Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Chapter Eighty




“Uncle Ned!,” I yelled in concern upon spotting the elderly man walking towards the house.  “Sawyer!!  Come quick, Uncle Ned is hurt!!!” 

I heard Sawyer barrel up the basement stairs where he had been taking jars down for me and he reached me right as I was helping the old man into the kitchen and over to a chair. 

Shocked at his appearance Sawyer asked, “Damn Uncle Ned.  What happen?  Did you meet up with a bear or something?” 

“Naw Son,” he groaned as he eased down in the chair.  “If that had been all I’d a been fine.  I don’t bother them, they don’t bother me.  Same thing cain’t be said about people with jungle fever.” 

I had run over to the sink and then almost cussed when I remembered that no power meant no running water.  I hurried into the old kitchen to get some water from the reservoir on the wood stove, wishing not for the first time that the stove was in the big kitchen instead of in what now amounted to a back room.  I came back in to hear Sawyer ask, “You sure you didn’t recognize any of ‘em?” 

“Son if I had I would tell you and let you and your cousins go rip ‘em a new one.  Fact is I’m not even sure they are from around here.  I know you kids dress outlandish but these ones just didn’t seem to fit anything I’ve seen lately.  I didn’t even recognize the names on their shirts.  And they were idiots too.  They were some pissed off to find out the meat I was packing was deer and squirrel and not beef.  They kept calling it cow meat.  What the hell kinda numbnuts would talk like that?” 

He jumped a little when he saw me and said, “Should watch my mouth I suppose.” 

“Uncle Ned you’ve had a shock.  Besides you don’t see me falling apart.  It’s not like I haven’t heard worse.  As for your attackers, even the town kids around here wouldn’t flip a switch like that.  They sound more like an out of town junkies hanging out around a local crack house or a meth operation.  Did any of them have sores on their face and look kinda … well … strung out?” 

“Honey, what would a sweet thing like you know about people like that?” 

I sighed.  “In foster care you see it all.  Some of the kids are already addicts of some flavor, and not just older kids either.  Mostly though if you are going to see it, then it will be the bio-relatives of the kids you are in care with.  And then there are the stories you hear.  It really doesn’t matter how I know this stuff anymore now that I’m out of the situation, I just do.  All I want is to not make the same mistake that people like that make.” 

Uncle Ned looked at Sawyer and Sawyer hunched his shoulders uncomfortably.  It made me feel … not ashamed exactly but like I was letting people down because I was not all nice and shiny and innocent I guess.  Sawyer must have noticed because he said, “Don’t Kay-Lee.  I can see the wheels turning.” 

“You don’t know what I’m thinking.” 

“I know you get upset when you start thinking you are somehow not good enough and bringing up that stuff from when you were in foster care seems to do it every time.  So … just don’t.  You can’t help what you had to live with and know.” 

Uncle Ned harrumphed and said, “Reckon I ain’t handling this here right.  I’m just … I’m just tired Sugar.  I don’t mean nothing bad by it.” 

I shook my head.  “And you shouldn’t be worrying about my stupid feelings after the night you’ve obviously had.  Can I fix you something to eat?  Are you hungry?  Want to go lay down?” 

His stomach growled and I smiled and said, “You’re definitely a Hartford.” 

He smiled slowly and said, “Reckon I am.  But maybe if you can make whatever it is a little on the soft side.  M’mouth is sore and has my dentures all out of whack.” 

While I fixed him grits and scrambled eggs with a little bit of cheese mixed in and reheated the leftover biscuits that we hadn’t eaten at breakfast Sawyer got his story out of him.  He’d been on his way home when he’d pulled over to check on what he thought was a disabled van.  All he’d seen was a girl about my age and she looked scared.  He was no sooner out of his truck than from either side of the road some guys had rushed him, roughed him up, complained about the meat though they took it anyway, and then they’d kept beating on him while they syphoned the fuel from his truck to their van. 

“Idiots won’t get far.  My truck is a diesel and that van takes unleaded.  There were something wrong with them kids I’m telling you.” 

Trying to hold his temper Sawyer ground out, “I don’t understand why they didn’t just take the truck.  Why the hell did they have to beat on you?  Doesn’t sound like you gave them trouble to cause it.” 

