Thursday, May 28, 2015

Chapter Seven


“Uncle Carmichael you didn’t have to come out here.  Crazy enough that Cliff is doing it.” 

A very sour expression was my answer until he blasted me with, “Don’t tell me what’s crazy Prissy Britches or you just might hear some things you don’t want to.  Now take this box up to the porch for your cousin; looks like Christine is puking again.” 

Ignoring what I could get away with ignoring, namely the hint that I should have found a way to contact him sooner, I told him, “I’ll get Aunt Rachel on her.  She knows all sorts of remedies though she’s just as likely to tell her she’s gonna have to sleep in the bed she made.”  There was the sound of something wet hitting the ground and splattering.  “Ugh, that sounds nasty.  Does she do this all the time?” 

A groan from near the bushes was followed by, “I’m not deaf you know.  I’m standing right here.” 

Shaking my head even though she couldn’t see it I told my cousin, “Well you shouldn’t be standing right there.  You should be back home and you wouldn’t have gotten car sick.”  Another groan and more heaving told me she wouldn’t be making intelligent conversation for a while yet. 

I walked up to the porch where Aunt Rachel was looking at the mess being brought in from the three vehicles that had just arrived and talking with Cevin who’d driven his wheelchair up the ramp that Dad built for her back when I was a little girl.  “Hey Cev!  I don’t mean to interrupt but I need to ask my aunt something.” 

He gave me a sweet smile and waved that he didn’t mind and I noticed that he seemed more there than he had last time I’d seen him.  Living in the independent facility seems to have done him some good. 

I walked over to Aunt Rachel and pulled her aside to ask her quietly, “Are you OK with this?  I didn’t invite Cliff out here to get all snotty and bossy and I sure didn’t think the others would descend on us too.” 

Aunt Rachel patted my arm and said, “Well that’s family for you.  Just when you think you’ve got them figured out they’ll go and do something to surprise you.”  She shook her head.  “Gonna mean more work for you.  This heat is taking all my starch out.” 

“It’s not the work I’m worried about.  I just don’t want you upset.” 

Aunt Rachel smiled like she appreciated her feelings being taken into consideration but she still said gruffly, “Girl I am not made of spun sugar.  Don’t you start treating me that way either.” 

“No ma’am but this is your home and it’s … even to me it’s like an invasion.” 

She patted my arm again.  “Oh let ‘em think they’re helping.  It will make them feel better and we might actually get something out of it too.  And as soon as we can make them feel good enough … or work them hard enough … they’ll see fit to go home and leave us in peace again.  I used to love to having the family out for a visit but was always happy to see the backside of them again too.  Reckon it will be the same this time.  You just watch that boy when he’s messing with my truck.  We only need something to get us from point A to point B; not some jumped up speed buggy that uses a lot of petrol.  And I want to know exactly how much it costs.  We are not a charity case.  I am perfectly capable of paying my own way.” 

“Yes ma’am,” I said knowing it would be useless to fight about it no matter that I had already slipped Cliff the money to pay for the battery yesterday. 

Aunt Rachel went back over to Cevin and started to interrogate him about how he likes his new living arrangements.  She was a special ed teacher before there really was such a thing and had always had a soft spot for the youngest Montgomery brother.  I left her to it since it seemed to have put her in a good mood and walked over to Cliff.  Before I could even open my mouth he said, “This wasn’t my idea.  I was going to be up here earlier today but when Dad and your uncle heard the story – and then Christine – they started making plans without me being able to get any warning to you.” 

“Kinda figured.  If you think I’m strong-willed you need to be around Uncle Carmichael a little more.  He makes me look like an angel.  Dad was just as bad or so I’m told so now you know where I get it from.  Chris better be glad that I got Christine’s share so he doesn’t have to put up with it.  I’m really not surprised to see you or even Uncle Carmichael – not even Christine – so much as I am to see Connor and Chris … and Cevin.” 

He gave me a look out of the corner of his eye and said slowly, “Mom … Mom is …” 

Connor strolled up with another box, sat it down on the porch, and then fist bumped Cliff’s shoulder.  He turned to me and said, “Mom is going through one of her spells.  Dad and Carl are planning an intervention and getting her to go visit this spa-thing upstate where they’re going to put her on a special diet and exercise routine and other stuff.  Natural and organic stuff to see if they can get her system regulated.” 

