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November 27, 2023
"Mes de los Muertos"

Place Settings 36

By Sand Pilarski

Chapter Thirty-six: Old Stones

I wake up at five, laughing. Had this dream of throwing horse turds at Ana Gandara when we were about ten years old. She didn't think I'd pick them up when she insulted my dress, told me it was hand-me-down from Depression days. I pelted her, hit her about five times before she could get out of range. You can't hurt someone with horse turds, but you can sure insult them, especially when it was from her own pony. At ten, is about as good as being able to tell someone they are a shithead, which she was. Maybe still is. Last time I heard about her, she had all her teeth pulled and got dentures. She married well and had a sweet tooth, always bragging about her mom's chocolate cookies.

Mae didn't make a lot of cookies, said they were only for dessert. Maybe it's a good thing that she taught me that they are bad for you -- I still have all my teeth, and the memory of horse turds bouncing off Ana's head.

I move to my rocker in the dark, thinking about the day before. Started with rescuing Lolo -- felt like I was Superman, doing justice and saving a life -- and the rest of the day, the house was filled with happy people, glad to be with each other, all relaxed and full of ... love. I heard Will tell Lolo she should have had his number and called him when she was afraid, he'd have been there in minutes; Ben said the same, but they're so young, so much still boys. No, she needed me and Gloria and Silvio and his buddy Andy, who looks like he breaks kneecaps for a living, which a lot of dairy guys look like, since they have to keep from having cows kick them into the next county or a nursing home.

Funny, Lolo said she was so scared, but when she saw what those pigs did to her car, she turned into someone completely different. She became a wolf, like me. All of a sudden, she was ready to bite, to fight. I think that was when I thought of her coming to live in our house. We need that courage in a house with just women. That is what I thought.

And see, there I go, saying 'just women.' Why is a house with only women something dangerous for them?

Yesterday, the house didn't seem dangerous. It also didn't seem like the same house it was before Thanksgiving. Back then, it was dirty and dusty and I hadn't ever cared about welcoming anyone there, except Elsie, who came to take care of me after I was in the hospital, and she did most of the cleaning of her room, I was so sick.

But yesterday, it was a house full of love and laughs and relief. Never in all my life did I have as much fun as yesterday. Never. Running around with other kids from other farms, that was okay, it was nice, didn't happen often. But once I was grown enough to have breasts, to marry off, there was no fun, and never any games.

Is that normal? Is that what all people experience? I guess not, or why would these Meltons know how to play a card game so silly and so nasty but I never heard of it?

Will says his father taught it to them. He must have been a funny, kind man, because all three of the Melton kids miss him so much, and have such good memories of him.

God, wherever Mr. Melton is, be good to him. He passed on a game and a family that make me feel joy, make me feel like my house is a happy, holy place instead of a hell. Also glad we women won.

I smile, because seeing Will get saddled with clubs and have to pick up thirteen cards before he could find one was really funny. Then Gloria uses a king and another eight and says, "Clubs."

He could hardly hold that many cards in his hands, big as they are.

It was so much fun.

People laughing in my house, people playing in my house. We all stood around, teasing Ben and Lolo and Will while they made those itty bitty shrimp tacos, which were delicious -- never had them before -- Gloria tells me that this is a tapas kind of feast, these couple of days, a lot of little dishes that you can spread out over a long time. Never heard of it, maybe have to look it up on my computer.

Well, after the storms stop coming through. Seems like one big-ass storm after another. Maybe we get fish swimming in the front lawn.

I hear someone up and around, coming down the stairs. Not Gloria, not Lolo, too heavy. I'm nosy, I want to see who it is. Who it is is out the door before I can get out of my room. That would be Will, I think. Bet he would rather have slept on the porch, which I would understand, but there was a mountain lion not too far from here last year, and anyway, raccoons would have tore his clothes off by midnight.

Make my bathroom call, go get dressed; light just coming up, still cloudy and dim.

"Hey, Will. You up early, like me."

"Good morning, Maria," he says, looking like a red-headed big angel. "I hope I didn't wake you."

"I been awake. I sit in my rocking chair and say prayers before I start the day. Think about all the things I'm grateful for, all the things I'm afraid of, tell God about them."

"I don't know anything about a god, but I talk to what I think of as The Universe. Probably not the same thing. It's light out, would you mind if I walked down to that stand of trees out there?"

"No. I don't mind, go ahead."

I've never been down to that bunch of trees since Celio ran down there when he was three. Had to chase him, leave Adao on the porch in his cradle. Got a big thrashing from Bedencourt for doing that. Why did he have to come out onto the porch just then? Adao, under his netting, he couldn't even turn over, he was so new. No danger of him falling out of his crib, no danger from bugs.

