Story Nann

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 48

Mitch and I are done and done in but we’ve gotten a lot accomplished the last couple of weeks. And all but a small outpost of military personnel have been repositioned out of the area which is why we’ve been able to keep to our own work without tripping over a bunch of soldiers. Not a great reason they aren’t around, but I’m told it means good things in the big picture. I guess it depends on how you look at it.

The enemy tried to take down Cuba and took a bad hit. Cuba isn’t doing real good either but seems like whoever is now in charge down there wants to be friends with the USA since we basically kept their backsides from turning into crispy bacon.

Mitch has explained it to me, but we don’t have all the details so some of it is just a guess. Seems the enemy thought that taking over the Caribbean was going to be easy peezey lemon squeezy and they’d then take Florida and just roll up the East Coast. Nope. I guess they thought all our submarines were on the other side of the world. Again, nope. We had a bunch down there and knew how to use them. The enemy also dropped a bomb on Kennedy Space Center as a “statement.” Yeah, well we called their statement and raised them a freaking big dam in the middle of their home turf to give them something to chew on. Mitch thinks they might have been aiming at MacDill or Jacksonville but missed. Does it really matter? It was tit for tat when we retaliated and what we did had a much bigger effect than what they did. So far they’ve just gone back to doing what they were doing which is mostly a land grab … or attempt at land grab. Mitch said those people are known for playing the long game and they have enough troops that they aren’t as affected by attrition as we are. They have a siege mentality and are prepared to wait us out.

“I don’t get it. Why don’t we just nuke ‘em from space and be done with it?” I asked in aggravation. “What they did shows we can bomb them and we don’t even have to leave home. Just do it and be done with it. Send in our Unconditional Surrender troops, end the war, sign the peace treaty, and let everyone start licking their wounds and get to the healing already.”

“It’s a matter of escalation,” Mitch said, trying to explain what was going on. “One bomb from them, one from us. Now we both know what we can do if we didn’t already. The enemy is fighting a lot of fronts right now which is keeping their attacks here under control.”

“Suuure it is.”

“Nann, the enemy has nuclear capabilities, same as us. I know you didn’t literally mean nuke ‘em but those people are crazy and if the wrong general gets to be in charge, we really could wind up in a nuclear war and no one is going to win something like that.”

“I thought Russia was thinking about helping.”

He snorted. “Russia has their own hands full at their own borders, and from inside as well after that assassination attempt that got leaked to the media. It might be that the dam collapse could push the enemy out of crazy town and into completely don’t give a … er … crap town. This is a game of chess, not kickball.”

“It’s not a freaking game! I know the Florida coast and a lot of inland areas have been evacuated but there were still a lot of people there. And they’re dead Mitch. Thousands! From one stinking, stupid bomb.”

“And maybe tens of thousands died from the dam collapse with more on the way because that was a major part of their infrastructure,” he reminded me.

I slumped into the porch swing. “It’s awful Mitch. It’s … it’s awful. All those people dead, on both sides, because someone wants to be top of the garbage heap. And in the end, it won’t mean a hill of beans. We all get measured by the same yardstick and … and …”

Mitch sat down beside me, pulled me in close, and set the swing to rocking. Nothing else was said. What could be said when you knew what was happening was so wrong yet all you could do was try and hold out and survive the whims of the people directing the show but not letting you have a peek at the script.

That stuff just makes my head hurt. And my heart hurt. The enemies are a bunch of bullies. You stand up to bullies and when they push you down you get up and knock the snot out of them and give them a chance to turn human. They play stupid and push one more time and all bets are off and you just kick ‘em until they stop moving. If you don’t, they just come back and start up all over again. And I wonder if they think the same thing about us. But we didn’t start it. We just refused to bow to their demands, be pushed around. Then it went from squabbling to bullets flying and from there I get lost on how we got where we are right now.

Only thing good for that kind of heartache and irritation is work. And Mitch and I have been going at it. He helped me clear off the mulberries first. After making everything I wanted from the mulberries, I juiced a bunch, and after that we dried a bunch. And the rest we’re leaving for the animals. Even Grammy’s strange Pakistani mulberries that are as long as you thumb. I just don’t have time to do more with them unless you count swiping a handful when I pass the push to eat on my way to my next chore.

Peaches are also cleared off. I made a bunch of peach nectar and then just dried the rest and said I’m done. There are a handful here and there that are still ripening on the trees and I told Mitch to eat ‘em if he needed a snack during the day. I’m still working on the nectarines but Uncle Hy only has a couple of trees so there aren’t as many bushels of them to deal with.

On one of his evening forays Mitch found some chicken-of-the-woods shrooms and I’ve been doing a lot with the ones I could find over this side of the Ridge. Mushroom sausage, mushroom burgers, mushroom jerky, fried mushrooms, baked mushrooms, sauteed mushrooms, mushroom soup, mushroom dip, mushroom meatloaf, and on and on. Mitch has turned it into a game. “Where did she hide the mushrooms tonight?” It was funny at first but I’m just trying to make what we have go further when I can, if I can. I mean we don’t absolutely have to eat like there’s nothing in the pantry but Mitch agrees that it is good practice because you never know from one day to the next whether it is going to be feast or famine. Plus, if we have people watching us, it is never a bad idea to have “camouflage.”

Elderflowers are blooming like crazy. If the medics comes back I need to add elderberries to the list of poisonous plants I gave them. Elderberries look tasty but they’ll kill you if you don’t cook them first and I can just see some of those city slickers doing that very thing. While everyone was gone I made some elderflower syrup but it was kinda selfish. I love elderflower fizz, it is about the only “soda” Mom won’t pop her cork about, mostly because Dad likes it as well. I had to use several slices of dried lemon to get it to taste right. That’s several slices of dried lemon I might need and not have down the road. I need to be careful. Needs before wants Nann. Needs before wants.

Strawberries are officially over with. Kinda sad. Last summer Grammy showed me how to save the seeds for the next season. First you pick your best looking strawberry plant, and the best looking of the berries from that plant. Then you thinly slice the skin off the strawberry(ies) and lay them on a layer of paper towel or cheesecloth. You take that and put it in a warm, dry place to dry out for about five days. But be careful of drawing flies or ants so you need to protect them someway while still getting good air circulation. When the strawberry skins are completely dry, you gently rub the seeds off.

Grammy stores … stored … her seeds in a lot of old plastic medicine bottles she saved over the years. She has them all labeled so that’s what I am going to use. She said you can use envelopes but with the chemicals they put in paper to whiten it you don’t know how that’ll affect your seeds, so it is safer to store them the other way. Plus mice and ants and silverfish can get into paper envelopes a whole lot easier than medicine bottles.

I’ve already told Mitch I don’t know that we can have as big a garden next year, and maybe shouldn’t if we aren’t going to trade. There’s lot of other stuff we could do with the time we are currently using for the garden.

“Such as?”

“Such as what?”

Mitch looked at me then shook his head. “You’re tired.”

“So are you.”

“Yeah, well you’re getting silly tired. I asked what you would do with your time if you aren’t in the garden.”

“Oh. Sorry. Trying to keep up with the house better for one. Laundry and mending for another. Maybe find some way to forage more stuff to replace the domesticated garden stuff. The bees.”

“Don’t worry about the bees.”

“I said I’d help.”

He looked at me then asked, “You sure? I know you don’t like ‘em.”

“It’s not that I don’t like ‘em, they just don’t like me and I hate getting stung.” I sighed. “Mitch there is no way for you to do 80 hives by yourself. You’ll wind up sick.”

