Saturday, January 23, 2010

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter 35

July 12th – Never, ever eat more than one green apple at a time. And just as soon as I don’t feel like I’m dying I’m so gonna kill Rand for laughing.


July 13th – Rand survived, but just barely and only because he apologized so sweetly and gave me the two real eggs he swiped from the broody chicken. They were small but I fried them up anyway with the bit of bacon he had brought back from Uncle George’s place. Rand wouldn’t take both of them and said we should share. He also said we’d let the next one go and see if she could hatch them … after we put nesting boxes together. There were some at the place they came from and he wants to get another load of hay too. But that will have to wait until he finishes the repairs to the little wagon.

And the repairs to the little wagon will have to wait until he gets some wood … which is what he did today. The old shed at the third salvage house had thick walls and the wood was still in pretty good shape, straight, and didn’t have many knots. He took most of it apart and it’s lying piled up for him to work on tomorrow. After he recovers from his wasp stings; we were lucky it wasn’t any worse and he had on long sleeves, they were yellow jackets.

I didn’t mind him being gone today like I did yesterday. I could still hear him every once in a while banging away with the mallet. I sure heard him when he found the wasps, people probably heard him in the next county.

Yesterday was different, lonesome. I used the time wisely and stayed busy to keep my mind occupied or I could have gotten depressed which was just plain silly; he was only gone for the day. In the morning I canned and after lunch I managed to finally finish finding places for everything in the house. Those tubs are overflowing and I’ve had to tape a piece of paper to each one to remind myself what is in them; numbering them just didn’t work.

In the late afternoon I went out to the orchard and just couldn’t resist the little apples on the tree … they only have a couple of days left to ripen and I thought, why not try just one. The one I bit into bit right back but it was so good, so crisp, so fresh … but small. I didn’t think, I mean it was just so good. So I ate another … then another. I knew I should stop so I went back inside and started working on hemming some pretty curtains for the dormer room.

The blackout curtains serve a purpose but … they’re just so guy-ish. I’ve never really had the chance to decorate before but when Rand put that other stuff up there it kind of inspired me to add something too. It was while I was sitting at the sewing machine that I started not feeling so hot. By the time Rand got home I was really miserable. I knew what it was … too many little green apples … but Rand didn’t have to rub salt in the wound. I couldn’t even sleep upstairs; I just slept on the floor outside my parents’ bathroom, at least until about three in the morning. Rand came down to check on me, found me on the floor and we slept on top of the covers for what was left of the night. I will never, never, ever eat little green apples again.


July 14th – Figs … never had much to do with them and processing them is a learning experience. The fig tree is a big one and is really loaded even after I took off what I did today. Rand said he will run a bucket of them over to Momma O tomorrow so there will be that many fewer I have to worry about spoiling.

Today I made spiced figs, pickled figs, fig preserves, and fig conserve. I also started two trays of dried figs. Tomorrow I’m going to try and make some dried candied figs. First you wash the fruit and cut it into thin strips. Then you simmer it in a medium syrup made from two cups of water and two cups of sugar for two hours, or until the fruit is clear and tender. Next you drain the fruit but I’ll saved whatever syrup is left to dump into the next batch. Finally you have to place the fruit on the drying trays. These are supposed to be dried until pliable like leather or soft dried apples. When they come out you have to cool them down before putting them into an air tight container. These ought to be good in fruit cake but I won’t tell Rand. It will be a surprise if I can ever get around to it.

I was working on the inventory again and while stuff is going up hand over fist in some categories it is coming down in others. While Rand worked on the wagon I asked him what all grew around here. He said the same vegetables that would grow any place else, we would just need to plant them at different times than they do up north and down south. I told him Momma said there were two planting seasons for almost everything further south and he says a bunch of stuff had two seasons here too, the second one just doesn’t have much of a window of opportunity to take advantage of, mostly it is cool weather crops vs. warm weather crops.

I knew about all the fruit in the orchard but they can’t really grow citrus fruit up here. They might in a hot house and Rand talked about a tangerine kind of orange called a Satsuma, but he said a bad frost a few years back got all the ones he knew of.

Then I got to asking him about sugar and cornmeal and wheat. That made him jump a little and ask if we are getting low and I said not yet because in addition to the bit I had leftover that had been found, there is the stuff that I had earned, what I got at the last ration book day … hard to believe that was over a month ago … then what Missy and Bill just gave us there is some whole wheat in #10 cans in the cubbyhole that I can grind for bread. He “mmmm’d” that sound you make when you are thinking and then said, “Do you have any clue how long it will last?” I told him probably over a year because of what Momma and Daddy have in those cans but I asked him what were other people likely to be doing.

