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Part II: Enter the Ram

Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord."

Ezekiel 37:4-6


The Merino Problem

Paula Goodlett

"It's ironic," Flo Richards said to herself, as she sipped the last of her coffee. "I may just be the only person in Grantville who gained time, instead of losing it."

J.D. had gone to work and Flo had the house to herself for a few more hours, until the Sprugs arrived. She and J.D. had met them yesterday and agreed that they should move in. The house was certainly big enough, and with the four girls gone it was sort of lonesome. Johan, Anna, and all six children would barely make a dent in the space. It would be nice to have company.

Flo intended to enjoy the quiet time. She hadn't had much of it over the years. Four daughters, the farm, J.D., all these had used up most of her time. Now, it looked like she just might have the time to do some things she had always wanted to do.

"Who would have thought," she mused, "that J.D.'s membership in the Seed Savers Exchange would turn out to be so important."

Flo agreed with the aim of the Exchange, to preserve genetic diversity in crops by growing and exchanging the seeds of endangered domesticated species. What she had disagreed with was the fact that she had done most of the work of growing, saving and exchanging of those seeds. J.D. was busy teaching during the week and the girls had been busy with school and their own activities. J.D. had helped, of course, when he'd had time. Otherwise, Flo thought, he'd have wound up wearing those heirloom veggies.

Now, the organization people were calling "The Grange" was in charge of those same heirloom plants. The members of the Grange had recently realized that the seeds from the hybrid plants common on farms and in gardens uptime wouldn't produce the same plants in the next generation. Flo and J.D.'s stock of nonhybrid seeds had gained hugely in value.

Flo smirked. J.D. had tried for years to convince them, but very few uptimers would listen. It was easier to go to the store and buy seed every year. There were times she'd have liked to do it herself.

It was nice that J.D. had been vindicated. It had raised his status in the eyes of the local farmers and led to his being appointed as one of Willie Ray's assistants. Who knew where that could lead?

Flo had been thrilled to turn the stock of seeds over to the Grange. Let someone else take charge of that project. She wouldn't be stuck in the kitchen, canning all the produce this year, either. The lack of new canning lids in town was worrying, but she could reuse some old ones. Some of them would seal properly. Other methods of preservation were possible, also. Flo was sure they'd make it through the winter. Most of her crops, planted before the Ring of Fire, would be dedicated to seed for next year.

She did think Willie Ray was getting a bit high-handed, though. True, Flo would admit that he had a lot on his platter and she was glad she didn't have his responsibilities. Still, she resented Willie Ray treating her like "Little Bo Peep" when she tried to talk to him about a better ram.

The Grange, Willie Ray, and J.D. were all focused on food production. Flo understood that this and the war were priorities. She hadn't been able to get any of them to listen to her concerns about the sheep, though. "I need an ally. Maybe Johan will listen. He seemed to be interested when we spoke yesterday."

Flo stood up, and rinsed her coffee cup. "I don't think I'll mention that last few cans of Folgers to anyone," she murmured slyly. J.D. could be a little overgenerous on occasion. Flo would just keep that guilty little secret to herself.


* * *

It was about 2:00pm before Johan, Anna and the kids arrived. Flo showed them to their rooms. She was pretty surprised when the entire family seemed prepared to move into the single room she had intended for Johan and Anna alone. After some effort, she finally convinced them to take two more bedrooms, one for the boys and one for the girls. There were two bathrooms up there, and two more bedrooms. Flo had originally intended for the family to use all the rooms, but they seemed dead set against it.

Melissa Mailey had been right, Flo thought, as she and Johan walked toward the sheep pasture. The privacy standards of seventeenth-century Germans were certainly different from those of the uptimers. She was glad their bedroom was on the first floor. The Sprugs could deal with the kids' squabbles and she and J.D. wouldn't even need to know about it.

Johan was leading the ram. Flo looked at it again and sighed. She was sure it was a good enough ram for this time and place. She was also sure she didn't want the scraggly thing anywhere near her Merinos.

Time for a small demonstration, she decided.

Johan had some English. Flo's German was limited, even though she was trying to improve it. She still hadn't been able to explain the problem clearly. After coaxing one of the ewes to come near, Flo undid the ties of the coat that protected the precious wool. She watched as Johan's face changed from confusion over the sheep coat to curiosity and then to sheer pleasure as he buried his hands in the luxurious wool.

"Do you see what I mean now, Johan? These are the only type C Delaine Merinos in the world. I'm not going to breed them to just any ram that's available. Compared to these sheep, that ram of yours might as well be a brillo pad with legs. You can see the difference in the wool.

"Merino sheep were used to improve the wool of nearly every breed of sheep in the world. There's no reason we can't improve the sheep of Germany in the here and now, but my rams are too young to breed successfully. Spain has around three million Merino sheep. We need a better ram, one with some Merino blood. Do you understand now?"

Johan was smiling as he stood up. "Yes, Flo, I understand better now. We need a better ram; we must find a way to make them understand. We must not waste this chance. I help. We will convince Willie Ray. Must have better ram, must."

Flo smiled. Finally, an ally. With Johan's help and experience, maybe she could finally get a breeding program to improve the wool breeds, as well as the meat breeds.

"Fine, Johan, fine. I'm really glad to hear that. We'll work on it together. Now, since you enjoyed that wool so much, let's go look at the rabbits."

"Rabbits? Vermin. Must get rid of, before they damage crops." Johan appeared to be ready to go on a rabbit hunt that very moment.

"Not these rabbits, Johan. They're not your average pest. Though I'm not sure how much use they are, to tell the truth. Come see."

As they walked to the bunny barn, Flo continued to explain. "These are English angora rabbits, Johan. They couldn't possibly survive in the wild. Their own wool would cause their deaths."

"Rabbits do not grow wool, Flo."

Flo grinned as they approached the first cage. "These rabbits do grow wool, Johan. They take a good bit of work, but their wool is very warm and soft. Take a look."

Johan stood in stunned surprise as Flo took one of the does from her cage. The rabbit was covered with long, soft hair, which could be gently plucked from the rabbit without harm. As Flo demonstrated the technique, she continued to watch Johan's face.

"So tell me, Johan," she asked, "do you think there's a market for this, too?"


"Flo," said Anna, "I have question."

"Sure, Anna, what's up?" asked Flo as she watched Anna sit down. It was the first time Anna had ever sat in her presence without an invitation.

Flo had begun to wonder if Anna would ever get over the tendency to treat her as the lady of the manor. The constant deference had made Flo really uncomfortable for the first week or so. Finally, in desperation, she'd let Anna in on her secret vice, the hidden stash of Folgers coffee. That had sent Anna into fits of giggles and had seemed to even the ground between them. Anna had relaxed around Flo and had been opening up ever since.

"I have sister, Flo. Is married to Wilhelm Schmidt, five Kinder. Are in camp still. Is hard, so many Kinder. Maybe come here with us? All will work, und boys be help with sheep. Johan not want to ask, but Ilsa wants home again. We all work, Flo, und, und . . ."

