Saturday, January 23, 2010

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter 32

July 1st – Another new month. I used to hear Momma and Daddy say things about how fast time was moving and when I said – I don’t know how they put up with my mouth sometimes – that time moved the same speed that it always had they’d just tell me that I’d understand when I was older. Well, I’m not that much older and I understand. Not only is it moving faster, there isn’t enough of it.

I was just putting Rand’s breakfast on the table (I had a hard time bringing myself to eat) when a wagon and a buggy pulled in. The wagon held Uncle George, Brendon … and shock of all shocks … Bill Sawyer. The buggy was Pastor Ken’s. I ran to make sure there was enough coffee to go around. Or I would have run if I hadn’t felt like I was moving in molasses.

I was bringing the coffee pot to the front porch with some mugs when Uncle George hobbled over and tilted my chin back and said, “Sugar, you don’t look so good. Sit over here and we’ll fetch our own coffee.”

I guess my brain wasn’t firing too well because I couldn’t figure out how he knew or if he was talking about something else. Pastor Ken came over and was checking my blood pressure and pulse and doing all sorts of things before I could even protest. While he was doing that I heard the other men talking about how Mr. Henderson’s man Hoss had family out on Big Tick Road which ran crossways from the Crenshaw’s place and he stopped by on his way to visit them on his day off last night. Pastor Ken had heard from Mr. Henderson himself while he was checking on Momma O and her family and who had asked him to come back and have a look at me. The buggy and the wagon had met at our front gate and come back together.

When Pastor Ken was finished he and the others started talking quietly amongst themselves. Part of me felt like I should say, “Hey, I’m right here! Don’t talk about me like that!!” But I was also intimidated and didn’t want to embarrass Rand in front of his family. Keeping Rand’s approval won out and I went inside and started moving stuff around again.

“There you are. Look Uncle George wants to go over to that house and we’re going to use his wagon since it is bigger and in better shape. Pastor Ken has to go too to collect information on who lived there so there’s really no reason for you to go. Kiri? Babe? Do you need to go lay down?”

“Rand, I’m not sick. And I’m not weak. I’m sorry I lost control yesterday but that doesn’t mean you have to … to … to act like I’ll fall apart all over again.”

“I didn’t say you … oh …” Then he cleared his voice and started over. “Kiri, you had a very bad reaction to what happened. Pastor Ken said it might not be a good idea … “

“Well, good for Pastor Ken and good for you. If you don’t want me to go just say so. Don’t whisper about it behind my back.”

“Don’t be like this.”

“OK. How would you like it if you were standing right there and people started talking about you and making all of the decisions ‘for your own good’?”

“You’re right. I wouldn’t. But … you asked me to say it and I will. I don’t want you to go. I didn’t like that you saw that to begin with. It scared me to see how bad you were shook up. I don’t want you to go back there today because we’re going to bury that woman and it is going to be a horrible job. I don’t want you to see it.”

Well, at least he was honest. I had to give him credit for that. “Fine. I’ll stay here but it will be because I choose to and not because you all think I should. And here’s another thing for you to think on. I was on my own a long time before you and your family came along. I saw things Rand. That woman wasn’t the first dead body I’ve seen. She may have been the worst but trust me, not by much. Rats, flies … there isn’t a whole lot of difference in the gross factor. I freaked out yesterday. I don’t know why. Maybe it was because I could because I knew you were there, maybe not. Whatever. But I got up and kept going after all the times before and I’ve dumped more than one dead body and I did it without anyone’s help. I don’t need to be babied like I’m incapable of dealing with things.”

I turned around and grabbed a laundry basket full of cans and jars to take them to the summer kitchen to put away. Before I got two steps he took the basket away and set it back down turned me around and hugged me. “I don’t want to think about all the things you’ve had to do Kiri. Just let me do this so you don’t have to and don’t make me take you with me back there just to prove I don’t think you’re a weakling.”

“Is this one of those guy things you were talking about?”

“Yeah. Pretty much.”

“Fine. So long as you know that I’m only staying home for you and not because I need to.”

“Fine. So long as you know that I know you are staying home because … aw crap. Forget it.” And then he kissed me … even harder than the first time. “Stay near the house and we probably won’t be back until after lunch but if you could have maybe something for when we do come back … I just don’t know how much we’re going to feel like eating.”

After they left I got to thinking and realized it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing that I was staying home. The house was a mess and there was a bunch of stuff to put away. I’d missed cleaning day yesterday. The sheets needed changing on the beds. I had laundry to do. The cherries needed picking again. I needed to change out the trays in the dehydrator. And when I went out to the orchard what do I find? The raspberries are coming in.

