It’s been a tense time for the last little while … and for more than one reason. There’s big reasons and then there’s those small reasons that feel big. Dino and I are hunkered and doing fine as far as things go but I still feel bad for my part in some of it. Alec and the other men still come and go and there doesn’t seem to be any hard feelings which is a really good thing because I’m not sure if Dino could take care of his big ol’ part of the vineyard and farm on his ownsome and still be able to provide the security it needs with the way things are.
“Damaris … Riss … Love … Don’t, not again. If you apologize one more time there’s going to be an argument all right and not between me and the rest of my family.”
“But I promised I wouldn’t …” I tried to continue.
“And you didn’t. Just because you were there doesn’t mean any of it was your fault.” At my look he said, “OK, so you might have been a part of it coming to a head but it seems to me after some thought it was bound to happen no matter who I married. People make choices … me included … that affect things but if you are making the right decision, the best decision you can at any given time, you aren’t responsible for other people taking it the wrong way. Take that Haroldson character for example – if that was even his name which I doubt. He made his choice and look where it got him; dead of pneumonia because he tried to runaway in bad weather. Aunt Adona and the rest of them are making their choices too; let them reap what they sow. I swear woman, you act like I’m in the throes of depression over it.”
“I’m not saying that and you know it,” I muttered a little irritated that he didn’t seem to understand that I felt bad about it. “But they are your family you know.”
He shook his head. “Nope, they are our family and if they can’t deal with that then they can stay on their side of the vineyard and we’ll stay on ours. We’re talking … well except for my Aunt … and work is still getting done. Nothing else is really important right now.”
We were getting ready for bed and the downstairs was already cold even though Dino had just come up from a final look around and lock up; I could feel the cold trying to stalk me up the stairs as I trailed him in the general direction of our room. Suddenly Dino did this … this thing that guys do and swooped on me and before I knew it I was in our bedroom sitting in the big chair by the fire … only Dino was somehow or other sitting there first so I was really on his lap. He reached over and grabbed the quilt off of the quilt stand and draped it over us and he set about distracting me.
Despite it all I had to laugh, though quietly so as not to wake the children. “Dino Pappas, I swear, you’ve got a one track mind lately. Do you want me to wind up in the same kind of trouble I was in with Pita?”
A wicked chuckle was my reward and it sent shiver to places ladies don’t discuss. “Riss, it won’t be trouble because we’re married and even if it was I wouldn’t mind being the cause that kept you in that kind of trouble for a long time to come.”
It was real hard to hang onto my mullygrubs with someone so intent on making me feel more than a little better. Thinking of a question I’d never asked him I asked, “Just how many kids do you want?”
“Houseful or however many God gives us, whichever comes first,” was his off-handed answer.
“Excuse me?!” I was honestly surprised for some reason.
He sighed, stopped what he was doing and focused. “Riss, you are not cooperating.”
“That’s because you distract me from thinking when you say things like that.”
“Thinking is not what I’m after here. I’m supposed to be distracting you period. Look, I like kids … kids of all ages, little ones, big ones, you name it. I didn’t think I’d ever have any more to raise for myself after Kerry and that might be one reason why I … well didn’t have him act his age better. Then you come all prepackaged and it turned out to be a wonderful thing for all of us. If you and I don’t have any together … yeah, I’ll … I’ll be disappointed I guess but it won’t be the end of the world. On the other hand I wouldn’t mind having several, maybe even a bunch, if it turns out that way. Now, can we get back to doing what we were doing?”
I put my arms around him and said, “You are a sweet man Dino Pappas; a little on the crazy side but definitely sweet.”
“Darlin’, sweet is not exactly what I’m going for here.”
