Contrary to my expectations I slept really well that night though some of it was due in part to simple fatigue. The other part was due to the fact that Thor kept me talking while we hauled everything inside and organized it into storage areas and I talked through some of my feelings. There wasn’t really time to chew on the what-if’s the next day either.
As soon as the light crested the ridge Thor and Mr. Dink set off for the Hefling place. Granny C, by way of the radio, had asked if Miz Louise could come. Seems a bad cold had started making the rounds and Granny wanted Miz Louise’s fifty years of expertise to brainstorm with. When they dropped her off they went by the cave and empted it by half and brought it back to the farm and unloaded. From there Thor took Mr. Dink back to the Hefling place and went to town to meet up with Sand and Johnson with a list of things he still wanted to get.
First thing I did, even before breakfast was finished cooking, was to open some of those #10 cans and get a great big mess of vegetable soup going and then another large pot of pasta sauce. It didn’t take long after Thor left for me to start filling quart jars and putting them in the pressure canners. The old woodstove was a big one. It was as hot as summer in the kitchen so I decided to make use of the heat and bathe and wash my hair since I was basically stuck inside anyway. I also washed under clothes and sponged the dirt and gunk out of my jackets and sweat shirts.
It wasn’t long before I had a better understanding of Mom and part of me felt bad. I had loved Mom and my grandmothers, respected the mheld them in high esteem but I hadn’t really understood them. I obeyed them when it came to learning the skills they had demanded I learn but I never felt the drive to excel at them particularly. I had never considered myself homemaker material; it just hadn’t been part of my mental landscape. When I became proficient at a homemaking skill they praised my work but I never really took it in that I could be homemaking for anyone besides myself or my parents in their old age. Maybe it is more correct that I chose not to think any other way.
Jonathon woke something inside me but still I saw no future beyond friendship and camaraderie. I didn’t have a clue what being a girlfriend meant, much less a wife, would mean to me personally. And then along came Thor. With him it was all physical attraction and adrenaline in the beginning. We grew closer and closer on the road once we finally admitted to ourselves and each other how deep it went. Then we arrived and life had been so chaotic and intense that I was operating on necessity and even some fear rather than desire. A few times before, especially after I was left at home while thor left to salvage I had begun to see myself in my mother’s place; but the position wasn’t really mine, I was just wearing her shoes. That long day of canning, dehydrating, organizing, and cleaning some final piece shifted inside me.
I also admitted to myself that plans or not, for just a brief moment after I had gotten my monthly I was just a little disappointed. I was also a little upset that Thor was relieved. It was a strange and freaky sensation. But I shook it off concerned that it was more loneliness than a real desire to have a baby. Something else I was waking up to was the appreciation of how well organized Mom had been.
The grandmothers had helped Mom until they had gotten too frail. Then Sarah had spent even more hours at our house after she graduated highschool and when Sand had been active duty. She’d been a cross between a friend, a little sister, and another daughter for Mom and had taken the place I guess Mom was always sorry I had no real interest in filling. I had always identified more with the stuff Dad taught me. I still did but I was also appreciating my mother’s side of things. I also realized I was still grieving for her because at one point I just flat out laid my head on the table and cried because I wanted so bad for her to be there … for me to apologize to and to show her all that I was doing and tell her thank you for teaching me even if I hadn’t been grateful for it at the time.
Vegetable soup , succotash, cakes in jars stored in the cold room, pasta sauce, fruit leathers, fruit cakes that I wrapped in brandy soaked cheesecloth, fruit that I had cooked down into preserves … the list was pretty long by the time that Thor came home for the day. To my pleasure he insisted on me showing him all I had done, he even asked questions which told me he was actually listening.
“You know I think we can make it.”
I gave him the look he deserved and asked, “Was there ever any doubt?”
“For the two of us? No. I figured that if things didn’t work out here you and I could move along for as long as we had to ‘til we found a place that would support us. Or even just have a couple of places we’d migrate to depending on the season, stay nomadic if you will.”
“Then why did you say what you did?” I asked as he washed up for supper.
“I meant a collective ‘we.’” He sat and we said grace so we could both eat all the leftover bits from the canning I’d done.
It was quiet while we knocked the edges off our hunger then he continued. “Now that we’re here and settling in properly I can see where this place fits in you like a piece of puzzle. I can see how these people have places in your life, especially a few of them. Just like you wouldn’t give this place up without a fight, there’s a few of them you’re the same way about. That knucklehead Jimmy Ray is one of them … and I understand why now too.”
Knowing Jimmy Ray I asked, “Uh oh. What happened in town?”
He smiled, “Let’s just say a group of trash talkers got their heads handed to them ... and it wasn’t just Jimmy Ray but he was the first one to bow up and strike back.”
I shook my head, “Thor next time stop them please.”
“Why?” he asked smiling.
“Why?! Well … because. It’ll just cause trouble and hard feelings.”