“Well, forget wheat. I don’t think it grows around here though there might be a variety that does. I know they grow some for forage but I don’t know about it going to seed heads for people food. We might be able to do some oats … maybe. What I know we can do is grow grain sorghum. It’s grown for cows and pigs these days but I know people can eat it. Mr. Henry – Momma O’s husband – used to talk about eating it when he was a boy because his family was so poor they had to eat the same thing their animals did. Might be in one of your mother’s books or you could ask Momma O about it. Corn is something else you can grow around here but it’s got to be the right kind of corn for grinding. You can dry field corn or dent corn – I normally feed it to the animals – but if we could figure out a way to grind it we could get by on that. The old timers did.”

I told him I had Momma’s hand grinder but that I’d never ground anything myself and Momma had only done it a couple of times that I remember because she was playing with the thing. Daddy gave it to her for her birthday one year.

So, we have options but I need to know how to get seeds for everything. It is nice to trade with Momma O but I can’t count on it being like that for everything. Rand laughed and said we had almost a thousand pounds of the stuff in the barn and I choked so hard the tea I was drinking went up my nose. It was his feed for his animals … or part of it. He told me if I wanted to crack some and feed it to the hens they’d probably start laying more. There was also oats and other stuff like millet. I asked him was that what was under those tarps and he said yes and then all I could think of were mice and rats and … Rand told me to calm down because it was in metal cans. He can be such a tease some times. He knows I don’t like those nasty creatures.

But after that came us talking about when to plant and where and how. Sparkleberry Ranch is all treed over. The only places that it aren’t completely shaded is around the inside of the home site, the road that runs in and out, the three acres we call the hay field, where I want to put the vegetable garden, and the area underneath the utility easement. The problem is the utility easement runs from sugar sand on one end to on the damp side on the other end. Rand has already marked off the best patch of ground and said for a while he’s going to split the horse and mule manure between the garden patch we are trying to build up and the other place and then we’ll see about planting sweet or grain sorghum in the easement and then fight the deer over it most likely.

We looked it up and we hope what he has is sweet sorghum because that would give us more than grain and silage for the animals. The seed bags he has say “tall sorghum” so we are pretty sure that is sweet sorghum. The seed heads would be the grain for us and feed for the chickens. The stripped off leaves would make decent cow or pig feed if we can get a place set up to keep them.

“I’m pretty sure that Uncle George will let me work for a couple of gilts and Jake … you remember him from the fellowship … he and I and Julia’s brother JR used to trap feral boars for the Fish and Wildlife guys when we were in highschool. If I can get us one we’ll wind up with crossbreeds but it’s not like it would be the first time in history. The cows … I don’t know, Uncle George is going to need all he’s got right now and unless he gets a bull from someplace he’s going to be in trouble. All but one of his milk cows have dried up and she needs to be freshened. Man, I was going to college to get out from under all this work and worry.”

I didn’t know what else to do but hug him. His cheek was all scruffy and scratchy but it didn’t bother me much. I knew he was under a lot of strain so I did my own looking through Momma’s stuff but didn’t find anything. I did find something in Daddy’s filing cabinet. It was a print off from UF and it mentioned that oats, soft red wheat, rye, and some stuff called triticale could grow in Florida if you used the recommended varieties. Well goody … but where was I supposed to come up with the seeds for the recommended varieties? I wonder what is in Mr. Henderson’s feed and how loud he would laugh if I asked him?


July 15th – Apples, apples, apples. I am so happy I could dance. I made Rand eat one to see if they were ripe first though and he said the yellow ones were. The name on the tag of this apple was “Pristine” but they weren’t … I mean they didn’t look it. But they sure did taste it. Yum, yum!

I’m a little worried though because they seem to be getting ripe all at once. I don’t know how I’m going to keep up. Rand finished tightening the last bolt on the new wagon bottom and sides right after breakfast this morning so as a test drive he took figs and apples to Momma O. Rand said he laughed nearly the whole way home. “Honey, the look on her face when I showed up with the figs and the apples was so funny. Ms. DeLois said this is one of the few times in her life she has seen her mother speechless.

