September can be a beautiful month in the mountains. The days are usually still warm but the worst of the summer heat is gone. Towards the end of the month the nights can have a bite to it but it isn’t time to pull out the long johns yet. The month is the last bright flash before Autumn. Much of the garden gives up the last of its bounty but the orchard and forest are still going strong. Along the edge of the forest are the nut trees – almonds in protected niches, chestnuts rare but still there if you know where to look, pecans planted in old woodlots, and then deeper in the forest you can find walnuts and hickory nuts.
Thor and I gathered all by the bushel basket full. I would rake them into piles and Thor would scoop them up. I could now look at myself in the mirror and say without a doubt that I was having a baby. If I left my shirt untucked or was wearing overalls which had become my habit you still wouldn’t notice it at first glance; but it would take a second glance to see it wasn’t just fat hanging around my middle these days. Sometimes my stomach moved so much that it was like having an alien about to burst out.
One day in mid-September Stro and Sand met us at the old orchard. I had finally agreed with Thor that it was time to let the cat out of the bag to a few folks … a very few. When we were deciding the who I told him it might as well be them since they’d be seeing me for the apple picking anyway. The problem was that it was easier said than done.
While Thor and I had said that we would tell about the baby when it came right down to it neither one of us knew how to bring it up in conversation. We’d start and then the conversation would turn to something else. It was a slippery as a fresh caught trout. The longer we worked picking the apples the harder it seemed to become. Eventually we just looked at each other and grinned, then shrugged and stopped worrying about it.
The day was beautiful with just a little chill on the breeze so while I took off my jacket I left my flannel shirt on over the top of my overalls and t-shirt. I’m sure Stro and Sand thought nothing of it as I had dressed in similar fashion pretty much any time I worked on the farm or during 4H meets. My clothes were cheap to get – the prices in the Big and Tall shops were fairly outrageous and even when Mom or I made my clothes the yardage and patterns could be pretty flaming expensive – and I tried my best to keep what clothes I had in good repair, reserving only the most durable and easily cleaned for field work.
The harvest was decent considering the age of the trees and the fact that the only fertilizing they had gotten came from the little bit of manure I could spare from the other fields. Each tree produced about eight to ten bushels per mature standard tree. There was a couple of rows of semi dwarf that my parents had planted when I was in middle school and they were producing between five and eight bushels per tree. The fruit was starting to fall and I gathered up bushels of that just to throw to the pigs and chickens. I noticed that Stro and Sand did the same thing for their stock.
We’d lost a few trees over the winter but I had marked them the preceding year as the weakest. The did make blooms in the spring but I never had to thin them because the blooms seemed to take the last of their strength. A couple of them had been girdled by deer as well and I was surprised we hadn’t seen more sign that the deer had come back for the fruit. When I said something Sand said the deer were really being hunted over pretty good and now you had to go deep into the forest to get any or catch them just right coming out of the forest to hit the fields.
I nodded but also made a note to myself to come back for the apple wood so that it could be cut and stacked to be used in the smoker or for small furniture repairs. There was an old cabinet in the pantry that I was thinking of turn into a spice cabinet and apple wood knobs would make the drawers easier to pull out.
The only thing that marred the day for me was the flock of ravens that had decided to pester us. For some reason ravens just really bother me, probably because according to my grandmothers they were harbingers of death. In the cornfield or in the orchard they can cause a lot of damage, they are worse than crows in that respect because they are so smart. They can also be mean though Dad swore it was more their way of playing. Playing my foot; if you’ve ever been chased by ravens you won’t find a thing fun about it. A few will also mimic human speech patterns which is just freaky as all get out when you are in the forest. Lady and the cats had finally taught the ravens to minimize their visits to our fields but that had apparently not extended to the orchard area. Even the mules had gotten irritated enough with them on occasion to snap at them when they caught them trying to pick through their feed.
Ravens are bold as brass and simply saying “Shoo!” doesn’t phase them. I was picking a tree and something I did must have set a few of them off because I became a target. They rushed at me and got a few pecks in but when I screamed and swatted at them it was more in anger than fear. I saw the guys rushing over but I’d done the silly thing and lost my temper royally. I stomped over to our wagon, ripped off my flannel shirt, grabbed my compound bow and shot off my whole quiver before I calmed down.
