All that week I marveled at the wonder of being Mrs. Dino Pappas. My life hadn’t changed that much … there was still chores to be done, meals to be cooked, dirty drawers to be washed, and a little man that was now all of five years old and right proud of it. But at the same time it had changed in ways I had never fathomed that it could. Strange but true. And each day it got better.
When a woman gets married there are sometimes those stray worries of being possessed, owned, under a man’s rule forever, the loss of self. I’ve seen it, the struggle between man and wife, the resentment, the worry. Whatever problems there were usually at their very bottom were basically issues of trust. It was awful hard to trust your full measure to another person and as sorry as it is to say it there are some men that just make it that much harder to trust than it should me. It had never worried me much ‘cause this time around I was smart enough to wait until I could totally trust the man whom I was entrusting myself to. Funny thing was I was learning that as much as I was entrusting myself to him he was entrusting himself to me, revealing the most private parts that he would never reveal to another. It made me feel I knew him better than anyone else in the world, and that knowing got better every day and I found I liked what I was discovering; it was like finding bits of treasure here and there to be stored up for the stormy times that inevitably come. And instead of making me feel less in control of my life, have less authority, that knowing and sharing of each other made me feel like I had more.
I was full up with life. It was all so good. Getting up felt like it would never be a chore again. The sun was out and it didn’t feel like a shadow could ever pass over its face again.
Then the tide changed.
In one day it went from Indian Summer to full blown winter. One day I was in a sleeveless dress and still showing sweat stains in the arm holes, the next I was trying to find something that would cover me all up and realizing that trying to get even my grandfather’s old jacket to close in front was going to be impossible.
“Riss, you can’t go out in this weather like that,” Dino said shaking his head.
“But Dino, I’ve got to …”
“No, you don’t,” he said with a look that said I’m-laying-down-the-law-even-if-you-throw-a-skillet-at-me-for-it.
Well, I’d promised to honor and obey … but doing it with a good attitude was a might more challenging than I’d like to admit on some occasions. I was silent just long enough to let him know that when I said all right he knew I was doing it purely for him and not necessarily because I thought he was right.
“Riss, I know it bothers you to have me bossing your around,” he said softly to keep Kerry who was playing with the painted wooden tractors that we’d given him for his birthday from overhearing.
I shook my head. “You aren’t bossing me. I know you’re trying to protect me, I’m just gonna have to lesson you and prove that I don’t need that much protecting.”
Now it was Dino’s turn to shake his head. “The ground is getting slippery now that the sun is coming up. Stay in the house at least until it dries up enough you don’t give me heart palpitations thinking about you losing your balance out there and falling.”
I sighed. Sometimes in marriage, just like in life, compromises are necessary. “All right. But in return you have to promise me no jumping out of the wagons until your leg gets used to this change in weather. I may like the idea of keeping you in bed and all to myself for a week but not if it is going to cost you the pain you had last time.”
I was serious but he took it some different and his eyes got a little on the wolfish side. I just laughed and wagged my finger at him and pointed at Kerry. He sighed like he was being real put upon but then smiled to show the joke. I told him, “I’ll keep dinner warm, try and come back for it before it gets too late. I know you and Alec are that desperate to get the ag well winterized but a man can’t work his best on an empty stomach.”
“Yes, Mrs. Pappas. Sure thing Mrs. Pappas,” he said to tease me. He kissed me and was out the door leaving me to wonder what on earth I was gonna do if I had to be stuck inside, likely all morning long.
I knew if this cold weather held it would be butcher time. I also knew, as of that morning, there were two field dressed deer hanging in the shed waiting for someone to do something with. Part of me had hoped that the butchering time would wait until I was back on my feet from the baby. It wasn’t a realistic hope but that didn’t stop me from hoping it. I was still three weeks off from the best calculation of a due date I could figure and most of the women in my family usually run late so say the end of November the very beginning of December at worst. It was just the beginning of November and I could be looking at carrying my load another month. It was a bit discouraging but at the same time I thought it gave me more time to get through my work before the holiday season which seemed to be something the Pappas clan celebrated as important.
The Bly family had not been big on celebrating the holidays. Some of it was their reduced circumstances but I recall Mrs. Bly saying that Mr. Bly was raised in a “household of misers” that detested the commercialism of the holidays, not for philosophical or moral reasons but because they had to open their wallets and let the moths out. My family had been a loud and boisterous lot and Christmas was something special, even after the war started, not because of presents but because it was the one time of year we all tried to be together and getting along.
