January 22nd – It was barely daylight but Rand and I had already eaten breakfast, using up some of the food that had been brought yesterday. These were meat pie kind of things and they weren’t bad. I’m going to try and make some when I’m allowed up and around for more than two seconds at a time. For the moment I find myself parked on the sofa in the big room more than anything else.
Rand would have lit the fireplace but I told him not to bother. It was getting warmer during the day and if I got cold I could throw a quilt or blanket over my lap. A fire would have been nice but the truth was that the firewood level was getting low last week and though Rand cut some yesterday he hadn’t had time to cut much and he was suppose to work the whole week for Mr. Henderson. Rand had just come in with a small pail of milk to put in the water cooler pan when Pastor Ken drove up with the boy.
Rand stepped outside and it wasn’t a minute before I heard Ken driving away. Rand walked in with a boy – our boy – and with a very serious look on his face said, “Ken will be by later. One of Henderson’s men came by to get tell him that a man out at the Harbinger’s was gored by a bull.”
“Did he say who it was?”
“I didn’t have time to ask. Which room did you want to use?” Rand asked pointing to a paper sack the boy had a death grip on.
The boy’s name is Austin and he stands out from us like the fabled red headed step child … literally. Austin is tall for a ten year old, about the same size as Mick who has finally started to put on a few inches of height. He’s built lean and lanky and I can’t imagine what he is going to be when he really does get to that stage of lean and lanky that boys go through before they start filling out; he’s likely going to look like a stork poor thing. And when I say red headed I mean it; he’s got wild strawberry blonde hair that wouldn’t behave with a whole tube of gel worked into it. He’s eyes are soft brown and have the same look as a pup that’s been kicked around too much. He’s not been ruined but I didn’t know quite how to take it when Rand said he’s nearly as cautious as I am.
Rather than answer Rand directly I asked Austin if he minded picking one out and letting me know. I told him he had a choice of three rooms but they were all messy right now but that we would get things straightened up better as soon as I was allowed to be on my feet.
I got a squinty-eyed look like he was trying to measure if this was a trick or not. Rand showed him the three rooms and then he came back over to where I was sitting. “The one looks like it has a bunch of baby stuff in it already so it’d be kinda stupid for me to go in there. The one next to it is OK.”
“OK, that’s fine. Rand has to go to work for Mr. Henderson, have you met him?”
“Er … could we like not do the yes ma’am, no ma’am thing for a little bit? I’m not used to it.”
“Yes ‘um … I mean OK.”
“Cool deal. Rand do you have anything for Austin to do?”
“Well, I didn’t mean to put him to work so fast, he hasn’t even had time to unpack. But, I’d appreciate some help getting the animals taken care of so I can go.”
When they were done Rand came back in and said, “Austin knows what to do with the animals as well as Mick does. Hatchet even behaved for him which is a relief. Babe, I have got to get out of here if I want to get that front part finished and be home in time for a daylight supper. Are you sure you’re OK?”
I knew Rand was asking me not only was I OK physically but if I was OK with being left with the boy. I was and told him so though it was a little weird. Rand left and that left Austin and I basically just looking at each other.
“Let me guess, he asked you to babysit me.” I said breaking the silence using my most matter of fact voice.
Austin eyed me suspicious and said, “Kinda I guess.”
“Well I don’t need babysitting.”
“He said you’d say that.”
“Figures. Look, I expect this is as weird for you as it is for us. Rand and I … well, the whole baby thing is pretty new to us and now there’s you. I’m not used to sitting around doing nothing and it is already driving me crazy. I can be moody and weird at the best of times …”
“He said you’d say that too, but when you said it I was to tell you he’d already warned me and not to say it again.
“Well of all the … “ I said acting pretty affronted.
That got a very small, second-long smile out of Austin. “Look. Rand and I just have things that we’ve agreed to disagree about but, we both agreed that if you wanted to come live with us and help out that we’d like that.”
“You can’t like having me here.”