“Might not have 80 hives if we don’t start getting some regular rain. Especially if that damn bear comes back. It knocked over an entire super before I could shoo it off. Woulda shot the damn thing but that idiot stopped me.”

“I still can’t believe that a gang banger was a tree hugger.” I snorted in derision.

“Yeah … well … was kinda funny now that you mention it. Still, if he does that again he’s gonna get a face full of rifle stock.”

Having heard the story several times already I said, “I doubt it after the cooks whooped up on him when they found out he was the one feeding the bears out of the garbage.”

“Idiot,” Mitch snarled.

“And then some,” I agreed.

We’re going to need that honey. And with it being a dry year we may not get the full fifty pounds per hive per harvest that Mitch estimated. And what we didn’t really take into consideration was that with no field crops planted we were going to need to spread those hives out further. We’ve tucked hives in nearly every grove and orchard we know of. Most of them we are keeping as close to the farm as we can but there’s a grove of sourwood the Delrays used to put their honey makers in that I hope feeds those little striped buzzers so that they stay put and don’t swarm. Either way the first harvest won’t be until next month which is a good thing.

I was going to pick feral cherries but Mitch said to leave ‘em since we have so much domesticated stuff to deal with. Fine by me. They are a lot of work for only a little return by comparison.

Mitch and I are both all scratched up from picking blackberries. He eats as many fresh as goes in his bucket but that’s okay. He’s working hard and needs to eat like he is. I’ve got several trays of blackberries drying on screens to keep them from falling to the floor but I’d rather can them in some way because dried blackberries are almost nothing but seeds and they don’t plump up as well as other fruits do. From blackberries I’ve been making a crazy amount of juice, jelly, jam, sauce, conserve, syrup, blackberry catsup, pie filling, chutney, nonalcoholic blackberry cordial, blackberry BBQ sauce, and soda concentrate I can mix with that store-bought lemonade powder to make it palatable.

And for Mitch’s birthday I surprised him with a blackberry jam cake with caramel icing.

“Aw, you didn’t have to go to all this trouble.”

“Not everyday someone turns twenty-two. Just … let me spoil you my way.”

I turned away but not before he missed the tears in my eyes. “You’re missing Dale.”

“Don’t. This is for you. Not just because Dale isn’t here to share your birthday with.”

“Do I look crazy? You going to let me give you a kiss later on when I don’t stink from work to say thank you?”

“You don’t smell … that bad.”

He grinned and I give him the only other birthday gift I had to give. A willing kiss. I’d considered trying to give him a day off some way, the same as he had me, but there just wasn’t anyway to pull it off. The planes had been flying pretty regular and Mitch worried that either a larger contingent of soldiers would move into the valley and up into the Ridge, or it meant the enemy was preparing to make another push. This time it would be met with hard action and he was concerned it might run something or someone this direction so we were going as fast and as hard as we could.

I think the bees must be of the same sentiment somehow because we surely do need to have road signs so we stop running into them and them into us. The mimosas are in bloom and every one of those puffy pink things have at least a bee or three buzzing around and lighting on them. Lavendar is doing its best to color all the border edges. Whew, there’s some places it’s as strong as the first whiff of a spinster’s lingerie drawer. The wild daisies are going crazy too. Grammy’s Easter lilies didn’t bloom for some reason. Could be they sensed she wasn’t around and I’m stopping right there. It makes me too sad.

Everything around us seems to be going fast and furious. I swear even the June Bugs and Butterflies are getting into it. The other day I had a June Bug light on me and it must have t-boned a butterfly at an intersection ‘cause it was covered in yellow powder the same as those silly potato chip butterflies that act like they are kin to the three blind mice, they so get in everyone and everything’s way.

The hogs and goats can’t seem to stay calm except during the heat of the day. The hogs I can tell it is because we need to separate out the young males from their mommas who are getting tired of them, but I don’t know why the goats are being silly beyond the fact they’re goats and act a few peanuts shy of a circus on most days. Even the cows are acting cranky when they are normally sweet so long as my hands aren’t cold when I go to milk them.

Mitch says it is because we need rain. I hope that is all it is. I don’t need the animals turning strange on me. Some of the garden plants are making me look twice. The cayenne peppers are curling like the toes of a genie’s slippers and one of the chickens keeps laying eggs with double yolks.

At least the herb garden is doing well enough that I’m not as worried about things running out right when I need them to. Dill, lemon balm and verbena, marjoram, all the mints I can make into teas, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, sorrel, tarragon, thyme, and nearly best of all the domestic garlic beds seems to be making a bumper crop. Grammy has a lot of salt and pepper but she always counted on the herb patches for her fresh, everyday flavorings.

‘Course I could just spit that I don’t get a chance to get out and forage as much. I was hoping with the soldiers gone Mitch wouldn’t get so stressed out about me doing it. He says he won’t ask me to stop but after finding them people camped out on the other side of the river … the town side … and using canoes and john boats and stuff to cross and then walk into the valley to hunt and salvage now that the town has been stripped clean, he’s worried that some of them may get bold enough to try and move their camp permanently.

“You carry that Glock everywhere, even here in the house. If you are up, I want you armed.”

“Even in the house?!” That gun is heavy and if you want to know the truth, I worry about shooting myself with it sometimes.

“Even in the house Nann. And I want the doors to stay locked whether we are inside or out.”

I tried not to sigh at yet one more thing but we were in the country, not the middle of town.

“You arent’ going to fight me on this?”

He had a bad habit of asking that question too often and I was getting to be done with it. “You want me to throw something at you Mitch Quitman Decker?”

“Huh?! What for?!”

“Give me credit for not wanting to make your job harder. I don’t like it, but I’ll do it because you think it is something that needs to be done.”

He sighed in relief then gave a little embarrassed grin. “If you make it something small and soft I’ll stand still for you. Promise.”

All that and the expression on his face did was make me want to laugh. “You Goof. You better hope I don’t take you up on it. I’m a good shot I’ll have you know.”

He grinned and nodded then snuck a surprise kiss before running off laughing like a boy that had snuck a cookie out of the cookie jar.

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 49 (part 1)

“Ow! Ow! Ow!”


I answered, “I sat the blinkety blankety thing on my toe. Next thing we bring down, we use the front stairs. Even if it does take longer. I’m tired of getting hung up on this dat blasted landing!”

“Nann, that mouth.”

I know he was just fooling with me, but I was not in the mood for even a pretend lecture. “You better hope worse don’t fall out. I mean it Mitch. What’s this thing made out of? Lead?!” I snapped making sure my voice could be heard over and around the huge headboard we were trying to move down from the attic to the sub-cellar.

“Mahogany I think. Either that or pecan wood.”

I gave my temper a rest when I heard how tired Mitch was. “When we get this down there, it is the last thing you are doing today. I want you to sleep until you have to take off tonight.”

“Can’t. Animals …”

“I’m not made of glass and I took care of the animals when you moved out. Uncle Hy even approved enough that he stopped checking on my work a couple of years ago. Uncle Hy let me give him a break so c’mon Mitch, you need some rest.”

“So do you. Dammit to hell … and no I’m not going to excuse my mouth, dammit.”

Trying to distract him I said, “I didn’t ask you to. If you come at me with a bar of soap however that might just change.”

He snickered then I heard him sigh. “You something else. Let’s get this thing down and then … yeah, I’ll lay down for a while. But I can’t be late so don’t let me sleep through supper.”