First I dumped the dirtiest load of clothes into the tub and dumped water and detergent on them to soak. Then I ran outside and picked a bunch of cherries, pitted them, and dumped them in a pot to cook for juice very glad that I hadn’t completely put the coals of the fire out yet. While that was going I ran back inside grape-stomped the laundry and then drained the water off of them and put more water on top. I got back outside just in time to keep the cherries from boiling over. I dumped those into the colander to drain on the counter in the summer kitchen to keep the flies out then pitted a bunch more and traded out the drying trays splitting the dried cherries between the two houses with a small bag to give to Pastor Ken in case he came back by the house. I also put some cherries on to make preserves with and started some jars boiling.

After sliding the trays back into the dehydrator I ran inside and found I’d need to give the dirty clothes a second rinse and took care of that and then had to rush back outside to save the preserves. Got the preserves jarred up and sealing and realized I hadn’t gotten any kind of lunch started. I made up two skillets of pan biscuits and while those browned I decided to sneak up and get another can of the Mountain House stuff – spicy oriental chicken and vegetables. I dumped a load of Ramen noodles to cook in there at the same time. The Ramen absorbed the liquid that the Mountain House stuff didn’t and I dumped some soy and a can of pineapple tidbits in there too. It made my eyes water but I knew guys usually like spicy stuff so figured it would be OK.

I left it in the Dutch oven to keep it warm and then picked a bunch of raspberries. I cleaned them and put them in a bowl in the kitchen and put a little sugar over them. By the time the guys came back I figured they would be sweet and juicy. I had to cover everything with cheesecloth because all my going in and out was letting flies in. I wish I had had time to make whipped topping but I didn’t. You can make it using powdered milk but it would have to wait for another time, the cherry preserves were ready to come out of the canner and the juice was ready to go in.

The first load of laundry was finally finished so I got them out and hung up while the next load … this one of jeans … was on a first soak. Thank goodness Rand isn’t the type that has to have a brand new pair of jeans every day. And he is good about picking up his own clothes. He said college taught him that when suddenly there wasn’t a clothes fairy to come along and do it for him. It was house rules at Aunt Wilma’s that everyone was responsible for their own laundry, guess it amounts to the same thing.

After that and getting the juice out of the canner I decided it was just too doggone hot to work over the fire any more. Lunch was passed and I decided to “check” on the raspberry short cake to see if it was any good before I gave it to the men. It was. I spent the next hour putting stuff away around the house though it didn’t look like it. Mostly looked like I was making a bigger mess than I had before. That’s one of the reasons why I preferred to leave stuff in the barn and bring it in a bit at a time.

I was just starting to get a little worried when I heard Rand and the others return. I ran outside and saw Pastor Ken come around real quick and he had blood on his shirt. He saw me and my face and said quickly, “Everyone is fine but if you could get some water boiling so we can clean up it’d be appreciated.”

Then over the hedge I heard, “I’m fine Kiri, none of the blood is ours.” I didn’t trust that overly-innocent announcement but let it go while I got buckets full of water and set them on the front porch. One look at Rand’s face and I was hacked. “I thought you said none of the blood was yours!”

He’d been in a fight and I could tell he was likely to have another black eye. He’s nose had certainly played fountain all down the front of his shirt. “Uh, well, the real blood isn’t ours. I forgot about this.”

Yeah, right. Brendon started snickering until I slapped him in the face with a wet rag and then Uncle George started up, “Never try and hide anything boys. The truth will always come out.”

Mr. Henderson, Mitch (no Chase), and Bradley were also there. Mr. Henderson added insult to injury by saying, “Especially not from a short little thing with a hot temper. How you feeling girl?”

Well, I had enough clean plates thank goodness but I had to split the biscuits in half for the short cake but no one seemed to mind. They told me their story while they ate.

They took care of the old woman’s body first thing and then started loading what was left to bring back into the wagon. It would have been a full load for the little wagon we used yesterday but it barely filled up half of Uncle George’s … until they found a bunch of old canning jars out in the barn. Some of them are the really old blue-green color so they can’t be used for canning but they’ll come in handy for storage according to Mr. Henderson. When I looked at him he said, “According to my housekeeper anyway. You remember Silvo? Hortencia is his mother’s aunt. She’s been with me … oh, 'bout twenty years now and helped raise Cassie. That woman has forgotten more stuff than most have ever learned in the first place.”

It was while Brendon was trying to catch the three hens left alive and the others were putting some hay in the wagon box to try and keep the jars from clanking together that they were snuck up on by a group of armed people. “These weren’t bangers. But they weren’t from around here as far as I could tell either.” Pastor Ken, who knew most of the people left if not by name by face said he hadn’t recognized any of them either.

“Six men and two women and they all look like they’d been road hard and hung up wet. I didn’t have an axe to grind with ‘em until they started shooting with no cause. Rand here even offered to split stuff with ‘em if they were as desperate as they claimed. People get what they dish out and since they were dishing out lead they got it in return.” And that is all Mr. Henderson had to say on the subject. He may be as rough as an old corncob but he won’t stand for some behaviors and this put a permanent end to the problem in his mind.