“I’m done trying to figure the strange starts of crazy people but as for the truck … too cold son.  Too many of ‘em to fit into the cab and they would have been pulled over for sure having that many in the bed.  They did wreck my tires and shot the damn radiator.  Cracked the windshield all to hell too.  That was just meanness.  But the idiots didn’t do nothing else so after they left I grabbed my gun and carry all that had been behind the seat and started walking.  Shorter to come back than it was to finish going forward … wasn’t exactly up to going uphill.  Might have some bruised ribs.” 

“You might have a concussion!  You need to go to the emergency room but me and Tommy together ain’t strong enough to tie you down to get you there,” Sawyer said half in disgust. 

“You got that right boy.  And you ain’t gonna get no sweet young thing to talk me into it either.” 

I broke in and said, “I doubt he has a concussion.  His eyes are clear and he is talking sense … or at least as much sense as any Hartford man ever talks.  He can also walk in a straight line.  Bruise ribs though I can believe.”  I turned to him and said, “It’s gonna be cold but if I get you a robe and then you pick a room to get some quiet and rest, will you let me wash your things and at least let me put something on those cuts?” 

He hemmed and hawed but eventually that is exactly what happened.  He was asleep almost as soon as he’d laid down in the room on the other end from ours after we got a fire going in the grate in there to take out the worst of the chill.  Sawyer came back downstairs and asked, “You sure about the concussion?” 

“As sure as I can be.  He just needs to rest and warm up.  His lips were almost blue when I spotted him coming across the yard.  I can’t believe he was out in that cold last night.  If I’ve got the map in my head right wouldn’t it have been closer for him to go straight to Gramps’ or Uncle James’ place instead of here?  I mean I don’t mind him being here but I don’t know …” 

Sawyer nodded.  “It would have and I asked him the same thing.  Boiled down he just didn’t feel up to a brawl with Gramps and Aunt Pearl and wasn’t comfortable going any place else.  You really don’t mind?” 

“Of course not.  You don’t mind if he stays a while do you?” 

“No I don’t.  It’ll make putting away that stuff from last night a little difficult but to be honest I doubt if we’ll get him to stay more than a night.  I asked him if it was alright that I run over to Gramps’ and let him know what happened and all he said was just so long as I didn’t make out like he was puny and needed an ambulance.  But what I want to ask is if you really think it could be druggies that did it.” 

I shrugged.  “I’m not sure how I’m supposed to know for sure but can you think of anyone else that would act so stupid?” 

“Could have been people leaving Atlanta.  The news says it is really bad there and that the city has been declared a disaster and is under martial law.” 

“Seems kind of fast for that kind of exodus.” 

“Mebbe.  I guess it is what it is either way.  You gonna be ok for me to run and check on the rest of the family after I talk to Gramps about Uncle Ned?  It appears more than half of them didn’t think to keep a spare battery or some other way to charge their phones.” 

“Go ahead. I’m anxious to hear if Jeannie is ok with Benny Robert.  I don’t mind if you bring her back here.  She’ll probably sleep just like I expect Uncle Ned to.” 

“You sure?  Because Uncle Ben and Benedict will probably be in demand if there’s generator problems.” 

“Of course I don’t care.  I’ll move stuff around until I hear anything from you.  Just let me pour the last of that coffee into a thermos for you.  I’m not going to add any more fire to the stove in the old kitchen and instead set a fire in the front room if that’s ok.  I don’t need it yet but the wood will be there when I do.” 

“Fine but Kay-Lee?” 

“Yeah?” 

“Uh … do me a favor?  Stay out of the basement until I get home.  There’s a mess down there and no lights.  I’ve even tripped over stuff a few times.” 

He looked like he was trying so hard not to hurt my feelings I decided not to object to it.  “Ok.  I’ll just do something in the pantry and figure out a menu in case the power stays off for a while.”  Carefully I asked, “Do … do you have any idea how long it is going to be off?  I know they talked about brown outs and a rotating schedule but I didn’t hear anything about it being for sure.  I got almost everything done out of the deep freeze but not everything.  The frozen water bottles will keep it cold in there a while I’m just trying to set priorities … so if you could guess?” 

Sawyer looked pensive.  “Kay-Lee I just have no idea right now.  That’s one of the things I’m going to see if anyone else has heard.  With the power outage taking out the radio stations in the area … well I’d also like to know how wide this power outage is and what caused it.”

Friday, January 9, 2015

Chapter 79


The door rattled and the dogs growled until a voice said, “Hush you two.”  Then, “Kay-Lee?  You in there?  I left my door key in my other pants.” 

