Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

Cattail
Wes Boyd
2010, 2011



Chapter 14

Given their late start, Roger and Catalina decided to not push it all the way to their normal stopping point around Nashville, but instead pull in for the night around Elizabethtown, Kentucky. It was a nice motel and had a pool and hot tub, so they put them to use, with Catalina wearing her black one-piece for once. As it turned out, there was a couple there at the same time who had considerably more tattoos than Catalina, so the sight of the cattails on her back got them to talking about tattoos, and then one thing and another. That led to a discussion that continued in the bar once everybody was pretty well cooked.

The next morning they headed on south, both of them suffering from mild hangovers. Even given an early start it was a long haul back down to the camper parked at Wamputa Beach, and it was after dark before they finally drove the Mustang carefully down the familiar bumpy road.

"Jeez, back so soon?" they heard Bill call as soon as they got out next to the familiar motor home. The air was only cool, not the bitter cold that it had been in Michigan a couple days before, and felt better to the both of them.

"Got done what we had to do," Catalina told him. "There was no point in sticking around in the cold. We've got to head back north in a month, though. More of the same, and probably not the last trip."

"So, did you bring Bonnie with you this time?"

"Afraid not," Catalina told him. "She decided to stay up in cold country so she could go to ComicCon in Cleveland next weekend."

"I've been to those, too," he said. "They're not as much fun as the one in Chicago, but they're pretty good. So, are you staying long this time?"

"Probably not," Roger said. "We said we'd help you with the bathhouse, but we really ought to be heading back over to Gulfport and see if we can hook back up with the Habitat for Humanity crew we were working with before Christmas."

"I got a lot done on the bathhouse, but your help will be welcome," Bill told them. "Another day or two ought to pretty well get it down to the little stuff. Too bad Bonnie didn't come with you. We sure had a ball last week, and got a lot done, too."

"Well, she marches to her own drummer," Roger smiled. "And whoever he is, he has a funky backbeat."

"Boy, ain't that the truth?" Bill grinned. "Hey, you two like a drink or something?"

"To tell you the truth, I think I'd just as soon pass for tonight," Roger told him. "We've had a hell of a long day, and we've still got to get the motor home rigged for sleeping. There's a pillow with my name on it and I want to use it."

"Well, all right. We don't have to do it tonight. If you want, I can throw some breakfast together for you in the morning."

Fortunately it didn't take long to get the motor home set up to go to bed, which was good since both of them were pretty close to beat. It still took a little while to wind down, but soon they were back in the familiar bed. Neither of them was in the mood for much in the way of pre-sleep activities, and soon they were sound asleep.

The next morning they had breakfast with Bill, and then they all started in on the bathhouse. He'd gotten the rafters up while they were gone, and some of the decking in place. A serious day of work got the rest of it up, roll roofing down, and shingled. It was warm enough in the afternoon to take a short break for a skinny dip in the bay, but soon they were back at work.

"That was a pretty good day's work, especially the way the two of you go at it," Bill said as they picked up tools and put them away. "It would have taken me the rest of the week to get that done by myself."

"You need us to stick around tomorrow?" Roger asked.

"No, not really. I mean, I could find stuff for you to do, but it wouldn't be something I actually have to have help with. I know you're anxious to get back to where you think you're really needed, and I don't blame you. If you want to get out of here in the morning, it would be fine with me. I just hope you're planning on coming back when the weather is nicer."

"Like Catalina said last night, we've got to be back up north in a month. If it's no bother, it would be nice if we could leave the camper here again. No idea how long it's going to take, it might be a quick trip like this last one or it could last a while. There's just no way of telling."

"Well, after all the work you've put in here for free, you're welcome to leave it here for free outside of the busy season. That probably won't get going till March or so. You can leave it here then, too, but I'd rather it wasn't on one of the hookups."

"It's hard to say what's going to happen after this next trip," Catalina told him. "But we'll figure that out when the time comes."

The next morning they were up early, packing up the camper and tearing it down for the move back to the hurricane-damaged area. It was later than they'd hoped before they got on the road, with Catalina following along behind in the Mustang. It was still a long drive to where they'd been working in Gulfport. Although Roger had enjoyed his time at Wamputa Beach it seemed like a long way out of the way.