Anna's English had failed her, but Flo had the gist of it now.

"You don't think five more kids will be too crowded, Anna?"

"Nein, nein. Is big beds, much, much room. We be fine. I want Ilsa close, und you and Johan keep boys busy. Truly, Flo, is goot." Anna seemed very concerned that Flo might object, but as long as Anna was happy, Flo could be happy.

"Anna, it's fine. As long as you don't mind the crowding, I don't mind them moving in. You already have the house in wonderful shape. I can't imagine what the two of you will accomplish when Ilsa gets here."

Anna was a wonder, as far as Flo was concerned. Six kid, ages ranging from about fourteen to the baby, who looked to be about six months old, and all the kids toed the line far, far better than the average uptime child. Anna and Johan's discipline seemed a bit harsh to Flo, but she wasn't going to interfere. The kids would be starting school when it resumed; time enough for the uptime kids to try to ruin them then.

"How is search for ram going, Flo?" Anna was concerned because Johan was concerned. Flo knew that Johan and Anna had discussed the sheep project in detail. Anna, after a demonstration of the difference in wool softness, followed by a visit to Flo's angora bunnies, had joined in enthusiastically. "Will we use Brillo, after all?"

Flo grinned at that question. Her undiplomatic remark had resulted in the nickname. Johan had proved to be a good-humored sort. He'd later asked what a brillo pad was. After a demonstration of a brillo pad, he'd laughed uproariously. They'd all been calling the poor ram "Brillo" ever since.

Even J.D. had joined in the search for a ram, although with some reluctance. Flo had caught him giving her some thoughtful looks lately. Johan's support had made a difference in J.D.'s attitude toward the sheep.

"Flo, Flo, are you in there?" Anna asked, grinning herself.

Flo jerked back to reality and smiled over at Anna. "Sorry, Anna, I got lost in my thoughts again." She laughed. "We'll use Brillo if we have to. He's certainly a strong, hardy critter. If the Ring of Fire has thrown the sheep out of cycle, it will be good to have him around. Whatever we can do to spread the Merino strain will help. I'd still rather have a ram with some Merino blood, just for the wool quality. We still have some time before fall. Maybe someone will make it through the armies, yet."

"Well, we all have things to do," Anna said, "I'm going to clean the attics today. I will leave you to your own work. You will use the telephone, und call for Ilsa und Wilhelm? Today, Flo?"

"Yes, Anna, I'll call right now. They'll probably be here in a few hours. Do you need any help?" Flo always asked, and Anna always refused, just as she did today. Flo had begun to think that she just got in Anna's way. She'd decided to stand aside and let Anna go at it. The woman was amazing. If those bozos down at the 250 Club had any idea what they were missing, Flo mused, they'd be standing in line, begging for German houseguests.

Flo called the administrators of the refugee camp and arranged for Wilhelm, Ilsa and their kids to be given the news and started on their way out to the farm. The administrators were very careful to get the right relations these days. A few mix-ups had caused them to get the original village name, before they asked for people by name. The names Johan and Anna were as common here as the names John and Ann had been uptime. No one wanted any more confusion.

"Well, a few more people won't make that much difference here. I wonder what Wilhelm and Ilsa went through, getting to Grantville?"

The German population had amazing resilience. The war rolled over them, they grabbed what they could and started over. The war rolled over them again, and they started over again. When they reached Grantville, and were convinced of their relative safety, they dug in with a vengeance, determined to succeed and prosper. While many families had arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs, others had saved the most astounding things. A few chickens here, a ram or an ox there, a few family heirlooms, a few coins sewn into a child's frock. They'd saved anything they could.

It was almost as amazing to Flo as the weird things that had value now. Who would have thought that things like jelly jars, coffee cans with plastic lids, even old mayo jars, could be so valuable?

Flo shook her head in wonder. She'd heard her parents' rhyme—


Use it up, wear it out

Make it do or do without


—so many times as a child that frugality was ingrained in her nature. She had washed and saved any container with a lid just from force of habit. There was a shelved area of the basement where she'd stored box after box of jelly glasses, mayo jars, canning jars, coffee cans, and whatever else she felt might be useful someday. J.D. had teased her about her saving ways for years. Flo hadn't listened. She'd continued to save things. Old clothes, cloth diapers, plastic pants, baby bottles, sheets, towels—if it wasn't in the basement, it was in a cedar chest or a box in the attic.

Anna's excitement when she'd started cleaning the basement was contagious. Knowing her own limitations in the art of bargaining, Flo let Johan or Anna handle that part. If a German noble wanted a set of Flintstone jelly glasses to serve wine in, that was fine with Flo. Johan and Anna would make sure he paid very well for the privilege.


Johan had been a bit insulted when Flo had suggested watching the shearing video. "I know how to shear a sheep, Flo," he'd objected. "Do you think I know nothing?"

"Johan, I'm sure you've sheared plenty of sheep in your lifetime. Have you ever done it with electric shears?" Flo had asked.

The mention of electric anything was a conversation stopper. His interest piqued, Johan joined Flo in front of the TV to view the video of New Zealand shepherds and shearers at work. They viewed it three times before he was confident of his ability to adapt.


Flo and Johan arrived at the shearing shed together. Johan checked the shears, turning them on and off until he was comfortable with the sound.

None of Flo's ewes was especially rambunctious. They'd been sheared before, after all. Even so, Flo chose an especially mellow ewe for Johan's first attempt at electric shearing.

Johan had paid serious attention to the video, Flo noticed. After a couple of nervous false starts, he began rolling the fleece off the ewe as though he'd been doing it all his life. Which he had, of course, now that Flo thought about it. The electric shears just made it go faster.

A couple of small nicks, easily treated, a check for foot rot, hoof trimming and worming and the ewe bounced away. Johan had very few problems, even with the unfamiliar shears, and they were finished very soon. Flo had sorted the fleeces as Johan had sheared. Even in coats, there was some dirt involved in the process and the heavy lanolin in the fleece made Flo feel greasy.

"Johan, we've both got things to do. If I don't get a shower, I won't be responsible for my temper."

"Ja, Flo. I will check that meine Kinder have finished their work. Sheep, they seem well." Johan seemed eager to get on with his other work.

"We'll have to come up with a way to clean that fleece. I'll think about it. Maybe the old wash boiler. My grandmother used to use it, along with that old wringer Anna found in the basement. I'll need to check the rollers. I don't remember if they were rubber or wood. It may come in handy. Never thought I'd have to use it. I just kept it, like that old glass churn my mother used to use. Sentimental value, then. Much more practical value now." Flo grinned as she walked away. "Anyway, I can't think when I feel like an oil slick. See you in a while."


Standing in the shower, under the pounding hot water, Flo gave in to the depression she'd been feeling all day. The delay in shearing the sheep had been caused by her last few weeks with Jennifer, before Jen had returned to school for the summer semester.

