Thursday, January 28, 2010

Chapter Seventy-Three

Chapter 73

January 18th – I’m still cleaning the dust bunnies out of my ears. What I wouldn’t give for some decent q-tips right now. I’ve flushed my ears the best I can but it still feels like there is something in there. Yesterday I just couldn’t go any more and accidentally fell asleep drooling on the open page I had meant to start writing on; unfortunately Rand came in and caught me snoozing and hustled me out of the kitchen and into bed last night. Finally today I can catch up with what has been rattling around in my head, besides the dust bunnies.

Two days ago I went to Mrs. Withrow’s again. She’d had Mick and Tommy over a couple of afternoons. They are good boys and really helped her. The young couple she planned on gifting the house to – surname was Halverston but I can’t place them in my head so don’t know if we’ve been introduced – came over a couple of afternoons as well and moved some of the heavier stuff. Lucky for me she saved the attic for us. And yes, I’m practicing my skill at sarcasm with that one.

Mrs. Withrow is an interesting old woman but she is bossy as all get out. I like her anyway and I’m thankful; I’m just not quite sure what to make of her sudden generosity. It makes me uncomfortable. Rand doesn’t seem to have a problem with it. I guess he has known her since he was a young boy and she is practically family to him in some ways. Still … I’m not sure how to respond sometimes and I wonder if I’m being grateful enough or not. I don’t want her to think I’m not appreciative. I’ve never had to deal with a situation like this. I knew there were people like her out there, I just never expected to meet one much less have to deal with their munificence (had to look that one up in the dictionary when Rand used it to describe Mrs. Withrow).

There was no fooling around once I arrived on her doorstep. Rand helped me down and handed me the basket I had brought; he had to get going as he had a full day of plowing ahead of him and he didn’t want to overwork the mules but he still took the time to remind me no heavy lifting, that he would get it when he came to pick me up. He turned the mules and was off down the road heading to the Reardon’s back forty.

I must have looked pretty unusual because Mrs. Withrow started laughing when she’d gotten her first good look at me. Instead of my jeans I had decided to wear a pair of the overalls that I had salvaged all those months ago. They were husky-size boys overalls; bigger in the waist than I needed yet but short in the leg. The warm socks I had knitted for myself from scraps of yarn showed above the tops of my work boots. Under the overalls I had a long john shirt with a t-shirt over that and I topped off my ensemble with an old, faded flannel shirt. My accessories included a couple of bandanas, a pair of goggles, and a pair of gloves that hung out of my back pocket.

So … I wouldn’t exactly have won a beauty contest with the outfit but I was warm and comfortable and that was about all I cared about at that point. I struck a pose and she just laughed harder then shook her head and said, “My lands child you couldn’t have caught me more off guard with that get up had you tried.”

As we climbed the stairs she told me what she had been doing. She seemed to be rejuvenated, as if the decluttering and moving to the little house had somehow given her years back that the burden of taking care of the big house had stolen from her. “I was a little sore yesterday but I’m in fine fiddle today. If we only get half the attic done I’ll be more than satisfied. I was going to work on the attic myself but I was afraid of getting up there and something happening and no one being around to know it. I may be a bit paranoid but I had Josiah … that’s the Halverston boy I was telling you about … take the door knob off the door and just to be double sure it doesn’t close and stick on us I’ve got a wedge to put under the door as well.”

The attic didn’t look much better than I’d seen it except that Josiah had also managed to get the nails out of the nearest window so that it could be raised and lowered. It wouldn’t stay up, I guess the sash was broken, so I put a couple of bug chewed books to prop it open about six inches. It was more than a little cool outside but there was just enough wind to draw the worst of the dust out.

The first thing I did was sweep and dust so we could see what we were getting into. I had Mrs. Withrow go back down the stairs a bit while I put on my goggles and pulled the bandana up over my nose and mouth. When I was finished with a five by ten area I called her back up. “Gracious! You look like you’ve been in a dust storm child. Here, drink this cup of tea to clear your throat.” I took it gratefully while we both looked around.

A lot of what was up in the attic had deteriorated over the years. Anything of fabric that hadn’t been protected by moth balls or cedar chests was moth eaten or dry rotted. There wasn’t any saving it. I learned what “shattered silk” was and learned that once that starts happening there is no way to repair it; pieces like that went right into the burn barrel in the back yard. I also found out that “book worms” are real and the bane of many book collectors; they burrow through pages of old books, magazines and catalogs at an alarming rate. More than a few old paperbacks and farming catalogs went into the barrel.

Actually bookworms are insects like book lice and silverfish. Mrs. Withrow said she used to keep mugwort, wormwood and a solution of borax on the library shelves to keep those bugs away. The idea of all of my cookbooks and our library getting eaten up by insect type critters gives me the heebie jeebies. I’ve still got two five gallon buckets of borax so I guess I better get to putting that stuff where it will do some good.

Also into the burn barrel went nearly a hundred years of business papers and ledgers. “The important ones are tucked into my cedar chest in the little house. Mr. Withrow made sure of that as soon as he found out his cancer was terminal. The rest of this might be a curiosity to a family historian but since there aren’t any around I’m declaring it flotsam and jettisoning it.”