Partway through the drive, Roger pulled into a truck stop near Pensacola for gas, and since it was around lunchtime, they decided to eat while they were stopped. They found a seat in the busy place, and a waitress soon came by with water and menus. Roger glanced at the specials list, and said, "Guess the hot roast beef looks pretty good to me."

"Me too," Catalina agreed. "Except that as much as I've been sitting the last few days I probably ought to be watching my figure. I wonder if they do half orders."

"Could be," Roger shrugged. "Besides, you'd probably be working those calories off in the next few days, anyway."

"I sure hope so," she smiled. "Maybe I will have the full order. The price is right, anyway."

"Well, at a truck stop they expect you to eat like a trucker. You know, thinking about truckers makes me think if we're going to be doing all this driving with two vehicles from one place to the next, maybe we ought to be thinking about getting some CBs so we can work out stops like this."

"Not a bad idea, but I can tell you a better idea. Why don't you get a cell phone instead of borrowing mine all the time? What's more, maybe you could find one you could plug into your computer, so we don't have to beg a phone jack from someone every time we want to check our e-mail."

"You're right, that sounds like a better idea. If I'm going to do it, I probably ought to be looking around here, rather than up ahead. It might still be slim pickings for that kind of thing around Gulfport."

"Let's ask if there's a mall around here somewhere," she suggested. "We could leave the camper and take the Mustang and your computer so we could be sure everything would work."

It took another hour to find a cell phone that would work with the computer and get it set up, before they got back on the road. It was getting late in the afternoon when they pulled into Gulfport, so they headed over to the area where they expected the Habitat for Humanity crew to be working, but there was no sign of them -- and that gave the cell phones their first workout. "So, what do you think?" Catalina asked.

"Beats me, Cattail," he replied on the new-enough-to-be-uncomfortable little phone. "My understanding when we left before Christmas was that they were going to be working in this neighborhood for a while."

"Well, they're obviously not," she replied. "So what do we do now?"

"I guess there's not much we can do but head over to the volunteer center I was at last fall and ask."

Catalina followed him across town to a somewhat-battered shopping center that had housed the volunteer center where he'd found out about the Habitat for Humanity crew a couple months before. Not terribly surprising, the storefront was empty; obviously the volunteer center had moved, but there was no sign of where it might have moved to. After a quick conference standing between the vehicles, they decided the best thing to do was to lock up the motor home and go looking around in the more maneuverable Mustang. "We could find a cop and ask him," Roger suggested. "That was how I found the volunteer center the last time."

By now it was getting late in the afternoon and the sun was getting low. They were a while finding a policeman, but when they did they were told that the volunteer center had consolidated with some other disaster relief agencies at a different location on the west side of town. They headed over there, to find the place closed up for the day. "Well, I guess that's that," Roger commented as he got back in the Mustang. "They sure don't make it easy, do they?"

"Probably FEMA picked up the deal from a volunteer effort so now they're working banker's hours," she grumped.

"You're probably right," he said with a tone of resignation. "Count on the feds to take over something that's working and louse it up. Bureaucrats have to justify their existence, after all. I don't know if there's anything else we can do today."

"I suppose we could go get the camper and bring it over here to boondock for the night," she suggested.

"We could, but I'm not too sure how bad I want to spend the night in this part of town. It looks a little rough to me. Where we left it strikes me as a lot better."

"Yeah, me too. But, tell you what. Let's just drive down the coast a little and get a feeling for what kind of progress has been made."

"From what I've seen so far there's been some made, but there's still years of work to be done. But, that's not a bad idea. It'll kill an hour or so, and if we find something to do tomorrow we may not get the chance again soon."

The coastal highway had long since been cleared to the west -- it had been pretty well cleared even when Roger first came to the area back in September -- and it was the easiest way to check things out. On the way, Roger related a couple of stories about how bad a mess Pass Christian had been when he'd first come to the area, and how it had been torn up even worse than Gulfport, if such a thing were possible. When they got to the town, Catalina turned off the highway without comment just to let Roger see how much change there had been, if any.

As they drove down one of the side streets, Roger saw a familiar sight -- a group of Amish men walking toward them. As they got closer the Amish seemed even more familiar, to the point where he yelled, "Cattail! Stop!"

"What?" she said as she slammed on the brakes.

"That's Aaron and Michael and that gang I was working with down here before!"

"Why do I feel a 'bingo' coming on?"

Roger only half heard her as he was piling out the right door of the Mustang. "Aaron! Michael! Good to see you again!"

