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Rafe put a record on the record player and Dodger tended the fire, but for the most part, they enjoyed a time of tranquil companionship.
Suddenly, Rafe asked, "What's your full name?"
"Why?" Dodger asked with a grin.
"I'm just curious." Rafe said as he laid his book in his lap.
"Desmond Matthew Tribodeaux." Dodger said seriously.
Rafe thought for a moment, then said, "I like it."
"It took me half a year to learn how to spell it." Dodger said with a chuckle.
"Still, it has character." Rafe said casually.
"I always felt like my parents ran out of good names before they got to me." Dodger said frankly.
"How so?" Rafe asked with interest.
"David, Darryl, Donny, Danny, Duncan... then me, Desmond." Dodger said with a sour look.
"Davids are a dime a dozen, but Desmonds are rare and special." Rafe said with a grin.
"I'll take your word for it." Dodger chuckled.
"If you're sixteen, and there's five years between you and your next older sister, then wouldn't that mean that all your brothers and sisters are adults now?" Rafe asked curiously.
"Yes. At least, legally." Dodger said with a hesitant expression.
"Oh. Not a bright bunch, I take it." Rafe asked slowly.
"Well, no. Not really. And add to it that they were all pulled out of school when they finished sixth grade." Dodger said thoughtfully. "Two of my sisters got married and moved away, but one of them came back with a baby latched on and another in the oven. Her husband ran off with a fifteen year old hitchhiker from Pittsburgh." Dodger said frankly.
"Ouch. And you said that your family barely had enough food as it was." Rafe said with a wince.
"Yeah. But even in good years we didn't usually have enough to make it all the way through the winter without having to do without something." Dodger said seriously.
"It sounds like a tough life." Rafe said frankly.
"Yeah. But when that's the only life you know, that's just the way it is." Dodger said honestly.
"How was it for you?" Rafe asked cautiously.
"Mind numbingly endless." Dodger said frankly. "Every day was filled with the same thing over and over without any promise of it ever ending."
"It sounds like a hopeless existence." Rafe said thoughtfully.
"Hopeless." Dodger said with a nod. "That's exactly how it felt."
Rafe shook his head in wonder.
"Cooking and cleaning up after everyone was a full time job for two of us. But I'm sure mom's got Donna to help her, now that I'm gone." Dodger said thoughtfully.
"Donna?" Rafe asked curiously.
"The one with the babies." Dodger explained simply.
"I'm glad you're out of that." Rafe said with a smile at Dodger.
"So am I." Dodger said with a smile in return.
* * * * *
The pair began reading again, and both enjoyed the relaxation of listening to music.
Suddenly, Rafe asked, "Do you like stew?"
"Um, sure. I love it." Dodger said with surprise at the suddenness of the question.
"I think I'd like to cook some stew over the fire today." Rafe said with a grin.
"Hey, that sounds good." Dodger said happily.
"I'll get the cast iron kettle out if you'll start on the vegetables." Rafe said as he got up from his chair.
"I'm on it." Dodger said, as he hurried into the kitchen.
Rafe was right behind him and grabbed a can of shortening and some paper towels.
After washing and chunking up some carrots, potatoes and celery, Dodger looked around but couldn't find any onions.
"Rafe, where are the onions?" Dodger called into the living room.
"I don't have any fresh. Use the cocktail onions in the cabinet. A jar should do it." Rafe said as he greased the inside of the cast iron pot.
"I'm just about done with the vegetables then, what else can I do?" Dodger asked from the kitchen doorway.
"There's a roast in the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. You can cube it up, then roll it in flour. By the time you're done with that, I should be ready for it." Rafe said as he hung the kettle on a swing arm in the fireplace.
"Salt and pepper in the flour?" Dodger asked curiously.
"Yes, but not much. Figure that the cast iron is going to add a little bit of it's own seasoning." Rafe said with a grin.
"Right." Dodger said with a chuckle.
* * * * *
"Are you ready for this?" Dodger asked as he brought the floured meat to the fireplace.
"Yes. I think it's hot enough, I should be able to brown it just right." Rafe said happily.
"Is there anything else I can get while you're doing that?" Dodger asked curiously.
"Yes. About a gallon of water." Rafe said simply.
"I'll be right back." Dodger said with a smile.
* * * * *
"Here's the water... that smells good." Dodger said with a grin.
"It only gets better from here." Rafe said happily, then started adding the water to the sizzling meat.
"When will you be ready for the vegetables?"� Dodger asked curiously.