Cliff unhappily griped, “Con!” 

“Oh don’t turn into the Cliffinator on me.  If you’d just tell her and get it out of your system you wouldn’t have to walk on eggshells all the time.” 

Instead of fighting Cliff jerked up his tool box and the new truck battery and retreated in the direction of the pole barn.  Con sighed and looked at me for a moment and then got a surprised look on his own face.  “You know.  You do don’t you.  Christine swore she’s never said anything to you about it.” 

“She hasn’t.  It’s just I’m not nearly as stupid as people want to give me credit for being barring what happened at the riot and afterwards.  Let me go see if I can … I don’t know.  Geez.”  I reluctantly made my way over to where Cliff had the truck’s hood up and was peering inside. 

He glanced my way and then said, “I’m busy Winnie.” 

“What happened to Gypsy?” 

“Other people are around.” 

I leaned against the truck.  “OK … and … and thanks.  Hey about …” 

“I said I’m busy.” 

“So be busy and just let me say this and then we can be done with it.”  He just ignored me so I took the leap anyway.  “I know.  I’ve never known what to say about it or how to let you know that I know.  Mostly it isn’t my business but the other part is …”  I shrugged.  “You’re my friend and it hurts you so I don’t want to do anything that hurts you more.  You’re cranky and irritating and testosterone poisoned sometimes but none of the rest of it really changes the fact that you’re my friend and I’m going to get really angry if somehow you knowing that I know makes that go away.  So if you don’t want to talk about it, don’t want me to mention it, I’ll follow your lead just like you don’t call me Gypsy in front of other people.  Just don’t stop being my friend because … well … that wouldn’t be good. OK?” 

He wasn’t answering me and after standing there for almost a full minute in silence I sighed and started to walk away but all of a sudden he said, “We’re still friends?” 

Eager to smooth things out I rushed back and said, “Of course.  Do I look like a dork or something?  And don’t you dare turn that into a joke Cliff ‘cause … ‘cause I’m being totally serious about this.” 

He snorted and then with his head still stuck under the hood said, “I don’t know how to talk about it.  Don’t want to talk about it.  Get sick of it when Dad makes me talk about it.  Same way you get sick and tired of people making something out of what Tamika and her pack did.” 

“OK.  But just so you know … well … it did make me uncomfortable knowing about it at first but then I realized you were still you and I was still me and it was kinda dumb to let anything get in the way of that.  If I don’t let your girl-habits get in the way of our friendship I don’t see why this other should.” 

He snorted again but said, “Dating is not the same thing has having a girlfriend.  Girlfriends are … not something … oh hell … just stop worrying about what you call my girl-habits.  They aren’t as big a deal as you keep making them out to be.  Besides, what about all the farm boys out here?” 

“What about them?  They aren’t any different than the city boys back in town and no one is beating a path to my door.  For obvious reasons.  Besides I already told you, I’m too busy.”  I tried to get under the hood too but I would have needed to stand on something to do it.  “Look, are we square or not?” 

He finally stepped back from the hood and said, “Yeah.  We’re square.” 

“Good.  You want some tea or some water?” 

“Water.” 

And that’s where we’ve left it.  Sometimes things matter and sometimes they don’t.  And sometimes things just are what they are and you have to live with it being that way.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Chapter Six


“Holy hell, what happened around here?!” 

“Cliff?!  Are you crazy?!!  What are you doing here?  And you could have gotten shot sneaking up on me like that you idiot!” 

Cliff gave me a look that would have fried an egg.  “What do you mean what am I doing here?!  No one’s heard from you in almost a month.  You and the old lady could be dead out here in the boonies!  Your uncle was going to come too but said he was too mad and might say the wrong thing or beat up the guy you’re with.”  Cliff took a good look around and asked a second time, “What happened?  This place looks … I don’t know … a lot worse than I remember it.  It looks trashed.” 