Mitch was worried. Real worried. Sgt. Cahill had come out and told Mitch that they had caught some enemy patrols sneaking through the battle lines and radar is reporting the use of large drones searching in grid patterns in the Buffer Zones. They are desperate for supplies. Central and South American rebels were giving the enemy heck and the latest fun and games for them was to find out that a lot of their food supplies they thought they had secured had been compromised through spoilage and infestation of one kind or another. My imagination is saying yuck. My patriotic side is going yeehaw. The rest of me is thinking that backing the enemy into a corner like they are doing might sound good on the surface, but it is bound to mean trouble for the rest of us.

I suppose it was wishful thinking that the enemy would just stay put until we bombed them to pieces and they then ran away never to return. I’d learned to live with the new normal. I’d even come to terms with the lack of info on my parents and Dale … and the others too of course. It’s been like going away to an extended high adventure camp. Only that illusion is fading and I’m back to having to learn to live with the new new normal, or wondering what that is going to be.

Why couldn’t they have waited until this Fall to make their moves? Right now is just awful inconvenient. And yes I know how stupid that sounds. I even told Mitch so. He laughed ‘cause he understood. It’s July. We’ve now jumped feet first into the busiest part of the year.

I’m still picking beans like they are coming out of my nose. Oh my word. The more I pick, the more there are. I’ve even pickled more than a few jars and made dilly beans. What were Uncle Hy and Grammy thinking?!

“Normalcy bias.”

I looked at Mitch like he was speaking a foreign language. And in a way he was. We’ll call it “college” or “military-eeze” but I’m not sure which one is truer. Seems like one is just a dialect of the other.

“Okay, I’ll bite. What is normal basis.”

“Normalcy bias. It means that people naturally want to believe that what they are most familiar with will continue in some way, shape, or form, minimizing known threats. Seems strange for it to be Dad to get caught thinking that way.”

“The man that dropped a bridge after the first incursion when the enemy was still hundreds of miles away? That don’t sound normal to me.”

It was the end of the day and Mitch was helping me to shell beans since he was finally sitting still long enough for me to put a bowl in his lap.

“It was normal for Dad,” he said with a tired and sad grin. “But I just don’t think … even with his quirks … that he could envision how far into the country the enemy has gotten and how it would affect the farm. He was thinking the family would head here, there’d be a way for him to feed them, maybe a little savior complex tied up with him needing to be right after being joked about all these years, and then also having to have a way to pay bills so he wouldn’t lose the farm. The way things are right now … I think it would be real difficult for Dad to deal with, nearly impossible for Grammy. It would have offended them.”

“Uh …”

“Yeah, I know how that sounds but it is the closest I can come to explaining it. This could have been a perfect solution for the family. Grammy would have loved it. All the family back around. All of us working together. But …”

“But reality is different than wishful thinking. I can see some of the family trying to boss others around. Some of the people just not able to work the way they would need to. Some of them not able to get along for long enough to pull any of it off. Some demanding a share so they could go off on their own and then come back to be resupplied if their way didn’t work out after all. Some just not coping real good with any of it. And some running their mouths and getting the rest of us in trouble. This farm isn’t an island. If it would have worked out for us, then other people would have come up here. Maybe more like the Winters – though we saw how that worked out – and then the Delrays and their connections. The people that owned the Millhouse. Even those salvaging groups. Buncha people could have come up here. At least those that hadn’t sold their land to the tree farms and had it bulldozed over.”

“Yep. Despite Dad’s crankiness and his low tolerance for people in general, he always seemed to hold the family to a standard they never met. He was more of an idealist than he would have ever admitted to being. I think that’s why he kept so much distance between himself and others … so he wouldn’t have to be in danger of rethinking all his plans.”

“I don’t know if that is sad or just another way of surviving what was going on in his life.”

“I’m not going to second guess him. Lord knows that he was there for me when I needed him,” Mitch said, not for the first time. I think he has his own normalcy bias going on where Uncle Hy and Grammy are concerned.

The dryhouse runs 24/7 and if it wasn’t for it, I don’t know what we would do. I’ve only had time to dry some things like the black currants, red currants, and those nasty goji berry things Uncle Hy started growing a few years back. The figs too for that matter though I’m ashamed to say that I’m tossing a bunch of those to the hogs to save on feed. Grammy would swat me a good one but there hasn’t been a choice. If I left them littering the ground around the trees it would have drawn rodents and other undesirable animals. We gotta find a way to stretch the animal feed anyway. Same with the chickens. I give them the garden scraps that I can. A lot still winds up in the compost pile and I’m having to be careful that it doesn’t ferment. As it is, I can tell the ‘coons are digging down in it and making a mess. I gotta come up with a solution to that but my thinker is currently broke.

The cows and goats forage though we feed the cows enough to keep them in milk although I think one of them is starting to wean her calf and that means that we’ll have to find some way to freshen her. Uncle Hy used a breeding service after his last bull went sterile and then turned it over to the butchers at the processing plant rather than do it himself. It cost, but he said they had the big saws and the extra muscle to do it with less waste than he could.

The honeyberries, boysenberries, jostaberries, blackberries, and blueberries I’ve mostly just been juicing and the steamer juicer is how I do most of it. I’ve dried a ton of blueberries too. What’s left over after the steamer is finished I either use in baking or I toss to the chickens. The red and black raspberries I’m canning more than juicing right now.

The Nanking bush cherries are ripening enough to pick but there aren’t many of them so I’ll be able to can them and then let the birds have the few that are left. The Bings and golden cherries as well as the rest of the sweet cherries I’ve been canning, candying, juicing, and putting the remainder to dry up like raisins.

I’ve been thinning the tomato bushes by pulling green ones to make all the green tomato canned items. We’ve also had a lot of fried green tomatoes, even with breakfast. Not bad if I do say so. Been turning a lot of tomatoes into juice, sauce, puree, and paste. I forgot that I would need to can some whole tomatoes and chopped tomatoes so I’m hoping the tomatoes keep going for as long as possible. Come hunting season I need to be ready to make soups, stews, and stuff like that. Won’t be able to without tomatoes. I’ve dried a couple of trays of tomatoes too. Wasn’t a real successful experiment until I realized I could grind those “tomato chips” into tomato powder. Could come in useful at some point.

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 49 (part 2)

Something got into the cabbage patch. Don’t know what it was because the fence wasn’t bent over and there were no burrow holes like something had dug its way in. Makes me worried, things like that. I’ve doubled down trying to keep things picked just as soon as they are ready and Mitch regularly checks the locks on everything. We’ve also pulled everything in off the porch. I’ll drag a chair out there during the day but I pull it back in every night and Mitch is going to take the porch swing down tomorrow, for reasons other than theft but it serves that purpose too.

I’m picking a row of corn every other day and checking the others to make sure it isn’t drying out too much. I’ve about canned my limit of whole kernel and cream-style corn. If we had the freezers up and running I’d be putting more back but Mitch wants to save as much gas as possible for butchering and hunting season. Mitch also says that we might be able to do things a little different next year, but it is going to take him time to clean out a room off the tunnel that runs to the tractor barn. He thinks it was the old icehouse from way back when. But if we can freeze water in pans when it gets cold we might be able to get it going again and have a “frig” most of the year. We just have to be careful how we do it.

