Close To You
“Oh, Auntie Emm,” JR cried. “My wedding is ruined!”
“Sweetheart, it’s only January, how is your wedding ruined,” Emmett asked the distraught sounding young lady.
“The gazebo is buried! What if the snow never melts? What if the lawn becomes a swamp?! What if…..,” cried JR.
“Honey, listen to your Auntie Emm,” Emmett began. “Are you listening?” Emmett heard JR’s sobs calming into sniffles. So, he took a chance that the young woman was actually prepared to listen.
“Sweetheart, at present the world may look like a winter wonderland but the snow will melt. Your Uncle John knows how to build things; the gazebo will be just fine. And if it needs any fine tuning, Gordon is just across the road. I’m sure he and John are planning to inspect all the homes and buildings in the Village. I spoke with Gordon the other day before the storm hit; he told me that as soon as the streets are plowed, his crews will be out there like ants on a cupcake. So don’t you worry about anything including the gazebo. As for your lawn and backyard, you know that your Uncle Brian knows a thing or two about making things grow. As soon as the snow melts, I’m sure he’ll have Todd out there lickety-split to check things out. Okay?”
“Okay,” JR stated with a few sniffles. “You’re sure?”
“I’m sure. And as soon as the streets are safe I’ll come by and we’ll talk wedding strategy. How does that sound?”
“Oh yes! Thank you, Auntie Emm.”
“You’re very welcome. Now you give your woman a big hug and a kiss from me and I’ll see you both soon. All right?”
“Yes! And thank you. Bye!”
“Is JR all right?” Drew asked as he brought a couple of mugs of coffee into their bedroom. He handed one to Emm as he sat himself down on their bed next to him.
“She’ll be fine,” Emmett replied before taking a much needed sip of his morning coffee. “Mmm, I needed that. Thank you, honey,” Emm said as he gave Drew a kiss. “Just some pre-wedding jitters and concerns over the current state of her backyard.”
“She’s a normal young lady, going through normal wedding stuff,” Drew commented.
“Exactly. Something just occurred to me. JR will be the first of the kids to get married,” said Emm.
“What about Hunter?”
“Oh, you’re right. But it’s almost like he’s always been a part of our family like Justin. They’re only a few years apart in age,” Emm pondered. “And he and his man did what we did, just ran off and got hitched. JR’s wedding will be a proper wedding with a bridesmaid and everything,” Emm said a smile. “I’m looking forward to it.”
“So am I, but not right now.”
“Right now I’m looking forward to another snowy morning in bed with my man,” said Drew as he took their coffee mugs to put them out of harm’s way then gave Emm a kiss.
“Oooo, time for a little touch football,” Emm asked with a wide grin.
“Touchdown!” Drew exclaimed as he tackled his man.
As everyone got ready to start clearing the lane, Bree spoke quietly to her older father.
“I guess we can do that, Squirt,” Brian replied as he pulled on his parka and boots. “Bundle up and we can go,” Brian instructed. “Ready?” he asked after a couple of minutes.
Bree nodded and picked up the bag of carrots that she had taken out of the fridge.
“Then let’s go.”
The twosome went out through the sun porch and waded through some snow that had piled up around the arbor. Next they passed through the greenhouse which was easy going and managed to struggle to the path up to Debbie’s. The path had been mostly cleared by Peter.
“Looks like Peter did a good job, but it’s still drifting in a bit,” Brian observed. “I wonder if he was able to do anything with the back door.”
“I don’t think so,” Bree replied. “When I talked to Grandma Debbie a few minutes ago, they still couldn’t get out the back.”
“You sure you want to spend the morning with Debbie and Carl?”
“I’m sure. We’re making soup.”
“Yep, with some of the ham Uncle John brought over.”
“Hmm,” Brian replied.
“What?” Bree asked as she knocked on the door of the small cottage.
“Nothing,” Brian said with a shake of his head. “I’m heading back, so good luck.”
“Why do I need good luck?” Bree asked with a frown as her father was already halfway down the path.
Debbie opened the door and Brian gave them both a quick wave as he scurried back to the greenhouse.
“There’s my girl,” Deb said as she gave Bree a hug. “What’s up with that ass…father of yours? Doesn’t even have time to say hello?” Debbie asked quizzically.
