Monday, February 22, 2010

Chapter Eighty-Two

Chapter 82

February 27th – True to his word, Rand won’t be going over to the Crenshaw farm for a while. It’s just too hard on him. He’ll go to the Shack or he’ll mow or plow to help his uncle out, but he won’t go to the house so long as Laurabeth is like she is.

Rand said she isn’t making much sense. For some reason she feels threatened by Rand and I, like we will take Stevie from her. Rand said she slapped Charlene when Charlene innocently reminded Laurabeth that Stevie wasn’t hers to begin with. Everyone was shocked, especially Laurabeth. I remember those moments, when you do something and then you begin to wonder if maybe other people aren’t right and you are about three fries short of a happy meal.

And everyone became even more shocked when Ron picked Stevie up and quietly walked out of the house with him. Laurabeth got hysterical and Uncle George went out after Ron and Rand said he could hear him trying to persuade Ron to bring the baby back to Laurabeth and that he’d be responsible for things.

“Babe, I was really surprised by Ron. It didn’t sound like the same guy I've known all these years; the old guy would have either made it all about him or thrown a general hissy and made things worse, not stay calm and take his boy to safety. It gets even stranger. He told Uncle George that he’d bring Stevie back to Laurabeth once she calmed down but that Laurabeth had to be responsible and held accountable for her own actions. Stevie wasn’t a calf or chick, he was his son and no matter how much he didn’t want to hurt Laurabeth and how much Stevie might need her as a wet nurse, if Laurabeth couldn’t control herself then Ron said he’d have to find some other way to take care of his son. He told Uncle George that letting her get away with acting that way with no consequences wasn’t the way to help her. I'm guessing he was thinking about how he was raised and how he just kept pushing to see how much he could get away with.”

“What did Uncle George say to that?”

“What could he say? He knows that Laurabeth isn’t right.”

“Did you tell him you weren’t coming back to the house?”

“Not in so many words. I told him I’ll be back tomorrow to re-plow that field in the back ten but that I was going to get there by cutting across Clyde’s piece.”

“And?”

“And what? He looked at me and nodded. Told me he’d be out there mid-morning to bring me some water.” Rand just shook his head, “Uncle George never played favorites but Laurabeth was always his girl. She was the good student, sweet, biddable, the whole nine yards. A real Miss Goody-Goody. He even approved and liked Jonathon after he got over her dating to begin with; counted on him being the balance for Brendon’s brashness. I feel bad for Laurabeth, we all do, but I’m worried that one of these days this is all going to be too much for Uncle George; he isn’t old, but he isn’t as young as he used to be either and he's been through a lot.”

Rand brought me a note from Concha that was tied up with a bag that had annato seeds, cilantro, paprika, and tumeric.

Hermanita, Ramiro says to tell you that he knows you, and that the wheels must be turning in your head. He says if you think of some way he can help you must let him know. Mamma and Rubio said to count on them as well. And Missy says to tell you that she and Alicia do not share Laurabeth’s mania. If you need anything, their doors are always open. Senora Withrow sends her love as well. Concha

I admit it, I’m relieved. It also makes it easier to deal with the things Laurabeth said knowing that other people understand that she is going through a really bad time; gives me hope that maybe Laurabeth will re-think the way she feels and the family gets fixed some of the hurt that has happened.

I surely appreciated the seasonings though I do wonder how they came by them. I could have grown the cilantro in time but the other three I couldn't. I really should sit down and look at all of my spices and herbs and how much I have of what. I might be able to substitute some things but some of the spices there just aren't any substitutes for ... cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, etc. are going to become as expensive as they were during the Middle Ages if we don't get some international trade going some how.

Rand has agreed to take Austin with him when he goes to the Crenshaw farm so that Tommy … and Mick though he’s not able to do much … have some help in those everyday chores the boys are responsible for over there. In return Rand made me promise to stay around the home site and to lock the doors up tight when I was inside and not to lift anything heavy, blah, blah, blah. I agreed though it stuck in my craw to do it; I know showing as much as I do now only makes Rand feel guilty about not being there for me all the time; he is, just not there in person.

The peace and alone time has actually been helping me get my head back on straight. Two weeks of too many people and it’s no wonder Rand and Ken were waiting for the explosion. I came pretty close more than once. My tolerance was getting all used up. That may sound bad but it is what it is. Me and people mix about as well as oil and vinegar sometimes.