I found a way to dry sweet corn in Uncle Hy’s files … filed under “Corn, Sweet” which was helpful if a little literal. It is a little more effort than just cutting the corn off and sticking them in the dryhouse but at least I don’t have to blanch it first. For every 8 pints of kernels cut off the cob, you need 6 tablespoons of sugar, 4 teaspoons of coarse salt, and half a cup of cream. That last one threw me but after testing it, it isn’t going to spoil the corn. How you do this is you mix everything up in a kettle and boil it for twenty minutes. You need to stir constantly so it doesn’t burn or stick on the bottom. Then when you are finished there shouldn’t be that much liquid left that you need to worry about. Spread the cooked kernels out on the drying screens and dry until it is crispy. You need to let the kernels cool completely then you can tuck them into airtight jars. It is turning out to be a good way to preserve the sweet corn. First, it takes a lot of cobs to make up eight pints. Then when you dry it, the volume shrinks even more.

The okra is doing a bit better than predicted. It’s probably the rain we’ve been getting. Still not going to bother canning any. I’m drying it all so I can have it for stews and soups. Peppers are as productive as I feared. I’ve already made three pepper wreaths. I made a batch of pickled peppers from the green bell peppers because I don’t think I could eat another stuffed one no matter if they are near as good as Mom’s or not. I’m drying a whole bunch of all the different peppers, don’t have a whole lot of choice unless I want them to spoil on the bush. I’m canning the jalapenos, though they and the onions just about ran me out of the house on some days. And the day I dried the last of the onions in the dryhouse I think even the soldiers down in the valley were crying. I know the dogs and I were.

I’ve canned a bunch of the potatoes, dried more than just a few bushels of them, and the rest are put down in the potato room as I get the time to dig them up. Sweet potatoes are going in next to them. At some point I’ll have to can and dry some of them too, but it is going to have to wait.

Squash, squash, squash. Good thing Mitch and I like it so well. I’ve got some of the bigger specimens sitting on the shelves in the part of the root cellar dedicated to them but at this rate I’m going to run out of room. I’m hoping you can dry squash but I don’t know yet.

I’m drying sliced watermelon believe it or not. Mitch likes it more than just fine now that I got him to actually try it. He can be a real goober sometimes. Now he’s got it in his head that I experimented just so he could have some “candy” when he was itching for some. And that it would be something that even Mom wouldn’t be able to say anything about. I tried to do the same thing with the cantaloupe, but it wasn’t nearly as tasty. Mostly we are eating the fruit for breakfast and dessert now that I’ve canned as much as I think will keep.

Apricot trees are ripening but not as prolific as they did last year. I’ve canned apricot nectar by the pint and the rest that make I’m just going to dry. Mitch didn’t object, told me to play Queen of the Kitchen, but it just feels strange to be making all of these important decisions without input from someone else.

Gooseberries surprised me, both the red and green ones. I think it is the rain we finally got. There’s only a few bushes near the house so that’s all I’m doing. Made some gooseberry jelly and gooseberry pie filling. I’ve got enough left to make two batches of plain canned gooseberries, one of each variety, and then I’m done. I know there are some wild gooseberries that the deer get into every year, but I don’t have time to hunt them up this year and quite frankly, no desire to make more work for myself.

I do want to go forage some muscadines. Thus far it doesn’t look like Uncle Hy’s grape arbor is making but the muscadines are. I’ve made Grammy’s Grape Hull Pie and a little jelly but that’s all. I want to make more jelly and I hope to make a bunch of muscadine juice and get it canned up. Hopefully anyway. I don’t care what Mitch says, there aren’t enough hours in the day.

Plums are coming in hand over fist. The Santa Rosa Reds and the Shiro Yellows thus far. The purples haven’t ripened yet. Made the mistake of taste testing one and gak, bleck, gross. Yeah, they need to ripen quite a bit. For the ones that are ripe I’ve made jam, jelly, and preserves, conserve, Grammy’s recipe for Plum Delicious, plum sauce, canned whole plums, and canned some plum juice. When the purples ones come in I’ll probably dry most of them down into prunes and prune juice. You should have seen Mitch’s face when I told him. Grammy’s go to recipe for certain stomach troubles was prunes and prune juice. I nearly laughed but didn’t. We might need some of that prune juice if all the cheese I made in the Spring turns out right.

I stopped making cheese because of the work but maybe that was a mistake. Mostly I’ve been making butter and then canning it. I think it might have been a mistake to stop making cheese. I make farm cheese at least once a week but what do I know? I feel like I’m making more mistakes than shows. I’m waiting for them to come around and kick me in the back of the head.

Apples are coming in but not many at the moment. Just enough to grab one off the tree to have with lunch every day, or for snacking on between chores. By the end of the month though we’ll have a fair few and I’m going to need to be ready for them.

Cucumbers are currently kicking my backside. (Sorry Mom) I like cucumbers but I’m not a big pickle eater. Mitch is so I’m going to make as many different kinds as I can. Cucumber relish, sweet chunk pickles, bread and butter pickles, mustard pickles, sour pickles, and kosher dills. Grammy has more pickle recipes than I really know what to do with. I’ll just keep making batches so long as I have the ingredients and the cucumbers keep producing. There’s also Uncle Hy’s cucumber catsup that needs to get made.

I spent several mornings helping Mitch bring in the first batch of honey – and we are getting a good average of fifty pounds per hive this time – but after about a week of us both doing it he said he would finish up. He didn’t want to leave the farm unattended, so I stay here and he goes to the hives with frames to switch out the ones he takes. It means taking the truck but that’s the way it is. I hope we have enough fuel left to bring the hives back out of the fields before winter. It’s a concern that Mitch has as well.

When I’m not messing in the garden or messing with what comes out of the garden and orchards, I’m doing my best to keep up with the foraging. Mayapples, wineberries, chanterelle mushrooms, purslane, elderberries, lambsquarter, and all the wild blackberries and blueberries I can handle. The bee balm and rose of Sharon are blooming. And then there’s the herb garden to keep up with too.

And when I’m not doing any of the above, I’m cleaning out the attic. Mitch wants it done sooner than later. I’d hoped to have more done by now, but you don’t dare go up there unless it is daylight and we can’t risk a lantern because I don’t have black out curtains on the windows … can’t reach all of the windows yet … and it is too dangerous because everything is all higgledy piggledy up there.

Mitch has been tagging furniture in the house and up in the attic that he wants to for sure move down into the subcellar and a lot of that has already been moved. It gives everything upstairs a creepy, haunted house look but it can’t be helped. He doesn’t want anything to be a temptation should salvagers or the enemy break in.

The sub-cellar Poppa Decker built is turning out to be a blessing. It creeps me out a little to think about the circumstances surrounding its history but that’s my problem, not Mitch’s. He’s having fun, if you want to call it that, creating a “house” for us to live in down there. He tells me to stay upstairs and do what I can, and he works downstairs when he doesn’t have outside chores. I’m only allowed to see it every couple of days as I’m either sleeping in the kitchen when he is out patrolling with the soldiers at night or in the storm cellar when he is around and says to end the day before it turns into tomorrow.

It … well, it’s really nice down there. Mitch has moved some shelving down in one corner and moved more than a little bit of stuff that we were storing in the cellar the way it always has been. He wants all the canning jars down there for sure, as well as all of what he calls the long-term storage food. We can’t move everything into the subcellar but I’d say we can probably get more than 75% of it plus have plenty of room for Mitch’s other plans.

His hope for the solar lights are working out, but he says he needs more LED lights and that’s going to take some salvaging if we get the chance. He’s fitted some LED lights into the really old fashioned and pretty kerosene lamps and hung them over particular areas but nothing is permanent until we get everything down there that will fit.

And I guess I better get up and go wake him up like I promised. I’m scared one of these nights he’s going to leave and something is going to happen. I’m really afraid one of these nights he’s going to leave and not come back.

