Every day for the next week and a half Sawyer brought home a load of tomatoes. It was getting so that I was sick of seeing them – and hating the color red too – but I knew I couldn’t let it show. Sawyer was so proud of having picked them himself even after having worked a full day.
One afternoon Linda and Jeannie stopped by and asked me to come to town with them and help them to pick up a few things. Sawyer had finally gotten me the promised cell phone and had already texted me that they were on their way and not to fuss but if I could also pick him up some more razors it would be grand because the beard he was trying to grow just wasn’t working for him.
I asked as we finally made our way into town, “Y’all mind dropping me off at the library while you go pick up that stuff at the fabric store?”
“Sure but I thought you said something about needing some matching thread.”
“It’ll have to wait,” I told Linda. “I don’t have the time to sew right now and … and … and anyway I’ve got other stuff I need to get.”
Jeannie and Linda looked at each other and I whispered, “Please don’t say anything to anyone. Sawyer and I are doing the best we can.”
Carefully Jeannie asked, “Is that money that you inherited gone?”
“Not all of it. It’s just … earmarked … for other stuff like gas for the truck and diesel for the tractor and for just in case. And every time I turn around I’m having to buy more of something so I can preserve all the fruits and vegetables coming in and … and …”
Linda got concerned and asked, “Kay-Lee, you need .. uhm ... something? You look funny.”
“Linda … my leg … no matter what I do or try every day it feels like … feels like … and I can’t say nothing because if Sawyer thinks that … and I can’t let the aunts know ‘cause … and then the other wives are …” I was ashamed that I had to look out the window so they wouldn’t see the tears in my eyes.
“Oh Kay-Lee. Does Sawyer know?”
Quietly I admitted. “Some. We just don’t talk about it outright. He has to help with the tomatoes at night. And … and I can’t go up and down the basement steps with anything in my hands anymore because it takes both hands on the rail to keep me from tripping. He never says anything about having to help, he just does it, but I feel so stupid and …”
Jeannie pulled into the library but stopped me when I tried to get out. “You sure you aren’t hiding it from Sawyer?”
“I couldn’t hide it if I wanted to.” I didn’t tell them that I was also almost out of naproxen and didn’t know what I would do when it ran out.
“You want us to say something to the aunts?”
“God no! Please. I’ll figure out something. It’s just … it’s just a tough day.”
Linda reached into her purse and handed me a bottle of Midol. Completely embarrassed I said, “Linda!”
“You telling me it isn’t that kind of rough day?”
“I guess it is. Maybe that is what’s wrong.”
Jeannie relaxed. “Good, ‘Cause you were starting to make me wonder if … you know …”
Linda rolled her eyes. “She means she was wondering if you’d gotten knocked up. You are acting not like yourself at all, kinda emotional.”
I wiped my eyes and said, “I guess I am. Sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry Kay-Lee. We’re friends.”
Jeannie shook her head and said, “Sisters. We’re sisters.”
Linda smiled real big and said, “You betcha.” To me she said, “Go do your library thing. We’re going to be a little bit at the fabric store. That manager lady always makes us wait, even on the big orders. She acts like we smell or something. Snooty old thing. After we pick you up we’ll get the other running around done and then let’s go get slushies.”
“Gramps gave us a little extra to get drinks with; he said that pretty ladies running errands should get a treat,” Linda told me with a grin. “Sodas make me belch so let’s get slushies instead. It is so dang hot that sounds better anyway.”
Jeannie was all for that and I didn’t want to spoil their fun. After agreeing I got out of the car and hobbled into the library using my cane which has become a daily fashion accessory again whether I want it to or not. As I went inside I saw them pull out and head to the fabric store down the street.
I didn’t like this branch of the library near as well as the other two in town but it was closest to the rest of the errands we had to do so I decided to stop complaining and make the best of it. I turned in the books and movies we had borrowed but only got a couple of new ones … or at least they were new to us. It turns out Sawyer likes documentaries and history shows as much as I do and we’ve watched an entire miniseries on World War 2 while we worked on the tomatoes at night.