"Not for a good while. Right now I add the water and the seasoning, then about an hour before we eat, I'll add the vegetables." Rafe said seriously.
"Then why did you have me get them ready so early?" Dodger asked cautiously.
"Because we're going to be making biscuits and cornbread. This way we won't have to fool with the vegetables when we have other things that we need to do." Rafe said, as though it were obvious.
"Biscuits AND cornbread?" Dodger asked cautiously.
"Yes. For a long time, every time I would make stew I would make either biscuits or cornbread and every single time, I felt like I had picked the wrong one. Then one day I realized, it wasn't a case of either/or. I made both and it was perfection." Rafe said happily.
"Well, I certainly can't argue with logic like that." Dodger said with a chuckle.
"I hope you won't think me too much of a city boy, but I'm going to make the biscuits and cornbread in the oven. I have a dutch oven, but no matter what I do, I always burn the biscuits."
Dodger chuckled and said, "That's fine, Rafe. We used an oven back home. I hate to think what it would take to cook enough to feed my bottomless pit of a family if I had to cook everything over the fire."
"Let me get to seasoning this, then I'll start on the biscuits." Rafe said seriously.
"Can I help?" Dodger asked hopefully.
"Absolutely. In fact, I'm counting on you." Rafe said, then took the empty water jug into the kitchen.
* * * * *
Dodger and Rafe worked well as a team making baking powder biscuits from scratch.
"This is going to make a LOT of biscuits." Dodger said as he realized just how much they were making.
"I want to have some for tomorrow." Rafe said casually. "I'm planning on making sausage gravy in the morning."
"I don't think having enough is going to be a problem." Dodger said hesitantly, then got back to cutting shortening into the flour with a pastry fork.
When the dough was finished, folded about a dozen times and finally rolled and cut into biscuits, Dodger asked, "Are these ready to go into the oven?"
"No. The refrigerator." Rafe said absently.
"You're kidding!" Dodger said with surprise.
"No. You refrigerate them for about two hours, then take them out and turn on the oven. When the oven is hot, it's time to put them in." Rafe said seriously.
"Why?" Dodger asked in confusion.
Rafe shrugged, then said, "That's just the way you do it."
"That's not the way I've ever done it." Dodger countered.
"Next time, we'll do it your way and see if it makes a difference." Rafe said simply.
"Okay." Dodger agreed, then put the pan of biscuits in the refrigerator.
"Are you ready for some lunch?" Rafe asked as he wiped down the counter where they had rolled out the biscuits.
"I thought we were going to be having the beef stew for lunch." Dodger said cautiously.
"Oh no, it won't be ready. The stew has to have time to stew." Rafe said with a grin.
"What's for lunch, then?" Dodger asked curiously.
"I don't know. Why don't you pick?" Rafe said happily.
"Okay. I will." Dodger said with a smile.
"While you're doing that, I'll go check on the fire." Rafe said, then hurried out of the kitchen.
Dodger smiled, then started looking through cupboards to see what they had to make a light lunch.
* * * * *
After a nice lunch of fried ham and egg sandwiches, the pair went into the living room to settle down by the fire and read some more.
"Are you about ready to start on the cornbread?" Rafe asked, seemingly out of nowhere.
"Sure. You'll have to tell me what to do." Dodger said frankly, then cautiously added, "I've made cornbread all my life, but I'm betting that you do it different from me."
"Probably." Rafe said, then put down his book and started walking toward the kitchen.
Dodger happily followed, then realized that he was really enjoying cooking.
"Hold on, you're putting corn in it?" Dodger asked hesitantly.
"It's CORNbread, isn't it?" Rafe asked with a smile.
"Yeah, I thought that was because it's made with cornmeal." Dodger said slowly.
"The cornbread pans are in the drawer under the oven. If you'll grease them, I'll finish this up." Rafe said with a grin.
After a moment of looking through the drawer, Dodger looked up and said, "You have cornbread pans in the shape of ears of corn?"
"Yeah. What else?" Rafe asked curiously.
"We always used a cake pan." Dodger said frankly.
"Do you like the crusty edges on your cornbread?" Rafe asked seriously.
"Oh yeah. That's the best part." Dodger said with a smile.
"Well, this way, every piece has those crusty edges."
"Okay. I can't wait." Dodger said happily.
"Just slop the grease around in there. More grease means more crispy."
"You don't have to tell me twice." Dodger said with determination.
"While you're doing that, I'm going to add the vegetables to the stew. This batter needs to rest for a few minutes before it can be used."