“He’s going to help the others. They have the plowing and shoveling brigades all ready.”
Debbie’s eyebrow shot up all of a sudden. She stared up the lane as if trying to picture something. Then it hit her. “Did you tell your father that we’re making soup?” Debbie asked.
“Yeah, why?” Bree asked in return.
“I knew it.”
“Knew what? And can we go inside? It’s freezing out here.”
With one more look up the lane, Debbie and Bree went inside and headed for the kitchen.
“I’ve had the peas soaking overnight,” Debbie explained as she lifted a big pot from the sink.
“Peas?” Bree queried. “I thought you wanted me to bring carrots,” she added as she deposited the bag of carrots on the counter and took off her coat, hat and mitts.
“We need both.”
“We need to chop onions, celery and carrots. Which ones would you like to start with?” Debbie asked.
“Carrots,” Bree responded not wanting to do the onions.
“I’ll do the onion,” Debbie said. “Nobody likes doing them.”
Bree giggled. “You got that right.”
They both started chopping.
A while later the front door opened and Peter appeared, knocking off whatever snow he could from his boots before he stepped inside.
“Have you got to the back door yet?” Debbie called out to him.
“If I had, don’t you think I would have come in that way?” Peter snarked.
“Don’t get smart with me, young man,” Debbie reprimanded.
“Sorry, I’m just cold and thirsty and hungry. I have another six feet or so to dig through before I get to the door.” Peter sighed wearily.
“You’re making good progress,” Debbie said, her voice softening as she realized how hard Peter had been working. “Take off your coat, sit down with us and have a muffin. “I’ll make some hot chocolate to go with it.”
“Thanks,” Peter said gratefully. He needed a rest.
“Can you help me with something first?” Debbie asked Peter.
Peter heaved a sigh but answered, “What?”
“I’ve been soaking the peas for the soup and they need to be drained. The pot’s pretty heavy.”
“Peas?” Peter asked.
“Oh for fuck’s sake, yes. Peas! Will you do this for me or not?”
“Sure,” Peter said, kind of proud that Debbie thought he was strong enough to lift something for her.
Debbie showed him how to drain the big pot and then set it back on the stove. They added the carrots, celery and onion and filled the pot about half full of water. She got the huge hambone from the fridge. It still had lots of meat on the bone. She carefully placed it in the pot with the other things they had added.
“Almost done,” she told them. “Bree, salt! Peter, pepper.” Then she gave a cackle. “Peter Piper picked a pack of pickled peppers.”
“What the hell is that?” Peter demanded.
“Just an old rhyme. I thought it fit perfectly,” Debbie said with a grin.
Bree giggled and Peter shook his head.
“Almost done,” Debbie told them as she added some thyme and a bay leaf.
“What was that last thing?” Bree asked. “It looked sharp.”
“That’s dried bay leaf. They are kind of sharp. You don’t eat them.”
“Then why is it going in the soup?”
“It adds flavor, but you take it out at the end.”
Bree looked skeptical and Peter merely slumped in a chair and asked when he might get some muffins and hot chocolate before he died of starvation.
“Coming right up,” Deb said as she put the lid on the pot and cranked up the heat to boil.
As Bree, Peter, Carl and Debbie enjoyed their muffins and hot chocolate, the soup simmered on the stove.
“How long does this soup take?” Bree asked after a while.
“We’re just about ready to take the bone out and pull all the meat off it,” Debbie explained.
“The whole thing sounds gross,” Peter piped in.
Debbie gave him a glare and said, “Wait and see.”
“As long as I don’t have to eat it,” Peter said.
“Maybe you’d like to go hungry,” Debbie stated.
“I’m good with muffins,” Peter said with a grin. “I better get back outside and finish shoveling.”
“Good idea,” Carl said, hoping to avoid more conflict.
When Peter left, Debbie fished the bone out of the soup and gave the contents of the pot a good stir. “As soon as the bone cools down a bit we can get all the meat off the bone,” Debbie explained.
“And is it done then?” Bree asked.
“Not yet. The meat goes back in and it simmers for a bit longer until all the vegetables are cooked and all the flavors have blended together.”
“And then we take the bay leaf out, right?”
“Right, kiddo,” Debbie said with a grin.