I’d sweep an area clear and we’d go through it with Mrs. Withrow deciding what she wanted to do with various things or writing on cards and tying them to various items that were too heavy for us to move far … or move at all in some cases. Every once in a while she would start looking through a piece of furniture, trunk, or chest and get this far away look on her face; but then she would shake her head and get this ruthless look on her face and start pitching things. “I do believe Rand had a good idea about taking this stuff to the swap meet - George has agreed to loan me Brendon and one of his large wagons - but I’m of a mind to let others handle the disposal. I’m not saying I couldn’t do it but I don’t want to be tempted to keep things back just out of sentiment or because I might not be partial to the person looking to haul something off.”

Lots of commonsense in that in my opinion. That’s why a lot of people used to prefer to have an objective third party handle estate sales according to Aunt Wilma. She loved estate sales and when I was in my wheelchair I was her captive and was forced to travel to many of them all over the Tampa Bay area sitting there people watching. It wasn’t always pretty. The family, especially if they were sentimental, generally thought things were worth more than they actually were. Sometimes whoever was handling the sell actually requested that the family not attend so that sales could be made more quickly. It was awful to watch people cry as other people bought their relative’s things or watched them being auctioned off for pennies on the dollar.

I was thinking on this, trying to figure out where to put a dress form with an impossibly small waist, when Mrs. Withrow exclaimed, “Well, will you look at this.”

I turned around to find her unwinding an old blanket from what looked like a large pile of rust. Turns out it was a cast iron stove and a bunch more cast iron cook ware. “Do you think Rand could move this?” she asked pointing at the stove.

“Not without some help. That thing must weigh a ton. Will it even fit through the door?”

“If it is dismantled it should. If we can, I believe I’ll have Josiah move the pot belly stove into my bedroom and set this one up … it needs cleaning and blackening badly … into the front room in its place. I believe it should fit although I may need to protect the walls somehow. I’ve got some extra stove board out in the barn that should work.”

Whoever gets Mrs. Withrow’s honey-do list is in for a pretty big surprise. I had a few surprises of my own coming. “Child, when Rand gets here remind me to have him carry these cast iron pieces down to put in your wagon. You are going to need to clean them and reseason them but they should still have years of life left in them.”

“But … but … you’ve already given us several pieces. Don’t you think … “

“No I don’t so stop fussing. I said I want you to have these pieces and I don’t want to hear another thing about it. Look at this. I haven’t seen a Dutch oven this big since I was a girl. And here is a spider that will let you cook bread in a fireplace with no problem at all. And look at this reflector oven. I can just remember my great grandmother using one of those when my mother was still alive. And a rotisserie. Each tool has its own use. You may not need them all the time, but when you need them you’ll be glad you have them.”

Some other “must haves” she gifted us with included some old milk cans, several wooden benches, and a portable secretary that she said belonged to some relative that had been an officer in the War Between the States. “I’ve wondered for years what happened to this. Mr. Withrow’s two sisters used to fight over it like a couple of dogs over a soup bone. My father in law must have grown tired of the bickering and hidden it up here.”

When she would tell stores like that it made me feel lost. She has all these stores of generations worth of people in her family. I feel like I was cut off and denied my family history. And it makes me wonder what has happened to them, if I will ever find out.

Up in the attic there were also tons of old children’s toys and games. “What on earth am I going to do with all of this?!” Mrs. Withrow asked temporarily overwhelmed at one point.

“If y’all are starting up a lending library, why don’t y’all start a game room or game closet or something for the children? Or you could scrap the game boxes and boards – some of these don’t look worth saving anyway – and keep the tokens and make up new games to use them with.”

“Hmmmm,” was all she replied but she did write something down in her notepad and have me set the games in a different pile downstairs.

If I haven’t mentioned it before Mrs. Withrow’s house is incredibly free of things that can make you scream and squeal. I asked her about it and she told me her husband’s grandmother had some kind of phobia about bugs and critters that didn’t belong in the house. When her husband built the house he had to keep this in mind and it is a very tightly built house. Trees and vines were also not allowed to grow too close to the house because it gave pests a bridge to get in.

“Oh the stories I used to hear my mother in law tell; I never met the old woman but everyone said she was a horrible tyrant. One day a week everyone on the farm had to stop and clean everything top to bottom. Her father had been a physician during the War Between the States and her mother had worked in one of the military hospitals of the day. They say she picked up the phobia from listening to her parents tell stories of infections and the dirt and filth that was taken for granted by then but which would kill someone faster than a wound alone would. The little house was actually built as a sick room. Anyone that was sick, even a simple summer cold, was banished from the house until she declared them fit enough to return. My husband was the only baby actually born in the big house and that was because his grandmother was away taking some cure or other down in Sulfur Springs. You know what she wound up dying from child? From arsenic poisoning from handling all the poisons and such that she used to kill and keep pests out of the house. My father in law would always say there was a lesson in the story for a thinking person.”