Cliff was still angry but he was calmer than he had been when he’d first gotten out of his vehicle and I was just too tired to yell and tell him to go take a jump in a lake.  “OK, first there are no guys involved.  As you can obviously see I don’t have time for that sort of stuff.  And second try a tornado or two.  Small one here.  Bigger one took out the ‘lectric co-op.  Mostly back up for everyone but those of us in this corner of the county.  There is some kind of disagreement about who owns the lines and is responsible for repairing them, or at least that’s what we were told.  There are barely a handful of us that are still without power and two of those are hunting lodges and one is an empty, foreclosed trailer on some land.  So it isn’t like it is a priority for anyone.”  I pushed a hank of hair out of my eyes and asked, “Why are you here again?” 

A frail, wizened old voice called from the house, “Winifred?  Winifred?!” 

“Oh gosh, hang on.  She’s having a really bad day.” 

I left Cliff standing where he’d found me burning more of the trash that had been blown onto Aunt Rachel’s property.  Two hours later Cliff and I sat together on what was left of the side porch drinking tea. 

For the leventy-dozenth time he said, “I should have come sooner.” 

“Oh get over it already.  I hadn’t realized it had been as long as it had or maybe I would have made more effort to get a message out.  I’ve actually been enjoying not having people come out here.  Besides it isn’t like anyone could do anything.” 

“How could you not realize it’s been a month since you’ve had any electricity?  And I thought you said the bloggers and reporters had stopped bothering you.” 

“Almost a month but not quite.  And it wasn’t like they were coming every day anymore but some would still show up like there were expecting to find me dancing naked by moonlight and throwing curses at anyone whose skin of darker than a English peach.”  Cliff gave me another scorching look so I told him, “Oh take it easy.  Time has just been running together and I’ve been busy.”  I snorted.  “Actually too busy to even wonder what the idiots with the telephoto lenses might be capturing for public consumption.” 

Ignoring my snark Cliff asked, “What about church and that other thing … that sewing thing?  Did you have time to do that?” 

“See that tree over there?” 

“The big one that’s laid over?  Yeah.” 

“My car is under there.  Or what is left of my car.  Aunt Rachel’s truck was saved by the pole barn but it only started about half the time anyway and now I think the battery is dead or something because there’s no power to anything and it doesn’t even click when you turn the key.” 

Cliff cursed and I punched him in the arm.  “Hey!  I just got Aunt Rachel settled.  If she hears your mouth I’ll have to start all over again.” 

“You ain’t heard nothin’,” he said albeit more quietly.  “I cannot believe you’ve been stuck out here with that crazy ol’ lady without even a car and nobody knew.” 

“She’s not crazy, she’s just … look, the dementia has gotten a little worse since the storm.  She’s almost 89 and just lost half of the outbuildings on her property and those that are left are damaged including the farmhouse.  It doesn’t matter that most of those building were empty and unused, they were still hers to call her own.  She’s got insurance, and the adjustor has been out and looked around, but I haven’t been able to get to the post office to pick up the check in the mail, try and find someone to repair stuff like this porch, or anything else for that matter.  On top of that her favorite cat hasn’t been seen in over a week and she thinks a coyote might have gotten it, one of her wind up radios isn’t working, and when she is in her right mind she is scared to death that somebody from the county is gonna come out here, condemn the farm, and force her into a nursing home.  She is really, really stressed out.  That’s why I’ve been busting my butt trying to clean things up.” 

Cliff shook his head.  “You’re as crazy as that old lady in there.  You ever heard of a hotel?  You ever heard of flagging down a cop and getting a ride to where you could get a signal with your phone?  I know you’ve got a prejudice against them but this is their job.  How have you been getting by with no food and water?” 

“Chill Cliff.  I’m not a complete idiot.  I couldn’t flag down a cop because none came out this way except once when the storm was over to make sure we were still living.  This area is serviced by a contract with the county Sheriff’s office and with all the budget cuts there aren’t enough deputies to cover all the territory they are supposed to; they have to focus on the trouble spots to keep that stuff contained.  And there has been a lot of trouble; maybe not riots but there has been looting and break ins.  As for food and water we aren’t hurting.  For water we have the hand pump and it pulls up colder water than used to come from the tap.  What do you think you are drinking?  And for food, I cleaned out the hole that fed the spring house and that’s what we are using for refrigeration.  Most of the kitchen garden is coming back though it is a pain to water but thankfully we only lost one of the other gardens further from the house.  A bunch of trees in the orchards got damaged but not so bad they won’t come back next year, and most will still have at least some fruit on them this year which I have to pick and preserve between everything else that I’m doing.  The valve on the big propane tank is frozen for some reason but the smaller one attached to the house still has fuel in it.  I try and do most of the cooking outside on the fire pit anyway to keep the house from feeling like an oven.” 

