Monday, January 25, 2010

Chapter Fifty-Four

Chapter 54

October 26th – Didn’t leave the house today, neither of us did. If it wasn’t tending to the animals or checking on the garden we didn’t go beyond the lanai. It rained cats and dogs all day long. We probably got the whole month’s expected rainfall on one day.

I guess I can handle having to wait another day to see if I messed things up for Rand. He tells me not to worry about it. How can I not worry about it? Messing up my own life is one thing but messing up Rand’s is totally wrong in so many different ways I can’t even count them. I’ve already decided if I have to grovel I will; I’ll do anything for Rand.

Rand on the other hand has a different opinion and we had a little bit of a tiff over it. “You are not going to apologize.”

“Rand …”

“I mean it Kiri. Are you sorry you stood up for me? Didn’t you mean what you said?”

“No. Yes … I mean no I’m not sorry I stood up for you and I did mean it. I just can’t stand it that maybe I caused problems and …”

“One, you don’t know you caused me any problems. Two … to be honest I’m tired of feeling like I always have to apologize for my past mistakes. I’m not the kid I used to be and it’s time people started treating me different. I’ve moved out but they haven’t moved on. Babe, you’ve done more for me … for making me feel like a real man … than you’ll ever know. I don’t even like to think about how I let Julia run all over me since we were just kids. I now know it wasn’t really Julia I wanted but what having a relationship with Julia gave me … or what I thought it gave me.”

This was getting a lot heavier than I thought it would.

“Babe, if there are problems, then maybe it was time there were problems. Maybe a little … separation … might do us all some good. It will give us some time to prove to ourselves that we can stand on our own if we need to. Maybe it will give Uncle George some perspective too.”

“But what about the grain fields and … and all the work that you and Brendon do together? What about butchering season? What about …”

“Easy girl. We’ll just have to work it out as it comes. I didn’t say it would be easy, but it might be necessary.”

I guess. But I’m still nervous.

And when I get nervous I get antsy. And when I get antsy the only thing I can do is work or I can make myself sick from nerves. And all the downstairs rooms were piled high with stuff and disorganized to the point I hated to even be inside during the day. It was as good a time as any so I started my fall cleaning. And since Rand couldn’t really do any outside work he said he’d help which was great.

First room I worked on was the master bedroom. I have to stop calling it my parents’ bedroom because it really isn’t. Not anymore. And when the weather cools down to the point we are better off with a fire in the fireplace Rand and I will be moving downstairs. The first thing I wanted to do was to strip the bed and flip the mattress.

And that is when we found another hiding place. I can’t remember my parents doing this. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t know about it at one point, just that it is gone from the ol’ faulty memory banks now. But I we have another theory that is more correct.

Rand was helping me to flip the king-sized mattress when, “Ow! Babe, my sock is caught on something over here.”

When I got around to his side of the bed I would see a nasty splinter and a bloody spot on his sock. “Oh my gosh. Hang on. Let me get the tweezers and a bandaid.”

I was digging around in the first aid kit when Rand hollers, “Babe? Were your parents like pack rats or something?”

I was coming out of the bathroom and answered, “Yeah, kinda. Why?” And then I stopped. And looked.

Instead of the normal simple wooden frame that you find inside of a box springs Rand was lifting a whole sheet of plywood up. “Give me a hand with this.”

The material that normally covered the top of the box springs had pulled away revealing two hinged doors. Once we got the mattress off and out of the way, finished pulling away the silky cover, and opened the hinged doors we found yet another storage space.

Inside the normally empty space were a dozen cans of olive oil, a few cases of canned bacon, a case of canned cheese, several number ten cans each of cream of wheat, 9-grain cereal, instant oatmeal, elbow macaroni, two cases of what claimed to be canned cakes from the mredepot, cans of powdered pudding mix, some cans of canned green coffee beans, some canned BBQ beef and pork, and a few other odds and ends tucked in the corners.

Something was wrong. My parents didn’t have the money to spend on this fancy stuff; it didn’t match any of their other storage preps. And I’d never even eaten cream of wheat until … and then I spotted the canned brown bread and the case of blackstrap molasses and two jugs of maple syrup and I knew as for sure as I could be. And it fit if I thought about it.

“This isn’t something my parents did.”

“You sure?”

“Almost totally positive. My parents wouldn’t have stored stuff like this. It isn’t what we normally ate at home. I sure don’t think Momma would have bought canned cakes when it was cheaper for her to make her own; maybe a few items in here, but not really much of it. See those green coffee beans? Aunt Wilma was a coffee snob. She spent more money on expensive coffees that she would grind herself in a month than my parents would have dared to spend on Folgers for a whole year. The other thing … Uncle Charlie loved brown bread. Every 4th of July he would order a case of it so that he could have it for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Aunt Wilma didn’t use any kind of processed sugar in her food so the maple syrup would have been her, sure as heck wouldn’t have been my parents as that stuff is expensive. And the blackstrap molasses, Daddy ate that sometimes but only Briar Rabbit brand, this other stuff is the stuff that Uncle Charlie put in his coffee every morning.”