I made fried apples, corn bread, and white beans for dinner and Rand and I both nearly licked our plates clean. The only thing that would have made it better was if I had a ham hock to cook in the white beans instead of just ham bouillon and had also had fresh potatoes to stew. That was one of our favorite meals when my parents were alive and we had it at least three times a month, usually four or five.

I also made one of my Daddy’s favorites … Apple-Gingerbread Cobbler. I can made gingerbread from scratch but I had a box on the shelf so I figured I might as well go ahead and use it. Basically you take four medium sized apples, peel and slice them into a pan, add a half cup of water, some brown sugar and spices and then boil it for abou five minutes. Add a tablespoon of cornstarch and then boil that until it is thick and bubbly. Dump that mess into your baking dish (or into a Dutch oven) and then top it with glops of the gingerbread dough mix. It’s not a hard crusted cobbler but a soft one. Mmm mmm good. Rand saved just enough and asked if he could have it for breakfast. I used to think Momma was being silly when she would say she loved to watch Daddy eat but I understand her now. It makes me feel all happy and useful and special and stuff like that.

The canning I did today was part figs and part apple. I have so many apple canning recipes that I want to try that I probably won’t make the same thing twice for several days. Today I made pickled apples, apple pie filling, apple maple jam, apple cinnamon syrup, and apple-blueberry conserve after reconstituting some dried blueberries out of a can.

And Rand is a rotten stinker. He didn’t tell me except on accident that tomorrow is his birthday! It was when he was telling me he wanted to save some of the cobbler for his breakfast. I don’t know what to give him but I know what I made him; a Blackberry Jam Cake with Caramel Frosting from my grandmother’s recipes. That and the coconut cake my great grandmother used to make were my Daddy’s favorites. I don’t have enough coconut to make a whole cake so it had to be the other. The thing weighs a ton and I just managed to fit it into a big cake tin. You sit the cake on the lid of the tin which then becomes the bottom and put the bottom of the tin over the cake like a cake cover. The cake keeps a really long time like that.

I asked Rand what he wanted for his birthday and he said he wanted to go hunting. I hope he has fun but I worry about him getting lonely. He is such a people person and I would be fine if I only saw him for long stretches of time. I wonder if any of his family are going to come by. Tomorrow is Sunday, maybe they will.


July 16th – I don’t know if I’ll ever understand people. Or maybe something is going on. No one came to tell Rand happy birthday. I know you can’t pick up a phone or anything but even if they could have apparently they wouldn’t have.

Rand seemed to have a pretty good day. I made sure he had exactly what he wanted for breakfast and then he went hunting. I never heard a shot so I think maybe hunting really meant “hunting” in that he was thinking private stuff and didn’t want to hurt my feelings by saying he needed some time to himself. But he came back in good spirits.

It gave me just enough time to finish lining an old jean jacket I had found while salvaging. No way will he need it now, but it should be nice and warm when he has to take care of the animals this winter. The jacket was way big so I first sewed one of these quilted vests into it and then I took a flannel shirt and fitted that as the lining. I’ve got just enough of the shirt left that I think I can use it to line a hat or to use making a scarf; I haven’t got that far in my thinking yet.

I’ve never seen him so surprised. The jacket is still a little too big but Rand liked it anyway. And he really liked his cake too. He kept saying, “You didn’t need to do all of this.”

I waited and waited for the Crenshaws to show up or even one of them to send their wishes by someone else but no one ever came. I finally got up the nerve to ask Rand if his uncle didn’t believe in celebrating birthdays or something. I didn’t want to offend anybody by guessing or goofing.

“Oh it’s not that. Aunt Rachel and I had the same birthday. This is a sad day for them now.”

My jaw almost hit the floor. Here was a man, a real Bible–learned man I thought, and he was celebrating death?

“Rand, are you telling me no one has said anything to you for your birthday since … “

“It’s OK Kiri. Don’t make a big deal out of it.”

“Well I am making a big deal out of it. Look at me. I’m a prime example of having a hard time grieving but I never had a problem just because someone shared the same birthday as one of my dead parents or little brother! I grieved every day. I didn’t just save it up for remembering on one particular day of the year. And I sure as heck didn’t … “

“Kiri! Ok Babe … simmer down. If I had been a little kid maybe it would have … “

“Little kid or not, that’s just plain wrong.”

