Redtail asked Lena, “So how did you come to be part of the Wilder community?”
Lena laughed. “I was just drawing in my breath to ask you the same question. I was born and raised here. Went to school in Higginsburg and did 6 years in the Army. I guess Wilder spoiled me. I love the quiet and the friendliness. I still get my share of excitement. How ‘bout you?”
“Oh wow,” began Redtail, “Beyond a week or so ago, it’s all a blur. All I’ve remembered of my past is my puzzlement this morning after noticing a lack of pines and sandy soil here, and that I seem to have a little background in survival skills. My real memory begins with walking in the woods with not a care in the World. I just feel refreshed, but can’t remember from what. After a few nights, I settled on a site near a creek in what I thought was a secluded area, then George caught me, welcomed me, adopted me, and I was hooked.”
“It must be confusing not knowing who you are or where you’re from,” said Lena.
“Not really,” said Redtail. “I’m me, and I hardly ever have to get my own attention, so any name’ll do ‘til the official one comes back. And my only concerns in life are food, shelter, and Sunday, I get to go to church again. I’m probably more content now than I’ve ever been.”
They both looked at the windshield and almost in unison said, “Here it comes,” as the first few raindrops tapped the window.
Redtail continued, “Someone’s probably wondering where I am and what I’m up to, but my worrying about it won’t do any good. I figure about all I can do is wait for my memory to come back, or say, ‘Hey! That’s me on that milk carton.” Redtail snorted a little laugh.
Lena smiled and asked, “What’s that laugh?”
Redtail said, “I pictured myself initiating the search for my past. I’d probably cause a stir or even trouble if I was to walk up to people asking, “Do you miss me?””
Lena gave a little chuckle and said, “I supposed that could be a little awkward. What do you plan to do with yourself in the rain tomorrow?”
“Oh, I dunno. After church, probably find a leaf to curl up in to hide from the rain like the other critters do. I’m pretty well stocked for a few days,” said Redtail. She gasped and then breathed a sigh of relief. “I thought I left my tires and bag of food at Big Al’s, but the author must’ve stuck ‘em in the car when I wasn’t looking.”
Lena asked, “How you getting to church?”
“George is taking me,” said Redtail.
“Wow!” said Lena. “You actually got him to do that?”
Redtail told her, “He offered and didn’t flinch in the slightest. In fact, he gave me a new Bible yesterday.”
Lena said, “Frank and I have been after him for years to come back to church. He always seemed to have something come up or lose track of what day it was. Funny: he never missed one of his survival presentations.” She gave a sigh and laugh.
Redtail seemed to take quick interest at the roadside, so Lena asked, “Did you see something?”
“Actually, no. I was surprised at how quickly the buzzards finished the snack I left for them,” answered Redtail. “The boys and I ate most of the rest of that woodchuck.”
“Oh, that was the roadkill they were so excited about,” said Lena. “Frank and I enjoyed about a month’s worth of roadkilled venison, but I always tell Frank, ‘fresh venison doesn’t count as roadkill.’”
Redtail asked, “So, what brings you out to Perry’s Bend?”
Lena said, “Most Conservation Areas allow foraging –above ground, no digging. I’m trying for some raspberries and to see if any dew berries or blackberries are close to ready.”
Redtail gave a little laugh, “I just pictured Grandpa George quizzing me on the differences between those berries.”
Lena said, “Yeah, Mr. A’d probably like it, too, if we told the readers.”
Redtail asked, “Who’s Mr. A?”
Lena explained, “That’s what Sarah named Mr. Author, but that’s in a different writing altogether.”
Redtail said, “Yeah, I’ve had a couple run-ins with him. OK, raspberries and dewberries have round stems and blackberry has a grooved stem –at least the wild ones. You’re next.”
Lena smiled, “Raspberries are ripe around Memorial Day and Blackberries around the 4th of July or later with dewberries in between. OK, you go.”
Redtail continued, “Raspberries and blackberries are on upright or arched canes and dewberries are low, sprawling ground-huggers. Your turn.”
Lena said, “Ripe raspberries come off the plant like thimbles or stocking caps or little cups. Anyway, the berry core is left on the plant, while dewberries and blackberries come off core and all. Hmm. Is there more?”
They both rode quietly for a few seconds and Redtail blurted out, “Oh! Raspberry and dewberry have three leaflets and blackberry often has five.”
Lena added, “They’re all spelled different, too.”