She knew she was lucky to have kept three of her children, but she missed Jen so much. She was Flo's youngest, and the closest to her. The other girls had their own families and their own lives. Jen was still Flo's. She'd encouraged her to buy the sheep, because she knew Flo needed something to care for. Flo missed her so much.

Flo forced herself to turn her thoughts away. Jen had always been self-sufficient. She would manage and succeed, even without Flo and J.D. Flo held that thought as she began drying off.

As she dressed, Flo noticed how soft her skin felt. She still had shampoo, bought on sale and stored, but there hadn't been a good sale on bath soap. Her stock was low on that commodity. They were saving the gentle soaps for the babies, to keep them from skin irritations. The Ring of Fire had put paid to her usual practice of stocking up on soap.

"Wait a minute, soft skin, lye soap, lanolin—that's the difference! The lanolin in the sheep fleece. We can't just destroy it. There has to be a way to recover it and use it. Soap, lotion, didn't I read something somewhere about surgery? I've got to do some research. Soap making, lotions, what else?" Flo threw her clothes on, ready to start another project.

She stopped and finished buttoning her shirt. "I'd better not go running out of here half dressed. The Schmidts could be here any minute. Coffee. I need coffee. I always think better with coffee."


Naturally, they would get there while she was in the shower. In the middle of the day, yet! A little embarrassed, Flo extended her hand to greet Wilhelm and Ilsa Schmidt.

"We are pleased to be here," said Wilhelm. "I know Johan und Anna well. We work well together. You will be pleased."

"I'm happy to have all of you," said Flo. "It may get a bit crowded, but we'll manage. Wilhelm, Johan, I know you have things to talk about. Johan and I discussed our plans earlier, so I'll let him explain. Ilsa, Anna, let's go up and get the rooms arranged to suit you."

As the three women and the children went upstairs, Flo heard Anna and Ilsa speaking rapid-fire German. Too rapid for her to understand, but apparently the room arrangement was settled before they hit the top step. Anna began directing traffic and Flo noticed that the boys were at one end of the hall and the girls at the other. Both sets of parents were in the middle. They were going to have to have a talk about what could and could not go down a toilet, she thought. Two bathrooms and fifteen people could be a nightmare on the septic system. She didn't even want to think about what could happen when the toilet tissue ran out.

"Fifteen people," she muttered to herself, "eleven of them children, me and J.D. Feeding this crew isn't going to be a picnic either. It's a good thing I did all that canning last year. And that sale on hamburger. Boy, am I glad I took advantage of that one. We need to do an inventory and some planning. Tonight, though, I wonder if this crew has ever had spaghetti? It's easy for a crowd."

Wrapped up in thoughts, plans and concerns, Flo left Anna and Ilsa to their arrangements and went down to the freezer. Spaghetti sauce for seventeen people would still take a lot of hamburger.


The spaghetti, salad and bread seemed to be a hit. At any rate, there wasn't going to be a leftover problem in the Richards-Sprug-Schmidt household.

For once, being a packrat had paid off. Everyone had a few changes of clothes, although underwear was limited. The females had at least one pair of jeans or overalls for heavy work, although Anna and Ilsa appeared to prefer skirts. They'd get over that eventually, Flo thought. You couldn't get her back into skirts with an act of Congress.

Clean-up proceeded rapidly. Older children helped the younger, everyone washed their own dishes and placed them in the drying racks. Flo had cooked, so she cleaned the pots and pans, and wiped down the counter and table. It looked like a system that would work.

The children, after a long, exciting day, were drooping in their chairs. All but the four oldest were sent up to bed, with orders to wash up and brush their teeth. The adults and near-adults sat up to discuss their plans for the following days.

"J.D., tomorrow is Sunday. I'll be going to church. What are your plans?" Flo asked. It was an old arrangement. Flo attended the Methodist church when she could, averaging once or twice a month. J.D. did what J.D did. They'd found that arguing was not productive.

"I'm driving in around ten am to see Mike and Willie Ray. If we're careful, there's no reason that everyone can't fit into the truck and the truck bed. I know you don't like kids in the truck bed, but Johan and Wilhelm can keep them in line. I'll go slow. Will that suit everyone? We can meet around four in the afternoon and ride back home together."

"Sounds like a pretty good plan to me, J.D. It'll get everyone into town in time for the various services. Is it okay with the rest of you?" Flo asked the Sprugs and Schmidts.

With everyone in agreement, and everyone tired and yawning, they all retired to their rooms and slept.


"How does anybody wake up that energetic without coffee, especially at the crack of dark?" Flo wondered aloud, trying to hide a yawn.

The Sprugs and Schmidts were up, dressed, breakfasted and had the chores done before she had her eyes open good. "I sometimes think we uptimers are soft, especially on a morning like this."

Flo had decided that it was time to introduce Anna and Ilsa to crock pots. Deciding on chili and corn bread for supper, she'd thawed more hamburger and was showing them how to set up the crock pots when Anna handed her a cup.

Taking a sip, her eyes widened. Coffee. Blessed, life-reviving coffee. Anna had apparently decided that Flo would need a cup or two and had made a pot for her.

Anna grinned, "I don't know why you like that stuff, but I know you do. You will need to be awake. So, I made you a pot. We will not tell. Is our secret."

"Not much of one, Flo. Do you think I could scrounge a cup?" asked J.D. from behind her.

Jumping, Flo turned around. "You devil, you knew all along, didn't you?" she asked.

"The way you pack-rat? Of course I knew." He said, "I just figured it made you happy to have that stash, so I let it alone. Don't worry. I'm not going to give it away. I have enough to handle without you going through caffeine withdrawal on top of it. Besides, I need a cup now and then, myself." J.D. moved over to the coffee pot and poured himself a mug. "More people than you know have a little stash of this or that. It makes them feel better and does no real harm. If it were antibiotics, it would be a different story."


They arrived in town in good time for services. Everyone dispersed to their preferred church or meeting place, after making plans to meet that afternoon.

Flo felt peaceful as she sat through the service. It was so quiet and calm. She gazed around her and saw Irene Washaw and her son, Mac, with his family. She'd thought Mac had been in Charleston. How did they wind up on this side of the Ring of Fire?

After services, Flo approached Irene. "Irene, how wonderful that you have Mac and his family with you."

"Oh, I know, Flo. I feel so lucky," Irene bubbled. "They'd come in for Starr's birthday and were planning to leave that day. It's just wonderful for me that the Ring of Fire didn't happen an hour later."

Choking up and trying to hide it, Flo agreed and greeted Mac and his wife. Excusing herself, she headed for the restroom but was stopped by Mary Ellen Jones.

"Oh, Flo, I'm glad I caught you. I wanted to ask you about some yarn . . . Why, Flo, what's wrong?" Mary Ellen guided Flo to a private area. "What's happened, and why are you crying?"