Um, yeah. Pretty gruesome but I guess those things happened a lot back then. I guess the only thing I had to worry about was being crushed by all the junk up in that attic as I tried to make room to move. Looking in the mirror last night I could see my hips and thighs are still bruised. I would shift what I could using my legs as we moved deeper into the gloom at the other end of the attic. There was simply wall-to-wall stuff. There were only a few items we were able to dig out and move ourselves; large embroidery hoops on stands, quilting frames of various sizes, a loom, a canvas bag full of wooden spindles that I think were for spinning, a hat rack and umbrella stand. We drug old rugs wrapped in heavy paper down the stairs and out to the yard to be unwrapped and evaluated. Only one in three were salvageable and most were damaged in some way before they were put in storage.

“Mrs. Withrow, don’t take this the wrong way, but why would your family save a rug with a big burn spot in the middle like that? Especially if your husband’s grandmother was that crazy about bugs and stuff getting in the house?”

“Child, the mindset of the old folks was different from what we think of these day. There weren’t stores like there used to be. For example, look at this one here. Likely this was a mail order item and quite expensive when new. They probably thought it could be repaired at some point or used for something else. You simply didn’t throw things away when I was a girl, you would have been considered a scandalous wastrel.”

Well there were no scandalous wastrels in the Withrow family, that’s for darn sure. We both needed a break and decided to stop for lunch even though it was still shy of when I would normally have served it. As a surprise I had brought shredded pork sandwiches and a wedge of homemade cheese for us to share.

“Honey, you didn’t have to do this.”

“No ma’am, but I made a basket up for Rand just in case and decided to go ahead and use the leftovers for us. By the way, Rand was wondering … “

“Well tell the boy to stop his wondering, I’m well taken care of in that department. Josiah’s father always makes sure I get a share of what he plants on the rented land and my own little garden did well enough for my needs. I do enjoy that applesauce you made and wouldn’t say no to a jar if you have one to spare. I like to use it in my baking when I don’t have oil.” Rand took a couple of jars over to her the next day and I was glad to find something that she needed. I like Mrs. Withrow but feeling this indebted gives me hives.

After lunch we managed to empty the old chiffarobes and armoires. Several trunks still needed investigating but Mrs. Withrow decided to do those on her own during the week. The wind suddenly turned damp and chilly and drove us out of the attic. I shut the window and we went back downstairs and since the sky looked threatening I drug the rugs out of the yard. The worst ones were left on the porch and the better ones I pulled into the house even though they still needed to be beaten out. As we headed to the kitchen to warm up Mrs. Withrow said, “My guess is Rand will be here shortly. If feels like rain on the wind. Did you put a tarp in the wagon?”

“Yes ma’am; ropes and bungee cords too.”

“Good, good. I had Josiah put these planks here so Rand could use them to load the wagon.”

What she planned on Rand loading into the wagon included several trunks, a wooden filing cabinet, a large butcher block, and a bunch of boxes and bags. Every time I started to look in them to see what they held she’d have me doing something else. It was frustrating and what made it worse was that I realized she was doing it on purpose.

Mrs. Withrow was right as usual. Rand arrived forty-five minutes later just ahead of a rain that was so light it was barely a mist, but the clouds promised it wasn’t going to stay that way. Rand’s race was as forbidding as the clouds so we loaded as quickly as we could and headed home.

I gave Rand some space and he finally sighed and asked, “You know what I spent half the day doing?”

Well obviously I didn’t so I let him keep going without interruption. “I moved the plow over to Uncle George’s thinking I would save some time and that it would be safe. I show up this morning and it wasn’t where I left it. It wasn’t in the shape I left it either when I eventually found it in the field where it had been left. Brendon and Jonathon used it but swear they didn’t do the damage. There were two broken pins and the blow looks like it has been drug through gravel.”

“What?! Surely they wouldn’t lie about something like that?” I exclaimed.

“They admit borrowing it without permission and admit they got so busy they forgot to bring it back to the barn where I had put it. They didn’t think it was in any danger because they pushed it back in some trees and tied it to a tree. You can see where someone else took it and pulled it across the road. I followed the path and it led to a field behind the Gilkins place. I confronted Lucretia but she claimed not to know anything about it. Then I caught Lemuel – his surname is Potters by the way – trying to take off unseen and when I questioned him I caught him in a lie. Then he tried to pass it off by claiming that Brendon had given him permission to use it but that he hadn’t been the one to break it, that it had been broken when he tried to use it which was why he returned it and had lied about it because he didn’t want any more trouble with any of us.”

I listened to the rest of the details getting angry myself.

“I got it fixed Babe but I’ve locked the equipment so that it can’t be moved out of Reardon’s barn. I’ve got to go back tomorrow to finish which means I’ve got to put off Mr. Coffey and Mr. Henderson which means you’re gonna have to wait for me to open up that new garden. I’m sorry, I just don’t see any way around it.”

“Oh Rand, that’s all right, we’ll make do until you can. It’s more important you get your other stuff done in time to meet your commitments.”