“You can’t like having me here. I’m another mouth to feed and you’re gonna have a baby.”
“I’m not stupid.”
“I didn’t say you were. As a matter of fact I hope you’re not. Stupid we don't need.”
“Well I’m not. I hear what people say. You only need help for a little while.”
“Well see, that’s the thing. If you stay I might get used to you staying as long as we don’t brangle like cats and dogs. Even then it might be OK. I’ve got a foster brother that I used to brangle with pretty regular but now that we are older it’s not as bad as it used to be. He grew out of being an obnoxious brat.”
I could see him mashing his lips together trying real hard not to say something sassy. I knew right then that the kid could be OK if we could figure out some way to get through the initial awkwardness, same way I always seemed to know which of the foster boys were going to be good ‘uns or which were likely to be bad ‘uns. Well, not always I suppose; I did make a couple of mistakes I lived to regret.
“Look, like I said, this is weird for all of us but Rand is a really good guy and he puts up with a lot of stuff that made other people I know go running for the hills rather than deal with me. I’m better than I used to be and we get along really good … well, except maybe when either one of us wants our own way too much but mostly we compromise fine and you won’t have to listen to a lot of fussing and fighting from us.’ The conversation pretty much died after that. If I had been up and busy it might have been easier but I was as stuck as he was.
It didn’t take Austin long to get the fidgets. It’s only natural, I’ve yet to meet a boy that didn’t and it made it worse that we were both nervous and growing bored. I decided a change of scenery might help so I told him if he would carry the foot stool onto the front porch I’d introduce him to Woofer and Fraidy. The foot stool was to keep me out of hot water with Rand and Ken for being someplace besides the sofa. That little dickens grabbed the foot stool and the rifle off the rack we have by the door. I suspect that Rand or someone had already schooled him or given him directions of what to do.
“Austin can you shoot?” I didn’t know if Rand had already asked him or not but it at least gave me something to talk about.
It took him a while to answer, “My Peepaw taught me but I don’t shoot as good as you. I had my own rifle only … “
“Only?” When he didn’t answer and still had that far away look in his eyes I said, “If you want, I’ll talk to Rand and maybe you can take my place during our practice time.”
He gave me a suspicious look, “Why would he do that?”
“Who do you think taught me? Besides if you’re gonna live here and work with Rand you’re probably going to need to know. So do you want me to or not?” He shrugged like he didn’t care one way or the other but I could see him watching out of the corner of his eye. Hook number one.
I whistled for hook number two and it sounded like a small horse as it came barreling out of the woods on the other side of the garden heading straight for us. I don’t know which of them was funnier, Woofer who caught sight of the boy and tried to quick stop only to hit a pile of damp leaves, or Austin who watched this oversized dog barrel rolling into him with eyes so wide they were nearly falling out of his head. They both went “Oof!” when Austin had his feet knocked out from under him.
Woofer got to his feet quicker than Austin and ran up onto the porch and behind the rocker with his tail tucked like he knew he was in trouble for knocking a small person down.
Austin, looking at Woofer said, “That’s the dog … the one from the swap meet. He tore a hole in the seat of Mr. Belcher’s pants.”
“Then Mr. Belcher must have been threatening Rand in some way.”
“Will he bite me?”
“Mr. Belcher or Woofer?”
He gave me the same look I would have given someone if they had tried to make that joke. I said, “Yeah, pretty lame. Look, Woofer is cool, just protective. If he considers you his you’re pretty much stuck with him for life. Come over here and stand there. Now let him decide you’re no threat. Give me your hand …. “
In no time at all Woofer figured out that Austin was going to be the next best thing to having another dog for a playmate, especially when he discovered that Austin was as tireless as he was when it came to fetch.
They both took a break to get something to drink and Austin asked, “It’s really all right if I play with him? I’m not going to get in trouble for not doing chores or something?”
“You’ll have chores but Rand figured to give you a day or two to see if you want to stay and then … “
I didn’t even get a chance to finish, “I want to!”
“I … I want to stay.”