I jumped up from the chair and over to the door to open it.  “Oh Sawyer, you look like you’re freezing.” 

Shivering he said, “I am.  Damn heater is out on the truck.  What’s going on?  Why are you sitting in here?  I wouldn’t have known what door to try if I hadn’t seen the light coming around curtains.” 

Pulling him over to the stove and then pouring him a cup of the cocoa that I’d wound up making to stay warm I explained about the lights flickering and then going out.  He kissed my forehead.  “I see you were able to get the lantern lit.” 

“Only because I had lit the stove first and used the little bit of light that fire made to see what I was doing.” 

“You didn’t have the lantern close to the stove did you?!” 

“No,” I told him ignoring the overprotective tone since it was just who he was.  He didn’t really mean to make me sound like a complete idiot.  “What took so long?  I was worried.” 

“Sorry,” he said.  “This has been a hellava evening.  I tried to call from Delly’s but their phone and power have been out almost all day.  Some out of towner took a curve too fast and went over the side at the overlook, taking out the pole where their electric and house phone lines routes from.” 

“Oh no!  Was anyone hurt?” 

“I don’t know.  Looked bad when I drove past it hours after it happened.  And Delly said the reason why she was so short with you over the phone was because she was worried about running out of battery on her phone.  She didn’t mean to make it sound like some big mystery except she didn’t want a rush on from the rest of the family.  She wasn’t sure how Gramps would take things.” 

“Why?  I thought Delly had gotten square with the family?” 

“It’s Dabney.  Him and his dad … who died when I was a boy which is why Mrs. Penny has his brother living with her … had a hard feud with Gramps and Uncle Junior for a long time.  Started when Gramps and Dabney’s father were boys and just … well it’s just plain stupid because it started over a girl they were both trying to court and neither one of them wound up marrying her so you’d think they’d have gotten over it by now.  Became like a bad habit and didn’t start to die back until Dabney moved away.  Delly was just trying to keep things from going stupid and wasting time.” 

Unwilling to express my opinion about feuds that outlived the original participants I simply said, “Wise of her.  But what was the big deal?” 

“Dabney needed diesel and someone to help him change a couple of belts and a tire on his truck.  Frankie is strong but easily rattled – you’ve met him those few times at church he didn’t hide out in the children’s area – which makes him useless with that sort of thing, especially the way Dabney bosses him.  And Mr. Carmichael’s arthritis and stroke make him unable to do it as well.  Burt was willing but Dabney ain’t the world’s best teacher so they agreed to wait for me to come over.  Belts weren’t the problem, it was the flaming tire that took a while and then we had to syphon the diesel out of Mrs. Penny’s farm tank.” 

“Won’t she need it though?” 

“No, she sold all that farm equipment she had sitting around when she sold the land to that guy that wanted his own private mountain or some such foolishness.  Wasn’t good farm land to begin with which is why Burt and the rest of his generation never bothered going into farming.” 

“Oh,” I said trying to keep up with the new information I was taking in.  “So she didn’t need the diesel.” 

“Nope.  And Dabney does … did.  He has it now and is on his way south, though between you and me I think he’ll get stopped somewhere between here and Atlanta and rerouted and might run out of fuel again.  Dabney even mentioned it but he said so long as he can get close to be within day or two’s walking distance from where he was going he says he’ll risk it.  That’s his business however.  It’s what he was trading that got Burt excited.” 

“What?” 

“A buttload of groceries and dry goods, none of it needing refrigeration.” 

“Huh?!  Doesn’t it belong to someone?” 

“Wellllll … yes and no.  Like Delly explained, Dabney’s employer basically laid him off mid-route and said he had declared bankruptcy.  Dabney drives his own truck – and the trailer is his too – and his contract states that in case of bankruptcy and a few other stipulations that if they happen then the contract is nul and void and Dabney is no longer responsible for taking care of whatever freight he has at the time.  He tried to meet up with his employer to turn over the freight but the guy basically cussed him out and said leave it on the side of the road for all he cared.  Well Dabney ain’t the smartest cookie in the jar but he ain’t dumb either.  He figured that Burt would be able to do something and they’d both benefit and … just to be on the safe side we are treating this as a silent transaction.” 

“I should say so,” I huffed. 

“What are you angry about?” 