“I should have done our field first, I just didn’t think … and I’m mad as … well, I’m mad. That was irresponsible of Brendon and Jonathon. Brendon I might have expected it from but not Jonathon … and Jonathon acted all holier than thou. I’m hacked. Brendon came over later and apologized again and asked if there was anything he could do. I figured it was mostly my fault for letting it happen by not saying anything in the first place.”

“What did Uncle George have to say?”

“He tore Brendon and Jonathon both a new one and he helped me to manufacture some new pins using some spares he had for the big tractors. They work for which I’m grateful. I don’t know what we would have done otherwise.”

We were both quiet for a while and then Rand went, “Um, there’s another thing.”

Something on his face told me he hated to tell me this even more than about the plow. “What?”

“Well, when I was angry and working on the plow Missy came over and brought me something to drink. I wasn’t really paying any attention to what she was saying. Being caught up between trying to fix the plow and trying not to look at how big she has gotten I just let her talk and would occasionally nod and shake my head when it seemed like she expected it. Then she gives me a hug and walks away like I’d done her a big favor. Brendon must have come around then … that’s when he apologized the second time … and he asked, ‘You don’t know what you just said yes to do you?’ Well, for a fact I didn’t. When he told me … please don’t cry Kiri, I didn’t mean to.”

“Mean to what?” I asked started to get worried.

“She’s going to be over in the morning and I agreed that you’d help her repair a bunch of the clothing that has come into the Shack so that it can go back out.”

I got hung up between being mad that he’d agreed to something like that without even asking me and laughing at the way he was squinting like he expected me to hit him or explode. Lucky for him he looked pretty funny. I figured there wasn’t much choice at this point so I gave in more gracefully than I would have even a few months ago but I asked him to please not make a habit of it. The look he gave me after that said he didn’t know whether it was a good thing or not that I was letting him off the hook. I left him wondering; no sense in giving all my girl secrets away.

The sky picked that moment to open up and really dump on us. Rand only had a brimmed hat and coat to cover up with. He made me put the wagon blanket over myself but all it did was slow the rain down some, I was still as soaked as he was by the time we got home; soaked and freezing.

Rand pulled the wagon up to the porch and then helped me down before unhitching the mules and taking them to the barn to take care of them after their hard day at work and subsequent bath in the cold rain. I got the front door opened up and prayed that the tarp didn’t have any pinholes in it to let in the rain that kept coming down by the bucket full. As soon as I was in the house I headed to the kitchen to put a kettle on and then started a fire in the wood stove in our room. I stripped, dried off and got some dry things on but I didn’t bother cleaning up the mess that had been tracked in the house until Rand came in and did the same.

Dinner was Spanish style stew; basically a beef stew with raisins and capers cooked in it. Rand like the raisins, the capers not so much. I guess that it s a good thing since I’m on my last little jar of capers. I know you can make “poor man’s capers” using nasturtium buds but I’m still looking for the recipe after I misfiled it.

The rain finally quit midway through dinner and the sky lightened just enough that we got most of the stuff off the wagon without having to light a lamp. Nothing got wet thank goodness, but it did have to sit there since I was too tired to do anything with it. Whether I had company coming or not I was all done in and cold from the soaking we’d both gotten.

Yesterday morning came too soon. I really had the pukes and couldn’t even face the kitchen. Rand scrambled himself an egg and ate some toast from a loaf of bread I had made a few days earlier. I kept telling him I was sorry and he kept telling me not to worry about it. I swear I will never laugh at even the idea of morning sickness ever, ever again. Every time I think I’ve got this stuff licked it turns around and comes back even worse than before. Rand thinks it only hits me bad when I’m over tired. Six of one, half a dozen of another; does it really matter? It still bites really bad.

Rand and Missy … who brought Alicia with her … passed each other at the front gate, or so they told me. They had brought bags and bags of stuff with them and I knew right off there was no way we were going to get it all finished and I told them as much.

Missy just breezed out with, “Oh I know that, I just wanted to make sure we didn’t run out of things to do.”

I looked at Alicia as if to ask her if Missy had lost her mind sometime recently. She turned a laugh into a cough to keep from setting Missy off and we pulled clothing and linens out of the first bag and got started.

What a mess. I must be some kind of vain because I was complaining about not having the right clothes and here there are clothes that barely qualify for the title and people were wearing them and gladly. Alicia’s hands were swollen so she wanted to know if I minded if she worked the treadle. After I saw her hands I said she’d better and she better stop eating so much salt or she was going to blow up like a balloon or worse. “Oh poo on you. That’s what Pastor Ken said. Stuff just doesn’t taste right if there isn’t salt in it.”

“Well, I always knew the Pastor had good sense,” I fired right back at her. “Remind me to give you a bottle of sea salt I have. I’m not sure if you can use it to preserve stuff but it is supposed to be better for you because it is more balanced than table salt which has been stripped of all other minerals. I don’t think it takes as much sea salt to make things taste ‘salty’ either which means you would be eating less and getting the same flavor. If Pastor says that it is out with the salt all together you better listen to him. I have a couple of salt-substitute recipes that we can make up and use to flavor stuff with if it comes to that.”