Speaking of oil and vinegar as bad as things have been I can’t help but be comforted by the state our garden is in. The extra mulch helped since I haven’t been able to weed as much and it kept the plants up out of the muddy sand during the rains. Rand never did get a chance to dig out the far corner of the garden where it is mostly clay but we don’t have anything planted there right now. He did have to dig a trench to keep the water from standing over there but it worked and nothing in the kitchen garden drowned.

I wish I could say the same for the grain fields. We lost a full quarter of one rye field and about a fifth of the field of oats. The small field of wheat looks OK except for a small section that laid over during a bad wind storm and got stuck in the damp ground. Rand isn’t happy but he isn’t crying about it either. “Babe, when a farmer can say he didn’t lose everything he is having a good day because he still has more than he started with.” I wrote that down and stuck it to the bathroom mirror. That’s a good thought to start the day with. Be satisfied with what gain you get.

Our recent gains from the garden have been a constant supply of lettuce (mostly looseleaf), greens, radishes, spinach, turnips, Chinese cabbage, beets, broccoli, broccoli raab, kale, and carrots. It wasn’t that long ago that it seems that I could wait for fresh greens and now here I am wondering if any will be going to waste. There isn’t a day goes by that we don’t have some type of salad. Sometimes I feel like a goat or a cow and just want to sit and graze all day long.

Today I pulled the first of the carrots. I think they look better than the first ones I grew last year. They are thicker and I haven’t pulled any yet that look deformed though I did have one that looked like a cow udder with two teats on it. Rand says that happens on occasion, like a seed will try to put down two tap roots. I say it looks funny, and when I cut it to see what it looked like on the inside it was kind of dry and pithy. That one was cut up and used as treats for the animals.

I scrubbed and sliced a bunch of carrots for the dehydrator; put them in there with some broccoli and a few other things I’m trying to dry. I needed to use up the rest of those dried apricots before they get really nasty so I used a bunch to make Apricot Carrot Cake.

While you are preheating your oven to 350 degrees F, in a large mixing bowl combine one and three-quarters cup of flour, one teaspoon of baking powder, one-quarter teaspoon of baking soda and one-quarter teaspoon of salt. In a medium size bowl combine one beaten egg, one-half cup of sugar, one-half cup of apple sauce, one-half cup of shredded carrots, and two tablespoons of vegetable oil. Add all this at once to the dry ingredients and stir it just this once until everything is just moistened. The batter is really thick. Next fold in one-third cup of chopped dried apricots and then pour the batter into a prepared and greased loaf pan and bake 45 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the bread comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool. Wrap loaf and store overnight before slicing. The next day you can make a frosting for the caking by mixing one-half cup of powdered sugar and two teaspoons of apple juice. I’m still debating; my powdered sugar supply isn’t exactly limitless and I might need it for something else.

The rest of the bushel of carrots was enough to fill a pressure canner full of jars. I still have some jars left over from last season so I’m putting the new stuff behind the old so that last season’s jars get used first. I wonder how I’m going to label jars when I run out of permanent marker? I’ve still got several but they aren’t going to last forever. Color coding somehow?

My next crop of carrots should be much bigger and I’ll start canning other stuff like carrot jam or mixed carrots and peas. I’m glad all I had to mess with today was carrots because every spare second I’ve been going over some new plans in my head. When I talked to Rand about some of it he agreed but he was almost too tired for us to go into details. I’ll try and work out some of the kinks in the plan and then bring it up again. But now, since the last of the jars are ready to come out of the canner, I’m going to bed. Tomorrow is the first of March and we plan on planting the larger veggie field that Rand plowed for us and there are a couple of places in the existing garden that need cultivating.


March 2nd – Rand told me last night that he had a heart to heart with Uncle George and that Uncle George understands why Rand didn’t want to get around the house. Everyone hopes that Laurabeth can get through her grief, or at least get to a point where she isn’t attacking Rand and I because we still have each other and the baby. He told me that Ron also came out to the field for a while.

“He looks bad, I mean really bad. I don’t think he is sleeping too well when he sleeps at all. He brought his son and it just … it was just weird. Even I can see the kid looks just like him. Laurabeth was pitching some fit or other and Ron just upped and walked off with him to get him away from it. I’m not sure that is the best way to handle Laurabeth or not, seems kind of mean. On the other hand … I don’t know Babe, this … all of it … I’m trying to be sympathetic and not make things worse but I just don’t know what to do.”

“Don’t look at me, I’m no psychologist I just had to listen to several quack at me for a couple of years. But sometimes too much sympathy can turn into pity and that can be worse than no sympathy at all. I guess we just go on being as … as … as kind as we can I guess you might call it and give Laurabeth time. But time doesn’t heal all wounds no matter what they say. Some you only learn to cope with; they never really go away.”

