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Amber in teh Ozarks
The sunrise here is truly beautiful. I've always thought so, and I always will. Seeing that sun rise, the glow of orange bathing the mountain side, just reminds me again and again just how lucky I am.
I'm Amber, and I've lived here along with my family for as long as I can remember. Poppa once said we all live in a big state called Arkansas. But I guess that was before he told us to ignore state lines at all costs. Up here you can forget laws and all that, he says, you're free as a bird soaring the high skies. You don't need to follow a single rule up here in the Ozarks. That's why Poppa loves it here. I love it for different reasons. I just admire the beauty of my home, though the freedom of it's nice too. I can't imagine living anywhere else, especially down in the valley. Poppa has always describes his former home using very negative words.
I always try to take the time before everyone wakes to just absorb that beautiful sunrise. I can't do so every morning, so a good sunrise truly is a blessing. There may not be rules up in the Ozarks, away from all of civilization, but there is what Poppa calls responsibilities. One of my said responsibilities is to look after my younger siblings while Poppa's down at the lumber field. This particular job can get to be quite a handful, as I have five younger brothers and sisters, including five-year-old twins. It's gotten even harder over this past year, now that Momma's gone. But I don't mind it one bit, I love my family almost as much as I love it in the Ozarks, so naturally I don't mind watching them. Even if it can get a tad bit time consuming.
Today was one of my lucky days. I was up early enough to watch the sunrise for ten good minutes. When my eyes start to burn from sun-gazing, it really is a rare treat. After my ten minutes were up, little Hazel came running up to me, tugging at my blouse still in her pajamas.
“Hungry,” Hazel muttered irritably. Though Hazel's been old enough to use full sentences for two years now, she never does so in the mornings. She gets too cranky.
“Well then,” I replied happily. “Let's get some breakfast inside of you.” I took Hazel's hand and led her to the kitchen. It's me and my sister, Gale, who end up cooking most of the time, but I'm usually the only one up early enough for breakfast duty.
Our kitchen isn't like most people's according to Poppa. He says that regular folk use these fancy machines to cook their meals, some that even emit waves of brain damaging poison. When I first heard this, I thought it was kind of silly. Poppa told me that everything the valley folk did was kind of silly. All we have in our kitchen is an always burning wood stove, a pantry full of dry goods, and a cooler for the day's dairy products. We don't even have a table indoors. All of prefer eating out on the veranda in the cool mountain air.
Through the sunlight streaming in through the kitchen windows, I saw that my nine-year-old brother Birch was already up and about. I was impressed. Like the rest of the family, he tends to sleep in. I stuck my head through the always open
window and called to him.
“Birch! Can you bring in some eggs from the hen house?”
I got out the skillet and greased it with some fresh butter. A moment later, Birch came in with ten fresh eggs bundled precariously in his arms. Once again, the day proved its good luck when Birch dropped absolutely none. He set them in the basket on the counter before hurrying back out of doors. Envy twisted inside of me for a moment. Sometimes I wish I could just seize the day without a single responsibility dragging me down.
Hazel came up to me, her long night gown dragging across the kitchen floor, and her blanky in her mouth. Every morning, she tries without much success to crack open an egg. Poppa doesn't know about this, as he would hate to see a hard worked for egg wasted like that. Like every other day, we had to throw out the spoiled egg. Hazel frowned.
“Don't worry, Haze, you'll get it one day.” I never tell Hazel how happy I will be on that very day. I can't wait for a time when I'll actually have help in the kitchen in the mornings.
I quickly whisked the rest of the eggs onto the skillet. The only good thing about making breakfast as oppose to any other meal is that it's quick. At that moment, Hazel's twin brother, Glenn, came stumbling into the kitchen. He had his sleepy face on, which always makes me smile. Glenn has always been one cute kid.
“Why don't you two set the table outside?” I suggested as I always do, just to keep the twins busy.
“Is Poppa eating with us?” Glenn asked as he started gathering plates from the cabinetry. Glenn has always been so helpful in addition to cute. It's like he lives to please others, which makes me love him even more.
“He said he would. He's not spending too much time in the lumber yard today,” I replied. It's weird calling the place Poppa spends his days the “lumber yard.” It's not like every poppa in town goes there to work. Just ours. No one else lives around here anyway, making it impossible. The lumber yard is just this small clearing Poppa formed that he uses to chop wood all day. The “lumber yard” seems too magnificent a title for such a place.
