Enduring on the Lake

Monday, November 10, 2014

Chapter 36


“I’m freezing my tail feathers off.  What happened to the weather?” I said coming pretty close to complaining in the dark of the early morning.  I knew there was frost on the ground as I’d had to walk through it from the parking area the family had used.  “Geez about the only thing I can see is my breath.” 

Max who had been looking sleepy and miserable at that point because he’d been denied the chance to carry a rifle by Josh even though I offered to loan him my junior .22lr, tried to fake scratching his nose to cover a smile.  

My antics did not impress the other Slothowers there, every last one of them giving Zane the hairy eyebrow for having brought me along.  Zane didn’t look happy with what the others considered all the noise I was making either but as the others pushed him he turned contrary against me and wouldn’t tell me to stay home.  Men … or should I say males … because even the male dogs they brought gave me “the look.”  But the dogs wouldn’t say boo because the alpha momma of the pack took a liking to my scent and decided my boots were a good platform for sitting. 

I leaned over to Max and whispered, “So does she like me or is she worried I’m going to run off into the woods and get lost.  Or is it that her royal highness just doesn’t want to sit on the frost covered ground?” 

“Beulah does the same thing to me.” 

I sighed.  “Wonderful.  What does that make us then?  Her puppies or something?” 

Max snickered quietly and when the older men there noticed they started looking at me with more interest though they continued to keep their distance. 

Hightower Slothower was senior on this trip and started giving orders and assigning hunting stands and meet up locations and radio frequencies to use “in case of trouble.”  I didn’t appreciate the squinty eye that he threw Max and my way when he said it and right then and there decided I was going to prove the whole lot of them wrong. 

Zane finally came back over to us and said, “I’m not sure what kind of day we are going to have.  Uncle Hightower has heard that there are going to be a lot of hunters out today.  Word has gotten out and around about the state the grocery stores are in.” 

“Give Max and I a tree away from the others.  They’ll be less jumpy that way and will have less to complain about.  He and I can do for ourselves.” 

“Now Syd …” 

“Don’t now Syd me.  I can’t make you let me take Max with me but I can go off on my own whether you agree to it or not.  I’m here by your invitation but I don’t exactly feel welcome and I don’t want trouble from your family or for you by your family.” 

“It’s not like that.” 

“That’s BS.  Last time Mom was here she mentioned what a bunch of chauvinists the Slothowers men have always been.  As to that it really doesn’t bother me because Daddy was pretty much the same way.  But dining on a steady diet of it without any relief isn’t my idea of a fun time.  And it can’t be a fun time for you to have your family looking at you like you’ve lost your mind.  If Max and I don’t get anything then we don’t and they’ll be right.  If we do I’ll have proven to myself I can get along without being babied.  Win-win from all I can see.” 

Josh called, “Zane!  Is there a problem?” 

I turned around and gave Josh some squinty eye right back and told him, “That’s the tone you use to call dogs, not people.  I was just asking Zane if he minded that Max and I stayed out of everyone’s way with a tree of our own a little way off.” 

Josh would have said something – something probably snarky – except several of the other men suddenly piped up in relief saying that Zane should “let us” do that very thing.  I gave Zane a knowing look and he just rolled his eyes and tried to hide a smile.  I played it up even further by going, “Please Zane?  Please?  Max and I will stay out of trouble, I promise.” 

Zane scrubbed his face and muttered, “Good Lord.  You’re a mess.  They won’t be happy when they find out there’s a brain under all that hair.” 

With wide, innocent eyes I whispered back, “They’ll never know ‘cause they’ll never look.” 

To keep Max from getting ideas of following me in my antics he marched us away and down a barely discernable game trail.  We’d hiked quite a way when Zane gave a certain tree a good once over.  “This should do.  I’ve used this tree before.  Don’t go wandering around.  People are twitchy.” 

Max nodded as he took a sip from a Nalgene bottle I had fixed for him that morning.  “Yeah, Josh sure was cranky.  So was Uncle Hightower and he’s never cranky.  And I don’t see why I can’t have a rifle.  Arlington does and he’s only a year older ‘n me and he acts stupid all the time.” 

I put my finger to my lips to quiet him.  “Sound carries in the still and cold air.  You don’t know where he is and there’s no reason to make enemies you don’t need to make.  Arlington’s father makes decisions for him.  Josh and Zane make decisions for you.  Prove to Zane and Josh you’ve got more than fuzz under your hat and that might make their decision go in your favor next time.” 

It must have surprised Zane that Max was willing to give that some thought and he tried to cover it by lacing his fingers to give me a boot up into the tree.  I looked at him in disdain and slung my rifles safely before shimmying up the tree without his help.  I got myself sat and then helped Max up when Zane helped him instead.  From below us he said once again, “Don’t go wandering off.” 

“Aye aye Captain,” I said through gritted teeth to let him know that warning me once would have been sufficient. 

