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 naïve – 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.” 


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. 



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



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. 



  1. Wow, Kathy...this is a most timely and gripping tale. Well done, thank you for a new saga!!

  2. Great story !
    Plus, how funny; I always wondered if you'd ever use the name Cliff for a character given your gift for leaving us hanging on a cliff