Saturday, June 25, 2011

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter 24

Grapes are all in and I’m not a bride yet but not because Dino hasn’t been itching to get it done. He’s laid up at the moment and acting sorrier than a skunk sprayed hound about it.

AJ got some itchy feet and left after being around a little over a week. I think he only stayed as long as he did for Aunt Adona’s sake. He was here one day and poof … just gone the next. Dino says he is just that way. I said fine let him be that way. By the time he left, being around Alec was like walking on broken glass and Ajax wasn’t much better. They got back to their normal selves within a day of him leaving. I don’t see a reason for it myself, his public behavior didn’t seem all that off but anything not public is none of my business; they didn’t say anything and I didn’t ask, must be one of those family things I’ll figure out with time. I was just glad to be getting back to normal. Well, as normal as things get these days.

There’ve been more stories of people having things go missing … from their garden, their yards, their barn, even their houses if it’s left unattended. It doesn’t matter whether you are right on top of the road or sit some far back, seems people have learned and are not necessarily using the main roads since nothing survived along the highways that the original human locusts focused on. There’s suspicion that it might be locals too; those folks who once counted on money for the government and lived check to check without setting anything back. I suppose it is mean to say such of a fellow human being that might be in want but the truth is they hurt a lot of people. When one person steals from you it is a lot harder to find it in you to give to the next one.

Those boys that Alec tried to help didn’t last long. They were city boys and not used to the work. When they didn’t show up two days running Alec sent Clarence – he’s Alex’s boss man for the non-vineyard part of his farm which is bigger than ours and needs constant attention – over to see what was up. What was up was that they’d moved on, I guess looking for some place easier to get what they wanted. Hate to say it but they won’t find it, especially not with winter staring everyone in the face. Radio says that the Gulf states have set up picket lines along their northern borders because they’ve got so many people heading south for the winter that it is overloading their already stressed out infrastructure. Pretty soon there’ll be violence and fighting over that too.

So far we haven’t lost anything measurable since that one acre but that is due in part to Alec and Dino deciding to extend the employment contract of about half the vineyard field hands. The other half have gone to their other seasonal jobs of apple harvesting, cider pressing, or sorghum cooking. Some of the field hands have actually moved into a couple of old trailers that used to be available for migrant workers. It lies more on Alec’s side than Dino’s but neither man seems to care since they are supporting them equally. Chester and three of his sons are among those men. His oldest son is living with his wife’s family in another part of the state and Chester’s wife left him taking their youngest, their only daughter. Apparently she’d “had all she could take” and left to go live with her mother and sister in Chattanooga. She didn’t even ask the boys if they wanted to go. There are some people in this world that need a good smack but I’ll leave that up to God. I told Chester and his sons that now they wouldn’t have to travel so far to work and that the boys are be that much closer to the school as well now that it has started up. The oldest boy moped and told me, “Miss Riss, not that I don’t appreciate it, but could you find a different silver lining? Going to school with all them little kids to plague me is not my idea of fun.”

I don’t suppose it is but Kerry, for one, is upset that the school district declared he was still too young. I’m not sure I’m disappointed though. The weather has already cooled off quite a bit and Dino thinks it means that we might be in for a rough winter. The men spend all their spare time winterizing those trailers and chopping wood. I told Kerry that he could do school at the table if he wanted to and the rascal said he would think about it. He’s gonna be a pistol when he finally does make it to school; I hope those teachers are ready for him.

October has barely started but it is already turning into one of those times that you just pray to get through and come out the other side with your skin intact. As I said the days are getting cooler; we’re lucky to see seventy degrees during the day and we’re already getting into the forties at night. And it’s been damp. It has made bringing in the last of the garden and orchard fairly miserable for me. Chester sends his boys over to help after school but they also help ride the fence and take care of the extra horse chores and I hate to ask any more of them.

Besides, I’m not doing much canning, I have too much trouble lifting and moving the canners around. And with the dampness the dehydrator hasn’t been usable either. For now everything is either in the root cellar or the barn. I’m trying to leave the apples on the tree as long as possible without getting a lot of fruit fall but the hogs are still getting their share from those that do. Granny Smiths and Arkansas Blacks, the last of the apples, will be completely in by the end of the month and those are the keeping apples that can stand long storage.

The Asian pears have given their last fruit as have the dessert pears and both are wrapped and put up to be used up by December if they hold that long. The last head of cabbage is also in the crock though I found out the Pappas family isn’t overly fond of kraut. That’s fine, several of the men tell me they are dreaming of warm cabbage soup for this winter and I may send it over to them. Since Dino and I fed them all through the harvest, Alec’s household is going to see to them for the next little while. This will ease up on me worrying how I’m gonna do that and have the baby next month too.

My time is drawing close and I don’t know who is more nervous, me or Dino. He watches me like a hawk on some days. The baby is moving down some out of my lungs so I can breathe better but there honestly just isn’t any place for the poor thing to move too. I guess that is the lot of a short woman. I overheard him asking Cheryl if he thought I was too small and I thought he meant short but then Cheryl said, “You are worrying before you need to. If it looks like she isn’t going to be able to deliver at home we’ll just have to wrap her up and try and get her to Newton and pray Dr. Soames and help.”