And thinking of tomatoes that was kinda what I needed to come to the library for. I was running out of ideas to use the tomatoes in. A bushel of tomatoes is 53 pounds, or so says Sawyer. Well it takes about 23 pounds of tomatoes to make juice for a canner load of 7 quarts. I can get 14 quarts of juice per bushel with some left over. We already have over 70 quarts of juice and Sawyer is still bringing home tomatoes by the bushel basket. I know I need tomato sauce and tomato paste but the aunts are also talking about tomato catsup and something called tomato preserves. For one thing I didn’t know you could make tomato preserves and for another, I didn’t have any directions for it.
I headed to the recipe book section and was getting kind of anxious and frustrated when I couldn’t find what I was looking for. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to find this little old lady looking at me and then she asked, “Can’t find what you’re looking for Sugar?”
“No ma’am,” I whispered, trying not to draw the attention of the librarian who I’d run afoul of before. I’d almost tripped and had slammed into a shelf and made a bunch of noise. It was awful embarrassing.
“Well let’s see if I can help. You tell me and we’ll both flip through the books.”
“Oh you don’t have to.”
“”Honey, it’s my job. And don’t worry about Berniece if that’s why you keep eyeing the front desk. She’s in her element over there planning some presentation at the retirement home out on Henderson Road. Now what are you looking for?”
“Well, I’m looking for tomato recipes. I’ve juiced and canned so many that … Anyway, I’m just looking for some recipes I can can.”
She was surprised for about two seconds and then smiled real big. “Honey, you come with me. You want recipes I know just where you can get more than you’ll know what to do with.”
I followed her over and instead of another aisle of books she towed me towards a glass windowed room that you could reserve for clubs and stuff. Inside there were these older ladies sitting around a table having a gabfest of a good time. The one that had had me follow her over looked around and said, “Girls, this young woman is looking for canning recipes and I told her I knew where she could get some.”
I was a good hour sitting in there and soaking up what those ladies had to offer and Jeannie and Linda had to come looking for me when I wasn’t standing outside waiting for them. We spent almost another hour beyond that before all of us had to get up and go our way so the next group that had booked the room could use it. When the lady had said I’d probably wind up with more than I’d know what to do with she wasn’t kidding. I now have recipes for tomato conserve, tomato marmalade, tomato butter, tomato juice cocktail which is different from plain tomato juice or sauce. I got over a dozen recipes alone for tomato soup and at least as many on ways to stuff tomatoes. Tomato dumplings, tomato soufflé, tomato fritters, tomato custard, tomato fondue, tomato cakes of several varieties, tomato torte, tomato pudding, tomato pie filling, and the list goes on and on. Then when Linda shows up she asks about green tomatoes. That discussion got recipes for tomato jam, dilled tomatoes, tomato pickles, green tomato chutney, green tomato mincemeat, gingered tomatoes, and a few other things that I’m not too sure they weren’t pulling my leg over. I mean who has ever heard of candied tomatoes?
And it wasn’t just tomatoes they gave me the recipes for either. They shared the kind of things they’d done in their girlhoods and what they’d heard from their mothers and grandmothers … like how to use honey and sorghum instead of white, store-bought sugar in cooking and canning recipes. How to make flour and cornmeal go further. Lots of recipes for things people now think of as “poor folks food” but that was just normal, make do food back when they were growing up. I got recipes for things like Bee Balm Jelly, homemade Cream Soda, Cucumber Lemon Jam, Pickled Ramps, and Apple Lilac Jelly. They told how a good gravy could cover a multitude of sins and how a pot of greens would fill all the empty corners when you could only put a little meat on the table. I think I could have stayed and talked with them all day.
They reminded me of some of the aunts, only older.
As we left the library Linda laughed and said, “You feel better now? You look better.”
I nodded. “Um, you think this was one of those providential things the preacher was talking about on Sunday?”
Jeannie looked at me out of the corner of her eye while she pulled into traffic. “You never really went to church before you married Sawyer did you?”
