Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Chapter 52


“Kay-Lee?  Is this like that cornbread you made for Pioneer Day last year?  It tastes like it.” Linda asked. 

“Uh huh.   Don’t you recognize it?  It’s the Apple Cornbread[1] that Mrs. Sherman used to make before she retired from the cafeteria at the group home. I just thought it would go well with any leftover meat we are stewing up.  I’m sorry I made so much of it now though.  I thought the men were going to be here.” 

Aunt Suzanne heard my comment and said, “Don’t be sorry Girl.  Some of them will probably be by here later begging for scraps or complaining about the heat or something.  I for one am glad of a break from having them underfoot every canning day.  They’re worse than the kids lately.” 

Aunt Pearl nodded.  “Now Suzanne, you know how it is.  They get like this every summer.  It’s all the heat, work, and worry and not enough play time.”  To me she said, “And don’t you worry about Sawyer if that’s what you’re doing.  James will keep an eye on him.  There’s a couple of the other boys that aren’t feeling too well either and it ain’t all because of them little, yella plums.  It’s the constant work and heat in the silos and barns where the air doesn’t circulate too well. Bennie has a cough that just won’t quit and I’m pretty sure it is from being in that dust in the silos where they’re getting cleaned out.  But there’s no choice, can’t see their daddies climb in them rafters and up and down those ladders.  If I find out that’s what they do … well … there’s no fool like an old fool unless you count a hungry fool.  I ain’t having none of that nonsense.  I had them take that big igloo cooler full of switchel and told James to make sure they drink it.  All some of them boys want is cola or something along those lines.  Trying to get them to drink water is like asking them to drink quinine for some reason.” [2]

 
Having seen plenty of it I told her, “Delly’s kids seem to drink a lot of soda, that’s for sure.” 

“Yeah and their teeth show it.  Heard Delly complaining about their dental bills the other day.  Thought she would have more sense, and maybe she does; it’s Burt that brings that stuff home from the office ‘cause he gets it so cheap.  I wish she’d come out and work with us but she’s never been interested in it.  I’m afraid that is going to come around and create problems down the road.  But it seems to me you’re getting along pretty good with Delly all things considered.  Some didn’t think you would.” 

Trying not to put my foot into it all I replied was, “She’s Sawyer’s sister.  I wouldn’t want to not get along with her.” 

Linda snorted as did a couple of other of the wives and aunts that had gotten the rough side of Delly’s tongue a few times.  I thought of something I’d been wanting to run by Aunt Pearl and said, “About Burt’s business …” 

“What about it Honey?  It’s some kind of import business is all I know.” 

“Yes ma’am that’s what Sawyer said it was, sorta basically anyway, and what Burt explained at dinner the other day.” 

Aunt Suzanne rolled her eyes and said, “I just bet he did.  I’ve never known Burt Penny to use one word when five will do.” 

I tried not to smile but it was hard not to when that pretty much described Delly’s husband to a T.  “Um … something like that.  Anyway, one of the things he was saying was that he wasn’t just importing things anymore but was acting as a … er … a middle man I guess is what it is.  If someone is looking for something but they don’t know where to get it for the best price or don’t want to take the trouble they’ll call Burt and Burt will find what they are after and get it for them … at a price anyway.  But I guess there is a risk to it because he was complaining about getting stuck when some company went belly up right after he’d taken delivery of a bunch of bottles and other containers that they had ordered.” 

 
Aunt Pearl stopped what she was doing and started listening with more than just one ear.  “What kind of bottles?” 

“The way he talked a bunch of different types.  Supposedly he said the company used to distribute stuff like jams, jellies, drinks, and syrups to those roadside stands that tourists like.” 

She got thoughtful for a moment.  “Really.  Well that’s news.  I wonder if Gramps knows?”  Even the aunts called their father in law Gramps most of the time as it saved a lot of confusion since there were a lot of “Mr. Hartfords” but only one Gramps. 

“I’m not sure but … I thought you might be interested but well … I just don’t know that Sawyer can get in the middle of this even if it might be something worth looking into.  For one we … well … I know Burt has to make a buck and … well ….” 

