Thursday, January 28, 2010

Chapter Sixty-One

Chapter 61

November 24th – Felt a little better today and was up early and a good thing too. I realized that I had completely overlooked the persimmons that were ripening. I’ve got so many that I need to deal with that now I’ll be using persimmons to make stuff for the next several days to make sure nothing spoils. I was so upset I was nearly crying which I seem to be on the brink of a lot lately but Rand told me I was being too hard on myself. He said that he didn’t realize they were ripe either and he’d been over in the orchard pulling the last little pithy apples to throw to the pigs. That made me feel a little better but not much.

Ever since I was bad sick, maybe before but I didn’t notice it so much on a regular basis, it is like just anything makes me want to tear up. This is ridiculous. I shouldn’t feel this way. Rand and I talked a little bit last night and he said that he hadn’t noticed that I was very “weepy” and then wanted to know if I had noticed that he seemed crankier than he used to be. I said, “Cranky?! Rand you always seem to be in a good mood to me except every so often.”

“Well, that’s a relief. But I tell you the truth Babe, there are days when I’m glad it is just the two of us around here. It is like I’m all stretched out with not as much patience as I think I used to have.”

So it seems maybe both of us are feeling “stretched out.” Maybe it is all of the extra and constant work. Maybe it is the complete change our lives have gone through over the last six to twelve months, heck for both of us at least since the pandemic started affecting our lives. Maybe it is partly that first year of marriage jitters. I don’t know exactly what it is but we are both feeling it and neither one of us considers it the other’s fault which is good. I know what stress feels like and while I do feel stressed, I don’t necessarily feel stressed out. I wish I could explain the difference. Hopefully we’ll get a handle on it because apparently neither one of us likes the feelings we are having too much.

For breakfast I toasted up some of the salt rising bread, heated up some sliced turkey, made a small batch of homemade mayo and grabbed one of the last heads of loose leaf lettuce out of the garden. Then I fried up a couple of eggs and opened a can of that Yoder’s bacon (the camouflage cans gave me the giggles so maybe I’m farther on the other side of crazy than I think). Then to surprise Rand I used up the some of the last of those little triangle cow logo cheeses that are supposed to taste like Swiss cheese. Ta da … restaurant-fancy turkey club sandwiches only without the tomatoes. They were so filling I had to save half of mine for a mid-morning snack.

Right after breakfast I was determined to finish the acorn flour. I drained the acorns one last time and rinsed them by the colander full (I lined the colander with cheesecloth beforehand). I took a cautious nibble and when my pucker didn’t turn inside out I called the acorns completely leached out. I spread the broken up nutmeats on baking sheets and put them in the oven for a bit of drying and toasting. From there I took them out and then ran them through the hand grinder a couple of times until it looked like corn meal. I put the acorn meal in a plastic Tupperware container and then put it in the corner of the cooler. Momma’s notes say that acorn flour doesn’t last long before it goes bad. I’m hoping that keeping it cool will help it to last longer. That’s a lot of work for a little return, I sure don’t want to have to watch it go rancid and waste all of that time.

Until I can figure something else out I’ll just have to save all of the acorns I can in their shell and hopefully that will help us to piece out the flour and cornmeal until we can get steady sources set up. The corn grinding has been going pretty good but anything that will make it last longer isn’t something to turn your nose up at. The corn has to feed us and the animals. Luckily I discovered, kind of by accident, that popcorn grinds up just as well as dent corn so next season we’ll double or triple the amount of popcorn we plant, we’ll just have to plant it away from the other corn because Rand says they might cross pollinate wrong.

We had a bit of wind during the night so I wanted to check to see if some of those stubborn, out-of-reach apples had blown down finely. I was picking up some of the nasty ones to throw to the pigs when I realized the persimmons weren’t changing colors, they were kind of stuck on that orange-ish stage they had been for a while if not going to mushy brown and falling from the tree. And that’s when I realized that I had been looking at ripe persimmons starting about two weeks ago. I squawked so loud Rand said he heard me over in the rye field. I was just fit to be tied. I couldn’t believe I’d made such a mistake.

