Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Chapter 57


“I told you how Burt called me with his hair on fire.” 

I nodded.  “Yeah.  Mason messed up somehow and reading between the lines of your text it has put Burt in a bad spot.” 

“It sure did.  A couple of those fancy resorts near Young Harris were counting on him to haul off some materials where they are renovating some of their fancy units.  Burt already has a buyer for most of the stuff but the problem was transportation.  He got a trucker buddy of his to pick it up from the resort but his insurance only lets him drive in-state.  The buyer is right on the other side of the state line and wants it delivered to their front door.  The trucker is going to drop the trailer at a truck yard and I’m going to pick it up and haul it the rest of the way.  Couple of days of easy work but the pay is dang good for the time I’ll put in.  God I am so glad I kept my CDL up and Burt is letting me use his rig which he keeps insurance on.” 

“You can drive those big trucks?” 

“Yeah.  I used to drive the tractor trailers and the dump trucks the family keep for taking grain and stuff to the wholesaler and weigh stations.  Anyway all I have to do with the last load is haul it back to Burt’s warehouse.  And that’s my second job.” 

Confused I asked, “Hauling the last load is a separate job?” 

“Nope.  But Burt’s warehouse is.  It’s in a mess.  I saw what it looked like last year and he said it’s only gotten worse though he is damn happy to have gotten rid of them bottles and jars and stuff.  I got some for you out in the truck but that can wait til morning.  I didn’t bring them in ‘cause I thought there’d be a big mess in here.” 

“You know I wouldn’t make you trip over a mess.” 

“I know you wouldn’t … though Linda tattled on you.” 

“What for?” 

“For picking up what you shouldn’t be picking up.” 

Nonchalantly I told him, “Oh.  Well she worries too much.  I carried stuff like that at school.  I’m a lot stronger than I look.” 

“Don’t I know it but with your leg hurting you shouldn’t do it.  OK?” 

Carefully I asked, “Is this you laying down the law?” 

“I don’t want to have to Kay-Lee.  I’m asking you nice; if you need something heavy like that again get someone else to lift and tote it.  People get paid to do that kind of thing at the stores.” 

Mulishly I told him, “You don’t get paid to do it here.” 

“Sure I do.  I get paid in good cooking … and other things,” he said trying to waggle his eyebrows. 

I could feel my face heating up.  “Oh stop.” 

He laughed and said, “We got a deal?” 

“I guess.  Just tell me about the job.” 

“Uh huh,” he said giving me a look that said he was going to hold me to that agreement.  “Anyway, if I help Burt get his warehouse cleaned up and organized he’ll pay me some in cash and some in goods that he’s got stacked hip deep and going out of date.  Thing is I gotta move the trailer starting tomorrow and then this coming weekend is when he wants to work on the warehouse.”

“Why this coming weekend?” 

“It’s the only weekend the kids don’t have some kind of sports game to be in and he wants them to help since they’ve started asking about earning money.  And Burt is going to ride Rissa pretty hard to make sure she is earning money and not just fooling around and expect to get paid anyway.  He didn’t say so but I think he is worried she’s too much like Mason in that area.  Anyway the kids start back up at something the weekend after that and then once school starts Burt won’t have a weekend free until Thanksgiving and maybe not even after that.  And that isn’t even taking into account things might go sour by then.  Seems Burt is starting to listen to Gramps and with a baby on the way Delly and Burt are starting to get antsy.  They ain’t whole hog on the idea but you can see it floating around in their eyes sometimes.  Delly cornered me yesterday and pretty much gave me the third degree, asking how much I believed what Gramps and the Uncles were saying.” 

“What did you tell her?” 

He answered, “That I believed them.  That I didn’t know what the time line was going to be but with things the way they are it can’t be too much longer.  And that with my life being the mess it was all I’m looking at is trying to play catch up and make sure that we ain’t in a hole come the first of the year, if we even have that long.  That I think she needs to start helping out with the gardening and harvest or at least do something along those lines at her place before she gets too big to move. And if nothing else it wouldn’t be a bad way to spend some time with the family, get to know the new wives, and build up a stake that helps offset the rising food and fuel costs.” 

“Wow.  What did she say to that?” 

“Not much.  Oh she said I didn’t sound like the same knucklehead I used to be but coming from Delly that’s high praise.” 

I didn’t say anything to that.  Like I said, sometimes you have to know when to keep your mouth shut.  So long as Delly doesn’t hurt Sawyer’s feelings again I’m not gonna say a word. 

What I did ask was, “Is Gramps going to still expect you to keep up the same work schedule he has set for you?  I hope he doesn’t ‘cause I don’t see how you can.” 