About thirty minutes later dawn began to break and the wind began to pick up.  Unfortunately instead of the scent of a new day I smelled rain on the air.  I said a few dirty words about the incompetence of the meteorological profession and carefully pulled out a soft rain poncho for both Max and I from the supplies I had tucked into my back pack.  “Put this on?” 

“Why?” 

“’Cause we are about to get some rain.  And don’t talk or make noise.  I am bound and determined that we’re going to get a deer and show all of them they need to adjust their attitude a bit.” 

Max opened his mouth then slowly closed it around a conspiratorial grin.  I’m pretty sure that meant my plan sounded good to him too.  I was adjusting the sleeve that covered my rifle when the first spattering of drops could be heard.  Closer than I expected I heard a quiet curse that told me we weren’t alone.  Max had heard it too and looked around warily.  I shook my head and pointed towards a man who was leaving in obvious disgust, going back the way we had walked in. 

I shook my head at the cursing that drifted back to us.  It wasn’t that the guy was especially loud, but he wasn’t exactly making an effort to be quiet either and in the cold air the sound travelled.  I’d no sooner turned back around when out of the shrubbery came a buck that looked like he was laughing at the hunter that had just left.  He looked back into the forest and out came two does as well.  They weren’t together in close proximity but I could tell that the buck was boss and the does part of his harem.  Only then another buck came out of the bush and gave the six point buck the hairy eyeball and suddenly “boss” wasn’t so tough anymore and stood there like a dejected lover as the 8-point buck called the ladies back into the shrubbery. 

I had given some thought to taking the 8 pointer but I didn’t need a trophy animal I just wanted some meat … and to make a point.  And with the sad six-pointer standing there like a nut job just asking to be shot I decided to oblige him. 

One shot and the six-pointer jumped then fell over.  I looked at Max to grin and then had to stifle a laugh because his mouth was hanging open.  I whispered, “Time to field dress the meat.” 

I swung out of the tree like a chimpanzee and went to work after pulling on latex gloves and tossing another pair to Max.  It had been two years since I’d been hunting so it took me a while to get back into the swing of things.  I was forty-five minutes wrestling with the deer and then hanging it in a tree so it could drain while I decided whether to call Zane or wait until he came to get us.  While daylight it was still cold.  I looked at the thermometer gauge on my jacket that doubled as a zipper pull and saw that the mercury was sitting on forty-seven degrees.  That was pretty decent hanging temp for venison so I pulled the carcass higher into the tree and had Max and I return to our roost.  I didn’t expect to get anything else because deer have a really good sense of smell. 

I was getting a little bored if you want to know the truth and then had to almost tie Max to a branch when he fell asleep.  I don’t mind my own company and the quiet didn’t bother me – I could hear rifle shots off in different directions though none were close – but I hadn’t even brought a book to read.  I was also beginning to wonder where Zane and the others were.  And that’s when I heard the snuffling in the underbrush.  They made a beeline to the deer innards and that almost grossed me out except I knew hogs were omnivores and weren’t averse to eating road kill. 

There was one great big ol’ boar and I decided that caution was the better part of valor and I left him alone.  He was big enough and looked mean enough I’m not sure I could have dealt with him anyway.  But I did shoot two female hogs – and a young pig by accident when it got in the way of one of my shots – and after the boar tore a strip off a tree looking for the attackers they took off pell mell into the trees. 

Max was scared and breathing hard and I had to take a moment to calm him.  Lucky for me he didn’t panic at finding a bungee cord holding him to the tree trunk.  I made him stay in the tree until I was sure the other hogs were gone and then it took both of us to string up the three and get them field dressed. 

An hour and a gross half later I threw the last pair of gloves into the trash bag I had brought and said, “OK, this is enough.  Where is Zane and the rest of them?  Do they normally take this long?” 

Max looked at the sky and said, “I don’t think so.  Usually Zane at least lets me eat by now.” 

“Oh Lord, sorry Max.  You want a muffin?  I’ve got some in my pack.” 

Max looked at the offal on the ground, gagged, and said, “No, that’s ok.  I can wait.” 

“Good because even though we’ve used hand sanitizer I’d prefer a good, old-fashioned soap and water wash before touching any food that is going into my mouth.”  I looked at the four carcasses and then shook my head.  “Well if they’re mad they can be mad.”  I called out on the frequency we’d been assigned and … nothing.  I heard a lot of chatter from other hunters talking back and forth and a couple came on and told me to shush up but I ignored them and gave our call signal again.  Still nothing. 

I looked at Max and caught him watching me with worry.  I told him, “Either I got it wrong or we are out of range.” 

“You didn’t get it wrong.  That’s the right call signal, it’s the one they always give to me.  Why aren’t they answering?” 

Aware that accidents can happen I didn’t say anything.  Growing a little frustrated I told myself that twenty was too old to get spooked.  I didn’t want to leave our meat but I didn’t have a cart to haul it back with.  Irritated I did what I could to camouflage ours so that no one would think it was abandoned and I took Max and carefully went back down the game trail staying as quiet as possible.  I didn’t want to disturb any other hunter but I also didn’t want to be mistaken for a deer.  The sound of other hunters had petered off while we were field dressing the hogs and I hadn’t heard a shot in a while.  That’s why when one did go off close by I nearly screamed and pulled Max down and behind a tree. 

