Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chapter Ten

Chapter 10

I spend more time trying to figure out what I’m going to do than I spend actually doing it. Take yesterday for example. I woke up, fixed some “scrambled eggs” using this powder from Provident Pantry, and then spent a while deciding whether I was actually going to eat them or not. They were pretty gross but I settled on not wasting food; I don’t think I cooked them right or something. Then I wasted time wondering whether I should dirty an extra dish or not. I wound up just eating them right out of the pan. Those were the little things. And right when I think I make the right choice I find out I forgot something important so I wind up having to figure something else out.

After breakfast I wasted time trying to figure out what to do next. I looked at my list and the two things I needed to do most was gather wood so I could have a cooking fire and make myself go check out at least one of the three houses on the other properties. I picked to gather wood and then had to decide did I want big wood or little wood. I decided on the little wood like from tree trash because I don’t need a big fire, I just need something I can heat water on or do some minor cooking on. I picked up wood for a while until I got hot and hungry again.

I brought in some of the wood and started a fire in the fireplace easy enough but the house started smelling and getting smoky. I finally remembered there was a leaver you have to pull before you light the fire; it opens up something in the fireplace so the smoke can get out through the chimney. That helped but I had to open a couple of shutters and windows to get the house aired out. Plus, having a fire in the fireplace made the house hot and so did opening the windows and letting all the cool air out. As soon as all the smoke was gone I shut the windows and closed the shutters and locked them back tight. I cleaned out the leftover ashes out of the fireplace and dumped them in the coal bucket outside. By then I was really hungry so I ate my last can of ravioli instead.

Then I went back outside to gather some more wood while I figured out a solution to my problems. From now on, unless it is raining or something, I am going to build the fire outside in the BBQ grill. I’ll just need to be real careful and not build a smoky fire.

After I stopped wood gathering I realized that I still hadn’t gone over to any of the houses to check them out. I knew I couldn’t be a chicken. I had considered waiting until it was dark but since my headlamp was out of batteries and the mag flashlight has been iffy ever since it got dunked I figured that it wouldn’t be a good thing to try stumbling around in the night. Besides I reasoned, I have to start being brave about stuff sooner or later. Oh, I can say I was brave for biking all the way from Tampa to Sparkleberry Ranch but I don’t think that was really being brave so much as it was being desperate. I believe God looked after me to get me here but now that I am here I’m having a hard time figuring out how much I’m supposed to start looking after myself.

I knew I needed to get going before it got any later in the day but I wasn’t planning on going without some kind of protection in case there were bad guys over there. I’d already given my guardian angel a work out. I took a knife out of the kitchen. I thought about taking the baseball bat that was in one of the bedroom closets but I figured if I had to run a knife would be easier to run with than a bat, although if I fell the bat would be better than the knife.

See, that’s part of what I mean about taking so long to think about doing something. I’m constantly debating whether do so something one way or to do it another … or to do it at all. I won lots of rounds on the debate team in highschool but this isn’t school, this is real life. I need to be able to make decisions faster but I also need to be discerning. I don’t have anyone to tell me what to do anymore. Gag, that sounds like something Aunt Wilma would say.

I finally decided to check the house out to the northeast of our forty. It is the one closest to my fence line and it is also the closest to US90. I also thought that if I go to the house I might to be able to see what has been going on close to the highway.

So I walked boldly to my fence, climbed over it, stiffened my spine and walked a few feet at which point I promptly lost my nerve and started cowering in the tall grass like a wuss. I had scared a bunch of quail and they jumped up in front of me. I felt pretty silly after I figured out what it was. Since I was already hiding in the tall grass I decided that it might be simpler if I continued to use it for cover and slowly edged up to the house the long way around.

When I got to the house I eased around to the front porch and decided to knock on the door. If someone was home it would at least show that I was trying to be polite and not a common criminal. Wasn’t hard to guess though that knocking was a silly idea; the storm door was broken and the glass crunched under my feet and the main door had been kicked in. The door was still on its hinges but there was a chunk of wood missing where the doorknob should have been. I used the toe of my shoe to push the door open and it made that sound effect noise that haunted houses use. The smell coming out of that place was pretty bad; smelled like a boy cat had gotten loose in there and marked his territory times a million. Even though the smell made my eyes water I went inside.

The house wasn’t very big so the kitchen was easy to find. Some of the cabinet doors were standing open and some weren’t but either way there wasn’t anything edible in them. There was a rank smell and it was coming from a refrigerator that had been left open. The frig had a couple of opened condiments in it but that was it.