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 50

I wonder if they know what a blood feud is? Well they are about to if they haven’t thus far been schooled on it. Dundee says that Mitch is going to pull through, that he’ll be all right. They patched him up and gave him blood. They could do that because he’d been working with them when they were ambushed. They couldn’t take him to a real hospital, but they have him at a field hospital just on the other side of the Ridge. Not inside a Safe Zone. Not so far away that he’s going away. But too far for me to go with him. They couldn’t even pretend to offer. He’ll be back but I don’t know when. Until then I got business to take care of.

Growing up around almost nothing but boys has given me a different outlook on things. Mom never tried to turn me into a stereotype like Aunt Fran did Lisa. She expected modesty of me but then she did of Dale as well. Dale never treated me like your typical little sister. Grammy wanted me to have a chance at a different life than hers, even though for the most part she’d picked her road. Uncle Hy was just glad that one of the kids in the family liked coming around and staying with them and taught me a bunch even if I was a female. Dad always told me I could do anything even though I know he didn’t exactly believe that literally, he meant it as much for me as he did Dale. And Mitch … ‘nuff said about that. I’ve done my crying. I’m done with being scared. And now I know what I’m going to do about my mad. But no one is going to know about it. This is between me and Donny Winters.

How do I know it is Donny? Well that’s the story.

Mitch didn’t come home when he normally did. It was mid-morning and I was getting worried. Then I saw the jeep driving all funny and it wound up in a drainage ditch. I started running, then stopped to make sure I wasn’t being foolish. I also made sure I had the Glock just on the off chance it was a test. Wasn’t either thing.

About all I remember for the next little bit was forcing the seat of the jeep back, climbing in Mitch’s lap, and driving it the rest of the way to the yard. Mitch, Sgt. Cahill, about six others stacked in the back like cordwood and just barely alive. They’d made it back to the outpost only to find it had been attacked too with no one left alive but two men they’d managed to put into the back of the jeep with their team.

They say I called in on Mitch’s radio using all the correct signs and whatnot, but I don’t believe it. The recording says it’s my voice. I don’t know. I can’t deny it, all I can say is I don’t remember doing it. I don’t even know when I would have had the time because I was too busy trying to keep all of them from dying.

About the only thing of any sense that I heard was Mitch who kept whispering something about the Winters which didn’t make any sense at the time. Then I caught “Donny. Skunk Hollow. Show ‘em.”

That computed but I didn’t have time to process it. I was too busy and too strung out. I do remember seeing something out of the corner of my eye and when the guy tried to touch Sgt. Cahill I punched him so hard he went over the porch balustrade.

“Whoa! Decker! We’re the cavalry!!”

Medic Dundee was there and directing a couple of other people to move around me while she pulled me out of the way.

“Wait! I ran out of bandages! And … and …”

One of the men said, “Looks like she’s been tightening and loosening pressure pads to maintain circulation.”

Dundee shook me lightly. “I need a report.”

I told them all I knew which at the time was next to nothing. I didn’t mention the Winters or anything else because they only let me give a basic description and anything else was considered compromised mutterings.

A couple of hours later the last man – Mitch – was being loaded into the medivac helicopter and Dundee was explaining reality to me. And the fact they thought it was an enemy patrol come far into the Buffer Zone but not to worry because they were carpet bombing the border even as we spoke and they were going to hit it with fire when they were done with that. Mitch’s group weren’t the only ones hit that night. Then she left. So did the rest of them. They told me all patrols were going to be out of the valley and off the ridge, that if I saw someone I needed to be very careful but the best bet was not to be seen.

I guess they thought they knew everything. And I admit that the fact that so many other areas had been “hit” at the same time gave me pause. I still believed Mitch over them, but I needed to see for myself what was going on. I wasn’t going to hide in the subcellar like a quaking ninny. But I needed to wait for dark and for all “our” people to be gone.

What I did first was go change into the clothes I knew best outside my overalls: my crew uniform. The shirt was already worn from so much use but the pants would have to suffice. I definitely needed to take them in and spent about an hour doing just that with the treadle sewing machine. Even with darts in the back and front I needed to get rid of some of the material on the legs but that wasn’t happening. The pants were Switchback Zip-offs. It took some time for me to get comfortable in them as I’d never really had loose clothes like these now fit. The dark green of the shirt had softened and when I walked nothing “swished.”

I hated to do it but I switched out my Powderhorn belt buckle that I was so proud of for a web belt with plastic clips. I didn’t want any jangling. My hair I braided with fresh greenbriar vines. I’m sure someone somewhere is going to consider me crazy for doing it but if someone grabs my braid, I want them to feel the pain and turn loose real fast. I learned to do that one summer at camp when there was a boy that was just mean as a snake to all the female scouts and venturers. It took a few times, but he finally learned, especially after one if the thorn pokes became infected.

I took the Glock and a pocket full of ammo but distributed it to different pockets so it wouldn’t jingle. I also took the shotgun. I suppose some might ask why I didn’t take the rifle. Truth is I put slugs in the shotgun and knew that no matter where I hit, if it came to that and I honestly planned on it, I’d make a mess and do some damage.

I wasn’t just running into the unknown. Not completely. Mitch had said “Skunk Hollow.” I knew exactly where that was even though I wasn’t supposed to. Dale swore me to secrecy because if Dad had found out I’d been told the story and even “initiated” like all the other male cousins, we were all gonna be in some serious trouble. I guess the rest of the boys knew I knew as well though no one ever said so. After James Brooks broke his ankle there, none of the older cousins were supposed to utter the name of the location, much less let us younger ones know where it was or the story behind it.

Skunk Hollow is a place on the side of the Ridge that is “haunted.” Don’t believe me if you don’t want to. I’m not sure it if is really haunted or if it is simply the feel of the place. Way long time ago, and it’s been verified by local historians and is in a lot of books on this area, a pioneer group got stuck up in there on their way to looking for some land to live on. There is no happily ever after to the story. Matter of fact it is worse gross and disgusting than some of the modern horror movies and includes inbreeding and cannibalism and way more crazy than I’d ever want to have to deal with in anyone’s family tree much less my own. And unfortunately the Deckers did marry into that crazy family though the girl died young and in childbirth, taking the baby with her so nothing was passed on. Still, it’s awful to think about. And worse, it is called Skunk Hollow because the place has a smell that really doesn’t have anything to do with dead skunks. Use your imagination to fill in the blanks.

Why would anyone want to camp at such a location? Because on top of all the other freaky stuff about the place, modern electronics like GPS and phones don’t work very well in there. My understanding is it is caused by some minerals in the rocks on that side of the Ridge. There’s also a cave that has a fresh water spring back in there. And the geography of the place would make it difficult for a drone to spot much even if someone was able to fly one in there.

Donny, PeeDee’s older brother, would be someone that Mitch recognized. They had a hate on for each other. Donny always came to PeeDee’s rescue when his bullying ways would get him in trouble. And Donny was dangerous crazy. I’d heard months back listening in on Dad and Dale, that Donny had been sent to fight on the border. What if he switched sides or was AWOL and joined salvagers … or more likely was living on the misery of those people from town that hadn’t been able to evacuate. That sounded his style.

It wasn’t a full moon, so I was going to be working in the dark, no pun intended. I had a little wind up flashlight I took but my preference was to work without it which meant leaving just at dusk. The dogs didn’t know what to make of it when I put them in the barn with the other animals. They did understand when I told them to “stay” and “guard.” I pitied anyone that even got close to breaking in. I also did my best to lock the house down and hide a key so I wouldn’t lose it in the forest.