Dodger shook his head, never having heard of such a thing as letting dough and batter 'rest'.
* * * * *
"Are we ready to do some cooking?" Rafe asked as he walked back into the kitchen with the bowl that had been holding the vegetables.
"I've been ready since this morning." Dodger said honestly.
"Well, the biscuits cook a little bit longer than the cornbread, so we'll need to put them in now, then fill the cornbread pans. In about five minutes, we'll put the cornbread in and everything should be ready to come out at the same time." Rafe said with a smile.
"I think I see what you mean about doing the vegetables early." Dodger said seriously.
"Yeah. Go ahead and put the biscuits in."
Dodger nodded, then put the pan of biscuits into the oven.
"Would you like to dip batter or wash dishes?" Rafe asked as he paused for a moment.
Dodger considered, then said, "Dishes, I think."
"Well, if you'll get started, I'll have the cornbread bowl for you in just a few minutes." Rafe said in concentration as he dipped spoonfuls of batter into the cornbread pans.
"I think we're getting the hang of this teamwork thing." Dodger said happily.
* * * * *
"The biscuits and cornbread should be ready to come out. Sit them on the stove and let them rest for about ten minutes." Rafe said seriously.
"What does that do?" Dodger asked curiously.
"It gives the bread time to firm up, so it won't be as likely to crumble when you pick it up." Rafe said casually.
Dodger nodded, then pulled out the pan of biscuits.
"That looks GOOD." Dodger said with a hungry smile.
"I think so, too." Rafe said with a grin.
"Wow, the cornbread looks nice, too. They're perfectly browned." Dodger said in an impressed voice.
"It's a feast for the eyes. But the real test will be to find out if it's edible." Rafe said with a grin.
"I'm not worried about that. Anything that looks this good has to taste good." Dodger said frankly.
"All we can do is wait on this. Why don't we go check on the stew?" Rafe asked casually.
"I'm right behind you." Dodger said happily.
"Bring a spoon." Rafe said with a grin.
"Oh yeah!" Dodger said, then grabbed a table spoon from the silverware drawer.
* * * * *
"Oh Rafe, that's incredible!" Dodger said after tasting the stew.
"It's the cast iron." Rafe said simply. "You could make exactly the same recipe on the stove and it wouldn't taste nearly as good."
"I don't even want to find out. I think I'm spoiled for any beef stew but yours after this." Dodger said as he knelt before the fireplace.
"Well, do you think it's ready?" Rafe asked with a smile.
"If it were any closer to perfection, it couldn't exist in an imperfect world." Dodger said as he stood.
Rafe chuckled at the statement, then said, "Go set the table while I carry this in to the kitchen."
"Do you need some help carrying that?" Dodger asked with concern.
"No. I've got it. Just don't get between me and the stove." Rafe said seriously.
Dodger hurried into the kitchen and made sure that there was nothing on the stove top to get in Rafe's way.
* * * * *
"Well, what do you think of the biscuits?" Rafe asked hopefully.
"I always thought my ma could cook. But you done put her to shame." Dodger said with an exaggerated accent.
"Try the cornbread." Rafe said with a smile.
Dodger looked at it cautiously, then picked up a piece and looked at it from different angles.
"You can split it and butter it, dunk it, or crumble it into your stew." Rafe said with a smile.
"I'll try the butter first." Dodger said decisively.
Rafe waited for Dodger's reaction.
Dodger's eyes rolled up as a low groan started in his throat.
"Either you like it, or it's killing you." Rafe said with a chuckle.
"If it's killing me, I'm dying happy." Dodger finally said.
"I'm glad you like it." Rafe said with a smile.
"How'd you get it so sweet?" Dodger asked curiously.
"I added sugar." Rafe said simply.
Dodger looked at him with surprise for a moment, then shook his head in wonder.
"Don't let your stew get cold." Rafe said with a grin.
"It won't get the chance." Dodger said, then took a spoonful.
Rafe watched the look of delight on Dodger's face, then took a spoonful of his own stew.
* * * * *
"Are you okay?" Rafe asked with concern.
"You already know that I'm uncomfortable with you spending money on me. But since I promised that I wouldn't argue with you, yeah, I'm fine." Dodger said seriously.
"Try thinking about it this way." Rafe said, as he drove, "Right now, you really don't have any opportunities to earn the money that you would need to buy these things for yourself. Right?"
"Right." Dodger admitted slowly.
"But to get the opportunities, to earn the money to buy new clothes, you'll need new clothes for people to take you seriously." Rafe said carefully.
