Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Chapter 54

Chapter 54

It didn’t take us two days to get from Model to Dover. Why on earth the military thought it would is beyond me but apparently our miles per day for traveling was well above the average. It fit the historical average but more than likely people were still learning to travel in an age without motorized assistance.

Dover itself was hit hard when Nashville began to evacuate. It is only 67 miles WNW of that big city and well within the circle that people could drive out on a tank of gas; wouldn’t even take a full tank of gas to get that far. The town had been stripped clean, disease and strife had been imported in addition to some of the homegrown stuff that was already there. Ft. Campbell personnel had been forced to move in but it wasn’t until after they had secured Clarksville that was even worse off as it was larger and closer to Nashville.

When we reached our check point the guards were so surprised that it took a while for them to believe us even with the official mail packet as proof. Thor was just this side of completely out of patience by the time we were finally allowed to enter the town and then tucked into an area near the Ft. Donelson National Cemetery. It wasn’t really near the cemetery so much as between the cemetery and Water St.

I never really talked to the Ft. Campbell people. They preferred to talk to Chuckri and Thor; I guess it was a matter of talking the same language and sharing similar experiences. The supplies they brought to us were mostly locally harvested. In addition to what we “earned” by being mules for the mail service (took up most of the wagon I was driving), we hit up the local market with our own coins. Lots of fresh foods were in the markets – apples, apricots, canning pears, beans, blackberries, beets, blueberries, cabbage, cantaloupes, celery, carrots, cucumbers, grapes, greens, nectarines, peaches, dessert pears, peppers, potatoes, raspberry, squash, sweet corn, and tomatoes.

I had a hard time not biting into one of those tomatoes just like an apple. I did notice that grains weren’t much in evidence which made me wonder how people were going to get by this winter. It also made me ache to do some preserving and fortunately – or unfortunately depending on your point of view – I was granted some time to do so when it rained for the next two days making travel impossible.

“Thor, help me stretch this tarp please,” I asked.

Thor looked twice before asking, “Why?” He wasn’t being a pain he was just curious.

I told him with a grin, “I need a place to cook under. I’ve got an idea.”

“Well, I admit that so far I’ve found myself partial to your ideas but I’m still not seeing it Hon. We've got plenty of space to get out of the rain right here,” he told me as he got up to help tighten the tarp at an angle.

“Well, remember that talk we had? I’m tired of worrying if there is going to be anything when we get to the farm. I’ve seen too many places salvaged over and though our farm is back in the woods and hard to find that doesn’t mean that it didn’t get found or that some other disaster hasn’t taken place. I'm trying to be realistic. It will be September before you know it and there is no way I’m going to get a garden in the ground before cold weather hits. Better for us to start taking advantage of what we can find, as we can find it. The preserves and stuff might be there, it's true, but every little bit will help.”

Thor also helped me build the barrel cooker that I had salvaged parts for from the surrounding vacant buildings and clean up the milk crates that I had found in a warehouse down by the water. I wanted my mother’s jars really bad but I had to make do with what I had found when we had stopped in different places. I sterilized the jars and lids … most of them old glass mayonnaise and spaghetti sauce jars … then started with the blueberries. I wasn't going to be pressure canning so it didn't matter so much.

I cleaned and sorted the berries, crushed them and then poured them in a couple of jars to within an inch and three-quarter from the top. I poured an inch of honey over the top of that and then coated the remainder of the inside of the jar and lid with more honey. My great grandmother had told me that she had preserved berries like that until my mom and dad got married when Mom brought her “modern” canning equipment with her as part of her dowry.

Next I clarified some butter to have for when we left the Chuckri family and their handy dandy and oh so convenient cattle. I set the butter near the heat to cook off all of the water. It took nearly six hours to do it this way but it wasn’t like I had anything else to do; sometimes the rain fell so heavy I worried that the tarp was going to collapse. When it finished the butter it was amber colored and completely clear and I poured it into yet another orphan jar that I had sterilized. Clarified butter keeps for months even unrefrigerated and my mother kept some to use in the winter months when the cow would give out or there would be so little milk it wasn’t worth the effort of turning it into butter.

I dried as much of the fruits and vegetables as I could by making drying trays I sat next to the fire inside a reflector oven I had made out of some aluminum sheeting. I “borrowed” the screens off of many local buildings and I sweated it, praying that the fruit would get finished in time before we had to leave. The humidity of the rain also didn’t help but it still got finished and packed away before we took off in the ziploc bags that I had reusing over and over again.