Then after taking a closer look at the food and thinking about it I was able to say for sure that my parents hadn’t done this. “I can prove this wasn’t done by my parents. You see those Vigo dried soup mixes? I remember Aunt Wilma going into ecstasies when they first came on the market. That was after my family died and I had been living with Aunt Wilma for a couple of years.”

“OK Babe, I believe you. Is it possible that your Aunt and Uncle … I don’t know … had thought this was a good place to evacuate to? That maybe they had known about your parents’ stash of stuff?”

I thought about his question while we unloaded everything and took it to the summer kitchen until I could separate it. “They may have suspected but I don’t think they knew much. They would have … well, especially the dormer room … gotten into stuff more. There is a hidey hole under the kitchen cabinets that was empty. Uncle Charlie may have found it and taken whatever was inside. He used to work on the plumbing and stuff like that until I mentioned it to Mr. Barnes who put a stop to it by reminding them of the stipulations in the trust. It might also explain … I never understood why Uncle Charlie was just laying out in the open rather than going inside the barn or the house to die unless it was something that had happened quick. Or maybe … “

“Honey, if that was your uncle you found – and I do not doubt you just you said yourself you only ID’d him by a work shirt name label that seemed the same as the ones he wore – it doesn’t matter anymore. He came up here, leaving you in Tampa to face who knows what. You said there was a broken liquor bottle. Maybe he was demented by then or even sick himself. He wouldn’t be the first, or the last, to go crazy from grief and fear. Either way, the only question that remains as far as I’m concerned is whether this is the only hidden stash they made or if there are others … even some buried around the property.”

“Weeellllll, if it was up to Aunt Wilma you aren’t going to find anything buried outside. She was not the outdoorsy type and hated the very idea of mold or mildew or damp. I doubt there is going to be anything structurally in the house either … those trust stipulations and how Mr. Barnes would drop in to inspect things some times. The barn maybe?”

“No, there really isn’t any place in the barn after you take out your Dad’s junk room. All the walls on the inside are exposed block. The floor is a solid slab. Nothing in the loft either.”

“Then they may have shot their wad with this or planned on bringing stuff with them maybe. The only other place I can think of … but … “ I looked at Rand.

“Where?”

“The shed … maybe? But not the hidey hole that my dad had in there for the fuel canisters.”

We headed out there and Rand grimaced, “Why does this thing look so different from everything else? What a mess!”

“Yeah, well. It’s what is left of our original lean to. Daddy meant to do something about it eventually. Eventually never came.”

“But the mess …?!”

“That was Uncle Charlie. He resented like heck that Daddy had built all of this and was younger that he was and was fair on his way to a good retirement when he got out of the military. Uncle Charlie started from a wealthy family but he was the youngest of five brothers and by the time he was old enough to get a piece of his father’s car dealership, the only thing left was working for his brothers in the garage … he wasn’t even a manager out there. Mr. Barnes overlooked this shed when he was writing up the trust stipulations and … well … this was Uncle Charlie’s act of defiance.”

Rand laughed and said, “You have got to be kidding me … that’s … man, the more I hear about your aunt and uncle the luckier I feel. Uh … I didn’t mean … “

I smiled to let him off the hook. It’s not like I didn’t stick my foot in my own mouth fairly often. “Yeah, well … I think you were lucky too. That’s one of the reasons I hope I haven’t … “

“Oh, let’s not start that again. I’m not standing out here in the rain to argue. If this rain gets any harder we aren’t going to be able to hear each other. Since you’ve already checked the concrete bench on this side what is on the other side?”

“Rand, I really don’t expect to find anything out here. Aunt Wilma hated it out here.”

“Which gives me an idea what we might happen to find, especially after some of the things you’ve said in the past. Here Sugar, move and let me get that bench.”

“What do you … oh. Oooohhhhhh.” After he moved the concrete bench Rand pulled up a bunch of bottles of liquor … the hard stuff. Aunt Wilma only let him have a beer or two on the weekends during the summer. She considered liquor a waste of good money and a good way for them to lose their lucrative foster license.