"I'm sorry, Mary Ellen. Seeing Irene and Mac and hearing how happy she is to have him with her. If the damn Ring of Fire had just happened one week earlier, I'd still have Jen. I miss her so much. The other girls are busy with their families, and I don't even see them at church. They've moved to their husbands' churches. I could just kick myself sometimes. If I'd just been more insistent that the family come to church, maybe they'd be here today. I married J.D. knowing I couldn't change his mind, but maybe if I'd just tried harder . . . I miss all the kids, but Jen . . ."

Flo shuddered to a stop. "Sorry, Mary Ellen, you have your own set of problems. Didn't mean to go to pieces on you. I just wish . . . Maybe if Jen had just gone for the two year degree, like Noelle Murphy did. Maybe she'd still be here. And I hate that I feel that way, really I do. Surely, Jen is better off back uptime. She must be."

Mary Ellen smiled. "Flo, regrets are a part of life and we can't undo the past, however much we'd like to. You did your best. You have most of your family, J.D., your health, and I even hear that Willie Ray speaks well of your sheep project. The past is the past. Leave it there and move forward. I know you've done your best, and so do you. You just have to keep going."

Flo had gotten herself under control by now. "I know, Mary Ellen, I really do. Things aren't as bad as they could be. I'll be okay. You go minister to someone who needs it more than I do. Temporary weakness. I can overcome it."

"I know, Flo. You're a strong, vital woman with years ahead of you. How am I going to get good wool yarn for Simon's socks if you don't raise those Merino sheep? I want real knitting yarn, not the tiny, fine stuff they make here. Let me know when you have a few skeins ready. I need it. His socks are wearing out."

Mary Ellen began to move away. "Oh, Flo, if anyone has an extra can of coffee, let them know I'm in the market for it, will you?"


It was so good to speak her own language and be understood. Resorting to gestures and mime could be very wearing. Anna Sprug was very happy to have her sister, brother-in-law, and their children with her in this strange place. Now she could just talk, and not have to act out her words.

"These people, they are very rich, aren't they?" Ilsa commented.

"Not only are they very rich, they are so rich that they are foolish with their wealth. Did you see how much meat Flo thought we needed? I liked the `corn bread' well enough, but that `chili' . . . what was that stuff? Too much meat, too much something else. I'm in for another night of listening to Johan groaning about his stomach every two minutes, just wait and see. Your Wilhelm, he will be the same."

"Do you eat like that all the time, here? I thought the food at the camp wasn't so bad, although there was still a lot of meat. And, I'm still not sure it's safe to drink so much water. I'd really rather have some thin soup for the children to drink. I know the Americans say the water is safe, but it makes me nervous to drink so much of it." Ilsa really didn't want to complain, but she did have some concerns.

"We will have thin soup tomorrow. I used that wonderful `crock pot' to start some. I think Flo said that if you set it on `lo' it could cook all night and be ready in the morning. We will see." Anna seemed a bit triumphant, to have succeeded at such a basic task. "There is only a small piece of bacon and a few vegetables in it, with some salt and thyme. I hope Flo doesn't notice it. She uses too much of everything. That `spice rack' of hers has stuff I've never heard of. She really ought to be saving it, not using it every day."

"Why do you suppose she has so many of these `crock pots,' Anna?" Ilsa asked. "How could she and J.D. need so much food? There are only two of them."

"Flo said something about `Christmas presents' from her daughters and I think she said something about them not paying attention to her interests. She seemed unhappy about this."

Anna seemed a bit confused about "Christmas presents." Ilsa certainly was.

"I don't think she had ever used them. All but one were still in boxes. Don't misunderstand me, Ilsa. Life is very strange here, but it is also very good. Flo is a generous, kindhearted woman. Her J.D. is a good man. Flo is very insistent that we are not servants here. She says we are partners.

"If we are to be real partners, then we must help them. Flo knows nothing of bargaining and has no idea how to feed so many people. All Americans eat so much rich food. And, they all have so many things. Have you ever seen so many clothes? And they're all so soft!"

"The clothes are soft, Anna, but I don't feel very proper wearing those `jeans.' They are so tight and so immodest. And, they make everyone look like a hired worker. I don't like that very much."

"Don't worry, Ilsa. Flo just doesn't understand. We are not young girls, to enjoy showing ourselves so. We just need to go slow and get used to this. It is very hard, sometimes. Still, we have bread for the morning. We have those wonderful double ovens and we have the `crock pots.'

"Flo does not wake up well, unless she has her coffee. We will make her some, and she will be so busy enjoying it that she won't notice the soup. I'll make bread to bake and then show you the rest of the house. Just wait until you see the basement, Ilsa. There's a room there, with nothing but shelf after shelf of what Flo calls old junk. There are containers that mice can't get into. `Canning jars,' Flo calls them. They have metal lids. And there are `coffee cans' that have another kind of lid. It's amazing that Flo doesn't understand the value of these things.

"Ilsa, you are going to help me, aren't you?" Anna asked. "We have to take care of Flo and J.D. They're like children in so many ways."

* * *

"No, Mr. Canaro, I'm not going to sell any of my sheep. I'm in the market to buy more, not to sell what I have. When you have some to sell me, please call again."

Flo hung up the phone, a bit bemused.

Relieved of domestic and farm responsibilities by the Sprug and Schmidt clans, she had turned her energies toward acquiring more sheep and trying to find the ram she needed. Some of the local 4H members had been willing to sell their project sheep.

"I just wish they'd take money," Flo muttered. "That little Rambouillet ewe cost me a whole three pound can of coffee. And J.D. just snickered, and said I should have expected a small town to know what I had stashed away. Smart aleck."

Johan came in grinning. "Flo, another sheep coming. I think it is another wether."

"You know the policy, Johan. We'll buy it for its wool, but a wether can't breed. Not more than one pound of coffee for a wether, and only if we can use the wool. If it's another Suffolk or Hampshire, we don't need it. When I think of the wool genes going to waste in the wethers we've bought, I could just bang my head against a wall."

"Ja, is just easier for Kinder to raise wether or ewe. Rams, they are harder to handle. But, we have some ewes, you know. They will work in program. Little rams, they put on weight. Maybe only one year with Brillo." Johan went out again to deal with whatever teenager had shown up.

Flo was happy to leave the bargaining to Johan. She knew she was too softhearted with the kids. They were all tired from the walk and Flo hated to disappoint them. She bought any ewe, regardless of breed, intending to improve the wool quality in the coming generations. "Those Suffolks and Hampshires were always intended for meat. The kids knew they shouldn't make pets of them and get too attached." Flo held herself firmly in place. "If I go out there, the teary eyes will get to me again. I'll just stay here till it's over."

Flo hadn't been very successful at becoming a hard-hearted businesswoman. It took a lot of effort to turn someone down. She was learning, though, and the coffee stash had come in handy. As supplies had dwindled, coffee was more and more in demand. Flo saw no reason not to use it as a trade item. Nor the rest of the little luxuries stashed in her freezer. These days, a bag of chocolate chips was worth its weight in gold. It was small things, like chocolate chips, candy bars, and cheese puffs, that people missed most.


