Good Lord, looking at it I can definitely say that when it rains it pours. And here I was thinking I had things calmed down and under control. Teach me to think won’t it. Granddaddy used to say that the fastest way to make God laugh was to tell him you had plans. Well, I suppose that’s really just an old wives’ tale but on the other hand it sure seems that it might be true, at least it feels like it is sometimes.
I don’t know how well this will come out, I feel so restless and out of sorts … better than I have been feeling and better than others still are feeling but that doesn’t mean I don’t still feel pretty bad and sorry for myself in general. I shouldn’t complain, we’ve been blessed here compared to some others. I guess I’m just so … well, might as well start at the beginning or I’ll make even less sense than normal.
Woke up ready to go hunting wild leeks … better known to us common folk as ramps. Some people can’t abide ramps and some people love ‘em near to death. With the way things have gone since my family died I’ve learned not to turn my nose up at any kind of food, you never know where your next meal is coming from sometimes … and sometimes you might not want to look too hard at what it used to be. It’s only been since coming to Dino’s house that I realized just how bad things were. I don’t know why I didn’t recognize it before – it was staring me in the face – maybe it was just self preservation; I suppose you can just get used to anything. Now that I’ve given myself time to think on it, guess that might be one reason why Sol was so easily duped by his uncle; he hadn’t been able to withstand the temptation of all that was suddenly just plunked down in his lap. I don’t say any of this to Dino, I don’t want to hurt him. He’s grieving enough as it is; we all are.
So as far as ramps go I have what you might call more of a “like ‘em good enough not to pass them up” state of mind. Doesn’t mean I haven’t seen the bad side of ramps though. Lord have mercy, if you eat too many of those things you better be around other people that are eating too many as well or you ain’t gonna exactly be good company if you know what I mean. And it ain’t just your breath that is going to be the offending party. The smell of ramps had cleared more than one room.
Ramps aren’t just good but good for you; they cleanse the blood first thing in the spring when you are looking for some of the first fresh things to add back into a diet after a winter of nothing but preserved foods. Might actually be one of the biggest reasons they give you gas so bad … being the first fresh after a long season of nothing but preserved food.
Ramps are full of iron and antioxidants, or so it says in the books I’ve read. They’ve got a strong garlicky, oniony kind of flavor that is pretty intense for the uninitiated. But for a spring food there’s not much that can match a batch of ramps. If you ain’t feeling perked up after that you need to go see the local yarb woman to get some help and that’s a fact.
Unlike many spring time forage foods, the first place you don’t look for ramps is in the bottom land where things have warmed up. Nope, ramps is generally found on a north side of a good sized forested hill or mountain that has a few open places here and there. To me the leaves remind you a bit of tulips but yet not. Not too many folks eat the leaves anyway though you can, or so I’m told. Most folks stick to the bulb and stems that remind me most of scallions.
Ramps is also best used fresh unless you plan on blanching and freezing a bundle. I planned on picking more than I could use fresh and storing them for a bit in the ice room down in the basement. I got all dressed and was really feeling up to the gitty up and go when a very pale faced Hannah knocked on my bedroom door.
“I swear I’m not faking it Riss,” she muttered dejectedly.
After one look at her face I sighed. “No, I guess you aren’t. Let me get you some raspberry leaf tea.”
Grimacing and holding her lower middle she whispered, “Geez, you are saving my life, you know?”
I shook my head, “Don’t get silly on me now. You ever ask them doctors you worked with about why you get cramps like this a couple times a year?”
“Not the doctors, no,” she said shaking her head. “But believe it or not one of the Sisters told me it was because I lost too much calcium going into it.”
“One of the Sisters? You mean them nuns you were working with? I thought you said they was too strict for words?”
She shrugged and then made another face. “Well, maybe not that strict. I probably exaggerated a bit. They were strict I mean but … but most of them weren’t mean strict. And they are female and just because they, you know, have taken a vow and everything doesn’t change that. I reckon some of them have normal female problems too. They just aren’t allowed to make a big deal out of it I guess.”
“I guess,” I repeated remembering a few of the “big deal” times that Hannah acted like she was dying when we were growing up. Mrs. Bly would take to her bed the same way nearly every month. I asked her one time if it didn’t take all the fun out of being a girl and she gave me this real cross look so I learned to leave her alone when she was hormonal.
Knowing that Hannah was going to be useless or worse I told her, “You might as well stop beating around the bush. You know you aren’t going to make it ramp hunting.”
“I know,” she gloomed. “And I was hoping to rub AJ’s face in it. He laughed and said I’d give up. But that’s not true … I just … I just …”
Forestalling the tears I could see on the way I told her, “Humph, that’s a guy for you. But tell you what, dinner is all set back and only needs to simmer. Why don’t you do the dinner – surprise AJ that way – and take care of Kerry for me. Don’t ask me why but he seems to mind you well enough that I don’t have to worry about him tearing the house down.”
“Oh honestly Riss, he’s not that bad.” At a look from me she said, “OK but he’s no worse that you and Harry used to be and you know it.” I couldn’t help it and grinned a little nostalgically at a few memories that she had resurrected. She laughed then grimaced, “Tea … tea now … before I just about die.”
I rolled my eyes but didn’t laugh. “That bad?”
“Probably just stress. Everything seems to be out of whack lately. God, I even have pimples this month and I swore that I’d outgrown that.”
Since I still broke out when it was getting close to that time of the month I could have told her she was just wishful thinking but didn’t and instead got her some witch hazel to go with the raspberry tea. “Remember Hannah Banana, you drink the tea and use the witch hazel on your face.”