“Naw.  The way I understand it Uncle James thinks this is as good a time as any to put a broom to the butts of some of the others.  I’ll catch come back-blow from that from some that think favorites are being played but oh well, life’s tough.  Thing is this Saturday the family is going to go to the flea market.  Do you want to go?” 

My first response was, “Not without you.” 

“Welllll …” 

Slowly I asked, “You want me to go?” 

“Yeah.  Yeah I do.  If you feel up to it.” 

“Does it have something to do with the whole Gramps feeling itchy thing?” 

Sawyer choked on a sip of tea he’d just taken then started laughing.  “Well yeah but uh maybe we better keep Gramps’ itchiness out of it.” 

“Sawyer!” 

“I know but … it was funny.” 

Shaking my head I told him, “No it wasn’t  ... and isn’t.  What do you want me to do?” 

“I want you to go to the flea market and have a good time.” 

“While you work?!” 

He got up and came to sit on my side of the table.  “Kay-Lee, I know the flea market is probably not your favorite thing …” 

“It doesn’t matter either way, I’ve only been the one time Sawyer.  And it was fun, but I knew you were around.  Now I know you’ll be working and I don’t want to play while you work.” 

“You won’t be playing.  More than likely Aunt Pearl will run you ragged.  I still want you to try and have a good time though.” 

I thought about it.  “I’ll go.  You want me to put a good face on things and keep Gramps and the others from thinking things they shouldn’t.  Not because they’re busybodies – though that’s what they are – but because you love them and don’t want them to worry.” 

“Well, I guess you do understand.” 

Trying to not snap because it seems people seem to say that too much for my peace of mind I told him, “Just because I’ve never had a family of my own Sawyer doesn’t mean I don’t understand pretty much how they are supposed to work.  I watched the families I lived with, the good ones and the bad ones.  It was like watching people trying to drive each other crazy on purpose with the best of intentions.  And I know your family isn’t bad but some of them are definitely crazy.  But that’s ok too.”  I sighed and admitted, “I just don’t like doing something like going to the flea market and having fun while you’re having to work” 

“It makes me happy to have the work Kay-Lee.  And it’ll be brownie points with Delly which will make the rest of the family happy.  They really never liked the two of us not speaking much.  You saw how they were at 4th of July.  Then if you do what you gotta to make the family see we’re ok we’ll get even more accomplished.” 

“Sooooo I am kind of working for you, right?” 

“If you gotta look at it like that, I guess.  I’d rather you look at it like … well like you are working for us.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d prefer to walk around the flea market with you but this way we accomplish more.  Help Aunt Pearl and the others out, get some things knocked off our list if you can, get Gramps off my back, and I’ll bring home pay and maybe some other odds and ends we need from clearing out Burt’s warehouse.” 

I asked Sawyer, “Who would I be riding with?” 

“Uh, that’s a good question.  Let me find out who has room.  Anyone you don’t want to ride with?” 

“It doesn’t matter.” 

“You sure?” he asked.  I nodded in the affirmative and he said, “Ok, I’ll find out and let you know.  Now back to today.” 

I sighed, “Sawyer …” 

The look on his face was like he was doing something he didn’t want to but felt it had to and was wondering if we were going to have a fight.  “Don’t Sawyer me.  Linda said you were pretty upset before you went to the library and then you were ok for a while but then you got not ok again as soon as you had to start shopping.  I want to know if Linda was just sticking her nose in it and making assumptions or if that really happened.” 

I sighed.  “And this is why I don’t talk to anyone, it always gets blown out of proportion like I’m some kind of drama queen.  My body is crippled not my mind and …” 

“Whooooooaaaaaaa.  I never said …” 

“I didn’t say you … oh just drop it Sawyer.  I’m … I … Look, you know it’s that time of the month.  Even Linda could tell.  I’m not normally like this; at least I don’t think I am.  But sometimes things just get a bit much for anybody.  It would be so easy for me to mess us up and I’m trying to be so careful but every time I turn around I feel like I’m falling a little further behind when I shouldn’t be.  This is what I went to school for.  I was tops in my class and normally I catch up fast when I have to learn something new but ... but this is so much new and it is so important and … and ....  I swear Sawyer there’s just days I don’t feel good enough.” 

“Good enough for what?” Sawyer asked honestly trying to understand. 

“For just about everything.  You.  Your family.  This place.  I’m … I’m not sure I can keep up.  You already have to do your job and then come home at night after working all day and help me do my job too.  God it makes me just want to scream.” 

I stood up and the chair went flying in one direction and I lost my balance and went sliding and falling in the other.  “Kay-Lee?!” 