Herr Oswald Ulman had risen to new heights in his shouting. Farley Utt was trying to do the right thing here. He knew this wasn't going to be easy, but Maggie was twenty and he loved her. It wasn't the end of the world to marry a little sooner than they'd planned. If the old man would just stop the hollering, maybe they could get this settled.

With a last, thundering shout, Herr Ulman slammed out of the door. Maggie, in tears, turned to Farley.

"What's wrong, Maggie? He didn't call you any bad names, did he?" Farley asked, worried sick. "Did you make him understand? And I don't understand why he keeps calling me an Arminian. I've told him a dozen times that I'm an American and a Methodist. It's not like I'm an atheist or something."

"Papa says that all Americans are too easy with religion. They do not believe as he does. He does not like this. He will not listen and he will not understand. He says I must leave, now, and I must never come back. He says you will be killed in the war and I must not be a beggar. I am allowed to pack my things. We must leave, soon."

"Do you mean he's disowned you?" Farley was outraged at what he felt was an overreaction. "Why the old jerk, I ought to . . ."

"No, mein Farley, it will do no good. We will go. Do you still want me, now I am not a woman of wealth?" Maggie looked up at Farley, concern in her eyes.

"Of course, I still want you. No matter what, I'll always want you. We'll go to Grantville and find our own place. Mom and Dad will be happy for us, you'll see. We'll get by, and when the war is over I'll find another way to make a living. We don't need your father, or his property. I never wanted to farm, anyhow."

"Good," said Margaretha Ulman, soon to be Maggie Utt. "We must hurry. Papa will be back with the sheep soon."

As Maggie turned away, Farley thought, panicked, Sheep! What sheep?

An hour or so later, as he struggled to keep the stubborn, stupid, ornery sheep headed in the right direction, Farley decided the old man had done it on purpose, just so he could laugh at him. They'd show him. Somehow, all seven of these rotten, stinking animals were going to make it to Grantville. Maggie and he were going to get married, and someday that old coot would regret this. Farley just really dreaded what the lieutenant was going to say when he saw the sheep.


"Sure, Mary Ellen, I'll see you then." Flo hung up the phone and went to find Anna or Ilsa.

She found them checking on one of the crock pots.

"Anna, Mary Ellen is coming out with J.D. when he comes home, along with two other folks. I'm not sure who, but we'll need three extra plates at the table tonight, if we can manage."

"Sure, Flo, we just add another jar of potatoes to stew." Anna and Ilsa started giggling again.

I wonder why the two of them are forever giggling about those new potatoes I canned? Flo thought, as she headed for the pantry. When she'd told Anna that J.D. loved new potatoes and green beans, you'd have thought she'd said something dirty. Flo did have to admit that they were better at stretching supplies than anyone she'd ever heard of.

Flo cooked, now and then, whenever she and J.D. felt the need for a roast or some other meat dish. Most of the time, however, the meals were soup, soup and more soup. "And don't forget, bread, bread and more bread," Flo grumbled. They had taken to baking their own bread, as it meant fewer trips to town and ovens were already here. Still, Flo continued musing, That "duenne suppe" stuff and a slice of bread just isn't a substitute for a pot of coffee with bacon, eggs and toast. Guess we'll all have to get used to it, though.


Chores were done and everyone had cleaned up from the day's work. They were all waiting for J.D. and Mary Ellen to arrive. Some of the younger children had already been fed and were being prepared for bed by Anna and Ilsa.

Johan and Wilhelm were taking this opportunity to discuss possibilities for expansion. "Will need more space someday, Flo. Even with Brillo, will be good increase in sheep next year. Should prepare for it." Wilhelm was an ambitious man.

"I know, Wilhelm, I know. We'll look into it. Right now, I'd like to know what's keeping J.D. and Mary Ellen . . . Never mind, I think I hear the truck now."

J.D. pulled the truck up in front of the garage. What's he doing with a stock trailer? Flo wondered. And isn't that Farley Utt? What's he doing here? I thought he was off with the army.

Mary Ellen was smiling as she brought forward a pretty brunette. "Flo, I'd like you to meet Margaretha . . ."

"Maggie. I will be Maggie in my new life, please," the young woman interrupted.

"Very well. Flo, I'd like you to meet Maggie Utt. She and Farley were married this afternoon. I thought of you when Maggie told me her story. Gary and Maylene have a full house already, anyway."

"I have a fairly full house, myself, Mary Ellen. Why would you think of me? I know Farley from church, but . . ."

Flo looked up as J.D. shouted her name.

"Because of these, Flo." Mary Ellen was grinning from ear to ear as she pointed at the trailer. "They're Maggie's dowry. She's been disinherited, but her father gave her these."

The ewes, which appeared to be at least three-quarters Merino, weren't interested in trying the ramp yet. But the ram, the beautiful, heavily fleeced, mature ram, stalked down the ramp as though he knew exactly why he was here. He was there to breed.


Flo glared at the rabbits. Then she glared at Johan. By now Johan knew that it wasn't really directed at him. At least he hoped it wasn't. He had talked to J.D. about it. Flo took a great deal on herself and got upset when she made mistakes. All of the people around all the time wasn't helping. She was concerned about the welfare of Johan's family and the other down-timers, and afraid she might make a mistake. Plus, she was almost out of that vile coffee stuff she liked so much.

"Okay," she asked, "how many?"

"Twenty-five." Johan said. Last night three of the does had litters of baby rabbits. The others were pregnant. More of that marvelous angora hair. They were going to get so rich.

"Okay," she said, "each of the does has had an average of eight babies, right?"

Johan nodded cautiously. There had been something in Flo's tone. Like she was trying not to yell.

"So in the next couple of weeks we've got a lot of baby rabbits coming. Half of which will be female, or a bit more. We had forty does from the last cycle. Plus the ten mothers. Fifty does. Average of eight babies. Every three months or so . . . that's a lot of new rabbits in three months . . . half of them female . . . plus what we started with . . . that gives us about two hundred breeding does . . . Is that right?" Flo looked up at Johan. How did she seem so big? She was only five foot one.

"Two hundred and fifty," Johan said. "Then one thousand two hundred and fifty at the next cycle. Very good ratio." He pronounced the word carefully. "Rabbits are very good return on investment. But it won't happen that way." He added regretfully. "We use separate cages to limit the breeding." Then he grinned. "No Brillo rabbits to break into the does' cages."

Flo wasn't so sure. "I don't know. Some of those bucks are mean."

"Meat." Johan's voice was flat.

"They're not exactly bred for meat," she pointed out.

"Hardly matters," Johan said. His blond hair fell over his eyes as he shook his head. "Meat is meat. We want only the best. Best wool. Easiest to manage."

Flo swallowed the bile. "Fine, Johan," she said. "We'll breed the best, and keep the rest in separate cages." Johan could tell that Flo didn't like it either. He hated giving up the fur they could produce. They were a resource he hated to lose, but the feed situation, not to mention the space situation, was going to get out of hand real soon. Johan wished there were some way to spread the load.