I also saw some dried red sumac berries and realized that I had some lemon substitute, at least as far as flavoring goes. You don’t use sumac for the acidity but for the flavor which is very sour. That is another problem that I’ve got on my list of I-don’t-know-what-to-do list. Not knowing for sure which wild things are good to eat and which aren’t. I know some of them like honeysuckle, red sumac, passion fruits, and dandelions but I need to learn the other things. Alicia said at one point that she’d teach me but that was months ago and I don’t know when she would have the time now that she is going to have a baby. Last time I saw them Alicia, Laurabeth, and Missy were starting to show but I haven’t seen them in … well, I can’t even remember exactly when. It’s been a while which is kind of strange.

I grabbed a couple of bushel baskets as I explained to Rand why I was stomping around and so bent out of shape. He helped me pick two bushels of persimmons and carry them to the house and then headed to the grain fields in the easement. We didn’t plant much grain but what we have planted looks good except where the deer are eating it. It is so cold today that Rand decided to try and get one or two deer, field dress them then bring them back to the house and make some venison jerky. Well, he didn’t get one or two … he got three, but that happened later in the day.

First I had to start work on the persimmons and to do that I had to turn the two bushel baskets of persimmons into pulp. That is easier said than done. Momma’s notes say you can’t really use a Foley food processor because you get too much of the seed in your pulp and it is ruined. What she said she did was take the really, really ripe persimmons (and boy were these ripe, the skins were so fragile they just about crushed each other in the bushel baskets) and wash them gently and then put a few of them at a time in one of those laundry bags you do delicates with; the wide mesh ones that you can zipper close; we also used those bags as “dunk bags” in Girl Scouts to dunk our dishes in boiling water that had a little bleach in them as a final rinse for sanitation. Once the fruits are in the bag you start twisting the top of the bag so that it crushes the persimmons as you tighten it and tighten it and tighten it some more. The pulp oozes out of the holes of the mesh into a bowl you have below your work area. As soon as you’ve squished it as much as you can, all you have left are skins and seeds and the pulp is in the bowl.

The pulp is very thick and gets very sticky as it dries so you need to clean as you go or it will make your job a whole lot more difficult.

The first thing I made was Persimmon Jam and the recipe I used was the one that called for the least amount of sugar I could manage. You mix two quarts of persimmon pulp, one cup of sugar, one cup of orange juice (I made it from TruOrange packets), and grated orange rind (which I have from Momma’s spice rack) in a non-reactive saucepot and cook it until it thickens which is usually about twenty minutes. Then you can it in half-pint jars same way you would any other kind of jam. I wound up with six half-pint jars so I made a triple batch.

While the Persimmon Jam was processing I made Persimmon Jelly. Rand came in while I was in the middle of the mess and fixed himself some leftovers and fixed me a sandwich as well but it was guy-sized so it took me forever to finish it. Good thing that my jeans have a lot of room in them or I would have had to undo my belt.

For the jelly you take three cups of pulp and add three tablespoons of lemon juice and your pectin. Bring that to a boil and then add then add one cup of honey and bring it to a rolling boil for one minute. Put this in half pint jars and process it same as normal.

The last thing I did was can the remaining pulp plain. Without sugar it won’t keep as long but this way I’ll at least be able to keep it for a while and get some use out of the it. Tomorrow I’ll have to find the time to get the pulp from the remaining persimmons. Next year I’ll know what I am looking at and won’t be so rushed or risk losing the fruit.

I heard a few shots while I was canning and figured Rand must be hunting. I heard another shot a few minutes later and didn’t think too much of it, after all no one hits the target 100% of the time. I went on about my business and was cleaning up the kitchen having decided not to do any more canning since it was getting so cold. Boy, was I in for a reality check.

A few minutes later Rand, on Hatchet, came barreling into the yard. “Kiri!! Babe! Help me get the wagon!”

OK, heart attack city but when I ran out of the house Rand was grinning like a complete loon so I figured whatever it was couldn’t be too bad.

“I take it you hit what you were aiming at?”

“Sure did. Got us three of the best looking of the lot but since I don’t know how long this cold spell is going to last we are going to need to get it all processed as soon as possible.”

“Three … of what?!”

“Deer dear.”

I rolled my eyes which only made Rand grin even bigger. I remember how long it took to process one deer and now he was talking about three! But truth be told it put a little kick in my step too. I like my veggies probably better than most folks but it is weird how much meat I ate without realizing it until we didn’t have it to eat on a regular basis any more.