“It won’t all be playing with Woofer you know. Work can get pretty thick around here.”
“That’s OK. Peepaw always said I was good worker.” Then Austin looked at me. “I don’t have no place else. Charlie didn’t want me. He gave me to them people that were collecting orphans and kids nobody wanted.”
“What people?” I asked.
“I ain’t seen none around here. They wore blue helmets and they used to get in fights with the guys in green helmets. They used to fight real bad and then some old guy in a green helmet and a bunch of other guys in green helmets came and made the guys in the blue helmets lay down all of their guns and get in this big boat.”
“What happened to them?”
“I don’t know. The guys in the green helmets put us kids on a train.”
“A train? How did you get off the train?” I asked trying to get the story out of him without trying to force so much out at one time he would lock up on me.
“After we’d ridden on the train for a little while they took us off and then we walked to this big school. The big kids called it the tri-county highschool. I didn’t like it there. The big kids beat up on the younger kids and we had to do what they said, even if it was bad stuff.”
“Where were the adults?”
“Taking care of the babies and real little kids and working in the hospital tents.”
I haven’t got his entire story yet. For instance he won’t talk much about “Charlie” or “Peepaw” but when Ken came around at lunch time to check on me and saw Austin and Woofer off in the woods playing tag he said, “That’s the most relaxed I’ve ever seen that boy. Momma O was right, you’ve got the touch.”
“Yeah right. I’ve just been around enough boys to know that expecting them to act like girls is stupid. I never did mind the little guys, it’s when they got older that some of them turned into jerks.”
“Hmmmm,” Ken answered by way of agreement I think. My blood pressure is still good and Ken said if it stays that way through this coming Sunday what happened at the swap meet could have been a one off and if I use common sense from here on out he won’t restrict my activities beyond what being pregnant will anyway.
I asked him if it had been Ron Harbinger gored this morning. “No. A stranger, no one recognizes him. He could have been passing through. He obviously doesn’t know much about farm animals. No one with any would have gone inside a fenced off bull like that just to cross a field when you can go around and avoid trouble. He didn’t have any ID on him. Did what I could to get a good description of him, cut a lock of hair and a piece of his shirt and I’ll keep it on file.”
“The man was dead before I could get there. The horn punctured a lung. Brutal way to go and the guy already looked like he’d had a rough row to hoe. He was malnourished and had a bad color to him. I’ve already been to the compound and left a note for the Major’s staff in case someone heads there looking for him.”
“You … um … report to the military?”
“No, not in the way you mean. There is a courtesy exchange of information but otherwise we are left to operate independently. We don’t get interference but that also means that we don’t get help, at least not for the local stuff. If it was road pirates or something like the VRC … whoa, you got a little pale there.”
“Is the VRC still around?”
“Not in large numbers but I have a report that says they are intermittently working with the pirates along the coast and along some rivers. Well, I’ve got to go. Kiri, I know this isn’t easy for you but thank you for trying to listen to me without getting all bent out of shape.”
“Pastor, I’m trying … just one thing please.”
“Don’t ever drug me without asking me first again. I’ve got … a grudge against that sort of thing. Once upon a time I wasn’t given a choice about anything like that. All those things I told you about. I know you were only doing what you thought was good doctoring but it wasn’t good for my head. If there is a next time, at least make the effort to talk to me first.”
I’m not sure how Ken took having a young chick talk to him like that but I was trying to be polite about it. He gave me a look but nodded and I guess I’ll just have to hold him to his word. It wasn’t long after that that Austin and Woofer both came looking for scraps to eat. I got up and went to the kitchen to fix something and both of them followed me in. “The Pastor says you ain’t supposed to be up and around. Rand said so too.”
“Aren’t you hungry?”
“Yes ‘um but …”
“Oh fine. At least we’ll be able to tell Rand that you are a good babysitter.”
He looked at me a moment until he figured out I was joking. “I know how to heat stuff up. Peepaw taught me before … “
I was losing him again so I said, “Well that’s fair enough. What do you want? Beans, or there’s beans, or we could have a little beans. Then there’s a choice or cornbread or cornbread. What’ll it be?”