I was totally disappointed. All those books and movies I used to read and watch always made it seem like all you had to do was find a few abandoned houses and you’d be set. The past two days has proven that is so not true. If my parents hadn’t been into the stuff they were into then I would really be up the creek without a paddle, canoe, or even a swimming suit. I figure I have about four months before I’m back to square one so between now and then I better come up with a plan.

The smell didn’t get any better when I went to see what was in the bedrooms and the bathroom. The beds were all messy and didn’t have any sheets on them and the mattresses were stained really bad. I put my hand over my nose and mouth ‘cause the smell was so strong. It was different from the smell in the front of the house but just as bad. There was no way anyone was living in this house which made me feel better about going through stuff. There was an adult bedroom, a boy bedroom, and a girl bedroom. The boy and girl bedrooms looked like they belonged to someone my age, especially the girl’s room. I could tell from the kind of clothes she had in her closet and all the makeup and jewelry that was on the dresser. There was also a highschool yearbook from last school year sitting on top of a stereo. There was a cheerleading uniform tossed over a desk chair … the kind you wear when the weather is cold so I guess whatever happened must have happened at least two months ago, maybe longer.

I needed clothes. I was embarrassed about pawing through this girl’s things but I needed clothes. It was a lost cause; I’m built like Momma and there is no way any of that girl’s under things were going to fit me unless I wanted to stop breathing. None of the clothes fit but I did find a couple of pairs of shoes that did and an unopened package of socks. She had other pretty things but taking them would have been too much like stealing. I didn’t need them so I made myself walk away. At least until I saw her school books stacked on the floor by the desk. I figured that was one thing that I wanted that I wouldn’t get in too much trouble for taking.

For clothes I had better luck in the boy’s room and what must have been the mom’s room. Didn’t look like there was a Dad living in the house. The boy was probably in middle school or maybe a freshman in highschool; some freshman boys can be small. I grabbed some flannel shirts off hangers, a jean jacket, a hunter’s jacket (the cloth material the jacket was made out of had deer and leaves all over it), and a pair of hunter’s overalls. It is getting too hot for most of that stuff but I will be able to use it when it cools off later in the year. I think I’m learning to think ahead. I looked under his bed but that was a mistake. It was really gross under there and I’m not sure it was just from stuff leaking all the way through the mattress. Middle school boys can be so nasty.

In the mom’s room I got some of those smocks and pants people wear when they work in a doctor’s office. They had some really goofy designs … there were fish, teddy bears, dancing toothbrushes, and some other cutesy things. I figured she must have worked in a dental office ‘cause no one wears shirts like that unless they have to. Nothing else would fit; it was either too big or too small in places that it was important that things fit right.

In the laundry room I lucked out and found a pair of work boots. They must have belonged to the boy. The boots kind of fit but kind of don’t either. My favorite phrase has become “beggars can’t be choosers.” The boots are better than having none at all so I need to be appreciative. That doesn’t mean I can’t keep looking though.

It was at that point that I realized I didn’t have anything to carry what I salvaged back home. It was stupid going over there expecting to find something and not taking a bag or the backpack to put it in. After a short but panicked search I found this thing hanging on the wall in the kitchen that was full of plastic grocery bags. I uncrumpled them and put what I had found in the bags then sat the bags on the back porch.

I decided that before I left I really, really needed to look over the whole house to make sure I got everything I could use. There was a bucket under the kitchen sink and some partially used cleaning chemicals. There were some scrub brushes, a mop, a couple of brooms, and a dust pan. In the bathroom there was a used bar of soap, some of those little decorative soaps shaped like seashells, some bath beads and bath salts, a plastic shower curtain, and some towels and wash rags. In the utility room there was an opened bottle of laundry detergent, another bucket, a great big jug of fabric freshener, an opened box of Borax, and an opened box of washing soda.

There were a lot of DVDs of movies I hadn’t ever seen but since I didn’t have any way to watch the DVDs I skipped over to the books. Mostly there were just those bodice rippers that Aunt Wilma used to like to read when she didn’t think anyone was paying attention. I did take the phone books that were sitting by the phone. I hope it doesn’t come to that but some paper will be better than none. Ew.