Aunt Suzanne was the one that said, “Don’t beat around the bush Kay-Lee.  There’s no need for it.  None of us can afford to waste a cent with the way things are going, or have any to spare either.  Bet though if Mark or one of the others put it to Burt that we’d buy all or most of that order if we could get a reasonable discount that Burt would be amendable.  Pearl, you want to mention it or you want me to have Derwint do it?” 

Aunt Pearl went back to peeling potatoes and said, “Have Derwint do it.  He won’t put Burt’s back up.  Now who wants to help me get those watermelons prepped?  I want to make the most of them we can.  Watermelon jelly, rind pickles, and I wouldn’t mind drying one of these big ones as treats for the kids if there’s room on any of the dehydrators.  We need to get what we can before Mark hauls off who knows how many to make that blasted watermelon wine he’s itching to get started on.” [3][4][5]

 
At the look on my face several of the aunts smiled.  It was meek and mild Aunt Patricia that giggled and said, “I know.  I’m sure you’ve heard a few stories about ridge runners.  Well this isn’t ‘shine though the men do get a little silly and territorial with their messes.  It’s really just another way for us to preserve the harvest so not a jot of it goes to waste.”  Then she frowned.  “Though with the price of sugar being what it is I’m not sure how much wine-making is going to go on.  This year I’ll be satisfied if we can just get enough juice and cider put back from the apple harvest.  About half my trees decided this would be a good year to not produce.” 

 
I muttered, “You can have some of mine.  I’m almost choking on them and I don’t think even Sawyer could eat another apple pie.  If you want to come out and look them over we can plan out what you want.” 

Aunt Pearl said, “Well right now what we have before us is quite enough to be going on about.  Let’s put off the planning of more work until we can get some of this done.”  Turning to some of the other women that had been set the task of preparing some meat she asked, “Are you girls done slicing those cuts yet?  We need to get it into the marinades if we expect it to be ready to put on the dehydrators when we get home.  Linda, I want you and Kay-Lee to start pouring the ingredients for the liquid marinades into these Ziploc bags.  And be sure and mark them as only to be used for meat from here on out.” 

 
I took a permanent marker out of my apron pocket and started writing on the bags while Linda pulled out the recipes for the jerky marinades that Aunt Pearl had planned for some of the meat.  My understanding is that they got quite a bit more meat than they had expected, and at an even better price after Uncle Mark got in on the haggling.  I might not like all of Uncle Mark’s attitudes but there is no denying that he is a doggone good negotiator.  The family had had to cull quite a few of their meat animals last year because of feed prices and it had put a real crimp in the plans once they had decided to get the boys all married off and settled in homes of their own as much as possible before what Gramps called the fur starting to fly.  Sawyer had already talked about going hunting and how we would go in shares on some of the animals that would get slaughtered but that wouldn’t happen until cooler weather set in. 

There was over a dozen two-gallon Ziploc bags for jerky and Linda asked me to write the marinade name on each bag so she wouldn’t have to guess.  There were a couple of regular type marinades then there was teriyaki, sweet n’ sour, BBQ, hot n’ tangy, fiesta, mild, Hawaiian, Korean and then some of the aunts pulled out bags of marinade that were their own secret recipes.  One smelled suspiciously like its main ingredient was some kind of high test rocket fuel.  Boy did it make my eyes water. 

I was startled out of my thoughts when Aunt Pearl snapped, “Cynthia!  Don’t waste that beef fat by throwing it away!  We need it for the mincemeat.”  Aunt Pearl was looking at Davis’ wife in frustration.  It wasn’t the first time one of the aunts had gotten on to her either.  I tried not to look at Linda but she nudged me and we got out of the kitchen on the pretext of bringing in some grapes from the arbor.” 

“What’s going on?” I asked keeping my voice low.  “Aunt Pearl isn’t normally like this.” 