Thor stepped forward and with a calming smile as he took the bow from me asked, “Feel better?”
I grumbled, “No. I missed as many as I hit. Junior kept kicking me in the ribs.”
Then Stro made a strangling noise then tried to say, “Uh … Rocky …”
I turned around and snapped, “Yes I am. What of it?”
Stro’s surprise gave way to a good natured grin. “Well that explains Granny’s looks every time someone started to wonder why you didn’t hang around with us much any more.”
Sand came over and after giving Thor a hearty handshake he gave me a hug. “Sarah, Tina, and a couple of the other women said it was because you’d finally turned into a real girl.”
I rolled my eyes and said, “I’ve always been a real girl.” Thor put his arm around me. He knew how the stereotype bothered me.
Stro made us both laugh though when he got a grievous look on his face and said, “I tried to tell them that but they threw a wet rag at me.” After a second he asked more seriously, “Why didn’t you say something before now?”
I shrugged, uncomfortably aware I might have hurt his feelings. Thor said, “People have big mouths and we still don’t know if all the greenies or their sympathizers have been weeded out. It was nothing personal. When we did decide it was time to say something you two were the first we thought of … though Mrs. Hefling, Mr. Dink, and Ms. Louis all know.”
Stro nodded his understanding as did Sand. It was Stro however that added, “And even if they aren’t green sympathizers there are some people that still suck on their feet out of habit. If it was me I wouldn’t want too many people knowing either but you should let some of us know in case … you know you need something. When’s the baby coming anyway?”
I said, “A couple of weeks or less.”
Thor had to pound on Sand’s back because he started choking on the spit that had gone down the wrong way and I told Stro to put his jaw back in its socket and close his mouth.
“Honest to Pete,” Sand finally gasped. “Rocky are you sure?!”
I rolled my eyes and said, “Yeah yeah.” I was embarrassed by their oversized reactions.
“I swear Sarah is going to flip a switch. And get jealous too more likely. She was huge by the time she was as far along as you say you are. I’m going to have a hard time convincing her you’re pregnant at all. The only reason I can tell for sure is because you admitted to it.”
I shrugged it off by saying, “I’m already huge thank you very much. I guess God figured it was kinder not to go making me much bigger.”
I went over and pulled the picnic boxes from under the sheet I had covered them with and started setting the lunch food out. I saw Sand and Thor talking earnestly but Stro came up to me and sat down on his haunches to help. “I’m not an invalid. I’m just pregnant.”
Stro said, “No kidding. Look, it’s OK. You’re a girl. It happens.”
For some reason that tickled my funny bone and I smiled despite my discomfort. Stro always did break things down into the real simple. “Seriously Rocky, just because no one can say you aren’t a real girl anymore it doesn’t have to change all of us still being friends.”
I smiled again but told him, “Some people are always bound to talk. I’m used to it and Thor could care less what most people thing; he’ll just growl at them if they get annoying. I just … the baby you know? It’s not his fault it got stuck with me for a mom.”
“Hey, if I was a kid you’d be a cool mom to have.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, you’d always have someone to play football with.”
He grinned back, “That’s the truth. But enough jokin’ around. You OK? I mean for real OK? All that GWB stuff OK inside you?”
I was surprised to find my friend was really worried for me, not just about me. I answered him as honestly as I could. “So far so good.”
“And … you know … the baby?”
“That’s the billion dollar question isn’t it?” I sighed. “We don’t know. No GWB had ever gotten pregnant as far as I know, or at least as far as any of us were told. They weren’t even sure if any of us could … you know … procreate so to speak. They usually talked like it wasn’t a good idea but I think that was more for … you know, societal reasons, than anything else. I just avoided thinking about it to be truthful. Never really thought my life would go this direction.”
“But do you … you like it? How your life is turning out?” he asked in a strange tone.
I gave him a look. “Are you and Tina having … um … problems?”
He sighed, “Sometimes. We really need a place of our own but at the same time we need to be where we’re at because Tina can’t take care of the twins and Lulu by herself all the time when I’m gone. Lulu is a pistol and the twins are twice as bad. This winter Gramps and I are gonna see if we can plan something out in that little clearing that is too rocky to grow anything in. Its more than that though. She feels … second best I guess you would say; that the only reason I married her was because Janie wasn’t around anymore and I needed someone else to save.”