I heard a gruff male voice say, “I told that bastard not to try anything.  Ain’t my fault.” 

Peaking around the tree I saw five armed men surrounding what looked like a lot of unarmed men … intentionally unarmed men if their hands in the air was any indication.  A man on the ground was in obvious pain and I saw Josh was trying to help him by tying off something on his leg.  The armed guys were getting more that twitchy and were pointing their rifles – definitely not the hunting variety rifle – at the unarmed men, swinging them this way and that, giving none of them a chance to make an attempt at escape.  Max stiffened as he recognized most of his family in the group. 

One of the guys said, “I gotta take a leak.  Watch ‘em.  As soon as I get back we’re out of here with all their shit.  It ought to be enough to buy us what we want.” 

I pushed Max back down and pulled out the heavy metal, telescoping baton that Daddy had given me for carrying when I had night classes or worked late.  The guy had barely had time to unzip when I cracked him on the skull so hard he dropped like a rock.  Sounded like one too. 

“Booker?  Hey Booker?!  Dammit, don’t play games man, we ain’t got time.” 

I calmly picked up the fancy looking rifle that turned out to be nothing more than a dressed up .22lr and promptly shot two of the remaining four men in their butts.  The rifle was a semi-auto so I was able to put one in each cheek before they even thought about moving.  The other two got dog-piled and beat on for a while.   

“Zane!” Max yelled. 

Zane and a couple of other men came storming into our hiding place but I couldn’t say a word as I was too busy puking my guts up in the bushes.  Even after I got the violent expulsion under control I was shaking like I had palsy and heaving.  “You … (heave) … make one asinine … (gag) … male chauvinist pig … (spit, heave) … remark … (cough, gag) … and I will burn every loving … (heave, gag, cough) … meal I ever put in front of you!” 

Zane said, “Sit down and put your head between your knees before you pass out.” 

“I would if I could but I need a game cart.” 

One of the Slothower cousins asked, “You expect us to pull you back to the trucks?  You ain’t that bad off.” 

My temper fired off like a bottle rocket.  “No but you will be you ass if you get anywhere near me.  I need a game cart because I have a deer and three hogs hanging in a tree and apparently these woods are full of rude people that can’t be trusted to act right.  Now either get me that game cart so I can start hauling the meat or shut the frick up.  I am not in the mood to put up with it.  And if you don’t believe me ask those two guys I just shot in the butt.” 

That set me off again which had me running to the bushes puking.  I heard some heated muttering behind me and then Zane came over.  “Sit down.” 

“Go fly a kite.” 

“Not the weather for it.  Now sit down.  Alright now put your head between your knees.” 

“Oh gawd.  I’m puking.  In front of your family.  Again.” 

That drew a chuckle from Zane and someone else that turned out to be Josh.  Josh said, “It’s not like Junior hasn’t done it every season and for a lot less reason.” 

“I shot two men.” 

Zane said quietly, “Yes you did.  What did you do to the other one?” 

“Bonked him on the head before he could embarrass me by dropping his pants.  That is just so rude … and just like a guy too.  There are port o potties at the head of the trail, there’s absolutely no reason …” 

Some guy in a uniform came over and asked, “She in shock?” 

Zane said, “It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes.  But she could be under the circumstances.” 

I zapped Zane with a laser glare but he just returned my glare with an innocent one.  I put my forehead on my knees and continued to shiver.  I felt something put across my back and jumped.  “I’m not taking some poor guy’s coat.  I’m not that big a wimp.” 

“Sydney Marguerite you’ll sit there and like it.  And if I catch you even thinking about moving …”   I got the message.  I haven’t a clue why I bring out the cavemen in some people. But Lawrence was pretty hot under the collar and he started bellowing like a bull under threat of castration, making people go this way and that.  Even Deputies Laurel and Hardy were jumping to his tune.  “Dammit, how the hell did the Duncan Gang make bail?!  They were booked just last night!” 

I sighed and muttered, “My meat is going to spoil.” 

Uncle Hightower Slothower sat down and shared my log and told me, “No it won’t Sister.  Too cold for it.  Were it a couple of degrees warmer we might have trouble but not at these temps.  Mind if I ast you sumpin’?” 

“No Sir,” I responded a little afraid of what the question might be. 

“This ain’t your first time on a hunt is it?” 

“No Sir.” 

“Who taught you?” 

“Daddy.” 

“Hmm.  Taught you them knots too?” 

“A couple of them.  The others I learned from …from a friend.”  Dan had taught me some of the knots I use on a regular basis to make a point that it wasn’t as hard as some of the guys in his Boy Scout troop were making it out to be.  It was a while before I realized that the way he phrased it hadn’t exactly been a compliment to my intelligence.  Daddy wasn’t the only one that had a tendency to treat me like a frail flower. 

“Fine job of field dressing.  What else you hiding under all that hair?” 