“Burt pulling you into something that could be illegal and get people in all sorts of trouble.  How do we know that this Dabney guy isn’t still feuding with the family and is setting us up to get in trouble?” 

Sawyer looked at me and shook his head.  “You been hanging around Gramps and Uncle Forrester too much because that is exactly what those two would have said and which is why Delly kept this quiet.” 

“And you’re saying you know for a fact that this isn’t what is happening or that if Dabney gets in trouble he won’t tattle?” 

Sawyer snorted.  “Yep, you sound just like Gramps.”  He shook his head but grinned.  “Dabney is the last person to rat us out, Burt has too much on him.  Besides once he heard we weren’t going to tell Gramps or the rest of the family he started strutting like it was him that was getting something over on them.  I think he was actually worried that Gramps or Uncle Junior would turn him in.” 

“Would they have?” 

Slowly Sawyer said, “Maybe.  Hard to tell.  Feuds are funny.  The trade could have ended the feud or started it right back up harder.” 

“Which was why Delly …” 

“Yeah.  So just let it go and open the other kitchen door so I can start bringing this stuff in.  The camper and trailer aren’t insulated and there’s some stuff that won’t handle a freeze.” 

It wasn’t until I went out to the truck to see if I could help that I realized when Sawyer had said trailer he hadn’t meant our little one that he’d left with.  “You drove that monstrosity all the way from Mrs. Penny’s?!” 

“Hush Kay-Lee.  The night is too quiet and your voice is going to carry too far.  I don’t know if anyone is out coon hunting tonight or not.  Cutter had mentioned him and a couple of the others might as the cold would make the coons slow … or that was their logic anyway.” 

“I’m sure Beth was thrilled.” 

Sawyer made a silly face and then said, “Oh how did you ever guess?” 

We both laughed until he opened the back of the trailer and then all I could do was stand there and stare in disbelief.  “Sawyer?” 

“I know.  What I figure is that we put these paper goods into one of the third floor rooms and then cover them with other stuff.  The cans and jars of food are just going to have to go into the basement.  Only place we can be sure they won’t freeze.  And there’s not just food in here, there’s some odds and end repair type stuff, I’m honestly not sure what all but it is the kind of stuff you would find at the Bait n’ Tackle or a mini mart.” 

“Great, so basically it is going to be like Christmas at the group home.  You get a box and you have no idea what is in it, you just hope that when you open it that it is something that you can use.” 

Sawyer nodded and said, “Pretty much.”

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Chapter 78


Benedict and Uncle Ben kept looking at Benny Robert like he was some kind of pod person.  “He ain’t crying.  Should we take him to the emergency room?” 

Jeannie gave them the evil eye and said, “You wake him up and you will be taking care of him until you figure out how to get him back to sleep.”  That shut them up, but they still kept looking like they couldn’t believe what they were seeing as they walked to the car to leave. 

It seemed to take forever but finally everyone had left.  I tossed the phone to Sawyer and said, “Quick, call Delly.” 

“Why?” 

I explained her weird call that morning and he speed dialed her on his own phone, handing me mine back.  “Delly?  Everyone is gone what is up?” 

She started talking and when he heard it he beckoned me over and we listened on the speaker.  “Say that again Delly.  I’ve got Kay-Lee listening now.” 

“I said Burt wants you to meet him at his mother’s place.  Do you remember Dabney?” 

Sawyer nodded.  “Burt’s other cousin.  Moved away about seven, eight years ago, maybe a little more.  I think I was in middle school.” 

“Exactly.  Anyway he showed up out of the blue last night.  He was on his way to Atlanta when the place went crazy.  Didn’t have any place else to go and then his employer left him high and dry, declaring bankruptcy right in the middle of everything. He basically got laid off on the phone, in the middle of a run, and is wanting to barter for some diesel to get down to his place in Florida.  I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important Brother.” 

“Give me time to lock my place down and I’ll get there … thirty minutes.  That ok?” 

“Yeah, just c’mon fast.  Dabney is getting itchy and Burt says you won’t want to miss this.” 

Sawyer had been tired but he was suddenly wired.  He gave me a kiss.  “I’m sorry Kay-Lee.  I’ll help with the mess when I get back.  Whatever this is must be big.  Burt and Dabney got history but it ain’t the good kind; Dabney is kind of a weird guy.  But it sounds like Burt is willing to put that aside for some reason.” 