I wasn’t hungry but I knew I’d need something so I took some nuts and dried fruit and stuck it in a zip bag in my pocket. Mostly I needed water but I didn’t want to take so much it weighed me down, so I took a small, soft-side canteen and my LifeStraw. It was time to move out.

I was in better shape than I had been when I’d still been with my crew, but I still only made four or five miles an hour. I didn’t want to run headfirst into a bunch of jumped-up crazy people … or even a tree in the dark. I wanted to move quiet and give them time to quiet down for the night. Took me a little over two hours to get where I was going, and it was to find that there were only two people in camp. One a female and the other a guy. Do I really need to explain that they were busier getting busy than they were guarding? Just nasty. And stupid.

I was able to move all around the outside of their camp without them ever even noticing. I even got close to their fire ring that had a fire pit in the middle and some upended crates for seats around it. I also got a good look inside the cave and wow, they have Aladdin’s cavern in there. There was food, paper products, fuel, paintings, a big ol’ box of jewelry, you name it. I kept watch and it wasn’t until right before dawn that the rest of them returned. Yep, and Donny was right in the middle of them … but he wasn’t Boss. He wasn’t even second in command. Some Asian looking guy was Boss but there were a couple of vicious looking cartel members and a few more Asian guys both above and below Donny in the pecking order. Plenty of pasty white boys but they weren’t anything but worker-drones from the look of them.

I had been foolish thinking that all I had to do was cut Donny down and the rest of them would cut and run. Not foolish, out and out stupid. Donny was mean but he wasn’t what you would call clever. He was muscle but little else. But after seeing them people acting like animals and killing some Spanish woman that they’d had cooking in their “kitchen” area like she was nothing but a fly that had annoyed them, after seeing how they were living overall, after remembering what they’d done to Mitch, Sarge, and the rest of our people, I turned mean and nasty proving that I was every bit the stereotype of a mean mountain person as the characters in some of Uncle Hy’s stories he would tell.

Maybe I’d listened to too many of Uncle Hy’s stories, the stories that he’d tell me and then say, “You don’t need to tell your Momma this ‘un.” And he didn’t just tell stories about our family, or this area of the country, he told me lots of stories about feuds and wars and just everything from ancient history to present times. A plan was forming and as I moved out, I knew exactly what I was going to do when I came back.

# # # # #

I might have had a plan but that doesn’t mean I didn’t also have responsibilities. I needed to go back to the house and take care of the animals. I made a stop on the way back and yep, everything was just as Mitch had left it.

As I took care of the animals, particularly the cows who were lowing in relief, I thought things over. I didn’t reconsider the moral aspect because I was absolutely sure that I was doing what I was doing in retribution, not vengeance. Sure, there’s a thin line between the two, but the line was still there, and I hadn’t crossed it. I was just doing what needed to be done.

What I did think about was those demolition packs Mitch and I had found. He’d put them down in the hole where we’d found the maps and footlockers and they were still there right along with all the toys that went with them. I had finally pestered Mitch into explaining how you arm and disarm those things. Seems the clay stuff is “inert” until you hook it up to the things that make it go boom and Mitch had disconnected all that stuff. Well, I was going to reconnect it and use it to deal with the trouble the bad guys had brought to the Ridge.

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 51

They were just as stupid the next night as the night before. Same woman, different guy. Nasty. I think they were as bad as the smell and noxious mist that was floating around. They didn’t seem to notice any of it. That made it even freakier somehow.

Freaky or not, it allowed me to move around the camp and put the demolition packs in places that I thought they’d be most effective. I had one left – one more than I thought I had – and I still don’t understand how that happened. I counted everything a bunch of times before sticking everything in the backpack down in the hidey hole where the maps came from. I did it to make sure I had enough of the wires and charges. I looked at that last block and counted back and … well I just don’t understand how it happened. Then it sounded just like Uncle Hy was whispering in my ear.

Those crates around the fire ring. The Boss sat on one that nearly looked like a thrown. Yep. That’s right, you bet I did. Almost got caught but almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. I had to renumber all the packs but that’s fine, I needed something to do besides listen to the “guards” doing the nasty - gag me – as I wanted on the rest of them to return.

I got tired but not so I actually fell asleep. I was busy finding a good hiding place far enough away that I wouldn’t get hurt but close enough that the detonators would get the signal from the contraption I was holding. And that’s when I thought, “Ohhhhh crud.” But it was too late, they were walking back into camp. I’m telling you I was sweating it.

They’d had a good night, apparently taken over another salvaging gang, tortured them for information then killed them, and brought their stuff in. I had to listen to them bragging about their brutality. The mist thickened for a little bit and if possible it seemed that their Boss’ eyes lit up as he looked at them evil, evil people. I swear his eyes reflected the firelight just like raccoon’s does. I was trying not to scare myself no purpose thinking of dragons or demons or anything else like that. Grammy had always said you had to stand strong and fearless in the face of such things or that’s when they would get you.

It took them forever to put everything in the cave. That stuff was back in there pretty far, I guess so someone would casually look in and see it. After they were finished I thought for sure they were going to go to bed instead of sit around the fire like the previous day, but apparently “Boss” wanted to have some kind of meeting. I never did find out what it was meant to be because I knew it was either try or they might discover the splodey-packs.

I flipped the switch for the pack under the Boss’ “throne” and for about ten seconds nothing happened. I was just on the raw edge of disappointed panic, wondering what to do, worried they’d find everything and then start hunting the person that had done it, when the world lit up. Oh … my … word.

Apparently when that splodey-pack went off it made the rest of them start to go off and I didn’t need to flip any more switches. For about fifteen minutes all I could do was pray the hillock I had run and slid behind after the first explosion was going to be enough. When it started raining body parts all I could do was pray and heave at the same time.

I had tried to keep track of all of the explosions, but every time I thought the last one had gone off another one would ‘splode. Finally it had been quiet for about twenty minutes. I ease around the hillock and in the distance I could see a bunch of trees blown out and down and uprooted and a fire. That wasn’t good and hadn’t been something that I had thought about. I knew I would have to put it out before it spread.

I was wobbly when I got up to the general location of their fire ring. I say general location because nothing looked as it used to. Fine dust was still settling and I’m sure it wasn’t just dust in the air. Strangely the smell that I always associated with the Hollow was gone and in its place was a burnt and ashy odor, like you were cleaning out a fireplace that you’d burned the wrong type of wood in. Boulders had rolled down and into the small clearing but the cave mouth was still clear. The fire was mostly a bunch of small ones because I guess the percussion had blown the flames out before they could really burn enough to set the forest on fire. Honestly, you’d think I would have thought things out better even if I didn’t let it stop me.

I kicked the little flames out, stomped some cinders and then wound up having to make my way into the cave to bring out some of the water from the spring to put out the worst of what was trying to start.

That’s when I heard a moan. I followed the sound over to a depression in the hollow. I heard it again and cautiously moved some tree debris. Somebody had rolled in to escape the blast. It took me a while to realize that someone was Donny Winters. I brought the shotgun around and then … stopped. I guess it is the same way for most other people. It’s easier to kill in the heat of battle or the heat of anger than it was to kill in cold blood.

I looked around to see if there was anyone else living and there was no way, given the number of people pieces that anyone else made it out. The head of the Boss was stuck on the sliver of a tree trunk. The rest. Nope. There’s just a feeling when you are the only live thing around.

I looked at Donny. I fought myself but I decided my morals and my conscience was more important than whatever else was going on. I was looking for something besides my clothes to make bandages with when his eyes focused and he started cussing, telling me what all he was going to do to me if I didn’t get him some help.