“Ha ha. Just too funny.” She was a little grumpy but not much and added, “Go already or you’ll never get back before I have to figure out how to work that monster stove and fix supper.”
So I did … get that is. I probably looked ridiculous but since the men weren’t about and I could care less what the animals might be thinking I just laughed at myself. Pita was in a sling strapped across my back and she was kicking to beat the band. I swun she musta thought I was some kinda pack mule or something; it felt like she was setting spurs into me to make me go faster. The old overalls fit like they used to with maybe a little extra room here and there – especially in the patched and baggy seat – and I was pulling my jacked up wagon to bring back what I was going after.
I knew exactly where I was going but I also knew I’d have to leave the wagon down at the bottom of the trail and bring the ramps down by the basket full. The morning was still spritely and Pita and I had a fine ol’ time. I was coming back down the trail with my third load of ramps and what to I find but five young men standing around all my hard work … and one of them was eating one, raw of all things, to see what it was I guess.
“Hey! I didn’t just work all morning to feed you trespassing fools!”
I know, stupid thing to do but I was surprised and acted in anger; never the smartest thing to do and you’d thought I would have learned that by now. When they turned on me it wasn’t the look in their eyes that had me backing up and pulling my pistol but what their eyes looked like and the rash all over ‘em.
“You stay back!”
One of them young men said, “We’re hungry. You give us what you’ve got and we’ll leave you alone.”
“You’ll leave regardless of whether I give you anything or not. Now get! You already got something and I don’t want to see my baby get it.” I made my point by pointing my pistol a little more surely and forcefully.
Two of them tried to rush me in a clumsy fashion, for what reason I have yet to figure. I couldn’t run and turn my back and give them a chance to get to Pita so I did what I thought I had to do. The other three were momentarily surprised and then took off down the trail and back towards the road as lickety split as their sick bodies let ‘em. They moved clumsily out of my sight, stumbling now and again and shading their eyes like the sun hurt.
Pita got scared by the noise and was crying loud and hard right in my ear. I sat down right there on the trail, pulled her sling around, and tried to comfort her (and me if I’m honest) while I decided how best to get around the bodies that were blocking my path. The most important thing was to figure out how to get around them without coming in contact with them. Pita was in fact crying so hard the horses were just about on top of us before I heard them plain.
I heard the voice I’d wanted to hear most call, “Riss!!”
Calling back to him I said, “I’m all right Dino but stay back from them bodies, they’ve got something. They’ve got spots and their eyes are peculiar gross.”
Dino was off his horse and up the path before I could tell him once again, “Dino, stay back!”
“It’s OK Riss. It’s measles and I had it as a kid.”
I started backing up even faster than I had when I first noticed the rash on the trespassers. Dino gave me a strange look but I kept going. I was nearly running and tripped, sitting down hard on exposed cedar tree root. “Measles?!” I finally cried in horror.
Dino had reached us and started asking all sorts of questions but I had a few of my own and was struggling to stay calm. “Dino I’m fine, stop checking me over like a mule on the auction block. They didn’t come near me, but how did you get here so quick? Did you hear my pistol?”
“No … well yes, but that’s not what started me in this direction in the first place, only what nearly gave me a heart attack. We ran into Josiah who told me that there’s a bunch of folks in town coming down with measles; that it started in the city jail.”
I started shaking again, horrible memories trying to fog my brain. “Oh no, oh no, oh no.”
I had conflabergasted Dino and I guess Alec and Ajax who were riding with him. “Riss?”
“I’ve already been through this type of thing once Dino and I lost just about my whole family. I don’t know if I can do this again. We gotta keep our babies safe, we gotta …”
“Shhh. Easy Love, if you’ve had it before or you’re vaccinated you can’t get it again. It’s all right.”
Holding Pita didn’t give me much scope for my frustration but in desperation I banged my forehead on his shoulder. “I’ve never had it and I haven’t been vaccinated for it since well before we went to live at the farm I know I’m due because it’s been over ten years. And you don’t grow out of being able to catch it so when your vaccine runs out … oh no, oh no. Oh why oh why did they have to come around here?! And Pita … oh my Lord Dino … she … she could … and Kerry … and oh no, has Tina … I can’t remember about Hannah … and …”
I was some fretful and Dino could see it. And I could see that Ajax turned his horse and took off like a shot … guess that told me he didn’t know whether Tina and their baby was safe, the one already born or the one she was carrying. Dino and Alec looked at each other and I could see they had been given something to think on too. Things aren’t like they used to be. Medicines like antibiotics are hard to come by and with vaccines going out on folks all it took is for one infected person to come into a home or community and start an epidemic. All I could think about was the virus that had taken so many of my loved ones from me. I remember from that point forward there were announcements on the radio about how to recognize different diseases and treat them at home. Guess it had been long enough since the last epidemic that people had forgotten … or some people had, but I sure hadn’t.
Dino insisted on carrying me over the bodies and my feet never hit the ground; he just sat me up on the saddle and then climbed up behind me. “Hold on to the wiggle worm. We’ll get you two home in no time.”
Still fretting I asked, “But what about my wagon … and the ramps …”
It was Alec that said, “You aren’t going to want those ramps anyway. As for the wagon someone will come for it as soon as we get things straightened out.”
Straightened out, that’s a hoot right there. By the time we got home they’d already closed the school had been closed and sent all the children home. Six kids were showing symptoms and not one of them were in the same classroom. One of the boys in particular was a good friend of Chester’s sons and I knew right then that we were in for it.