Thinking about how to deal with Laurabeth has reminded me of my own life and the distractions I used to keep myself from really learning to deal with my own emotional pain. First I used my physical pain; I didn’t exactly come through the accident unscathed. Then came the adjustment in Aunt Wilma and Uncle Charlie’s home and all of the emotional baggage that the other foster kids carried around with them. Then there was school, debate team, and work. Of course the world falling apart pretty much gave me something else to use as an excuse too.

One year ago I was in the warehouse and making plans to escape. Things were starting to really crumble around the edges and food was getting scarce. I can’t believe how different my life today is from my life then. It sure doesn’t resemble anything that I imagined. In fact, had you told me what my life would have been like I probably would have called you a liar … maybe even slugged you for messing with me so bad.

I never would have imagined the joy … and pain … that was coming my way. And listen to me? Sounding so introspective. How bizarre is that?

Is it selfish to be happy? To be finally and truly happy even with things so messed up? So many people are in pieces all around us. Take Mitch Peters for example. Cassie came by today with her grandfather and while Rand and Mr. Henderson talked she pulled me off to the side.

“Kiri, I know we haven’t always gotten along but … look, it is kind of late to be saying this but … you and Julia … you did a good thing, being able to let it go … you know … what she did and some of the things she said. It took me a while but I finally saw that Julia really wasn’t happy. I started seeing it but it was too late for me to do anything about it, if I ever good have in the first place.”

I figured Cassie was out to soften me up for some reason and I wasn’t too keen on taking the bait. “Um, not sure what … “

“Julia was trying to make herself be … I don’t know … her ideal of what a wife and mother was supposed to be. And she wasn’t ready for it. Ron tried but … he tried to do the right thing but it just wasn’t working. Julia wanted him to be romantically in love with her, she needed that admiration and all the touchy feely stuff that goes with it and that just wasn’t happening. It might have if she would have just been herself but … oh never mind. I’m not saying it right. Look, I need to ask you something.”

Yep, she needed something but it wasn’t as bad as I had thought. “Uh, OK. I guess.”

“How do you help Rand when he is … you know … really in a funk, blaming himself for stuff even when he couldn’t have … “

I stopped her. Sometimes you just have to. I swear I don’t understand half the things she says three-quarters of the time. “Cassie, I don’t want to be nosy but you gotta give me more to work with. I don’t need to know the dirty details but … is your grandfather OK?”

“It’s not Poppy. And even if it was Abuela can handle him. It’s Mitch. He had the whole operation on his shoulders when the raiders hit. Poppy was a lot sicker than we let anyone know. You can see how much weight he has lost. He got sick with something that tried to go down to his chest and things got scary. He was pretty out of it for a while and then so weak that he couldn’t have held a gun much less gotten on a horse. Mitch was doing everything he could to protect the ranch and keep things together there. One of Poppy’s cousins … the one that runs the cattle operation … just doesn’t want to listen to Mitch, doesn’t want to accept that Poppy is grooming Mitch to take over. He gives Mitch grief every chance he gets. He thinks it is making Mitch a better leader if he doesn’t always have things his way but this time it backfired. Mitch was trying to fix a problem on the ranch instead of in the communication center keeping up with the patrols. By the time everyone figured out what was going on and Mitch got to the radio we’d already lost touch with four patrols and we could only react and work around the military and try and keep our own people safe. This has really shaken Mitch’s confidence.”

“What does your grandfather say?”

Cassie said defensively, “He doesn’t blame Mitch. Of course he doesn’t. No one on the ranch does though some folks out in the community have been talking.”

Trying to calm her down I told her, “Yeah, some people will always talk. They want to blame someone, anyone for the hurt they are feeling.”

“Poppy told Mitch basically the same thing but Mitch … I don’t know Kiri, I’m worried. I’ve never seen him like this.”

I tried to think of something to say that wouldn’t make me sound like a know it all but I wasn’t having a lot of luck so I fell back on telling her that I’d learned this from my father. “Cassie, you know my dad was in the military right? Well, one of the things we used to do was watch old war flicks and cowboy movies and documentaries about that kind of stuff. I used to ask him why he thought different people became good leaders and others became bad ones. One of the things he used to tell me was that responsibility changes people and the more responsibilities the more changes … sometimes good and sometimes not. Mitch isn’t really that much older than us; he’s what twenty-five or so?”

“Yeah, around that.”