So, that’s what I’m doing even now. It got to be too dark and cold outside (it is in the 30s out there, brrrrr) so I’m down to the two pressure canners on the princess. I’m so tired I can’t stand it but I can truly say it is a good kind of tired. Rand has the meat hanging on the eaves of the carport outside of the summer kitchen. He also has a fire going out in one of the pits so we have something to see by … thank goodness for bright moonlight otherwise we’d be stumbling around in the dark. Inside we have the wind up lamps and some of the LEDs up and running but that still leaves lots of shadows in the corners of the room.

I found a use for the rancid olive oil, can’t remember if I even mentioned that the oil that came out of the mattress hidey hole was rancid. I made Biblical lamps out of them with some of the lamp wicking that Momma had in her craft supplies. It doesn’t give off great light but I figure if it was good enough for Jesus why not give it a try. The trick appears to be keeping the wick saturated at all times which means the oil level doesn’t need to be high and the wick doesn’t have to be long. It gives off a nice yellow light but it isn’t enough to write by but it helps me find the pot holders and jar lifter without hitting something hot.

Oh bother, there goes that dog again. I’m going to have to wake Rand up and he just put his head down on the table.

November 25th – Well, if I’m not tired today I don’t know what tired is. I used to hear Daddy say that when I was growing up and I used to think it was really weird. Now I think I know exactly what he meant. This is the kind of tired that is given as a definition of what tired really means.

Last night was a total freak out. No wonder Woofer was acting so weird. My Lord, that thing could have taken any of us or any of the animals if it had gotten into the barn. Rand says if we are going to start seeing animals like that he is going to have to hurry up his plans for building a secure goat house and a secure pig house … I’m sure that isn’t what you call them but basically that is what they are. The pigs are getting cold anyway so a little house that is all closed in would be a good idea anyway.

What did Rand have to shoot last night? A freaking jaguar … or leopard, but we think it is a jaguar since it had spots. It was either someone’s illegal pet, from a zoo, or from a big cat rescue facility. I’m not sure it really matters where it came from. It was trying to drag off the last deer carcass when Rand stepped outside. And that lunatic Woofer tried to take it on. He has a slash on his hind end but it isn’t deep and Woofer got in his own lick on the cat breaking its foreleg. Rand’s head shot was a mercy killing at that point to put it down.

Mitch came over today just to say hello and when he saw the big cat he radioed for Mr. Henderson and some of the other men. When Bradley saw the big cat he said in his slow and plodding way, “Well … looks like I owe Brian an apology. I thought he was just having another one of his fits when he said he saw a jungle cat last week.” Bradley reminds me of Eyeore the way he talks.

They all stood around goggling at it and talking long enough that I had to fix an extra pot of coffee. Rand is doing whatever it is you do with the pelt and he says that when it is ready we’ll see about making something out of it. I’m trying to imagine what that might be. It makes me think of Tarzan movies and George of the Jungle.

I’m sure the story will be all over in no time. Mr. Henderson made a tongue in cheek comment about it adding to our mystique. No one asked me if I wanted to have any mystique. Frankly I’ve got enough problems without someone starting to tell tall tales about us.

I was so tired the only constructive thing that I managed to do, besides laundry and harvesting the cushaw squash, was make vegetable soup using some of the venison instead of beef. So far none of the venison that I’ve opened to use from the first time I canned it with Alicia has had any hair in it so I think I did a good job. I’ve tried really hard to be as clean this time but having to do some much in the near dark has me nervous.

The bucks were hung and bled and then Rand started cutting them up for me. I wiped them down really well so I’m pretty sure … but there is still that worry in the back of my head. It would be so embarrassing to have company over, use the meat, and have someone find hair in their food. Ugh.

Last night Rand, when he wasn’t butchering the meat, was grinding some of it for me to brown and then can with some broth I made up. I also made a pretty good sized batch of turkey soup that I canned. I’ll add “noodles” or rice or something like that when it comes time to serve it. Today I boiled the deer bones and the turkey bones to make broth with.

Man my back is killing me and it is so cold that Rand and I have a fire going in the wood stove in the bedroom. Even my ink is cold and thick as you can tell from my handwriting. It won’t freeze tonight according to Rand but it won’t be far from it. All the animals are snug in the barn including the pigs and goats so I think it is time that I got snug in my own bed.

November 26th – Today is Sunday and I’ve tried to make it a day of rest, I really have, but life just doesn’t want to cooperate. This day has been a day of revelations. First we heard that Julia had her baby. It is a little boy. And by littke, I mean very little; he was barely five pounds when he came into the world. Julia was in labor most of Thanksgiving Day and the baby was born just shy of midnight.

