Sunday, July 10, 2011

Chapter Forty-One

Chapter 41

Today the primary task I set myself was to go through all of the herbs, spices, flavorings, etc. that are here in the house. I haven’t been at all happy to have them spread all over the place. AJ’s inventory system only works so long as I keep things organized and I haven’t felt as organized as I could be in a lot of areas.

Before Dino and I got married I felt like maybe it wasn’t my place to change things around; I saw it as his house that I was just trying to keep up with. Then I just got too busy and frankly just too fat to do much of what was necessary to get really organized. But now I know it is our house and if I going to manage it properly then I need to get on the ball and stop making excuses. I’m feeling more myself and getting my figure back though I’ve still got a few wiggles and jiggles where I didn’t have them before and I want to set things the way I want them just in case I get caught with Dino’s baby before I expect to. My grandfather used to say it was silly to put off tomorrow what you can do today and I reckon that is still true.

I was pretty bent out of shape that I hadn’t gotten around to it before now after all the huffing and puffing I had to do. There is a space downstairs off the basement that is either a very small room or a very large closet, I haven’t decided which. It was piled high with boxes and boxes of old business files – and two mice that Tom dispatched for me – and I had Chester’s two boys carry it all out of doors onto the porch for Alec and Dino to go through. That left me with a neat little space that was dark and cool and just right for doing what I wanted.

While going through all the stuff up in the attic I found a bunch of odd and ends worth of plastic, air tight containers; most of them all stuff called Tupperware. These I lined up some metal shelving that I had cleared off in the basement. Each container was labeled and now I can see what I have … which is too much in some areas and disappointingly little in others.

I had to throw away all the wild parsnip – what most folks call angelica – as it was too old and brittle to do anything with. I had enough basil and oregano to make Italy jealous. I didn’t have very many bay leaves left and I put it onto a list to send to AJ. There were bottles and bottles and bottles of these little things that looked like pickled up peas but Alec laughed and told me they were capers. I haven’t a clue what to do with them so I’m going to have to hunt through the shelf of cookbooks that I’ve started to see what they say of them. I threw out a lot of garlic bulbs that were probably older than Kerry is from the look of them. There’s no since in listed out every little bit but suffice it to say that I’ve got a list as long as my arm of the stuff that I’ll need to forage for or replace when I can.

There are things I don’t know how to make do without. I mean I could but it wouldn’t be fun. Cinnamon and nutmeg are two of those types of things. Cloves are another. Then there are things like lime, citric acid, and curing salts. So many things that I used to take for granted being able to get from the farm catalog or from the Seed and Feed and I’m just worried that despite this danged old war going on as long as it has maybe we haven’t seen the worst of the consequences. Not so long ago most everything was available even if you had to pay a pretty ugly penny for it. Lately it seems everything is on “back order” and they want at least a deposit up front despite having no idea when or if you’ll get your order in.

Due to this our list for AJ grows pretty regular. We send a good long list – with the priority items starred – but it is with the understanding that he might be able to get it and he might not. I don’t want to bring a lot of attention to him … or to us … and when we can order through Newton or Cherry Gap we still do. Certainly no need to get people talking that’s for sure. Seems that’s about all some people do during the off months, naming no names of course.

Of course it ain’t only like that out here in the boonies. Right before Christmas AJ sent a few boxes to us, most of which were presents for the kids … ours and those up at the Big House. But some of it was shares on some “deals” we’d invested in with official looking tax stamps marked on the paperwork. I learned not to ask if they are real stamps or not when AJ finally turned around and said, “Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.” Youch. I know he has his reasons but I’m just not as certain of my own reasons for going along with all of it.

There was also a surprise in there for me. A nice long letter; mostly from Hannah but Mrs. Bly had written a short note as well thanking me for having AJ stop by and give them notice of Pita’s birth. If AJ had been around when I read the letter I would have chunked the coal scuttle at him. I hadn’t given him permission. I had told him – in a weak moment mind you right after nursing Pita – that I wasn’t adverse to them knowing but that that was as far as I was going to go. Grrrrr. What did he do? I’ll let Pita’s letter speak for itself.

