Luke & JJ
by Greg Bowden
woke slowly to the dark, rich smell of coffee. He stretched his legs out,
curling his toes, and sleepily contemplated getting out of the warm,
comfortable bed. Some little thought nagged at a corner of his mind as he
lazily scratched his belly, but he couldn't quite make it come clear. When the
Four.... five.... six. Six! Eliot rolled out of the bed in a hurry. He pulled his pants from under the lower blanket where they had been kept warm over the cold night--a trick he had learned working in the lumber camp up north. Dressed, he didn't bother pouring the water into the wash bowl; he just plunged a cloth into the chilly jug and then rubbed it over his face.
He hit the stairs at a run. When he got to the kitchen his mother handed him a cup of steaming, black coffee.
"Can't, Ma. It's six. Cows must be hurtin' out there."
"Well just slow down there, young man. The cows are fine. Your father has already taken care of the milking chores."
Eliot turned and looked at his father who was pouring honey on a biscuit and grinning up at him.
"Well, you didn't get home until awfully late last night," he said and then broke off, raising one eyebrow. "I trust you weren't doing anything the Lord would look askance at."
"Pa," Eliot exclaimed, catching on to the game, "not in front of Ma." He glanced at his mother who was spooning scrambled eggs onto a plate which already contained succulent sausages, and who was obviously listening. He lowered his voice. "We'll talk later. I may need your advice on some little matter..." He sat and dug into the food his mother set before him.
"Don't think you men have to protect me from the ways of life," Louisa said, sitting down to her own plate. "If you'd pay attention on Wednesday nights when I read the scriptures to you, you'd know that it's all in there anyway. Besides that," she turned to Eliot with a smile, "it's most probably a mother's advice you need."
Eliot decided to change the subject before he got in too deep. "Where's Tom?"
"Down to the bakery with J.J." his father answered. "It's Tuesday."
Eliot wrinkled his brow in puzzlement for a second and then suddenly smiled. "Oh, yeah. I forgot. Tuesday's when they make those cinnamon buns he has such an intemperate liking for."
"I think, perhaps, Tom has other motives as well," Louisa said, pouring coffee.
"What do you mean, Ma? What motives?"
"Well, I think he's studying how Mr. Tomasini runs his bakery."
"Why would he be doing that?" Eliot had never understood either one of his younger brothers' interest in things not directly connected to the farm and the land. "You think he plans to open a bakery and rival with old man Tomasini? That's a laugh."
"No, son, I do not think that. And I'll thank you to show proper respect to your elders and betters when you speak of them." She gave him a sharp look, letting him know that she was still his mother, even if he was a man of twenty. "Mr. Tomasini has been very successful with his bakery and I think Tom probably wants to learn how he's done it."
"That's as may be," said her husband, "but I'll bet cinnamon buns have a lot to do with it, too." He turned to his eldest. "Come on, son, let's get to it. Your ma here has been complainin' about mud in the water. I expect we'd better go up and clean out that spring box."
"Good idea Pa," Eliot said, pushing his chair back. "I also want to look over the tank good. It has a bit of a leak up near the top.."
Louisa watched with loving eyes as her husband and her eldest son helped each other into their jackets and set out into the cold March morning. Then she turned to her own chores, humming softly to herself.
Once she had taken care of the breakfast things she made a bit of pastry and put together a rabbit pie for the mid-day meal. It was cold and drizzly out and she knew the men would want something hot and substantial. J.J. would be bringing some fresh bread from the bakery and probably some cinnamon buns--if there were any left after Tom finished with them.
With the pie ready for the oven she began her daily household chores. The time passed quickly as she tended to dusting and sweeping the rooms on the lower floor.
house, built by the
The house was constructed of adobe clay blocks which had been formed, trimmed and baked in the sun right on the property. In fact, a careful observer might notice that the floor of what was now the dairy barn still bore impressions of the molds used by the Indian workers in making the mud and straw bricks. The back part of the dairy barn was cut into the slope of the land and it was this cutting which had supplied the adobe clay for the bricks.
The outside of the house was coated with a layer of lime derived by burning large quantities of clam shells brought up from the beaches some miles to the south and west. The coating of lime served to protect the adobe bricks from the elements--especially rain. It also shown a brilliant white, causing the house to look larger than it actually was.
The interior walls had been covered with a stout cotton netting over which printed wall papers had been glued. The ceilings were treated the same way except the paper was simply white with no figures or decoration. The long wall of the parlor was an exception for it had been covered with a dark wood paneling said to have come from the Amazon jungle. Louisa doubted the veracity of the story but nonetheless enjoyed it as much as anyone.
Finished with the parlor, she went upstairs to do what might be necessary in the boy's rooms. Tom's room, on the west side of the house, was the smaller of the two bedrooms on the second floor. It was always neat, with the bed made and things always put away in their proper places.
She emptied the chamber pot into her bucket and rinsed it out with the last of the water in the wash jug. She looked forward to the warm weather when, although she wasn't supposed to know it, at night the boys relieved their bladders off the balcony, into the azalea bed, rather than into the chamber pot. After a word or two from their father several years earlier, the boys learned to take turns giving the plants a good rinse from the sprinkling can each morning. Louisa smiled to herself. The azaleas thrived on it; she'd even won a blue ribbon at the county fair with one of them. She only entered them that one time, though, because she found she couldn't rightly explain to the judges her method for obtaining such large and vigorous blooms.
