The morning didn’t start off very promising. “Hon … I think we may need your covered wagon idea after all.”
Lovely. Grand. Just flaming great. Rain and pot holes just make life a whole version of interesting that I’d rather it didn’t. I used to love rainy days but lately it seems that they provide more trouble than relief. Maybe if we didn’t have to travel in it but we did so I had to force myself just to suck it up. The Pembroke Road may have been a nice little road at some point but it wasn’t that way anymore. Grass and potholes revealed the road bed every few yards and the sides of the road were getting washed away. Tall, brown grass flanked the road on both sides. The rain only made it a sloppy version of what it used to be.
The horses balked at heading out in the weather but we managed to get a reasonably early start anyway and we did get on down the road. It was just after mid morning when we ran into our first we-don’t-cotton-to-strangers-around-here interview after being stopped by a patrol of four men on horseback. Thor stayed out of it and let Chuckri and Uncle Bedros handle it since they were the ones that were going to have to live in the area. The men seemed to unruffled after Uncle Bedros finished speaking with them and then told the children loudly enough that I understood it to be for the benefit of the patrolmen, “Do not let yourselves or the animals wander off of the road. Our neighbors have just planted.”
Of course in return the kids looked at him like he’d gone senile because every one of them knew better than to do something that rude in farm country. I had a hard time not smiling remembering when my dad had done the same thing to me a time or two. I finally asked him why he’d tell me something he knew doggone good and well I knew and answered me, “I know you’ve got sense Rocky girl. But apparently that man I was talking to doesn’t. We save time and trouble by being more polite than he was.” When I heard the kids grumbling I told them the same thing my dad told me and then gave them a wink. It seemed to soothe them some – they have a high regard for what Uncle Bedros thinks of them – and when it happened several times as the day wore on they understood and all answered politely with a “Yes sir” which seemed to add to the impression that the Chuckri’s weren’t an unruly outsider clan coming to muck the area up.
Lunch time the rain was still falling but it was more of an annoying drizzle than any kind of downpour. We stopped in a vacant field at the crossroads of Pembroke where a trading post had been set up. Again Thor let the Chuckri clan handle their business.
“You’re being really helpful,” Chuckri told him sarcastically afterwards.
Thor just looked at him. “What? The mantle of responsibility sitting a little heavy?”
Chuckri stared back as reality finally seemed to sink all the way in and said, “So you’re really serious about leaving.”
“I’ve never said anything other than that. Rochelle and I are going to head out as soon as we can. We still have a lot of miles to cover, nearly as many as it took to get you this far.”
Chuckri sighed. “This isn’t how I imagined it. I … I thought you would change your mind and stay … both of you.”
“So I could continue being the bad guy while you got to start a new life?”
“Man, you know that’s not what I mean,” Chuckri said.
“Isn’t it? That would be the end result anyway.” Thor stopped and trying not to leave things on bad terms said, “This is your life. I’m glad you’re getting it man, since it seems to be one you want but it’s not my life. I’ve found the rest of my life with Rochelle. I’ve supported you and your choices; not just yours but your family’s too. Now I hope that you can support mine and let us part still friends.”
I hadn’t meant to eavesdrop and I left to get back in the wagon seat before I could hear anything bad about myself. You never hear anything good that way. People are too honest when they don’t think you are around.
We started back out and Thor road close. “You heard?” he asked.
“Some of it. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to listen in,” I apologized.
“I would have told you anyway. Chuckri will get over it; he’ll have to. But for myself I think the sooner we head out the better. They keep trying to tangle us up.”
“I know. Pilbos …”
“Pilbo Doughboy is going to get on my nerves yet.”
I laughed, “Oh honestly. He just wants us to stay so that there is someone the same size as he is. That way he can share the work.”
“Now that I believe though I’m not sure that is the only reason.”
Knowing Pilbos managed to get under Thor’s skin no matter what I said I let the subject go and returned to the original one. “I’m ready to go whenever you are. I’ve been looking at the maps and I’m feeling all turned around. My original plan had been to cut down to Knoxville then into Sieverville and into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and pick up the Appalachian Trail at Newfound Gap but there is no way we will be able to do that with the wagon and I don’t want to give it up now that we have the supplies to carry. You got any thoughts on a route?”
“Some but I’d prefer to hear yours first,” he answered.
Trying to drive and think at the same time I told him, “Well, instead of dipping down into Tennessee again and adding those extra miles I was thinking to head as straight east as we could. Something along the lines of Fairview to Russellville then to Bowling Green then to the Cumberland Gap area and cross into Virginia via the Wilderness Road. That’ll take us nearly all the way to Clinchport and from there well use the Jefferson National Forest and hopefully pick up a deer or boar – assuming everything isn’t hunted over by then – and then a few more small jumps should put us in Damascus. The one thing I really don’t like about this plan is that we’ll have to use I81 and go through Bristol City and that whole corridor like that until we can get to the Jeb Stuart Highway.”