Bree and Debbie cleaned the bone and chopped the meat into bite sized pieces before putting the meat back in the pot.
“How much longer?” Bree asked. She would like to go back home soon.
“Shouldn’t be too much longer.”
Debbie smiled. “You know, I haven’t made this soup in a long time.”
“Why not?” Bree asked.
“I made it years ago with a recipe I found somewhere. Michael and your father didn’t like it much. It was sort of … awful, I have to admit. So I didn’t make it again for a long time. Then someone gave me this recipe and it turned out great.”
“I hope our soup turns out great,” Bree said.
Debbie liked that Bree was taking ownership for the soup.
Just then there was a knock on the back door of the cottage and Peter’s smiling face looked in at them. Bree rushed over and opened the door even though it was quite stiff from the cold and snow. “You made it,” Bree said proudly.
“Come in and warm up. The soup’s almost ready.”
“I’d like something warm, but I’m not sure that soup is what I want.”
“Debbie says it’s good.”
“Debbie says everything is good.”
“Debbie is right here,” Debbie stated. “And it is good. Get inside and close that door. Were you born in a barn?”
“I don’t think so,” Peter replied as he closed the door. He rubbed his hands together after he took off his gloves. “I’m beat.”
“I bet you are,” Debbie admitted. “You did a great job. Carl and I really appreciate it.”
A smile crossed Peter’s face. “Thanks, I appreciate that. I’m going to go change my clothes and have a quick shower. That was hard work. I’m all sweaty.”
“Well done, Peter,” Carl said with a clap to Peter’s back.
Peter’s face was smiling as he headed to the shower.
“Come down for a bowl of soup when you’re done,” Debbie called out as she sat down to relax for a bit.
Peter’s face turned from smiling to disgusted, but he said nothing.
After some time, Debbie got up to stir the soup. She had a taste then added a bit more salt and pepper before fishing out the bay leaf. She took out four bowls and ladled soup into each of them. “Come have some soup,” Debbie yelled as she set the bowls on the table.
Carl and Bree took their seats at the table.
“Peter,” Debbie called.
“Coming,” was the slow reply. “It’s green,” Peter said when he looked into the bowl as he sat down at the table.
“That’s because of the split peas,” Debbie said.
“I don’t think I like split peas.”
“Just try the fucking soup,” Debbie ordered.
Everyone picked up their spoon and took a sip of soup.
“Great,” said Carl.
“It’s good,” said Bree.
They all looked expectantly at Peter. “It’s actually not bad,” Peter admitted. It wasn’t long until his bowl was empty.
Debbie smiled. “More?” she asked him.
“I could eat another bowl.” Debbie quickly provided a full bowl for him. “Who would have thunk it?” Peter said with a smile. “It’s green and it’s really good, and filling.”
“I like it too, Grandma Debbie.”
“I’m glad you all approve.” Debbie beamed with pride.
Soon Bree was bundled up and ready to make her way up the now cleared lane to the conjoined cottages. She had a big container of soup to take with her for the snow brigade who had made good progress against the white stuff.
After three hours of plowing and shoveling, the lane was cleared for vehicles and it was possible to get into and out of all the cottages. The exhausted group of workers met in the sun porch. Brian had made a huge pot of hot coffee for them. Justin had a pot of hot cocoa for the non-coffee drinkers. They all needed to warm up and relax for a while. Justin had thawed a batch of chili that had been frozen for just such an emergency. It was heating up on the stove.
“Daddy, Dada,” Bree called as she entered the cottage.
“Hey, Squirt,” Brian said as he got up to give her a hug.
“Grandma Debbie sent you all some split pea soup to help you warm up,” Bree said holding up the container of soup. “It’s still warm.”
“I’ll have some,” John said.
“Me too,” George chimed in getting nods from everyone else, except Brian.
Soon Justin and Bobby had doled out soup for everyone. There were oohs and ahs of enjoyment as everyone tasted Debbie’s soup. Brian sat looking at his bowl and not touching it.
“Have some, Dada,” Bree said. “I helped make it and it’s really good.”
“I’ve had Deb’s split pea soup before. I’ll pass, thank you very much.”
“Just taste it, Dada, please,” Bree begged. “One sip.” She batted her eyelashes at him.