I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the fresh bounty and time we were granted. The Chuckri women were going at it with a vengeance as well. We had the men fetching and scurrying to keep up with our demand for wood to keep the fires going and in making sure we had the potable water we needed.

I learned some new techniques that I wrote down in my notebook that night. Joan showed me how to make sauerkraut in jars. It freaked me out a little bit but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. She showed me how to use a similar method to preserve green beans and cucumbers. In return I showed her how my grandmothers had preserved cherry tomatoes using vinegar and oil, both items that I worried I'd be bartering gold and my eye teeth for before it was all done.

Mrs. Chuckri and Grandmother Chuckri showed me how to preserve goat cheese in oil. That was fun and I had developed a taste for the stuff so it was good to know how to make it if I ever was able to get goats for the farm. When my parents kept goats it was for meat; my dad had a real fondness for BBQ goat meat. I had taken my turns helping the milk the Chuckri's goats but for me those little udders were a problem compared to the great big ones on our dairy cows. I was always afraid of squishing them too hard.

Beets, cherry tomatoes, and gherkins we preserved in vinegar. We also preserved some grape leaves in salt for stuffing later. I’d had to learn to eat stuffed grape leaves early on as that was one of Joan’s favorite dishes to make but originally I’d thought the idea pretty silly. I didn’t think it silly any more and relished the idea of being able to make stuffed grape leaves for Thor when we had our own home.

We made several different chutney batches since they required little to no sugar. And the last thing we did was preserve some of the fruit in brandy which the Chuckri clan had brought with them from their western home. Dried apricots, raspberries, and blackberries were all preserved this way too.

You would think we wouldn’t be able to get all of this done in just two days but what you have to remember is that the batches were small and there were so many females and children to help do the work that it went fairly well though we were all pretty tired when we finally were able to head out on that third day.

At first light we were guided across the bridge that crossed Lake Barkley on the other side of the Land Between the Lakes and then joined a big military caravan that pushed us all to get to a place called Woodlawn. It took a full twenty-mile day but we made it; it was exhausting but we did make it.

Woodlawn is basically a bedroom community for Clarksville even though it wasn't really big. It nestled between Dover Road and Old Dover Road and was pretty much militarized due to its proximity to the Ft. Campbell military reservation.

“What’s the deal with all the rules?” David complained as someone came by to tell us to put out our fire earlier than we normally did.

“Relax,” Chuckri said without explanation.

“Daaaad,” David said in the tone that only a kid is capable of.

“David. Go get in your bed and go to sleep.” The finality of that tone brooked no argument though I could tell that David wanted to.

Later as Thor and I were crawling in our own bed I asked, though I wasn’t sure it was my place to, “Why couldn’t Chuckri have just told David that the rules were because we were in someone else’s playground? When you go to someone else’s house you follow their rules. Or am I missing something?”

Thor, less sore than he had been for a while, pulled me closer and said, “Chuckri can handle his kid the way he wants. We may not agree with it but it isn’t our place to get into his business. And getting in his business would be tangling ourselves up into what we are trying to break away from.”

I sighed not real satisfied with Thor’s answer. “I suppose. It just seems he is creating a problem where there doesn’t need to be one. David is getting old enough that he needs to understand the why behind being obedient and not just that he has to.”

Thor chuffed a laugh and said, “I take it you were stubborn when you were David’s age.”

I poked him in the ribs just because and then said, “No. OK, sort of. Bu I would obey Dad just because he was my dad and because it was the rules I was raised in. It was just a lot easier to obey when I understood why he asked me to do something even if I didn’t agree with it or had my own ideas. It also made me feel like Dad thought I had a brain in my head which made me feel … I don’t know … better about it all and stuff. Sorta like he respected me and expected me to be a thinking kind of person.”

“Yeah, my old man was the same while he was around. My mom not so much. Her parents not at all. But the fact is Hon sometimes in this life you just have to obey whether you know why or not; the why comes afterwards. David has been … uh …”

“Testing his boundaries?” I grinned.

“Being a pain in the @#$,” he responded in his particular way.