In a completely horrified whisper Cliff said, “Oh my God, you’ve turned into Ma Ingalls.” 

“Oh shut up.” 

Closer to normal he asked, “Seriously.  What do you think this is?  The pioneer days or something?  Come on.  A spring house.  A hand pump.  And … oh geez … I see chickens!” 

I snorted a laugh.  “You said that like you see dead people or something.  Don’t come unglued.” 

“And what was the deal with threatening me with a gun?  Have you lost your marbles?  You could have gotten hurt.” 

Sighing I said, “Hey, you go hunting with your dad and Uncle Carmichael.  And you know good and well I know how to shoot too because Uncle Carmichael insisted that Christine and I learn so he could feel safe having guns in the house while we lived there.  Out here I learned fast you just can’t run a farm without at least carrying a revolver or something.  There’s snakes, coyotes, feral dogs … just all sorts of stuff.” 

“I’m not a snake or a feral dog no matter what some of the girls I dated might say.  I mean it Winnie, what’s up with the gun thing?  Not to mention what happens if you get caught with a gun and the cops run your name?”

I leaned tiredly against the porch post and said, “Because no cops means no cops or 911 or anything like that.  Some of the neighbors around here have had trouble since the storm – and before that – with thieves and rustlers and I figure me with a revolver is safer than Aunt Rachel waiving around that giant shotgun she has.  The thing looks like a freaking cannon and is just as loud when it goes off.” 

“Oh my God.  There’s a demented old lady running around with a shot gun.” 

At his look I said, “No.  Not right now.  I’ve got the shotgun locked in the gun safe.  Actually it was Aunt Rachel who locked it in there and then gave me the keys and told me to keep them until she was in a more lucid frame of mind.  You should have seen her Cliff, she was so sad.  It was like the day she admitted she wasn’t fit to drive anymore.” 

Cliff just shook his head.  “C’mon.  Pack your stuff and something for the old lady too.  I’m taking you out of here.” 

“No.” 

Incredulously he said, “Come again?” 

“I said no.  This is where I belong.  Not being a nurse maid to Christine or under Barb’s thumb.  Here.  Where I know I do some good.” 

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” 

“I don’t expect you to understand.  If you had asked me even six months ago I would have laughed and said I was crazy.  But … look, I … I like it here.  No one hassles me about anything.” 

“What about school?  You wanted to do that thing … be a … a whatever you call it where you counsel kids.” 

“Grief counselor.  And I already do that sometimes.  At Aunt Rachel’s church.  There are a lot of widows and widowers there and some kids that have lost their parents for whatever reason.  I help out with funeral services and things like that when they have a local one.  The pastor says I’ve got a talent for it and that the old folks appreciate someone young taking an interest in them.” 

“Seriously?!” 

“Don’t make fun Cliff.  I admit it isn’t the life I imagined for myself and a year from now maybe I’ll be ready to move on to something else but for right now this is the right place.  Look, you’ve seen I’m still alive and that Aunt Rachel and I are doing OK.  Just go back to school or home and let everyone know we are fine and that as soon as I can I’ll go back to updating them on our boring life.” 

“Do you really think that I can just go driving away after seeing the mess you’re in?” 

“I’m not in a mess.  I told you I’m fine.” 

“You aren’t fine.  So ok, you like the country mouse thing.  If you like it then you like it and I’ll live with it … but you ain’t got a car or anything.  What if the old lady falls or gets sick?” 

A voice from the living room window said, “The old lady has a name.  You may call me Miz Rachel like the other children do.” 

At the look on Cliff’s face I had to stop a giggle.  Cliff could be a jerk but he could also be charming.  This time though it looked like he was swallowing slugs to do it.  “Yes ma’am.  I beg your pardon.” 

He got up off the porch and pulled me with him.  “Show me the truck.  It might be something simple like a loose wire or a bad fuse.” 