It took us the better part of an hour to unload the wagon and say goodbye to everyone. I sent all three groups off with some cherries (they would have been overripe by tomorrow anyway) and tucked the dried cherries in the wagon and in Pastor Ken’s buggy. Rand still wouldn’t let me fuss over his eye and nose; he said there was too much work to do. We put the three little banty hens in the dog run and gave them some feed and fruit and a little bit of the hay to scratch around in. Pretty Boy was fascinated. He strutted back and forth along on the sides of the run and kept looking in to see what those feathery things were. The hens had been nervous but settled down after an hour out of the crate they had been transported in. They certainly seemed taken with the feed and fruit and having some place new and interesting to scratch around in.

I asked Rand, “Besides the obvious of just being nice, what did they get out of helping load that stuff and bring it back?”

“Huh? Oh, you are a suspicious little thing aren’t you,” he said with a wink. But after he shook his head he said, “Actually yeah, I’m going to go back tomorrow and help Uncle George to take some stuff off of the house so that it can be stored at their place and used to build Bill and Missy’s place and to enlarge the main house even more. Instead of a separate house for Brendon and Alicia they’ve decided to build a separate but connected ‘house’ on the back. I’m still not seeing it but whatever, it’s their place. Henderson is just happy to see some of the vacant buildings getting taken care of. He’s having a hard time with rats in his … in his fields and barns. As we get some wet weather he plans on burning the most dilapidated buildings first and then going from there.”

The jeans were still damp when I brought them in so I hung them on the inside line but at least I didn’t have to cook. Rand popped some popcorn that he had found in a jar and that was our dinner. He didn’t even finish his bowl. He was snoring like a lawnmower. He’d already taken care of the animals but I went out and checked on the chickens one more time and I watched as Pretty Boy shooed them into the barn and I shut and locked the door.

I’ve been working on my lists and journal for the last hour but I think we could both do with an early night. Tomorrow promises to be another busy day even if it is supposed to be the Sabbath.

July 2nd – Glug, glug, glug, glug … that’s me drowning in work. When it was just me I could do things or not do things at my own pace but now there is Rand and the animals and the constant visitors that make doing things that way impossible. True, today Uncle George and the rest only stayed long enough to fill their canteens and to drink a glass of tea but it still meant stopping what I was in the middle of.

On top of that I felt guilty about breaking the Sabbath. But, Rand did make me laugh … or rather something he brought home did. They found a couple of more hens that had been hiding in the barn but these you wouldn’t believe. My goodness! They look like they have mops on their feet and on their heads and are funniest looking chickens I’ve ever seen … they look like a brown dust bunny without ears. If Pretty Boy and his new girlfriends do make chicks I can’t imagine what they are going to look like. Pretty Boy looks like a small Rhode Island Red rooster like my grandmother used to have. One of the hens looks like Pretty Boy. Two of the hens look like they are wearing prison gear … they have like these black and white stripes all over them. The two new ones … well, like I said they are kind of camel colored brown (they hid in the hay very easily) and they have puffs of feathers on their heads and on their legs and feet.

I finished the clothes and the bed linens not too long after Rand left and before starting on more canning. I got quite a bit done actually. I think I’m going to have to just stick to one type of job at a time. Yesterday when I was running back and forth trying to do too many things at once I was wasting time. This time by finishing the laundry and then starting to can I felt more in control of what I was doing because I could focus.

Today I’d do a batch of cherry stuff and then a batch of raspberry stuff then back to the cherries then to the raspberries. I made some raspberry vinegar, raspberry syrup, raspberry relish, pickled raspberries, and raspberry preserves; small batches of each but it gives me a variety. Tomorrow I’m going to make more of the same until the berries are used up. Tomorrow I also think I’ll be able to switch out the cherries that are in the dryer for a batch of raspberries. I leaned up against the Plexiglas on the dryer today and burnt my arm; I couldn’t believe how hot it was. Guess these hot days are just what I need to get the drying down from three days to two. I could actually use a couple of more trays but I’m not going to complain, especially with how tired Rand is.

Rand is asleep again. I made hamburger helper with beef TVP and he almost went to sleep in his plate. I made raspberry corn muffins for dessert but he was so tired he fell asleep on the sofa in the middle of a sentence again so I put them in a tin and we’ll have them for breakfast with some raspberry and granola cereal.

The way we eat granola I’m going to need to make more before too much longer. I saw an easy recipe but it’ll have to wait for a less busy day. And that won’t be any time soon because I just realized that the red plum trees are going to be ripe in a couple of days.

I put away more of the stuff and I’ve managed to whittle the pile down by about half. It makes me cranky to see everything just lying all over the place like that but I now understand why Momma used to stand around shaking her head going, “There are only so many hours in the day.”

One thing I wished I had remembered to tell Rand was that I could swear that it felt like someone was watching me a couple of times today. It was probably my imagination after getting so used to him being around all the time. Or maybe Mr. Henderson had someone watch our place. It’s not important enough to wake him up over. But we’ve got to do something about his snoring I can hear him from all the way down the stair case.

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