I had more than enough to take back home. First I took everything I had stacked on the porch and put it over the fence. Then I climbed over the fence and started carrying the stuff the rest of the way back to the house. After the first load I took the wheelbarrow back with me but it still took several loads to get it all home. I put wagon on my list, and I don’t mean a little red one like my brother used to have. I’d like to find one of those big ones like the tree nurseries use.

It wasn’t until I was home and thinking about going inside that I realized how much I smelled. And the stuff I had brought from that house smelled too. I got some empty hangers from the closet inside – another thing on my list to keep an eye out for sense they are so useful – strung a clothesline inside the barn and then hung up all the stuff on the hangers. Another item I added to my “grocery list” that day was clothes pins. Who knew that there were so many little things that you used every day and never thought about it? Then I sprayed everything with that fabric freshener. I checked the stuff today and it still stinks but not quite so bad.

Then I went inside and took a bath. It would have been nice to have a shower; maybe I can figure a way to rig one up. It would definitely be easier to wash my hair with a shower. I just about froze. The other thing I’m going to have to do is figure out some way to warm the water up but I don’t have all day to sit around heating water over a fire, not to mention all the wood that would take. That’s like a problem solving project in physics – transferring power without adding work. I think if I find a black container, put water in it, then sit it in the sun I should have warm water whenever I need it. It may not be really hot but it sure as shooting has got to be warmer than the water is when it comes out of the pump.

I slept good that night because I finally had a good meal. I mean who can mess up rice and beans right? The beans were a little bland, I was afraid of experimenting with the seasonings in the kitchen cabinets, but they filled me up and that was a feeling I barely recognized.

Before I went to sleep I decided that it would be better if I made yet another kind of list. This list would be for all the things I would need to do the next day this way I would know what I needed to do instead of jumping around and wasting time trying to figure it out. That night I wrote down checking out the other two houses, but I also wrote down “bring back pack and bags” and take “take wheelbarrow to fence line.” I also planned out my menu; breakfast would be oatmeal to hold me a long time in case I had to wait until dinner to eat again.

Today has run smoother so I think I’m going to keep doing the list thing. I got up and took care of the breakfast chores and personal chores that a girl needs to get started in the morning. Then I grabbed the backpack, stuffed the plastic bags in it, left the house and locked the house down. I grabbed the wheelbarrow from behind the barn and took off for the house that was due SW of my forty.

It was the same thing as the first one; no one home, door busted in, all the food gone, and no way to tell what had happened or how long ago. That house was a little cleaner than the one yesterday but probably because there were no kid bedrooms. I looked through the inside of the house taking the few things that I thought would be useful. The one thing I found at this house was books, real books like Shakespeare, the Bronte sisters, Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells and just bunches of others. The two spare bedrooms in the three bedroom house were nothing but books. This house didn’t smell but the books were musty and dusty. It took me forever to cart over the books to the wheelbarrow and I could only put them in the backpack because the plastic bags just split when I tried to use them.

The lady clothes in the house fit me but none of them were practical and weren’t worth the effort to haul them home. I did find a long blue jean skirt and one blue jean jumper but I’ll have to keep them for inside clothes and I don’t know how I would really be able to do chores in them outside without my legs getting all ripped up by saw briers and blackberries. The rest of it was the same as the other house; opened bottles and boxes of cleaners, linens, scrub brushes, and that sort of thing. I did find some of those expensive smelly candles but no matches.

The couple who lived in that house – there were pictures of them together in the house but no pictures of kids – looked nice and normal if a little old-fashioned. They looked older than my parents did but the house itself hadn’t been here long; it was one of those subdivision looking houses and didn’t fit in with the land around it at all. It would have looked much more at home in Tampa. Except for the busted in door and the missing food it was like they had just left the house for a vacation or something. I tried to leave the house as neat as I had found it but I did leave sand on the floor in a couple of places.

I ate lunch between salvaging the two houses; a spoonful of peanut butter and a bunch to drink. It was hot and sweaty work carting all that stuff back to the house. The second house was the messiest one but the one that I salvaged the most stuff from. It was messy but didn’t stink.

Just like the other two houses all the food was gone but in this house no one had taken the paper products or the cleaning supplies. That was two wheelbarrow trips right there. I also found these really great area rugs that I rolled up (after I had dumped all the junk off of them) and brought them home. I plan on putting those in the dormer room as soon as I figure out how to clean them. I grabbed all the towels, washrags, and kitchen towels and rags too.