*****

Dearest, dearest Damaris …

I know, doesn’t that just sound too stupid? But that’s how the queen talks. And by queen I mean Queen Shantelle of Bly. And if you are wondering, no, she does not improve with acquaintance. I could kick myself for ever complaining about you or any of the other girls just because you were bumpkins. Some of these city girls around here drive me absolutely buggy with all of their superficiality and airs of superiority.

So hey, how did that sound? What do you think of my big words? I’m going to some intermediary schools – Mom said it is like some kind of old fashioned finishing school – to catch me up so that I can eventually attend technical school so I can get a certificate and can go to work. I never thought I’d be grateful for school but I can’t tell you what a relief it is to get out of this house everyday and know eventually I’ll be able to get out for good and have some money of my own. I go to school a couple of hours in the morning and then head over to do some volunteer work to earn points towards my diploma. I am so tired of owing Uncle Bill for every little thing. We even have to apply to him for our … you know … feminine needs. It is so embarrassing and he only seems to enjoy it more when it is.

I’ll likely hear your gasp of disbelief all the way from where you are when you read this next bit. Just don’t laugh at me Riss, save that for later. Here it is … I have decided I don’t want to be useless for the rest of my life after all. Don’t faint. It is just so much harder being useless than I ever thought it would be. Not to mention incredibly boring. I’ve met some of those types here and I don’t want to turn into whatever they are. Gosh but they can be so ugly and mean spirited.

Oh, before I go on I want to say congratulations on the baby. I wish we had a picture of her, she sounds like a dead ringer for Harry and I which would really be funny if it wasn’t so sad at the same time. Please think about it if you can get it done; Mom doesn’t say much but I catch her looking at pictures of Harry and I when we were babies and she even made a blank place for where your baby should fit in.

I’d send you Sol’s head on a platter if I could but he isn’t around much lately. He has a room over at the munitions plant and he stays there as much as he can, he doesn’t even make excuses for it any more. I don’t know if it is Uncle Bill, Shantelle, Mom or maybe all three of them but he can’t seem to stand being cooped up here when he visits. Or maybe it is the ghost of Harry. God Riss, I miss my twin so bad sometimes and no one around here wants to talk about him. Uncle Bill and Shantelle just purse their lips like I’ve committed some social faux pas. Sol gets all white and angry any time Harry’s name comes up. I guess does Mom try but she just winds up crying and going to bed with a sick headache. If you were here I might have to listen to your sermons but I know you’d listen to me even if it made you sad. There’s no one around here at home that does that … listen to me I mean.

And frankly I think Mr. Nichols might have something to do with Sol never wanting to be around too. Mr. Nichols is all right and I wouldn’t mind getting to know him better – he is still yummy looking even with the limp which is hardly noticeable – but if he has what it takes to scare Uncle Bill I’m not so sure that it wouldn’t turn out like the mouse wanting to get to know the cat. Shoot, even Shantelle disappears when he is around but that’s mostly because he insults her intelligence at the least provocation. Mom doesn’t seem to think he is anything too much like a threat but I don’t know if I can trust her judgment on it; she thinks Uncle Bill is just a kind and caring big brother that occasionally gets heavy handed and we both know that’s about as far from the truth as you can get. She usually goes off to have one of her headaches leaving me to do the entertaining by myself when your cousin-in-law comes around. I don’t mind, he’s interesting at the very least, which is more than I can say of a lot of the boys that still come sniffing around Shantelle despite Uncle Bill being pretty nasty when he finds any of them around.

I know I should be asking you all sorts of questions about the baby but Mr. Nichols has already given us the gory details. She sounds huge. Most of the babies at the hospital are tiny little things that you’re almost afraid to pick up … assuming you can; most of the ones I get to see are in the special wards only waiting to get big enough to ship off to the foundling home for abandoned children.

I know you and I never got on especially well and I’m learning to be sorry about that. I’ve found myself missing you which feels pretty strange. OK, now you can laugh. Maybe some of you back woods-iness rubbed off on me because I feel like a fish out of water around here. About the only people I have any rapport with are the ones at the medical center where I volunteer at … the place where the babies are.

