March 18th – Well, the swap meet was what it was; some good, some bad. When we got up and got going this morning the road was as bad as we expected it to be. The only place on the road that was bad was right there at the gully but there were a couple of places on the forty that had developed a bad habit of holding water. Rand said he and Austin would dig a couple of them out to see if there was clay underneath and if it was worth trying to dig the clay out, if not they’d haul in some more lime rock.
Our road isn’t the only one in sad shape. A road crew hasn’t been out to do any kind of road repair in well over a year now. Some of the road bed is showing through in places on the county roads and the highways. Of course, explosions and fires haven't exactly helped the conditions of the roads. After a particularly bad stretch I asked Rand to let me out and I would walk. He thought I was joking until he turned around and saw me holding my belly. He got upset and said he should have brought the buggy because at least it had a little bit of suspension but I reminded him that if he made any large purchase there wouldn’t be anything to put it in with the buggy.
Lucky for me the road got a little smoother the closer we got to the swap meet area. There was a bad dip where we had to leave the road but that was it. I still had to make a dash to the outhouses that had been dug. I swear it is just plain embarrassing how often I have to stop and go to the bathroom these days. Missy warned me that is only going to get worse until after the baby is born and everything goes back where it is suppose to. Isn’t that just jolly.
I pulled up and it took me a second to get ready to get out of the wagon. I hid the fact that my side was burning by acting like I was gathering stuff up but I only fooled Austin. Rand leaned over the wagon side and asked quietly, “You OK? You want to …”
“I’m fine. I just feel stupid is all.”
“That isn’t all, you’re hurting again aren’t you.”
Rather than lie I told him, “Some … but it will go away, it always does. Look, that … that SueLinda … she’s not around is she?”
“Why? Oh. Babe, don’t let what she said get to you please … please. I know it’s selfish to ask you to forget about what I did last time I …”
“Rand, that’s already forgotten. I just don’t feel like being embarrassed when she points out how fat I am. I can’t even fit into the overalls anymore and, well, you know what I mean.”
“One, you aren’t fat you’re pregnant. Two, you’re pregnant with my baby. Three, you look dang sexy to me … as a matter of fact if you want to go on home …”
“Now you are just being silly … but thank you. I really don’t know why I care what anyone says, it’s not like it’s ever mattered. I just don’t … I … this is stupid, I just don’t want her to see my big fat behind trying to get out of the wagon again.”
“Aw Babe. Look, I don’t know why I didn’t think about it but next time I’ll figure out some steps or something. But, I like being able to hold you so everyone in the world can see … “
“Rand! What if someone sees?!”
“Let ‘em. We’re married.”
“What is wrong with you?!” I asked him turning bright red as he finally put me on the ground and stood in front of me so I could fix my clothes. I swear lately every time we start talking about my belly he starts thinking about you know what. Missy noticed later in the day and I like to have died; but she only laughed and said Bill was the same way. I asked her if it was pheromones or something scientific like that. She said no, that it was testosterone and guys were just impressed with their fertility or something equally obnoxious. I don’t really mind it I just wish he wouldn’t do it out in public. People already look at me like I’ve got three heads, I don’t want them thinking that Rand is crazy and that’s just exactly what they’ll think. I mean, why else would he act like that?
But that was later, first we had to actually get into the swap meet. They had to move it further away from the parking area so that they could enlarge the vendor area. And instead of a horseshoe shape or circle they now had aisles to walk up and down. I’m not sure I like it but it certainly let’s more folks set up booths in a certain amount of space. They put Bill and Missy’s place and Clyde’s trailer on the very outside since they generated so much business but folks still got all bunched up.
Austin went off to hang out with some of the boys – the father of the boy that was a scout master had promised to teach them to shoot a bow and arrow – in an area that had been specifically roped off away from the vendors and the fast food carts. There was also another roped off area and it was specifically for the little kids; that was next to an area that Pastor Ken had set up. The kids had organized games as well as free play while their parents could talk to Ken if they felt the need. Some of the men and women just came to watch the kids play. Ken had said that for most of the watchers it was a healthy way to deal with their grief … a lot of children and grandchildren had been lost to the flu.
