tag along. The second house had been gotten into by someone. The back door had been busted in and it was more wanton destruction than salvaging. The messy house was the same way but the fourth house hadn’t been touched, probably because if this all happened at night it sits way back out of sight behind some overgrown hedges.

Rand was fit to be tied and frankly so was Mr. Henderson but we couldn’t say for sure that any of it was a direct result of what had happened at the church service. The wanton destruction though spoke of someone with too much time on their hands in my opinion but Rand and the other men gave it a more sinister slant. Maybe it was my age but it sure seemed like something some of the dumber kids I had gone to school with would have gotten a kick out of doing.

By the time we got back to our own yard Brendon and the others had shown up. They were supposed to work on the easement fields but instead they took the wagons, horses, and mules and started taking the remaining three salvage houses apart. We’ve got piles and piles of stuff just laying all over the yard. It’s bothering the heck out of me. Tomorrow Missy is supposed to come and help go through everything. What any of our family doesn’t want she is going to take to the storage house that has been set up on their farm road. Families can come and pick out whatever it is that they need but they can’t make a mess and they are expected to donate to the supplies when they run across something they can’t use. I think it is a fine idea; I’m just not sure how long that is going to work. It’s like group projects we had to do in school, someone always wound up doing the bulk of the work while everyone got equal credit.

Rand plans on staying up and guarding things. He is already so tired I don’t know how he expects to be able to do that too.

August 8th – Rand is exhausted and living on coffee and that really bothers me. I woke up a couple of times and tried to get him to let me take a turn but he only got testy. I hate this.

Had some help from people I didn’t expect. Ron Harbinger, Mr. Winston, and his son JR met the Crenshaws, Clyde, and Rand up at the salvage houses today and they finished dismantling things and hauling stuff away in different directions. I kept them supplied with water and tea and apples since they are still abundant which gave me a chance to keep an eye on Rand and have a word with Brendon who told his dad.

Missy is one heck of an organizer. You could really tell she and Bill used to work in supply and requisition as they know just how to organize things and what is likely to be the most useful and what can be bundled up together and put into a “miscellaneous” or “junk” pile. There were tarps laid out and she went over everything that was left in the houses. I didn’t see anything Rand or I needed or wanted but she insisted on bringing a few things over to our place anyway. Some of it was good jewelry and stuff like that and she said if I didn’t want it then to bury it and forget about it like treasure, there might come a day when it would come in handy. I can’t imagine it but I asked Rand to do just that. It is wrapped up and in an empty can and it is sitting in the back side of the ammo cubbyhole. It bothers me a little knowing it is there so I hope I can forget about it like she suggested.

In the afternoon Rand asked me to stay home and keep an eye on things while the boys ran water back and forth for me. Some other people, including some of Momma O’s family and some of the men from Mr. Henderson’s ranch, came and the job went even faster. By late afternoon there wasn’t anything left of those houses but their foundations. After everyone left to go home but before full dark Rand took me up there and it was so eerie that I shivered.

We don’t have any more houses close enough to worry about new neighbor problems, not unless the relocation teams have people set up in tents or put some type of trailer on the various pieces of land for them. Mr. Henderson wants to organize more of these work days, maybe one or two a week for those that need building supplies or what have you.

Our yard is driving me crazy. The piles didn’t go away they’ve only gotten worse and more of them. Rand promises that he’ll put things to good use as quickly as he can but I have my doubts. He has a bunch of windows that he told me he wants to build cold frames out of. I had to look that up but basically they are mini green houses where you can grow things in the cold off seasons or get plants started early to get a leg up on planting cycles. He also wants to build a green house and at least two more drying contraptions and a solar cooker as well. I don’t know when we are supposed to have all the time for these projects. I’m so busy I can barely breathe.

I’m canning and drying, trying to clean around all of the mess, trying to catch up with laundry (I don’t have that many spare work clothes), I’m watching the chickens to see if they are going to hatch the eggs they are sitting on, Lou gets lonesome if I don’t pay some attention to him every day … and so does Rand for that matter, I cook two and three meals a day, working in the garden, and the list could go on and on. I feel like I need a vacation just to catch up on the things I need to do but a vacation wouldn’t do anything but put me more behind.

August 9th -- Today Rand put together the pot bellied cook stove and if things work out then tomorrow I’m going to try canning whatever Rand brings back from hunting. This couldn’t come at a worse time. I have so much to do. I know he wants to get some meat in before things get hunted over. I understand that, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day for me to do everything.

Mr. Henderson came by to check on us and asked if we’d had any trouble overnight. We hadn’t noticed anything new but he said he’d seen signs in some of the other abandoned houses in the area that the vandal(s) had been at work. We can’t afford too many more fires like the one we had. It wouldn’t take much for one to get out of control if it happens in the right place at the wrong time. I try and not think of that too much.

I’m so tired I can’t even see straight to write anything else. All I can say is work, work, work.