“Don’t say anything to them Kiri. Uncle George still isn’t over it and the rest of them … “

“I won’t go out of my way to say anything but if it comes up …”

“At all Kiri. I mean it. For me … just don’t. OK?”

“Oh fine! But it makes no sense. Your Aunt Rachel is dead just like my parents. I can’t imagine my parents wanting me to go around ….”

“Kiri! “

“What?”

“I want a piece of my birthday cake.”

“Huh? Oh. OK but you aren’t going to change my mind by changing the subject. And they don’t get any of your birthday cake. Not a single crumb. It’s all for you.”

“Girl, you are too much.”

Rand may have been laughing at it but I still don’t see how people that normally have so much sense can just be so hard headed on this one thing. When I die I don’t want people to celebrate my death … I want them to celebrate my life. Of course that is supposing I have a life worth celebrating I suppose but still. I just can’t see the logic in what they’re doing. And whether he laughs or not it seems to me it has to have hurt him at some point even if he has come to terms with it. Just no sense at all.


July 19th – Just haven’t had time to write. Probably shouldn’t be doing that now but rain has shut down my canning for the day. I’ve been crazy busy and Rand has too. Right after the Pristine apples came in the Flavortop nectarines came in and then Rand found the patch of Rabbiteye blueberries just in time to save them from the deer with some chicken wire cages. Then another plum tree was ripe and today I picked the first black eyed peas. We’re going to eat half of them fresh and let the rest dry on the vine and I’ll put them away like dried beans and saving at least as many as I started with for next year’s seeds.

Saw both Pastor Ken and Mr. Henderson yesterday but I didn’t have time to visit, they mostly had come to see Rand anyway. Something’s up, I’m not sure what. Didn’t have time to ask Rand last night because we were both so tired but I think I’m going to try and corner him tonight after I feed him. He’s easier to talk to after he’s eaten.


July 20th – Preserving everything I can out of the orchard. The fruit closet isn’t anywhere near full but some of the shelves nearly are and that sure is satisfying knowing that my hard work is what did that. Guess here is another truth I used to hear my parents talk about, “There’s satisfaction in a job well done.”

Rand has been working on his own projects. He got the nesting boxes and has them all set up nice in a chicken coop and run he built and wouldn’t you know that silly hen has picked the tool box again? I think she has drain bamage or something. I tried to send Pretty Boy in there to get her to come out and he just looked at me as if to say, “If you think I’m going in there then you don’t have the sense I gave you credit for.” I guess there is certain types of female cranky that not even studly roosters want to deal with.

Rand is also trying out a gizmo he built for the mules to drag. It’s kind of a bar thing that he has bolted the curved teeth pieces from an old cultivator that was sitting rusting in a field. To keep it from sinking too deep he used an axle and wheel rims from a little truck that was overturned off of US90. It’s heavy for him to move by hand but Bud doesn’t have any problems with it at all. He’s using Bud more than Lou for this type of stuff because Bud is already trained to pull single like that. Lou is more of a riding or hauling temperament kind of mule. Oh, he’ll pull he just doesn’t pull straight like Bud does who likes to pull strong and straight. Lou likes to dance and smell the flowers … and pull braids. Silly mule.

The reason why this works is the utility easement was already root raked by the electric co-op when it was put through the land to make sure nothing would grow under the lines. The same thing can’t be said of where we want to put the regular garden. Rand thinks he might be able to build a disc attachment that Bud can pull but we may still be looking at a lot of hand turning and raking in the beginning to kill off all the matted up roots and stuff.

I finally cornered Rand and asked him what Mr. Henderson and Pastor Ken had said that upset him so much. He got mad all over again and told me not to worry about it but I told him that if it bothered him that much then at the least he needed to blow of some steam and I was just the person to understand that.

After a minute of him growling and cranking a bit and deciding whether he was going to talk or not I got a kiss and we went to sit on the shade in the lanai to talk and get away from the bugs. He said we might as well be comfortable because it was going to take a while to explain.

Mr. Henderson has heard that there are going to be what they are calling some “on-going relocation projects” beginning next month to try and get people out of some of the cities up north. It will be a voluntary relocation, they aren’t going to force anyone – so they say – and while that might sound like a humane thing to do at first glance, it’s how they are going to go about it that is the problem.

First they are preparing temporary “camps” to put people into just to get them moved before it gets cold. Then they are going to survey areas for abandoned houses and land and then do a kind of imminent domain thing where the government will take the house or property.