Rand and I looked at the new way the vendor tables were set up and we decided to drift back to where Missy and Bill had their trailer set up. Missy called me behind their table and in the pretense of paying attention to Billy … not that I didn’t think he was a cut butterball … I handed off the pre-orders to her. “Do you know that I could have gotten two dozen orders for that lingerie already?”
I looked at her and then asked, “So what’s the rest of the story? It isn’t like you or Bill to turn down a deal.”
“I recognized the woman. She works for SueLinda. Profit or not I don’t want anything to do with her so called business. And even if she wasn’t into that kind of trade I’d pass on it, family sticks together.”
“Oh Missy,” I whispered. “I don’t want you and Bill to …”
“Don’t sweat it girl. It’s about family. Besides, how would it look if I was to start making money – even if it was indirect – off of that kind of trade? I can’t afford the hassle I would get from Momma O and Mrs. Withrow much less the rest of our female customers.” That made me smile. Missy really would have done it just because of family … but it didn’t hurt that her decision was reinforced by making it a good business decision.
“What’s in the other basket?” she asked me.
“Just some stuff to use for trade. If I can’t use it I’ll bring it back and see if you can use any of it here.”
Rand and I took off to look at the different tables but then he looked at me, “Do you … um … do you mind that we are hanging out together?”
I looked at him confused at first and then realized what he was trying to do. “Rand I like spending time with you. If you are with me because you want to be that’s good … but don’t feel that you have to if you want to go off and talk to the men.”
“Weeellllll … how about we walk through the next aisle and then I’ll take off over to there and you can … you know … do your thing.”
I smiled to let him know that it was a plan.
“Well if it isn’t the two love birds.”
The morning had been pretty good until she showed up. Rand was really angry really fast … about as fast as I’ve ever seen him get mad but I still managed to grab him before he popped off. I did something I don’t normally do and got up under his arm like he had it draped around my shoulders then leaned my head against him and said, “Brrr, where did that wind come from? Let’s move Honey, it smells kind of … odd. I don’t think where ever it is coming from is too healthy.”
Rand looked at me and scrunched his eye brows but after a second gave me a half smile and we kept walking, ignoring SueLinda. She didn’t like that at all but the older woman that was with her grabbed her arm and they changed directions and walked in the opposite direction we did. The first table I stopped at was a stationery booth. They had all sorts of paper, envelopes, writing tablets, pencils and erasers, and mechanical pens. But they also had quills, glass dip pens, and bamboo dip pens. Best of all they had inks, some store-bought but most of them looked homemade. It was like going Christmas shopping.
But they wanted what I thought was a whole lot for their inks … a whole lot. They were even trading in Sand Dollars which is how much they wanted for their wares. Besides, we had things that we needed and that ink was just a want. Momma O and her family were running a booth trading seeds and seedlings and were doing a brisk business. That wasn’t what I was after so I waved and kept going.
I passed booths trading tools, building materials, scrap metal bits and pieces like flashing (I wrote down who it was to tell Rand about it), block and tackle, fishing gear, then I caught up with Rand who was standing looking at a table full of feed samples. I touched him on the arm and he introduced me around and all the men were mannerly and tipped their hats if they had them, nodded their head if they didn’t.
“Babe, didn’t you say that you could make millet into flour or into a cereal?”
“Well … yeah. And you had millet cereal for breakfast the other day.”
The man behind the counter said, “I never heard of making flour out of it but me da’ told me of eating the stuff back during the Depression when they didn’t have nothing else ter eat. He wouldn’t touch the stuff for anything else but animal feed after that.”
I stuck close to Rand but felt forced to reply, “It is a bit like eating birdseed until you get used to it but I use millet flour to make the little wheat flour we have go further. You can do the same thing with soy beans – like those you have there – of course the flour they make doesn’t have any gluten in it but there are some people that can’t have gluten anyway.”
“Well then Missus Joiner, how do ye make the millet flour.”
“The easiest way is to toast the seeds in a skillet a little, cool them all the way, and then grind them. The longer you grind them the finer the flour. You can get it just about as fine as cornstarch if you have the arm for it. If I was making pastry dough I’d take the time to do that but since I just use it for bread I don’t both grinding it that fine.”