She quickly dusted the books which had been carefully lined up in the window. Up here, the adobe walls of the house were little more than a foot and a half thick making the window insets ideal places for books and the other things boys couldn't seem to exist without. She looked at some of the book titles: Mercantile Techniques, Selling to the Public, Dr. Ross's Guide for Merchants. They were Tom's books, no mistake.
She glanced at the lamp and nodded to herself in satisfaction. The lamps in the house were Eliot's responsibility but Tom liked to take care of his own, keeping the wick carefully trimmed, the reservoir filled with coal oil and the chimney clear of any soot.
The little table Tom used for a desk held neat stacks of papers, a chewed pencil and one or two books with passages marked by ribbons saved from Christmas. Tom had long ago asked his mother not to dust or straighten--or even touch--his desk. That was another responsibility he took for himself.
Tom was a good boy, but very different from his older and younger brothers. He had no interest in working the land as Eliot did and no interest in learning a trade either. He often kidded his younger brother J.J. about being an apprentice baker, at times almost cruelly. Sometimes Louisa worried about Tom, about his preoccupation with money and what she sometimes thought was a wild side to him. He was polite and loving but sometimes she saw something else in him, something she couldn't seem to define for herself, but something she didn't like.
Tom was different in temperament, too, liking to spend time by himself rather than joining into the good natured and sometimes boisterous games played by his older and younger brothers. His grandmother, when she was still alive, had called him cold but Louisa preferred to think of him as simply being aloof. In any case, he was also a son to be proud of, as were the other two.
She left Tom's room and went down the hall to the room Eliot and J.J. shared, stopping to raise the weights on the beautiful old clock that had come down from her mother. She'd hung the clock up here because it seemed that every time one of the boys was late for his chores the excuse was that he hadn't been able to hear the grandfather's clock down in the parlor. That excuse no longer obtained.
Eliot and J.J.'s room was not nearly as neat as Tom's and, in fact, was not nearly as neat as it had been when Eliot was away, living in the lumber camp. At least, she thought, straightening the bedclothes, J.J. always made the bed, even when he had to be down at the bakery at three-thirty in the morning.
She took a pair of Eliot's britches from a chair and hung them on a hook in the big armoire that stood against the wall. It's getting towards time for Eliot to take a wife, she thought to herself. Maybe a wife could teach him to hang his things up. She smiled at that. She'd been married to John for more than twenty years and still picked up after him. She dismissed the whole question as one of the little pranks God occasionally plays on his children: no matter how you raise a boy, only God Himself could make that boy pick up his things.
As she finished there were footsteps on the stairs.
"Ma? You up here?"
Louisa was suddenly enveloped in a warm bear hug. "Well," she said, her voice muffled, "you're certainly in a fine mood my young one. Are you home early or am I late with my chores?"
J.J. released her. "Tom helped me clean up so Mr. Tomasini said I could go. He sent some cinnamon buns."
"I'm surprised there were any left to send what with Tom spending the morning there."
"Yeah, he sure does like those things, doesn't he? You through? Where's Pa?" He picked up her slops pail and basket of rags.
"Your Pa and Eliot are up at the spring, I think, cleaning out the box." She closed the door to the room and followed J.J. down the stairs.
He set the rag basket on the little table by the door. "I'll put them away after I take care of this," he said, indicating the slops bucket. "Now you go and get warm, Ma. It's cold in here." He went out the door and trotted off towards the outhouse.
Louisa went back into the kitchen and put a pot of milk on the stove. When J.J. came in he opened the stove and looked at the fire.
"Need more wood, Ma. Fire's way down." He looked beside the stove. "Not enough here to get as far as the mid-day meal." He added several sticks of wood to the stove and then went out to the kitchen yard to cut some more.
She looked out the window in the door, watching him. He was a tall lad, with broad shoulders and thick, straw colored hair. His skin was pale now but would, she knew, turn to a deep golden color as soon as the sun became warmer. How very different my boys are from one another, she thought.
They were different, and standing side by side might not be recognized as brothers at all. Tom had some of his father's coloring, dark hair and blue eyes that looked almost black except in the brightest light. Eliot had his mother's gray eyes and fine, auburn hair, but he had his father's muscular body and great strength. Tom was the one who had inherited Louisa's wiry slenderness, her stamina and her grace. J.J. had a bit of both his parents in him but mostly he reflected his grandfather Williams. Louisa had always been sorry that the old man had died two years before J.J. was born. He would have loved the boy and, she was sure, J.J. would have loved him. He treasured the silver watch the old man had carried with him until the day he died.
She broke out of her reverie as J.J. approached the door, a load of freshly cut wood in his arms. She could see his breath in the air as she opened the door for him. "It's very cold, isn't it?"
J.J. dumped the wood into the basket she kept for it. "Yes ma'am, it surely is." He took the pot from the back of the stove. "Is there any coffee?"