Alicia gave a fake dramatic sigh, laughed, and then we all got down to business. Missy’s job was to go through each bag, put matching items together, and then iron them or whatever else needed doing so that we could start the repairs. My job was to do the hand work.

One of the things that I did was instead of trying to sew torn collars back onto t-shirts I would take the collar off and then put a blanket stitch around the edge to keep it from unraveling. Same thing on some of the sleeve ends. Alicia couldn’t believe how fast I could do a blanket stitch and a button hole by hand. I explained I’d learned in self defense when Momma would make things for the children’s home at Christmas time when I was growing up. “I had to complete so many before I could go play or do whatever and they had to be done right or Momma would make me take them out and do them over. It didn’t matter how long it took I still had to do the number that she set. The faster I could get them correctly finished the quicker I could go do something else.”

When a shirt or dress had a hole in it too big to sew shut we used fusable interfacing to put appliqués on to hide the hole or Alicia would just sew the appliqué in place if it was a big enough hole. We saved all the scraps of material we cut as you never knew when they’d come in handy for another garment’s repair. Some of the pieces were just to ruined to fix and we would take everything off of it, especially buttons, that was still useable.

Some of the items were in good condition; they just had a stain … usually sweat stains. I made up a big tub out on the porch using vinegar and water. More often than not that took care of most of the stains, especially on colored clothes. On something white we made up a solution of half water and half hydrogen peroxide and left it to soak for thirty minutes and then laundered normally.

Out of the blue Missy asks me, “What are you and Rand doing for underwear? That is what we get asked for the most.”

After I was able to breathe again after get caught off guard I said, “I take care of … um … repairs and stuff as soon as they need it. Sometimes I have to let things soak … you know cause they get dirty or whatever. We’re down a few pairs but so far so good.” Missy always hits you out of left field with the most personal questions.

“Well I can tell you there are more than a few people around here going commando. If I could figure out a way to get more bras and panties we’d make a killing.”

I gave that one some thought … and tried to stay away from wondering exactly who was going commando these days. “In the old days they used to make bloomers or tap pants with draw strings, and brassieres you could make pretty easy if you used a bathing suit top pattern and just do ties instead of hooks.”

Missy and Alicia looked at each other and then looked at me. “Oh no. No, no, no. I’ve got enough to do without designing women’s lingerie.”

Alicia laughed but Missy said, “You really should think about it Kiri. You could really have something to trade at the swap meets.” Yeah, I need more work like I need a hole in the head. I need to think about clothes for me before I start thinking about other people’s underwear. These overalls will do for now but as fast as my gut is expanding they won’t last more than a month or two at most. And I’m starting to expand in other areas too. Rand might be fascinated with what is happening but I assure you I am not. I already have enough trouble finding shirts that fit I don’t need any other problems like that.

I knew Rand was going to be away for lunch; I packed the leftover stew from the previous night into a thermos for his lunch. It took me a long time to decide what I was going to do for lunch since I was going to have guests. I asked Rand if he minded if I started using up the last of the Ramen noodles and he looked at me like I was crazy for asking. “Babe, you are queen of the kitchen. You do what you think best.”

Once upon a time we had literally piles of those cellophane wrapped packages. Now we are down to a few cases but that might be too many unless we start eating them pretty quickly. I found out the hard way when I was still living with Aunt Wilma that Ramen noodles can go rancid and the packages we have are getting pretty far outside their “best used by” date.

For lunch I fixed “Stir Fry Noodles and Rice” and had already assembled all of the ingredients before I started so that no one would see what was in our pantry. I know that sounds paranoid especially considering that Missy and Alicia are supposed to be family but I’ve found a little paranoia can keep you healthy and out of trouble. The servings I made weren’t huge but I had a loaf of banana bread that I made using some of our banana chips that had gotten a little too limp and sticky to eat out of hand. The dessert rounded out the meal and I just told the girls that I had used banana flavoring and a regular quick bread recipe and they bought it.

For the stir fry you need the following: 1 package Ramen noodles (chicken) , 1 cup plain white rice , 1 can tomatoes (any kind) , 1 can veggie of choice, 1 can chicken soup, 1 can chicken, 1/2 tsp. garlic pepper, 1/2 tsp. chili pepper, 1/2 tsp. Creole pepper (if you want some heat), 1 bay leaf (optional), and 1 or 2 tablespoons of oil.

First you start by draining the water from the tomatoes, chicken and your veggie of choice. Use the liquid from the cans or jars to cook the rice and noodles in a fairly good sized sauce pot with the tomatoes and spices. Make sure you have enough liquid for the rice and noodles. While the rice and noodles are cooking, brown the chicken a little bit on a skillet. So far, this should take no more than 10 minutes, however check the noodle and rice packaging for appropriate cooking times, and go with the longer time of the two. Remove the bay leaf when the water is pretty well absorbed. Put the rice/noodle/tomato mix on the chicken, and pour the veggies in. Heat everything up well and then plate it up using tongs or a spaghetti scoop to keep from stringing the noodles all over the place, they can be a mess.