Maybe not but it still worked for me. And it was kind of what I needed too to make me feel like I hadn’t ruined things. Oh, a good part of me knew it was my “separation issues” leftover from all the stuff that happened to me growing up. I didn’t exactly live my life waiting for the next bad thing to happen but the worry of that idea did get to me on occasion. But even though I didn’t dwell on it all the time, part of me still felt guilty and out of sorts. Dino won’t hear of it being my fault of any sort but I know even if I don’t bear any fault per se that I’ve still got some responsibility in it. He tells me that I’m letting my choices with Sol cloud my vision and that I need to forgive myself for not making good decisions then; and remember that not making good decisions then doesn’t mean I’m not capable of making good decisions now. He gave his marriage to Tammy as an example and while it didn’t make me feel any better (bringing up that woman’s name never does) it didn’t make me feel worse neither. I suppose he has a point; I just don’t always want to see it.
Could be true though, I’m still thinking on that part of it. I look at Pita and love her so much I’d surely break if anything happened to her. I look at Dino and Kerry and love them too the same way and know that had I not been such a knothead that I likely wouldn’t be with them now. Maybe I feel guilty because my own ijit-ness ultimately brought me such profit. Maybe … oh heck, why is it so hard just to accept that things aren’t near as bad as they could have been and accept that God didn’t make me pay the full measure for what I did? I gotta stop listening for that other shoe to drop, there’s enough misery in the world right now without me trying to manufacture a little more ‘cause I don’t deserve my own good fortune.
Newton and Cherry Gap and many other towns, big and small, have suffered from an influx of evacuees from the large urban areas. But the evacuees never seem to hang around long. They come and go and some of them come and go again, maybe a few times, because they can’t find whatever it is they are looking for and they just cycle through areas looking for it or trying to meet up with folks they’ve been separated from. Most of them wear out their welcome fast if they ever receive any welcome to begin with. There’s lots of ways to illustrate this but the biggest way I know is that reloads are in high demand, especially for shotguns, and I’m sure I don’t want to know why. I sure as heck know it isn’t for hunting, all the wild game has dug a hole and crawled in or so it seems. And if I hear people say life isn’t fair one more time I’m gonna near explode.
Fair is a concept from the past that only ever really applied to children’s games. Life just ain’t fair, period. Justice is hard enough to come by, fairness doesn’t really exist on this side of the pearly gates. And as surely as God made little green apples there are going to be some folks that refuse to get that concept and muck it up for the rest of us.
We’ve been having some trouble with night time visitors. We’ve locked everything up that can be locked up at night – including the animals though there is some danger in that in case of fire or what have you – and we’ve noted where there have been some attempts to break in or through the doors of the out buildings. Lost what looks like a hundred pounds of potatoes this way and we finally just moved them down into the basement; same with the apples. Makes for awful confusion down there but I’d rather be confused than see my family starve, especially due to plain ol’ thievery. The dogs are allowed to roam at night because of this in a way they never were before and Dino is usually up all night with them if the temperature stays above thirty degrees overnight, which blessedly for his health isn’t often.
The cold has been a problem but a blessing at the same time. It makes it very uncomfortable to be outside while working or riding the fence line but if it is uncomfortable for us, then it is doubly and triply so for the evacuees and trouble makers, many of whom are already running low on reserves of energy and body fat … and in some cases good sense.
There have been more than a few bodies found dead of exposure. Of those you can pretty much bet there were also signs of malnutrition or violence of some type or what a lot of people think of as general stupidity as is the case with the obvious addicts. But there have also been enough signs to know that there are some pretty clever folks out there too and those can be worrisome since you never know whether they are up to no good or just passing through.
My first experience with the truly no-good kind started with the man calling himself Haroldson. We found out the next afternoon that he’d tried to run for it overnight and fallen into some water at the bottom of one of the gullies and gotten pretty froze up. Alec and Ajax had turned him over to the local sheriff who in turn had given him over to the state police since a man by that name had a been wanted for questioning. We never got all the answers of who he was or who he really worked for because the dunk in the water on a freezing night hadn’t done him any good atall. Found out two weeks later he’d caught some type of bad pneumonia and just kicked off real fast when his chest filled up and caused both lungs to collapse. His two suitcases are still up at the Big House waiting on someone to come claim them.
Dino and Alec are both really watchful now as to how they conduct business. They had always been careful, if for no other reason than the amount of money involved, but it goes beyond that now. And it isn’t just vineyard business but farm business and personal business too. Not everyone in our community is doing so well as us and some people can be snippy and then some, like just because you’ve got more than they do somehow you got it the wrong way.
Best example I can think of is something that happened not that long ago. As a treat on a day that wasn’t as freezing as it had been Dino took us to Newton to handle some business and to give me a chance to get out and about since I hadn’t been since before Pita was born. Winter had the town looking sad and depressed but not too muddy as the streets were kept up by prison labor. But there was more to it than just winter making the town look like it did. I could feel the tension in some folks and the listlessness in others, like they’d give up, at least for the time being. There were more strangers around than people I recognized and Dino didn’t want me roaming by myself so I had to wait until after he was finished with his business to get any real looking done.
It was a brisk day and he bid me stay in the quilt shop until he fetched me. Well, that wasn’t a hardship as I ran into a few of the older ladies from church and we had a nice little chat going and they were making a real fuss over Pita; Kerry was his daddy’s shadow that day. These ladies were real Christians. They were happy for me, for my blessings and not jealous a bit. In fact it seemed to tickle them plum silly and they were nearly as excited about it all as the day Dino and I got married. Sweet ol’ things, everyone one of them.
I was going to make Pita and Kerry a new church outfit as part of their Christmas. Kerry was also getting new boots and his own pocket knife and BB gun. Dino had already gotten everything but the clothes because he said going into the fabric store with all those women gave him the sweats. Pita didn’t need much but I was going to make her a rag doll that would be easy to wash ‘cause you know it would need a good one on a regular basis.
So there I was talking fabric and notions with a pile set aside to buy from the junk bin and several cards of buttons, zippers, elastic, and spools of thread and a couple of extra bobbins and I was so involved I didn’t pay attention to all who was coming and going. Pita started a fuss so I took her out of carrier I was toting her around in and put her up on my shoulder so she could look around for a bit.
I knew the ladies around me had grown a little louder when they were talking but I figured it was just their age showing but then a really loud “red headed step child” remark came from not too far away. Uh oh. I knew that voice.
I turned around and said, “Cindy will you please tell everyone why you are always so keen to try and get my attention? Do you want to fight like an alley cat or is it you just can’t help you’ve got the morals of one?”
She hissed like an irritated snake. “Why you little …”
“Enough,” I said. “I’ve had enough. I don’t know why you are always spoiling for a fight, I really don’t. If it is that Sol never would pay you any of the attention you wanted him to then take it up with him, but you’ll have to go through his wife first. She’s some kind of nasty about things like that from what I’ve been told. If it is that Dino didn’t want you for the job you applied for then deal with it; he’s a man and entitled to make his own mind up about such things. If you’ve got a legitimate problem with me then put it on the table so we can hash it out. But you had better leave my children out of it Cindy. Whatever the problem is they certainly don’t deserve the acid you’re always dripping off your tongue these days.”
The perpetually nasty look on her face only got worse, “Well aren’t you special. You think just because you’ve got a man with money that it somehow makes you better than everybody else.”
“Have you lost your mind?” I asked, surprised despite myself. “Dino works his hind end off and I do too. Anyone that has anything these days has to.” Still confused I asked, “And what does the farm have to do with you acting like this to me?! Certainly it shouldn’t give you any cause to attack my baby like you were doing. That makes just about as much sense as someone trying to nail jelly to a tree.”
She didn’t want to have anything to do with logic. “Calling me names won’t make up for what you’ve done,” she growled.
“Cindy … get it through your head will you? I’m still trying to find out from you what you think I’ve done that I haven’t already admitted to in public and paid my dues over. You keep talking ‘round in circles but you aren’t makin’ a lick a sense. At least none as I can tell.”
“You’ve already ruined one family – two if you count the one you were born into – now you’re ruining Dino’s family. I hear you even hurt poor Mrs. Nichols so much she can’t stand to even be near you. You’re just a witch that brings nothing but bad with you.”
OK, I admit I’ve got a crack or two that people can dig in and hurt me with. Cindy knew doggone good and well what she said was gonna hurt though at the time I didn’t know that the change between the two sides of the vineyard was known outside the family. I was almost breathless with hurt and embarrassment the fact that she’d say it out loud in public like that.
I had my back to the door and only noticed that it opened and closed because Pita whimpered when the wind that whipped in tried to take her breath. “Cynthia I’m sure I don’t know what you are talking about. My mother in law may be a bit under the weather and … well, a little out of sorts … but I assure you there is nothing wrong between the Pappas’ and Nichols’ households.”
I turned to see Cheryl bearing down on me like a ship in full sail. “I saw Dino a couple of doors down and since we were heading this way anyway I decided to corner you about getting some help with some sewing. Tina wants to look at some material as she didn’t care for any of the curtains at the flea market on Saturday.”
I looked over to see Tina smiling like there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. “Oh Riss, guess what? Forget it, you’ll never guess. Ajax has already started working on the carriage house! Papa Alec and Mother Cheryl were wondering how they were going to scoot us out of the nest without hurting our feelings and Ajax had been staying because he didn’t want to hurt theirs and … oh, it was all just kind of silly but come spring we’re really going to have a little place of our own! Well, accept for … uh … well …”
She sealed her lips like she’d said too much. I looked at Cheryl who sighed and shrugged. “Alec’s mother generally only gives one hundred percent approval to plans that she came up with herself. She’ll come around … or not … her choice. Now show me what you’ve been up to and how is Pita-pie doing?”
Well, the babies got traded around and Tina’s “little stranger” due in the spring got congratulated on and generally we just ignored and then forgot about Cindy. I can’t even say for sure when she left or with whom. The quilt shop ladies had a good day and so did Joe’s place though it was obvious they had cut back on what they offered. It was all still really good – even better just because I didn’t have to cook it – but having the chili might have been a mistake as I’d no sooner nursed Pita that night than she was letting me know she didn’t appreciate it none at all.
That was the turning point though things have gone back to the way they were before. The Pappas and Nichols family exchanged packages at Christmas but we really didn’t socialize much. Dino blamed the weather but I still wonder about that. Christmas Day itself was observed as a quiet, religious holiday though the family used to do it up pretty well when Papooh and Yaya were still alive. I did learn lots of new Greek words … like “kalanda” for Christmas carols and “Christopsomo” for the sweet holiday bread that Cheryl and Tamara baked. They also sent over some baklava and reminded Dino to tell me about their other Christmas traditions since the weather was too bad to try and get the children together.
New Year’s Day – or St. Basil’s Day as Adona kept insisting it be called – was when the family finally got together. I mostly spent time with Tina helping her make plans for her decorating scheme when I could get out of being in the large group, and generally tried not to draw too much attention. Adona was as stiff as I’d ever seen her but she didn’t short Kerry on attention which really is the only reason that Dino said we’d go. The only one missing from the get together was AJ.
Now we are in the coldest and shortest days. It seems kind of dreary with all the greenery taken down and the decorations put away but I also appreciate that there is less to keep up with. There’s enough to do as it is. AJ left about a week after Thanksgiving and hasn’t made it back, mostly from choice I think.
Dino came in today carrying another packet and all I could do was groan. “Oh no, what now?! Not another order so soon?”
Dino laughed, “It’s not that bad Riss and you know it.”
I rolled my eyes, “Says you. All of our honey is being used.”
“Not all of it,” Dino contradicted still laughing at the look on my face. “You have to admit it is nice getting real coin in exchange for something we don’t really have to spend much money on to make.”
I snorted, “What’s the sense in having those coins if we don’t have anything we can spend it on?”
“Don’t grump Love. I’m tucking it away for Kerry and Pita … and anyone else that might come along.”
I stomped my foot, “Dang it Dino, if we get caught with those ‘coins’ do you know how toasted we are?”
He told me that’s why they are being tucked away for the future for when or if things change. It still makes my hair hurt to know that AJ’s naughtiness is catching us up into it too. I understand why but it still makes me nervous.
It all goes back to when AJ agreed to help me set up an inventory system. He saw right off where we had surplus and as is his nature the wheels in his noggin started trying to figure out a way to profit from it.