It turned out I was right, it was the battery.  Cliff had the thing out and in his trunk and was just about to pull out.  “I’ll be back tomorrow.  I have to find a shop that has a replacement and pick up a few things just in case it is a battery cable too.  I also need to get my tools from the house.  Mom will probably give me the third degree but I’ll get that over with tonight.” 

“Cliff …” 

“Don’t even.  God you are so hard headed.  How am I supposed to explain to your uncle that I found you like this and just left you here?  He’s gonna kill me.” 

“No he won’t.  Just tell him ‘Prissy Britches’ refused to do anything but have her own way.”  Before he could try another argument I asked, “Got the fried chicken, biscuits, and apples?  Think it will hold you until you get home?” 

He looked blissful for a moment before remembering he was supposed to be mad.  “You know good and well I’m stuffed to the gills.  How you got all of that cooked with no electric or running water …” 

“Oh stop or you’ll make me blush Mistah Cliff.” 

Cliff made a sour face.  “That’s the Scarlett imitation I’ve ever heard.” 

“Yeah well, if you had wanted to hear a real southern bell you should have heard my mom.  Now knock it off.  I still don’t know if I believe that you dropped that class you were going to take this summer.  Cliff I’ll be really mad if you aren’t telling the truth about that.” 

“I dropped the freaking thing just like I told you already.  Enough with the third degree.  It was just a lame psych class.  I’ve already registered for it this fall.  I just needed a break.” 

“What about your girlfriend?” 

“I’m taking a break from that too.  Sick of just about everything and everyone.” 

He looked it too so I reached over and patted his arm.  He surprised me by putting his hand over mine and looking away.  “Not you.  That’s … that’s not what I mean.  We’re friends right?” 

I squeezed his arm and let go when he let go.  “Of course.  You’re practically my best friend so do me a favor and drive safe.  Just because you occasionally irritate me doesn’t mean I want to see you smeared across the black top … and …” 

“And?” 

“Don’t stop in Hiatsville.  Go around it preferably.” 

“Why?” 

Uncomfortable with my reason I mumbled.  “Look, a lot of … uh … look, there’s gangs there and stuff happens to … to certain people who drive through there that they decide don’t belong.” 

“Gangs.  In the boonies.  You’re kidding me.” 

“No I’m not and you know what I mean so please don’t ask me to say it.  It sounds awful enough just running around in my head.  I can’t stand it when either side starts up with their stuff … the klucker types or the Black Panther types.  There’s plenty of crap in between too so just … just be careful and leave it at that.  Please.” 

He didn’t make me say it but he did give me an understanding look and a promise to take the highway to get home even though it took a little while longer. 

I stood watching the cloud of dust that his car kicked up until there wasn’t a single bit of the poof left and then got back to work because the beans weren’t going to get picked with me just standing there.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Chapter Five


“You can still change your mind Prissy Britches.” 

I gave Uncle Carmichael a hug before he climbed back into his truck.  “Maybe.  But I’m not going to.” 

“I can’t get it out of my head that this …”  He shook his head. 

“I’m fine Uncle Carmichael.  You aren’t abandoning me or being selfish or anything else you’re thinking.  I’m seventeen – almost eighteen – and old enough to make some decisions for myself and this is one of them.  I need to take a break from being me for a while.  And Aunt Rachel needs the help.  Best solution all the way around.  I get out from under and she stays out of a nursing home for a while longer.  We’ll be fine.  And if there is a problem or something I’ve got my cellphone.  I’ll take Aunt Rachel to church and that quilt guild thing she belongs to once a week and while she’s there I’ll go to the library and get online and email everyone a nice note to let you know how fine we are.  We’ve already got all the details worked out so stop being such a worrywart.  And maybe in a few months things will get better and I’ll come home.” 

Thinking back as I sent my latest weekly emails I realized how na├»ve – or stupid – I was to think all it would take was a couple of months to get things back to normal.  It’s been a year and things still aren’t back to what I used to know as normal.  Two months after I moved in with Aunt Rachel there were more riots around the country and this time it wasn’t my fault though my name got dragged through the mud again as everyone compared the first riots and the new ones. I’ve also started to realize that even if things calm down a lot I’ll never be able to move back … at least not back to Uncle Carmichael’s. 