It took him a second but he gave me a small smile. “I think I’ll have beans and cornbread please. What can Woofer have?”
I looked out the window to see Fraidy stalking a couple of squirrels. “Look boy. Go help Fraidy get the squirrels. Go on, go help Fraidy.”
If you’ve never watched a dog and cat hunt together like a pack you’ve really missed something. When Fraidy saw Woofer come out into the yard and plop down, she skirted the squirrels and then climbed the other side of the tree and get up in a limb and wait like a panther. Once she’s up there it only takes a minute before Woofer does the chase-but-not-catch thing they’ve worked out. He runs the squirrels up the tree where Fraidy lies in wait. She’ll either catch one or stun it and knock it out of the tree where Woofer is waiting to pick it up and shack it to its demise. I’ve seen them do the same thing to rabbits and I suspect they’ve done it to field mice and moles. Watching wasn’t doing much good for my digestion though it was fascinating Austin. That’s when I boo-booed.
I made a sharp turn to the right and had to grab ahold of the counter to keep from going down. I scared poor Austin to death and he was halfway out the door before I could draw breath enough to call him back in and tell him it was all right.
“Really, I’m all right. If I turn too fast I pull something out of whack.”
“Is it the rhumatiz? Peepaw had the rhumatiz and some days his back was awful bad.”
“No. I hope you weren’t telling stories about being able to heat stuff up. I think I better sit back down for a while.” As soon as I got comfortable I told him, “I was in a really bad car accident. A … a drunk driver … killed my family. Nearly killed me too and … well, I’ve got scars on the outside and on the inside. Sometimes the ones on the inside want to give me trouble.”
“I hope that doesn’t freak you out too much.”
He looked at me like he was weighing me or something. “No. I … I had to go live with my … my dad … my mom wasn’t so good at taking care of me. After … um … some stuff happened … my mom and dad didn’t live together and mom had boyfriends. One of them … he hurt me and that’s when I went to go live with my dad.”
I wasn’t sure what that had to do with things until he sat down, looked at me again and then sat down on a chair and pulled up a pant leg and pulled down a sock. “The guy was supposed to be giving me a bath cause the social worker was coming. Dad said the guy was messed up and was one of mom’s weird echo-terrorist people she hung out with. I still don’t know what an echo-terrorist is.”
“Echo-terrorists … oh, wait, I think you mean eco-terrorists. It’s somebody that is more fond of plants and animals than they are of humans and they want to make a bunch of rules that humans have to live by so they won’t hurt the earth and stuff like that. Only, instead of letting cops and stuff give people tickets and take them to court if they break the rules, they did things like bomb buildings, break into computers, steal animals, run into other boats and sabotage things … totally radical and mean stuff like that.”
“Yeah, that sounds like some of mom’s friends. I don’t even know where she is any more. When the flu came she told my dad it was like Gaia’s revenge and wanted to take me and go live on some tropical island. Dad said no, mom said it was his loss and left and we didn’t hear from her ever again.” He sighed and put some beans in a small pot and put them on the stove and sure enough he knew how to heat them up without any instructions at all. Call me impressed.
“I guess I better do this now since pretty soon I doubt I’ll even be able to see my shoes much less reach them.” He turned around and looked at me. I can’t believe I did it. Rand is the only other person I sorta willingly have shown my scars to. I reached down and pulled up my own pant leg and pulled down my psychedelic sock and showed him my scars.”
“You really do have scars. You weren’t just saying it.”
“The car wreck did all that?”
“The car wreck and then the doctors trying to fix what the car wreck broke.”
There is nothing quite like a good sized scar to impress a boy. After that is when I think he really started to relax. During lunch I finally heard his story from the beginning.
