Aunt Pearl looked at the kitchen and all the jars grouped by type all over the counter tops and table in exhausted satisfaction. “We did it. I wondered if we were going to pull it off if you want to know the truth.”
Aunt Suzanne nodded and said, “You and me both Pearl.” She was packing some of yesterday’s filled jars into boxes to take home with her so she wouldn’t have to wait until Sunday to pick them up. “There is no doubt in my mind that meat will be a blessing to this family come winter but I feel about two weeks behind with the garden now.”
Someone said, “It was only two days, we can’t be that far behind.”
I said, “Speak for yourself. I’ve got apples, nectarines, peaches, and blueberries that I gotta get out and pick before it gets hot in the morning and they start dropping off. Last time I made that mistake raccoons – or maybe it was possums I don’t know – got into the trees and knocked even more off and made a mess in the garbage area and compost pile too. I need to cut the sumac drupes that have dried all the way before the birds get them all. I found another grouping of burdock on the other side of the fence from the arbor that needs to be dug out and pickled. I need to get more wild leek bulbs dug before they get too old. I’ve got wild greens going to waste all over the place. You saw the mountain ash berries I stuck in the freezer until I can get to them to make jelly. And Sawyer says that he’s bringing home a bunch of tomatoes tomorrow too. Tonight I still have to get started on the ones he brought home today. And before I can do any of that I have to get some more jars washed and prepped."
Someone muttered, “Oh I forget, you’re Wonder Woman.”
I looked over trying to figure out who said it but I couldn’t tell so I addressed the group on the other side of the room in general. “The only way I’m Wonder Woman is because I’m always wondering how I’m going to get everything done that needs doing. And I don’t know about y’all but my laundry don’t exactly jump in and out of the washing machine by itself and it sure don’t walk out to the clothesline and hang itself. Everything that I used to think of as easy seems a little harder and more complicated.”
Cindy said, “Don’t be stupid. Use the dryer. I do.”
I shook my head. “Lucky you then. I can’t or won’t, take your pick. The co-op told us we came real close to getting a special assessment last quarter. They made us pay for more in advance for this quarter and … well … “ I stopped not wanting to tell our business in case Sawyer didn’t like it.
Jeannie saved me by saying, “Well we did get a special assessment. Benedict and his dad weren’t what you would call real happy about it either. The only thing they can figure is that the AC and the hot water tank are being run too much. They put some kind of control box on them and now I only have hot water first thing in the morning and last thing at night and the AC stays off most of the day too. It’s awful. I don’t see how you and Sawyer can stand not having AC Kay-Lee, especially at night.”
Unwilling to complain since Sawyer and I tried to laugh about it when we could I said, “Fans and cold showers. But I did have to break down and go into town and buy a plastic mattress cover for the bed ‘cause we’ve been sweating so much at night. I guess there is something to be said for being so tired nothing wakes you up.”
That brought on some stories told by the older aunts about how things used to be and some of the wives groaned, but I could tell some of them were listening and starting to look concerned, like what they used to consider stories and exaggeration was turning out to be the truth and their future. I shrugged at all the emotions and potential for drama I saw on the faces around me. It’s not like I enjoy going without AC that’s just the way it is. I can’t change it so I invest the energy into trying to make things as easy as I can.
Everyone finally pulled out to head home, all of us tired to the bone, but all that meant was that it was time for me to try and do a few things that I had been listing off to everyone that needed doing. I left off digging roots and cutting greens as something that would just have to wait. Instead I grabbed my gardening scissors and walked down the road to the vacant, overgrown field and cut enough dried sumac drupes to satisfy my need to feel like I had done my foraging for the day. I hauled them back to the house and stuck them in a cheese cloth bag to hang and dry for another day or two and started a couple of sink fulls of jars. Boring but necessary work if I was going to get anything else done.About an hour later, right as the lightning bugs were starting to become visible, Sawyer came home. He wasn’t even all the way through the door before he was saying, “I’m starving.”
I had kept back some of the meat that wouldn’t make a whole jar for the pressure canner and made something Sawyer always liked. I told him, “Chicken stir-fry with all the rice you can eat and then watermelon smoothies for dessert.”
“Hot dang. Sounds good. But first I’ve got more ‘maters for you and they need to come in. If I bring them to the porch can you carry the boxes inside?”
I nodded and I just about croaked when I saw how many tomatoes there were. “Did someone want me to do something with these for everyone?”