Both smiled and rolled their eyes.
Lena said, “I gotta get you out to the Bumpy Log some night to meet more of the gang. I think you’d like it. George is even a semi-regular out there.”
“What’s the bumpy log?” asked Redtail.
“It’s our social club,” explained Lena. “It’s out in Nowhere –right in the middle, actually. Why it’s pronounced Now-Here is kind of a fun story, but it’s right in line with Missouri’s Ne-VAY-da (Nevada) and Ver-SAILS (Versailles). We can tell you the place name tale when you visit –sort of dangling a carrot for you.”
Redtail said, “Sounds like a tasty carrot, too. I love the lore behind this area. The museum in town is gonna be a hang-out for me.”
Lena said, “Oh no! You gotta come out to the club to get the story. It just wouldn’t be same getting it from the museum.”
“Well,” said Redtail, “I’ll try to be patient. My communication network isn’t real effective, so it might not be easy to schedule stuff.”
Lena said, “I know where you live. We’ll work out something. Shoot. It looks like we’re here. You game for berry picking?”
Redtail said, “I’d love to, and actually need to, but I gotta get other stuff arranged before it rains. Can I get a literal rain-check?”
Lena said, “Sounds good. I’ll hunt you down soon.”
“Thank you so much for the ride,” said Redtail. “Ah! There’s a raindrop now. Excellent timing!”
Redtail hopped out of Lena’s car, grabbed her stuff and and they exchanged waves. Redtail headed out to her new camp and Lena departed for Perry’s Bend.
George wasn’t back from his Big River program, so Redtail had the quiet place to herself. She went to the new wet-weather site and stood. She folded her arms and tried to arrange her thoughts.
Redtail smiled as she imagined a T-ball coach yelling, “Line up!” to a bunch of four to six year old kids. The coach gives an exasperated laugh and rounds the kids up one-by-one.
“OK, you stand right here. This is an important job. You’re the line-leader.”
One little girl looks up from her mound of dirt she’d been playing with and whined, “I wanted to be line-leader!”
“Here, you stand right here and be Assistant Line-Leader.”
The coach caught another and said, “Now you stand here –Come back! Yes, I know it’s a bug, but you have to be number three.”
On to another player. “OK, you stand-- Wait a second, you’re not on our team. Yours is over at the next field, see, right over…” He didn’t finish and the player was scampering off to the other field.
Redtail smiled and thought, “Line ‘em up one by one.”
“I think food is OK for a few days. Church tomorrow. I better get my new clothes hung up to de-wrinkle.”
She stepped into the tent and into a side room. She stood as straight as she could without touching her head to the ceiling. Her head was slightly bent over, so she decided to make her closet tripod about shoulder height. She stepped back outside and found three straight eye-height sticks and two more that didn’t need to be quite so straight.
Redtail fastened the three straight pieces together about six inches from the top and gently spread the sticks about three feet apart at the base to form a tripod. She cut the other two sticks about in half and fastened three of them as crossbars on the tripod legs. The fourth, she laid across the crossbars as her closet-rod.
She found her clothes, shook them straight and hung the shirt by the collar on a tripod crossbar. She draped the pants over the longest of the brace extensions. Redtail gave her closet a look, then went outside to find more straight sticks. She returned with a straight 18-incher of about 1 ½ inch diameter and a curved one about 16 inches and almost an inch in diameter. With her machete and a file, she smoothed both sticks. She smoothly rounded the ends of the curved stick after cutting it to around 14 inches.
Redtail wrapped a piece of insulated copper wire around the middle of the curved piece of wood, leaving about a foot of wire free. She thought, “Now that’s a fine shirt hanger.” She wrapped both ends of the straight stick for the pants hanger. “Now to apply the clothes.” She hung them on her tripod. “OK, clothes are all ready for tomorrow.” And then, a distraction happened. The gravel started crunching in the driveway, which indicated someone’s arrival. Redtail walked toward the house far enough to see it was George who pulled in. She gave a wave and headed back to her thoughts organizing. She wasn’t being unsociable and hoped George didn’t think she was. There was a light drizzle in the air, so she needed to stay close to her site.
George pulled a big custom-built big-wheeled dolly from the back of the truck and loaded it with three plastic tubs from his program. He took those to the kitchen, grabbed two umbrellas from the coat rack behind the door stepped back outside. George squinted at the drizzle, popped an umbrella open and headed to Redtail’s camp. Mr. Ziffel stood up, stretched, twitched a couple times at the drizzle droplets, turned around, shook off and crawled back under the porch.