“Mmm,” he murmured. “That’s about the way I read it too. Miss everything major until that point … if you don’t county Bowling Green … and then run the risk of a mishap right as you are on your doorstep.”
“Our doorstep,” I corrected him. “I thought about caching stuff in the forest and hiking up Holston Lake and then the river but I can’t see that makes much sense as we’d have to eventually come back for everything with the wagon anyway and risking it on mountain roads that could be iced over isn’t my idea of a good time.”
“Here’s a compromise for you then. We’ll follow the plan to outside of Bristol City, gather intel along the way, and the re-evaluate it before we finalize our route,” Thor said, reaching over to get a damp lock of hair out of my face.
I told him, “I don’t see any other way to go right now so long as you don’t either. I hate to say it but I counted it up and I came up with three hundred and ninety miles. Even at twenty miles a day – and you know that isn’t going to happen every day and we’ll have weather to deal with a days to let the horses rest too – so adding in a little wiggle room we have another month ahead of us. That puts us home …”
“… late September or early October if nothing goes wrong,” Thor finished for me.
I nodded and Thor continued, “Later than we wanted to be but there shouldn’t be snow yet.”
“No, but as much as we’re sweating right now you have to remember we’ll be in the mountains. Beginning of October the highs average in the upper 60s and low 70s and down into the 30s and 40s at night. We usually get our first killing frost in October too. Neither one of us is dressed for that kind of weather. That’s the other thing we’re going to need to do; find you some long handle under gear and a good winter coat … and better footgear too. I can knit you some socks but not until we …”
Thor gave me a surprised look, “You can knit?!”
I rolled my eyes, “Trust me, my mother and grandmothers didn’t give me a chance to do anything but learn all the arts of the homemaker. I can knit, crochet, quilt, tat … generally most of the sewing arts. Then there is food preservation and preparation … that was self defense so that I wouldn’t have to listen to how much I ate. Gardening of anything that will grow goes with that too and so does animal husbandry. That doesn’t even include all the stuff I learned to do with Dad. I can tinker like average but nothing like you or Alfonso. Forestry I learned from Dad’s best friend who is … or was … a national park ranger.”
We would have kept on but I caught sight of something above the trees. “What … on … earth? Did we take a wrong turn someplace?”
Ludvig laughed. “I thought the same thing the first time I came out here. Actually that is the Jefferson Davis monument, or as most people around here call it, the Jeff Davis monument. It is a local landmark.”
“I should say so.”
The closer we got the bigger the monument appeared and by the time we got at the foot of it I was as amazed as I had been the time I saw the Washington Monument in DC. But the monument didn’t hold my attention for long because a contingent of men … some dress like modern farmers and some dressed really old fashioned … had come to meet the wagons.
“Excuse me,” one of the older men in the front said to me.
“Just a minute sir. Mr. Chuckri will ride forward if you don’t mind waiting,” I told him with my best southern manners. I saw everyone of them trying not to give me the eyeball. I know I kind of stick out at the best of times but I hate it almost as much when people are having to force themselves to be polite and not stare. Give me an politely honest question over and embarrassed silence any day.
Thor must have sensed my unease because he came up beside our wagon while Uncle Bedros and Chuckri got off their mounts and walked towards the waiting men. Suddenly one of the old fashioned dressed men started nodding and then called a young man forward that had been waiting across the road and sent him running into the small store on the corner of the road. An elderly man came out walking with a cane. He was dressed as a modern farmer but he seemed to on good terms with the others.
Then Uncle Bedros and the elderly man both smiled and clasped hands and beamed at each other like old friends. As the men from the town relaxed so did the rest of us. We stood around waiting for nearly an hour while news was exchanged but eventually we did head out with the family’s main wagon leading the way. Two more miles down the road and then we turned off onto a gravel road that was badly unkept as were the fields we based beside. Then we came out of the overgrown area into a small farm yard. There was a modern house, an older house that was part cabin, and three trailers ranging in age from not too old to ancient but salvageable.
We spent two days helping the Chuckri’s settle in and I was feeling like with every moment we stayed it was getting harder to get loose. The evening of our third night there as dinner was ending Thor stood up and told everyone, “I’m not much for long goodbyes. We all knew this day would have to come. Rochelle and I will be leaving at first light in the morning.”
What a ruckus that created but it was true, everyone had known that we were bound to leave and that we really did need to leave sooner rather than later. The next day would be the first of September and already we could feel the change in the weather.