Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Chapter Forty-Three

Chapter 43

We’ve been given a really odd help to the business. Would you believe the military has contracted for a bunch of cases of those little 6.4 oz bottles of wine? AJ set it up and Alec and Dino have pretty much been floored by the whole deal. Last year was such a good year grape-wise that there was a lot of left over barrels of the grape even after fulfilling all of the orders and even after losing that one acre. They had thought to let it age for one of their real luxury lines but this may be a better, immediate use for it. It also uses a good chunk of bottles that they had for a fad item that went out of fashion several years back where they did personalized labels on the little bottles of inexpensive Pappas wine for wedding gifts and receptions.

They also have these small cartons that they can use to make “boxed”wine; another experiment by Papooh that didn’t quite pan out. They look just like the juice boxes you could get at the grocery store when I was little. They hold about a cup of wine and are just about the strangest way of storing wine that I can imagine. On the other hand I guess people thought the same thing when they started selling shelf-stable milk that way trying to get away from the plastics and need for refrigeration.

Starting up the bottling equipment off season isn’t something they planned for so they are reworking the budget and Alec thinks that he can run some of the equipment on methane and the rest on biodiesel. But now I’m being told that I can’t use any of my chicken manure for the garden because they are going to need it for the methane ingestors. You know I’m not happy about that but the wine is the cash crop for both families and these days you have to make your profit where you can.

It has been warm enough that I’m letting all the foul set their latest clutches of eggs and we already have some chicks and goslings. Until I can get a male turkey from Aunt Adona I won’t be able to do the same with the turkeys. That particular project is on hold and between you and me she is being sneaky and saying that she needs all of her males. Even if that is true I just want him for a loaner … let him do his male thing and then when the turkey hens set a clutch she can have her old gobbler back. Chester said that he’ll try and catch me a wild gobbler and see if it will mate with the dim domesticated turkey hens that we have but I’m not holding my breath not to mention those turkey hens are getting a little long in the tooth so to speak to be laying clutches of good eggs. I’d love to have a wild pair to stir things up a bit, but wild turkeys are doggone smart although if anyone can actually catch them it would be Chester.

Chester has a way with the birds and has been lots of help in areas I never expected it. He’s not much older than Alec but his life has given him a washed out stooped over look like it’s been trying to bend him double since he was just a kid. He and the boys seem more at peace now than they ever have. Seems that Chester’s wife made their lives harder than was strictly necessary, and that’s putting it politely. “Miz Riss, I miss my baby girl but to be honest she is the spitting image of her ma and has her personality too. I think it may be best that she stay with her ma until she is old enough to decide for herself. I write her every week to make sure she doesn’t think I’ve forgotten about her but I’ve only gotten a couple of letters back and every one of them starts out saying that her granny is making her write back to me. I’ll say that for the old besom, she at least knows what’s proper.”

“The old besom” is Chester’s mother in law and there is no love lost there though there is a certain respect on both sides. I’m sorry that Chester’s marriage wasn’t a happy one but I’m not sorry that it means that he and the boys have come to live on the farm. Strange way to get a blessing but that is surely what it is for us.

Chester’s sons have been a lot of help as well. I’m not fat with a baby any more but I am forever running around with one on my back or front in a baby sling. And I’ve found if I over do the hard physical kind of labor that my milk seems to get a little thin and Pita wants to nurse more often which can make me sore as the dickens. Dino noticed that I was thinner than he remembered me to be before I ever got caught with Pita and now grumps and says that I’m to drink a couple of glasses of milk before I strain all the cream out of it. Bossy man … but it’s only because he cares.

Going back to the strange order of single-serve bottles and boxed wine from the military that we got, if I was the drinking kind of person I would almost understand it. As it is a small glass of watered down wine is as close as I’ve come … and just about as much as I can stand. I’m not nitpicking if you’ve been raised to it the way Dino’s family has been but for me I just haven’t cottoned to it yet. But for sure I can see how some people gain some pleasure out of it. I think they are ordering the wine possibly for the troops as a surprise or something.

AJ thinks I’m being naive but I certainly hope it is for the troops and not for bribery or some of the other things he mentioned. He came for a short visit to bring a large load of supplies that are currently hiding out in the old tractor barn with the rest of dribs and drabs he has sent out to us. I told him at the time that some of the building supplies he brought look like they’ve been dug out of the rubble of the city.

“Well Damaris, you are more than half right,” he says back to me.


“I have a crew that goes into the condemned districts and they recycle or reclaim things.”

Well apparently that kind of thing is perfectly legal as long as he keeps a permit with the city in good order. It saves the city clean up costs among other things.

To keep the “reclamation gangs” as they are called from cherry picking goodies from all over the condemned areas, crews are assigned building lots by permit. The lots have to be cleaned down to the ground or at least the slab foundation before a crew can get another permit for a new location. If the property had a basement or underground area they have to be made so that they don’t hold water which is extra work. Hazmat teams have to occasionally be called in when a body is found or there is a big chemical containment problem; this holds up a job but otherwise with experience and efficiency the crews run smoothly and interact with other well. There are the occasional problem with “claim jumpers” so most crews leave security at their lots and the CSP patrols those areas in heavy numbers as well though AJ said that the CSP creates as many problems as they try and solve.

The city has trucks and dumpsters where you can trade metal and other desired recyclables for fuel credits. Some of the CSP agents like to skim the profit or falsify the weight scale so you have to be real careful and not just assume they are being honest. It is brutally hard work, and at times dangerous because most of it must be done by hand, but AJ says he is turning a reasonable profit for the crews on top of gathering materials to renovate the gate house with.