There’s Peepaw who was Charles Barker. There is Austin’s father who was called C.J. Barker which was short for Charles Jr. and then Charlie Barker is Austin’s oldest half-brother. There were three other brothers but they don’t have much to do with the overall story because they died during the flu. From what I gathered Austin’s father married young and well and they lived a happily ever after life until the day that his first wife never woke up from a nap she took to get rid of her headache. The headache was actually an aneurism. C.J. Barker was a man possessed after that and was just about a 180 degree different person to what he had been before. He started running around the bars where he met a pretty young thing and they were married two weeks later.
Same old soap opera. They both regretted it almost immediately but she caught pregnant and they tried to work it out anyway. She left before Austin was even born and it would have all been swept under the rug except CJ had come to himself and wanted to help raise Austin … which didn’t go over well at all considering the difference in what they wanted to teach the boy. One of the things that Paris … that was Austin’s mother’s name … put on the divorce papers was “cruelty to animals.”
“Let me guess. Your Peepaw’s farm was a working farm. You slaughtered animals as well as vegetables.”
“Yeah. Eventually the judge told mom that if she didn’t want to lose custody of me she had to knock it off and put a reign on her friends who had caused some fires on the farm. But I was too little then and I don’t remember it. After I got burned I went to go live with Peepaw and only saw mom every other weekend and a couple of weeks during the summer if she remembered. She was away a lot with her friends protesting and stuff like that.”
Man, I thought I had a messed up life after my family was killed. As messed up as Aunt Wilma could be at least she was still a sane kind of messed up. Maybe I haven’t given her enough credit.
Then the flu came along. Austin’s three brothers went real quick during the third wave leaving Austin’s dad really messed up again. His grandfather, always the most stable influence in his life, completely took over raising him … and protecting him. Seems Austin was a poor little Cinderfella only in reverse. He was considered the interloper and was frozen out by his four much older brothers who took a lot of delight in making his life as miserable as they could without getting into trouble themselves. Then the tragic fourth wave of the pandemic hit and Austin’s father died and while it didn’t kill his grandfather it left him disabled.
Charlie became the head of the house by default and when Charles Barker finally died of heart failure a couple of months later Austin’s life went from bad to worse. Charlie had kids of his own and didn’t want to have anything to do with raising Austin so he shuttled him out, the rest I’ve already written.
After lunch Woofer was more interested in a nap but did follow Austin around while he picked up the fallen limbs around the yard and broke them into lengths for the tinder box. He also refilled the wood box, gathered the few eggs that the hens weren’t setting, and brushed out Hatchet who seemed to take to the boy a whole lot better than he had ever taken to me.
I didn’t mean to but I dozed in the rocker on the front porch and then jumped awake when I realized that I was actually asleep and not just relaxing. Austin was sitting on the porch picking burrs out of Woofer’s tail.
“Not again. That dog finds more of those prickle bushes to get into than anything I’ve ever seen.”
“The rabbits go in there and hide and he prolly likes how they smell.”
“Yeah, Peepaw used to show me how the swamp rabbits would make their nests above ground instead of in hutches. Birds and stuff get in there too. He likes to smell everything.” Woofer agreed to this by sticking his nose in Austin’s ear and making him duck and laugh. “How come he don’t have no fleas?”
“Woofer? I give him a bath in no-flea shampoo. I’ll have to figure out what to do when that runs out but I’ve got a ton of it.”
“Does the cat have fleas?”
“No, I have collars for her.”
“Oh.” After a second he looked at me again. “How come the box the milk goes in is so cold?”
Rand and I knew this was coming but I hadn’t thought it would get here so quick. “Yeah, about that. Listen, Rand and I sorta … there’s things we … look, if you could not mention that to anyone else that would be good. We’ve worked really hard not to be show-offs and for other reasons too. It would just be better … “
“Like a secret only not a secret that hurts other people.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. “Yeah.”
“OK,” he said the same way someone else would have said, “whatever works.” I hope it stays that simple because if he keeps living with us our other secrets are going to come out.
Rand just managed to get in before dark to have more beans and cornbread with us. Austin went out to the barn to help him with the night chores and I was left twiddling my thumbs on the sofa after I turned on the solar lamp.