"You'll like her," Mary Lee Newhouse said. "She's about as down-to-earth as anyone ever was." They were walking up Flo Richards' long drive. "See?" Mary Lee flipped her hand, indicating the farm. "She's got her stuff together."

Clara Kunze, or Kunzin as the Germans would say, the wife of Herr Junker from Badenburg who had sold the Lehen on a farm to Mary Lee's husband, looked at her. She lifted a pale eyebrow. "This friend of yours, Flo? She's the one who claims that her wool is better than any wool in Thuringia? Why should I believe that?"

"Because it is." Mary Lee said. "I've known Flo for years. Went to school with her." Had been there for the infamous cheerleader episode. Had cheered Flo on, for that matter. Quietly, of course. Grantville was a small town. It didn't do to make more enemies than you had to.

"Flo," Mary Lee said, "will have an answer for your widows." She hoped. There were widows in Sundremda and she knew from Clara that there were others. Every village had them; more now, because of the war. They made their living, what living they had, by spinning wool. Flo knew about wool; maybe she would have an idea.

Mary Lee knew that wasn't all of it. Clara was worried about a number of things. Only one of them was the plight of the widows in the villages her husband held Lehen on. Mary Lee wasn't real fond of the stuck-up Claus Junker but she at least respected the fact that he wouldn't put a widow or orphan out, rent or no rent. Still, if those women could make a fairly decent living, it would help. Clara had made it very clear that what she didn't want was another Guffy Pomeroy. They'd reached the porch. She rang the bell and hoped.

She rang the bell again, when Flo didn't answer.

"I know she's here," Mary Lee muttered. "I checked with J.D."

After the second ring, Flo pulled the door open. "Oh," she said. "It's you, Mary Lee. Come on in."

Flo waved them in. She looked . . . well, while Mary Lee hated the term, Flo looked stressed out. "What's wrong?" she asked.

"C'mon to the kitchen," Flo said. Grumpily. A glance told Mary Lee that Clara was not pleased with this lack of manners. Clara was pretty down-to-earth as upper-class town women went, but even the best of them didn't care for being ignored or treated rudely.

Mary Lee and Clara followed. "Flo," Mary Lee said, "do you want to tell me what's wrong?"

Flo's bangs fell over her eyes as she looked fierce. "I," Flo said, "am sick of this place. The problems. Trying to deal with it. All of a sudden, I've got too many rabbits and not enough angora. I've got a ram that doesn't have wool, he's got steel wool. And he keeps getting loose. I'm afraid he's going to get to Jen's Merinos, that . . . thing." Flo's face was flushed. "And not only that . . ." She gestured around the room . . . "I'm having to cut back on coffee."

"Oops." Mary Lee stifled a grin. Flo had been hooked on coffee since she was about eight years old. "That bad, huh?"

Flo glared at her. "You can laugh." Then she looked at Clara. "Sorry," she said, then blushed a bit. "I've forgotten my manners. May I offer you something to drink?"

Clara Kunze, who clearly recognized a woman on the edge, grinned at her. "I don't suppose you have any of Mary Lee's frozen limeade about the house, do you?"

Flo grinned. "Who, me?" she asked innocently. "Me?"

Mary Lee gave Flo her own glare. "Tootsie, I saw that sale at Costco, didn't I?"

Flo blushed. "Jeez, Mary Lee," she said. "You'll give away all my secrets, won't you?"

"Only if you've run out of tequila." Mary Lee grinned. "Of course, we can always do daiquiris, can't we?"

"Tell me about these rabbits," Clara said sympathetically. "Are they getting into your garden?" Mary Lee could tell that Clara was feeling her way and she was thankful for it. She had gone to some trouble to arrange the meeting and Flo had almost blown it in coffee withdrawal.

Flo laughed. "No. Not that kind of rabbit. These are angora rabbits. They have marvelously soft hair; you spin it with wool." Then, seeing Clara's expression. "It's true. Here, I'll show you." She fetched a scarf made from merino wool and angora hair.

Clara felt the scarf. She rubbed it on her cheek, while Flo explained about plucking the fur from the rabbits and the other steps in making the incredibly soft, warm scarf.

"It's like a warm cloud on a sunny day," Clara said enthusiastically.

Flo smiled "What a nice way of putting it. The problem is it takes a lot of rabbits. Feeding them and housing them; the bucks have to be kept in separate cages or they fight. We don't have enough room." She turned the blender on, and waited for the margaritas. While they were blending, she salted the rims of three glasses. After pouring the frozen concoction into the glasses she set one each in front of Mary Lee and Clara, then slumped into a chair. "We have angora rabbits and can make angora yarn but not enough." Flo sighed "They're rabbits. They breed like rabbits but keeping them cared for is labor intensive and we don't have the labor. Keeping the colors separated is going to get kind of dicey, too."

Clara looked up from stroking the scarf. "Flo," she said, a bit dreamily, then took a drink from her glass. "My son Egidius, just yesterday, was telling me about a marvelous invention. A franchise, he called it. I understand your keeping this to yourself. It is very valuable but there are poor women in all our villages. They need work. Can't something be worked out?"

"Huh." Flo was confused. "I'm not keeping it to myself. At least I didn't mean to. I'm not real sure what a franchise is. Not in detail." She shrugged. "And I don't really want to know, to tell the truth. If it's like the franchises uptime, well, anybody who owned one got inspected and had people coming around making sure they were doing what they were supposed to. I don't have the time, or the inclination." She stared into her glass. "Mostly, I bought the rabbits and sheep to try and coax Jen to come live in Grantville when she graduated. Probably silly of me, but I'm a mom, you know. Now . . ." Flo drained her glass. "Now I'll never see her again. Every time I see one of her friends, like Noelle, I choke up. Yeah, the rabbits are probably going to be a moneymaker, but that wasn't what I had in mind." She stood and gathered the ingredients for another batch of margaritas.

Clara was staring at Flo in surprise. "Then you would not object to selling the rabbits?"

"No." Flo shook her head. She didn't seem to notice Clara's sudden intensity but Mary Lee did.

"Not all of the village women would be able to pay in advance," Mary Lee said.

"We can work something out," Flo assured her. The sound of the blender stopped conversation for a minute or so. "I'm not trying to keep the damn things secret," Flo said. "I could sell them on spec." At Clara's look, she explained. "Sell them to people who would take care of them, then pay me what they owed later. Jeez, Clara. The sheep are enough to keep me busy. The rabbits—well, they're rabbits. I've already got too many." Flo prepared another set of glasses and served the drinks.

"Mary Lee, did your church do the Heifer Project? You know, where you donate animals?"

"I've heard about it," Mary Lee said, after she'd licked a bit of salt from the rim of her glass. "I always thought it was a good idea."