When he came for a visit he brought a package from Hannah that included some things for Pita and Kerry and even a couple of long denim skirts for me.

Dear Riss,

Don’t have a snit, this isn’t charity. I’m doing it because for once in my life I can and want to do something for all you did for me. You might ask how but the long answer won’t fit in this card so it will have to come later. Basically I had to quit the school I was going to. Uncle Bill said it was ridiculous and a waste of money to think I’d ever make it as a nurse because of the math and science I would have to take. That in turn took away from my chance to volunteer at the long term care facility. I still go there twice a week but I can’t do all I did before, I’m restricted from certain wards, and I can’t work more than a certain number of hours without some type of equivalency certificate … which I can’t qualify for because I can’t pay the fee or afford the classes.

I tried to get a job to save up money but there aren’t any close by except for the munitions factories and Uncle Bill has put the word out that he has forbidden it. Mr. Nichols asked the wrong question one day when he saw me at the bus stop we both use and I started balling like a stupid baby. We missed the bus when he took me to a sandwich shop to get me away from the curious crowd and after hearing my story he said I could try working with the women that do the sorting at his warehouse. It isn’t like working with the patients, and the women there are the “tough broad” types rather than the Sisters of Charity type, but I tell you I’m grateful for it. It is hard work and some of that stuff is so nasty it makes me gag but it’s money Riss. But more than that it’s freedom. I’d rather gag in that hot warehouse with those biker chicks than suffocate in my uncle’s luxurious compound with Mom and Chantelle any day.


Hannah surprises me in some way with every letter she sends. I think she is not the same girl I used to know, or maybe she is but has gotten rid of all the baggage she used to cart around with her all the time. I know she is lonely even though she never uses that word. No beaus come to court her when that was all she seemed to think about at one time. She hasn’t told me about a single new girlfriend when she used to have quite a clique she hung around with. She seems to see her momma differently and for the life of me she reminds me more of Harry than she ever did when we were all children together; or maybe that is just wishful thinking.

I also think Mrs. Bly’s brother can’t abide even the thought of a dream of independence by her, otherwise what would be the point in forcing her to quit school like that? She was terribly proud of her grades which was a lot different than when we were in school together when she was such a careless student. I wish I could have her come stay for a while just to see the truth for myself of whether she’s changed her spots. The only other thing I could think of was that perhaps Mrs. Bly’s brother had a financial setback but AJ says no. He actually looked into it on account of how strange it seemed so I’m back to thinking it is just purely a control issue … or meanness since they feel about the same when you are on the receiving end.

I have to say I did appreciate the things she sent. Most of it was serviceable and comfortable which means she put some thought into each item, making them useful which she knows for a fact I appreciate. She also sent out some crochet thread and embroidery floss, and even a bag of buttons, snaps, and hooks along with another bag of quilting scraps, zippers, and elastic.

I know the she must have come by them from another one of AJ’s “enterprises.” There are the women that sort what comes in and then there are other women who refurbish reclaimed clothing and household goods. In turn AJ sells the refurbished items by the pound to store front businesses or on the black market where they are shipped off to who knows where. None of AJ’s enterprises are especially large if you use the old standards but he seems wicked clever. Every employee is a “partner” and they have to buy in which saves AJ from the tax headaches and gets him his initial investment back fairly quickly. They don’t make a ton of money individually but he has so many irons in the fire I wonder how on earth he keeps track of them all.

I said as much to Dino the other day and he snorted and told me, “Isn’t that something like the pot calling the kettle black?”

A little offended though I’m still not quite sure why I asked, “What do you mean?”

He rolled his eyes and said, “Let’s see … for the store there’s soap, dried herbs and tinctures, those herbal pillow things, dried teas, potpourri, pickled eggs, and squirrel sausage. And you are planning to send cheese after you get our own supply back where you want it. Here at home you’ve got the vegetable garden, orchard, herb garden, taking care of the kids and the house and everything in it. At church you keep up with the old folks and keep track of the little boys. You’re the only one AJ wants messing with his stuff – which I don’t mind even if it does bug Alec which I think is AJ’s purpose – and Chester’s and Alec’s boys say you are the only one that can help them understand their math homework. You want me to keep going?”

The way he grumped while reciting the list made me ask hesitantly, “Do you … do you maybe feel you aren’t getting enough of my personal attention? Or my time or something?”

A slow smile transformed his face. “No, not really. I just got used to having my country mouse all to myself I guess.” A little sternness crept into his voice though when he added, “And I don’t like to think you are wearing yourself to a frazzle.”

Defending myself I said, “I don’t do anything if I think it is going to hinder me being able to manage things here but I’d be a fool not to strike while the iron is hot. Make hay while the sun shines or risk losing the whole of it. And do you really think of me as a mouse? When’s the last time you heard me squeak?”

He winked and chuckled when he said, “The other night when I caught you in the stair well.”

I blushed crimson but rolled my eyes and told him, “That doesn’t count.”

He laughed and said, “Does too.” But then added, “I don’t mean anything bad by it Love. I like who you are and you make my days sweeter. But you have to admit it is hard to see you living in town much less in a city some place.”

I sighed. “Just because I’ve forgotten how doesn’t mean I can’t relearn. I like it here sure, but home is where ever you and the children are. If nothing else, this flaming war has taught me what is most important.”

And that led into some other kind of communicating that didn’t take near the number of words we had been using.


  1. Story! Woohoo! Methinks it's high time Hanna got out from under her uncle's fat, sweaty thumb and married AJ so they could set up house together.

  2. Thank you for another chapter. :)