Speaking of which, I wish you would send me some of your nasty homebrew recipes like that one for fevers and that headache tea you used to make for Mom. Medicines are in such short supply here but we’ve got a couple of doctors and nurses that aren’t averse to natural remedies if they have a shot at offering palliative care for our patients that get triaged. It would be especially good if you could send any that are child-safe. We’ve got so many children that have been abandoned or temporarily “dropped off” there’s never enough of anything to go around.

The place the children go to once they are old enough or well enough to leave the hospital is run by some religious group called the Sisters of Charity. Apparently they’ve been around like forever. I mean really ancient history forever back to the 1800s. Between you and me some of the old women that run the program look like they were there for the beginning of it. Man are a couple of them cranky, are very strict too. There is a dress code that would blow your mind and if you have something that is one inch too much or too little they’ll send you out the door and you can stand there until the bus runs. They mean business for sure; don’t bother asking me how I know, it only took once. That lady in charge could give Uncle Bill lessons on being large and in charge.

But I don’t work with the children much. Mostly I work with the injured soldiers and CSP types or on the older adult wing. I do just about everything but change bed pans and hand out medicine. Mostly the nurses ask me to sit with specific patients and keep them quiet or keep them from getting depressed. It means I handle a lot of men like Harry; there are some women in there like Harry too but most of them are pretty far gone mentally and are on the lock down ward. You’d think that all of that would send me into a decline but it doesn’t. I’ll tell you a secret not even Mom knows since she hates my work … I think I have found my calling.

I’m not sure I have what it takes to be a nurse but sitting with the patients, talking to them, playing games with them, and that sort of stuff … I can do that Riss. I really, really can. And I think they appreciate it. You know, mostly I think the people I sit with just really want someone to see them … not just look at them but really see them, talk to them rather than at them. So many of these people wind up warehoused for whatever reason, or triaged, or … well, awful things happen to people in war Riss as I’m sure you figured out before I did. But most people don’t want to hear it or know about it because they have so many problems of their own so they hide our injured and broken away so they don’t have to think about it. I get to make a difference in their lives Riss. I never knew I could do something like that. I like how it feels.

I’m going to sign off here and run. This has turned out to be way longer than I thought it would be but Mr. Nichols said that I can write to you any time I want and he’ll put it in with the papers he sends to your husband.

Hannah

P.S. I almost forgot to tell you, Uncle Bill was so mad and Mom thought he was going to have a heart attack he was ranting and raving around so much that night after the party. You should have seen the look on his face when he found out you married one of the owners from the Pappas vineyards. Apparently they are a big deal in some circles and Uncle Bill was talking big at some dinner party we all had to attend to show off Sol and Shantelle and “cement their marriage in the public eye.” Needless to say Mr. Nichols was … oh it was so funny Riss. I’m sure you know how Mr. Nichols can be. I know I shouldn’t laugh but Uncle Bill and Sol got some of what they were due when he got cut off at the knees in public. Shantelle was absolutely mortified as well when some of the “truth” came out the way it did. Seems she doesn’t have quite the number of friends as she used to.

*****

I swear I could have run AJ’s bell and Hannah’s too for getting such a kick out of it. But by the time I found out it was too late to do anything. I’ve asked both of them to knock it off because I don’t want any trouble and Dino and the business don’t need any trouble in this economy. Although … I’ll be honest here and admit that for a moment I would have liked to have been a fly on that wall. But then again, I don’t like the idea of inspiring misery in people. I had plenty enough there for a while that I wouldn’t wish it on anyone else … even Sol and that girl he married. It sounds like neither one of them has wound up with what they bargained for. Giving how blessed I am only makes me feel less like rubbing their noses in it; my circumstances could have turned out quite a bit different.

Every package we get from AJ has a letter from Hannah in it. And yes, I did start writing her back. I was hesitant at first. No one who has been hurt wants to reach out again but I figured I was being stupid and it wasn’t setting a very good example of what I hoped to eventually teach Kerry and Pita as far as forgiveness goes. Hannah and Mrs. Bly had no direct hand in hurting me and it seemed senseless all things considered. But I was careful for a couple of reasons.