“Thor …”

“Call me on being vulgar or don’t Hon … but that’s what David has been for the last few days. He’s mad that he was taken off the horses and put onto minding the flocks more. He was getting too big headed and bossy with the younger kids and had started to mouth off to the older ones too. He’s getting jerked back in line.”

“Oh. Well why didn’t you say that in the first place?”

Thor just shook his head in the dark and laughed quietly before distracting us both with a completely different activity. We both had the 0300 watch which was actually a short watch since we were on the road to Clarksville proper by 0600.

We skipped going into the heart of Clarksville and I was glad as there was still a smoky smell on the early morning breeze to go with the burned out structures we saw on the perimeter of the city. Before I had a chance to ask one of our escorts said, “Pockets of the city are even worse than what you see here. Some of the old timers that are left tell us that stories of Clarksville during the Civil War report the same kind of city-wide destruction. I’ve been stationed here a while … support for the 101st Airborne … and knew that the city had its share of crap heads but what hit us from Nashville is what caused all the problems.”

Thor asked, “Did you have time to evac most of the resources that were stationed here?”

“Classified info.” Then the guy he was riding with said, “Let’s just say we had what we needed to defend the base and then retake Clarksville ... and still do. The city has been turned back over to the local civilian population but we maintain a healthy perimeter around the reservation and our supply lines. We occasionally provide support to the city when requested but we try and stay out of their business and ask them to stay out of ours.”

I thought that was an odd way of putting it but Thor gave me a look that said not to pursue it. After lunch we got off of the Ft. Campbell Parkway and onto a road called Tiny Town that gave me the fits. It was one of those Twilight Zone moments and for some reason I couldn’t get it out of my head. When Thor looked at me, asking silently what was wrong, I couldn’t really answer him with anything that would have made sense. He just rolled his eyes and told me to stop fooling around and stay alert. I didn’t know how to explain what I found so funny about it all – especially when there wasn’t really anything that was funny – so I just took the rebuff in stride and tried to do as I was told knowing it wasn't his fault that he couldn't read my mind.

At the state line our escort said, “This is where we leave you. Head straight on up Pembroke Road and you’ll dead end into the community you are heading towards. You may not be met with a lot of friendly chatter; the community has gotten a little closed off in the last couple of months, but proof that your friends here own their land should at least get you in.”

After they turned away I asked, “You think they are going to set anyone to watch us as we drive away?”

Alfonso answered, “Probably already have look outs in place.” Turning to Thor he asked, “Is that why you told him you were going to try and check up on your friend?”

“Yeah. No sense causing problems when we don’t have to.” But as we got to his friends’ place it was obvious that no one had been home for a long time though they might have been in the beginning of it all. The windows of the farmhouse were mostly boarded over though it apparently didn’t do any good as there was significant fire damage showing through the house’s roof.

“Thor …”

“Stay here,” he told me gruffly.

Thor looked around before going out to the barn and then coming back and calling me to pull the wagon around. “Looks like Herb, or at least some members of his family, made it out and moved on someplace else.”

“How do you know?”

“His stuff is gone.”

I said, trying not to hurt his feelings about his friend still being alive, “It could have been salvagers.”

“Maybe … but I doubt it. A salvager would have taken everything and none of my stuff was touched which means that someone knew that it didn’t belong to the family.”

I climbed down from the wagon seat and looked down into a hole that Thor had uncovered. “It was originally a root cellar that got dug out to be a storm cellar. Herb turned it into a storage bay and built the barn around it. It usually had a car parked over it … old Model T Ford … that he was forever tinkering with. He must have put this hay on the floor after moving or using the Model T for something else. He … or someone … even left a wind up flashlight on the stairs.”

Sure enough several storage trunks and ammo boxes were stacked in the far corner of the dry hole in the ground. “Did your friend leave you a letter or anything to let you know what happened?”

“No. That was never Herb’s way. He’d be the type to figure the fact that he left my stuff in place was enough to pass on whatever he wanted to pass on.”

That was a definitely a guy thing I suppose. As we drug out the trunks and boxes and stacked them above ground I could see that there really wasn’t much though they were heavy. I also realized that we were officially maxed out for space and weight in the wagon so from here on out if I wanted to add something I’d have to be willing to give up something first … or in the case of any food stuffs we’d need to eat it up before restocking.