I'm very careful about my identity.  I’ve made sure that I get known as “that girl that is Rachel’s great niece” rather than by my own name and recent history.  When I can get away with not getting noticed that’s even better.  Here I can fly under the radar and people are polite enough to let me.  If I tried to go back to Uncle Carmichael’s that just wouldn’t work.  Too many people know me or know of me.  Besides, things have changed. 

Christine and Chris shocked everyone by planning and having a really quick Christmas wedding last year.  They live in the apartment over the shop Mr. Montgomery’s business calls home.  I haven’t been back to see it but Christine has sent me pictures and she sounds obnoxiously happy although she admits that doing all the cooking and cleaning by herself gets old.  She keeps hinting that I need to come for a visit but I have a feeling if I do I’ll spend most of my time helping Chrissy with house projects … when she isn’t trying to set me up and convince me that married life is the bomb.   

After their wedding Uncle Carmichael didn’t have any more excuses and he and Barb ran away to Vegas and tied the knot.  Barb moved in lock, stock, and barrel.  Christine says you can hardly tell either one of us ever lived there.  Barb has redecorated every room except Uncle Carmichael’s “man cave” and she keeps hinting that she is going to do it as a surprise present for him one day.  I’d like to be a fly on the wall if she does.  Uncle Carmichael might well go nuclear, especially if she makes the mistake of getting rid of any of his junk. 

My class graduated from school without me but it might be the last one the town sees for a while from that school because every time they try and break ground on a new school building someone sets fire to it and burns what little is left all over again.  The high schoolers now get bused to the next two towns over and no one is happy about that and families have actually used it as an excuse to move away.  Four of the ten houses on my old alleyway have been vacant for almost five months. 

Principal Howe is now Councilman Howe and all he’s done since the beginning of his tenure is make racial tensions even worse and further divide the town, especially after his connections with some pretty radical political groups became known.  He keeps trying to put through tax hikes on local businesses to pay for various social programs but enough of the Council vote against it that he hasn’t gotten his way yet.  In November almost the whole Council is up for re-election except for Howe and I have a feeling it is going to be a mess.  The town is split along racial lines with one side or the other saying that if the other guy gets elected they’ll be moving. 

That doesn’t even start to say anything about all the crap going on in the rest of the world right now.  The GMO backlash is causing American farmers some real problems internationally.  Add to that the definition of “organic” didn’t necessarily mean organic and there’s been a lot going on at the FDA that is making it hard for farmers and consumers.  Prices are falling on commodities and that is barely holding the line against rising prices at the grocery store.  Then there are all the little wars going on all over in the Middle East¸ some being stirred by outsiders and some fomenting from within.  Aunt Rachel and some of the people at her church keep predicting the next world war but I’ve been hearing that most of my life so I’m not totally convinced yet.  I think it is going to take something really big, like another terrorist attack here on US soil to get stuff up and running. 

OK, I know that makes me sound smarter than I am.  It is actually Aunt Rachel dumping this stuff in my ear and making me think.  She is one very highly opinionated and smart 88-year-old lady … when she isn’t having an “episode.”  She can remember stuff that happened before my grandmother was born but ask her what she had for breakfast and she draws a blank.  She knows all about politics; she just sometimes gets the era she’s living in mixed up … which was really weird when I realized the “old days” sound a heck of a lot like “today.”  Aunt Rachel amazes me in other ways too.  She can’t stand television and won’t have one in the house but can listen to four different radio programs all at the same time and tell you what each one is about in detail … at least until the next “episode.” 

aunt Rachel has been diagnosed with dementia.  Because of her age she’s basically been triaged from getting any real help for the condition.  On the other hand a retired doctor attends the same church she does – that we both do – and he says that she is noticeably better with me living with her.  He says that I help her to exercise her brain which keeps the dementia at bay and even appears to reverse it some.  She has a lot fewer episodes than she did when I first moved in.  I think it was really good for Aunt Rachel that I moved in.  Even her friends from church say so and they are a hard bunch to work your way into. 

I also think I’m better for having moved in with Aunt Rachel.  With all she has taught me I bet I could run my own house even better than Christine … I practically run this one though Aunt Rachel watches me like a hawk to make sure I do it right.  Aunt Rachel has a very strict cleaning schedule though she couldn’t do it to the extent she’d done it when she was younger.  With me around she says we’ve whipped the house back into the shape that it needs to be in. 
 