“So put yourself in his shoes. The ranch is a lot to deal with … trying to fill your grandfather’s boots is probably worse. And then something this big happens and it is so bad … Mitch is probably second guessing himself to Hades.”

“Yeah … yeah, pretty much. So what do you do? For Rand I mean … I know he can be moody and stuff.”

“Moody? No, that’s my gig. But Rand can be hard on himself if that’s what you mean. Sometimes all you can do is be there and don’t let them take the self-loathing too far. You can be kind to people but you can’t save them from themselves. Some of this will be what shows whether Mitch really is a good pick to take over the ranch when it gets to be too much for your grandfather. He has to learn to take some blows so that he can be stronger when he needs to be. He needs to understand that there will always be thing beyond his control. If he can’t he’s just going to drive himself crazy and become so cautious that he isn’t an effective leader.”

I’m not sure what she was expecting me to say. Mitch isn’t Rand and vice versa. I mean I know Mitch but not in a best bud kind of way. I told her to talk to Tia Cia and see if she had some idea of what to do; she would be closer to the situation.

After they left Rand, Austin, and I were able to finish getting all the seeds in the ground we wanted to. See, expanding the garden had already been in the works but Rand and I decided as part of our new plan to go the extra mile to plant an even larger garden. That means we are using up all the extra space that Rand has already plowed and between now and the beginning of April he will plow at least one more garden field. I have plenty of seed because I saved so much from last season. Today we planted bush beans, pole beans, lima beans, cantaloupes, carrots, collard greens, sweet corn, cucumbers, eggplant, endive, lettuce, romaine, kohlrabi, mustard greens, okra, green onions, English peas, black eyed peas, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, radish, summer squash, winter squash, tomatoes, turnips, and watermelon.

Unless something goes terribly wrong I expect even after preserving everything we need for our own consumption we’ll have enough to barter for stuff we don’t have. If I don’t barter the stuff fresh then I’ll dry it and have it to barter during the off-season when food gets scarcer or to make my mixes with. The garden scraps will go towards feeding our expanding flocks and herds. I hope to have enough chickens in a few months that I can have chicken on at least one or two Sundays every month. I also plan on trying my hand at hard cheeses now that the cows are giving more milk again with a better milking schedule, assuming it can be done. The nannies will also be ready for milking once their kids are here or there abouts.

Plans, plans, plans. At least we have plans. But they are plans with a purpose. I’m tired of life happening to us. I mean I am just flaming tired of it. When there was only Rand and I we got by. Now there is Austin and this baby coming and I’m done sitting back and waiting. I know I can’t control everything. I know that I’m going to have to go through stuff as God sees fit … to teach me a lesson or to strengthen me or to prepare me for something else that is coming down the road … but there is no sense to sit around doing nothing to prepare. God created man so that he would happen to the world not so that we could sit around waiting for the world to happen to us.


March 3rd – Rand went early this morning to pick up the new stuff for the larger cooler. We still owe a little bit on it but Rand said that Mr. Coffey asked us to pay him in sewing. Not having any women folk over there seems to be creating a few problems for them. They can do all sorts of manly stuff but sewing up the seat of a pair of britches or putting a new zipper in seems to be beyond them. So today in between baking I’ve been using the treadle to repair two huge duffle bags of clothes.

First I had to wash them … I don’t think they’ve been doing much but boiling them to loosen the dirt and then rinsing them out and hanging them to hard dry. The water was fairly disgusting but I’m happy to say that I was able to wash the clothes outside. Rand finally hooked the PVC pipe from the passive solar water tanks on the barn and ran the pipe down to a spigot with a hose that I can used to fill a heavy duty plastic barrel. The set up looks real similar to barrel composters that Rand built for me but instead of being hand-cranked this one has a belt that is hooked up to an exercise bike. I do the laundry by peddling, the peddling turns the belt, the belt turns the gears, the gears turn the barrel. The clothes are beat as they get tossed around in the barrel; it actually uses less water to wash them this way than when I was stomping on them in the bathtub.

It is still a lot of work but nowhere near as much as when I did them in the bathtub. I don’t have to worry about slipping and falling down either. And Austin and Rand can also help with the laundry this way. Austin took turns with me working the peddles. Thank goodness the seat on the bike is wide and padded, I don’t think I’m in the shape I was a few months back and the idea of trying to ride and skinny seat the way I did all the way from Tampa gives me the heebie jeebies.