It was too late in the day to really go much farther so we set up camp right there. I was off watch rotation that night and it gave me time to repack the wagon. Thor grumbled a little bit but I looked at him and he understood he’d run into one of my non-negotiables. I like being organized, it makes me feel less clumsy and awkward, and spend a lot of time at it though I might go so far as to agree with Thor that I do it almost too much, wasting almost as much time as I save in the long run.

While everyone else was taking advantage of the little extra down time by relaxing I had a blast with the thin PVC pipe that I found in the loft of the barn. I bent it over and attached it to the wagon walls and then took the camouflage tarp that we’d been using as a ground cover and wa-la … a modern version of a Conestoga Wagon. Ok, maybe not a Conestoga but I did create a more than passable covered wagon. The only problem was that the tarp made an awful crinkling noise that bothered the horses.

“Oh bother, be super sensitive then and spoil all my fun!” I said all cranky.

“Who the Sam Hill are you talking to?” Thor asked as he came over to check into the mess I was making.

“The horses. They don’t like the tarp.”

“I’m not sure I like it either. Cuts down on visibility.”

I just gave him a look. “Do you want me to go all hormonal on you? I spent hours trying to make this work.”

Thor’s eyebrows shot up into his hair line. “Don’t be grumpy Hon.”

“I’m not grumpy. I’m just tired of the sun beating down on me like a hammer all day long and then having to worry if the sun isn’t beating down is it going to rain and get all of our stuff wet. And even if it doesn’t actually rain the dew has been making a mess out of everything. I found mildew on one of the clothes bags when I was cleaning it out just now.”

He gave me a funny look. “You one of those women who are bears about spring cleaning aren’t you.”

“Yeah, and fall cleaning too, and don’t you forget it. My grandmothers … and Mom too … would spin in their graves if I didn’t take care of things the right way. Now here, help me get this stupid tarp down before that dang ol’ horse decides to kick. He’s already given it one try and I’m not in the mood for any more.”

“Relax Hon, he’s just tired of being in the traces.”

I snapped, “Well so am I. For every mile forward it feels like we are being held back two. I want to get some place so we can get to the next place. And I’m just tired of all the looks and questions and …”

“Whao, what’s all this?” Thor asked trying to put his arms around me.

“Nothin’,” I groused.

“You and your ‘nothings’. Now tell me before I'm the one that gets hormonal on you.”

I sighed knowing I’d probably led the conversation this direction subconsciously on purpose. I shook my head, “Thor I don’t mean to complain. At least I don’t think I do. I just … I like the other women, I really do. They just keep asking questions and trying to give me advice and it is starting to wear on my nerves … and confuse me which is even dumber.”

“Yeah, I’d kinda noticed that you seemed to have a good time with them back in Dover but the last couple of days you seem to be staying away.”

I finally relaxed as he held me in a casual hug that let me lean against him. It seemed to take the weight off of me both figuratively and literally. “It’s … it’s just girl stuff.”

After a moment Thor asked, “You under the same heat that Delia is getting?”

“And Markrid and Elsapet. But they seem to enjoy it, Delia too. I don’t. Our business is our business and we’ll figure it out. I’m afraid they are going to say something to you and … and …”

“And what?”

I felt really stupid saying it. “You’ll run off. I mean, not run exactly but …” I sighed not knowing quite how to say what I was feeling.

“You want a wedding,” he said, but I could hear the complete lack of emotion in his voice.

“Not exactly. I want to be with you and I want it to be right. I want … want words said between us but I don’t know if I need someone to say words over us exactly. I’m … I’m not sure I ever expected to have the white dress, flowers, and the whole nine yards even if maybe I fanaticized about it a little. On the other hand, I’m not sure it makes that much sense now. Does it?”

He grunted which really wasn’t an answer.

“Just forget about it Thor. My issue, not yours. You’ve got the patience of Job and I swear I don’t mean to be a tease.”

He finally did smile. “How many times do I have to tell you that I like torturing myself.”

I wasn’t buying it. “You can smile all you want to Thor but I know one of these days I’m going to have to pay the piper. I just want to feel like … like …” I shrugged. “I just want it to be right, not just the physical stuff because that I don’t worry about at all ‘cause you’ve proved to me enough that we are compatible that way … it’s all the head and heart stuff that is giving me heart burn. I trust you and I want to be with you. I … Oh forget it … I’m just talking myself in circles again. I wish they’d just leave me alone and stop pushing. The more they push – although I know they mean well – the more it makes me feel like what we are doing is dirty or something.”