I shrugged.  “I’m not hiding anything … at least not on purpose … or at least not on purpose most of the time.” 

He wheezed a small laugh.  “Now that’s an answer worthy of a female right there.  Tell you what I ask, you tell me if you can, how’s that?” 

“Yes sir.” 

“You know how to skin your kill?” 

“I can skin smaller animals by myself but I’ve never had to do big game by myself.  I’ve helped though.” 

“And what do you intend on doing with the meat once you’ve got it butchered up?” 

“I’ll can some.  Make some jerky.  I’m not sure about being able to trust the freezer so any fresh sausage I make will have to be fried up and then canned in lard.  Zane thought I could go in shares and have someone teach me how to smoke the hams, shoulders, and bacon meat.  And he said something about one of you all’s kin being really good at making sausage and that if I asked nice maybe they’d teach me.  The rest of it and the scraps I’ll grind up into burger and then see what I can do with that … make some canned chili, spaghetti sauce, sloppy joe mix, that sort of thing.  There’s one thing I do need to do that I don’t know how except out of a book and Zane looked at me cross eyed when I asked him if he knew.” 

“And what’s that Sister?” 

“Lard.  I figure I’ve got two and a half hogs – the small one might have to be roasted whole and then me can the meat off of it as is – and the fat off of them can be rendered down.  Only the books make it sound real dangerous to do if you don’t know what you’re doing.  I’ve seen it done at fairs and stuff but I’ve never even helped to do it.  And I’d like to have the cracklin’s off of it too. I read in a book … er … hmmm … Am I talking too much?” 

Uncle Hightower snorted a laugh and said, “No Sister.  Just surprised me is all.  Tell you what, let me talk to Zane and we’ll see what we can do.”

Chapter 35


Zane got us back on track and we talked about other stuff; salt and meat was only the beginning.  I told him that the shipment I was expecting would have helped to add a lot of variety to the pantry. 

“Powdered eggs, custards, condiments, dessert fixings, nuts, gelatins, syrups, canned fruits, dried soup mixes, potato flakes, beverage mixes, dried fruit, cornmeal …” 

“How big is this shipment?” 

“Three full pallets.” 

“Whoa.” 

“Yeah.  So don’t count on your buddy necessarily wanting to go out of the way.” 

Zane shrugged.  “You don’t get if you don’t ask.  Can’t hurt.” 

“True.”  I looked up the stairs.  “Sounds like Max is stirring.  He’ll probably be hungry.” 

“No probably about it.  You sure …” 

“And what exactly have we been talking about this whole time?” 

Zane finally grinned and said, “Ok, ok.  You know there’s something else I don’t see that you’ve included in this plan of yours.” 

As we walked up the stairs into the kitchen I asked, “What?” 

“Foraging.” 

“You mean like going along the road and picking stuff?” 

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I mean.  Josh will drive you crazy talking about that stuff.” 

We entered the kitchen to find Max looking for us.  He was relieved but tried to hide it and it was a few minutes of making him a sandwich which turned into a few more minutes of making Zane and I sandwiches before we got back on track.  It was actually Max who asked, “Were you talking about that stuff that Uncle Josh does?  That forestry farming?” 

I looked at Zane having never heard the term.  “Forestry farming?” 

“Yeah, Zane has a side business that he makes decent money from in season.  He grows mushrooms and cultivates some other wild stuff and sells it to some of his clients.  The wild yam is popular and so are the wild herbs he harvests.  He can probably give you some starts … uh …” 

“I know what starts are.” 

“No I just meant I …er … didn’t mean to assume that you were going to you know … stay here. Permanently.” 

I bit my lip.  “I’m honestly not sure what is going to happen with things the way they are but I do know it includes me staying in Harmon.  I’ve always loved the cabin.  That’s why it wasn’t a chore to do what Daddy asked and move here and take care of the place.  Money is going to be tight – I’ve got some idea that tourist season might not be the money maker that it has been in the past – and that’s going to be a problem for me.  Daddy always kept up Grandpop’s habit of keeping the property taxes paid two years in advance so that if he had a bad year or hit a bad health spell that the family wouldn’t lose this place right away.  But the propane and groceries aren’t going to last forever and then there is phone and electric to think of.  And insurance … and health insurance … and …” 

“Easy Syd.  One step at a time.  Remember, you don’t know anything for sure yet.” 

I sighed and just accepted that he was a skeptic about “feelings.”  That is fine, it isn’t necessarily bad to have a skeptic to balance out the more emotional side of the whole feeling thing.  I told him, “Either way it is something I need to be thinking about because Daddy would expect it.  Eventually I’m going to have to do more for myself than what I’ve done up to this point.  But like you say, I need a few more facts before I can start making decisions.  It can’t hurt though to start this forestry farming … and you mentioned foraging.” 

“Yep.  Josh can help with that too.  You’ve actually got options on this lot when you wouldn’t expect it.  How many acres do you have anyway?” 

“There’s forty.” 

“No way.” 