“Just … just leave me alone.  I’m falling apart.  Look at this mess.” 

Sawyer wouldn’t leave and just sat on the floor with me until I was finished pitching a snit.  “Feel better?” he asked. 

“No.  I feel stupid.  And ashamed.  You must think I’m …” 

“Tired.  Wore out.  Sore.  Overwhelmed.  Angry.  The only thing that would upset me is if you also regret getting married … to me I mean.” 

Startled I looked at him and the tears I’d been trying to hold back started to fall.  “You are a crazy Greek godlet looking guy Sawyer Hartford.  I don’t know how on earth we wound up in the place we’re in but the last thing I regret is being with you.  Just about everything else in the world can go away but not you.  I’m just so afraid that one day real soon I won’t be able to keep up … one way or the other I’ll mess up or you’ll discover I’m a lot more trouble than you thought I’d be or something.” 

“Yep, you definitely belong in the Hartford family.  You’re as crazy as we are.”  I looked at him and he pulled me close even though we were sitting on the floor.  “I’m tired too Kay-Lee.  I’ve got days that I don’t know which end is up.  And sometimes about the only thing I can do is hang on to believing that you’ll keep to those stipulations we made with each other.” 

“Sawyer, I’m … I’m crippled.  You can’t tell me that some of this hasn’t … been unexpected.  You probably still get looks from people or they say things like ‘bless your heart it must be challenging’ and …” 

“Uh … You heard Mrs. Penny I guess.” 

“Of course I did.  So did everyone else in Walgreens.  That woman’s volume is stuck on loud even when she thinks she’s whispering.  But she isn’t the only one that has said something like that to you.  Admit it or not I know it is the truth.  Igor Baffa.  That’s …” 

“Don’t.  Just don’t Kay-Lee.  All right.  Sure.  Some things caught me off guard.  I … I play too rough sometimes and forget.  Not as much as I used to though.” 

“But that’s what I’m saying Sawyer.  You shouldn’t stop having fun just because I can’t do certain things.  I hate it.” 

“You’re making more of that than you need to.  Sure I’ve had to learn to do a few things differently … or at least change the way I do them … but sometimes those changes are for the good … and interesting … and … definitely not boring that’s for sure.” 

“What are you talking … Sawyer!” I squawked when I realized he was talking about bedroom stuff. 

Sawyer tried not to but he grinned, then leered, and then started laughing because he got a good look at my face.  “Honestly Kay-Lee.  I don’t consider it the end of the world because we have to try different things so that we can both have fun at the same time and so that you don’t hurt.  So what if we have to …” 

“Sawyer!” 

That set Sawyer grinning again and he pulled me tighter against him and said, “Fine.  Be that way.  But I was talking about me helping you here around the house.  You’re the one with a dirty mind.” 

“Oh … oh … you … you ….grrrrrrr!” 

Still grinning he said, “Here, turn around and let me rub your leg.”
 
“You don’t need to do that.” 

“I know I don’t but I want to,” he said turning me so that he could massage my calf and foot.  “Now be still and don’t wiggle or you’ll make me think about things I can’t have right now.”  He started and immediately I felt some relief from the knots in my muscles.  More seriously than he had been he said, “You are wound tighter than a sprung clock.  Some of the aunts get the same way for one reason or another.  I know Mom used to and Delly still does.  Being a farmer’s wife is hard, Aunt Pearl says it is at least as hard as being a farmer, that’s why so many of them used to die young.  And right now Gramps is reminding all of us men that we need to show some appreciation for what we’re getting or come winter we are going to be sleeping in a cold bed and eating our own cooking.” 

Feeling contrite and contrary at the same time I shook my head and told him, “Oh Sawyer, I’d never back out of our agreement.  We promised to stick with our stipulations.  Please don’t think I’d ever run off on you.  I don’t mind the hard work.  I just don’t feel like I’m able to hold up my end the way I should.  I didn’t realize it was going to be this hard to keep up.” 

“Well I guess that makes two of us.  I was feeling pretty rotten about you not being able to have any extry like the other wives are getting to do a little personal shopping here and there.  These jobs from Burt will help with that.” 

“I am NOT going to spend …” 

“Hush.  I know how you feel about it and I’m glad I don’t have to deal with you pouting and stuff like that when you don’t get those things.  Doesn’t mean I’m any happier though that I can’t give them to you any way.” 

“I don’t need it.” 