George arrived at Redtail’s camp to find her with a catfood bag poncho draped over shoulders, covering her firewood stack with another tarp.
“Redtail,” called George, “I brought you an umbrella. Thought it might come in handy from time to time.”
Redtail replied, “Why thank you, Grandpa, that will come in handy tomorrow.”
George asked, “How ya set up for dinner?”
Redtail said, “I got plenty for tonight and a couple more days. I hope the rain lets me out by then. You want some dinner?”
George answered, “Oh, I’ve been snacking all day at that wild edibles program.”
Redtail said, “That sounds like fun. What age group did you have?”
George said, “They were probably eight to twelve year olds. They’re a fun bunch for a while. I wouldn’t care to have to deal with ‘em day in and day out, or to be responsible for their behavior.”
Redtail asked, “You mentioned ‘Scouts’ the other day –were they Boy or Girl Scouts?”
George replied, “Actually neither. Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts of America don’t recognize Donowutt County, so we created our own alternative. The Donowutt County Scouts have both boys and girls in the same troop. They keep ‘em apart for campouts and often segregate into small groups, but the troop meetings include all. It’s lots more traditional than what the Boy and Girl Scouts have become these days. I s’pose outsiders might call it ‘culturally irrelevant, but we like it that way.”
“I know,” said Redtail. “I just loved the atmosphere I found today. I went to town and even got to run Big Al’s store while he ran to Higginsburg on some errands. I met some of the boys in town and Renzo and Lena. Lena brought me back here on her way to Perry’s Bend. It was a fun day. Even got tires and tubes for the bike, AND a woodchuck.”
George said, “Sounds like you had a fun day, too. You ran the store? Of course, as ‘Grandpa’, I’ve also gotta ask, ‘What boys?’”
Redtail said, “Oh they were just little guys --Kevin, Jerry and Mike. Al calls ‘em ‘Kevin…’”
And George joined in with a smile as they both finished the sentence, “…Riff and Raff.”
“Yeah,” said Redtail, “They seem like good kids. We really hit it off –my lifestyle and their love for things outdoorsy and wild.”
George said, “I had one memorable little guy today. I think he might’ve had some behavioral issues, since it seemed he had an adult assigned specifically to him. They all got into the room and seated. He was in the back, waving his arm like he wanted to say something even before we started. His adult kept putting his arm down. The other kids pretty much ignored him, though he did draw a couple dirty looks and eye-rolls. Poor little guy. During my presentation, he kept bouncing around like he had to go to the bathroom. Every now and then his hand would shoot up and his adult put it down again. I finally finished and asked, “Are there any questions?” Mr. Fidgit shot his hand back up again as his adult responded like she’d always done. I took the risk. I looked right at the kid and said, “I think you’ve been wanting to say something for a while.” He smiled real big and the other kids gave a quiet sigh and groan. He excitedly said, “My… my… my dog… my dog, he fleeched a skwoozle.” At least that’s what it sounded like he said. There were almost two seconds of dead silence as he smiled at me. I gave him a serious look and said, “You know, I’ve heard that happens,” and gave him a yup-you’re-right nod. He just looked so pleased and the other kids looked at me in disbelief. The little guy who spoke seemed to calm right down. It felt pretty good. Then I got a few of the standard questions followed by the silence that says I’m to ask if anyone wants to try eating any of the bugs. The excitement erupts from there. Kids are fun.”
Redtail said, “Kids say some weird stuff. I think it’d be fun to see one of your programs some time.”
George said, “There’s lots of times I can use help. I’ll see if you’re game for the next one.”
Redtail said, “I don’t have lots on my schedule, so I think I’d be able to make it. The only thing on my schedule now is church tomorrow. I’m looking forward to that. It feels like I’m getting a vital missing puzzle piece.”
“I’m sort of looking forward to going back, myself,” said George. “Well, I better be heading back to the house. Morning happens pretty close to right after night, and it looks like night’s a-comin’.”
Redtail woke the next morning, got dressed and ate a dry sunfish and a handful of raspberries and gooseberries. She listened to an occasional tap of water droplets on the tent roof. She scanned about the floor for puddles and found none. “I guess that duct tape over the hole in the roof held,” she thought out loud.”Whether the rain’s falling off the branches or from the sky, I better take the umbrella.” So, she took it and the Bible and stepped outside, smiled, stretched and headed up to the house.