Well I went to Dino after that and told him to stop worrying. “All the women in my family are short and we’ve all dropped big babies with no problem. My grandmother was a tiny thing, even smaller than me, and she still delivered my mother at home even though Momma was a ten-pounder. It just took her some longer to get her out is all.” Dino shuddered; I don’t think he appreciated my efforts to allay his fears.

Finally got the basement and all those other rooms down there fixed up and organized. We also learned that there is an old tunnel between the wine cellar and the grape shed. The new grape shed sits on the foundation of the original one but when they built the new one either they’d forgotten about the old tunnel or just decided not to use it because while you can get into the tunnel from the wine cellar side, when you get to the other side you can’t get out because the floor joists of the new grape shed are in the way. Dino says that is a project for the spring but it explains the of the crazy ventilation riddles they’d never been able to figure out.

The root cellar is all cleaned and organized too. We were trying to save the last few watermelons for a harvest party but with Dino laid up and the weather turning I just told Alec to go ahead and take them and make another portion of watermelon wine with them. To be honest I’m just about melon’d out anyway. They’re so full of water and fiber that in my condition all that means is that I spend more time in the bathroom than I do any place else. I will say the last of the winter squash has done me proud, especially the hubbards. They are nice and thick skinned and will keep for months which will be appreciated come truly cold weather.

The potatoes are snug in their own cellar away from the onions and apples. Apples and potatoes or onions and potatoes just don’t store well together because gases they create as they ripen spoil each other. The sweet potatoes didn’t make as many as I had hoped. Before I had to lay off the canning I did get quite a few of them done up however, and even had the time to make sweet potato butter, but in general it was a disappointing harvest from them.

I sent the last of those ridiculous carrots to market with Ajax and some of the greens as well. He said they drew plenty of attention and people would then stand around and jabber and barter more than they did at some of the other stands. I suppose everything can have some benefit but I’ll be honest and say I’m glad to see the last of those mutant looking things.

The corn is what laid Dino up … or trying to save it. Being out in the cold and the damp, trying to get the dried corn shocked and then brought in for storage; that corn is just too important, especially now that the price of cornmeal and flour is getting downright silly. Dino was excited and in a rush wanting to finish early so he could go see the Judge. Nothing good ever comes out of rushing. He knows better than to jump in and out of the wagon; it stresses his bad leg. I’ve noticed him favoring it after a long day.

I asked Alec about it on the sly since I didn’t want Dino to know that I’d noticed. Alec says it is always the same towards the end of harvest but then he rests it more over the winter and by next harvest you’d never know how bad he hurt at the end of the last one. But I don’t guess he falls out of the wagon at the end of every harvest and that’s what he did; took a bad tumble, even knocked himself out. But in the end it isn’t his head that is what is paining him. He wrenched the leg and it is bruised up pretty good from landing on a rock that had worked itself to the surface since the last rock harvest. ‘Course the bruise to his pride doesn’t do him any good either.

He went to bed that night very angry that he hadn’t been able to get to the Judge “just because I took a little fall.” Well, by the next morning that “little fall” had him writhing in agony. He’s hardly gotten any sleep in a week and he is fouler than a hungry bear what’s got his head stuck in an empty bee hive. I’ve done everything I can think of to help him and that seems to just make him madder.

“I’m not a helpless old man! Don’t treat me like one!”

About fed up with him not letting me do for him I yelled back, “You know, my great grandmother said that anything wrong with a man could be fixed with a proper woman’s company, a well-seasoned skillet … and good aim. I’m fixin’ to test that theory if you don’t behave!”

He looked outraged for about two seconds then laughed for the first time in a couple of days and gave me a kiss and a sorry. But within the hour was right back to being fairly hard to be around.

I know it’s the pain … physical and prideful … but no matter how hard I try and tell him these things happen and that I’m not going any place since he seems to want me so bad he just acts like I’m slipping through his fingers all the faster. Part of it is also the work that’s being done that he can’t be a part of. He keeps sending me to check on things and then fusses at me for doing so much running around in my condition. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’d likely throttle him for doing such to me I’d dose him without asking his permission and let him sleep it off for a while. I did finally beg him to let me make him some valerian tea. It seems to be working and I hope he can at least get some sleep tonight.

Kerry isn’t quite sure what to make of his daddy while he is in this condition. He tried for a while to help and in all honesty Dino did try and let him but the boy’s energy and “helpfulness” that included unexpectedly plumping the pillows the sore leg was propped on led to a situation and now Kerry creeps about like he’s almost afraid to even go in there. I keep him with me and I’ve explained the situation but I think Dino is going to have a fair piece to go to get Kerry not to jump every time he thinks his daddy is about to bellow.

One of the things that has helped me keep my temper, though it doesn’t seem to do Dino’s any good, is for me to get out of the house when I can. Kerry and I have brought back my wagon loaded down with all sorts of acorns and nuts – black walnut, butternut, acorns, chinquapins, hickorys and even some pecans though I do miss the big ol’ pecan trees on the Davidson farm.