“Maybe not.  And pretty much guaranteed even with these jobs all I’m doing is putting off the inevitable of having nothing in my wallet but moths and crickets.  I just wish …” 

“We’ve still got the fuel money for the truck and there isn’t another auto insurance payment until after the first of the year.  Needing more propane is a long way off.  We might wind up eating just tomato soup for a while but even that’s a long way off.  It isn’t about stuff Sawyer.  I can’t explain it.  I just feel like you have to work that much harder because I can’t work hard enough.  It’s not … not … equitable.  That’s what I mean, it’s just not equitable.” 

“Ok then I tell you what we’ll do.  Let’s go sit on the love seat in the living room.  You get one cushion and I’ll get the other.  We’ll pop a bowl of popcorn and I’ll eat a piece then you eat a piece.  We’ll make sure our pieces are the same size and have the same number of salt granules on them.  And we’ll watch five minutes of your show and then trade off and watch five minutes of my show and we’ll go back and forth like that.” 

Exasperated at his foolishness I snapped, “Sawyer.” 

“I know.  Sounds silly don’t it?  Just as silly as you worrying yourself sick about things not being equitable.  The plain fact is sometimes I work harder and sometimes you work harder and sometimes we get lucky and we get to work together.” 

I turned around and crawled up into his lap.  “When you say things like that I feel so stupid and lucky at the same time.” 

“Stupid I wasn’t aiming for, lucky I like to hear.” 

“Well lucky is what I feel all the time, just lately I feel stupid too.” 

“Well don’t.” 

“Easy to say.  You’re smart.” 

Sawyer snorted.  “You gotta be one of the few people on the planet that thinks so.  I can tell most of them are worrying that I’m going to go off the deep end when things get tough like I did before.” 

“If you did go off the deep end before it wasn’t just because things got tough, it was because you felt like everyone was turning on you.” 

“Well, that too and I ain’t going to go over ancient history but the point is people think it.” 

“And if they worry about you with all the proving you are doing with working with Tommy and the rest of them then they got to be coming unglued over me.” 

“Well, some are and some are actually … er …” 

“Er what?  Did I do something wrong?” 

“Only thing you’re doing is showing some of the wives up real bad.  Now wait, don’t get in a pucker because I know you don’t mean to and aren’t even thinking along those lines.  I’m just saying some of them are being drama queens about the whole thing.” 

“Uh … is it Linda or Jeannie?  Or … Beth or Sharon?” 

“No. Are any of them giving you problems?” 

“No.  I was just wondering because they’re the only ones that I care … uh … I … didn’t mean it like …” 

Sawyer laughed.  “Hah!  Caught you.  That’s about how I feel about some of the cousins.” 

“Sawyer I didn’t mean that I didn’t care at all, just that those were the only ones that would really bother me seriously if they thought something bad of me.” 

“Like I said, about how like I feel about some of them.  And it doesn’t matter who in particular because Aunt Pearl went off on some of us today that if anyone thinks that she is going to work her fingers until they bleed while anyone else takes the easy road and them expect to get the same as the ones that work hard then they better stop assuming because they were sounding like a bunch of asses.” 

“Oh … my … gosh.  She didn’t!” 

“Did too.  That was when Gramps pulled us aside and told us we better start showing some appreciation or else.  Uncle Junior just sort of scratched his head and sighed and said he reckoned he better get and get going on some of that appreciation before his pillow turned into a headstone.” 

“Sawyer!” 

He laughed.  “I’m telling nothing but the truth.  You may feel like you are being grouchy and upset but compared to the aunts you are a wee little lamb.  Now come here so I can give you some appreciation.” 

“Oh honestly!” 

Chapter 56


That night Sawyer and I sat at the table while we went over the receipts.  I felt all pulled in different directions.  I was really proud of myself for not spending all the money from the extry envelope but I was upset at how much I did spend.  I knew we’d use the stuff I did get and what I’d gotten had been a good price … or at least a good price compared to other places … but I kept thinking that there should have been some way for me to save even more. 

I muttered angrily at myself, “I shouldn’t have bought those extra bottles of shampoo and tubes of toothpaste at the last stop.  It could have waited.  I shouldn’t have gotten that stuff from the clearance bin.  Next time I’ll just …” 

Sawyer interrupted my thoughts by saying, “Kay-Lee, don’t do that.” 

“Huh?  Oh.  Sorry.  I didn’t mean to disturb your counting.  I’ll go check …” 

“Kay-Lee, I meant don’t act like I’m going to holler at you because you had to use the money for groceries.” 

I shook my head.  “Sawyer …” 

“Don’t tell me that’s not what you’re doing.  And it makes me feel bad.  Especially when I expected you to spend all of it and you didn’t.” 

In disgust I said, “I spent enough of it.  I shouldn’t have gone with them.  I don’t know why I did.  I’ve got so much to do around here.  Went out and played while you were working and now I’m even more behind.  And I spent too much.” 