He stiffened up at that. “Oh don’t Thor,” I told him grabbing him in a tight hug. “I told you, it’s my problem and not anything you’ve done. You aren’t making me do anything I don’t want to and you take no for an answer a lot better than I should probably expect, especially after all this time.”

Uncle Bedros picked that moment to come over and ask Thor for some help and I pushed off of him and pushed him in that direction and went back to taking down the tarp and folding it away. I hadn’t been completely honest with Thor. I did want something, some special day to remember that said this is the day we started the rest of our lives together. I wanted an anniversary to celebrate. But life had changed so much. I wasn’t getting a church wedding like little girls fantasize about. It didn’t look like I was getting any kind of wedding and I was pretty sure I could live with that, but it didn’t stop it from bothering me when the women were egging me on about “bringing Thor up to scratch.”

I put it out of my mind, knowing I wasn’t going to suddenly come to some magic resolution, and finished packing up the wagon. I don't care what the story books said, there is no such things as a fairy godmother with a wand to take all of your problems away. And no, I didn’t get nosey and open up Thor’s boxes either. I figured if and when he wanted me to know what was in them he’d tell me himself.

By the time he was finished and it had gotten dark I had our little personal camp all set up and even managed to surprise him with a bit of “coffee.” I dry roasted some beet root and did the same with some chicory and dandelion root that I’d found and then ran the whole mess through the percolator. Thor was very cautious when he tried it but the surprised look on his face after the first sip told me it wasn’t half bad.

“Little sweeter than I normally like my coffee - maybe less beet next time - but not bad Hon, not bad at all. Now if we could just find something that added the kick of caffeine …”

I’d added coffee to my list of things to keep an eye out for a long time ago but it was as scarce as hen’s teeth as was granulated white sugar. I couldn’t wait to get home to find out if all of my parents’ supplies were still there. And thinking and working I completely put the other topic behind me. But Thor hadn’t.

As he finished his cup of “coffee” he said, “Come here.”

I was all prepared for a bit of snuggling as we climbed in our tent but instead he pulled me over to his side and said, “Hon … I think I understand what you’ve been going through with the Chuckri’s.”

“Oh … no … Joan didn’t say anything did she?”

“Joan, Bedros … all of them have been teasing me a little. Bedros … well, he’s been a little stronger than that but it hadn’t bothered me until you said something.”

“Thor …”

“No, let me finish. What you and I have, I consider it the real deal and forever. You’ve told me you feel the same way.” I nodded. “My reasons for holding off I’ve already told you and I’ve been relieved you haven’t made it any harder by yanking my chain or tempting me too much. But if you really want a wedding I’ll get Bedros to … to say some words over us. Will that make you feel better?”

I looked at this man and suddenly the last little bit fell into place. I smiled and it must have been big enough for him to see because I guess he assumed that have Bedros saying something was what I wanted. I put my hand on his chest and said, “I don’t need Bedros to say something because you just did.”

“Huh?”

I laughed as quietly as my warm and fuzzy feelings would let me. “Oh Thor, I don’t know why but you offering to get Bedros to do that is all I need. Yes, you’ve explained why you were waiting before but I guess I thought you were just saying that to be nice and give me time to figure things out but that’s really how you feel isn’t it? That you want us to be someplace settled before … you know.”

He brushed a stray bit of hair out of my face, “Yeah, that’s the way I feel.”

“Well, I’m satisfied with that. I don’t know why but … but if you don’t mind waiting until we get to the farm … and … and we make a special day of it – even if it is just for the two of us – then I think that is all I need to make it feel right. I just couldn’t stand the idea of being lackadaisical about it, like it wasn’t important.”

He scratched his whiskery chin and said, “I’m not sure I’ll ever understand females but if that’s what you want, what will make you feel ‘right’ about it, then that’s what we’ll do. We’ll have us a nice dinner and some fun and then … well, we’ll make it official.” He kissed me and then quietly added, “I also like that ‘being at peace’ idea that you seem to find so important. It’s giving me a lot to think about. Kinda feels like this is part of it.”

“Oh Thor.” That made me as happy as the other did and we both seemed to rest even better than we normally did.

And we needed it because the next day we were to reach Fairview and the Chuckri’s property and all the changes that entailed.

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