"Right." Dodger said thoughtfully.
"So, it makes sense for me to do this for you now." Rafe finished simply.
"Yeah. But for how long?" Dodger asked as he turned to look Rafe in the eyes.
"I can't tell you that right now. But it won't be for any longer than it has to be." Rafe said seriously. "I know it bothers you, so I'll do everything I can to get you to the point where you can support yourself and you don't have to depend on me or anyone else to ever take care of you again."
Dodger thought about the words for a moment, then quietly said, "I don't mind you taking care of me. It just drives me nuts that I can't take care of you too."
Rafe smiled at the response, then said, "I know, Dodger, and we'll get that fixed just as soon as we can. I promise."
* * * * *
When they arrived in town, Dodger once again had his expectations turned around on him.
He had expected Rafe to take him to some little casual, out of the way shop to do their shopping, but instead they pulled up in front of a large department store.
"I've never been in here before, but from the advertising, it looks like it should have everything you'll need." Rafe said as he got out of the car.
"Yeah." Dodger said slowly, then added, "I've never been here before, either."
"Then let's go explore." Rafe said with a smile, then led the way to the store.
* * * * *
"Is something wrong?" Dodger asked when he noticed Rafe squinting.
"These lights. I didn't expect them to be so bright." Rafe said in a pained voice.
"Well, you've been driving in the dark for a while, maybe you just need time for your eyes to adjust." Dodger said cautiously.
"Maybe." Rafe said incredulously.
* * * * *
"What do you think of this?" Dodger asked as he held up a shirt.
"The words hideous and revolting come to mind." Rafe said as he squinted at the brightly colored shirt.
"Rafe, would you feel better if we left? We can do this some other time." Dodger asked with concern.
"No. I can get through it. But would you put that eyesore away?" Rafe asked hopefully.
"Maybe they have some sunglasses. That might help." Dodger asked as he put the offensive shirt back on the rack.
"Actually, I have some here. I just don't like wearing them indoors." Rafe said seriously.
"Put them on." Dodger said firmly.
"But I don't want to look out of place." Rafe said slowly.
"Rafe, put on the damned sunglasses." Dodger said as he looked Rafe in the eyes.
After a moment, Rafe reached into his chest pocket and pulled out a clamshell case, then put on a pair of very dark sunglasses.
"Better?" Dodger asked hopefully.
"Much better." Rafe said with relief.
"Good. Because you were getting worse than my sisters at that time of the month." Dodger said, then walked to a different rack of shirts to start looking at the selection.
Rafe looked at Dodger with surprise, then broke into a smile.
* * * * *
"What do you think of this?" Rafe asked as he walked up to Dodger with a shirt.
"Hey, that's nice. Where did you find that?" Dodger asked curiously.
"Well, it suddenly dawned on me that we've been looking at the large selections in the boys department. And what we should be looking at is the small selections in the men's department." Rafe said frankly.
Dodger looked at Rafe with disbelief for a moment, then broke into a smile.
"It's over this way." Rafe said with a grin at Dodger's happiness.
* * * * *
"I didn't even think about it, but it's only a week until Christmas, isn't it?" Dodger asked as he looked at a display of Christmas decorations.
"Yes. I guess so." Rafe said noncommittally.
"You don't celebrate Christmas?" Dodger asked curiously.
"No. I never have." Rafe said frankly.
"Are you Jewish?" Dodger asked as he stopped to look at Rafe.
"No. My family just never celebrated Christian holidays." Rafe said carefully.
"Well, we celebrated the holidays, but we never went to church or anything like that." Dodger said casually, then looked at Rafe and said, "Pa."
"I'm betting he thought that sitting in church was wasting time and sitting on your ass when you should be working." Rafe said frankly.
"That's it, just about word for word." Dodger said with a chuckle.
"So, do you want to celebrate Christmas?" Rafe asked curiously.
"I'd kind of like to, if you don't have a problem with it." Dodger said seriously.
"No. I don't have any problem. I just don't think it ever occurred to me before." Rafe said frankly. "Christmas was always something that other people did."
Dodger looked around, then said, "I want to celebrate Christmas, but not like this."
"How do you mean?" Rafe asked curiously.
"Let's go over and look at the shoes and I'll tell you." Dodger said, then led the way toward the shoe department.
* * * * *
The discussion of Christmas went on from the shoe department into the coat department.
As they were walking down one of the main aisles, Dodger stopped suddenly at a display of Christmas cards.
It took a moment for Rafe to notice that Dodger wasn't at his side.