"Yah, good to see you again too, Roger," Aaron smiled. "I see you're still at it."

"Trying to get back at it," he explained, looking around to see some other familiar faces he remembered from the fall -- John, Amos, Samuel, Daniel, and David, among others; there were some new ones, too. "My friend and I went home for Christmas, and we got held up a bit. Are you looking for some help?"

"There's always work to do," Aaron told him. "Especially if you brought your power saws."

"They're in the camper over in Gulfport, but I can go get it. You don't mind the idea of having a woman carpenter, do you?"

"Nay, not really. It seems a little strange, but we've seen a lot more strange down here. Extra hands that know what they're doing are always welcome."

"Are you staying around here somewhere?"

"Yah, we're camped another block back up the street and two blocks haw. Ye'd be welcome to come join us. In fact, bring your friend and come to supper."

"I'll ask," he replied. "We'll probably see you in a few minutes."

Roger got back in the car and said, "Cattail, it's great to see that group. These people know how to work, and I really enjoyed working with them. They've invited us to supper."

"You're sure about this, Roger?" she frowned. "We've got a few Amish around Amherst, and they always seemed a little strange to me."

"Well, they are strange," he smiled. "They are also absolutely the salt of the earth, very straight, very gentle, and very hard workers. Treat them with respect, and they'll treat you with respect."

"All right, we'll see," she said. "If this doesn't work out we can leave, right?"

"Oh, of course, no problem and probably no hard feelings. Those people know how to work with English if they have to."

"English?"

"Non-Amish, like us. Come on, Cattail. You've got more experience getting along in strange cultures than I do, and I had a real good time working with them last fall. And let me tell you, they know how to put on a feed."

A few minutes later they were at the Amish camp, which was located on a couple of lots where houses had once stood, a different site than before. The entire neighborhood had taken a beating, and no one seemed to be living around there; none of the houses seemed even close to habitable, although Roger suspected that would change in time if Aaron and his crew had their way. In the Amish way, the women of the group had prepared a big chicken dinner, and the ones who remembered Roger from the fall were happy to see him. He hadn't gotten to know the women as well as the men -- they had worked on their own projects, cleaning and repairing as well as the housekeeping chores. He remembered some of them -- Aaron's wife Mary, Michael's wife Rebecca, along with Sarah, Annie, and others. He introduced Catalina around, and everyone seemed pleased to meet her.

They sat around talking for a while as darkness started to fall. "I guess we'd better be heading over to get the motor home," Roger said finally. "Do you have power where you're working, or do I have to use the generator again?"

"There's no power at the house yet," Aaron told them. "Although we've been told it will be there later in the week, so it would be well if you were to take the motor home there. You can set up here tonight if you like, but if you don't want to move in the morning you could go right there."

"I probably couldn't find it in the dark," Roger said. "I know you go to bed early so we'll try to be quiet when we get back."

"Yah, this time of year we'll be rising before the birds so we can use the daylight for work," Aaron told him. "We'll see you tomorrow."

It was still early, at least for Roger and Catalina, when they parked the motor home on the edge of the lot where the Amish were camped, and they were up well before dawn. It was just starting to get light when Michael came over to the motor home, knocked on the door and said, "We're about ready to head over to the house if you want to follow."

"We can go any time," Roger replied. "In fact, if you'd rather not walk we can load this up with people to ride. There's not all that many places to sit, but it's not very far, is it?"

"Nay, it's but a few blocks," he said. "I will tell Aaron that we have a ride to work this morning."

A few minutes later the motor home was just about crammed with Amish men in their black pants, denim work shirts, and straw hats. It was only a matter of a couple minutes to ride to the building site, where without discussion the group split into two, one of the groups heading to an apparently nearly complete house a couple doors away. "So, Aaron," Roger asked. "Where do you want us?"

"I think this house would be the best, since we only got started with it yesterday," the older man said. "There's still most of the framing to go."

"We can do that," Roger told him. "What's the deal with the other house?"

"Finish work," he was told. "With the whole group we could raise a house in one day, but there still has to be electrical and plumbing work done. Not many of us know anything about electrical, so every day or two some electricians come by to make connections, and then the house can be finished. We're getting a house done about every third day, although it takes several days in the process. It's not quite like a barn raising where everything can be done in one day."