“Go, just please be careful.  Things have been quiet in town from what the radio said but … but just be careful and come home as soon as you can.” 

“Will do.  Now scoot in the house and I want to hear the door lock.  And thanks for letting the dogs stay inside tonight, it’s gonna be cold.  Maybe even a hard freeze.” 

He left and I turned back inside.  It wasn’t dark yet but the dogs took up residence on the porch which was fine by me.  Harley and Davey had dropped their “clumsy puppy” routine around me but since I was going to be moving around a lot I didn’t want to have to worry about tripping on them. 

It took me almost three hours to get the house cleaned back up.  The aunts and wives had never left such a mess behind before and I was a little aggravated that they’d done it this time.  Not even Linda had offered to stay and help.  All of them had been too busy loading up to get home safely before dark.  The one bonus was that everyone had taken all of their canning with them this time and I wasn’t tripping over jars as well as everything else.  Our jars were still wrapped in tea towels, waiting to go downstairs, but it would just have to wait longer as they still needed to cool and as I wasn’t going to risk doing it as tired as I was even though Sawyer had rigged a jar carrier for me to use out of a soft-sided cooler.   

In no time it was dark and very cold outside so I cracked the door open and called the dogs who were anxious to come in. But once in they looked around like they weren’t sure they were supposed to be there.  I told them to lay down near the stove and get warm and they either liked the idea or were too spooked to do anything other than what I said because that is what they did.  I went over to the jars to keep myself busy and to not think about how long Sawyer had been gone, nor about how he hadn’t called.  I was pretty proud of myself.  Even Aunt Pearl had wanted to know what on earth I was going to do with all of the ducks that Sawyer had shot but I had been prepared.   

See when Sawyer started talking about hunting and how he would use it to put meat on our table I had asked him what he hunted.  There was deer of course and then the feral pigs that sometimes escaped being hunting in the lower elevations by making their way up to the ridge.  Well we’d pretty much gotten extra lucky the first hunting trip that Sawyer had been on with Uncle James and Tommy and they’d shot all of those hogs.  The hams and shoulders we were promised now hung on nails in the rafters of the basement wrapped in paper grocery bags.  I’d processed that pork several different ways and was happy to have it.  The deer from that hunt I’d also processed in the same kind of cuts that I used for the pork and for some of the beef from the side of beef we bartered from Toby’s grandfather.  I got some of the two deer from today’s hunt processed as well but not as much as I had expected because Sawyer was having Uncle Mark grind it into burger as well as turn some into venison sausage. 

But deer and pig aren’t the only two things that Sawyer said he would hunt.  Sawyer likes duck hunting though you are only allowed to bag six per day during the season.  Geese as well which you can bag five per day during the short season.  He missed turkey season this year which starts towards the end of March and runs to about mid-May.  But there were other types of birds he would hunt as well … like dove and quail.  That told me early on that I needed to know what to do with those birds.  

I found out that you can preserve wild bird meat about the same way you do chicken.  Easy Peezy.  Only difference is that you’ve got to get all of the shot out of the carcasses before you can them.  I tried canning doves but to be honest it isn’t worth the work.  Even bringing in the day’s limit – which is twelve – that’s a lot of plucking and cleaning for just a little bit of meat.  Quail[1] has been much better; the limit is still twelve but the birds are bigger so you have more meat to can.  Not a lot more but still more of it than dove meat.  I can get about 8 quail breasts in a quart jar; if I had crammed it in there I might have gotten 9 or10 per jar.  I actually prefer to can the meat in pints so it will go further with there being just the two of us. 

Sawyer bagged his six ducks for the day and then Uncle Mark gave him the six he had bagged after he decided he just didn’t feel like cleaning them on top of the two deer he had brought down and the one that Davis had.  That was twelve ducks for me to pluck, clean, and process.  None of it bothers me except the plucking part.  The stink of dunking the birds in boiling water to loosen the feathers is pretty bad and I had to do it far from the house to keep the pregnant wives from upchucking on their canning.  But after that it was grand.  I cut the birds into parts and then deboned the breasts and thighs which I canned.  The rest of the duck parts I roasted and then turned into comfit and made that for Sawyer’s supper.  If he came back in time to eat it that is.