I heard one man say to another, “Have to tell the wife, she’s on me about needing flour every time I turn around and the wheat is dat blamed expensive.”
Another man with a two-year old strapped to his back in a carrier asked, “What about that cereal, can you feed it to little kids?”
“Sure, they eat the stuff in lots of places around the world. In a dry skillet toast about a half cup of whole millet seed. Put the toasted millet in a bag and then roll them with a rolling pin until they are ground as fine as you want them. In a saucepan bring one and a half cup of water to a boil and add the ground millet, a pinch of salt, a half teaspoon of ground cinnamon, a pinch of ground nutmeg, and a half teaspoon of ground cardamom. Turn the heat down to simmer, cover and then simmer for fifteen minutes. If all of the water is absorbed before the cereal is tender then add a tablespoon or two of water at a time until you get the consistency that you want.”
The man was looking pretty desperate and said, “Could you write that down?”
I looked at Rand but he only grinned, “Um, I guess, sure.” I pulled out my handy dandy notepad and pencil – I never leave home without it – and copied it out like I had said it. After Rand and I drifted away I found out the man had lost his wife to the flu was raising the baby girl who was two, and two little boys who were five and six years old. There had been another little boy who would have been three but he died with his mother. The poor man has his hands full.
“He was seeing a woman from Columbia County, a friend of his wife’s who lost her husband around the same time he lost his wife, but she up and married a neighbor that didn’t have any kids. I guess she just didn’t want the responsibility of raising another woman’s set of children,” Rand whispered, explaining things to me. “He has a pretty decent place, just doesn’t have the time to develop it much because he has to take care of his little ones.”
I was chewing over that when we finally came to a vendor that I really needed to chat with. Here was the lady that was the spinner and weaver. It wasn’t cheap, it cost a couple of quarts of sorghum, but I came away with several spools of good cotton thread. I knew it was good because it required some strength to break the thread; cheap or loosely spun thread breaks and pulls apart real easy.
Rand kissed the top of my head and took off when he spotted a vendor that was looking to barter a bunch of old tools. Yep, just like my Daddy. I wandered on and then came to a vendor trading books. That’s when I realized that we still hadn’t done anything about schooling for Austin. He wasn’t doing too badly as one of the things that we liked to do at the end of the day was read a book chapter or two out loud. His reading and vocabulary was pretty good if I was any judge. He was learning science and agriculture from Rand. But I wasn’t sure what to do about math beyond the basics of adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing. He needed more than that but the only real school books I had were the highschool level ones that I took months ago out of the first house I salvaged. I added that to my list of wants and not needs … but it could turn into a need if I couldn’t figure out some way around the problem.
A few more vendor tables and I came to the table of the leathersmith. He was selling belts, hats, leather aprons, whips, and a bunch of other stuff. He also made stuff to order. But what really caught my eye were these moccasins. They weren’t just the foot part though, these ran up your legs sort of like boots and had laces that held it in place.
“Excuse me. Sir?”
“Oh … well hello there. You’re Rand Joiner’s wife aren’t you?”
“Yes sir. Um … could you put some kind of sole on those moccasins?"
"Oh aye, it’s the way I wear my own. These here are just samples I made a few years ago. I ran with the sutlers with the Mountain Man re-enactment events. You looking for something for Rand?”
“Actually we have a boy living with us … “
“That’d be Austin?”
“Oh … um … yes.”
“Had the boy staying with us a bit, glad to see he found a family. My sister wanted him, all she has is girls, she lives with us see but with the houseful we have … we just couldn’t offer him anything. You’d be better off letting me repair a pair of old lace up boots for him. The moccasins are great for hunting and staying around the house but with the field work he is doing with Rand he needs the ankle support and the sole to protect his feet. If you bring me a pair we can see what we can work out.”
I’m not stupid, the fact he wasn’t trying to sell me anything and tried to advise me whether he made anything on a deal or not makes him a good ‘un in my opinion. I told Rand later and he said that Mick and Tommy were in the same boat and frankly so was he. We decided to use the trade profit from the pre-orders that I gave to Missy and use it for work boots for Rand and Austin. They didn’t have their sizes today but Missy said she had a couple of pairs at the Shack that might fit, Rand and Austin will just have to go try them on. They are in pretty rough shape so we should be able to pick them up for cheap and then just have them fixed up properly and Rand said he knows the man needs his road from graded so they could probably make a barter for work rather than for goods.