This house was a real old farm house like in those historical places Momma and Daddy liked us to visit and it had all these nooks and crannies and I got turned around a couple of times. One time I got turned around I found this room that I think used to be a pantry ‘cause it had all these shelves in there and they were full of canning jars; empty canning jars but I thought they wwould still be useful. Every jar had a ring and I found a basket with little boxes of sealing lids too. I took Home Ec as one of my freshman electives and I remember being the only one in class except the teacher that knew what all the canning equipment was for when we did a unit on food preservation. I’ve never done it by myself but Momma’s books with pictures and directions are at the house and the equipment should be in the summer kitchen.

Another time I got turned around I wound up in a storage space underneath one of the stairs. There was all sorts of outdoor stuff in there. All the coats and hunting pants were too big for me … way too big … but there was other stuff in there for hunting and fishing. I don’t know what half of the stuff is for but it might eventually be useful. That was it for the inside of the house.

In the kitchen was this built in china hutch and it was full of speckleware dishes, bowls and stuff like that. In the bottom of the cabinet behind some cabinet doors were a lot of big bowls, a big soup tureen, and some big platters. I grabbed those but nearly had a nervous breakdown when that cat I saw yesterday darted out in front of me and I nearly dumped some of the dishes on the ground. It’s a pretty kitty with these weird blue eyes but it can’t make up its mind if it wants to be friends or not. I used tablecloths I found in the china cabinet drawers to wrap the dishes up in so they wouldn’t clank while I was pushing them in the wheelbarrow but it helped to keep them from breaking too I guess.

I also decided to take all the wooden spoons, the rolling pin, biscuit cutter, gravy ladles and some of the other kitchen junk. I know I should have most of that stuff somewhere, either in the summer kitchen or packed in boxes in the bonus rooms, but I figured spares couldn’t hurt. That was all I took from the house, but that was plenty. From there I moved to the barn and shed.

The barn was big enough for animals to live in and it still smelled but there weren’t any animals even though there were bales of hay. Whoever took the food must have taken the animals too or maybe someone else took the animals. I sure hadn’t seen any cows living at any of the places like they used to. The barn had other stuff in it though like hoes, saws, a big sickle like for old-fashioned hay cutting, a big shovel (I think for manure), and a couple of pitchforks.

There was also this thing called a beaver wheel cultivator; the only reason I know what it is called is because my Granddaddy used to use one in Memaw’s kitchen garden. It kind of looks like a wheelbarrow only without the bucket part attached. The wheel is also bigger and it doesn’t have any rubber on it; it looks like an all-metal wagon wheel. The attachments go right behind the wheel and you stick them in the ground and push like you do a wheelbarrow. Even I could do it when I was seven and eight years old. I should have all the tools I need if I can ever find some seeds.

There is another house way off on the other side of the farmhouse and as soon as I do a few more things around my house I’ll go check that one out. I piled everything into the barn, sprayed all the clothes with more freshener and then decided to fix myself another plate of beans and rice. The beans aren’t making my stomach hurt as much anymore which is great because there sure are a lot of beans to use. Tomorrow I’m getting started on my inventory and looking in the boxes up in the bonus room. I’m kinda excited about doing that and kinda dreading it as well. It will be the first time I get to see my parents’ personal stuff since the wreck … all their stuff from Tampa was just shoved into boxes and brought to the property and stuck upstairs; then the lawyer hired someone to pack away all the personal stuff in the Sparkleberry Ranch house when Aunt Wilma talked about having a big garage sale to raise money for my care and housing. Every box was sealed and initialed and the lawyer made an inventory of each box to make sure stuff didn’t just disappear. But because of the tractor I’m not too sure that everything is up there. There are so many boxes I’m not sure I’d notice if something was missing anyway.

Oh and before I forget, I think today is April 30th. I’m pretty sure it is. I counted up all of the days since I left the warehouse and that is what I come up with.

My list of things to do tomorrow:
Breakfast – granola cereal with powdered milk
Lunch – peanut butter and jam sandwich shake (I used to gross Aunt Wilma out drinking this)
Dinner – bean burger and mashed potatoes
Gather wood (it goes really fast)
Start inventory
Wash out and hang to dry my under things and socks
Find Momma’s gardening notes on when the fruit is supposed to get ripe
Make a calendar with big squares I can write in
Look at Daddy’s books for ideas on what I need to do next

If I can do the main things on my list I need to go back to the three houses and see if they have any office supplies like paper and junk. I’m running out of paper and this pen is running out of …..

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