Those ducks were a lot of work so the rest of our venison is still waiting as was about half of what I had wanted to get canned.  That makes me anxious but I’m not sure what else I could have done at this point.  I did get all of the mustard greens and the collard greens canned along with some of the Candied Chestnuts[2] and Chestnut Jam[3].  I’d gotten some cross-eyed looks for those two things like I was wasting time and resources but you know what?  I’m not sure I care.  I think they are wasting time and resources not taking advantage of the wild forage and now they aren’t going to have it to use until the Spring and who knows what things are going to look like then.  To kinda thumb my nose at people I guess I also made Chestnuts in Brandy Vanilla Syrup[4] and Whole Chestnuts in plain Vanilla Syrup[5].  It might not have been done with a good attitude towards the others but I get tired of people looking at me like my head is only partly screwed on straight. 

Suddenly the lights flickered and my breath caught.  The lights stayed on and I calmed down as I went back to counting so I could add things to the inventory.  Five minutes later they flickered again, this time harder.  I shivered and pulled my sweater tighter around me.  The heat from all of the canning we did today was almost gone from the kitchen.  The few times we’d had a fire it had only been in the fireplace in our bedroom and Sawyer had set that one.  I made a quick decision and checked the wood box in the canning kitchen.  It was only half full but it would have to do.  I brought one of the lanterns in there with me and restarted the fire in the stove and had just put a pot of hot water on the stove to heat and brought Sawyer’s dinner in there to keep warm when the lights didn’t just flicker but turned on and off really hard, turned on one more time and then went dark and stayed that way. 

I had an awful time getting the lantern lit but Sawyer had made sure that I knew how when we first talked about what we would have to do if the power went out.  I hung it on a chain that he had attached to the ceiling so that it acted like a chandelier almost, spreading light through the whole room.  Then I dragged one of the kitchen chairs in there so I could sit down and this time the dogs followed me in and laid on the rug near my feet.  The three of us looked at each other, wondering in our own way where Sawyer was and what was coming next.
 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Chapter 77




The next morning was challenging.  We both overslept and Uncle Mark tried to get into a bad mood because he had to wait five minutes for Sawyer to be ready to go.  Just because of his attitude I didn’t offer to fill his thermos and he must have noticed. 

“Showing your backside this morning Baffa girl?  You know I’m empty and yet there sets a big coffee pot full.” 

Not in the mood for it I told him, “You must be looking in a mirror.  Besides all you had to do was ask.  I would have offered but you did seem to be a little busy chewing on people that didn’t deserve it.  Sawyer has had to wait longer on you and Davis plenty of times when you needed to feed your bologna addiction at the Bait n’ Tackle.” 

“Oh ho … you’re full of **** and vinegar this morning.”  I had started bringing the coffee pot over but stopped and just looked at him.  He sighed and said, “You know it is a poor day when a man can’t even have a little fun at his kids’ expense.” 

I snorted.  “You’re not Sawyer’s dad and I don’t have one.  If you want to pick on someone pick on Davis there.  He looks like he needs to be woken up by something.” 

Davis looked at me and said, “Twins.  Twin girls.  What am I going to do?” 

I shook my head as Sawyer hustled into the room loaded for bear.  “Honestly Davis, get over it.  You get what you get and don’t throw a fit.  Some people would look at twin girls as a blessing instead of the horror that’s showing in your voice.” 

“But … but I don’t know nothing about girls!” 

I told him, “You knew enough to catch Cindy’s attention.” 

Davis yelped, “Dang Kay-Lee … that’s not what I’m talking about!  Did you need to bring that up?!” 

I laughed and amazingly so did Uncle Mark though he tried to hide it with a cough behind his hand.  As Sawyer ran out the door to join them and the others milling about in the yard he gave me a kiss and said, “Gramps, Uncle James, and Uncle Junior are going to be here to supervise all this mess with the divvying up the wood.  There shouldn’t be trouble but if there is we’ll be back sometime before lunch if we can.  I’ll bring you a good sized buck.” 

“Like I told Davis, you get what you get and don’t throw a fit.  I’m more concerned that you stay safe than come back with a boat load of meat.” 

He kissed me again and said, “Stay in the house til the family shows up.  News has made it sound like the cold weather put the kibosh on most of the fighting but to be on the safe side …”  And then he was off. 

It was quiet after the men drove away.  I even missed the dogs.  Sawyer had thought to leave them here but they were experienced hunters and could track prey as well as the men and with as many of the men as were going they would need the advantage. 