I saw vendors who were selling veggies but nothing dried or anything like that. It made me feel that I still had a good idea about making sure we have enough dried veggies and fruits to barter with during the off season. I have a feeling the apples are going to do killer well but I don’t want to count my chickens before they are hatched.
And speaking of chickens there were two vendors there selling eggs and birds; one had chickens and the other had geese and ducks. My geese are big helpers in the garden, the chickens not so much. The chickens were pecking at everything. I guess they got use to me throwing them scraps and aren’t just interested in bugs but anything they can sink their beaks into. I have yet to have the geese pinch anything but bugs off of the plants. I keep the chickens to their run these days and let the geese into the fenced in garden … except one of them who is sitting her nest. Boy is she testy. I bent over the wrong way and man did I get a pinch.
It was about then that things started getting pretty crowded. I was getting really tired of being bumped around; I even got clipped in the stomach twice. I didn’t recognize one in ten of the people which told me that maybe it was time for me to scoot back to Missy and Bill’s trailer and wait out the rush. Instead Austin found me first along with Tommy. Neither boy looked happy. Mick, moving slower because he was surrounded by a gaggle of girls and looking so close to panic I nearly laughed out loud, brought up the rear.
“Kiri! Hi!” His eyes pleaded for some help so we stepped off to the side and I started talking to them – I recognized most of them from church – while Mick let Austin and Tommy drag him away as they suddenly lost the gloom on their face.
After they realized their captive had escaped the girls wandered off to find their parents since it was lunch time. Rand’s stomach is as reliable as any clock and his height helped him to find me even in the crowd. He had the boys with him and our picnic basket. “Let’s put the blanket out under the tree over there instead of eating in the wagon. I’ve already checked on Bud and Lou and they’re fine.”
Rand surprised us all by having some smoked catfish filets. “A fella owed me for some mowing I did for him. I figured I’d never see it but he stopped me and gave us this. Said that the road I mowed helped him to get his boat out where it kept getting hung up and now he fishes the river and smokes the fish he catches. Wait boys, let Kiri get a bite first.”
I like fish but I wasn’t sure why he wanted me to try it first. But when I took a small bite it was divine. I’d never had anything like it. “He smoked this batch with pecan wood. He also has some over there done with oak and maple.”
The filets melted when you ate them. It went perfect with the wilted salad (wilted on purpose with bacon grease), and hardboiled eggs that I had brought. For dessert I brought cookies since I figured that the boys would be around. There was also a ceramic jug of fresh milk to drink. The boys for their part contributed buttered bread and peach preserves and some summer sausage.
Our lunch nearly got trampled by a brawl but Rand jumped up and pushed them off in another direction before disaster struck and Mitch Peters had the two ijits under control not long after that. They’d passed a bottle back and forth just enough to both get stupid. There were a couple of other brawls and SueLinda was told to get her girls under control or leave since they alone had caused three of them by inciting the men to act foolish. She didn’t leave but she did send two of her girls off with that older lady I had seen her with earlier.
I was pretty tired by the time we finished but I was determined to hit all the vendors and I’m glad that I did. It was like walking through the sutler section of a reenactment event. There was a vendor devoted to women’s stuff. They worked the river so while the Shack no longer has a local monopoly on some of the lingerie items, this vendor didn’t do pre-orders or “to size” orders which was the niche that I filled. This vendor also sold bonnets, parasols, fans, snoods, and aprons and hair accessories like combs and hair pins.
Other vendors there included tables for candles, horse accessories (run by a Ferrier), rope, housewares, mops and brooms, sewing notions like leather thimbles and buttons, garden tools, and that didn’t even include the people offering to trade their services like blade sharpening, tailor/seamstress, and blacksmithing. I’d seen everything and was looking around for Rand when I spotted him. For about two seconds I thought of just waiting things out but the look on Rand’s face finally drove me to act.