First off, I didn’t want to hurt Dino’s feelings. He and Harry were the two that stood beside me. Harry asked me to reconsider but he wasn’t here and Dino was my priority. The only thing he asked of me was to not give any family business away and to not have anything to do with Sol. Both were easy to comply with and I would have gone that route anyway. I only write to Hannah anyway, if she chooses to share some with her momma then fine – just one more reason though to be circumspect – but I added a cover not to AJ to impress on Hannah that I didn’t want my business shared with Sol. I didn’t want him to scare her but I knew he’d find a way to make her understand how serious I was up to and including not communicating with her any more. It might sound fussy to some but I think I have the right to ensure Pita’s safety and future until she is old enough to deal with things in her own time.

Found out in Hannah’s second letter that I could have saved my breath because Sol got reassigned to a different city. Apparently Mrs. Bly’s brother didn’t have all the pull he thought he did. AJ explained in his letter that it was done to prevent favoritism which is apparently a big problem in the CSP in general and perhaps that area in particular. Whatever the reason, Mrs. Bly is pretty shook up and I guess her brother is having problems getting things done his way these days.

In hindsight it was a good thing that I pulled out all of my notes and such on fevers and other ailments to send to Hannah. We’ve had quite a rash of them go through this area. The damp, cold fence rides and just generally have to work out in the miserable weather has caused a fair share of winter colds and other viruses. I’ve run through a lot of thyme, sage, apple water, barley water, cayenne, and raspberry vinegar trying to keep fevers at bay. I’ve bruised cumin seeds and soaked them in ninety-proof liquor to make a warming liniment for swollen glands. Compresses of apple cider vinegar are good for swollen glands too. I’ve gone through nearly half my wild cherry bark extract which means that I’ll probably go through the rest of it this spring. Thank goodness the horehound, mustard, and mints were plentiful or the nearby quarry would have filled itself in from falling rocks caused by all the coughs that have been going around.

The illnesses have been too much for some. We lost old Mrs. Chamberlin. Everyone said it was a blessing. The poor darling couldn’t talk much anymore and her arthritis kept her bedridden most of the time. She wasn’t eating right either. The cold that came on just sort of carried her the rest of the way off and I know she is much better off but I’m just heart sick that I still had so much I could have learned from her. I don’t know anyone else quite like her left around here. Her son stopped me after the funeral – Dino footed the bill for the cost of the equipment to dig her grave and while he was at it dug several more just in case they were needed before the ground thawed – and gave me the last of his mother’s old notebooks and receipts. He said that she willed them to me along with her granite mortar and pestle and some old antique pill boxes.

I was plumb flabbergasted and asked Dino whether I should keep them. “Love, she wouldn’t have left them to you if she hadn’t meant for you to have them. Her family got everything else; she must have thought you could do some good with them.”

And I intend to just that. I’m not yarb woman but I reckon I know enough about the old ways that it might help some folks. There aren’t any more doctors around. Our last traveling one got drafted and now if you are bad sick you have to run to the city or wait on one of those CSP Medical Units to set up. It’s been since the cities came undone since the last one was out this way so I guess what knowledge I can share is better than nothing at all. We do have some retired nurses in the area and people like Cheryl that got out of the practice before the war or we would be in a real world of hurt. I sure don’t know how to set a bone or lop off a limb where it got too mashed in machinery to save. And yeah we’ve had some of that happen, just not in our family thank goodness.

I know I’ll be happy to see the back side of this nasty weather. And doggone if I’m not getting a scratchy throat on top of it all.

6 comments:

  1. YAY! more story! thanks so much!! :)

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  2. Good to see a new chapter today. I needed a treat after being on my feet all day cooking.

    Thanks Kathy.

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  3. Just posted a note on chapter 40 and looked around a bit and then I saw chapter 41. Thanks again Kathy for another splendid chapter.

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  4. Ihad been looking for this alllll day thank you.

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  5. Kathy, you are a wonderful writer! Thanks for the great story.

    Calfisher

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  6. What a happy surprise to find a new chapter! Sounds like Hannah has done some growing up. Funny how helping others can do that for you. Thinking about spices, that is one area that I am woefully ill prepared in. I'm okay on salt and pepper, but cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc....well I need a whole lot more than the little bit I have. They're just so darned expensive that I near about go into cardiac arrest when I think about buying them in mass quantities. LOL

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