Mr. Ziffel met her halfway across the clearing between the house and her camp. Redtail gave him a head-skritching and with a laugh, “It’s funny to be happy you smell like wet dog. I’m glad your perfume wore off.” Mr. Ziffel wagged his tail and walked with her up to the house.
The back door was open and Redtail heard sounds of activity inside, so she announced her presence. “Good morning George, er, Grandpa. I’ll get used to that someday.”
George said, “C’mon in. Want some eggs? Five or six is just as easy as two.”
Redtail said, “Oh, I had fish and some berr… Never mind. A couple eggs sounds great!” Redtail stepped into the kitchen and pulled out a chair, sitting down at the table.
George anticipated her breakfast acceptance and already had two places set.
Redtail asked, “Does the church sing traditional hymns or do they have a band and sing contemporary Christian radio hits?”
George said, “Well, I know they use a hymnal, but I don’t know how traditional they are, ‘cuz lots o’ times nobody knows the songs, but they still try to make a joyful noise.”
Redtail asked, “Is the preacher a hellfire and brimstone preacher or a warm fuzzy feel-good preacher?”
“Nope,” answered George, “but he can touch on both. He’ll step on toes and he preaches the Word. At least if pastor Tix is still there. It’s been a while for me.”
“Lena sounded surprised when I told her you were bringing me,” said Redtail.
George laughed, “I’ll bet she asked how you got me talked into it.”
“She sounded pleased or even relieved when I said you volunteered to take me and even got me a Bible,” said Redtail.
“Yeah, she and Frank been workin’ on me for a while to come back. I still went regular for a few months after Mae Mae died, but then I started slackin’ off. I even used that excuse about communin’ with God in the outdoors instead of set times Sundays and Wednesdays.”
Redtail lit up. “Cool! They got Wednesday stuff too?”
George said, “Wednesdays aren’t usually real exciting, but they can still be fun. First Wednesday we got a fellowship dinner… Hey, I think I’m gonna slip right back in! I said “We” …anyway, second Wednesday, is the business meeting. Third Wednesdays are women’s meeting and the deacons’ meeting. Fourth Wednesday is music and craft fellowship and when we have a fifth Wednesday, it’s family movie night. I heard a couple months back, we even started a Sunday night Bible study.”
“What do you have for youth?” asked Redtail.
“That was quite a weak spot when I was going,” answered George. “We’re such a small church and mighty top-heavy in the age-department. We got so few youth we don’t have much other than Sunday school.”
“I’m not sure why, but I got a feeling I’ve got a strong youth concern in my past, ‘cuz my mind instantly jumped into ‘we-gotta-figure-out-how-to-keep-‘em-interested-in-Jesus’ mode,” said Redtail.
George smiled. “You seemed to fit right in with The Relics –that’s what we call the homeschoolers, ‘cuz they’re based in the museum, and you sure hit it off with the hardware boys. Yeah, you might be onto something.”
“Maybe I should wait to be invited, rather than to come across as too pushy with the youth,” said Redtail.
George said, “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe someone steppin’ up is what the kids need. Aww, shoot! I just fixed yer eggs the same way I like mine without askin’. Whites are done, and the yolks are still soft.”
Redtail said, “Sounds good to me.”
George brought the pan and spatula’d Redtail’s eggs to her plate, and plopped a couple on his, too. Right about then, the toast popped up.
“Want your toast buttered?” asked George. “Notice, I asked first this time. I got a dairy background, so stuff, particularly bread, usually gets butter.”
“Oh, why not?” said Redtail. “I’m having breakfast at Grandpa’s, so I’ll have breakfast like Grandpa. Besides, I’m not even sure how I like my breakfast. Fish and berries could work, but I’m pretty sure there’s better.”
George said, “We got enough time we won’t have to rush breakfast, but we should probably get there early enough to get good parking.”
Redtail gave a questioning look. “I thought you said it was a tiny church. The lot didn’t look like parking would be a problem.”
George laughed. “I didn’t mean for the truck. I wanted to make sure I could park myself in the back row on an end.“
Redtail tried to put on her best pouty-face and Precious Moments eyes. “But… Does that mean I’m going to have to sit alone? *sniff* *sniff*”
George smiled and said, “Oh good. I saw what you tried, and I recognized it as a pout, but you ain’t all that good at it. It’s good to see you lack experience in that department.” He rolled his eyes. “OK, you pick where we sit.” And they both smiled.