Rand isn’t violent. He’s not passive by any stretch and I’ve seen him lose his temper and get in brawls all right, but more because it is a guy thing rather than a violent streak separate from that. And I’ve never seen him able yet to even push a woman out of his way much less anything more than that. But SueLinda was getting close to being the exception that proves the rule. The choices that Rand and I had made couldn’t all be laid at her door but she didn’t help and did play a role in the ruckus that occurred. And she was obviously up to her tricks again, though not the kind that most would think considering her current job description.
Rand was trying to ignore her so hard and SueLinda was so intent on her mischief making that neither one noticed me until I’d already swept SueLinda’s legs out from under her and she was sprawled on the ground, very red in the face. “You need to pump up that situational awareness thing SueLinda. The kind of trouble you are constantly trying to cause is going to make you some serious enemies.”
I walked around her – out of arms reach, I’m not that crazy – and stepped into Rand’s one-armed hug with a smile. “Hi,” I said using my best butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth expression.
Thank you God that Rand laughs when most other guys would have lost patience a long time ago. “Hi yourself. You ready to go?”
And we did, arm-in-arm leaving SueLinda to get to her feet and stomp away. Rand said quietly, “I love you. I wish … “
“You wish I hadn’t done anything about SueLinda?”
“No. I wish you hadn’t been put into the position in the first place. I managed to avoid her all day until just now. I wish I knew what her problem was.”
“Does it matter? Apparently there are some girls like that just like there are some guys. They can’t deal with the fact that someone got away, unimpressed by their whatever you want to call it.”
“Yeah, well, SueLinda isn’t a girl. She’s a grown woman and it is doggone embarrassing. Bad enough I made a fool of myself in college and then again a couple of weeks ago, I don’t want to see you get dragged into this.”
I realized then that really was his whole problem with it. She didn’t tempt him, she reminded him of how stupid he had felt the first time around and then how guilty he felt over what happened two weeks ago. Suddenly I didn’t feel threatened by her at all even if she is a real live beauty queen, smart, and worst of all tall and willowy. I laughed right out loud I felt so free. I got a strange look from Rand and some of the other folks that were being nosy but I didn’t care. I didn’t even mind looking silly because I had to have help to get into the back of the wagon, it was all good.
I kept that feeling all the way home and for the rest of the day after we got home. I’m sitting here now still feeling good while I write this in my journal and stuff my face with popcorn. Tomorrow is Sunday and I mostly plan on resting. There are always regular chores but I think tomorrow I’m going to sit down and --- blush --- look through Momma’s baby patterns. I might even crochet some lace if I feel up to it.
March 19th – Yawn, yawn, yawn. I’m tired and the only thing I’ve done today is eat. I’m even going to bed early.
March 20th – Rand is a stinker; a flat out stinker. And I could just kiss him for it.
We had a huge tree fall on the fence line. It wasn’t our tree but one from the property adjacent to us. When it fell … it just kind of keeled over because half of its root ball had died and shrunk … it took down several smaller trees in its way. Brendon and Ron showed up early this morning to help cut the trees back. Thing is Laurabeth was with them. I could tell that Rand hadn’t expected that but there wasn’t much he could say that wouldn’t make things worse.
While the guys went to go do the trees Laurabeth and I were left staring at each other. Then Stevie made a rude noise from the end that babies tend to make rude noises from.
Laurabeth sighed, “That’s a commentary on all the greens that I’ve been eating lately.”
I tried not to but I laughed before I could stop. Laurabeth and I had never been close but she had always been nice to me. After she had changed Stevie we sat down on the porch with Laurabeth rocking the baby and me trying to fix Rand’s sock for the hundredth time.
“Rand still wrecks his socks all to pieces I see.”
“Yeah. I’m thinking of sewing leather on the toe area and heel of all his socks.”
“Wouldn’t do any good; his toenails are like band saws. Daddy used to complain that you could always tell whose socks belonged to who; Rand’s were the ones with holes in the toes and Brendon’s were the ones that were always stretched out at the top where he was always pulling at them.”
Silence fell for a few moments. “Kiri?”
“Hmmm?” I asked while I snipped a piece of thread with my teeth.