“Yeah.  I guess most people don’t realize our lot isn’t just the long narrow ten acres from the road down to the lakes edge.  We also own from the other side of the road all the way back to the county road.  It used to be terraced garden space prior to WW2 – and if you walk back in there you can still see most of the retention walls, they’re made out of local stone – but it’s all overgrown and stuff now.  I can show you the plat map and the property tax papers if you don’t believe me.” 

“Uh … I … well it’s not that I don’t believe you but …” 

“But you want to see for yourself.” 

“Yeah.  I hope you don’t mind.” 

I shrugged.  “Why should I?  It’s public record just not necessarily public knowledge.  We used to own eighty acres but the way Daddy explained it, Grandpop sold off some of the acreage to people who built some of the vacation cabins on this side of the lake.  We also used to own some of the land that the Lodge now sits on but that was sold the year Daddy was born to some developer that wound up going bankrupt.  The land was sold a couple of times after that until it was finally sold to the people who build the Lodge that stands there now.” 

“Wow.  I never knew.” 

I shrugged.  “Ancient history.  It doesn’t mean much of anything to people that are still living.” 

“Maybe not the stuff you sold but three-quarters of your land is fallow right now.  Owning that wood lot will make setting traps a lot easier.  It’ll make it easier to get wood out of too.  Do you know if it is fenced off?” 

“Yeah it is because the county and forestry service own and managed the lots on either side of ours.  They fenced their land with that great tall galvanized poles and fencing which means we have a fence line also.  The utility company ran the fence that runs parallel to the county road out of the same kind of stuff.  Only place that the fence line needs work is right on the other side of Lake Road and you can see from the porch where the old posts rot where they stand.  One of the projects we were supposed to do next year was buy barbed wire and metal posts and get that section fenced to keep the summer kids from going up in there, having parties, and leaving all sorts of trash.  I swear we’ve made more money off of recycling cans out of there than I can even guess at.  And there’s enough bottles in those crates in the barn to build a glass house with.  From there shapes you can see it’s been going on for generations.” 

Zane gave me a funny look.  “You Zitterbarths sure aren’t what you appear to be on the surface.” 

Not sure how to take that I let it pass.  “So what kind of foraging can Josh teach me about?” 

“All that stuff he cultivates in his forest farm plus a lot of other stuff.  I’m far from being an expert but just looking around I can tell you that if the blackberries make you’ll be swimming in them come June.  You’ve got mayhaws and elderberries down near the lake.  That small stand of trees over behind the barn are sarviceberries.  You got a couple of pawpaw trees in the yard not to mention pecans, hickories, and walnuts up in that wood lot … and you better go get them pecans before the tree rats do.  Josh could probably walk around here and find two and three times what I just mentioned without even trying.”   

“Would he?” 

“Would he what?  Come out here?  Sure.  He gets his jollies off of teaching that stuff to newbs.  All you need to do is be even just a little interested and he’ll be out here like a shot.  You should mention it tomorrow when we go hunting.  He’ll be there.  Speaking of I need to go make a couple of calls.” 

I was a little relieved to have Zane go focus on something else.  I know he didn’t mean to but Zane made me feel foolish that I hadn’t been working on certain other projects already.  I’ve been here since August; I could have tried a small garden even if it was just in containers.  I could have been checking out books from the library to learn about that foraging of wild food stuff and what grows in this area.  I should have put away a lot more salt and thought about all of the ingredients I would need for canning and preserving food.  Now I’m behinder than behind.  What if all I can do is make a list of stuff I need but never have any way to acquire it?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Chapter 34

So you really don’t have a problem doing this?” 

I looked at Zane and realized he was really concerned.  “Zane, I’m fine.  I already told you I get it.  You have Max to look after.  And you have the rest of your family to think of.  There’s just me now.  I was working to take care of six or more.  It’s … it is what it is.” 

“Whoa, you’re getting things squirrely Syd.  Yeah Max is now my responsibility.  The family all agree on that.  Annie had more to say about it than I expected, even Mom was surprised.” 

“You think Annie is ever going to want …” 

“No,” Zane answered with a snort.  “At least if you mean take Max back.  She’s got some kind of hang up about the birthing process.  Mom says that she had a rough pregnancy and then something happened during labor … or some female something or other like that; I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention.  Either way Annie stays away whenever Jane gets late in pregnancy and will literally get up and leave a room if someone starts talking about that sort of thing.  She doesn’t have a whole lot of female friends her age because of it.” 

“Uh … ok.” 

“Yeah.  Gran said some women just don’t have the maternal instinct.  It isn’t that she doesn’t love Max because she does.  She just doesn’t, or can’t, express it in the same way a mother would.  She’s fine with the big sister role she has in his life though I have to admit she’s found him more interesting as he got older.  But that’s neither here nor there.  All that matters is that Max is mine.  OK wait, that sounded … what I mean is …” 

I grinned.  “I get it.  He’s yours to take care of, not yours to own.” 