Hazel grudgingly followed Glenn out the side door, arms laden with cups and silverware. I turned back to breakfast, scraping up the hardening egg guck with a spatula. I love the monotonousness of my mornings. Some people hate doing the same things over and over, but I can't imagine anything else. I find it comforting in fact. Besides, come afternoon, once my sleepiness and responsibilities are out of the way, there's always time for an adventure.
I finished with the scrambled eggs, and hurried to the loft to check on baby Misty. We all share one big room in the loft. It gets very cramped in the nights, but no one ever minds. We spend every available ounce of daylight outdoors, anyway. It's the way it should be according to Poppa. And I can't help but agree with him wholeheartedly on that point. The people down in the valley sure are crazy to be spending all their time cooped up indoors.
Gale was still sound asleep in the big bed. Only her golden braids were sticking out from under the quilts. It didn't surprise me. Gale's a great help, being twelve years old and able to do almost everything I can, but never in the mornings. Without a moment's hesitation, I shook Gale awake. It would be a crime to let her sleep through this beautiful morning, anyway.
“Time to rise and shine,” I murmured as she began to stir. I then continued to the wooden crib in the corner. It was the very same crib every kid in the family had once occupied. Misty now slept there, when she did sleep. She spent most nights screaming her head off and keeping me and Gale awake.
I peered over the wooden crib railings and was surprised to see little Misty actually sleeping placidly. She looked so cute there, snug under her own little quilt. As I scooped her up, I tried to think about how easy the life of a two-year-old must be. I'd taken those days for granted.
Misty whined a little in my arms, but readjusted soon enough. Gale was already up and about, brushing out her braids. It worries me sometimes just how much Gale cares about her appearance. She refuses to wear certain hand me down dresses and is always running a hand through her golden locks. It's not like there's anyone to impress up here in the Ozarks, unless you count the milk cows. I try to tell Gale that, but she just brushes me aside.
I began to climb down the loft ladder with Gale right behind me. I moved slowly as to not disturb Misty in her sleeping bundle. The house was so quiet and the air was so still. I just needed to get outside right at that moment. Sometimes I hated those walls Poppa had put up eleven years ago just because they were a barrier between me and that fresh mountain air. Outside, the birds would be chirping their heads off, and the late dawn light would be bathing the mountaintop in beauty. I let out a sigh, more anxious than ever to get out of the house.
I reluctantly handed cute little Misty to Gale and picked up breakfast and hurried out the side door. In the perfect world, the twins would have the table set and ready, Poppa would be waiting on the veranda after a morning at the lumber yard, and Birch wouldn't have gotten himself into a lick of mischief. Since even the Ozarks in their magnificence wasn't quite the perfect world, I doubted any of that would happen. But when I pushed through the door and into fresh air, none of that even mattered.
Everything was even more beautiful than I had remembered. It was like I had been away from it all for years, not just the nighttime hours. The birds were indeed singing their lovely song, the very same song they chirped every summer day. A bubbling brook crossed right over our yard. The sunlight glistening in the lapping water was just too beautiful to be true. The weeping willow trees that surrounded the veranda were in full bloom, shedding pale pink flowers to decorate the grasses. The pasture could be seen just beyond the house. Our milk cows, sheep, pigs, and goats stood there just grazing the morning away. The big red barn stood off in the distance. Poppa had just renovated it with Birch's help. The two of them had added an addition for the four new calves that were born this spring, and layered it with beautiful red paint which complimented the Ozarks' beauty perfectly.
Just beyond the barn, the tree line of the woods could be seen. From my place by the side door, I could just make out the well beaten path Poppa used to go to and from the lumber yard. It's hard to believe, but if you go a bit past the lumber yard on a less beaten down foot path, you'll make it to the ridge. The ridge actually overlooks the entire valley, and all the little towns that spot it. Poppa had some evergreen trees planted there a while back to ruin the view a bit. He doesn't like us watching the happenings of the valley. I personally don't see the harm in watching. Valley folk might act silly, but it sure is amusing to watch what they do in their free time. Sometimes I go anyway, just to see. I take my binoculars and struggle through those evergreen branches, which have gotten pretty big by now.
I set down the breakfast tray just as Gale was setting up Misty's high chair. Like the crib, it had been used by everyone in the family, even Poppa. For that reason, Poppa refused to let it stay outside to be destroyed by the elements. It's the only piece of furniture I know of that has to stay indoors.