"What do you think of this?" Dodger asked as he held out a Christmas card.
After a moment to look it over, Rafe hesitantly said, "I appreciate the thought, but I really don't need something like this. I wouldn't know what to do with it."
Dodger broke into a grin, then said, "I was thinking of sending it to my family."
"Oh! Then I think it's great!" Rafe said with a smile.
Dodger slowly nodded, then put the card and it's matching envelope into the shopping cart.
* * * * *
It was Monday afternoon and Dodger was waiting anxiously for Rafe to come home from work.
Of course he was feeling a little bit lonely after spending nearly every minute of the past two days with Rafe, but there was also the fact that it was getting late. It was already dark outside and Dodger was concerned by the sound of the increasing winds.
There wasn't any snow, but the roads might be icy from the combination of the wind and cold.
He had tried to read to take his mind off of his worry, but it wasn't any use. He couldn't keep his mind focused enough to remember what he was reading, from one word to the next.
Just when he thought he couldn't stand the waiting a moment longer, he heard the garage door open.
Dodger raced out of the living room and through the kitchen and laundry room at top speed.
* * * * *
"Are you okay?" Dodger asked as he hurried into the garage.
"Yes. I'm fine." Rafe said in confusion, then recognizing the worry in Dodger's eyes, he said, "I stopped by the store for a few things, on the way home. Would you like to help me haul it in?"
"Um, yeah. I'm glad your home. I missed you." Dodger said as he tried to get himself under control.
"I missed you, too." Rafe said warmly, then opened the trunk of his car.
"What is all this stuff?" Dodger asked curiously.
"What you told me about while we were shopping the other day. I've got colored paper, glitter, glue, popcorn, cranberries, foil... I think I got everything that you mentioned." Rafe said seriously.
Dodger looked at the bags of supplies, then broke into laughter.
"What's funny?" Rafe asked with confusion. "Did I forget something?"
"This is the stuff that we need to decorate a tree... we don't have a tree." Dodger said before breaking into laughter again.
"Oh, I thought of that." Rafe said quickly.
"You did?" Dodger asked with surprise.
"Yes. I bought one of those things... it's here somewhere." Rafe said as he dug around in the pile of brown paper shopping bags. "Here it is."
Dodger looked at the box that contained a Christmas tree stand.
"Okay." Dodger said hesitantly.
"We've got about fifteen miles of trees in every direction. Just pick the one you want and it's yours." Rafe said simply.
Dodger's eyes went wide, then he broke into a grand smile.
"Help me get these things in, then we can go and find a tree before it gets too cold." Rafe said with a smile at Dodger's happiness.
Editor's Notes: Wow, we get to celebrate Christmas. That is so cool. I enjoyed having a real Christmas tree when I was young. Our family always put up the tree either Christmas Eve, or the day before that. I remember going and cutting a fresh tree every year. My favourite part was the smell of a freshly cut tree. We always took it down, the day after New Years. By that time the needles were starting to come off, and Mom didn't like to clean up the mess.
When I was a kid the silver tinsel was heavy, and hung straight down where you hung it. I think it had lead in it, so they stopped selling that kind, and started having the stuff that was made out of some kind of shiny plastic. It would get all weird, because of static electricity, and the stuff would hang there repelling whatever was hanging next to it. sometimes it hung straight out from the limb, instead of hanging down.
I also loved having lots of lights on the tree. Back then, they had lots of different colours of lights, not just three or four. They had different shades of blue and some were clear and some were painted with a flat colour. We also had a few strings of bubble lights. Those were really neat. I didn't like the twinkle lights. They didn't twinkle; they just blinked off and on, and sometimes, they would ark and make static in the radio. I hated that.
We had a lot of really delicate glass ornaments, that used to belong to my grandma, and Mom always used those first, and made sure that they were hung where everyone could see them.
After I moved out, to go to college, Mom and Dad bought one of those silly looking bottle brush things that they called an artificial tree. They would put it in the basement when the holidays were over and cover it with a sheet. They left it all decorated and just brought it upstairs each Christmas.
It wasn't really a problem for them, since I always came home for the holidays, and I still get to set up the Christmas stuff, including bringing the tree upstairs. It had absolutely no smell. It made me sad. They tried to use that stupid spray that is supposed to smell like pine trees. Yeah, right! Not even close. In fact, it actually smelled terrible.
I think I have finished my rant. It's been a while since I have thought about Christmas as a kid.
I would really enjoy a new chapter. Sir, may I please have some more?
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher