Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Chapter 19

July turned to August and I gratefully pitted the last cherry. They'd been abundant even with having to share them with the birds. The boysenberries gave out early which caused me some consternation as there seemed to be a ton of them one day and none the next. I later found out the men hadn't known the difference between boysenberries and blackberries since they looked so similar. I hadn't the heart to say anything though as Sloan was working them hard harvesting the tobacco and getting it threaded on sticks and hung up in the barn for curing. For many of the men farming was a new experience, one they weren't relishing; but in these days, a job is a job and it paid the bills between reclamation projects.

I felt like I'd barely gotten any plums though the jars on the shelves said otherwise. I think it was all the help from Charlie and Duncan who had taken an avid interest in preserving since it seemed it would cut way down on having to purchase groceries while they were out on sites.

By the end of August I felt I finally had some breathing room. Peaches were nearly finished and anything left on the tree was used for fresh eating. Same for nectarines. Celery was done and all but the bit that I set aside to can with in the fall and dry for seasoning went to market and brought a decent price. Gooseberries were done as well. Sloan asked me to make a gooseberry pie for Mr. Burdock every market day though he said it in such a way as to make me understand it wasn't to be nice but kinda as a way to keep close to where the information came from.

Almost lost the pea crop when someone forgot to shut the goat pen. If I hadn't smelled the billy we would have lost most everything instead of just two rows. I canned and juiced blackberries by the gallon despite the foraging done by the men but even that abundance petered out as the month progressed. The grape harvest was only so-so but there were years like that even with my mother's tender, loving care of the vines and only God could have changed it.

The sorghum used for silage was piled and covered with about a quarter of the crop being saved for canes to make molasses. And Sloan and the rest of them learned for themselves how much work it could be. With that over the grain sorghum was being watched carefully so that as soon as it could be harvested they'd set to get it before the birds.

We were all so busy and yes, some of the men complained of the work, but I found it restful. My body may have been exhausted each night but my mind grew peaceful and I was able to relax. Not even having Sloan away for a day or two here and there changed how I felt. He would be gone all day for market days but he was also out looking up reclamation projects. He did have to venture further afield than he wanted to but I overheard him and Dan mention it was because the BOCC played favorites too much in this county.

Then September rolled in. Summer's furnace was giving way to the more moderate weather of early autumn. The last of the potatoes went to market as did the last of the cantaloupes. Cucumbers and zucchinis had been so abundant that I was more than happy for those vines to finally cuke and zuke their last. Strings of peppers hung to dry and I also canned and pickled quite a few. The raspberries almost didn't make an appearance though I did get some. The grain corn was in the silo, the cotton picked and off to market, and the winter wheat seed put in the field.

I wrapped the dessert pears in papers as fast as Josiah brought them to me. The canning pears got treated like the apples with some staying but a good many of them going to market. We weren't just taking apple cider to market now but light pear cider as well. Sweet potatoes were being dug and the first bright pumpkins were brought in with the men begged for pumpkin pies even though it wasn't anywhere near Thanksgiving. For a while I was drying watermelon more than I was making cookies after the boys discovered what a treat it was. Hard heads ... it took forever to get them to even try it but after they did they somehow came to the conclusion that it was their treat and their treat alone that I had designed solely for them. They'd get absolutely outraged if anyone got into their stash of the stuff.

The boys started school as well. I offered to try and homeschool them for Sloan since I still had all of my old books but he wanted to see how the boys did being around other boys their age - hardly any girls went anymore and those that did had their own classrooms and teachers on the other side of the school - and it would give him a chance to see what their teachers thought of the changes in them. They only got in one fight early on and Sloan refused to punish them for it. They'd ratted out a couple of boys that had been planning to play some nasty, dangerous trick on the girls. It was supposed to remain a private matter but then one of the teachers ratted them out and the boys became a target ... but a lot less easy one to take aim at than expected. Farm work had made them strong, flexible, and clever ... or so the boys that jumped them found out. They also had enough cousins still attending the school that they never walked the halls alone.

The teacher that had been involved was suspended without pay pending an investigation but left the county after word got around to some people that still took a dim view of the segregation that was going on. They suggested that perhaps the state needed to be brought in instead of local investigators and I suppose that was enough at that point to cause a mild correction within the administrative end of things.

It was towards the very end of the month that Sloan asked if I'd like to take a ride.

"Where?" I asked while I wiped jars of home-canned tomato juice to put away in the fruit cellar. I was thinking he meant to go look at the back forty or something like that.

"To the store." I looked at him a moment trying to figure out if he was making a joke I didn't understand. I hadn't been beyond the borders of the farm since before the pandemic and had almost forgotten that it was even possible. I must have looked at Sloan funny because he smiled. "I never met a woman before who would turn down the chance to go shopping."