George and Redtail finished their breakfast. George got up and cleared the table, saying, I’m gonna rinse all these before we leave and wash ‘em when we get back.”
Redtail asked, “Can I help?”
“Nah, I’ve pretty much got a system over the years.”
Redtail challenged and smiled. “So, you’re used to cooking for two?”
“OK,” said George jovially. “Not so much the past few years, but me and Mae Mae shared the kitchen pretty much equally. I don’t know. Sarah comes over fairly often so maybe I do stay in that culinary-practice-for-two thing.”
George looked about done, so Redtail got up, gathered her umbrella and Bible. George grabbed a beat up looking old brown Bible and out they headed.
Mr. Ziffel crawled out from under the porch and looked at George and Redtail. He gave a short ‘woof’ and wagged his tail.
Redtail said happily, “You have a good morning, too!”
Mr. Ziffel wagged his tail a few more times and crawled back under the porch as though he knew this wasn’t his trip into town.
In the truck and on the way, Redtail started humming a bluesy version of “What a Friend we Have in Jesus.” George joined in on the second verse with his vocal version of guitar entry. They threw in as much energy as they could and Redtail even belted out lyrics from time to time. They finished the song and took some exhausted breaths.
Redtail said, “I didn’t know you knew Ashley Cleveland.”
George said, “Well I didn’t figure you to be old enough to like her music. Hey, pop that glove box open.”
Redtail opened the box and found three Ashley Cleveland CDs, a Newworldson, Tal and Acacia and two Miss Angie CDs.
“I hadn’t heard of Miss Angie. What’s she sound like?” Redtail asked eagerly.
George said, “She’s got a really neat sound. Her late ‘90s stuff is kind of power-pop with lots of electronic enhancements. The musical energy level runs all over the place. Her later music has a different sort of polish to it. You can tell it’s music from an older artist, but that’s not saying her early stuff is the least bit amateurish. I guess the newer music is more artistic rather than lively pop. She’s a Missouri girl. Ha! Boy my mind wanders. She’s from Springfield, and so’s a forager friend of mine. Wanna do some foraging after church, weather permitting? I got a program tomorrow.”
Redtail said, “I gotta get a better food storage system, but yeah, that sounds like fun. Oh! I should get some salt and try to make some kimchi! Could we play some Miss Angie on the way?”
“Sure, hand me that Triumphantine album,” said George.
George popped the CD in the player and the music began.
Redtail exclaimed, “Oh wow! I love it already! It’s got an ethereal feel to it.”
George said, “Lots of others are much livelier.”
Redtail said, “Oh, this is neat stuff!”
“It gets even ‘Neater Cooler’,” replied George with a smile.
“What?” puzzled Redtail.
“Sorry, humor attempt. Look at the case,” said George.
Redtail scanned the case, “OK, “Neater Cooler” is quite literal.”
As they pulled into the parking lot, George glanced at the time. “We’re plenty early. I wanted to let the song play out before shutting off the truck.”
Redtail said, “Oh good. I like her. How many albums does she have?”
George said, “Only three that I know of, but now I want to double-check.”
Redtail commented about the song, “I’m glad He got me when I was young.”
George said, “You’re a ways from being old, but yeah, it can be rough to make a change as you get older and older.”
The song ended and George shut off the truck before track two started. He said, “Well, it looks like this is it.”
Redtail said in a preschool-teacher voice, “No need to be scared, Grandpa. I’ll be right with you.”
They both laughed as they got out of the truck. Redtail glanced at George as he closed the door and closed hers, too, without locking. George said, “I don’t usually bother locking here in Wilder. Maybe I’m too trusting.”
So they both walked into the church.
Pastor Tix gave them a welcome by giving George a hard time right from the start. “Hi George! Wow, you’ve grown. Why, when I last saw you, you were just a little guy…”
“Ya ya ya,” interrupted George with a smile and a handshake. George looked at Redtail and said, “See? It’s been a while.”
Pastor Tix asked, “And who is this young lady?”
George said, “This is RT or Redtail Scot, my granddaughter.”
Pastor Tix raised an eyebrow.
“Adopted granddaughter,” clarified George.
“Well, we’re glad to have you join us, Redtail,” said Pastor Tix.
“Why thank you,” said Redtail. “I’m hoping it’ll be lots more often in the future.”