As I rinsed and leached out a bunch of hulled acorns to dry them near the stove I thought of what I’d heard of the folks that moved into my grandparents’ old farm. Seems the government had to take over their old land that run up too close to a military base and gave them my grandparents’ farm in exchange. So the farms not a government contract anymore and it don’t look like there is any way that I will ever see it back in the family. I suppose I knew that all along but it still pinches now that it is plain and legal.

I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting any of them yet but Ajax has and he says while they seem pretty stern folks they open up a bit when they see you keep your word in business and respect that they are a bit … different. Stern isn’t only how they act, but how they dress. From what I’ve heard they dress real conservative, not quite going to the lengths of the stricter Mennonite sects but not far from it either; at least they use buttons and zippers, or so I’ve been told. I’d probably be a horror to them as far as women go. Between my situation, my dress, and my occasional … ok my regular … way of speaking my mind I’m fairly certain I’d give their men ulcers.

Ajax says he don’t think so though. “Riss, I don’t think they’re judgmental towards others so much as they expect more from their own than they do from those they consider out in the world.”

I suppose I shouldn’t be judgmental myself but I still catch people that stop talking all of a sudden just because I show up. It makes me leery to get around people I don’t already know. Or at least I prefer to be around some of the people I already know. Cindy is still part of a group that have shut me out. I don’t even think Dino “making an honest woman of me” will thaw them out; they’ve become too invested in being right about my lack of character. Suppose I shouldn’t let it bother me and most of the time it doesn’t; I’m insulated out here on the farm amongst the Pappas and the field hands. But on the rare occasions lately when we’ve made it to town or to church – we do try and keep a day of rest, it just isn’t always on a day there is a church meeting – I still feel embarrassed.

That and the other is why Dino was so anxious to get the Judge to say words for us. And the other – well call it what it is, Dino and I wanting do to something about these feelings we have – is making it harder to live together under one roof but in two separate bedrooms. Aunt Adona has added to it by suggesting I come stay with them until Dino “can find the time” to get the right thing done. That put sand in his britches I can tell you. He asked me if I thought he was delaying things on purpose.

“Dino Pappas, you said we’d get married and we will. The harvest was in the way is all,” I told him trying to calm him down.

“Now it’s me being laid up. I swear Riss, I’ll be up tomorrow and …”

“You get up before that leg is ready to be gotten up and we’ll have worse problems than your Aunt Adona’s wanting to tie us up proper. Besides, she’s just upset we told her we didn’t need a big party. Seems she was just dyin’ to have that Harvest Party and to get us presented properly at the same time.”

Which is true. Losing the Harvest Party really did overset Aunt Adona. It’s something she looks forward to and tries to plan out every year; kinda like a family tradition. Still, wish she hadn’t said anything no matter how well intentioned; it’s only brought more attention to something we were dealing with by being circumspect, especially for Kerry’s sake. I’ve tried to explain to the woman that we haven’t actually done anything about anything yet but I’m not sure she or anyone else believes that. Makes me feel – just like Cindy said at one point – that I’m giving Dino a bad name. I tried to ask him one time but he got so aggravated at me even worrying about “all the nonsense those witchy wet hens raise” that I haven’t brought it up again.

And I’ve been fair too busy to think much on anything except my wanting of Dino and wondering why I haven’t got a letter from Harry yet and wondering if Hannah has heard from him either. Dino says sometimes letters go astray or if you get involved in a real hush-hush mission you just can’t write. I suppose that’s true, I just pray he is well wherever he is.

Ajax is a good man. He could have grumped at me adding my market stuff to what he’s already responsible for but he hasn’t. I know it takes away from his time with Tina and the baby but he says that’s what family does, help each other out. Next year I’ve promised myself that suckling baby or not I’m going to help get the produce to market. And I will too but it’ll be hard to beat the deals that Ajax barters for.

He traded for some pullets for me and I didn’t have to give up any of my meat birds that I hope to cull during the hog slaughter. Found a woman that spins her own yarn – used to do it just as a hobby and now it feeds her family – and between one thing and another traded for enough yarn that I’ve been able to crocheted the baby a few warm things wince it is going to be a winter infant. Ran into another man that knows all about leather craft, not just working it but tanning and everything, and his son is studying on being a cobbler. Kerry needed new winter shoes and they repaired my workboots which were wearing thin and tearing where they laced up. They’re not new boots but they might as well be with all the doctoring those two did on them.

Tomorrow, if the weather holds and Dino doesn’t forbid it – you never know with the mood he’s in – I’m going persimmon picking with Kerry. This cold has just about ripened them too fast and I need to get out there and save ‘em before they’re lost. I also want to see if the pawpaws are ready too not to mention the prickly pear fruit, sumac, amaranth, and I’m just desperate for mustard seed as that wasn’t in that box of spices. I swear plug one hole in the boat and another one shows itself.


  1. A surprise chapter! Than YOu! LOL
    Ya know, if you want something bad enough you'll find a way....why can't the Judge come on out and say words for them at the house? Oh well. LOL

  2. Got home form a trip up to Spokane to find more yippee.