I then gave the breakfast call by ringing our ship's bell from Poppa's sailing days, and watched everyone come running. Birch, always hungry, and our black lab, Mica, were the first to arrive. They came lolling through the back field, at first barely visible among the corn stalks.
“What's for breakfast?” Birch asked panting when he finally arrived on the veranda. “Is it pancakes?”
“Birch, you know we only have pancakes on special occasions,” Gale replied rolling her eyes. I had to share the mood. Birch was always asking for those pancakes, even when he knew we couldn't possibly have any flour to spare.
“We're having scrambled eggs, made by me, so if you have a complaint about it, bite your tongue,” I muttered.
Birch sighed as he plopped down on his usual seat. “Sheesh, Amber, we always have scrambled eggs. They're probably cold now too,” he muttered halfway under his breath. I decided to let his attitude issue slide for now. I was pretty much sick of scrambled eggs too those days.
At that moment, I spotted Poppa coming through the pasture with Hazel and Glenn. It made me smile to see those three happy faces.
“Nothing like farm fresh eggs! Made by our very own fantastic chef too.” Poppa exclaimed as he took his seat on the veranda.
“I set the table, isn't that right, Amber?” Glenn asked eagerly, needing his own praise from Poppa too.
“That's right, Glenny, you and Hazel both,” I replied. Glenn grinned from his chair across from mine.
“And what a fine table you've set, son,” Poppa added, making Glenn beam even more. All was silent then except for the scrabbling of our breakfast forks and the chirping of the mountaintop birds. Across the table, Birch fed Mica half of his scrambled eggs. I frowned, shooting Birch an I-saw-that glare.
“Ugh,” Gale moaned, breaking the peaceful silence. “I just spilled orange juice on my dress. And laundry day was just yesterday. I'll be walking around with this orange stain for the whole week!”
I frowned. Why did Gale care whether she had an itty bitty orange juice stain on her dress? We were in the Ozarks, in isolation county. “Haha,” Birch mocked before I could scold my little sister properly.
“You really shouldn't be worrying about your dresses so much, Gale,” I remarked picking through my own scrambled eggs.
Right at my side, Hazel nodded. “Don't worry about your dresses,” she echoed. Hazel tends to always agree with everything I say. If she had been older, it would get annoying, but I find it charming in the five-year-old sense.
“Never mind, Gale, you're still looking lovely,” Poppa uttered soothingly. I rolled my eyes. Poppa should know I'm right when I say Gale shouldn't be spending so much time on her looks. A vain mountain child just won't do.
“So what are you kids planning on doing today?” Poppa asked, changing the controversial subject.
“I just found this cave down the brook,” Birch replied, pointing. “I want to go explore it today.” I smiled to myself. I had already discovered the very cave Birch was talking about years ago. I knew every inch of our mountaintop already, but I wasn't about to spoil all my little brother's fun.
“Can I come?” Glenn asked eagerly.
“Fine,” Birch muttered after some hesitation. “Let's go.” I watched as my brothers left the table, tucking in their chairs neatly behind them. We have quite an assortment of chairs around the veranda table. It's basically all the possible to be sat on objects Poppa was able to find when he drove around in his pick up in the valley last year. My family considered it a renovation.
“Don't get into trouble!” Poppa called after them as Glenn and Birch headed down the brook, Mica haring after them. “What about you girls?”
“I was thinking of baking some bread. Wanna help, Hazel?” I replied, even though the last thing I wanted was to spend the rest of my morning cramped in the kitchen. Hazel nodded eagerly. She loved molding the dough into bread.
“I can watch Misty this morning,” Gale offered sweetly. I know she was just sucking up to me so she could get that paisley blouse that was getting kind of tight on me.
“Perfect. And the mountain team manages another morning,” Poppa announced cheerily as she rose from his broken lawn chair (one of the chairs Poppa had collected in the valley last year). “I'm off to the lumber yard. We'll be needing lots of fire wood, come fall.”
I nodded my agreement. Poppa was always looking forward, I admired the quality. After he left, I took Hazel's hand and led her to the kitchen for our morning of baking bread. Once it was over, I'd be out and about all afternoon.
Grand Junction, Colorado
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When life gives you oranges, make grape juice and sit back and let the world wounder how the hell you just did that.