I looked up and all I could think to say was, “You aren’t really gonna make me are you?”

Then Donny coughed and there was a spray of blood in it. Guess that was my answer. I looked at him and said, “It’s not my job to say where you’re going Donny, but if I were you, I’d start confessing and trying my best to make peace and all that.”

All he did was cuss some more.

When he quieted after growing weaker, me never moving from my spot, I said, “I’m not sure why I was given to witness this Donny but I gotta say, I wouldn’t want to be you on your Judgement Day.”

Like something had finally penetrated his meanness and hatred I saw real fear enter his eyes, but they were already clouding over. The fear spread over his face, and until the day I die I’ll never forget the sound of him nearly scream, “No!” right before he stopped breathing. Whatever he had seen I don’t ever plan on being witness to. Dear God guide me away from that path and give me enough faith that I never have to even come close.

# # # # #

Seems like there should be some more after what I did but there was … nothing. It was the very definition of anticlimactic. Watching Donny Winters meet his end wasn’t satisfying. It wasn’t terrifying either, at least not for me. Sometimes you just have to believe what you’ve been told is coming for all people and accept it and try and make sure your path goes one way and not the other.

I did go into the cave to make sure no one had run in there to escape but nope, no one. That’s when I worried that someone had seen or heard the explosion and I looked at what was in that cave and I wanted to make sure that Mitch and Sgt. Cahill got something for their wounds.

I hoofed it back to the farm and drove Dale’s truck as close to the Hollow as I could get, and for the remainder of that day I loaded first the truck and then the truck and trailer (though it meant parker further away it saved me time in the long run) several times. First day I took all the food and stuff that I considered valuable. Second day it was the frou-frou stuff like paintings and other types of art items. Most of that got hauled to the Millhouse and dumped in one of the back rooms. I didn’t want to leave it in the cave to rot, but I wanted it to be someone else’s headache. Several of the items looked like things I’d seen on a school fieldtrip or on the virtual fieldtrips I went on after not being able to go back to school. Some of it was just plain ugly which meant it was probably worth even more than the other stuff.

By the end of the second day the area smelled so bad again that I knew I wouldn’t ever come back willingly. The cave was also acting dangerous and by that I mean there were slides both inside and outside it. When I heard a rumbling from deep within, I took that to be God’s way of saying, “Use the commonsense I gave you and go home where you belong.” So I did.

# # # # #

I think I’m done crying. Not over Donny Winters or what I did to the rest of them. I came to terms with that before I acted. Mom always told me that I needed to think first to save myself heartache later.

I’m lonesome. There was no one but the animals to come home to. No living person to talk what I did out with. It makes me understand why Mitch always seemed to be so sincere when he said he was glad I was here. It wasn’t about sharing the work, it was about sharing everything else that you do the work for.

I’m scared. Can I keep up? I’m back to being the one that chops all the wood. And there’s a lot of chopping to do. I’m back to being the only one that takes care of the animals. I’m the only one taking care of the bees … the gardens … the orchards …

I’m tired. Oh I am so tired.

And … I don’t know when Mitch is coming home or how he’ll get here. If he will be allowed. I’ve sent a report just like Mitch taught me, reporting what I’m witnessing. There is smoke all along the Southern horizon. It never really goes away. Sometimes darker, sometimes lighter, sometimes it is far away, and sometimes seems so close I can get whiffs of it when the wind is blowing in from that direction. It’s a nasty, greasy smell that reminds me way too much of Skunk Hollow.

I don’t know what is going on. There is no response on the radio. There wasn’t when Mitch did his weekly reports. But the sound is so … so dead … I don’t know if anyone is on the other end of the transmission.

Sometimes all I can do is walk down to the sub-cellar and look at what Mitch was building for us. It hurts my heart. I can’t breathe sometimes. Is this what Grammy felt after Poppa Decker died?

No. Nope. Can’t think like that. I’m starting to play sit and spin again and that doesn’t do a doggone bit of good. Back to work Nannette. Back to work and hopefully you’ll be so tired tonight you’ll even be able to sleep.


Contributing Member
Wow, even more this evenin'! I'll love you forever, Kathy. Or until I need the next fix.

Sounds just like every other guy you've ever known, huh?
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Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 52

Uncle Hy’s grapes fooled me. The bunches aren’t real big but they’re juicy and sweet. I eat all the ripe ones I want … with predictable results of course … and I’ve juiced the rest. I thought about making raisins but I’ve got so many other things that can take the place of raisins, like the dried blueberries and sweet cherries and currants and …

I think I’m a little too tired tonight to make much sense, but I need to try. Something tells me I really need to try harder. I said hello to the goats and nearly scared them and myself silly. The goats fainted. Silly ol’ things. It used to make me laugh but I think I might have forgotten how. That doesn’t seem right but that’s the way it feels.

Been a long time since I bothered talking aloud, even to the animals. Butch and Pretty seem to read my mind, sometimes they even do the talking for me with yips and barks. The animals do what they’re told … and so do I. I climbed a Cornelian dogwood tree the other day and ate some of the fruit and then just kept sitting. I don’t know why, just did. Took both Butch and Pretty to get me to come down and they herded me like one of the animals for the next two days, and I let them.

First thing in the mornings I do the harvesting … beans, berries, beets, carrots, corn, cucumbers, peppers, plums, potatoes, squash, tomatoes, melons, whatever needs harvesting. I’ve added pears to that and there’s a lot of them but for the life of me, what I’ve done with them all is beyond my ability to name. I’ve raked up hazelnuts and butternuts by the basket full and at night, when I have to come in, I clean them and bag them up to finish drying so I can crack them later. Apples, apples, apples. I juice them mostly, make cider now that I’ve fixed the apple press, but most of them I simply slice and put in the dryhouse.

The only reason I use the apple press is because of the cows. Uncle Hy always gave the cows apple mush in the Fall … the stuff that’s left over after you’ve squished all the cider out of a batch of apples. I need to try and keep up with things like that. One of the cows has gone dry. Mitch and I expected it to happen but maybe it happened sooner than it should because I’m not doing things right. I try but it gets dark before I remember to read Grammy’s journals. There’s so much to do and the last two times I tried to read all I did was fall asleep. I can’t let that happen. There’s too much to do.

Sometimes its like I just need to run but I’m too tired for it. When that feeling hits me, I grab poke bags and baskets and go foraging. I don’t know why, it just seems like I should. And it does help those weird feelings. If Mitch comes home, I don’t want him to have any complaints about what I’ve been doing while he’s been laid up.

On my walks I pick huckleberries, chokecherries, elderberries, pawpaws, and even found a good-sized patch of high bush cranberries. Lobster mushrooms and milkcaps fill my belly, the drier, and quite a few jars. I dry what is coming out of the herb patch because I can hear Grammy scolding if I don’t.

Mostly I’ve heard Mom lately. Be practical. I know you’re tired and sad, so take a nap but don’t sleep all day. How are you supposed to work if you don’t eat? It’s like she’s poking me. That’s fine. I think I need to be poked some. Everyone once in a while I’m someplace and suddenly come to myself some place else and having no memory of moving. I know that should scare me, but it doesn’t. It’s just one of those things to accept and move on.

The second honey harvest is done. I don’t think we are going to get a third this year. It is getting dry again. There’s trees already turning brown and not because of the cold. Next week I think I’m going to make a note to bring the hives back. I’ll let them keep everything else to survive with over the winter. I have a feeling they’re going to need it. Little over nine thousand pounds of honey is nothing to sneeze at and it’s not like there’s anyone around to eat it. I haven’t had to touch this year’s harvest at all because I used last year’s and what we found at the Delray place when I had to learn to can with honey instead of sugar.