In the middle of the meal Missy asked if I had more pasta as it is always in short supply. All I said was, “I’m using the last to avoid it going rancid. Want my recipe for egg noodles?”

That distracted her enough to get her away from what I considered a dangerous subject and Alicia gave me a half wink over her head. I really like Alicia. We may be the opposite of each other in many ways but we have a lot in common too; we are both inside outsiders to the family.

When Missy stepped outside to go through a couple more bags and to check on the whites that were soaking Alicia said, “Brendon feels really bad about what happened with the plow Kiri. Is … is Rand still furious?”

I thought about it a second and then told her, “Well, he isn’t happy but if it doesn’t happen again he’ll get over it. Rand doesn’t carry grudges from what I’ve seen, especially not with family.”

“That’s a relief. Father is still very upset and keeps checking up on Brendon and Jonathon to make sure they’ve put everything away just right. Brendon is a nervous wreck and could barely sleep last night.”

“I don’t mean to rub it in but the plow thing was pretty bad Alicia. And Uncle George doesn’t seem like the easiest man to get along with at the best of times.”

“Oh, he’s not that bad but he can wear on your nerves if you are over sensitive; he’s certainly nowhere near as bad as my dad was. I keep reminding Brendon of that any time he starts complaining about how Father can be so critical.”

“Critical; that’s a good word for it. The way he used to be with Rand, the way he can still be, nearly had me exploding a few times.”

“Of Rand? You’re kidding. All he ever does is sing Rand’s praises. Rand straightened up his act. Rand went to college. Rand didn’t have to get married. Rand has his own land.”

“No … way. To be honest I’m surprised that he said anything at all to Jonathon. All I’ve ever heard is that Jonathon walks on water. And Brendon is THE son and seems to have gotten away with everything.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously. I’m not joking. You remember that tiff that Uncle George and I had. I didn’t say it because the way he was treating Rand was nice. It was really tearing Rand up inside when he let himself think about it. I think half Rand’s problems growing up was because of all the criticism and thinking that he couldn’t do any better because that’s all he ever heard … from Uncle George, from Mr. Winston, from a lot of people. If it hadn’t been for Momma O and her husband and Mr. and Mrs. Withrow who knows what path Rand would have eventually chosen.”

“I had no idea. That’s not the way Brendon remembers it. Oh sure, he said Rand used to get into a lot of trouble but he always stood up and paid for the situations without asking anyone for anything. He worked for his own money and threw the allowance Uncle George tried to give him back in his face. He worked hard and played hard, was popular, had the prettiest girlfriend in schoo … uh … “

“Don’t sweat it Alicia, I know what you mean. Julia is pretty.”

“Julia was pretty. Have you seen her lately? She doesn’t look anything like when we were in school. All her highlights have grown out. She doesn’t wear make up any more. She always looks tired and …”

“Pretty is different now. I saw her last Church service. She’s got nice bones and as soon as the baby is sleeping through the night she probably won’t look so tired.”

“You’re right and I’m being an awful jealous cat. I just envied her and those girls she hung out with, like Cassie. Some of the things my Dad used to make me wear to school … I don’t even want to think about it. I’m married with a baby on the way and I work from sun up til the sun goes down and I still have more freedom than what I had living in Dad’s house. I shouldn’t be so catty anymore.”

“I guess all our lives are different.”

“For a fact. Look, just do me a favor please. Tell Rand that Brendon is really sorry about what happened. Rand is kind of a hero to him and he hates it when they are on the outs. He couldn’t even eat breakfast this morning worrying how Rand was going to feel about him coming over to Mr. Reardon’s and talking to him.”

“I’ll tell him but I think Brendon is … I don’t know … over reacting or something.”

“I don’t think so. I know that Father loves Brendon and so Brendon knows this too but it was always Rand that was there for him when things got rough with Mrs. Crenshaw. If you think Father is something else you would have thought he was a saint compared to Brendon’s mom. I remember her and she was nice … but cold too. She could be real cutting. I think that is why she and Mrs. Winston got along so well, they were two of a kind.”

“That I didn’t know. Rand has said some things that made me wonder but he never had anything bad to say about her. In fact he said that Uncle George doted on her and that is why when she died that Uncle George changed.”

“Yeah, that’s some of it. And I’m not saying Father isn’t a good man, just … I guess we can criticize anybody if we look at things close enough and I’m guessing Father only thinks he is trying to help and doesn’t see how his criticism hurts as bad as it does.”

“Yeah. I think I … um … kinda set him off when I brought it to his attention a couple of times.”

Alicia laughed and said, “Oh you could say that, I’m sure.”

We didn’t have any more time to talk because Missy was calling us to help her bring in the next batch of things to repair but she had given me stuff to think about … and maybe point out to Rand when he gets in a listening mood. The rest of the afternoon passed quickly and then it was time for them to pack up and head home.

“I’ll see you soon I hope. I need to get home so that Laurabeth doesn’t have to get dinner by herself.”

