“Why doan chu jes kill it and then take the juevos … eggs? No more ouches. Them ducks jes nasty.”
I looked at Miguel and asked him, “What makes the eggs?”
I got a look like he thought I was crazy. “Huh?”
I tried to explain why I asked even though to me it was obvious. “What makes the eggs? The duck. If I kill the duck to take these eggs – just because she’s cranky – then she won’t make eggs for me to take another time.”
He gave me a funny look and then I could tell that the switch flipped and he got it. “Ohhh. So you get bit but not so bad ‘cause it gives you eggs. I get it now.”
“Good. ‘Cause I don’t want you boys coming down and killing the ducks just ‘cause you’re hungry. I said it once already and Carlos still did it anyway. I’ll feed all of you … but only if all of you follow the rules.”
The rules. It was kinda hard to get the boys to understand new rules, especially ‘cause they complained about the ones they already had to follow. Doubly especially because the new rules were coming from a girl. But after a couple of days I earned their respect and it wasn’t so bad. Most of the time. Teaching them not to pee all over the place was still a chore but Kevyn finally got them to understand … but only after he said if they couldn’t follow the rules I wouldn’t cook. I don’t care what language they speak or where they’re from, boys will do just about anything to keep their belly from growling. The fact that I could feed them from “weeds” and “monsters” ranked pretty high though eventually I was able to convince them that there weren’t any monsters in the woods except for puss brains and they weren’t really monsters but sick people that had no self-control. The more they understood something the less they feared it … just like me.
I tried to show them stuff that would help them understand things. It wasn’t always easy and I had to get rough with them a few times until they understood I wasn’t kidding that not all mushrooms and berries were good to eat. I told them to stick with the things that I showed them and leave the rest alone, they’d stay alive longer that way.
We ate a lot of cattail hash but that was ok. It filled the corners and so long as it had a little taste of meat in it they seemed to not mind too much learning to eat new things. The yampa root was something else that helped keep us all fed; and keeping us all fed was really turning into work. But it was worth having to get creative. Keeping the boys fed helped Kevyn maintain control and teach them tactics and stuff they didn’t get in training what little bit of time they were at their bases. That kept Kevyn from being so aggravated all the time … at the boys for sitting around doing nothing but getting into trouble and because of worrying over the things that put him in charge of them in the first place.
And since Kevyn wasn’t aggravated or sensitive about his leadership stuff I was able to get some work out of the boys that helped me out. I let them go on thinking that’s all they were doing but pretty quickly Kevyn figured out what was up. At least he wasn’t bent out of shape over it.
He came over to sit near where I was preparing yet another meal to fill the bottomless pits. “You know they call you Little Sister.”
I shrugged. “I kinda figured. Ralphealito told me what Hermanita meant. It’s no big deal. I’m short. The more I squawk about it the more they’ll pick at me over it.”
“So it doesn’t bother you?”
Thinking it over I told him, “Not as long as they don’t get too silly. Too silly will bother me and I’ll knock them on their tail. I don’t want to hurt their boy pride so I’ll ignore it if I can. They just better not make it so I can’t ignore it.”
“Yeah ok. Just checking. Thing is Ralph … well, he gets it even if the others haven’t figured it out yet. Or maybe some of them have and that’s why they call you Sister. They know someplace in their heads that you’re taking care of them … maybe just not how much.”
“Ralph came to me and we talked. It’s pretty obvious once you see it. You’re teaching them survival skills … the kind that the militia doesn’t have time to teach them, that they are supposed to learn on the hoof out here in the bush only there’s been no time to learn that stuff.”
Rather than deny it I told him, “It’s a trade. They help me stock up for winter quarters and I teach them stuff in exchange. Even stevens.”
He half-grinned. “Sure. And we’ll just keep letting ‘em think that. If they don’t think of it as lessons then they won’t fight learning it. Thing is … it’s a good idea. One of the things that I worry about is one of the ‘em getting lost or whatever … getting cut off from the group. These guys do better than good in an urban setting but out here … they’re just about nothing but bait. It’s what some of the adult militia groups use us for. If my guys had to make it on their own without back up or resupplies they’d be toast real fast. I’m … I’m not real sure I would have been able to take care of them all if we hadn’t found your camp.”
“Look it’s no big deal. I had people that taught me. I guess … I guess I’m paying it forward. Besides it helps me too. More of us that can take care of ourselves the fewer of us get turned into puss brain chow.” Getting uncomfortable with the touchy feely carp I added, “Let’s just drop it ok?”
“Sure. Just … wanted you to know that at least me and Ralph see it … and … and appreciate it.”
I shrugged and returned to what I had been doing and Kevyn went off to break up an argument that turned out to be about some bet over a race between beetles of all things. Boys. Geez.
What I had been doing is taking the arrowroots and yampa roots the boys had helped gather about a half mile upstream, peeling them, cubing them, and then cooking them in boiling, salted water. After they cooked tender I drained them and then cooked them in a dry pan to evaporate the excess liquid that was left; didn’t take long, only about a minute with the pan over the flame. Then I took them off the fire and added a little milk made from my dwindling powdered milk supply, a little olive oil since I was out of butter powder, and then two tablespoons of mashed wild horseradish the boys had found without my help. I creamed all of that together to the consistency of mashed potatoes. It would have been better with real cream and butter but I’ve learned to be thankful for what I do have and work with it.
For our meal the boys had been responsible for catching their meat and since they all choose to practice snares and got squirrels I showed them how to clean and spit roast their catch, save the drippings, and make a kind of pan gravy with it. It wasn’t anything my mother would have ever fixed but no one went to bed hungry, at least not that night.