“You weren’t playing according to Jeannie.  She said you hardly smiled at all.  As for how much you spent … well that’s the thing, I’m wondering if you did spend enough.” 

“Wait … what?” 

“I saw that load that Linda and Jeannie came back with.  I honestly came home expecting to see more and … well …” 

“They’re shopping for a lot more people.  I’m shopping for just the two of us.  I still can’t believe … Sawyer I’m not being nosey, honest.  I know it’s none of my business.  But where does all that money come from that Jeannie and Linda spend?  Is Gramps rich or something like that?” 

Sawyer started with a small grin and then it grew until he was laughing and laying his head on the table.  I didn’t think it was that funny and let it show on my face. 

“Aw Kay-Lee, I’m not laughing at you, just the idea of anyone … not just you … but anyone saying the Hartfords are rich.  Most folks think we aren’t anything but a bunch of backwoods white trash.  You see how people look at Gramps.  I don’t think he has worn anything but bib overalls since he was a boy.  The only thing different is depending on where he’s going is what kind of shirt he wears … dress shirt and blazer for church, chambray shirt for field work, and t-shirt for just about everything else.  Some of the other uncles are nearly like him except they might give up the overalls for church, weddings, and funerals.  You’ve seen it.” 

I shook my head.  “That won’t wash.  The last thing your family is is white trash.  I should know, you meet enough of it in foster care.  Sure they might dress kind of … er … casual but that’s nothing.  Before you married me all I had to wear were pieces that doubled as my school uniform.  There’s a lot of foster families that try and give you more than a roof over your head but there’s just as many that take what the government gives them for our upkeep and uses it to pay their personal bills and a roof is about all we have secure; and that’s temporary no matter what family you are with.  I can’t see any of the Hartfords being like that - not even Uncle Mark who has a major attitude about the majority of the human race.  Not a single one of you are trashy.” 

Sawyer had stopped laughing and put a hand over one of mine.  “I’m real sorry you had to live like that Kay-Lee.  I guess it has made it hard for you to … to believe in things I guess.  Like how you get sometimes after we snuggle, like you’re not sure exactly what to make of it or for how long it’s gonna last.” 

I sighed.  “All I asked about was the money Sawyer, if it’s none of my business just say so.  We don’t need to go off down this road.” 

“See?  You’re afraid of even talking about it.  But I’ll let it go this time ‘cause I don’t want you to think I’m hiding anything from you.  The money is coming from a big tract of land that got taken away from us by imminent domain a couple of years ago.  Do you remember … well you were kinda young so it might not have even registered so let me just explain it.  Gramps’ dad had an older brother and that was a whole different branch of the Hartfords but they didn’t really have many kids and the ones they did have died young.  Their land was near some quarry and mining land in the next county over.  Gramps wound up inheriting it after the last of his brother’s grandkids died.  Gramps made decent money on it – enough to pay the taxes and such and it was good hunting ground – renting it out to the mining company and then the quarry that took over after that.  Then both companies went bust and the state came in and took the property by imminent domain to protect some stupid blind fish that had been discovered down in one of the mines that had filled with water.  There was something about a highway going through it too but that never happened.  So Gramps took that money – and he only got pennies on the dollar for what the land was potentially worth – and socked it away for a rainy day.  Well Gramps is expecting a gully washer and is trying to get ahead of it; like Noah before the Flood.  He’s taken care of us with some of the large group buys but some of the other cousins seem to need more taking care of than others.” 

“So we really are better off than some of the others?” 

“Yeah, we are but the way you say it you didn’t think so.” 

“No, it’s not that, like I’ve tried to explain to Linda I’m not measuring us against anyone else, only against the plans we’ve made and what we’ve determined that we need.” 

“Why would Linda think we’re … uh …” 

He acted like he was trying not to be angry and I worried that explaining was going to tip the scale so I did it carefully.  He surprised me though and actually relaxed.  “I bet Gramps set this up.  He’s been after me to tell him what we need and I keep telling him I’ll let him know if we can’t handle things.  Well we haven’t needed any help after that first little bit where he filled the propane up and the uncles came out and helped fix some stuff around here so there hasn’t been anything to tell him.  I guess he is kinda getting itchy about it and decided to check up and make sure I’m not being too prideful.” 

“Well, Linda did say that Gramps had given them money to get drinks while we were out as a treat for running the errands for him and everyone else.” 