Then in dribs and drabs the relocated people – after they earn points somehow to get them in some prioritized line – will be allocated the properties based on need and family size. These families will have a two year grace period before they have to prove they have made qualifying improvements to the property at which time they‘ll be issued a mortgage payable to the government.

They are picking primarily rural locations because beyond the relocation the government is not offering any kind of support or assistance. They expect the people to figure out how they are going to support themselves including food and clothing and whatever else they would need.

Rand was really upset when he was telling me. He said, “Aside from all of the legal questions this creates I have to wonder what idiot thought this stuff up?! If these are city folks, people who’ve never had to grow their own food or take care of anything bigger than a yard with a riding lawn mower, who’s going to teach the skills they need? Some of the people may not even know how to operate a fireplace … I can see house fires, starvation, all kinds of illnesses because of hygiene issues. And what about water? Where do they think these people are going to get water from? This is insane!”

I was still stuck on the idea of the government just walking in and taking away someone’s home or property.

Rand was still rolling. “Someone just hasn’t thought this through at all! And while this area may be a great place during the winter compared to New York City, Boston, Chicago, and places like that, what happens in the summer. I doubt too many of them people will last out the first summer before they’re crying to be sent home. The upheaval is going to be unimaginable if they actually get this off the ground.”

“Rand, not that I don’t believe you, but how does Mr. Henderson know all this?”

“Radio. He’s always had this huge setup because of his ranch. Cell phone coverage over his way was always bad so CB and Ham is what he has operated with for years. And he’s got the generators and fuel to pull it off. I kind of get the idea that he is even making his own fuel now too.”

“How can he do that?”

“You’ve heard of bio-diesel plants that make ethanol, it’s a scaled down version for personal production. I suspect that’s why he’s been salvaging all of those fields. I don’t know for sure what his setup is though, he and everyone that works for him keep their lips sealed tight. I’d sure like to have a small set up for us even if we only make enough to run a rototiller and maybe a log splitter. That would save me some hard labor right there just on those two things.”

Rand gave me a lot to think about before I went to go fix our dinner. I wanted to ask him about taxes but I was about full up with stuff to worry about.

For dinner I made a kind of rice thing by adding chopped apples, raisins, and freeze dried chicken to cooked rice and then simmered it some more with a little chicken broth. Rand like it but I’m worried about him too now. No matter how much he eats he seems like he is getting thinner.

I’ve been looking at some of the books on the shelves and it seems to me that it isn’t just the number of calories you eat that is important but the kind as well. I don’t think Rand is getting enough fat for the kind of work he is doing and in the kind of heat we are dealing with. Everything I have is “lean,” “fat free,” “low fat,” “no carbs,” etc. On top of that is that we need the right balance of vitamins and minerals. This is getting a lot more complicated than I thought it would.


July 21st – I can’t seem to get that stuff Mr. Henderson said out of my head. I don’t understand how the government can just take something away like that. I’m really upset.

Rand said to take it easy, they are only supposed to be taking land and homes that are abandoned and have no claims on them. But I wonder how far will they take that? Will they take land if they think you have too much to take care of or more than you need? Will they take stuff from people they don’t think deserve it?

What about me? I won’t be eighteen for a year and two weeks. Can they say because I’m underage and don’t have a family to provide for, can they take the house and land away and give it to someone they think needs or deserves it more? This is just worrying me to pieces.

If I lose the house and the land will I lose Rand? Maybe I shouldn’t wonder about that but I do. He said trust him … and I do, more than anything … but I don’t really get why he is with me. He says I make him feel like a big deal, important, like he can do stuff. He says that I appreciate what he does and that I talk to him and let him talk to me. But what about all that guy stuff he was talking about? I know it is important to him. And because it is important to him it is important to me.

I don’t want it to be my fault that all the hard work he is putting in around here suddenly goes up in smoke. I can’t let that happen but I don’t know what to do to make sure that it doesn’t.

And we haven’t seen the Crenshaws since before Rand’s birthday. It makes me wonder if something is going on. I mean he says it isn’t any big deal but there was always this back and forth before and now there isn’t. Rand says it is because they have a lot going on trying to expand the house and get a place built for Missy and Bill and trying to help the Winstons get their house back in order assuming they haven’t finished that. I haven’t cared so much what other people are thinking or doing in a long time and I’m not sure I like it very much. It gives me a headache and an upset stomach.

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