'You're not ... joking or something?" He shook his head so I asked, "Uh ... you ... you sure that's a good idea?"

He leaned against the door frame and smiled the smile that I had come to identify as one he reserved exclusively for me. I tried not to think about that too much but I'll admit - since this is a confession - that I had come to count on getting at least one of those exclusives smiles every day. He said, "I would like you to go riding with me. If we get to the store and you don't want to go in we can stay in the truck but I would at least like to know that you had the chance. Josiah said yesterday you were a restful kind of woman because you never ask for anything. I realized he was right. You've never once asked for anything."

I shrugged, embarrassed despite it only being a fact. "I don't need anything. Even before I think about maybe it being nice to have something it just shows up out of those magical boxes of yours. You're a fairy godmother on wheels ... or ... er ... I mean with boxes."

Sloan laughed. "That's all well and good but those boxes are shortly going to have to go the way of the produce and get shipped to market. Hard year or not, the stores usually restock for the holidays and I've got some choice goods at reasonable prices. Isn't there anything you want?"

Unbidden the idea of lemon drops entered my mind. Dad and the boys used to give them to me if they'd had a good day at the market and I hadn't had any since the previous year. They were my favorite candy both for their flavor and the nostalgia attached to them.


I jumped because something must have shown on my face. Sloan was constantly teasing me, saying that he could read me like a book. The truth was he couldn't but it bothered me that he could read me as much as he did. "It's nothing."

"C'mon ... You gonna make me guess? A dress? Hair doo dads? A slinky new nightgown?"

OK, he was going too far and getting silly. "I told you, it's nothing. Just ... just lemon drops."

He stood there looking at me the said, "You'd rather have lemon drops than a dress?"

"I don't need a dress. Dresses are for going places you dress up. And though I try and change for supper time it would be kinda ... unnecessary ... to get really fancy when everyone else is barely out of their sweaty clothes. And before you start naming other stuff I don't have any other needs. You fill all of them before I even think them."

He opened his mouth and then closed it slowly. "So what's the story with the lemon drops?"

I shrugged and told him. "But I'm not a child Sloan. I don't know why they popped into my head unless I was thinking about the boys asking for lemonade yesterday. Apparently they thought that stuff I fix is really made from lemons so I had to explain that lemons were too costly and that I made it from sumac and miscalled it lemonade. I feel like ... maybe I had been telling them a lie but I didn't mean to."

He popped me on my hind end making me bobble a jar and give him a foul look. "I could have dropped a jar. Half-gallon jars are almost impossible to come by since they stopped selling them by catalog so I don't know how we could have replaced this one."

"One, you weren't lying to the boys any more than I was. I knew you couldn't have been using lemons ... to me that's just marketing so stop worrying about it. And two, at least now I have an idea why you were crying when that jar got knocked into the sink and chipped. I didn't understand what the fuss was about at the time."

"I wasn't crying, I was just upset. And there wouldn't have been a fuss if you and Dan hadn't acted like I was nine-tenths crazy just because a jar chipped. That was a gallon jar and now it can't even be used to hold dry goods because the threads are broken.

I moved as he tried to swat me with his cap again but all it did was back me into a corner where he got "the look." It gave me the giggles which made me want to swat him because when I get the giggles they are awful to get rid of. "Stop it!"

"No. I like to see you smile instead of being so serious and practical all the time. And if it is lemon drops you are craving then it's lemon drops we'll go get."

"Oh Sloan ... I'm not craving them ..."

"Stop being practical for once and let's go have some fun."

"We're having fun every time I turn around. It is a wonder I can stay awake during the day because of it."

He looked at me strangely then started laughing and shaking his head. "You say the damnedest things when I least expect it."

I poked him in one of his more ticklish spots. "Look, I may not be all sophisticated yet but I can admit between the two of us that just because I don't work as hard at it as you seem to, that doesn't mean it isn't fun when you get 'the look' at night."

That only made Sloan laugh harder. At the time I hadn't a clue what I'd said but looking back I can see that while I may have been physically mature and had other attributes that made me a good farm wife, I had areas where I had some growing to do ... or perhaps where I was stunted would be a better way of putting it. When you've lost so much it is hard to place trust in things and especially people. When you can't have trust you don't have the ability to reach certain levels. I think what has happened since makes me wish I had never opened up to people. On the other hand so many good things wouldn't have happened if I hadn't. Dad would have called that a Catch-22. Call it what you will it still hurts and makes me know that I'll be relieved when this all ends as it’s been promised to.

But that day I couldn't have even imagined the future to be what it has been. Looking back as I spend the hours writing this I see so many places where another path could have been taken. That ride to town was one of them.



  1. Kathy I though we had found a haven form cliff but I guess not, well hopefully you won't leave us hanging to long. Thanks for the great story.