Sawyer grinned and said, “Yep, that sounds like something Gramps would do.  He’s worried about us you know.  I mean he’s worried about all of us but you and me in particular I guess.  He’s got Tommy and Linda pretty well tied up and taken care of.  I figure one of these days Tommy will inherit his house so long as Tommy promises to take care of Aunt Pearl and the other aunts and uncles as everyone gets older.  Someone in our family has always been the go to for that sort of thing … to organize work crews and stuff like that. It used to be my dad and Uncle James were in charge of it.  After Dad died Uncle James still did it but it got kinda haphazard.  I’m getting the feeling that he’s setting me and Tommy up to take Uncle James’ and his place when the time comes.” 

“Are you ok with that?” 

“Heck yeah.  That’s not a problem now that I’ve got my head on straight.” 

“OK, then why is he checking up on us?  I was really worried about saying the wrong thing and telling your business.  Linda and Jeannie can be … uh …” 

“Yeah, lately their tongues have been hung in the middle and running at both ends carrying tales to keep Gramps and Aunt Pearl up on what’s going on at everyone’s place.  That’s gonna bite ‘em in the butt though if they aren’t more careful.  I tried to talk to Tommy about it but he thinks Linda can do no wrong and Gramps and his dad must walk on water.  And Benedict thinks it’s just a phase or something for Jeannie and he thinks once the baby gets here she’ll snap right back to the way she was before.  Well Delly was never the same so I’m pretty sure Benedict is smoking dope thinking Jeannie will.” 

I wasn’t going to say anything about it one way or the other so let Sawyer keep his opinion.  I’m learning fast that the only way I’m going to get along with the Hartford women – and men – is to keep my nose out of other people’s business and to keep my opinions to myself unless outright asked for them. 

“So we aren’t in trouble or anything?” 

“No, you can stop worrying about that if you were.  I guess Gramps just expected us to need more help than we have.” 

“Well the work crews are here just about every canning day.  That’s help isn’t it?” 

“Yeah it is but that help swings both ways.  The more felled trees they take out the more wood there is to share around for everyone.  And the trees aren’t just coming from our piece.  Everyone has some downed trees that need cleaning up and cutting up for the winter to come; especially if Gramps is right about propane and electric being iffy. And Benedict and Uncle Ben converting over the tractor keeps the second log splitter going and it can do the bigger trees better and faster than Gramps’ old machine can.  See?  It’s a win-win for everyone.  What I meant is I think he thought we’d need more help financially with food and clothes and just about everything else but I’ve yet to miss a meal unless it was my own fault, I’ve got more clothes than I know what to do with lately, and we haven’t even used a quarter of that tank of propane he bought for us because you women use the wood stove for the canning and after that is a mystery.  Cutter keeps asking me how we can possibly still have almost a tank full and I can’t even tell him.  Either the meter is busted or we’ve got propane fairies around here.” 

I rolled my eyes.  “Don’t be silly, we’re just careful.  I don’t waste hot water.  I wash the clothes in cold unless the whites are really disgusting, I wash the dishes by hand, and …” 

“And since we shower together …” he said with a wicked grin. 

Despite myself I had to smile and say, “You’re in a good mood.” 

“Sure am.  We’ll talk about the groceries later.  I want you to give me a for real list of things you want, not just need but want.  And before you get that line between your eyebrows you get when you are about to tune up and fuss I’m telling you I’m serious and it is for a serious reason.  But right now I want to tell you about the lucky break I caught and how it is all due to Buttface … er … Burt.” 

“You know one of these days you are going to accidentally call him that to his face.” 

“If I call it to his face it won’t be no accident.  He still ain’t my most favorite person on the planet but … I suppose he ain’t my least favorite either.  Especially not after today.” 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Chapter 55


Jeannie grinned and whispered, “Jackpot.” 

The “store” was actually a barebones warehouse that was divided up into four sections.  There was an area of large-sized products like you would have for a restaurant or cafeteria; that section was broken down into canned products, soft-sided products, and a freezer area.  There was an area that had all sorts of restaurant equipment set up on racks, from menu holders to cooking equipment.  On the other side of the warehouse was a bulk food section set up with barrels of items that you scooped into bags which you then took to be weighed and tagged before heading to a cashier line.  In that area was also a fancy meat and cheese set up like you might find in some specialty sandwich cafĂ© or like some personal chef or caterer would order from.  The last section was the smallest and it was basically clearance items and scratch-n-dent cans or boxes that had been taped up. 

I tried to head for the clearance section first but Jeannie stopped me.  “We’ll go there but let’s look like we are serious shoppers first and not just scavengers looking for a deal.” 