Linda frowned.  “Well she can be but I know what you mean.  You’ve just never seen her get like this.  Cindy ain’t helping though.  It’s like she goes out of her way to be hard headed and silly.  I’ve tried helping but all I did was make her cry.  I felt real bad about that until I heard her getting smart and saying stuff to a couple of the other wives.  She’s taking this being pregnant thing way over the top.  Not even Jeannie acted like she’s acting and Jeannie puked almost 24/7 there for a while.  You saw her.  It was crazy but she never once acted like a baby about it, not even with all that stuff going on with her family.” 

I could tell Linda was getting wound up so I asked a different question to try and distract her.  “Um … how far along is Cindy?  I mean she’s showing and everything.  Not like Jeannie but she’s getting kinda big.  And it seemed to happen so fast.” 

“Everybody is wondering what is going on but they’re keeping their mouths shut.  Sometimes to keep the peace you gotta pretend you don’t see what is right in front of you.” 

I sighed understanding.  “I thought I’d left that behind by leaving foster care.  But I guess you find it all over.  I keep expecting to see a bomb go off east of us as Uncle Mark comes unglued.  But he doesn’t seem all that bothered.  And Davis is just being … uh …” 

Linda looked around carefully before she said, “Tommy says he’s never seen Davis so happy.” 

Remembering how Davis acted last time I saw him I said, “Which I have to say is spooky weird.  He hugged me and everything.  And all I did was offer Cindy something cold to drink when they stopped here the other day to drop off eggs.” 

Linda gave a little giggle.  “Yeah.  Tommy’s mom said … oh Lord … she said Davis must be getting it regular cause he sure is in a good mood all the time.”  Then she shrugged as I made a face at even the thought of having to deal with all the things that Tommy’s mother tends to say.  “Maybe she just has a bad case of what Jeannie calls the pregnancy stupids.  Jeannie says on some days your head takes a vacation whether you want it to or not.  Whatever it is I hope it goes away before she upsets the aunts anymore.  She and Davis are already starting off in the hole ‘cause they haaaad to get married.  Uncle Mark ain’t exactly jumping for joy even if he is acting better about it than I thought he would.  Cindy’s folks are like-minded to the Hartfords and her dad is almost the mirror image in attitude to Uncle Mark.” 

Suddenly sure I’d try and avoid any get-togethers where Uncle Mark and Cindy’s dad might get going at the same time, I shuddered.  “Thanks for the warning.  I’ll keep it in mind and keep my mouth shut.”  Linda grinned and then I asked her something else.  “Um, got another question that I’ve been afraid to ask.” 

“OK.” 

“How come some of the other wives don’t … I mean … I understand I guess about Sawyer’s sister.  She’s already set up and … well there’s Burt and none of them really act … oh heck, you know what I mean.  But some of the new wives … I don’t know … it’s like being back in school.  I’m always waiting for someone to say something … uh …” 

“Geez Kay-Lee, you can talk to me.  I’ve been there you know.  You mean how come they don’t talk to us much and keep to themselves … like they are excluding us?” 

“Yeah.  That.  I thought it was because … you know … we’re different or a little younger than some of them but now I’m getting the feeling it must be something different; that it is turning into an us vs. them thing and I don’t want no part of something like that.  I got enough work without some of them starting what Sawyer calls a feud.  And Gramps will get upset and next to Sawyer he, Uncle James and Aunt Pearl are the last people I want to upset.” 

Linda sighed.  “Won’t be a feud; heads would sure role if someone tried to start one.  But between me and you I overheard some of the aunts say they are about to lay down the law and if the new wives won’t kick it up a notch they might just have to have a family conference.  And from what Tommy said if it comes to that then some might just find themselves needing to … er … adjust their expectations from what they expect to what they’ll actually be getting from the family supplies.” 

Almost sorry that I had brought it up I said, “Ugh.  I hope it doesn’t come to that.  Sawyer and I are having enough trouble catching up and keeping up.” 

“I ain’t saying that we won’t catch some of the by-blow from anything that happens – they can’t show favorites – but I’m not going to worry about it too much.  As for you and Sawyer, you ain’t so bad off as you think.  You‘re measuring yourselves against Gramps and the aunts and uncles.  If you measure yourselves against the cousins and most of the new wives y’all are real ahead.” 