I saw him nod in relief.  “Yeah.  That.  But saying that you need to forget the idea that I’m scoping out your stuff to take care of the rest of the family.  I’d never do that to you.  I gotta admit I’m wondering what I ever did to make you think I would.” 

“You’re like Daddy … family means a lot to you even those that have issues.  He didn’t have to like the issues but he’d put up with them for family.  And this whole thing … you said yourself you wish you’d …” 

“OK, stop right there.  I said I wish the family had taken more action sooner.  That does not translate into since you might not need your stuff that I’m going to make you share what you have.  Hell, I’m not comfortable with Max and I mooching off of you now.” 

“You aren’t mooching.  Don’t be stupid.” 

“Then don’t you be stupid about thinking that I’d take your stuff.” 

“I didn’t say you’d take it out right.  But if your family needs it …” 

“No.  You don’t know for sure about your dad and the others.  And stop with the jabber jawing about it.  I know what you feel.  I know how things look.  But there is not one hundred percent certainty yet so what I figure is we continue to operate as if things were still on course.  It is a win-win either way.”  He winced. 

“I told you how it is for me.” 

“And that’s all well and good but it doesn’t mean I don’t need to watch my mouth.  It’s just not right.” 

I grinned sadly.  Zane was a realist but one with an inconvenient idealistic streak.  I decided not to twit him about it since it made him who he is.  And I’ll admit that I like who he is.  He’s steadfast if nothing else.  When he says something he means it and what he was telling me was that partners was partners but there was room for other stuff – like fulfilling my family’s plans – and that he had no intention of derailing that or trying to turn it to his own use. 

“Fine,” I told him.  “Let’s just go ahead and get this done.  I’ve got to keep an eye on the canner and I don’t like Max up there by himself with it.  I’m afraid he is going to fiddle with it to ‘help’ and that could make a major mess.” 

“He better not.  The boy is old enough not to touch a stove.  Don’t baby him.” 

“I’m not.  He’s just wants to help and for some reason he thinks turning the heat up will make it go faster.  I’ll explain to him why another time, I just don’t feel up to it right now.” 

Zane sighed.  “Well run upstairs and see what he is into.  It’s a little quiet for my taste too.” 

I did just that but came downstairs slower.  “Zane?  Max is asleep on the sofa.  Should he be sleeping this much?” 

“He had a late night what with helping with the wood.  He’s probably just finally calming down.  He gets real nervy and wore out and then he sleeps a lot.  He’s normally calmer when he is here but you gotta admit that he’s been through a lot lately.” 

“I didn’t mean … I’m just worried about him.  Could he be coming down with something?  Mom always says … said …”  And just like that it hit me again.  I was just thinking of calling her to find out what she thought about Max’s sleeping habits and boom … I realized I’d never be able to call her again.   

I sat down and put my head in my hands so Zane could see but then he was just there and saying,  “Hey … hey, you gotta cry go ahead and cry.” 

I shook my head.  “No.  No more tears.  At least not right now.  My head hurts and so do my eyes from the last round of crying I gave into.  It’s just … It doesn’t matter.  I can’t change things.  I just don’t want to screw up with Max.  He’s a neat kid and … basically I just don’t want to mess up.” 

“You aren’t.  Speaking of being tired, maybe you should go lay down for a while.  This can wait.” 

“No.  I mean I am tired but so are you and you’ve got more reason to be.  I’m not going to ask if you got any sleep last night because I’m not sure I’ll like the answer and I know you don’t like being fussing over.” 

“How do you know that?” 

“I see how irritated you get when people try and make allowances for your foot.”  He fell silent then started chuckling which seemed wildly inappropriate.  I asked, “What are you laughing at?” 

“Nothing, not really.  It’s just you are the only one that is just so matter of fact about the whole thing.  Gives me a completely different perspective on it.  And you’re right.  It irritates me when I think people are making special allowances just because of my prosthetic.  But I don’t mind a little fussing if it’s not because of that.” 

“Ok,” I said warily trying out the feelings I was having.  “How about a melted ice cream cake for dessert?  Kill two birds with one stone.  You’ll get a little fussing and the sad ice cream in the freezer will get used.” 

He smiled.  “Will I like melted ice cream cake?” 

“Probably.  You’ve eaten everything else I put in front of you, even my experiments.” 

“You’re a good cook.  A little fond of muffins but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Speaking of, what is the flour situation?” 

It took a moment for me to process the subject change and get turned back around to what we were down in the cellar for to begin with.  I showed him the inventory that I’d been keeping and he blinked and wondered how long it would all last so I pulled out Mom’s spread sheets and showed him approximately how much per person and why that she thought I needed to put back. 

“Mom’s notes said she planned on four hundred pounds of grain per adult sized person, two hundred and fifty of which should be wheat.  For planning purposes I bumped that up to five hundred pounds total but left it two-fifty in wheat.  I’ve got roughly a hundred pounds in rice per person, a hundred pounds of oats per person, and the remaining fifty in other things like barley, quinoa, and …” 

“What’s a quinoa?” 

I laughed.  “It’s a kind of grain … like millet.” 