"Here," she took the pot from his hand. "Go fetch that packet of cocoa powder Mr. Tomasini sent home with you last week. We'll have some..." she searched for the unfamiliar word, "some mocha."
When he returned from the pantry she saw that he had remembered to bring sugar too. She mixed the cocoa powder and a bit of sugar in each of the thick china mugs she had taken down from the cupboard, then she filled each half way up with the strong coffee from the back of the stove and then topped them up with the hot milk. J.J. smiled as he sipped from one of the mugs.
"Good, Ma. Good and warming."
"I'm glad you like it," she said, taking the mug from his hands. "You'll appreciate it even more after you take these out to your father and Eliot. They must be chilled to the bone by now." She covered each mug with a saucer and handed them to J.J. "Now you hurry up to the spring before they get cold."
As J.J. started toward the door it opened and Tom came in. "Need help, J.J.?" he asked, eying the mugs.
"Thanks, Tom, but I can do it." He called over his shoulder to Louisa, "I'll be right back, Ma. Don't give mine away to him."
"Don't give what away?" Tom sniffed at the air. "It smells mighty good in here; is there some for me?"
Louisa took down another mug. "There might be. But certainly not before you remove your cap as a gentleman might."
"Yes, ma'am." He pulled off his cap and jacket and hung them on a peg by the door. She handed him a mug of the coffee-cocoa mixture and watched with satisfaction as he inhaled the rich aroma and smiled.
"What have you been up to, Tom? J.J. reports that you helped him with the cleaning down at the bakery. That was very brotherly of you."
"Well, I guess it was," Tom said, deciding that she wasn't questioning his motives, "but I had other aims as well."
"Cinnamon buns hot out of the oven wouldn't be one of those aims, would they?" She smiled at him.
"I suppose. But mostly I wanted the chance to talk with Mr. Tomasini about how he runs the place." He caught a look in her eye. "No, I wasn't impertinent. Besides, he loves to talk about how he started the business from nothing and made it what it is now. Did you know," he was warming to one of his favorite subjects, "Mr. Tomasini is able to sell over one hundred loaves of that crusty bread every time he bakes it? If his profit on each loaf is two cents, why that's two dollars he makes, just on one kind of bread."
"Now, Tom. Remember, the profit is only one reward. It has to be good bread, well made, and it has to be fairly priced, too. There is always more than just the profit from a thing." This was not a new lecture, but Louisa felt that it could bear frequent repetition, especially with Tom.
Tom nodded slowly and drank from his mug. He had thought a lot about what she was saying and had come to the conclusion that it was indeed true, especially after J.J. had set up a little demonstration of the principle.
Some months earlier, Tom had decided that Mr. Tomasini could save some money if he didn't put quite so much sugar in the topping of the cinnamon buns. He mentioned this to J.J. who, as an apprentice baker, might gain advantage in suggesting it to Mr. Tomasini. Instead, J.J. had brought home a box of buns and made sure that Tom ate one particular one. Tom had thought it inferior and, of course, had said so. When he did, J.J. just laughed and winked at him.
Tom quickly saw the point and learned a valuable lesson. He also became convinced that Mr. Tomasini could price the rolls at least a penny or two higher and still sell all he could make but he didn't mention this to J.J.
J.J. bounded back into the kitchen. "It is cold out there. Don't remember cold like this in March, do you?" He looked at Tom.
"Can't say I do." He reached up and tousled J.J.'s hair. "You wouldn't feel it so much if you'd wear a cap."
"It's not my head that's cold; it's my hands and my feet." He held his hands out to the stove, warming them, and noticed his mug of mocha. He took up the mug and held it under his nose. "This sure is good, Ma. Eliot and Pa, they took to it, too. Said thank you and they won't fail to bring the mugs in with them."
Tom finished his drink and went to the sink to wash out his mug. "They sure do wonders with cook-stoves now, don't they?" he asked of no one in particular as he turned on the hot water. "They even make hot water." The stove had an arrangement of pipes around the fire box which heated water flowing through them.
was fortunate not only to have the newest model cook-stove but to have running
water in her kitchen as well. Few of the farms around
So the spring up the hill had been boxed in and John found a tank that he could trade a heifer for and suddenly gossip had it that Louisa was putting on airs, having running water in her kitchen. John put a stop to the talk by letting it be known that Louisa had learned to connect pipe and had done much of the plumbing herself.
The cook-stove that heated the water was a much later addition, of course, because it had come from a catalog and had to be paid for with cash money. It had taken Louisa a number of years selling her quilts and the butter she churned to save up enough to buy it.
J.J. washed his mug and put it on the drain board. "I think I'll go up the hill and see if I can help with the spring," he said, taking his jacket off its peg.
"I guess they won't need me then," Tom said. "I think I'll read for a bit in that new book Uncle Robert sent." He turned to Louisa, "Unless you need help with something, Ma."
"No, Tom, you go ahead and read your book. There's nothing here that I can't manage easily." She watched Tom go off to his room to get his book and then turned to completing preparations for the mid-day meal.
To be continued.
Comments, suggestions or criticisms always appreciated and always answered.