Wash on Monday.
Iron on Tuesday.
Mend on Wednesday.
Churn on Thursday.
Clean on Friday.
Bake on Saturday.
Rest on Sunday. 

Washing is done in a machine that has to be older than I am then everything gets hung on the clothesline to dry.  And I mean everything right down to underthings so you want to make sure if something has a stain on it that it gets soaked and scrubbed before washing so that when it gets pinned on the line there isn’t a stain there in an embarrassing place for the whole world to see.  When the clothes are dry they come in and stay in the basket until Tuesday when they are taken out and ironed.  Yes, ironed.  It was a challenge to get used to going from all synthetic clothes to almost 100% cotton clothes; even my underthings are cotton.  Aunt Rachel is funny about certain things and synthetic clothes are one of them.  I have practically a whole new wardrobe just from her teaching me to sew.  Some of the fabric is kind of out of date but it is good quality and holds up to the use I put it do which my old clothes didn’t.  Most of them were worn out in a couple of months of working around the farm. 

While you iron the clothes and other household linens you check for things that need to be fixed like loose threads, buttons, hems, etc.  If you see something it goes into the mending pile and gets taken care of on Wednesday.  On Thursday we either do any grocery shopping we need – which trust me only happens about every six weeks – or we make the dairy products we will need for the week including butter and cheese.  I nearly fainted when Aunt Rachel said that I’d need to do that on top of all the other stuff I had to do but I’ve gotten used to it and actually enjoy it.  Don’t like milking the stupid cows that seem to have fun swatting me in the face with their filthy tails but the rest of it is pretty much part of my normal existence now.   

Friday the whole house gets a good cleaning but thank goodness she doesn’t make me do much more than run the dust mop in the spare rooms upstairs that she keeps closed off since they aren’t in use.  This old farmhouse was built for a big family but one hasn’t lived in it since my dad was a kid which if you are to listen to Uncle Carmichael is about a million years ago. 

Saturday is my next favorite day next to churning day.  This is the day we do the baking.  Most of the time it is just a loaf of bread and a pan of cornbread but sometimes we bake cakes, pies, cookies, or something along those lines to take to church or to a quilt guild meeting.  Thanks to Aunt Rachel I can now measure out a “cup” of flour in my hand and know the difference between a “smidgen” and a “pinch.”  The flour and cornmeal we use comes from the man that Aunt Rachel rents some of her farmland to.  Or let me rephrase that, the wheat berries and corn kernels come from the man and sit in big metal barrels down in the basement.  I make the flour and cornmeal by grinding the stuff with this big crank handle device that Aunt Rachel bought at the local Mennonite store.  She had it “ordered in” from someplace in Pennsylvania and is as proud of that thing as some guys are of their cars. 

Aunt Rachel is also proud of her canning and preserving set up.  That has been a whole ‘nother learning experience right there.  The gardens are huge because Aunt Rachel refuses to buy stuff at the store that she can grow at home.  Some of the time if feels like even if she can’t grow it at home she won’t buy it.  This also includes sweetening.  The same man that gives her wheat and corn as part of his rent also has a huge field of sorghum that he gives her shares of syrup off of it.  I watched them make it last season and it seems a lot more trouble than necessary when you can buy a bag of sugar at the store but when I say that Aunt Rachel asks me what if there isn’t any sugar to buy or it gets too expensive.  She’s like that.  Always making me think whether I want to or not.  Keeps me from feeling sorry for myself.  Most of the time.  Every once in a while I just would rather take the easy way and pick it up in town at the grocery. 

“Did you or did you not see the price of that the last time we were in town young lady?” she’ll ask me. 

The sassy part of me wants to snap back that it’s not like I get into town much to see the price of things.  But I’ve gotten good at using self-control.  Uncle Carmichael would probably pass out.   

Aunt Rachel demands self-control … and self-sufficiency.  Usually the closest to town that I get is the highway crossroad.  One corner holds the church, one corner holds the gas station/bait shop, and one corner holds the large feed depot.  The last corner holds a strip mall kind of thing.  The Dollar General is there on one end and the Farm Bureau office is on the other.  There’s also a law office, an insurance agent, a second hand shop, and a couple of other little holes in the wall that come and go.  Not a single one of those shops is open on Sunday or after 5 pm except the Dollar General.  Talk about your way back machine. 

