I’m a big fan of autumn, especially since I moved back to Colorado. The golden aspens shimmering against the blue, snowcapped mountains is a sight nothing less than astounding. Fall brings sweater weather, football, and cozy settings. The food is great, too! I love cooking soups and stews in the crock pot, as well as apple cider. Living in the southwest, one of my favorites is green chile. One of the old recipes of the south is Hopping John.
Here is a sample from my upcoming novel, A Beckoning Hellfire, which is due out next month.
A week before David planned to leave, he decided to break the news to his family. He had waited as long as he could, since he was apprehensive about the event and knew they would try to talk him out of it.
His mother set steaming bowls of Hopping John in front of each of her children, who had gathered around the table. Josie grabbed a spoon and went to take a bite.
“Josephine Summers, you wait till we say grace,” her mother firmly scolded her.
“Sorry, Ma.” Josie set the spoon down.
Carolyn seated herself. She folded her hands, rested her elbows firmly on the table, and glanced around, waiting until her brood had all closed their eyes. “Lord, thank you for this food which we are about to receive. Bless this family, and give us a prosperous year. We pray in your name, Amen.”
“Amen,” her children echoed.
Carolyn passed a plate of fried cornbread to Rena.
“I don’t see how we can prosper this year, Ma, what with the Yankees breathin’ down our necks, and now a tax-in-kind bein’ imposed on us,” David remarked, swirling his spoon around in the bowl of bacon, rice, and sarsaparilla stew. He scooped up a purple-hulled pea, an onion, and some red peppers, but let them fall back into the thickness.
“The army is entitled to whatever we can provide them,” said Carolyn. “If they want us to tithe a tenth of everything we grow, then that’s what we’ll give them.”
“But what if we have a bad crop this year?” asked Rena. She looked across the table at her brother.
“The Good Lord will provide for us, dear,” Carolyn said confidently.
Rena watched her brother swirl his spoon around without taking a bite. “David, ain’t you hungry?” she asked.
Josie snickered. “That would be a first.” She grinned at her brother before shoveling another spoonful into her mouth.
David hesitated. “There’s somethin’ I want to say to y’all.” He let go of the spoon and looked directly at his mother. “I’m fixin’ to jine the army.”
Carolyn immediately stopped eating. He felt like he had put a knife into her heart by the way she glared at him.
“David, I need you here,” she said softly.
“I have to go, Ma.” His voice grew defiantly stronger. “You know I do.”
“No, you don’t, David,” Josie said in a high pitch. She reached across the table, grabbing hold of his wrist. “You don’t have to go.”
“Well, I want to, then. I’m fixin’ to go and that’s final.” He took a deep breath. What had been building up inside of him for weeks had finally been released. The whole episode made him irritated. His mother was about to protest, he knew she would, but he had to make her understand.
“When?” She stared at him with her big hazel eyes.
Feeling his anger subside, his lower lip quivered slightly. “April third,” he said, his voice softening under his mother’s gaze. “The day after my birthday.”
“That’s next week!” Josie exclaimed.
“What about your plans to go to Auburn?” asked Rena.
David snorted. “I can’t go to college now. Not with all that’s happened.” He looked down at his bowl and shrugged. “We don’t have the money, anyways.”
An awkward silence engulfed them.
“I ain’t hungry anymore,” Rena sobbed. She hurried out of the room.
David watched her leave. Guilt swept over him, but he couldn’t waver. He had a duty to fulfill. “Jake’s comin’ with me,” he mumbled.
“Oh, he is, is he?” his mother asked.
“Do his folks know about that?”
“I reckon so.” He glanced over at Josie, who was still eating, but staring at him blankly.
“What about the crops? Have you considered that?” His mother set her spoon down on the table. “It’s more than we can manage, David. You know we have over a hundred acres out yonder.”
“I know, Ma,” he said, his voice softening even more. “Jake’s folks will help out, or their slaves will.”
“Did you speak to them about it?” Carolyn frowned.
He stared at his bowl. “No, but I’m fixin’ to…tomorrow.”
His mother sighed, picked up her spoon, and took a bite. He reluctantly did the same. The mantle clock ticked repetitiously, accentuating the quiet.
“I’m done, Ma,” Josie announced. “May I be excused?”
Carolyn nodded, so Josie rose from her place at the table and departed to the adjoining cabin.
“I’m done, too, Ma.” David said. “May I be excused?”
“You can help me with clearin’ the table. I ain’t done with you yet.”
David clenched his teeth. Under normal circumstances, he usually evaded clearing the table, since he considered it to be women’s work. This was his mother’s way of showing her disapproval, he knew.
Avoiding eye contact, he stood, gathered the dishes, and followed her out the back door. His two coonhounds, who had been waiting patiently, sprang to their feet, their tails wagging furiously.
“Caleb, you ole mutt. Si, you scoundrel,” he greeted them affectionately. He scooped the leftovers into their dish and patted his hounds in an effort to postpone the confrontation with his mother, but finally forced himself to face the inevitable. Leaving the dogs to eagerly devour their food, he entered the small wooden kitchen building. Heat from the cook stove engulfed him; the smell of fried bacon still lingered. He set the empty bowls down next to the wash basin near a burning kerosene lamp. As he turned to leave, Carolyn grabbed hold of his forearm, compelling him to look at her.
“I know I can’t talk you out of this, because you think it’s your duty and you want to do it for your pa.” She stared deeply into his eyes.
He slowly nodded, and bowed his head. It became apparent to him that his sagacious mother had known his intentions all along, for she could always read his thoughts and feelings.
“David, look at me when I’m speakin’ to you,” she instructed.
He timidly obeyed.
“That horse of yours will die of a broken heart if you don’t take him along. And besides that, he knows how to git out of his stall, and he’ll jist go chasin’ after you.”
She gave him a sad smile. He faintly smiled in response.
“Jist promise me one thing.” She held tightly onto his arm. The flame flickered, punctuating the uncomfortable, sudden stillness.
“What’s that, Ma?” he asked quietly.
“That you and Jake will git in with the cavalry. I’d feel a whole lot better if you did.”
“But, Ma, how will we kill any Yankees if we’re in the cavalry?”
She frowned. “I reckon you’ll find a way.”
David chuckled, but seeing his mother’s hardened gaze, quickly let the smile fade from his lips. “I don’t know if ole Stella can make the journey,” he said.
“Ole Stella will do jist fine. Now, you promise me.” She grasped tighter onto his forearm to the point where it was starting to hurt.
“All right, Ma. I promise.”
She released her grasp. “And you make sure Jake promises his folks. I know ya’ll think it’s one big romp, but I can’t lose you.” She turned away, stirred the cinders in the wood-burning stove, and started heating up water for the dishes.
“Ma, I’ll be all right.”
He gave her a quick peck on the cheek. His mother didn’t react. He turned, exited out of the kitchen, and glanced back. She was still facing away from him. Sauntering across the yard, he passed the well and the two outhouses and went into the house. Respectfully, he tidied up the table for her before retreating to his room. He could hear his sisters’ muffled voices seep through the wall as he plopped onto his bed and positioned a down pillow under his head. The entire episode had left him exhausted and emotionally drained. Tomorrow will be another day, he reasoned to himself and closed his eyes. Lying across the bed with his feet hanging over the edge, he drifted off.