“And that reminds me, just because I’ve given up trying to get you to call me Rocky doesn’t mean I want everyone calling me by my given name. Mr. Hefling did it yesterday and I like to have jumped out of my skin.”
Thor laughed outright at my expression. “Ro – chelle.”
“Thor,” I growled warningly but he only laughed harder.
Still smiling he shrugged. “What people call you is up to you to decide. If you don’t want them calling you Rochelle then don’t answer them when they do.”
I grumbled, “Didn’t work with you.” That only set him to laughing again.
“Look Hon, let the guys handle it their way. Males understand that better than you will.”
I snorted, “I know good and well what you’re talking about so don’t think I’m turning into a typical female all of a sudden. I know there’s a time and a place for handling things the guy way. But this involves me and I don’t want to cause problems.”
“You’re not the one causing problems. But trouble that’s caused needs to be answered. No more letting people use you as an excuse to express their ignorance, no more using you as a whipping post if they’re having a run of bad luck or suffering consequences from their own choices.”
“No more buts. We need to know who our friends are and who aren’t. People who treat you without respect are just flat out my enemy.”
“No. On this I’m pulling the man card.”
“You know what I mean. And I really don’t want to argue about this. Your way may have worked before but life has changed and we’re changing our ways with it.”
The “man card.” Honestly. But I didn’t want to argue any more than he did so I let it go, but not without some qualms. Thor helped with the dinner dishes and then I put together a breakfast casserole for our guests in the morning.
As soon as we got up I put the casserole in the oven and went to work however Stro showed up some earlier than I had expected … and alone. He came in and warmed up by the fire as it had gotten considerably colder overnight.
“Tina wanted to come but the twins are sick and Lulu is getting it too. Neither one of us thought it was a good idea to have the kids out in this. Granny C said to warn you that it looks like the cold weather may be setting in for good this time and to keep the wood pile up because she thinks it is going to be another bad winter.”
Thor coming in made a face, “This isn’t cold?”
Stro and I looked at each other and then at him in sympathy. “It’s going to get a lot colder before it warms up again.”
Mr. Dink also showed up but without Miz Louise. “She’s staying to home. Don’t want her out in this stuff and she’s just plumb tuckered after yesterday. She needs to build up her energy and put some meat back on her bones before she gets out in this cold.”
So I found myself the lone female again. It didn’t bother me so much as I was beginning to see the disadvantages of it in a way I had not before. Stro, Mr. Dink, and Thor did the slaughtering and some of the trimming. I finished the finer trimming off and then prepared the cuts for canning, making jerky, or for tucking into the freezer though Stro and Mr. Dink weren’t to know that.
I put the shanks to making beef soups. I sliced most of the plate cut and cooked it for fajitas. Well, not fajitas exactly but I made some of the flat bread that I had learned from the Churckri family and then chopped it up with rehydrated onions and peppers. Sure did go down good if the sounds coming for the guys was any indication. I set the brisket aside to make corned beef with. The ribs were set aside in the cold room in an ice chest after they had cooled outside in the cold air. The chuck I cut into stew meat and used the trimmings to make ground beef with, some of which I browned up and canned. All of that was only the front part of the steer.
The hindquarters made up the loin – short, sirloin, and tenderloin – the round, and the flank. I ground most of the flank except for a couple of flank steaks that I set aside for the freezer. The found I cut into stew meat as well except for a couple of round steaks. I wasn’t sure what to do with the loin since it seemed a shame to turn into hamburger or stew meat after I had taken out what I wanted for jerky.
That night while Thor sat dozing by the fireplace in our bedroom I tallied up the meat. We got about five hundred and seventy pounds which I knew for a fact because I had been cutting and weighing as I put the meat in the freezer that I didn’t can or jerk. From the chuck I got two hundred and nine pounds which included eighty-three pounds of ground beef and stew meat, thirty-one pounds of fat and bones, and the rest in steaks and roasts. From the round we got a hundred and fifty-five pounds including thirty-three pounds of ground round and thirty-two pounds of bones and fat. We got a hundred and thirty four pounds from the flank and brisket. From the loin we got a hundred and fifteen pounds including twenty-two pounds of ground beef and stew meat, twenty-six pounds of bone and fat, and the rest in steaks pretty much. There were a little over sixty-six pounds of ribs which was a dang lot of ribs. The rest of it was fat, suet, and the miscellaneous meats like the kidneys.
Thor insisted on sending some of the ribs home with Stro as a thank you – and he didn’t protest too much – as well as a promise that should he need any help and also sent some short ribs with Mr. Dink and promised him that I’d be canning up some other cuts in pint jars.
I felt like throwing something at Thor when he woke up briefly and said, “Geez I’m tired. At least we did most of the work for you.”
Most of the work for me?! I knocked that idea right out of his head over the next two days as he helped me to package, dry, grind, smoke, and can up the rest of the meat that I hadn’t been able to get to the day of the slaughter.
One thing was for sure. Granny C had been right, the day we slaughtered the steer was the last clear day for what seemed like weeks.