Old Folks’ Music

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July 1, 1633

"You reckon we could afford to do something special for the Fourth?" Ella Mae Jones was sipping iced chamomile tea and making faces at it at the same time. "Lord above, I wish a person could afford sugar," she muttered.

Nancy Simmons ignored the comment. Ella Mae was always griping about something. "What do you mean, do something special?"

"Well, you know Huey was born on July seventh." Ella Mae made another face at the tea. "And your boys, well, they all have summer birthdays. I was thinking we might have a barbeque. Smoke some ribs. And the corn is coming in. Corn on the cob. We could spare a few ears for a holiday, couldn't we?" Casting a look at Mildred and Regina, Ella Mae smirked a bit. "Well, for those of us who can eat corn on the cob, I mean."

Regina gritted her false teeth for a moment. "Tastes just as good when you cut it off, Ella Mae. And it's a damn sight easier to eat, too. But I figure we can probably do it. The party, I mean. Sort of combine all the boys into one big shebang. I've been saving up from the canning and I think I have enough green beans to last the winter—I could probably get enough for the extra to buy enough sugar for a cake. A yellow cake, unless one of you is holding out on cocoa."

Ella Mae, Nancy and Mildred shook their heads. "All gone the first winter," Milly mourned. "Bucky drank cocoa like it was going out of style when we couldn't get coffee. I've got a little bit of vanilla left, though. That will do for the frosting, with the cream cheese they're producing now. If we can grind the sugar down to powder, that is."

"We'll find a way." Nancy grinned. "May have to run the blender to bits, but we'll see what we can do. I can't tell you how much I'd like some real frosting, even if we have to use cream cheese instead of Crisco."

* * *

The "boys," not that they could be remotely called boys by anyone but their wives, trudged home from the bus stop, trying not to glare at the boarders.

"Ah, youth," Henry muttered. "Wish to hell I had that kind of energy."

"I wish to hell they could carry a tune in a bucket," Jerry Simmons complained. "At least what we did was music." The boarders and some young friends were experimenting with rap, of all things. In a combination of two different dialects of German and badly accented English. Mixed in was a lot of laughter and not a lot of tune. To be honest, not that much rhythm or rhyme either. The kids weren't all that good.

"Good grief." Bucky looked over at Jerry. "It's been a long time since we played, hasn't it? We all got caught up in all the hoopla . . . I haven't pulled the banjo out of the closet since, well . . . " Bucky's face creased. "Must be six years, now."

"We ought to pull the banjo and the mandolin out for that barbeque the girls are planning." Huey grinned. "Show these boys some real music. You've still got the guitar, don't you, Jer?"

"Might just do that," Bucky said, when Jerry nodded. "Might just do."

* * *

The day of the party was clear and bright. And a great deal of work. A blender can turn granulated sugar into powdered sugar. It can even turn rock sugar into powdered sugar. It's not the best way to go about it, but the girls didn't know that. A blender or food processor is made to cut, not to crush. A mortar and pestle would have probably been less work and certainly used less electricity. Still, they had powdered sugar.

"Out." Ella Mae flapped a dish towel. "Out of the kitchen, all of you." Good grief, she thought. Dealing with all these boarders could be a pain.

"Smells good." Karl, one of the youngest ones, smiled hopefully. "Very good."

"And there will be enough for everyone. Just get out of the kitchen, out from underfoot, please. We'll be eating around five. Until then, out. If you need something to do, you could always weed the garden." Ella Mae laughed as Karl scooted out the door, followed by two more young men, Johan and Peter. "Good boys," she muttered. "Good boys, all of them." She peered out the door to see that all three of them had headed for the shed and taken out hoes. "Work like the devil, even on a holiday."

Ella Mae went back to her cooking, enjoying the sounds of young people laughing at their work. Not that she didn't have plenty of her own work to do. Between them, the four families boarded fifteen of the younger miners. That took a fair bit of cooking. Not to mention all the dishwashing.

* * *

"Drat." Bucky plucked a string. "If this thing was any further out of tune . . . "

Henry grinned. "Shoulda taken better care of it, Buck." His mandolin sounded pretty good, he thought.

Bucky turned the peg a bit tighter, then tried it out. "That's got it."

"What do we remember best?" Jerry plunked at his guitar.

That took some discussing. Titles flew back and forth for a while. Just as they settled, Nancy hollered, "Come and get it."

It was a great meal. The girls had had the boarders set up the picnic tables in a line and used some old sheets for tablecloths. There was much discussion of the merits of sweet and spicy barbeque sauce. Some liked it, some didn't, but the racks of ribs disappeared, along with the pile of corn on the cob. And all the other side dishes.

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