August 10th – Alicia with Melly and her little boy (everyone calls him Roo but I don’t know what his real name is) came over and brought two portable wood stoves that Bill scavenged from someplace and we pressure canned like crazy. Roo doesn’t call me Kiri but “truck lady” which I think is just too cute although I don’t know about the lady part. I’m glad that Alicia was there to go over the how-to’s. Now that I’ve done it a couple of times with Alicia who’s been doing it most of her life I feel much better and for sure I’m going to be able to can vegetables when they start coming in.

It wasn’t even daylight when they showed up but I was up and had coffee for those that wanted it … Rand says it isn’t half bad and it is strong enough to keep him awake for two days if he needs to. I’m not sure that was the effect that I was going for but at least he said it was drinkable.

The guys went off while we put the portable stoves together. The tops of them were bigger than the pot bellied stove. I like not having to bend over with the pot belly but it doesn’t have much surface space so I don’t think I’ll be giving up my fire pits any time soon.

The guys bagged two deer, they could have gotten more but we were barely able to keep up with the two. If it was cooler maybe but in the heat we had it was really difficult. Thank goodness for the extra stove top and pressure canners. We were able to have four going at a time and one of them was this really mammoth thing that was Alicia’s and it held 32 pints or 19 quarts at a time. We got about seventy-five pounds of meat from each deer. The good meat we cut into stewing chunks and raw packed … that’s putting cubed meat and a teaspoon of salt per quart jar and then pressure canning it from there … no extra liquid necessary as it makes its own. The less nice pieces Alicia showed us how to grind up and make “ground venison” which we then browned and canned that way. She said when it was cooler that we would grind some up to make sausage from but it required cold weather since the meat was going to have to set up for a while.

We got forty quarts of meat off of those two deer. I couldn’t believe it. The meat cooked down in the pressure cooking but one quart is still way more than enough for Rand and I to make one or two meals out of. We also canned fifteen pints of squirrel. The guys cleared out some of the local population to keep them out of our garden. The squirrel had to soak in salt water for an hour before we could can it but that’s OK, it gave us time to finish the venison. We split the meat in fourths as we are canning for Missy and Bill as well.

I am so proud of those jars it is silly. I wish I had a camera to take pictures with but then how would I develop them? I guess this journal will have to make do for all my memories. As much canning as we did, ten quarts of venison and five quarts of squirrel isn’t much meat. Rand says that we’ll get two shoulders and two hams, sausage, ribs, and some other stuff from the hog at butchering time and then we’ll also have all of that beef to take care of too. That makes me worried that I won’t have enough jars but Rand reminded me of all those jars we found in that barn but then I reminded him that jars without lids aren’t much good. We then got on the subject of how many jars and how many lids we have left. I told him hundreds of jars between what Momma had and what we’ve found. I’ll use the antique jars for storing dried food and I can re-use lids for that, I’ll just need to mark the lids in some way … like scratch an “X” on them on something. But unused lids are another matter.

We’ve found a few boxes of twelve here and there in our salvaging; I think it was a dozen boxes of them off the top of my head. That’s 144 lids some of which are regular and some are wide-mouth. We can add that to the case of regular and case of wide-mouth lids my parents had stored here … a case lot is 720 lids. I know that sounds like an awful lot and I thought it would last forever but trying to preserve all of our food that way is changing my mind real fast especially when you think about all the pounds of meat that Rand wants to preserve. Alicia’s parents also had jars and lids by the case full so between the two of us we should be able to have two years worth of canning jar lids if we don’t get silly. Alicia and I had already worked the numbers out between us and it is going to be a stretch but we might be able to get them to last three years and don’t have to cover any more families and do a whole lot more drying.

We might not have any choice but to start drying the fruit and such if we can’t find a source for sugar and honey. I think you can preserve food using cane syrup but I wouldn’t even begin to guess how except to experiment and we can’t afford to waste the food right now.

Then Rand and I got back to trying to figure out how many jars we would need to can all the pork and beef he figured we’d get and when I turned to ask him to remind me about pounds and stuff he was dead hard asleep. I pulled a sheet over him and went around checking the house before shutting everything down for the night. Rand had already taken care of the animals so I didn’t have to do that. I had two pots that I had to finish drying and putting away where we had browned the ground venison and then I came upstairs and started writing in my journal.

I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’ll be eating meat for a few days. Pour Alicia had to keep going off in the bushes and puking. Having a baby doesn’t seem all that great though Alicia insists that it is wonderful. Brendon is a little freaked out now that reality has set in but I think they’ll be OK. I was reading something in one of my mom’s natural health books about using a calendar and keeping track of dates to try and not get pregnant. Sounds like it could get a little complicated and a whole lot easy to mess up but I’m not ready for babies, not at all. I’ve left the book open and the page marked on top of the stack of books that Rand usually looks through every night. Maybe he’ll see it and say something and we can talk about it.

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