I tried to not take offense at what Jeannie said because I don’t think she really meant anything bad by it; but, when Linda squeezed my hand and rolled her eyes with a grin I knew she’d caught it too but was letting it slide.  Jeannie has developed an earthy streak and the more pregnant she gets the more her mouth sometimes gets away from her.  Linda and I had noticed it before and figures it is at least a little in reaction to her family still not talking to her.  If her family is going to be snobby and snooty then Jeannie seems to have decided to go in the other direction and get … well like I said, earthy. 

First Jeannie walked up and down the aisles of the first section and then she went over to the bulk food area and was jotting down prices and stuff on her list.  Then and only then did they let me give a quick look over in the clearance area but then hauled me back with them to the other three sections. 

We were doing fine pulling things out here and there until the store manage comes over and tries to act like he is making nice but we could tell he was actually feeling us out to see if we were just fooling around or not.  I hadn’t come prepared for that kind of scrutiny but apparently Jeannie had. 

“Hello, is there something I could help you … uh … ladies out with?” 

Jeannie nodded briskly and professionally like she dealt with this kind of thing every day.  “As you can see we will be filling more than one flatbed.  Is there some place we can place them as we fill them up?  And will it be possible to have someone help us load it in the delivery truck?” 

“Oh … uh … you plan on a large purchase?” 

“Yes, and we are in a hurry as we need to get around to pick up some of the other donations for the food pantry.  Since we don’t have an account our organization agreed to pay the bill in cash rather than use a purchase order but we’ll need a detailed receipt for accounting.  I assume there’s no problem with that?” 

“Oh … no.  But if you have a …” 

Jeannie interrupted him.  “We aren’t using our tax ID for this purchase as we are in the middle of a shuffle in the board and don’t know how it will affect our charter.  It’s not worth any tax implications at the end of the year to risk a snafu.” 

“Then everything should be fine,” the manager said with a relieved smile.  It was obvious he wanted to make the sale and didn’t want to lose it over some paperwork rules. 

I quietly texted Sawyer and told him where we were at and that I’d seen some good deals and was wondering just how much I could spend since he’d been working the numbers. 

“Spend the whole envelope if you need to,” he texted.  “I got a couple of extra jobs lined up.  Burt called me about an hour ago with his head on fire asking if I could do him a favor.  He’d lined up some work for Mason with an important client of his and Mason got VOP’d this morning.  Tell you the details when I get home but it’s going to be good pay.  Don’t forget the razors.  This dang beard is driving me crazy.” 

Somewhat relieved I pulled out my scratch tablet and started adding numbers as I got my own flatbed and started putting things on it.  First thing I did was grab three big packages of toilet paper.  We use washable napkins at our meals and I found a ton of good quality handkerchiefs in the old clothes and chests of stuff in the attic that we are slowly emptying so that sort of thing we didn’t need paper goods for.  I have plenty of trash can liners and swabs and cotton balls left over from the medical supplies too.  Feeling a little guilty I started to put named brand zip bags on my flatbed until Jeannie looked at me and shook her head.  I didn’t know what that meant but I put them back and then tried to keep up. 

Linda and Jeannie were looking over the fresh cheeses – something Sawyer and I didn’t really need as we were still working on the giant bag of grated cheese from the Mennonite order that we kept in the chest freezer – so I just sort of hung out since I didn’t have room in the frig or freezer for anything new. 

Jeannie keep glancing my way and then sent Linda over to ask me what the sitch was.  “It’s all right,” I told her quietly.  “I just don’t need any of this stuff, and even if I did we don’t have the room for it.” 

“You sure that’s all it is?  Gramps will want to know if … you know …” 

“I told you that Sawyer and I are doing ok.  Don’t say anything to Gramps … or to anyone else.  If someone says anything about anything it’s Sawyer’s place to do it but he’s already got it covered.  I just txt’d him and he said he’d picked up a couple of jobs.  Something about Mason getting VOP’d and Burt asking if he’d take some jobs Mason was supposed to do.  Please don’t get me in hot water for telling Sawyer’s business.” 

“You swear Sawyer said he got a job?” 

I showed her the texts even though I thought she should have taken my word for it and she seemed relieved.  It made me feel funny when it shouldn’t have.  I know Linda doesn’t mean anything bad and is just concerned for me as a friend but she and Jeannie don’t have much tact sometimes and I didn’t want to upset Sawyer who I learned could be touchy about things like money. 

Linda practically skipped back over to Jeannie and I saw them put their heads together.  I don’t know what’s up but I know something is.  Warning Sawyer is not going to be fun.  To get my mind off Linda and Jeannie and the high prices of the stuff in the freezer cases I pushed the flatbed down the aisle and over to the non-refrigerated area.  I needed more sugar, flour, oatmeal, rice, and cornmeal and was able to get fifty pounds of each and twenty pound bags of grits and cream of wheat onto the flatbed before Linda came around the corner and had a fit. 