I shook my head in denial.  “I’m not measuring myself against anyone and neither is Sawyer.  We worked the numbers to see what we needed to get through and meet Gramps’ expectations, and we’ve got a plan to try and not have to create too many bills along the way of getting there, but it’s not been easy putting the plan into action.  Cash doesn’t exactly grow on trees.” 

Trying to be helpful Linda asked, “Maybe if you get a job?” 

“I barely even come close to bringing it up and Sawyer gets all grouchy and strange.  He says he’ll get a job when – not if – it comes down to it but I don’t know how he’s going to work for someone else and put the work in for the family.  Even if he was in favor of me getting a job I’m not sure how I’d keep up with what I need to do either.  It’s really just insane.  And now they want us to go faster because things are starting to unravel in some places around the world.  Like that terrorist stuff going on over in West Africa that is somehow affecting us though I sure don’t understand how except I do see the price going up on things like chocolate and other stuff that grows over there.   What I do know is that it is the end of July and we’ve got a lot of stuff done but if things go crazy before the summer is over with …”  And then I looked around before saying, “And I don’t know who it was who brought it up but the other night I heard Sawyer out in the barn on his cellphone yelling.” 

“About what?” 

“What little bit I could hear, someone must have suggested that I apply for disability.  Sawyer came inside after that real upset but trying to pretend that nothing was wrong and wanted to play around to prove nothing was wrong when I called him on it.  Then I had to explain to him that now that I’m eighteen I couldn’t qualify even if I did apply because I don’t have enough work credits.  I don’t even qualify for SSI going by those papers the Brensers – you know, my last foster family - had me fill out when I went to go live with them.  I thought he would be upset but Sawyer actually seemed relieved.  I hate to ask but has … has anyone said anything to you or Tommy?” 

“Yeah, there’s been a few that have mentioned it, like it would help out the whole family and stuff.  But Gramps talked to us about it.  He let us decide for ourselves but also said that he’d rather not get us tangled up with that stuff, that it might even be dangerous if they start wanting to do home inspections and things like that on the people that get government checks.  Tommy and I talked about it and think that it is more trouble than it’s worth.  I’d be scared they’d try to say we can’t be married or something like that.” 

Feeling bad I said, “I’m sorry Linda.  I didn’t know.  I guess I’ve been kinda self-involved.  I should have been a better friend that you could talk to.” 

Linda showed her philosophical side and said, “What’s there to be sorry for?  Can only do what you can do.  And that goes for the rest of us too.  It is like that putting it in a box stuff you told me about.  We just gotta make a plan and stick with it.  As for you or me trying to get a job when it pinches our husbands’ little boy parts …”  My mouth fell open at her bluntness but she just shrugged.  “Won’t do any good to work too much harder because at this rate by the time trouble does get here we’ll all be dead or in a coma from exhaustion.” 

Linda and I trudged back to the house with a bushel basket of grapes each and got into the kitchen just in time for Aunt Pearl to say, “I wondered where you two had gotten to.  Good idea about them grapes.  I took a chance that some of yours was ripe and brought my steam juicer.  Let’s get those grapes going right now.  Kay-Lee are these all you’ll get off your vines?” 

 
I shook my head, relieved not to catch any flack.  “No ma’am.  These are just some of the first bunches … at least the ones that Sawyer hasn’t eaten up while he was out there checking things out and weeding.  He says the grapes are good and sweet and will make all the way through the end of August unless something gets to them and that the muscadines will be making at least into the middle of October so long as we don’t get too early of a frost.” 

One of the aunts shuddered and said, “From his lips to God’s ear.  The last thing we need after that strange weather the beginning of the year is to have an early frost at the end of it.” 

We were canning late into the night and it turned out that some of the aunts decided it was simply easier to stay over and work in rotations than it was to go home.  All their menfolk had been fed and watered and could pretty much manage on their own for one night.  The only ones that went home were the ones with younger kids that would be too much for their husbands to tend to, the new wives that were pregnant, and a couple that had regular jobs they were trying to hold onto for as long as they could. 