Missy grumbled, “No, we wouldn’t want the princess to have to do anything by herself now would we.”

“Missy, don’t be that way. You know that Laurabeth’s back is really hurting.”

“Yeah and I told her if she and Jonathon would just try a different posi … “

Alicia and I both shouted, “Missy!” at the same time.

“Lord, what a couple of prudes,” she said as she rolled her eyes. “Come on Alicia, let’s go before Daddy sends someone out to look for us.”

No wonder she and Bill needed their own house. If they hadn’t someone would likely have killed Missy by now. I’m honestly surprised Bill hasn’t but he seems to get a kick out of the ruckus she creates. Each to his own I suppose.

I cleaned and swept all the bits and pieces that had been left on the floor, started dinner, and was just on the point of getting worried when Rand drove up with the team and wagon. Over dinner Rand told me about his day. “Reardon’s field is done and I’ve moved the plow to Mr. Coffey’s. I would have been back sooner but you know how it is once he starts talking. Reardon paid me in sausage – I hung them in the smokehouse – and with five gallons of honey he got from his hives over the summer. Mr. Coffey offered me some tobacco he’d grown but it didn’t thrill me any so his son said he’d help enlarge the cooler and we’ll get a little feed for the animals as well. They plan on marketing some of their tobacco at the swap meet to see if it is worth the hassle of growing it next season. I know we could take the tobacco in payment and then trade it to someone else but right now I’d rather not trade for something I can’t or don’t use myself in case we get stuck with it.”

“Sounds good as long as you and the team aren’t working too hard to get it.”

“No, Bud and Lou can pull forever on a fallow field so long as the tree sprouts aren’t too bad and Reardon’s was only a season or two off cycle. Mr. Coffey could do his own fields but he doesn’t want to over work his team since they are older. Henderson on the other hand, that’s going to be a job. His men have had to cut down trees and take out stumps by hand and they’ve had to lever out some good sized pieces of limestone too. I’m going to have to go slow in case there are any big stones still hidden.”

“Why doesn’t he spend some of that diesel he is supposed to have stockpiled and run a tractor through there?”

“Cost versus benefit. Listening to Mitch it sounds like it has taken a lot more fuel to keep their generators going than expected. Plus I think they’ve been trading some fuel with someone … and no, I don’t know who … to keep their supply of ammunition up. You know that Bill and Clyde have done the same thing to get reloading supplies in.”

“Let me guess, Ram has something to do with it.”

“Well, no one has said but he seems pretty well known by certain people if you catch my meaning.”

“Oh I catch it all right. And he’s going to catch it next time I see him. He better not be a black marketer. If he is doing it with his commander’s blessings that is one thing but the last thing that hombre loco needs is to get into something that is just as likely to get him killed as it is to make him rich. But it sounds just like him.”

“Don’t forget, I get front row seats when you do. Should make for some pretty spectacular fireworks.”

I was going to sit down for a minute and write in my journal before starting on the stuff that I still hadn’t looked at from Mrs. Withrown but I wound up falling asleep instead. All I remember is being cold until Rand came to bed and after that I was so tired I didn’t even hear whether Rand snored or not.

This morning I spent an hour trying and failing not to puke again. Rand told me that I’m in the minority; most women get over their morning sickness once their first trimester is over with. That just makes me feel all kinds of special … not.

After Rand left the crisp morning air helped clear my head. The garden is looking good. I pulled the few weeds that are popping up and put a couple of wheelbarrows full of mulch in the places it was showing thin. I paid some much delayed attention to Woofer and Fraidy’s fur coats and then I came in and started on the stuff from Mrs. Withrow.

It was like Christmas all over again. One of the trunks held nothing but enamelware and not just the traditional blue speckleware either though that was most of it. There were serving pieces, a colander, another big cowboy coffee pot, mugs, tumblers, bowls, you name it; there were even some spoons and ladles. In the bottom of the trunk was a box and Mrs. Withrow had put a note in there and said that the box held several children’s dish sets and when I opened the box I saw that it was an eight place setting and the designs were all children’s fairytales.

Another trunk held large baking and serving pieces made of ceramic, glass, porcelain, or clay. There were a lot of Pyrex baking pieces but there were also some huge platters and bowls too. There was also a couple of different size clay baking dishes by Romertopf; Aunt Wilma had a couple of these too.

In and around all of the dishes she had crammed all kinds of linens including a bunch of pot holders to keep things from clinking together. One of the large pitchers was full of old lace collars and frilly handkerchiefs, so pretty I could hardly imagine using them.

Likewise all of the pieces like the chiffarobe was crammed full of stuff. The chest o’ drawers was full of sewing notions, thread, elastic, trimmings, hemming tape and I still don’t know what all as I dumped it all in a basket and set it upstairs in the craft room to be divided up into the right drawer and container on a rainy day. It was the last and biggest trunk that choked me up the most. Inside, was her big company tea set, the storage box with her good silver, some pretty filigree picture frames, and some old baby toys like a real stainless steel rattle and a crib mobile that she said had been her oldest son’s. In one of the picture frames was a photo of Mrs. Withrow standing beside a man that had to have been her husband. Between the two stood Rand, he couldn’t have been much more than twelve or thirteen. He was holding a trophy and it was plain obvious he’d been in some kind of pie eating contest as his face was still covered with it though it was his huge grin that you noticed more than anything else.

