Blackbirds still sang in the dusk, and this evening's dusk covered the sky in glorious shades of purple, orange with duck-egg blue peeking out between the clouds. Soon, it would rain again, as some of the clouds in the west were "mackerel sky-not long wet, not long dry." Christine carefully walked up the wooden steps into the mud-room, sat on a small stool and took off her walking shoes. Uncle Jay had always been particular about his men and all guests not walking into the kitchen with "outside shoes". Everyone who visited had a special pair of inside shoes on a shoe-rack in the mud-room. Christine's were red slippers brought back from Japan years ago by James, when his stay there in the air-force ended. That was in 2019, the year after the Chino-Russian War, which had ended in a truce. An over-enthusiastic Chinese general had decided to invade Russia in Kyrgyzstan, opening up over a century of border disputes and diverting Russia's attention from taking over Lithuania and Poland again in the west. The war continued for two years, with one huge nuclear accident, causing the death of thousands of Chinese soldiers, virtually ending the war. American forces gathered in eastern Europe for the possible take-over by Russian of the old Soviet territories, moved as far east as possible during the conflict, but wisely stayed out of the war.
Deaths from both sides were estimated at 200,000, owing to the nuclear mishap, and China slunk back east, licking wounds and facing terrible financial depression, which ended all Chinese wealth across the world. James had been sent to Japan, just in case, as it were. But, Japan managed to stay out of any conflicts.
Christine walked into the large kitchen just as Marcus, Sam and Tom were leaving the table. These were Uncle Jay's "men", who had worked for him since Christine was a little girl. "Hi, kiddo," greeted Sam. "Blackbirds are leaving already. We are in for a cold winter. Saw flocks of geese flying south today, a full two months early." Sam bent over the table for one more sticky bun and left the room, not waiting for the young woman's reply. The three men had work to do. Christine knew the routine.
Uncle Jay did all the cooking since he lost his cook five years ago. Marianne had been a great cook, but even at the age of fifty-five, she "got up and got married" to a man from Omaha. Jay decided he could do just as well, and did. His fried chicken was famous, and he even won some blue ribbons for pies at the county fair. Jay loved to cook and his men loved to eat, so everyone was happy.
Tonight, as it was Saturday, and Jay always began Sunday brunch the night before, the meal was made up of left-overs from Thursday. Ham, potatoes, kale and lettuce salad, green beans and sticky buns for dessert served with love and care suited Christine just fine. She noticed that the wind had picked up and that maybe a storm was moving into the area.
Jay read her mind, "Storm warnings in this county until eleven." He added. "I am glad the men got the wheat in today."
Christine understood. Last year, a rare wind shear activity, a microburst, has ruined most of Jay's wheat. He had insurance, of course, but such things are a tragedy for hard-working men who rejoice in the harvest. Jay lost twenty-plus trees in the microburst, which is why the copse became almost mythical to both Christine and the uncle.
But, the early wheat harvest had begun, as Jay would begin planting winter wheat two weeks into September, or earlier this year, if the cold was settling in early. Jay's Protestant ancestors had brought winter wheat from Germany. When his father converted to Catholicism, those neighbors came over and wished him well, but never talked to him again. Those days were gone, as most of the farms around Jay were owned by corporations. Jay only knew the agents, and not the owners. In fact, one farm, about sixteen miles away, had been owned by a Chinese businessman who went broke in the war. Now, it belonged to another, American corporation. Jay knew his farm was a rarity.
Jay's heritage farm was the pride and joy of many families in the county, who could still remember the old family farms and were grateful for the one left. Christine was proud as well, and grateful, as well, that James was going to take over soon. Continuity was important to this family, in farming and in religion.
Uncle Jay drove twelve miles every Sunday to the only Tridentine Mass in the county. Most of the parishes were run by a rather liberal order, and Jay needed his "fix", as he said, of good, old time religion. James, too, was a Latin Mass person. The Latin Mass was not advertised, although most local people knew about it. It was a "secret". Christine could not get to one in the city where she had lived until her accident, but she wanted to learn about the most beautiful thing in the world, the Tridentine Mass. But, that is part of this story...