Brian groaned. “Okay, one sip,” he said dipping his spoon in the soup and licking a small bit off the end of the spoon. “I’ll be damned! It’s not bad,” he admitted. He took another spoonful. “It must be because of that ham we cooked for her.”
“Probably, Dada,” Bree agreed with a smile. “But it might be the new recipe she has.”
“Whatever,” said Brian. “I’ll have some more.”
Everyone grinned as Brian reluctantly enjoyed his soup.
“Where are you two going,” Brian asked his brother and brother-in-law, later that afternoon. They were dressed up to go back outside.
“Todd called; he plowed out the streets by the tollhouse now he’s headed our way. We’re going to meet up with him to clear up our turn off,” John explained. The county considered it private land so they only did a cursory job.
“Then we’re going to head over to Ashley’s house. If we have time we’ll go over to the school,” John said.
“It’ll be dark soon, that may have to wait until the morning,” Bobby advised. John and Brian nodded in agreement.
“Always wise to listen to your lawyer,” Brian commented as the boys headed out. “Be careful, I will not be responsible for the consequences if I have to inform your parents about any accidents,” Brian warned. John rolled his eyes as Bobby grinned but Brian knew they’d take his warning seriously.
“Dada, did I hear Ashley’s name?” Bree asked as she came out of her room.
“Yes, you did, Uncle John and Todd are going to plow out her house,” Brian told her.
“Do you think maybe we can have a sleepover?”
“Possibly, it depends on a few factors including the new expected storm but I’ll talk it over with your Daddy,” Brian said. Bree knew her father never lied so she gave him a smile.
“What we really should be doing is getting the salt spreaders moving,” Brian said to himself.
“Not to worry there, big guy,” said Justin as he walked into the room. “Carl, Rachel, and I have that all organized. While you guys were heaving snow, Rachel and I filled the spreaders. They’re in the antechamber of the greenhouse ready to go. Rachel and I are meeting Carl now,” Justin explained.
“Want help,” Brian asked.
“Nope, we’ve got it covered. You just keep the home fires burning. You guys did enough,” said Justin. Brian gave his spouse a hug then kissed his hat covered head and watched him go.
“Well, you heard the man, let’s go keep the home fires burning,” Brian stated as he decided to light a fire in the fireplace.
“How do we do this?” Rachel asked as she looked up and down their long lane.
“The greenhouse is about in the middle of the lane, let’s go toward the gate first. I’m sure we’re going to need more salt by then,” Justin said.
“Peter can help,” Carl said as he took out his phone. “We’ll just need him to use the wheelbarrow to bring us more salt.”
They worked out their plan of attack then headed out of the greenhouse. A couple of hours later, the lane and the road leading to the turnoff were heavily salted.
“What about the new storm, don’t we have to do this again after that one?” Peter asked as they we’re stowing away the salters back into the antechamber.
“Good question,” said Carl. “We might but the salt will make John’s work plowing a lot easier as well as ours,” Carl promised. The salt brigade said their goodbyes then walked back to their homes.
Just after dark, the quiet lane rumbled as John and Bobby came home. John decided to leave his truck close to Rachel and George’s house instead of in his own driveway, for easier access. The next storm was due in a couple of days. The boys trudged home where they were met with a nice fire in their fireplace and two bowls of Debbie’s soup.
“This is delicious,” Bobby exclaimed as he sopped up the remainder of his soup with a piece of bread.
“Hits the spot,” John mumbled around a spoon.
“Uncle John, did you see Ashley?” Bree asked as she set out some chili for her uncles.
“Yes, we did. She and her mom are just fine. Mrs. St. John said school will remain closed for a while yet even though the main streets are mostly cleared. A lot of kids live on smaller lanes. It may take a while before those roads are cleared. It’s safer to keep online teaching,” John said.
“Oh,” said Bree, a little disappointed. She liked school and missed her friends.
“Mrs. St. John also suggested that if the weather stays true to pattern, I can pick up Ashley after school on Friday and she can spend the weekend. Would you like that?” John asked.
“Oh yes, Uncle John. Thank you!” Bree jumped up to give her uncle a big hug then ran off to check with her dads.
“You’ve made that little girl very happy,” Bobby commented.
“That’s what uncles are for,” John stated with a wink to his spouse. “Is there any more soup or chili?” he asked.