“Chicken feed?  Let me guess, you’ve got sorghum too.” 

“Uh … actually I had some on order but I don’t know if it will ever arrive.  It was supposed to be delivered this week but …” 

“How’s it being shipped?  You got a print out of the shipping information?” 

“Yeah.  It is coming by freight.  It was just too expensive to have it and everything else shipped any other way.  The carrier was going to pick it up from the rail yard and deliver it by truck.” 

“I’ve got a buddy that works that kind of gig.  Let me contact him tonight … assuming he’ll pick up the phone … and see what we can pull off.  Is it a lot?” 

“Yeah, but it was COD so I’m not out money.”

“That might complicate things.  Let me see – assuming he can get it for you – what it will take to … er … sweeten the deal for him enough that he’ll deliver.” 

“I’ll put in what I can.  I really would like to get that delivery.  It was mostly food but it was coming packaged … let’s just say the shipper promised to ship it discreetly … if that makes a difference.” 

He nodded but I could see questions behind his eyes.  I enlightened him before the questions could turn into suspicions.  “I know it sounds weird.  Let’s just say that I met interesting people in college that had friends and family that were just as interesting if not more so.  I never really got into Daddy’s stuff … the financial end and security and things like that … but foods and supplies was where I picked up what Mom put on the backburner when things heated up for her at work and … and on a personal level. I know how to ask for what I want – usually anyway – without creating unnecessary waves where no one wants waves.  One girl I knew had a brother and dad into finding and shipping things to people that might raise eyebrows.  Nothing illegal but sometimes you just don’t want people knowing your business.” 

He nodded after giving me the Spock eyebrow.  “There were guys in base supply that could be that shade of interesting.” 

“Yep.  Daddy will have a cow if he finds …”  I took a deep breath and pushed it to the side.  “I doubt I’ll have much access to that kind of interesting again, or at least for a long while.  Most of those folks are interesting but they aren’t fond of interesting times so will likely have found their own ‘cabin’ someplace and are taking care of them and theirs so let’s just get back on topic here.  Now on top of the grains per person I’ve been working on totals like a hundred pounds of beans and legumes, twenty pounds of dried milk, twenty pounds of cooking oils, a hundred pounds of sweeteners like honey or sugar, and twenty pounds of salt.  That’s not nearly everything but it’s the backbone of my plan.” 

Zane was nodding then asked, “You mind if I suggest some tweaking of that list?” 

“Go ahead.  Assuming I can get it anyway.” 

“I worked in electronics when I was in the military but some of that was following the mobile kitchens around fixing things that got broken.  Even with gas range heads and stuff like that the kitchens still pulled a lot of juice and were forever getting something farked up.  But it gave me a chance to realize that the old saying about an army travelling on its stomach was true.  MREs are fine as far as it goes but when the mobile kitchens provided something a little more home-cooked – even if it was cafeteria style – everyone was happier.  But that meant major supplies.” 

“Well I’ve got major supplies.  Just look around.” 

“I’m looking.  And I’m impressed.  But here’s a question … are your totals for normal every day or are they for people working hard?” 

It took a minute for me to work out what he was saying.  “Oh, I get it.  To tell the truth probably somewhere in the middle.  Mom’s totals weren’t subsistence level but were based on a concept of getting by until things got better.  She and Daddy didn’t really agree on the duration factor.” 

“Duration factor?” 

“Yeah, as in how long things were going to go south and stay that way.  They agreed it was going to be bad whatever it was but Mom was more inclined to think about short term events of a year or less before things started to swing back to the normal range.  Daddy’s mindset was plan for a zombie apocalypse and you were prepared for everything … or close to it.” 

“Zombies?  I wondered about that DVD collection of yours … surprisingly heavy on the death, destruction, and gore.” 

I rolled my eyes.  “What?  You think the only entertainment I’m into is chick flicks and sappy movies?  Zombies are just a symbol of whatever bad thing you can think of.  Romero … aw forget it, you either get it and go along or you don’t.  Doesn’t bother me either way.  However I promise if you try and force me to watch a chick flick I’ll burn every meal for a week. 

He shrugged.  “Relax, I was just teasing.” 

“Don’t.  Apparently I’m grumpy and can’t stay on track too well right now.  What were we talking about again?” 

He smiled and said, “You were letting me give you some suggestions based on my vast experience in the food industry.” 

“Oh brother.” 

He chuckled then got serious again. “So how long do you figure you have food for here?  And stick with the six you were originally working on.” 

Fighting depression and slowly winning the battle if not the war I told him, “At subsistence level with only a limited restocking here and there I’m fairly certain I could feed six people for a year.  But at the end of that year I would have absolutely no reserves left and we’d be really bad off.  The chickens were some of the reserve I was counting on but between the upsets and cool weather starting to set in they aren’t going to be laying much longer.  I can’t afford to cull more than five because I didn’t set any chicks; I had planned to buy more … thought there was more time.” 