“Heck no. I may be book stupid but I’m not crazy. Tina was like … the first girl I was really serious about. Once I got a look at her I just never wanted to look at anyone else. That thing with her dad nearly killed me. I used to try and sneak over and ask her to wait until I could prove to him that I was able to take care of her like she deserved. But she told me … she told me not to bother because she knew her dad would never change and I knew she was right. You weren’t the only one that thought Romeo and Juliet was just about the dumbest story ever written so I tried to move on. Truth is I was with Janie more because of Tina than I’m with Tina because of Janie.”
“Have you told Tina that?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know how to say it without hurting her feelings.”
“Maybe it wouldn’t hurt her in a bad way. She’d see how bad that whole situation hurt you, you’d get it out in the open, and then y’all could work through the rest.”
“Maybe. Just don’t want to bad mouth her dad now that he’s dead and can’t defend himself.”
“Well you’re not dead … and neither is she. No one says you have to call him dung but you should be honest about your own pain otherwise she might think you didn’t feel anything at all.”
After a moment he shook himself and asked, “How did this wind up being about me? We were talking about you.”
I just grinned and handed him a plate while I called Thor and Sand to come get theirs. Thor was serious as he sat down next to me. I asked him, “What?”
His nose flared which was never a good sign. “I was all set to let the cat out of the bag but apparently that new group, the one that came in the other day and looks like they are trying to set down roots, started asking some pointed questions.”
In alarm I asked, “About me?”
Sand answered, “No. They were asking in a round about way for Mr. Griffey and a couple of other locals that we found out the hard way had Green Warrior sympathies.”
I wasn’t scared for myself since I’d already faced such groups a few times and survived but a fear I’d never felt before caused my hands to move protectively in front of my stomach. I hadn’t realized I’d even done it until I noticed the men noticing me do it. I forced myself calm and my hands down and said, “Look I’m not in denial so don’t think that but just because …”
Stro, ignoring my attempt to find an alternative explanation to Thor, “I’m in. Whatever you plan you can count on me. My whole family too I’m sure. No way are we gonna put up with that crap, and sure ain’t gonna let ‘em get anywhere near Rocky.”
I rolled my eyes and said, “Down boy.” I was summarily ignored by all three of them.
They continued to talk and plan as they ate. We finished and they were still talking … or should I call it man strategizing … so I stacked the plates and empty containers in the boxes, covered them back up and then pointedly got back to work. They could plan all they wanted to but I knew in the end they would still need my consent and cooperation. Eventually they would remember that too and then we would parley. I gathered my arrows and piled the carcasses of the ravens out of the way and went back to work. Out of the corner of my eye I watched a vixen and her kits carry the birds off.
I filled all of my bushel baskets and had started to carry them to empty into the wagon bed Thor jumped up. “Hey. You fill, I carry and empty. Remember?”
“You were busy and I need the baskets emptied.”
That was the end of their pow wow. Progress picked back up and all three wagons were soon filled. Sand and Stro took the backroads to hook up with their brothers who had spend the day hunting together. Thor and I headed hom and parked the wagon in the storage shed before heading to do evening chores.
Lady was happy to have us home and followed me all over … garden, barn, coupe, and finally into the house where Thor met me with a surprise. A dinner of stew and dumplings was nearly done and he’d even made a little almond butter to spread on slices of fruit cake.
“Wow. What’s the occasion?” I asked truly flabbergasted.
“Can’t a guy just …”
I cut him off with a raised eyebrow, his innocence giving him away. “OK fine. I was just trying to head you off from being angry.”
“And why would I be angry?” I asked, better at the innocent act than he was.
He grinned. “you’re going to milk this aren’t you?”
“To the last drop,” I agreed.
He laughed before getting down on his knee. “Oh great and powerful warrior woman … please forgive us for leaving you out of the plans and …”
I couldn’t help it, it was my turn to laugh. “Get up you loon.”
He did and then hugged me, putting his large hand where we could both feel the baby squirming. “Active little thing isn’t she?”
“He. And yes, though it is different than it was. He doesn’t seem to have as much room to boogie around in.”
“She giving you a hard time?” We went back and forth like that all the time; it was a game we played. To be honest I wanted a little boy first but either flavor was fine, I just wanted a healthy one.
Dinner was a memory as were the dishes and the last few chores when Lady howled right before there was a pounding on the kitchen door.