“Kay-Lee!  You shouldn’t lift that stuff!” 

“Lift it here or the pantry, what’s the difference?” 

Linda just rolled her eyes and said, “Don’t do it again.  You want to make Jeannie heave?  She swears she will if you don’t stop.” 

“That’s blackmail.” 

“So?” 

Since those were the only big, heavy items that I intended to buy I gave in and stuck to smaller items.  I picked up three containers of yeast and then put two of them back since I planned on making a sourdough starter like we had in culinary class.  I’d already begun a batch of Amish Bread starter[1] anyway and had copied a freak ton of recipes from the internet that used that starter as the base.  I also picked up commercial buckets of baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch, and a bunch of boxes of salt. 

I turned the corner and hit the next aisle and that’s where I picked up some wet items.  The acids came first; lemon juice, lime juice, cider vinegar, white vinegar, malt vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and then more powdered ascorbic acid all of which replaced what I’d been using way faster than I had ever dreamed possible.  After that was the salty and sweets like soy sauce and grenadine and a few other wet ingredients. Next came some of the most important, the oils and shortening.  Olive oil was my favorite but was the most expensive.  Peanut oil was good too but it didn’t seem to want to be much cheaper. 

Linda tapped me and whispered, “Tommy said we’ll get some lard when it is butchering time.” 

“That’s months off,” I whispered back.  “Since I cook everything from scratch I can’t afford to run out now.” 

She nodded thoughtfully then went off to whisper with Jeannie again making me really wonder what they were talking about. 

To keep myself from asking I just kept plowing ahead and adding numbers. I put a flat of cans of both evaporated milk and condensed milk on the end of the flatbed and then grabbed a couple of packages of shelf-stable milk for if the power went out.  That also made me think to grab a couple of large buckets of whole dried milk.  I was getting close to the limit that I had set myself but couldn’t turn down large packages of bouillon; or some seasonings like meat tenderizer, poultry seasoning, dry mustard, powdered cocoa, pepper, and garlic.  I also carefully stacked several boxes of salt where they wouldn’t fall off.  There were a lot of things that wanted to climb onto the flatbed after that but I was determined to show Sawyer I could be responsible with the money and stick with getting only what we absolutely needed. 

I just closed my eyes in the bulk food section when Jeannie called me over … at least until Linda told me there were dates and flaked coconut.  After getting some of those two items I resolutely refused to look at anything else in there and instead went over to the clearance section.  Part of me wishes I hadn’t.  I got a giant jar of parmesan cheese that was marked way down because it had aged and gotten a little darker than the other bottles on the shelf.  There was a stray bottle of olives that still had a lot of shelf life left but was apparently the last of a brand that went on close out.  There was a big … like 10-gallon big … container of Kool-Aid drink mix in a flavor I’d never seen before; green apple. A large container of reduced-sugar Tang whose label was a little sun bleached but that was all.  Some dented cans of pie filling but I only got the ones I couldn’t make myself; pineapple pie filling, lemon pie filling, banana cream pie filling, and key lime pie filling. I got a commercial package of unflavored gelatin too because it had a huge dent collapse one end of the box.  I finished off with some baker’s chocolate squares in a brand I’d never heard of, marshmallow and meringue powder in some bakery package with some of those disposable piping bags, malted milk powder that I couldn’t figure out why it was marked down except maybe it didn’t sell, and some off brand lemon powder.  The very last thing I grabbed were some large containers of chopped candied fruit and citron like you use for fruit cake and some large tubs of the red and green candied cherries to go along with my out of season purchase. 

I struggled to keep everything balanced while I navigated the flatbed to stand in line behind Linda and Jeannie and then wanted to stamp my foot in frustration.  Linda must have felt my mood because she looked and asked, “Everything ok?” 

“I forgot something.” 

“What?” 

“Don’t worry about it.  Going to have enough trouble …” 

“What already,” she said giving me a look like I was being bad on purpose. 

“Elbow macaroni and egg noodles.” 

“Oh is that all.  Jeannie didn’t like the prices of what they had in stock here.  We’ll get it at the next stop.” 

“But you have all that cold stuff.” 

“And we’ve got all those coolers.  Let’s just get out of here and get gone.  I think Jeannie is getting tired.”

Jeannie wasn’t the only one getting tired.  I missed having Sawyer to help move things into the back of the truck and if I thought that I had bought a bunch of stuff Linda and Jeannie bought enough to stock a decent sized restaurant for a couple of weeks.  I don’t know where all the money is coming from and I wasn’t going to ask.  It is enough for me to know that Sawyer and I don’t have it and have to find another way.