Sawyer was so tired by the time he got home that he almost didn’t notice all the women draped all over the place.  I finally had it all explained while I walked with him up to our bedroom where he asked, “Have you slept any?” 

“Linda and I catnapped for about an hour.” 

“That ain’t enough sleep Kay-Lee.  I’m gonna say …” 

“Please don’t Sawyer.  Aunt Pearl … well I would say she is in a mood but that isn’t it exactly.  Something is really bothering her though; she’s been on a tear today.  It’s like she has hurry-up-itis or something.” 

“Anything in particular happen to set her off?” 

I shrugged.  “I asked Linda to explain it the best she could and if I’m understanding it, it is like the aunts just aren’t happy about the work that the new wives are doing.  They’re pushing harder and harder, and maybe for good reason, but they’re all experienced and know what they’re doing and most of the rest of us are just learning.  I’m trying to keep up Sawyer, really I am, but …” 

“It’s ok Kay-Lee, it ain’t you.  Uncle James and Gramps pulled Tommy and I aside today and told us that if they start yelling that most likely it don’t have nothing to do with us.  It ain’t just some of the wives.  Gramps didn’t exactly say so, or call names, but I got the feeling that some of my cousins are about to have their butts chewed on.  And it ain’t about the amount of work that is getting done while we are all together, that’s going pretty smooth.  It seems, as I understand it anyway, that not much is getting accomplished any other time.” 

“But you Hartford men are together almost every day.  You have work crews going every which direction.” 

“Yeah, but not for the whole day long, at least not most of us.  Some of us do work in the crews more but that’s because we got certain skills or don’t have our own fields to tend or whatever.  Gramps counts on me and Tommy to do a lot of the grunt work because we always have and can get it done faster.  I mean Tommy might be slow on some things but there’s things even I have trouble keeping up with him on.  For one thing he can lay a plumb line without even having to pop a string.  And all he has to do is look at a roof and somehow he knows how many squares of shingles is needed.  That’s what’s needed for now to help get some of the houses and trailers put up fast and square.  On the other hand, there’s a few that think just ‘cause their crew only took half a day to finish a job that means they should have the other half of the day off and Gramps said that’s not going to cut it.  Uncle James caught some of the others putting chores off until a bunch of us come over to help and he ain’t happy about it.  To teach ‘em a lesson every time he catches a couple doing that, their place is going to get moved to the bottom of the list and if it happens too often they might just find they’ve fallen off the list for a while.” 

Not realizing how serious things had gotten I said, “Uh oh.” 

“Pretty much.”  Sawyer sat down on the bench and started taking off his nasty work clothes so he could wash up and go to bed.  “You really gonna stay downstairs all night?” 

“Yeah.  Yeah I think I better.  I mean this is our house and well …” 

“Yeah,” he sighed tiredly.  “You … you want me to …”  He yawned big enough that his jaw popped.  “I’ll come down.  I might fall asleep on the sofa but you can wake me up when you need help.” 

“No.  I’ll feel better if I know you are up here getting some rest before you have to head out and do this again tomorrow.  You’re driving, I’m not.  Those tractors don’t exactly look forgiving if you make a mistake.” 

He didn’t take much persuading.  “OK, but I’ll make it up to you.” 

I shook my head.  “Nothing to make up.  It is just the way it is.  You told me how busy summer gets.  Now I’m seeing it first-hand.” 

“Well just make sure you sit when you need to sit.  You might be able to hide that limp from everyone else but not from me.” 

I helped him take his socks off while trying not to breathe and then told him, “I don’t want to hide anything from you.  It’s not the same with the others.” 

He gave me a tired grin and said, “Better not.”

4 comments:

  1. I LOVE the reference links you're adding in. Very helpful and fills out the story. =)

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  2. Love the story. Love the reference links at the end that allow me to go get more info. I think it works better that way. No interruption to the flow of the story but able to get the info if we want it.

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  3. Seems just fine as far as I am concerned, thank you for all you do and post.

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  4. Great as always.....Because I'm on dial-up the pictures don't fully load (times out).
    But that's just me. To cheap to go with faster system.
    Thanks for all the ideas...................SL

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