About the only other thing there is is a processing shop behind the feed depot.  Hunters use it to process their game and some people take their farm animals there too that can’t get their certification from the government for home butchering.  Aunt Rachel said if she was younger she’d tell the government just what they could do with their certification process but since she isn’t she avails herself of the processing shop.  There’s also a taxidermist attached to the shop which is kinda interesting in a freaky way when I go by to pick up whatever cuts of meat Aunt Rachel has ordered from the animals we drop off. 

Beyond the few errands here and there about the only driving I do is on Sunday morning and night and Wednesday night when Aunt Rachel feels up to going to church and then on Tuesday nights which is Quilt Guild night.  After riding with Aunt Rachel a few times I now do all the driving.  Aunt Rachel has zero night vision and her day vision isn’t always that good either. 

“Winifred, stop that scribbling and run and check to see if any beans are ready for picking.” 

“Yes ma’am.”  It pays to be respectful though Aunt Rachel puts more emphasis on work output than word output. 

“And while you’re out there check the squash.  And you might as well check the tomatoes too and see if the chicks have turned over the mash pan again.  Seems like those birds are getting dumber with every breeding.  Might be time for us to see about buying some new brooders to revitalize the flock.” 

“Yes ma’am.” 

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Hey Cliff, 

This is your weekly email as promised.  Not that I hear much from you.  I’m not complaining, not really.  Christine keeps me up on Lothario Montgomery’s exploits. 

Twins?  Really?  Honestly, you can’t stay out of trouble with one, do you need to double it? 

Anyway what a day.  And I don’t expect tomorrow to be much different.  Aunt Rachel swears we are in for a bad storm this weekend.  Lots of wind and rain, just the thing to mess up all of the work we’ve put into the garden.  We are picking and canning as soon as anything is ripe.  And I was right, she absolutely refuses to get the wall unit fixed even when I volunteered to pay for it out of my own savings.  All the fans do is stir up the hot air.  When the canners are going it feels like a sauna … and not in a good way. 

But I suppose I’ve told you all of this before.  Every week is pretty much like the one before.  Not sure why I write anymore as there isn’t much new to say.  Probably why I don’t hear from you or anyone else except Christine.  Even she has started to tell me I’m boring.  LOL.  I don’t mind boring most of the time.  I more than had my share of “interesting” there for a while.  Just wish the library was bigger.  I’ve run through most of what they have.  Thank God for ebooks and DVDs or I’d really be hurting for something to do at night.   

It isn’t unusual for Aunt Rachel to doze off after her 6 o’clock news program on the radio.  Tuesday and Wednesday are her only two late nights and even then she is in bed by 9 o’clock.  Of course she is awake before the rooster most mornings.  Good thing I don’t need much sleep because no matter how late I stay up the night before, there is no sleeping through that bird’s crow.  He gets right under my window and let’s loose every blasted day. 

Geez, I really am repeating myself so I’m stopping right now.  I don’t even think this email was worth the time to type.  Worse for you you’ll wonder why you took the time to read it. 

Winnie 

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Hey Gypsy, what’s up?  Are you mad at me?  No email for two weeks. 

Cliff 

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Gypsy you there?  Three weeks?  Really?  Did your laptop get fried?  You haven’t answered anyone’s txts either.  Your uncle is getting bent.  He thinks maybe you’ve found a farm boy to make time with but if you have you should at least let him know.  Did you get Christine’s message that she is knocked up?  Chris was acting all proud and crap but then last week I walk out of the gym to find him standing there like he didn’t know where he was.  I took him back to the frat house and got a couple of beers in him and then called Dad who drove up.  Seems the whole father thing has him totally freaked out and worried that Christine is going to have twins or triplets too.  Dad got him straightened out and drove him home and put the story out that they were just bringing me a car to use while here at school instead of having to bum a ride when I need to go someplace. 

Look, I get it if you got tired of me not emailing you back.  I don’t ever know what to say in these stupid things that doesn’t make me sound like an idiot or worse.  I’d rather talk to you in person so I can see your face.  But maybe you don’t feel the same.  Either way you should still let someone know you are among the living.  Christine’s feelings are hurt … at least when she isn’t busy puking. 

Cliff