“Um, Rand, I never asked but do you …”

“Kiri, I did when I was wild but I got to where it was … it was a problem. It got to be where I had to drink to have a good time. The youth pastor at the church dared some of us that he knew drank to stay sober at any of the parties we went to and see if we still had fun … and what we thought of how the other kids who did drink were acting. If we drank, he wanted us to give him a call and he would come pick us up. He was a good guy. His tactics didn't work for everyone but they worked for me. I stopped drinking cold turkey and … I was tempted a couple of times at UF – it’s a big party school and it is hard not to want to be a part of things – but I didn’t. I was too worried about keeping my grades up or losing my scholarship.”

“Rand … I wasn’t even … I didn’t mean to sound like I was being judgmental. I just meant … well, if you want this stuff but I actually meant, if you didn’t mind, I’d like to set the brandy aside for preserving the Christmas fruit cakes and if we could save the vodka and other clear stuff for tinctures and things like that.”

Rand looked at me and I tried not to be embarrassed at the can of worms that I had opened and then he started laughing. “You know something? I love you.”

We looked around and what we found could have stocked a small liquor store. It made me wonder if Aunt Wilma and Uncle Charlie had had the same priorities. Aunt Wilma stocking food … but it was all just specialty stuff, nothing that would provide long-term sustainability …and Uncle Charlie stocking liquor but nothing else from what I could see. On the other hand it did seem to fall into the “store what you eat” type of prepping.

The boxes of liquor bottles are on the floor in the hidden pantry for now. We have to decide what to do with it later. I’ve tripped on those boxes every time I’ve gone in there today and it is getting irritating.

The rest of the day we spent going room by room trying to unpack and reorganize. We moved all of the clothes into the master bedroom his and her closets, the dresser, and the chest o’ drawers. We set aside two sets of sheets and a few extra blankets and pillows and then loaded all the extra bed linens into the space in the box springs. That really did help. We unrolled all of the rugs we had and put them down in every room in the house except for the kitchens. It was going to mean more work for me in one sense but Rand actually did me a favor and fixed the non-electric rug sweeper and now I wouldn’t have to roll them up and take them out and beat them to clean the rugs.

In Rand’s things from his parents was some old oil lamps – some of these were so pretty it was hard to believe they were actually practical – and candle sconces. Rand had brought some kerosene with him and some white gas too but we hadn’t needed to use it. When the days get significantly shorter we might though. There was a couple of antique wind up clocks that hung on the wall or set on a table or ledge. We replaced some of the battery operated clocks with those. We put his family photo albums on the shelves with mine and they all became ours. We took most of the preparedness books and moved them to the dormer room which left room in the bonus room bookcases for Rand’s books.

We got the master bedroom finished and Rand’s old bedroom emptied and straightened up. Most of the third bedroom has been finished as well. The last room was the one with the baby stuff in it and I plan on working on that one tomorrow. It is the messiest and now that almost all of our other storage areas are bursting at the seams I’m going to have to think about where I want to put stuff.

The old washer and dryer were moved out onto the lanai, Rand capped off the dryer vent, and we moved all the stackable plastic drawers we have in there. I labeled every draw and we arranged them alphabetically. Those drawers helped us to organize all the small stuff that didn’t really have a home.

Rand has to leave early in the morning so he is already sleeping but I got up after he fell asleep since I was still antsy. I think I’m finally to the point I can sleep and not just toss and turn. Fraidy and Woofer are sleeping on the new rug we brought upstairs. They are really cute.


October 27th – As Rand told me, “It wasn’t unexpected Babe. Just let it go for now.” It isn’t as easy for me to ignore as it seems to be for him. “Kiri, it’s not the end of the world. When Uncle George figures out we’re not folding to his emotional blackmail then he’ll get over it. Or he won’t and it still won’t be the end of the world. We’ll figure it out.”

The rain ended during the night and the cool, low-humidity weather behind it dried everything much faster than I thought it would.

“Babe, call me a worrywart if you want, but I’m gonna ask you to stay around the home site while I’m gone today. My plan is to be back by lunch, grab a bite to eat, then head off to Mr. Coffey’s with the wagon right after that.”

I honestly didn’t mind as much have I might have. I woke up with the sniffles, probably from all of the unpacking and rearranging yesterday. Some of that stuff was pretty dusty.

Rather than a large breakfast Rand asked if I could make him a couple of bacon, egg, and cheese biscuits. The case of canned bacon we found yesterday had tempted us both. The one problem I noticed as soon as I opened the can was that it had a lot more slices in it than Rand and I would use in a single meal. And without refrigeration there was going to be a lot of waste if we weren’t careful.

Rand was off and I watched him until I couldn’t even hear the jangling of the mules’ harnesses and then went back inside and set out my plan for the day. I started the day by wiping down the dehydrators and filling them both up with more apples. I had to toss two trays of apples that had gotten ruined in the heavy rain but Taz loved them. Taz also got most of the apple cores and peels.