I cleaned up from a smaller than expected breakfast mess and started the loads of “butter” that hadn’t finished before I’d gone to bed last night.  I also kept an eye on the ghee that I was preparing on the electric burner beside the coffee pot.  There was a lot of butter in the freezer that I would just cry buckets over if it spoiled so I was going to try making the ghee using this pictorial set of directions I had found last time at the library[1] and I was also going to try canning plain butter from the other set of instructions I had found[2]. 

The sun had only been up for a few minutes when the first cars started pulling in.  I watched two trucks go straight to the back where the wood splitters were and then saw Tommy run to the house to let me know what was going on and to ask if we had any coffee to spare because … 

“Yeah, Uncle Mark was cranky this morning too.  Is that Uncle Carl I see?” 

Tommy smiled then started laughing.  “Sawyer is right, you’ve got the number of the Hartford men totally.” 

I picked up the coffee maker and simply moved it to the back porch, set some mugs beside it, and got back in just in time to answer the door at the front.  I moved out of the way quickly as everyone seemed to have a laundry basket of stuff they wanted to do first and they were all jabbering about what order to do things in.  That’s when Aunt Pearl took charge and basically declared what was going to be done and in what order, prioritizing bulk canning for the inside woodstove and telling everyone that if they had individual items they could do them on the yard stoves outside.  I was glad that I’d gotten started on my own batches of items first and limped back in to see that my timers were just about to start going off. 

From there it wasn’t quite a madhouse but there was definitely a chaotic purpose underlying all that we did.  Then my phone rang in my pocket causing me to jump and almost drop it as I tried to see the caller ID and then answer it.  “Delly?” 

“Kay-Lee is the whole family over there?  Just say yes or no.” 

Carefully, since I thought it weird that she would phrase it that way, I said, “Yeah.” 

“OK.  Do me a favor and call me when the last of them have left but don’t let on that I’m asking you to do it.  This is important.  If Sawyer is there then that would be better but not absolutely necessary.” 

“Sure.  I’ll let you know.”

She hung up and so did I and before I could think about what she’d said very much Linda asked in front of God and everyone, “Who was that?” 

I had to do a fast two step and say, “It was Delly.  She wants me to let her know when Sawyer gets in and if we run into trouble.”  I disliked lying, especially to Linda, but Delly had made it sound mysterious and important and I didn’t’ want to get in the middle of something I didn’t understand until I had to. 

People bought it however because Cindy’s mother said, “Girl is nesting a little early but then so did I.  All this trouble is making her count her chicks and make sure they are safe.” 

“Well … uh …” 

Someone else said, “And that thing with Rissa yesterday probably didn’t help.” 

Some of the aunts and wives started gossiping about it and all I could do was wonder how they knew because I certainly hadn’t said anything.  Jeannie, who looked exhausted, was just walking back into the kitchen and asked, “Someone mind spelling me with Benny Robert?  I just gotta get away from this crying or I’m gonna go nuts.” 

Everyone with a free hand suddenly found something to do so I hesitantly said, “I won’t drop him Jeannie.  I promise.  I’ve held lots of babies.  Let me try something.” 

Jeannie was so tired she was stupid and could only mutter, “Huh?” 

I took Benny Robert who was really starting to scream and popped him over my shoulder and walked out of the kitchen and into the front room.  I carefully made my way over to a rocker in front of the window, sat down and put Benny across my lap, face down.  I rocked slowly while patting him on the back and suddenly on one end he let out a burp bigger than he was and then on the other a big ol’ poot that sounded like he was trying to play the same tune his daddy’s car horn did. 

Linda who had followed me to watch slapped her hand over her mouth and ran back into the kitchen giggling up a storm.  Jeannie just stood there and stared as Benny Robert slowly settled down and started smacking his lips around his fist and then slowly fell asleep. 

I looked at her and said, “Why don’t you lay down on the sofa and I’ll put the General Lee here down in that cradle thing you brought.” 

Jeannie just stared and then nodded before making a beeline for the sofa and falling on it like a felled tree.  Both she and Benny Robert were hard asleep in no time.  I put blankets over both of them to keep the chill off before walking back into the kitchen.  As soon as Linda saw me she started giggling again. 

Beth asked, “What did you do?  Drug him?” 

Linda giggled some more when I shook my head and went to wash my hands so I could get back to the canning I needed to do.   

Beth asked, “Well?” 

“Well what?” 