“Wow … cool!” was Austin’s response when he saw the lamp. He was mesmerized almost. “Hey, look what I found when I was going through this shed.” He ran out of the room nearly running into the wall before coming back in with a wind up flashlight. “You showed me your secret and this one is mine.”
Rand looked at me and mouthed, “Secret?”
Austin clued Rand in before I had to. “Rand, that thing you put the milk in is really neat. Kiri said that you’d show me how it works and I could help take care of it and stuff.”
“Oh, she did? Sure buddy. You like seeing how things work?”
“Peepaw … he used … to … “ and just like that Austin was gone away again.
Rand clapped him on the shoulder and said, “Why don’t you tell me what you did today.”
“Huh? Oh, you … you didn’t leave a chore list.” Both Rand and I could see he was getting worried, scared, defensive or maybe it was all three.
“Well no. I figured you’d need a day or two to get settled. If you are bored to death and just dying to work I’ll leave you a list tomorrow.”
Austin looked at Rand like he was a little on the crazy side but just shrugged his shoulders.
“Oh, there is one thing, my uncle is coming over with Mick and Tommy for a couple of hours and I thought the three of you could walk the fence line for me and let me know if anything needed fixing.”
Ahhhh, that put a little light in Austin’s eyes. He already knew Mick and Tommy from the church services and from the swap meet. Mick may have been three years older and Tommy two but when friends are few and far between age makes less of a difference and both boys would have taken Austin in just because that’s the way they are.
I was tired from sitting around doing nothing and Rand was exhausted. I felt bad but he went into the room Austin had picked and helped him move some stuff around and off the bunk bed that is in there. I brought them some clean sheets for the mattress and was summarily ejected and told to go sit back down. I heard him tell Austin that we’d get the other stuff moved out so he could have some room to move. I’ve been using the bedrooms like storage rooms and knew that eventually I’d have to find another way of doing things. Now though I’m going to have to clean two rooms instead of just one for the baby which is really going to squish things up in my other storage areas.
Austin had had a full day and was nodding off just about as soon as his bed was cleared off. I made him go clean up in the kitchen because I hadn’t gotten a pitcher of water and towels put in the hallway bath yet. We gave him some privacy and when he came out I noticed all he had to sleep in was a t-shirt and a raggedy pair of shorts that would have been too small for him if he weren’t still so skinny from trying to survive on his own. Tomorrow, I don’t care what anyone says there is no way anyone that I’m supposed to be taking care of is going to go around like that; I’m going to do something about it. And his day clothes too. He can’t be toting much in that paper sack.
Rand saw me getting up and put his hand on my shoulder to push me back down. He went to the blanket chest and pulled out another blanket and took it into the room and when he came out he said, “He’s three-quarters to sleep already and nine will get you ten that Woofer is in the bed with him before the night is over.”
When I didn’t respond he asked, “Does that bother you?”
“Huh? Oh, no, not if he isn’t dirty and Austin picked all the prickle burrs out of his fur this afternoon. I was thinking about some stuff that Austin told me,” and I went on to tell Rand about the blue helmets and the green helmets. “I don’t know who the blue helmets were. The VRC … they wore black or red berets.”
“Are you sure he said blue helmets?”
“Yeah. The green helmets … the military? The blue helmets … cops maybe?”
“No. Not if what I’m thinking proves out.”
When he didn’t say anything more I went “Well?”
“Huh? Oh … sorry about zoning out. Look, I can tell you what I think but that doesn’t make it what really happened. I’ll have to ask Bill or maybe Henderson.”
“And … the rest of the story is … ?”