I harvest in the morning. I preserve until the day cools off. Then I chop wood. And chop. And chop. And chop. Butch reminds me to stop. It’s time to take care of the animals. When that’s done the dogs herd me inside and I preserve again. At least I do after they’re done staring at me as if to remind me that I took care of them so its time to feed me so I can take care of them again tomorrow.

Good thing the dogs had me quit early. The planes are flying again tonight. I need to make a report. Wonder if anyone is listening on the other end. I hope so because this time I saw some planes that I’ve never seen before, that don’t belong in the sky here. They came up out of the south and flew towards the east. Maybe someone was listening because off in the distance it sounded like something was in a fight. Boom. Boom, boom, boom. Boom. Buuuuzzzzzzz. Kapow. Buuuuuuuzzzzzz. Boom, boom, boom. Have no idea what that means except I saw fewer planes coming back than had been flying east the first time. One of them left a ploom of black smoke that blotted out the stars and moon as it passed.

And there’s a strange sound. A rumbling way up high. Must be more bombers heading south but I can’t say for sure. They aren’t running with lights. I guess I’ll know if I see smoke on the horizon again tomorrow.


Veteran Member
What a wonderful series of chapters to read just before bed. I am tired, but not as tired as Nan that is for sure. Thank you Lady for sharing your special writing skills with us.

Kathy in FL

TB Fanatic
Chapter 53

It was cool this morning. Not cold but definitely cool. And cooler earlier than I ever remember it getting. I suppose I could go back through all of Grammy’s journals and check the temps. She was religious about recording the weather for each entry. Just too much trouble for me to dig it up right now. I’ll just say it is cooler earlier than I remember even if that isn’t factually correct. And hey, look at me, trying to act like I wasn’t raised in a barn my entire life and actually have some education.

I think I’ve turned a corner. My head was messed up there for a while. I suppose I could make excuses, but I won’t. I lost almost an entire month to the fog I was living in. The fog started clearing after the night of the bomber.

Why does my life constantly sound like an awful B movie? But not as awful as what happened to that plane. My timeline is a little messed up. I’m honestly not even sure what the date is but I know it has to be the last of August, maybe the first of September but I don’t think so, not quite yet. Unless I lost more time than I think.

After Mitch was medivac’d out things started running together. I’ve got it back under control but there were some consequences and losing track of the date is one of them. I’m also playing catch up in other areas. At least now I know that people are listening to my transmissions. I wasn’t sure there for a while.

One night I saw the wrong planes flying in the sky. They came out of the south but were not a returning squadron, fleet, or whatever. These started in the south someplace and though they were bombers, they didn’t look like our bombers as they didn’t match any of the pictures on the posters that the military had left for identification … for ours or the enemy’s. I stopped what I was doing and radio’d it in immediately. About an hour later I heard what sounded like a bunch of airplanes fighting, then I saw some of those bombers limping their way back south. I reported all of that too. I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t really expect anyone to answer back and say, “It’s okay. We’ll take care of it.” It would have been nice, but I didn’t expect it.

About forty-five minutes after I made what I thought was my final report of the evening I was deciding whether to sleep in the kitchen or the cellar. Did I want to keep running the steamer juicer or not. It would mean catnapping off and on all night and bringing in more wood first thing and I was starting to get low on wood again. I was just standing there thinking without thinking when I heard in the distance the rumble of another plane. I hadn’t closed the kitchen window yet though the shutters were closed. It was obvious there was something wrong with the plane because it kept sounding like it was sputtering and cutting in and out. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in a car making that noise, much less a plane.

I snuck out onto the porch to see if I could find it in the night sky. I shouldn’t have but I could because of the lights on the thing. Except as it kept getting lower, it turns out it wasn’t lights, the engines were on fire. Then as I watched, my mouth hanging open like an idiot, I watched the fires go out one by one … and so did the sputtering of the engines. However, I could still hear the plane. It reminded me of the sound my old Fidget Spinners would make.

Why? Because the thing was slowly coming down. I watched it circle like it was looking for something. That something was a road or field is what I finally guessed. The pilots were trying to glide it down like they do in the movies. Kinda didn’t work that way. They came down hard and nasty in a field over by the Delray place. What might have looked like a field from above was an overgrown mess of a fallow field at ground level. And in addition to the overgrowth, the ground was soft, too soft for a heavy plane. From my vantage point in the windbreak it looked like the front landing gear dug in and the nose sunk as soon as it touched ground. It spun and cartwheeled right after that, moving in ways that planes aren’t meant to move. I expected a big explosion and even instinctively hid my eyes, but there wasn’t one. I later found out it is because they’d used up all of their fuel.

I ran into the house and reported what I’d seen then added, “Going to investigate. Will add more information as I have it.”

Well that freaked some people out on the other end because the guy on the radio that night was none other than Jackson, the guy I had patched up the same day I had met Dundee. Some of the backstories of the civilian spotters was generally known, and mine was known in particular but I didn’t know it at the time. Uh huh. It certainly put some boogie in their loo as Uncle Hy would say on occasion.

On their end they knew of two enemy planes that were unaccounted for. One was a bomber, and one was a fighter. They now knew where the bomber was … spread out over the Delray property … but they didn’t know where the fighter was. They couldn’t afford to just go rushing in, but they did send in a few drones to make sure I was telling the truth, or so I was told later.

Took me more than a minute to get Butch to let go of my pants leg and then my belt.

“Doggone you are bossy,” I snapped. “I won’t be long. I need you and Pretty to keep an eye on things here.”

He finally grumbled and consented. I had just realized that Pretty was going to have puppies a couple of days earlier. Uncle Hy would have been tickled pink but enough of that.

My pants are even baggier than they used to be, and it was like running with flags attached to my legs. I’m going to have to do something about that. I’ve put off getting into Grammy’s clothes as long as I can. I’ve made over a bunch of stuff for Mitch from Uncle Hy’s stuff. I don’t know why it is so creepy for me to think of doing it for myself from Grammy’s closet.

When I got to the field it was to find that the plane was broken to smithereens. There weren’t really many flames and those were easy to put out by kicking dirt on them. I only found four bodies and three of them were in what was left of the bomber’s cockpit. They weren’t in great shape, still strapped into their seats, but they were dinner-with-the-queen ready compared to number four who was basically all spread around like jelly inside the plane’s fuselage. The plane for the most part was the cockpit, the piece of fuselage where body number four dripped from, the fuselage that still had the tail attached, and then there were pieces that were semi-recognizable like the landing gear and wings mixed up with a lot that wasn’t like stuff that looked like wires and insulation. What I didn’t see and had been scared to find, were bombs.

Then I watched as something arced across the sky with two other somethings following it. With an ear-splitting noise the one in front was flying low to the ground and I realized it was a fighter plane but it was too dark for me to see who it belonged to. Then one of the two planes that were chasing it shot something that went swoosh and the back end of one running away lit up like it had gas from a chili eating contest. I didn’t have much more time to almost snicker for the first time in weeks at that picture that had formed in my head when the plane flew itself into the ground on the other side of the Ridge. The two planes chasing it like two dogs after a burglar in a junkyard seemed satisfied with what they did and flew up high in the sky and disappeared heading in a northerly direction.

I ran back to the radio and reported all that I had seen. I locked down the house and told the no-one that was listening that if they wanted that mess cleaned up they were going to have to send someone because it was beyond me. Then I remember telling Butch and Pretty it was time for bed and that’s about all of the rest of that night I remember.