“There might be yet.  Things don’t have to be totally in the toilet.”  He looked at my inventory over my shoulder then sat down on his stool he kept in the cellar so he could take some weight off when he needed to.  “You need more meat.  Hopefully we will remedy that by hunting.  We are still going tomorrow.  You up for it?” 

Without hesitation I said, “Yes.” 

“You sure?” 

“I said yes didn’t I?”  I sighed.  “Sorry.  Shouldn’t snap like that.” 

“Relax.  I grew up with three sisters and associated other female relatives.  If I can’t take a little snapping every now and then – especially all things considered – then as Annie would say, I need to turn in my man card.” 

I nearly choked on my own spit.  “Man card?  Oh my Lord.  Are they licensing that now too?” 

That surprised him and we both chuckled for a moment.  Zane said, “It do seem like they are out to tax and control everything these days doesn’t it.  Seriously though, your share of tags will be helpful.  I’m not totally comfortable leaving your place unattended but I’ll see if Junior will come keep an eye on things.  He and a couple of the cousins could cut those trunks down for shares while we do some hunting.” 

“Won’t Junior want to go hunting?” 

“It isn’t his favorite thing.  He does it but mostly because Josh makes him stay in practice.  It isn’t the shooting his minds so much as the processing.  He don’t puke when we field dress the animals but he comes close every stinking time.  And you know how it is when one person starts gagging and heaving.” 

“Yeah, it gets contagious.” 

“Yeah it does.  And the meat issue brings up the fact that you don’t have enough salt.  And not all the right kinds of salt.” 

“Kinds of salt?” 

“Yeah, I see you wrote down that you have iodized salt, pickling salt, ice cream salt, and sea salt but you also need kosher salt and curing salt if we are going to process meat.  I already bought some kosher and curing but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have more.” 

“What do you mean you bought kosher and curing salt?” 

He turned and tapped me on the nose playfully.  “I mean when I told your dad I would take you hunting and help you I wasn’t just whistling Dixie.  And if you get in my face about paying for it I will be very unhappy.” 

He was playing but I could see an underlying seriousness to his statement that I decided not to ignore.  “Fine,” I told him.  “But the other end of that is you can’t squawk all the time about rent or any of that other junk you’ve been mumbling about.  Deal?” 

His grin got broader and he said, “Deal.” 

“So what else, O Wise Man of the Mountain, have I missed?” 

“You thought about a garden?  I know you don’t have a lot of room right here around the cabin but you have that flat piece of land to the east.  Looks like it gets a good bit of morning and mid-day sun.” 

“It’s where my great grands, and before them, had the garden.  I’ve got old family pictures around here somewhere that you can see it in the background.  And they also grew things in terraces closer to the house.  You know those rock walls that make steps closer to the lake?  They used to be grape arbors there.  And what’s left of the old rose garden is still out on the west side of the cabin.  Apparently my great great grandmother had a pretty hot business selling rose hips back in the day.  Mom has tried off and on to grow stuff but she says the soil is pretty bad plus we were never up here enough to take care of something that was anything less than super hardy.” 

“You never said, why did your family move off the land?” 

“The Spanish Flu pandemic started it.  You know the story, they even have a plaque in the town square.  It hit here hard and mean.  It’s why the Zitterbarth name is so uncommon in Harmon despite our family having been one of the earliest year round settlers in the area.  The parents of that generation lost almost all the kids and not a few of the young adults.  It left mostly old folks to start over.  They did but there was no more having a house full of kids.  Then the Great Depression hit followed by World War II.  My grandfather was the last male and after going off to war and seeing the world he came back and could just never settle to living in Harmon.  His sisters both stayed but never married or had kids.  My great grandparents and both great aunts died within a few years of each other.  Daddy said by then Grandpop had even less desire to live here at the cabin full time as he was making really good money as a machinist.  The cabin became a place to go for vacation but not much else.  Uncle Hershel never had much use for the cabin so when Grandpop died – I was a little girl and just barely remember him – he willed eighty percent of the cabin to Daddy and twenty percent to Uncle Hershel.  Uncle Hershel promptly offered to sell Daddy his twenty percent in exchange for Grandpop’s 1955 Chevy BelAir.  Daddy said sure and the rest is history.” 

“What happened to the Chevy?” 

I shrugged.  “As far as I know Uncle Hershel was still driving it.  He was crazy when it came to that car.  The only thing he was crazier about was family.  He had the car on the auction block but because it was a daily use car no one wanted to pay what it was worth regardless of its pristine condition.  Then the insurance kicked in after all and things turned out different.  Where it is now?  Don’t know.  Uncle Hershel wanted to be buried in it – it was official and everything in his will.  Maybe that’s …” 

“Syd!” 

“Huh?” 

“Don’t.” 

“I told you my matter of factness gives people the willies, even my own family.” 

“Be matter of fact all you want, just don’t use it to hurt yourself by doing it on purpose like some kind of punishment.  Whatever is happening it isn’t your fault.  Got it?  You worked as hard and as fast as you could with the resources you had.  But you are one person.  You did your end and your parents know it … even said so.  I remember that even if you don’t right now.”