Flo reached for a pad of paper and made a note. "I don't think anyone has started one here. I'll get in touch with Mary Ellen at my church." She pointed at Mary Lee. "You get in touch with your pastor, too. And Clara can get in touch with people she knows."

"Heifer project?" Clara was clearly wondering what they were talking about.

"It was a program we had back uptime," Mary Lee explained. "Someone would donate a female animal to a family in need of food. In return, that family agreed to donate female offspring to another family, and then that family would do the same. Of course, it'll be a bit different with the rabbits."

"That's what we'll do, then," Flo said. "Sell what we can . . . say twenty dollars for a breeding pair. Give people a break. If they can't pay right away, we'll go for some interest, but not much. Donate the critters, if we have to. Johan will just have to suck it up."

Clara grinned at her. "Your husband?"

"Nah," Flo said. "My partner, I guess. He deals with the farm and the animals. And I think he's gotten a little too fond of the idea of getting rich off all this wool." She frowned. "There's no way we can keep up with as many animals as he wants us to. But the angora hair is pretty valuable, so we'll just do what you said. Sell them cheap, donate others. That way the hair gets harvested, the spinners make some money and we all have nice, soft clothes."

"Hear, hear," Mary Lee said, raising her glass.

Flo and Clara grinned. "Hear, hear," they echoed, touching their glasses to hers.

"It's going to take a while, I imagine, before it really gets going, Flo," Mary Lee warned. "Months, I bet.

"Piffle," Flo said, waving her fingers. "It will get done, sooner or later. Just a matter of getting organized, just like always. We can do it. Now . . ." Flo sighed. "If we could just get some coffee imported before I have to hurt someone."

Mary Lee just about snorted the margarita up her nose.


"J.D. if you make one more smart-ass remark, I'm going to throw this damn soup stuff at you."

J.D. looked at Flo, seeming a bit startled. Flo rarely cursed.

"I know I'm going to run out. I know everyone is. I don't need you to remind me of that every stinking morning of the world. If you say `you're going to have to give it up sooner or later' one more time, you will regret it." Flo had a headache. "Just shut up, will you?"

J.D. apparently decided that discretion really was the better part of valor and murmured, "Yes, dear." As he rose from the table, Flo could see him hiding a smirk.

Jerk, she thought. Mr. I-can-take-it-or-leave-it jerk.

After J.D. had driven away, Flo headed outside. "Anna, I'm going for a walk. I need to get out for a while."

"Ja, Flo. We take care of things." Even Anna had started walking on eggshells around Flo these days.

Flo stepped out into the warm morning and headed down the drive. It was the noncoffee days that were making life difficult. Her coffee stash had been devastated by the purchase of sheep. Only a couple of teenagers had been willing to take money for their sheep. The others had held out for coffee. Now, Flo was trying to ration herself. It wasn't easy.

"Damn sheep. Damn wethers. Damn rotten, bargaining brats. Damn it all, I have got to get hold of my temper."

Flo had gotten used to soup nearly every day. She could live with the inconvenience of not having a car. There wasn't even a decent sale to get to anyway. She'd even stopped listening for the phone on Sunday evenings, when Jen used to call.

Coffee was her only real vice. And Flo really, really missed coffee.

"Be honest, at least with yourself, Flo," she chastised herself. "Two or three pots of coffee a day, honestly. A coffeeholic, that's what you are. Don't you feel silly? Don't you hate being controlled by a craving?"

The headache was subsiding to a dull throb. Flo walked around a curve, and came to a sudden halt. Damn it, he's loose again!

"You have to be the single most stubborn, stupid creature on the face of the planet, you know," she said in the sweetest tone she could manage. Brillo had gotten loose so many times that they'd had to put a collar on him, so they'd have something to grab. "You're going to be hit by a truck, you know. And then we're going to turn your pathetic fleece into a rug, just so I can walk on it every day."

Flo had her suspicions about Brillo. Breeding season was nearer every day. Brillo seemed determined to participate.

"Not going to happen, you scraggly so-and-so. Not going to happen." Flo reached for the collar, and the infuriating creature moved away. Twice more, she nearly had him.

Finally giving up, Flo turned to go back and get help. As she walked, she continued to mutter. "Don't know why he just won't stay put. Has to get out, has to cause trouble. Can't just stay in the pasture, has to get in the garden. Clover isn't good enough. Has to have weeds. Weeds. Chicory weed. Chicory!"

Breaking into a run, Flo started shouting as she reached the barn. "Johan, Johan! That damn Brillo is loose again! And we need a couple of shovels!"


"Roasted and ground, my rear end." Flo was getting irritated. She'd been experimenting for two days. Cleaning the roots and putting them in the oven didn't work. The roots wouldn't dry. Now she was chopping the chicory roots as finely as she could.

"If they did it in the civil war, I can do it now, Ilsa. I'm going to keep trying. It won't be coffee, but I can mix it with what's left. It will stretch the supply. I might make it through the winter without hitting a certain smart aleck, if I can figure this out."


It took a week of experiments, but Flo finally discovered that if she dried the roots thoroughly she could grind them. Then she could roast the ground roots. Now it was time to try a pot of chicory coffee.

"Let's try it with one scoop of coffee and one scoop of chicory, Anna. Then we'll see what happens." Flo was jittering with excitement.

The smell of coffee drifted around the kitchen. It was a different scent than usual, richer somehow. Flo took a cup from the cupboard and stood near the coffeemaker, enjoying the aroma.

When the coffeemaker beeped, she poured a cup full and sat at the table. She sniffed. "Unusual, but good."

Taking a sip, she stopped to savor the taste. "Not quite the same."

Another sip. "I can live with it."

Yet another sip. "I think, ladies, I may last out the winter, after all."


"Umm . . . Johan, do you think he's going to hurt himself doing that?" Flo asked. "Throwing himself against the fence that way looks like it would hurt pretty badly. He shook the corner post, that time."

"He will be okay, Flo. He is just mad. He can smell time to breed. We only keep him just in case. One more year, maybe. If good lambs and no rams die, I will see if someone wants him. Maybe Grange can use him." Johan was not sentimental about his stock.

"It's kind of a shame, Johan. He's a really hardy sheep." They started to walk away. "That wool, though, it's awful. In a way, I wish we could use him. It's silly to be sentimental, but he was our only hope for a while."

"Will be useless, probably, Flo. Only need few rams. Need many ewes."


The next morning, Flo was ready to personally castrate the Ram From Hell. The fence was down and Brillo had been found wandering through the breeding flock. There was no way to tell which ram had impregnated which ewe. They'd have to wait for spring.


"Flo, we've got to do something."

Flo and J.D. were getting ready for bed. J.D.'s tone caused Flo to look up quickly. J.D. was usually a relaxed, casual sort of person. He rarely sounded upset, no matter what happened.

"What's the problem, J.D.?"