“I’m … I’m sorry. Ron … he says … he says he’s sure you aren’t holding anything that I said against me but …”
She surprised me and it must have showed before I could get my blank face on. “Oh, it’s OK. I know I was pretty awful. I don’t … I don’t remember everything. There are great big empty spaces in my head. I … I don’t want to talk about what happened but … I do want to apologize for … you know … what people said that I said and … “
“Laurabeth, it’s all right. I spent a long time being … not nice to downright nasty after my family died. Not everyone deals with their grief like that and I hope that if I ever have to … though I pray that I never have to … go through something like that again that I don’t hurt other people just because I’m hurting so bad. So I understand. Thanks for apologizing, I just want you to know that you don’t have to.”
“Yes, yes I do, for my own peace of mind. I can’t leave stuff like that hanging out there, I’ve got enough to … oh God Kiri I miss Jonathon … and the baby … so bad there are days I just dread waking up.”
Well then she started crying and then I started crying and it took a while for us to both stop because every time one of us would the other continued and we’d start up crying all over again. But I don’t know, maybe we both needed to do some crying. I was tired afterwards but it was the kind of tried you get after you’ve emptied stuff out of yourself that it was time you unloaded. I wouldn’t say that Laurabeth and I are any closer than we were before but we both acknowledge that we share something, a depth of pain maybe, and it’s given us some insight into the other.
I’m relieved that she seems to be coming back from wherever she had retreated to in her spirit and told Rand so when they left after lunch – white beans with smoked ham hocks, cornbread, and stewed canned potatoes. “Brendon and Ron told me she was a lot better. I wasn’t sure whether to believe them or not. She still seems … fragile.”
“She is, but she’s more there in her mind than she’s been in a while. She may have setbacks but I think she is definitely moving forward.”
Then he and Austin took a load of the wood and I thought they had been taking it to Uncle George’s place only it turns out they weren’t . As a matter of fact some birdie or other had been whispering to Rand what vendors that I had been stopping and looking at. I suspect it was the boys but I don’t know for sure, Rand wouldn’t say. I guess he is worried that I think that he is checking up on me but I really don’t. And even if he was it’s not bothering me. So long as I know it isn’t me that he doesn’t trust then I’m kinda OK with him being protective.
When he came home Austin made himself scarce saying he was gonna go check on Fraidy’s kittens. I reminded him not to touch them but that he could pull some grass and take it up to Fraidy if he wanted to. I turned to go back inside to take the cornbread out of the oven and Rand followed me inside. He took the skillet out of the oven for me when I said it was ready and then told me to close my eyes.
“Just close your eyes.”
I thought he’d found an interesting rock or flower or something and was just playing so I smiled and closed my eyes. He told me to hold out my hands and he put something smooth and cold in my hand. I could tell it was a small jar but it was a funny shape.
He gave me a few moments to feel it and try and guess and then whispered, “Open your eyes.”
It was a jar of ink Before I could even pull a question together he pulled a wooden-handled carpet bag from behind his back and said, “Surprise.”
There were jars of colored inks and packets of ink powder and even a box of nibs for the dip pen I liked to use. “Wait! Where did this come from?”
“I traded the wood.”
“But … but Rand … I didn’t need this … and it … Rand the price … “
“It’s all right Babe. Don’t be upset. The man’s name is Kutchner. He was selling out and we worked a deal yesterday. He wanted to ride one of the passenger boats heading to Steinhatchee but they didn’t want to trade for his ink. What they did want was wood since their boat uses a steam engine. So I traded Kutchner wood for the ink and he traded the wood for passage down south.”
“There are some of those steno tablets you use out in the wagon in a box with some other odds and ends too.”
“But Rand, I … I didn’t need this. I’ve been doing just fine with the pecan shell ink.”
“I know, and we’ll keep using the homemade ink for everyday but now you have something nice to use in your journal. It seems to make you feel better when you can write.”
“It does but all of that work, cutting the trees out of the fence and into lengths, loading it into the wagon … “
“I wanted to. You do all that sewing and stuff so that we can get what we need from the Shack. You’ve never asked for anything yourself. This time I wanted to do something just for you.”
All I could do was say “Oh Rand” all over again. I’m going to save the colored ink; for what I don’t know, but I’m going to save it. Tomorrow I’m going to make up some of the powdered ink. It is going to feel funny writing in blue again.