Worried I asked her, “Does it show?”
“Not particularly. Just sometimes at church you look like you are listening so hard it seems kinda …”
I asked, worried that I was being embarrassing to the family.
She shook her head. “No. It makes me wonder what you’re hearing that I’m not. That’s not a bad thing. I guess I just grew up hearing all that stuff and it is kinda old hat. Watching you hear it for the first time sorta makes me feel like I’m hearing it for the first time too.”
I shook my head. “I’ve never heard a lot of the stuff the preacher talks about. Some of it seems hard to believe even though I know a lot of people do believe it. The preacher acts like the stuff in the Bible isn’t just stories but really happened.”
Shocked I said, “For real?”
“But I thought all of that stuff was just … you know … like … like moral stories … or those parable things … to make a point.”
She told me, “They are but that doesn’t mean they didn’t really happen.”
I let it go ‘cause honestly I’m still not sure what to make of it. I like going to church every Sunday we can and I didn’t really expect to. It’s not the music; I mean that’s ok but there’s a lady in the choir that seems to think every C note should be a high-C and sometimes when she does it my back teeth hurt. And it isn’t Sunday School ‘cause in general I feel kinda stupid because I don’t know the stories that everyone else seems to already know since they were little kids and it makes me feel stupid to ask questions where everyone can turn around and look at me. I just like the preaching. Brother Don always seems to say at least one thing every time like he is talking to me special. I know he isn’t but it feels like he is. Sometimes Sawyer and I talk about what the preacher says. That’s good too. But we weren’t in town to talk about church stuff, we were in town to get some errands run and that’s what I turned my attention to.
I apologized to Linda and Jeannie and told them, “I gotta pull out the cane again. If you don’t want …”
Linda snorted and said, “Shut up Kay-Lee and do it already. Faster you do, the faster we can get going. I hear a slushie calling my name.”
Jeannie said, “Honestly Kay-Lee, we gotta do something about that persecution complex you keep dragging around. Ain’t it getting heavy yet? C’mon. Before he left, Uncle Howard gave me a list of some other restaurant suppliers besides that Mexican place we went that sell to the public. They don’t advertise it but they’ll do it. I called this place this morning and they said to come on in, that they were having a sale on their big containers of seasonings and spices. I hope it is good as she made out on the phone because it looks like the Mennonite store is going to close once it gets rid of the inventory they have right now and they don’t have all that much left. Aunt Nel and Aunt Suzanne are over there now trying to get what’s left.”
I said, “I bet Aunt Pearl isn’t happy about that place closing. I know it makes me sad."
“No she isn't but she and Gramps both said we should start expecting to see a lot of that sort of thing happening. Between regulations, taxes, hiking of the minimum wage again, and prices of other things a lot of places aren’t going to be able to stay in business. That’s what happened to my uncle and how he got in trouble with the IRS. They almost rescinded his passport but he got it cleared up in time to leave for Thailand free and clear. I heard from Benedict’s father that the Pizza Pub is going to close sometime this summer and that place has been around since my parents were dating.”
We pulled into the parking lot of a nondescript building. We weren’t the only car there but we were one of only a small handful. We walked in and walked out empty-handed in short order. All three of us were struggling to keep our mouths shut until we got in the car.
Jeannie said, “Oh my gosh. Seventy-five dollars for a case of #10 cans of grape jelly. And eighty bucks for a case of #10 cans of orange marmalade. Who shops that way?! Not even the Duggars could eat that much at a family reunion!”
Linda started laughing so hard that she had a stomach upset. “Geez Linda!” Jeannie said trying to control her own giggles.
I just shook my head and said, “I don’t even want to know what Aunt Pearl would have said had we come back with anything like that.”
That set Linda and Jeannie off again until Jeannie said, “OK, we gotta stop or I’m going to pee my pants. Junior is break dancing on my bladder. Geez. Definitely mark this place off the list unless I want to go into premature labor.”
It took two more misses before we finally found a place where we could get what we’d been sent to town to fetch.