I put the picture on the mantel beside the picture of my parents and when Rand saw it he laughed so hard and long his sides hurt. He remembers that day in great detail. He also mentioned that it was right before Mr. Withrow’s cancer went terminal. I’ll treasure that picture forever.


January 19th – Rand was able to get most of the plowing done for Mr. Coffey. He’ll have to go back on Monday. He would have finished it up tomorrow but tomorrow is the Swap Meet and I guess we are both excited to go. Mr. Coffey said himself that he was going and that there was no sense in Rand trying to finish it up before next week. Mr. Coffey won’t work on the Sabbath, just plain won’t so there isn’t any need to worry about that. If the weather holds then he’ll finish Mr. Coffey’s fields on Monday morning and then head straight to the field that Mr. Henderson’s men are working on and likely he’ll be at that most of next week.

Speaking of, I had another visitor today; two really. Cassie Henderson came by with an escort in tow. “Um, hi Kiri, I heard … oh my goodness, you really are aren’t you?”

Assuming she meant that I was pregnant I said, “Nope, I swallowed one too many watermelon seeds and someone started a rumor. Isn’t if awful?”

It took her a second to uncross her eyes where I had caught her. I don’t think she thought I had a sense of humor. I’ll admit it doesn’t come out often and when it does it is squeaky and rusty but it does peek out on occasion.

“Well, yeah. Ok. I guess … um … You know, people also think you’re a little crazy and that comment would have only egged them on,” she smiled.

“Did you need anything specific?”

“Actually Poppy wanted me to come by since Rand wasn’t around and he might not appreciate some man dropping by unannounced.”

I just raised my eyebrows and waited until she eventually got around to a point.

“Yeah, anyway … Poppy said to tell you to be careful. There’s been a few beggars around. They aren’t locals even though they claim to be. No one that has seen them knows them and those that they’ve run into claim they are pretty aggressive. Poppy said you shouldn’t be outside unless you’re armed.”

“Tell your grandfather that I never go anywhere unarmed anymore,” showing her the pistol I carried in the holster under my jacket. “But also tell him I appreciate sending you to tell me. All we need around here is more trouble. You’d figure people would be too worried about surviving to waste their time fighting over other people’s belongings.”

“Tell me about it, we get a lot of them down at the ranch. Most of them are locals and it is pretty sad. One of the reasons that Poppy is opening up that new field is to give some of those men a chance to bring in some food for their families. There’s been a few grumbles about him bringing in Rand to do the plowing. They think it is taking work away from them and these days work means food.”

“Well, would they rather use picks and shovels to turn that sand and clay? If they let Rand in to do his job they can go about getting their job done better.”

“Desperate folks aren’t always that logical Kiri,” she told me suddenly sounding a whole lot older than she had been before. “Poppy isn’t being totally altruistic though. If his men don’t have to do the grunt work they can spend more time patrolling and salvaging.”

“Salvaging?”

“Um … yeah … about that … “

“Don’t sweat it. I’ll just ask Rand. I’m sure that Mitch has said something to him,” I said trying to edge a little more information out of her just in case Mitch hadn’t said anything.

“Maybe. I don’t suppose it is a state secret or anything. Poppy has been sending teams out to do some salvaging and to make contact with some … traders. Yeah, that’s what he called them, traders.”

“Ram Diaz wouldn’t just happen to be one of these traders would he?”

“Well, sure. Ram put Poppy in contact with some people all over the state.” But she was done “sharing” and decided she needed to be on her way leaving me to get back to deciding what, if anything, I was going to take to the swap meet.

When Rand came home and after he had time to wash up and relax a bit after dinner I told him what Cassie had said. “Cassie has a big mouth. Mitch hasn’t said anything to me but I’ve heard enough that I’d surmised that is what he’s been doing. Do you know how many people live on the ranch? It wouldn’t surprise me if you included the kids that the number would be over a hundred. That’s a lot of people to feed and clothe and supply with guns and ammo the way he does. Don’t say anything to anyone else and I’ll see what I can find out next week. I’d like to know where Ram fits into this. I know he’s your ‘brother’ and appreciate the stuff he has just given to us but I don’t want it if he’s got blood on his hands.”

Ram’s a survivor. He’s probably done some pretty … well … bad stuff. I have too if you want to look at it like that. I don’t think … no, I don’t want to believe that he would be trading in blood like a common pirate but Rand’s right, we need to know for sure. The trick is going to be asking him without hurting his feelings. He has been awful good to us.

I’m heading to bed early and for once the sheets won’t be cold and clammy; I used that hot iron and yowzer … hot, hot, hot. Rand will be here shortly too so I’m signing off here. We need to be up early if we want to make the swap meet before lunch time.

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