The mosquitoes were worse than I expected so I had to put on a long sleeved shirt and then I went out to the garden. The beets were in so I pulled most of them as well as anything else that I needed to deal with. I spent the remainder of the morning canning plain beets, pickled beets, beet relish, and beet-apple relish.

For lunch I made a nice green salad from the lettuce that was still coming in and rice pilaf and Apple Pecan Burgers. Everything was ready when Rand arrived home pulling the incline. He was in such a good mood I thought at first everything was fine. While we were eating though it became apparent that everything was not all right.

“Babe … come on. Everything is going to be fine. He’s more miffed that I wouldn’t take the bait and ask him what was wrong. I used to fall for it because I couldn’t stand the pressure. I’m stronger than that now. Laurabeth and Charlene stayed in the house and didn’t even come out to say hello which was pretty par for the course. Alicia was on the porch and waved which was pretty brave for her. She’s caught between a rock and a hard place and I don’t blame her. The boys acted like nothing was wrong. Oh yeah, Mick said that you tossed your cookies, you didn’t tell me that.”

Being reminded of my embarrassment didn’t help me to feel any better and Rand continued, “Bill and Missy said to say hello and I’ve got a couple of boxes of things tied to the incline that if you could untie and bring in while I’m off to Mr. Coffey’s would help. Missy asked that we save the boxes for her as they are running short.”

“Maybe we should have sent a box of that stuff we found yesterday to your Uncle. Maybe it would have … “

“And maybe Uncle George needs to learn that he can’t twist and turn me the way he used to. This is as good a time as any for him to learn it. Look at me Beautiful. I mean it. One way or the other things will work out and I don’t want you worrying it to death.”

“It bothers me Rand.”

“Don’t let it. Now let me have a kiss so I can go hook Bud and Lou to the wagon and get out of here so I can get back before it gets too late. It is going to take time to unload the wagon when I get home and I don’t want to have to do it in the dark.”

For dinner I planned to use up the canned bacon making BLTs. But first I wanted to try and finish that last bedroom, or at least make a good dent in it.

First I took all the baby stuff out and set it to the side and that let me get at everything else. I noticed most of the mess was craft supplies and things like that so I was able to halve the mess really fast by taking it all upstairs to the bonus room that I had designated as the sewing room. The rest of it was just a matter of finding places to tuck things. After I had finished with that I moved the baby stuff back into the room and just for the heck of it arranged everything so that it looked nice.

I was at loose ends so I took some pecans out on the front porch and started cracking them. Every once in a while I would find one that was nasty and I’d drop that into a bucket to give to Taz. I was on my second pail of nuts and it was getting later than I thought Rand had meant to come home when I heard the wagon coming back very slow. There was a prancing horse as well and then Hoss came around the screen and said, “Hey Kiri, Rand’s been hit. No, no … I didn’t say that well now did I? I mean literally hit but not by bullets. Not even the highwaymen have a lot of ammo these days.”

Well when I put my heart back in my chest and ran out I could see that Hoss, poor choice of words or not, was correct. Rand was pretty roughed up but seemed to be in fairly good spirits. “They didn’t get the sorghum Babe.”

“To heck with the sorghum! Look at what they did to you!!”

It really wasn’t as bad as it looked at first but I’m still not real happy. Rand wouldn’t let Hoss leave until he gave him a jar of syrup which Hoss gratefully accepted with embarrassment. He’s trying to work for Mr. Henderson and help out his family that lives over near Uncle George at the same time, the syrup will probably find its way over there on his next day off.

The barrels of sorghum are sitting in the barn until we can figure a better place for them. Rand was hungry and he was half way through his first sandwich before he told me that Mr. Coffey wanted to trade for two of the remaining horses. His grandson (a man older than Rand) needed some way to get around and he’s too tall to ride around on a donkey.

“I’ll trade him the gelding and one of the mares. I’m having second thoughts about breeding horses. I think we might be better off breeding mules. I’m keeping this last mare until I decide what to do.”

So we’ve got a lot of stuff accomplished the last two days but it is beginning to feel like the lull before the storm. I can’t exactly put my finger on it. We’re cleaning up, getting ready, making sure all our ducks are in a row. Rand thinks that I’m just worrying more because I’m tired and unsettled about this thing with the Crenshaws but I’m not sure. That crazy guy was on the radio again saying the same sorts of things … death to America, yada, yada, yada … but this time he had one or two people responding to him and egging him on. There were also more sightings of large ships in the Gulf of Mexico and of some kind of major explosion at Mobile, Alabama.

What I was feeling before … it feels like it is getting closer. Every little thing that happens or that I hear of happening adds another straw on the camel. I just wish I knew for sure what I should be worrying about the most, the uptick in real problems we’ve got going on close to home or the stuff that is going on out in the world.

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