"You want to be alone, or can I come, too?" I shout after this middle Melton.

He turns around and grins, best grin I ever see. "Come on," he called, and he is like his brother, I can't resist.

"I've been studying trees on the internet," he says. "Those are oaks, and those are cottonwoods. Both want water, and what's more, that's a sugar pine. There has to be a water source down here."

"You are right," I tell him. "There is an old spring house in this hole. All broken down, but Bedencourt told me his mother said she remembered they had to bring water to the house at first from here, in buckets."

"What did they do to get water to the house, then, after buckets?"

"They had a well dug, had a well house next to the barn, which was right over there," I tell him, pointing to my neighbor's house. "When I sold the land, part of the agreement was that the developer would get city water to my house."

"But if you had kept the well, you wouldn't have to pay for water."

"I lived in Hell. When I could parcel up Hell and sell it, I didn't care, I just wanted Hell to be gone, no memories to look at. Maybe if I had felt as good as I feel now, I would have thought differently. I do remember that the water tasted better. But it seemed a small price, even with paying for City and chlorine-tasting water. Look, there, there are the foundation stones for the spring house."

He starts pulling at the grass and weeds, tracing the line of the stones.

"Look out for snakes. Never seen one in the yard, but then, I haven't looked at the yard in years." A sudden understanding hits me. "This is why I have raccoons and rabbits. The ground is wet, they can dig and get water."

"They don't have to dig," he says, yanking a stone out of a pile. "There's water pooling right here."

"Oh, that's not good. Got a pool of water, get mosquitos. West Nile Virus, Encephalitis, God knows what else. How do I get rid of the water?"

He laughs. "Water is precious, worth just about its weight in gold in the long run. Let's pull some more stones out, and get you some mosquito fish -- the county can supply them for free for people with rain barrels or troughs or even ponds for decoration. I know the County Agent, Eli Sanderson, thanks to Mr. Van Duyken introducing us."

"Van Duyken treating you okay?" I ask. "I know him and his wife from church. And their kid, Pete, he's your friend, right?"

"Yeah. We weren't close buds, but he got me the job with his dad. I can't thank him enough for that, but we haven't been in touch."

"Eh, his mom tells me he is an Engineering major, hates the farm work, loves college, wants to build desert homes in Arizona someday. He's not in touch with them a lot, either."

"Mr. Van Duyken has been good to me, good for me. Learning to use a backhoe, the tractor, the brush fork -- I love it, dirty and dusty as it is. Glad Pete has found something he wants to do, but I'm more glad that I can sort of fill the space that his father wanted him to take on." He keeps on stacking stones, making a little pool for the water. "This water is cold. I mean, it is the end of December ... if it's always this cold, though, mosquito fish won't work. They like warmer water ..."

"We'll see. Too cold for mosquitoes yet, anyway. Ah! Here is your brother, coming to make sure we aren't getting into trouble."

"Good morning," Ben says. "Hey, you found -- a well? A spring?" He picks up one of the stones. "Look at that, those are chisel marks! For a spring house? Wow, a real spring house! I read about people keeping stuff cool in spring houses before there were refrigerators, but never saw one. Wonder how big it was."

Now I wonder, too. How big was it? When did it fall down? I don't know anybody to ask. Maybe one of my sons knows, they talked to their grandparents, a lot more than I did. All of a sudden, I'm wanting to know about this place. Funny, living here so long, too sad, too scared, too miserable to think about Might-have-beens, or What-could-be-dones. But this really is my home, now, in my heart. I have welcomed people here, glad to be with them.

You know, when Ben was here, getting the TV hooked up, we talked a little about the attic, and how I didn't even remember what was up there. Maybe today, while I have two big, curious boys here, we can take a flashlight and see if there are bats or mice or even anything interesting. See if we can get the light to work -- I remember there used to be a light on one wall. It was just a bulb, but well, we'll find out.

"Time for tea for this old woman," I tell them. "You can play in the mud, or you can make breakfast, you choose."

"Breakfast is the better part of valor," Ben says. "I just listened to the weather report and there's another big storm that's supposed to arrive around nine."

"Come on, then, we can make tea and then go out on the porch and be crazies again, live in the storm." I laugh again. Feels good. "Or," I tell them, "we can just say 'Hello' to it and then run for the kitchen pantry and hide."

"Is there anything good to eat in the pantry?" Will asks. "That'll be my deciding factor."

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2021-08-09
Image(s) are public domain.
1 Reader Comments
03:14:03 PM
I like being inside Maria's head. From all her memories of childhood and motherhood, the reader is getting a good glimpse into what makes her tick and how-even as an old woman, she is growing by leaps and bounds each day. And the bonds of the family unit are doing the same, blood relations or not.
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