As a matter of fact I’m almost too tired to write any more; not shaky tired but pretty close. I managed to finish up all of the Coffey’s clothes and we’ll deliver them tomorrow at the swap meet. I also have all of the pre-orders made for Missy. And on top of that I managed to throw some mixes together over the last couple of days. Having Austin around to help Rand is actually helping me. ‘Course by the end of the day I’m so tired I just about can’t stand myself but it isn’t as bad as it could be.

One of the things that I made up is Creamy Wild Rice Soup. This is another “just add water” that should really work and it mostly uses stuff that we can spare without any problems. You put an envelope of powdered country gravy mix together with one tablespoon chicken bouillon granules, two teaspoons dried minced onion, two teaspoons dried celery flakes, one-quarter cup uncooked wild rice, one cup uncooked white rice, and two tablespoons coarsely chopped dried mushrooms. Mix all of that together and then the directions are to add seven cups of water and bring it to a boil. Put a lid on your pot and simmer everything for about twenty-five minutes or until the rice is cooked.

The other thing I made was some molasses mustard. The only reason I even thought to make this is because Mr. Coffey sent some beer he brewed home with Rand. See, Rand is pretty careful with stuff like that because he used to let it get out of hand and the “bottle” of beer was one of those ginormous ones called a growler. It was really dark beer and Rand drank it to be sociable with a customer but he couldn’t finish it. He brought it home and was going to feed it to Taz.

“Don’t you dare!”

“Pig might get a little tipsy but it won’t hurt him Babe.”

“I don’t care about the stupid pig I mean don’t you dare waste it. I can use it to make beer bread and save on my yeast.”

“Beer … bread?”

“Yeah. It’s something we would make at the diner. You take three cups of self-rising bread … only we don’t have self-rising so I’ll have to add baking powder and salt … and then add a can of beer. Then you just mix and bake. Bread rises perfect because there is yeast in the beer.”

“I’ve heard of everything now. Beer bread. What won’t you come up with?”

“Yeah, well, I could have made drunk biscuits but the beer bread will go further and last longer.”

Rand just shook his head and laughed and gave me the still have full bottle but told me he needed to return the bottle to Mr. Coffey. There was enough beer in the bottle to make two loaves of bread and enough left after that I made a couple of small plastic containers of molasses mustard.

I took a cup of dried powdered mustard. I have plenty of it because it seems everyone had some in their cabinets and Momma was real fond of the stuff. She made most of our mustards from scratch as Daddy was kind of particular about his condiments. Who wouldn’t be with the way Momma could cook?

To the powdered mustard I added eight tablespoons of beer, four tablespoons of molasses, four tablespoons of cider vinegar, one-half teaspoon of ground cinnamon, one-half teaspoon of ground allspice, one-half teaspoon of ground pepper, and one-quarter teaspoon of ground cloves. Mix this all up really well, put it in an airtight container, and then let it sit for twenty-four hours to mellow. The best thing is that this doesn’t need refrigeration.

Everything is in boxes over by the front door waiting for tomorrow. We don’t plan on being there all day. Rand wants to get over there, check everything out quickly, and then head on home after lunch or earlier. I’ve got a picnic lunch planned just in case. I’m not sure who we’ll see at the swap meet tomorrow. I hope to see Mrs. Withrow or maybe Momma O. I wouldn’t mind seeing Alicia or Missy but I doubt I will what with everything that has been happening. I guess the babies would be too young anyway and they wouldn’t want to leave them. I might see Ram and Concha but who knows with everything over there being at sixes and sevens; I’m only guessing that Bill will have a trailer at the swap meet the way they did before.

The person I hope I don’t see is that SueLinda chick. I’m not jealous; I’m not. But I’ll be honest and admit it here in my journal that I’m feeling a little defensive. I’ve heard she is a beautiful woman. My mirror doesn’t lie, I’m more than a little rough around the edges; and fat, let’s not forget fat. So tomorrow I’m going to do something stupid; I’m wearing the high-waisted skirt that I made and one of the pretty tunic shirts that Missy sent over. I still have to wear socks and my work boots – I’m not going to make a complete fool of myself – but at least I won’t look like a rodeo clown. I’m also going to let my pony tail down. What is it that Daddy always said during football season? Oh yeah … “The best defense is a good offense.” Works for me.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you Mother Hen. I love this story.

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  2. woohoo, another one. The only bad part was I finished it before my shift ended. Thats ok though for 3 reasons. 1. I have to do SOME work. 2. There is another chapter to read. and 3. I have some school work to do after my work work is done. Great update, really enjoyed it. Your writing is what makes coming to work so enjoyable. I can sit down and read without interruption. Keep up the great job.

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