"Yeah, a house is a little more complicated, and I'll bet you don't have the crew here that you'd have for a barn raising."

"Yah, but at home we don't do a barn raising every day either."

"Aaron," Catalina spoke up. "I've got a question, if you don't think it's rude. I know you Amish don't own cars, but if you don't like them, why do you ride in them?"

"Nay, 'tis not rude, and 'tis an often-asked question. While we prefer to maintain our traditional standards we occasionally have to accept some English ways, although we try to not let them disrupt our way. It was decided a long time ago that cars and such would separate the community in various ways, and community is important to us. If only the wealthy could afford cars, then it would humiliate those less wealthy, leading to dissension, and surely things would get out of control. However, accepting a ride helps to get things done when they need to be done. If it were not that way, we could not have had the time to come down here at all."

"Same thing with power saws, right?" Roger asked. He knew the answer but thought Catalina needed the enlightenment.

"Exactly," Aaron smiled. "It was decided a long time ago that electrical tools were unseemly for us to use. However, it was also decided that it was not unseemly to nail a board that an English had cut with a power tool."

"And we've got the power," Catalina grinned. "Let's get cutting."

Like when Roger had worked with the Amish before, there was an awful lot of sawing to do, and it was mostly what he and Catalina did all day. The generator in the camper could still only handle one of the Skil saws at a time, but Roger soon realized the house the other half of the crew was working on had electricity, and he had enough heavy duty cords to reach it. That got them both sawing at the same time, usually with Catalina using one of the Skil saws with a combination blade for cutting framing, while Roger used the other with a plywood blade to cut sheets of waferboard. David, one of the younger Amish, soon was marking out cuts for them, and he managed to supply plenty for them to do. Occasionally, not often, one or the other of them would have to haul one of the saws into the house to make a cut in place.

"Good grief," Catalina said at one point when both of them were taking a break alone, mostly to let the saws cool off a bit. "It's like working on the picnic shelter with Bill and Mom, only more so."

"Ain't it the truth?" Roger grinned. "Except for the fact that there's more clothes on this crew than that Bill's group prefers."

"You know, they think we're strange," she laughed. "What would they think about that culture?"

"Probably about the same, although I don't intend to ask," he smiled.

"You know, you're right. They may be a little different, but they're hard workers, and they're hard not to like."

Along about noon, Mary, Sarah, Rebecca, and some of the other Amish women showed up in a horse and buggy bringing picnic baskets, and the crew broke for lunch. "You really went all the way, didn't you?" Roger asked Michael, referring to the horse and buggy.

"When we were here before it was a little inconvenient to have to beg rides from English to get around for some little thing," Michael explained. "An English neighbor offered to bring down some horses in his horse trailer, with a pair of buggies on his truck, and of course we accepted the offer. It's made things go much easier."

"I never asked, but that must mean you're planning on staying for a while."

"Probably until late March or thereabouts," Michael explained. "Then it will be time to be getting back home to get ready for the planting. I'll admit that it's much more comfortable to be here than it would be in the cold back home."

"Better watch it," Catalina smiled. "You're going to get hooked on going south for the winter like a lot of people, and then where are you going to be?"

"I suspect right here, at least for the next few winters," Michael told her. "There's going to be more than a winter's work to clean up after the storm."

"That's probably true," she sighed. "And I wouldn't be surprised if we're going to be here, too."

That evening they left the motor home parked on the site, but walked back to the Amish camp for dinner -- another excellent one that left Catalina realizing she was going to have to watch her diet a little. Afterward they drove the Mustang back to the building site, where they'd agreed to stay, at least partly to help keep an eye on things overnight. Getting in tune with their fellow workers they went to sleep not long after dark, so they could arise early, have breakfast and some coffee by themselves so they'd be ready to work when the Amish showed up the next morning. They joined the Amish for lunch and supper, and gradually became even closer friends with them.

Day followed day, much the same as they became a part of a well-oiled crew who knew their jobs and what needed to be done. Every few days they had to move the motor home to a new site a couple doors up the street, for the crew worked quickly -- a much better rate than they remembered from the Habitat for Humanity crew. By the end of the week they reached the end of the block and started back up the street the other way, taking no small degree of pleasure at watching families move back into their new homes across the street. It was, after all, what they were there for, just like their new friends.


<< Back to Last Chapter
Forward to Next Chapter >>

To be continued . . .

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.