He chuckled, “Don’t be so impatient, I’m trying to get my thoughts straight. It seems a little out there but maybe not as much as being invaded by China and the VRC and we know that stuff happened or that they tried to. The only blue helmets I know besides sports helmets are worn by UN troops. It is possible that we have or had a … well a kind of battle going on over our country. We’ve got a lot of natural resources. We’ve got a lot of land compared to most countries. People have viewed us with envy for a long time. If … and this is a big if … some countries looked at the US and then looked at the rest of the world and all the turmoil that is going on and then used that ‘equitable distribution’ crap that some in our own government were supporting … well the UN could have invited themselves onto our soil and tried to take over in the guise of humanitarian aid.”
“Invited themselves? How does that work?”
“Or they were invited by some politicians. Who knows? To be honest this is nothing but something that barely qualifies as a theory right now but it might not be just the VRC that is causing those communication blackouts we’ve been noticing.”
“I thought things would have been too messed up all over the world for something like that to happen.”
“Babe, things are never too messed up for some people to try and take advantage of a situation. The last few leaders of the UN weren’t what I would call US-friendly. They always thought our country deserved to have a heavier financial burden to support their agenda while having a smaller say in the agenda itself. That has to be one of the most useless organizations that was ever allowed to come into being. Talk about good intentions going bad.”
Rand knows a lot more stuff about all of that than I do … that political stuff. People used to try and shove so much of that stuff down my throat – at school, at Aunt Wilma’s, even at the diner – that I tuned it out. Rand is shocked at how ignorant I am. He said he thought I would have really latched onto it because of my debate skills, the classes I was taking in school, and because my Dad was in the military. I told him I could debate it with the best of them if need be but I got tired of too much of it, it was like total overload. I wish now I’d paid more attention but I didn’t and I can’t change the way things were. And from here on out so long as they leave me alone that’s about all I have time to care about. Of course, the way things are it doesn’t sound seem like we are going to be left alone.
January 23rd – Rand was gone sun up to sundown again today. He’s going at it as long as the mules can stand it, trying to shave a day off how long it is going to take to plow Henderson’s field. The biggest hold up is the pieces of limestone that keep coming up. Rand says he’s never seen anything like it. I figure what happened is that some of the early settlers found one place to toss all the limestone they found out of their fields or maybe that’s a knob of limestone like what is over at the concrete plant they have down in Gilchrist county. There’s limestone around a lot of the springs in the area so any story is as good as the next.
Rand is taking Austin with him tomorrow and Austin is going to hold the mules while Rand loads some of the limestone into the wagon. They’ll bring the stones back and Rand wants to line the side of the gully next to the road with it as we’ve had some of it washing away the last couple of rains.
When I complained he was going to take away some of my best blackberry bushes he said that the bushes would come up through the stones more than likely and even if they didn’t having a secure road bed there was more important.
“Babe, the gully has a clay pan bottom. It’s going to hold water except during the driest spells. The higher the water the more it is leaching into the base of the road. Sure the gully is seven or eight feet deep but all we need is for the base to get eroded enough and then you’ll have a slide that takes out the whole lane and that will be a lot of work if I have to fix that by hand. As it is we’re already losing some of the road base where our road meets the county road. I need to figure out why and get it fixed before it gets any worse.” The list of things we need to do is getting to be as long as the list of things we want to do.
Austin seems to be settling in. I think he got so used to being pulled from pillar to post that he just learned to be flexible. Guess we’ll see how long that lasts.
Uncle George came by and brought the rest of the stuff from Mrs. Withrow. “Got tired of listening to her sigh over the fact that if she could just get this stuff over to you all she’d be finished cleaning out the house and she could turn it over to Josiah with a clear conscience. Austin, come help the boys unload this stuff. We’ll put it up on the porch and cover with a tarp until Kiri is up to going through it.”
After the boys unloaded the wagon, no small chore, they went tearing off to walk the fence. Woofer was in doggy Heaven with three boys to play with. Fraidy came up onto the porch and jumped in my lap after they left and Uncle George and I sat and talked for a while.
He said, “I know you didn’t plan on having to deal with this stuff this week but Mrs. Withrow was just plain determined. It was just easier to volunteer and do as she was hinting at because when she starts outright asking you never know what you are going to be called on to do.”
