Rain when we got there and rain when we left; not what I would call a fair view no matter what the town was called. I was so full of nervous anticipation that I had to physically hold myself in check so as to not hurt the feelings of any of those we were leaving behind.
There were handshakes, hugs, and not a few kisses as we finally manage to assure everyone that we were indeed set on our course and ready to leave. There were even a few, hurried gifts made to send with us. Uncle Bedros surprised us the most by making us a wooden chest. It was not as ornate as their antique one was but it was beautiful nonetheless and he had to have been working on it for some time.
It was Grandmother Chuckri however that nearly brought me to tears. She was such a tiny woman I had to bend way down to hear what she was saying but when I did she put her gnarled hands on either side of my face, gave me a kiss on both cheeks, and gave me her bridal blessing. Uncle Bedros looked slightly affronted but no matter what age or background a mother’s certain look will always bring her child around. Uncle Bedros humphed a bit and said that it was a shame that we could not stay as they planned some nuptials after appropriate housing had been arranged but in the end he too gave us a blessing for a long and fruitful life together.
I bent slightly and gave a small peck to his check and whispered, “Thank you for talking to Thor. I trust him and we both are learning to fully trust in Him.”
More throat clearing and a pleased but subdued look on the man’s face told me he understood what I had tried to say in as few words as possible. He insisted on saying a prayer for a hedge of protection around us and then we were off as the sun rose in the east casting the only worry over our exit as I remember my grandmother’s old saying, “Red sky at night is a sailor’s delight, red sky at morning then sailors take warning.” Wasn’t a true red but it wasn’t a friendly rose color either.
I drove the wagon and Thor road beside as we headed back to the crossroads which, upon turning east, would take us first to the small town of Elkton where a Mennonite family had agreed to sell us supplies for our journey and then on to the western outskirts of Russellville where we would spend our first night alone. I shivered in anticipation.
“You’ll miss them.” I made it a statement and not a question.
“Yeah,” he sighed. “But it was time. I’d never have a life of my own – at least not one of my own choosing – and they’d never … never live up to their full potential if I hung around like a crutch for the rest of all our lives. We’ve travelled a lot of miles together through many different countries but eventually everyone needs to take that fork in the road that leads away from all the others.”
I looked at him and then reached over and touched his shoulder. “No regrets? Are you sure? If … well … if you want …”
He smiled and shook his head. “No Ro-chelle. Even if we didn’t have your farm …” He stopped at my raised eyebrow. “Even if we didn’t have our farm I wouldn’t … wouldn’t want to stay here. This was Chuckri’s dream. I want my own dream and it was never the one that they’re living. A homestead hidden in the backwoods shared with a long legged beauty that is more than a match for me suits me much better.”
Oh my goodness did that man know how to verbally sweep me off my feet and we road in silence until we saw a small knot of old-fashioned dressed men near an old storefront on the outskirts of Elkton. It was the man whom Thor had made the trade with.
Mr. Stoltzfus guided us to a pole barn so that we could load our supplies out of the rain. It was a little too interesting for my comfort to get everything packed into the wagon and stabilized but we had no choice. In addition to the potatoes, dried corn, and a few bushels of fresh produce Thor had purchased a five gallon pail of honey, some jars of jam, and several different jars of pickled items. He had also, unknown to me until that moment, purchased some bags of different meat cure and sausage seasonings.
“Not what you might call a traditional wedding gift but at least this should set your mind at ease that we’ll have something to start with if your parents place is ransacked,” he told me as he wiggled his nose after a large drop of water caught him off guard as it came off his hat.
“I just wish you hadn’t felt the need to trade two of your knives to get it. That’s your collection.” I reached under the wagon seat and pulled out a hooded rain poncho and asked, “Now will you wear this? The rain is only getting worse.”
He grumbled but put the poncho on but not without saying, “I don’t like how this thing limits my visibility and hearing. And stop worrying about me trading those knives. I’ve got three more just like them. I can’t even remember where I picked them all up at now. In the beginning I didn’t use a lot of discretion as far as what I was collecting or considered whether I already had one. They’ve more than paid me back for storing them all these years.” He adjusted his raingear so that it wouldn’t flap in the wind and then told me, “If the weather gets much worse we may need to cut the day short.”
The day didn’t get any worse … but it didn’t get any better either. It was full dark before we found an empty building to stay the night in. We were lucky that it had a working bay door and we just pulled the wagon in, horse and all, and then started a fire out of some charcoal and dry wood that I had thought to collect the evening before so that I could at least fix dinner.
“How much more wood do we have?” Thor asked.
“Enough for one regular or two small fires but I need to find some dry stuff as soon as possible. I’ll make us some oatmeal in the thermos that will cook overnight and make an extra ration of coffee or tea …”
“Make it tea. I know you don’t like coffee much and I might as well get used to doing without.”
“Oh Thor …”
“Don’t sweat it Hon. Coffee isn’t the best for me anyway and …” He stopped with a bone popping stretch before continuing. “… I plan on being around as long as possible to enjoy the company of a certain beautiful woman that just about fell into my lap.”
I laughed knowing he was just funning as we were both too tired and damp for any kind of temptation to really be all that tempting. It wasn’t cold but the damp made it feel cooler than was comfortable so we made sure to throw blankets over both horses after making sure they were completely dry and then we crawled into our own nest to get some much needed rest.