“Silence.  Blessed silence.  Benny Robert has barely shut up since they brought him home from the hospital.  You just took him and walked him away and suddenly the noise stopped.  What did you do?” 

I shrugged.  “He’s got gas.” 

“No kidding.  Jeannie says they’ve tried everything … breast milk, regular formula, goat’s milk formula; they even bought a really expensive brand of formula the hospital said to try that you can only get with a prescription.  Nothing works.  The doctor thinks he has an immature digestive system or something like that and were talking about taking a sonogram of his intestines to make sure they weren’t twisted.” 

“I just turned him so he could get rid of the gas.” 

Linda snickered, “He sure did.” 

I started preparing vegetables to make soup with and said, “I don’t think he is colicky.  I think he is just a pig and eats too fast.  Sawyer is the same way and sometimes has to stretch this way and that until he can get comfortable.” 

Aunt Pearl snorted.  “Now that you bring it up when some of the boys were babies their burps rattled windows.” 

I said, “Sawyer can just about break glass with his.  And it’s because he eats too fast.  I sometimes wonder how the food has long enough to sit on his tongue to be tasted.” 

She nodded.  “His mother was constantly getting onto him for it.” 

“Didn’t help apparently.  I’ll tell Jeannie to try a nipple with a smaller hole; that might help.  And if that doesn’t work to try a nipple with a bigger hole and see if getting more in one suck will keeping him from slurping in air.  Maybe if he doesn’t have to fight so hard for it he’ll calm down and suck slower.” 

Aunt Suzanne said, “I didn’t know you had much to do with babies.  I thought Linda said that … well …” 

“It wasn’t at school,” I told her ignoring her embarrassment at alluding to the teachers in the child care track not wanting SLD kids in their classes.  “Between all my hospital stays and being assigned to foster homes that could handle kids with special needs I got used to hearing crying babies and learning how to try and deal with it and help out.  After a while the only kind of baby cries that bothered me are from the ones that are hooked on some kind of drug when they are born.  The sound they make as they go through DTs … if you’ve never heard it you just can’t understand.  It’s more than crying, more than pain … it’s a combination of the two with a lot of misery and probably some hallucinations thrown in with it.  It just killed me to hear it.”

A lot of the women in the room tsk, tsk, tsk’d like they understood but I know most if not all of them really didn’t.  I didn’t say anything else but Linda came over and gave me a one armed hug.  And whispered, “It’s over with Kay-Lee.  You don’t ever have to go back to places like that.” 

“For us it is over with,” I whispered back sadly.  “But no matter how much I don’t want to think about it I know it is still happening for other people.  And who knows what all this craziness is going to do.  About the only thing we know for sure is that it isn’t going to make any of that any better and likely to make it worse.” 

I had been whispering but I guess the others had been listening in and heard me.  It turned the mood in the room somber and several gave me a resentful look for it, like things were getting too real and they didn’t like what they were learning.  It was shortly after that that Aunt Pearl banished the radio from the kitchen and porch because she said it was a distraction.  I think she would have banished it from the yard but the men were out there splitting wood and would have strenuously objected.  There were four splitters going and any number of chainsaws and axes.  There was so much noise I’m not sure the men could hear what was on the radio anyway.   

The cutting and chopping going on in the kitchen wasn’t any less strenuous and noisy.  I had prepped as much as I could for my personal canning but hadn’t been left anything to prep for the bulk canning we were doing.  I was pointed to a chair and told that since I was faster at paring things and the aunts didn’t have to worry about me cutting off a finger it would be appreciated if I would just do whatever they put in my lap.  It kept me plenty busy and my mind occupied on other things than worry about what I wasn’t hearing on the radio or wondering where Sawyer was. 

However, not worrying didn’t last long.  Right as I was beginning to get concerned my phone buzzed again and it was Sawyer texting in to let us know the hunters were on their way home and that each hunter had taken at least one deer and some other animal.  Sawyer said he’d gotten two deer – one was a six point buck – and several brace of ducks.  “I wish you or Burt Jr. had been there.” 

“Why?” I texted back. 

I could imagine the grin in Sawyer’s voice when he answered, “You could have shown Uncle Ned some wrist rocket action.  We flushed enough bunnies to make it look like Easter.” 

I rolled my eyes and texted them to keep being careful and that I’d have coffee and chili waiting for them if they were hungry.  He rang off by saying that all the stomachs growling at that news was bringing down the few leaves left on the trees.