I laughed because I could see Mrs. Withrow doing exactly that to get her way. “I don’t know where we are going to put all this stuff. I’ve already got to clean out two rooms … one for the baby and one for Austin and find someplace to put the stuff we move out of there. We’ll be wall to wall boxes and furniture at this rate and this isn’t exactly a small house.”
“I’d store it for you Baby Girl but we’ve already had to clean out our own attic to give Mick and Tommy a place to sleep besides the downstairs sofa. They’re lucky they didn’t have to sleep out on the porch. If we weren’t having to mill so much of the lumber ourselves by hand we could have had the house weathered in by now. I’ve dropped some good sized pine trees but they need to season a bit before we can use them. I didn’t want to but it looks like I’m going to have to dismantle one of the small barns so we can get the beams and roofing material to finish things off. Them babies ain’t gonna wait on our plans. Ken said Missy has a couple of weeks at best and Alicia has maybe a month if they counted things out right. Laurabeth will come around after that and then they’s you. And if you young ‘uns ain’t careful we’ll be starting it all over again right after that. ”
I was so not touching that last statement so I went back to the subject of the building materials. “But what about all the abandoned houses? I thought there wouldn’t be any problems getting what you needed.”
“People have been burning up the wood outta those houses to heat with. Crazy. Some of that stuff is treated. The newer homes ain’t worth a plug nickel. It’s a wonder they didn’t fall apart in a good wind; little more than plastic siding over thin plywood once you start taking ‘em apart. What houses is left are either termite damaged, vandal damaged or the beams are too short for what we need. I could piece a couple of the short beams if I had the right size bolts but if I don’t have to I’d rather not. A solid piece is just going to last longer and bow less. And because of the added weight we’ve had to go back in and add beams in the crawl space. Used more wood and nails than I originally planned for. Been fixing what little bit of termite damage and wood rot we’ve found along the way as well. Seems like two steps forward and a step and a half back every time we move.”
“I know. We were all set to move forward after Christmas and now this. I feel … “
“Don’t Baby Girl. It’ll work out just like we’ll eventually get the house finished … just not in our time but the good Lord’s. You still pining over things?”
“You mean over Harris Gilkins?”
“Yup. Figured you might could use someone to talk to. Rand’s a good boy but almost too strong. Makes it hard for him to understand.”
“Rand and Ken don’t want me to talk about it. They want me to just … get over it or past it and call it done.”
“That’s one way of handling it but you don’t strike me as you cotton to doing things that way.”
“I don’t know Uncle George. It’s brought up memories of other things I felt like I had to do.”
“Well, Ken is right in it ain’t good for you to let it eat you up but I want you to think on something here. Romans 8:28 says that all things work together for good for those that love the Lord. That’s all things Baby Girl, not just the things we are comfortable with or happy with or anything else. All things. Even the things we don’t understand and I recon you’re gonna have to put this down as one of those.”
“That was my Dad’s favorite verse. He used to say that God would never put more on us that we can bear but … “
“Well, nothing against your Daddy but I got another way of looking at it having gone through a few trials of my own. First Corinthians 10:13 says that God won’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear but nowhere could I find in the Word where He said that He won’t let the trials come along and break us down. I think He does allow trials that we can’t handle ourselves because He wants us to turn to Him. Now whether the things you’ve had to do fall into the temptation category or the trial category I can’t say though I have my suspicion. What I do think is either way you need to let God have it. Just let Him have it Baby Girl ‘cause it’s plain to anyone with sense that you didn’t like doing what you got called on to do. What you did was justifiable in the eyes of man but no man is going to be able to ease your mind and your heart over this.”
What Uncle George said was so close to what I had been thinking that it was kind of scary. Maybe that is God saying, “Kiri, you are on the right track. Stop fooling around and just do it. You’ll feel better and that’s what I want for you.”
It makes me wonder how bad I want to feel better or if I’ve felt bad for so long that I’m afraid to let it go. Now, that’s not a comfortable think to think at all.