Both Julia and her son are doing well. And if rumor is to be believed the baby really is a Harbinger from the looks and a particular birthmark on his little hind end. They named him Frederick Steven Harbinger … but he will be called Steven and not Freddie by all accounts. The same source said that Ron was strutting around like a rooster, crowing about how handsome his son was and what a trooper his wife was, and … well, I guess I’ll have to see it to believe it.

I always wonder how news travels so fast around here. We don’t have TV or broadcast radios or newspapers. I suppose Pastor Ken is partly the cause of how fast news travels. I’m sure Mr. Henderson has something to do with it too since he likes to keep his hand on the pulse of the community. There is also that bulletin board that Missy started up at the Trade Shack. But it just seems people run their mouths so much. If I had any personal and private information I’d make sure it stayed between Rand and I. Having people talk about me when I’m not around gives me the heebie jeebies.

The next revelation is that I won’t be setting up a goat dating service after all. They didn’t have any trouble at all, they just needed to be left alone so that nature could do its thing. Rand and I did get a little silly over it. Rand says he hopes the pigs get friendly too because that means that in the spring our “flocks” or herds or whatever you want to call them will begin to increase so that we can “grow our own” rather than be dependent on others for our domestic meat.

Then the next thing to happen came very late afternoon; the trains continue to run, sort of. Everything is so quiet these days with the lack of automation that the sounds of the train must have carried for miles and miles. Rand was getting ready to put the animals up and I was cleaning up where I had been cutting some pumpkins and persimmons to dry; all we could do was stare at one another.

“Did that stop as close as it sounded?” I asked.

“Hard to say but if I had to guess I would say that some of that train is stopped down at the end of CR49. You want me to go check?”

“Not really. It is almost dark and I … Rand, there aren’t many that could get a train running. I’d feel more comfortable if … “

“Easy Babe. I want to get the animals put up first anyway. Oh, listen, it has started back up again. That’s the cars pulling against each other.”

The last revelation comes with a whole bunch of smaller (or bigger depending on your perspective) revelations. An hour after the train had come through Rand and I had eaten our dinner and I was cleaning while he finished putting the animals up for the night. I nearly dropped a glass when I heard Rand give out the piercing whistle call he does when he wants me to come running fast.

I wiped my hands on my apron and checked the pistol that is never off my hip lately and stepped out the front door. Rand was pounding the back of a dark-headed guy who was coughing pretty badly. Slowly the guy caught his breath and turned his face my direction. And I ran.

Ram was terribly thin. His pallor was scary. His normally olive complexion was almost grave-like and the bones of his face were very prominent. But it was his eyes that really drew my attention. They were the same snapping black as they ever were but somehow the “snap” was unhealthy and full of sadness and nightmares.

Rand and I drew Ram in, helped him to take off his backpack and hot him settled in front of the fireplace. That married thing where you don’t really have to talk to understand what the other one is saying comes in handy sometimes and Rand nodded at my questioning look. Rand stayed with Ram while I went to the kitchen and heated some broth and sliced a piece of bread. It only took a moment but by the time I got back Rand had a sorrowful look on his face.

“Hey Shorty, it’s not that bad,” Ram wheezed out. “I’m 500% better than I was. But if you don’t mind I wouldn't say no to an invite to sleep on the sofa tonight.”

We’ve learned a lot from Ram tonight, so much I can’t really sleep though I’m going to climb into bed in a moment anyway after I check on Ram one more time. He was shot in some beachfront battle and the wound became infected. He probably would have managed and gotten better faster if he hadn’t had a severe emotional upset at the same time. Sherri left him … she basically gave him a Dear John letter and went off with this other soldier that promised to take her back to her family. Ram said it took a while for him to decide whether he wanted to live or not. He is on furlough and is on his way to see whether Sherri ever made it home or not and if she did to get a “divorce” from her. Since the marriage was common law to begin with I’m not sure exactly how you would go about getting a divorce unless you just make an agreement or contract stating that they both agree they are no longer married. Ram wants to have something to turn in so that Sherri can’t claim any special dispensation or benefits from the military if he dies before he remarries or whatever … he also wants to make sure that she wasn’t pregnant with his child or something like that.

Tomorrow Rand is going to take him to the rendezvous point so that Ram can get on the train for the next leg of his journey. I just feel so bad for him; I never would have imagined that such a thing would happen. It makes me feel more and more blessed.

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