“Hmm?” he answered already half asleep. “You gonna be the kind of woman that wakes me up in the middle of the night to tell me you heard something?”
I answered his tired grin with one of my own. “No. Or at least I won’t make it a habit. Just wanting to make sure that you threw the bolts on all of the doors.”
“Yes dear but I’ll double check ‘em for the fourth time if it will make you feel better,” he answered on a humorous sigh.
“You goof. It just feels … weird. I … I guess I’d gotten used to there being someone on guard duty all the time.”
He sighed. “Me too. But this is our new reality and right now I think we can both sleep at the same time. It may not always be like that so let’s take advantage of it … and get some sleep.”
We tried, we really did. But about two in the morning the horses woke me up and I elbowed Thor who was awake as soon as I was getting out of the tent. “Ro …”
“Hear that wind? And the horses are starting to get jittery.”
“Woman you are not going out in that,” he said in a forbidding voice.
“Do I look crazy? I want to grab our packs and put them down in the oil changing bay. If we were at home you can bet we’d be heading for the storm cellar right now.”
The wind moaned and howled for another two hours and a few times I worried the windows were going to blow out. It finally settled down into a normal storm again but I was still felt on edge; the only reason we slept was because we were simply exhausted. The next day dawned unreasonably pretty, a sharp contrast to the day before. There was quite a bit of tree trash blown down all over which I happily picked up to put in the wood barrel. I also spied several wooden pallets in the back corner of the building I I broke them down and tied the wood under the tarp on the wagon bed.
Several of the buildings around the one we had spent the night in had window damage, especially the ones that fronted the main road. We weren’t going through Russellville proper but to the south of it along Hwy 79. The damage was phenomenal. There were large trees down everywhere.
Thor and I stopped to help an elderly couple and their teenage grandchildren who were trying to clear a large tree away from their front gate. The patriarch said, “It’s been rainy off and on for a month now. Good for the garden after last year’s drought but the ground was just wet enough that this storm has laid over a lot of the damaged trees. See that old oak? The roots shoulda kept it well in the ground but you can see where the dry weather had killed off a lot of the small roots only leaving the mains ones to support it. Just weren’t enough this time. We’ll winter over on the wood from this tree and the one in the backyard too and have some left over. And thank you kindly for stopping.”
His wife added, “Nice to know that some nice folks are making it in this strange world we’re living in. Now you want to be careful if you are heading towards Bowling Green. Auburn ain’t so bad though they’ll shuffle you on through fast enough, but Bowling Green … I’d avoid it, go around it, or something. We lost a daughter and son in law there to some kind of sickness and there’s too many that has got the can’t-help-its that will take what’s yours if you don’t give it to ‘em straight off. Strange stories you hear from people running from there and you don’t know what to believe anymore.”
Thor and I thanked them for the warning and after being “shuffled on through” every bit as fast as the old woman had predicted around Auburn we pulled off the road and took a good look at the map we had.
“Any particular reason you wanted to take the northern route before heading south to Beaumont?” Thor asked me.
“No particular reason, it just looked like the quickest. Have you seen a different route?”
“Yeah. It may be a few more miles, but not many; only a handful. But it keeps us on a nearly due east heading, we avoid Bowling Green and Glasgow and the everloving interstate which never was something I wanted to trek on again.”
“Then let’s do it.”
“Hold up. I admit it sounds good and I’m grateful you are willing to just go along but we need to think this through. We are going to have to cross something called the Barren River Lake and that’s going to be another bridge that we won’t know if it is passable or not until we get there.”
I stopped and gave his concerns due attention then said, “It won’t be the first bridge, nor the last, we have to contend with to get home. If the bridge isn’t good then maybe they’ll have a ferry system up. I’ve been camping at Barren River Lake back in my scout days. It’s a beautiful area. And if the bridge is out and there is no ferry I know there are a couple of roads we can take to circumnavigate the water. It will take us out of our way but no where nearly as bad as had we been unable to cross the Mississippi or Kentucky Lake where we wanted to.”
“You sure about that road? It doesn’t show any such thing on this map.”
“They’re all small roads, only something that would show up on a local map. If the bridge is out there should be plenty of bait and tackle shops around there, mom and pop tourist shops and the like, that will have simple maps we can follow if not a full blown fold out one.”
“All right then, let’s do it. But not tonight. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t mind getting set up before the sun goes down. We’ll turn off there at 240 and as soon as we find some place decent we’ll hold up for the night.”
Easier said than done. There was a lot of destruction and the few people we saw ran away before we could even let them know whether we were a threat to them or not. A dilapidated barn out back of a warehouse building was our protection from the elements. I kept the fire small by making a mini rocket stove and creating a veggie stir fry with wheat I had soaked all day.
“I want to set a guard tonight. Too many people too scared of their own shadows,” Thor said thoughtfully.
“Yeah. They were worse than rabbits.”
“Hon … just let me get a couple of hours then I’ll take the rest of the night …”
I reached out and whacked him with a wooden spoon I had been putting back in the kitchen box. “We’ll take turns same as always. Three on three off.”
I got a patented wicked Thor grin and a wink I could see in the firelight. “Alright. Hopefully it won’t always be like this. The sooner we are away from the bigger towns the better.”
I was two hours into my watch when I heard something I hadn’t heard in months.