“Nuh uh. Gramps said that it might look like a lot but by the time you get done juicing them or cooking them down …”
“And you’re bringing home more tomorrow?”
“Yeah, about this … hey … you don’t look too good. Kay-Lee?!”
Next thing I remember is sitting on the porch stoop with my head between my knees. “You ain’t doing any more tonight and that’s final.”
Shaking my head I told him, “Sawyer, I can’t get behind. If we had an extra frig to hold these so they wouldn’t spoil … but we don’t. The frig and freezer we’ve got are both full with other stuff. I guess I’m just not goo …”
“Don’t you say it. Don’t Kay-Lee. You’re just tired. You been up all night. Your leg is probably screaming for one of them blue pills. And you’ve never had to try and keep up with the aunts who can be like a force of nature or something. Let me shower and I’ll help do some of this.”
Upset that it was coming to this I told him, “This is supposed to be my job and you’ve already worked all day!”
“So have you, and all night too. What I figure we can do is just lay them out in a single layer on … well …” He stopped and looked around in consternation.
“Exactly, there’s not too many empty surfaces to lay anything out on.”
“You know which of these jars are ours?”
“Can they be moved down to the basement?”
“I … I guess. I usually just take whatever is left over.”
“Screw that. You set what is ours on the buffet by the basement door and I’ll carry them down. We’ll move some of the others to the dining room …”
“Already covered in jars.”
“Well hell,” he said in irritation before jumping up. “There’s a sheet of plywood in the bed of my truck. We’ll lay it over the dining room chairs and then try and put most of the tomatoes on that.”
And that’s what we did only we did it before he took a shower because afterwards he talked me into taking a shower with him, even if it was a cold one. When we were finished we went down and I tried to eat while he practically wolfed his food down.
Excusing his lack of manners he told me, “All I got was a bologna sandwich for lunch and wouldn’t have gotten that if I hadn’t gone begging to Delly’s … got you another bag of them 2-liters by the way. She said she would have cooked me something but I told her thanks but there wasn’t time. She was in a damn good mood, seems there’s been some kind of mistake with the original blood work – they mixed hers up with someone else’s – and between that and some kind of sono something or other she just had they say the baby is looking ok. A little big but Burt Jr. was a ten-pound bowling ball when he was born. They just got her on this low sugar diet just to be on the safe side.”
Happy for Delly and happy to hear some good news for a change I said, “That’s wonderful!”
“Yeah it is and she also said to thank you for mentioning something to Uncle Derwint but I didn’t catch what she was talking about ‘cause I had to run.”
“Oh. Well. Um …” So I explained and he smiled.
“Good catch. I don’t listen to Burt half the time when he really gets steamed up. All you gotta do is nod and let him think you’re agreeing with every word he says even if you ain’t got a clue what he is talking about. I had to tune him out when he started talking about how Mason is getting along … like I wanna know. The less I hear about that peckerwood the better.”
Seeing that he was getting wound up I turned the subject and said, “Thank you for helping. I just … Sawyer I … I don’t know if this keeps up how long I can …”
“Then tell Aunt Pearl that. Or better yet, tell Aunt Suzanne. She got all over me the other day about some shoe or other that I needed to figure out a way to design for you and it had something to do with her sister … now there’s a scary woman right there. Mrs. Pettigrew is built like a pole bean but man can she swing a fly swatter.”
“Well, it’s true. You’ve only seen her on Sunday when she is working on her ticket to Heaven. Just you wait for some other time and some kid steps out of line. You can’t tell by looking at her but her arms must be nothing but pure muscle.”
“Uh huh. And what did you do to deserve some poor woman having to take after you with only a fly swatter?”
“Well … as to that … I’m taking the Fifth seeing as how I do not have to incriminate myself or give my wife ideas.”
It wasn’t that funny but it was funny enough that just talking to Sawyer made me feel better. But he didn’t let me off with a joke and instead had the whole platform shoe idea out of me.
“You know, that really is a good idea. You already use that block when you have to stand for a long time at the kitchen sink. You think if I carved you a platform that could be glued to a pair of clogs or flip flops or something like that you’d give it a try?”
“It would have to be something that would work with my brace Sawyer and that’s just a lot of work you don’t need.”
“It ain’t that much work. I bet I can come up with something. Let me think on it.”
“Fine, play hero … but not tonight OK? We’re both tired.”
He looked at and asked, “Uh … too tired?”
I was but I didn’t let him know that and afterwards I’m glad I hadn’t said anything. We both went to sleep with a smile on our face.