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.”
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 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 and Chestnut Jam. 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 and Whole Chestnuts in plain Vanilla Syrup. 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.