"It's Mother, Flo. I've had Price Ellis, Charlotte Green and Hope Underwood on the phone today. They insist that Mother has to be convinced to leave Prichard's. It's getting pretty crowded and they've got a lot of people with real problems now. Mother doesn't need to be there. Her only problem is the arthritis. She's taking up space they could really use. What are we going to do?" J.D.'s voice cracked from stress.

"We had the same kind of day, J.D. In my case it was Mary Jo, Claudette and Joellen. They must all be using the same list. They all know we've tried to move her in with us for two years, now. It's Lena who objects. Every time I visit her she says the same thing. No."

"I know. I talked to Wallace today. The `Adopt-an-Elder' people are calling him, too. They interrupted meetings all over town today. We've got to get Mother to see reason, Flo," J.D. said. "We could give her my den. It's closest to the bathroom."

"Heavens, J.D. You're going to give up the boys' club?" Flo exclaimed in mock surprise. "Will wonders never cease?"

"You're a real smart aleck, when you want to be, aren't you, woman?" J.D. smiled. "I'll be happy to give up the den, now that I don't have to listen to you and the girls talk. How could any man sit and listen to five women talk about that kind of stuff? You could make a statue blush."

Trying to keep from snickering, Flo said, "Okay, big fella. You and Wallace bring her bedroom and living room furniture here. In fact, empty her storage unit. Clyde probably needs the space. We'll get the room ready, and make it as private as we can. Then I'll tackle Lena."


Lena Richards was a strong, independent woman. After being widowed at thirty-one, she had raised two strong, decisive, competent men. She didn't want to give up her own independence, but she refused to "be a burden" to her sons. At seventy-five, when housekeeping had become more than she could deal with, Lena had sold her house. She had used the proceeds, as well as her savings and Social Security payments, to continue living as she chose.

Prichard's hadn't been a nursing care facility prior to the Ring of Fire. Now, due to the war, it had become more and more crowded and had truly needy patients. Lena with her sharp mind, sharper tongue, and ability to get around with a walker, didn't need that kind of care.


"So, that's the situation." Flo had finished her explanation to Anna, Ilsa and Maggie. "What do you think?"

"We should get busy. Lena should kom heim und be with family. Ilsa, we get to see the `secret room.' What treasures we will find, eh?" Anna laughed.

"Oh, ja, Anna. Flo, is full of gold und silver, yes?" Ilsa grinned.

The "boys' club" had become another standing joke in the household. Anna and Ilsa were appalled at the idea of a room in a private home dedicated to avoiding family. That was, after all, what taverns were for. The one time all the men had tried to sneak away, Anna had called in the troops. With ten of the eleven children lining the walls and staring, the men had given up and returned to the living room. In truth, they were all usually too tired to spend time talking when they could be sleeping.

The den had yielded very few secrets. Old papers and catalogs were just about the extent of the treasure. J.D.'s desk had been moved to the bedroom, along with a few boxes of odds and ends.

"Where can we put this ugly old thing, Anna?" Flo wondered aloud. "It's really an awful old chair."

Catching a flicker of Anna's Oh, you rich Americans look, Flo said: "Come on, Anna, it's not a throne. It's just an old fake-leather recliner. It takes up too much space. There must be dozens in Grantville. Lena won't want it in her room."

"Is good of J.D. to give room to mama, yes? J.D. should not have to lose favorite chair. Is sturdy. Where can we put it?"

"You do have a point." Flo admitted. "I suppose it can go back in the living room. I warn you, Anna, anyone who sits in it will fall asleep. J.D. used to nap in front of the television. Just wait until you hear the snores."

The room was finally ready. Lena's furniture had been arranged to provide both a sleeping and sitting area. Her books and pictures were placed on the built-in shelving of the former library. There was even a door that opened onto the porch, where Lena could enjoy good weather.

"Well, ladies, we've done the best we can. It looks just fine." Flo commented. "Tomorrow, I'll ride to town with J.D. It's time to bring Lena home."


Fortified with a pot of chicory-laced coffee, Flo felt ready to tackle Lena. Riding into town with J.D. had given them a brief time alone. While killing a few hours until Lena would be ready for visitors, Flo had visited with friends and walked the length of Main Street. The changes in the once dying town were amazing. It was wonderful to see all the activity and people.

After she reached Prichard's, Flo stopped in to see Price Ellis. She told him her plans and received his quick agreement.

"I'm going to try again, Price. You know I've tried before. There's no guarantee that she'll agree this time, either. If she doesn't, I expect you to get Hope and her crew off of J.D.'s back. They can call me, but they've got to leave him alone. J.D. has enough to worry about. Agreed?" Flo asked.

"Agreed, Flo. They are a little overzealous, aren't they?" Price nodded. "Hope even came to see Lena. Maybe that will help. Lena just doesn't need skilled nursing care. I'm sure she'll be happier out at your place."

I hope Lena isn't angry about Hope's visit, Flo thought as she walked toward Lena's room. A mad Lena isn't going to make this any easier.

"Good morning, Lena," she said as she entered the room after knocking.

"I'm not going, Florence. I know why you're here, and I'm not going." Lena definitely had her back up. No one ever used the name "Florence" unless they were trying to irritate Flo.

"Hope Underwood was here yesterday." Lena continued. "She had me walk up and down the hall and look into all the rooms. So don't try that one either."

"Lena, would you just stop being so stubborn? Honestly, if you don't want to be a burden, come home with me. Hope and her merry crew of nags are driving the town crazy. They've got J.D. and Wallace all upset. They're burning up the phone lines."

"I'm not giving them the satisfaction, Flo. No one has any business butting in. They've been after me for a week now. I'm sick of it and I told her so."

"I can just imagine that conversation. I'd have liked to have seen it. Still, Lena, it's not just the space issue. We could use your knowledge out at the house. You lived through the Depression and you went through the rationing of the war years. With so many people out there, one more isn't going to be a problem. Besides, I'd like to be able to speak English to someone. Having to learn German, eat soup every day and put up with the coffee shortage is getting on my nerves." Flo laughed, "Come on, Lena. The German women have eleven kids between them. You like kids.

"Besides," Flo continued, "the only good thing about the Ring of Fire is that so many people have rediscovered the importance of family. We need you. I miss Jen, the girls are busy, and Mom has her own concerns. I'm outnumbered and overwhelmed. You wouldn't believe the mess I made, trying to add lanolin to a batch of soap. Come out and join the circus. Help me keep my sanity."

Lena and Flo had always gotten along well. Hearing the description of an average day had Lena laughing with Flo.

"You really do need me, don't you, Flo?" Lena said. "I can't imagine how you've stood it. Eleven kids, five or six other adults, a husband and a lunatic ram. Are you sure you don't want to just move in here with me?"

"There are days, Lena, when I feel like I could run away. Still, though, Grantville is home. Even Grantville in 1631 Germany is still home. We can't go back to West Virginia, so we'll have to do our best with what we've got. So, are you coming or not?"

"Oh, I'm coming, Flo. I'm coming. I've got to see the Ram From Hell, if nothing else. He's getting famous, you know?"


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