Even after the epidemic I’d decorate the inside of my camper and have me a little Charlie Brown Christmas tree with strung red Christmas berries and a few, precious Christmas ornaments I let myself choose from my family collection that I had managed to save; each year different ones took their turn. It was as much a memorial to my family as it was celebrating the reason for the season. But sometimes the season only made the ache harder to bear. Slowly, over the years, as I began to feel how lonely decorating for one made me feel I stopped doing it. But I wasn’t alone this year, not by a long shot.
I thought about what I would need to do and then got back to thinking about them deer. They’d have to come first which meant canning if I could; but what if I couldn’t? It wasn’t just pride that caused the idea of asking Cheryl for help to stick in my craw. I knew for a fact she had her hands full just trying to plan things for her own family and feed the field hands their supper for the day. That meant trying to figure out a different way.
The leather smith would take the hides. Dino and he had run across each other in the tree line across from our farm road. It was an easy barter; he’d take one of the hides and use it as payment to make some things Dino wanted out of the other. I planned on asking if I could have the broken antler from one of the deer. I was going to saw it into lengths and use it to make drawer pulls for the spice cabinet. Some of the little drawers in it have lost their knobs and those drawers drive me nuts having to fight to get into them every time I want to open them.
The sinew can be dried and saved for later use. It is great for wrapping things to make something stay; soak the sinew then wrap whatever your project is and then when it dries it shrinks a bit making a tight seal. My cousins used to make play bows out of them and use them to shoot dog fennel arrows. I reckon by that it could be used to make real bows if somebody could figure out how … or more importantly justify and expend the time and energy to do it.
Some of the tendons and cartilage can be saved to make glue with and I remembered that broken plate I keep meaning to fix and turn into a decoration. A decoration is all that plate would ever be because animal glue is water soluble and will melt if it gets wet. Regular glue like the white stuff I remember from school is still available but it isn’t cheap when there’s already so much else you need to spend your money on. Better to make do with homemade when at all possible. Even the hooves can get used for something and the leather smith was taking those too.
But even all of that usefulness still paled against what I would need to do with the meat. I knew what I wanted to do with some of it … sausage. All of Dino’s sausage had been either beef or pork sausage … or if someone brought home rabbit or squirrel from hunting I would sometime make a fresh sausage from that … but I wanted some venison sausage. Hardly any was left and it was getting missed at breakfast. I’d always traded for it from Mr. Hargrove but not living on that side of things anymore made it difficult.
I was also going to make a roast with the venison once it was brought in. Or maybe a big ol’ venison steak from the back straps. I’d been craving red meat and though I tried to get enough iron from the veggies I ate I knew that I needed fat and iron and protein from something besides Sunday’s chicken dinner.
But then I lit on the idea of doing what my cousins used to do and that was make jerky out of the meat. I know how to cook with dried meat, did it all the time before I came to do for Dino. I walked over to the shelf the shelf that I had begun to leave my recipe card box – started for me by my mother when I was very little – and took it down. I flipped through it, vaguely noticing all the different paper and handwriting that made up the cards, until I came to the meat section. I counted … over a dozen recipes for different kinds of jerky. Some of them I could do because I was missing an ingredient but most of them I could.
I nodded to myself and put the cards away. That decided I looked around at what I could do next and noticed that Kerry wasn’t where I’d left him. Then I heard him call me from the front room.
The uncertain tone of voice wasn’t one he normally used. It sounded a little hesitant and scared. I thought he’d gone and done something he knew he would get in trouble for but when I walked into the room he was staring through the window.
I looked and parked away from the house was an honest to goodness car. A real car and an expensive one from its look. Of course all cars were luxuries these days if for no other reason than the fuel they used. I was wondering why one would be out on this stretch of the road. If they had money for fuel to burn they should have stayed on the highway. Then I thought maybe they are just lost and looking for directions. A man in a heavy coat and hat was walking towards the house. I prayed that whatever it was that I could handle it.
“Stay in the house Squirt.”
“Riss?” he all be whispered. Even little boys knew such things as cars parked in the middle of nowhere was perplexing.
“Hey. I’m here Buddy. Just stay in the house and let me see what the man wants.”
I stepped outside to the front porch and waited.