A week after the raid, Ethan and Jamie were working on assignments Joe had given them, when Davis came by. After a few minutes of small talk, he asked Ethan if he ever did any hunting.
"Davis, aside from a few chickens we were able to raise, if we had meat Jamie or I shot it."
"You have rifles?"
"We each have an old .22."
"You hunted squirrels? Rabbits"
"Squirrels, rabbits and deer."
"You hunted deer with a .22? You know that's not legal." Ethan nodded.
Davis asked to see their rifles. Ethan showed him two old, but well-cared-for rifles. "How many deer did you shoot with these that got away?"
"None," boasted Ethan.
"You never failed to bring down a deer you shot with these?"
"Never," Ethan said. "It's just a matter of making sure you get a good shot. Besides, ammo is expensive." Davis looked amazed.
A few days later, Davis came by after Jamie came home from school and asked Ethan and Jamie to come with him.
He drove to the back of a pecan grove and stopped two hundred yards or so from a bank of dirt. "Here we are," he said and got out of the truck. He reached into the back of the truck and took out two packages. "Ethan, Jamie, sons, when I saw the rifles you two had and realized they had kept your family fed, I was amazed. I also was surprised you had never been caught deer hunting with .22s. I thought you deserved better. If you're good enough shots to always bring down your deer with what you have, you'll probably have your limit in no time with these." He handed each of them a package. When they opened them they saw new, beautiful rifles equipped with telescopic sights, something they had never had. "Grab the bags of kitty litter and that table out of the back of the truck and we'll get those suckers sighted in." Davis then instructed them how to sight-in the rifles. He was amazed when, after they were sighted in, each young man put a shot in the very center of the bull's eye at well over two hundred yards.
Arkadelphia produced much of its own food including meat. Traditionally, Monday before Thanksgiving was a hog slaughtering day. The actual slaughtering was no longer done at Arkadelphia, but at the freezer plant. Before household freezers became common, people rented a freezer locker at the plant, prepared food for freezing and took it to the plant where it was quick-frozen and placed in their locker. Shortly after the lockers became available, the plant started offering a slaughter service. Live animals were taken to the plant where they were slaughtered, the meat cut and wrapped for freezing and frozen. Arkadelphia took advantage of a variation on that when it came time to slaughter hogs. The hogs were taken to the plant and butchered and most of the meat cooled, not frozen. It was then brought back to Arkadelphia where Davis presided over the curing and smoking of the bacon, hams, and part of the loins---which became Canadian bacon. The smoking was done using well-seasoned pecan wood from large limbs removed from the trees for one reason or another. The rest of the loins, the ribs and other parts which were not cured were quick-frozen at the freezer plant and then placed in a huge freezer at Arkadelphia. Grocery shopping at Arkadelphia always began at the freezer.
In addition to pork, beef was also slaughtered at the freezer plant, quick-frozen at the plant or cooled and brought back to Arkadelphia for aging. Randy selected an animal to be slaughtered about every quarter. The animal was placed in a small pasture with lush grass during much of the year, but the winter quarter it had to be given hay and some grain.
Jeff and Art were at the house when the pecan crew came in Wednesday before Thanksgiving. In spite of the crew being grimy, there was a hug fest. As they were washing afterward, Davis reminded everyone that the Friday following Thanksgiving was a traditional deer hunting day. To encourage deer---not that they needed encouraging as in some parts of Georgia they were dying from overpopulation---and to fatten them, several patches of grain had been planted on Arkadelphia and deer were plentiful. That did not mean they were easy hunting.
Thanksgiving at Arkadelphia was a family affair---the plantation family. Albert, LaLisa and Samuel would be there. Jeff and Art, of course, were already home for the weekend and Molly had called Rich to make sure he knew he was invited. "Doug invited as well, I assume."
"Of course," Molly replied. "I thought you two might be with one of your families."
"Well, Doug has no family left and mine tossed me out when I told them I was gay, so we've always been on our own. This year we have family."
"You do indeed," Molly had assured him.
Thanksgiving morning, everyone slept in and Ethan and Scotty made good use of the hour they were awake before Jamie and Sally Ann stirred. They showered and dressed after making love, went downstairs and started breakfast. Jamie staggered downstairs when he smelled the coffee, grunted a good morning and grabbed a cup. Ethan had eggs, ham, cheese and mushrooms ready to prepare omelets and Scotty had placed a large pan of biscuits in the oven when Jamie came down. Jamie set the table and poured glasses of juice. The biscuits came out of the oven just as Sally Ann descended the stairs. "Smells great," she said as she poured herself a cup of coffee. Ethan had two omelet pans ready to go and in no time at all the four were devouring breakfast.
After they cleaned up after breakfast, Sally Ann and Jamie were glued to the TV, watching the Macy's parade. When it was over they both picked up books they were reading and joined Ethan and Scotty who preferred books to the parade and had been reading instead of watching it.
At two, Sally Ann packed up two apple and two pecan pies and a Japanese fruitcake and they all headed for Arkadelphia. Randy and Ginger had arrived shortly before the Taylors and Ash and Kathy joined them on the walk to the plantation house. Dek and Andy came right behind them as did the Kistlers. Shawn had finally settled on Scotty as his hero and made a beeline for him as soon as he was in the door. When Albert and LaLisa arrived, Sam did the same except to his hero 'Shamie.'
At three, everyone filed into the dining room where the table and sideboard groaned under the abundance of food. They were all still standing, talking among themselves, when Davis tapped his glass.
"Today's Thanksgiving, a day set aside to give thanks. Most would look at the food here and see the main reason for the day. The abundance of food is a rich symbol of the many things we have to give thanks for. For me, the richness of this year and why I am especially thankful is best symbolized by the people standing around this table. Each and every one of you is someone for whom I am eternally thankful. Standing around this table is the hope of Arkadelphia and of south Georgia plantations. So with thankful hearts, let us feast." And feast they did. The conversation ranged from the state of the plantation to the state of the world.
After dinner, Doug and Rich cleared the table, then went into the living room to thank everyone for a wonderful dinner and good visit. They came back to the kitchen where the younger set and Molly were cleaning up. Rich said with a wink, "Hate to eat and run, but we've got to go see a man about a dog."
Molly was directing the storage of the food, including preparing boxes to be taken home with everyone and told Rich and Doug to hold their horses and a few minutes later handed them a box of food. They thanked her and left. Ethan was hand washing the china, crystal and silver and Art dried and Jeff put it away. Scotty and Jamie tackled the dishes which would go in the dishwasher, then the pots and pans---of which there were few as 'clean up as you go' was an unwritten Arkadelphia rule.
As they finished cleaning up, they joined the others in the living room. Jeff, Art and Ethan were the last to finish. During a lull in the conversation, Jeff asked about the groves at Pleasant Grove and got a pretty detailed report including the fact that the old trees were actually producing. When they were talking about the grove that was to be replanted, Molly laughed and said, "You'll have to make a special trip in the spring to see Jamie and Andy's project."
"What's this project?" Jeff asked.
"We are now selecting cover crops based on which is the prettiest," Randy chuckled.
"Well, why not?" Ash answered. "Given we have two romantic cowboys in our midst."
Everyone was laughing except Jamie and Jeff. Jeff was struck by the thought that emotionally Jamie was on edge and had been since his kidnapping. He wanted to intercede, to protect Jamie, but he didn't know how. He suddenly got a pleased looked on his face and asked, "Jamie, Andy, you finally get a trial planting of blue lupine at Pleasant Grove, did you?"
Both got huge smiles on their faces and Jamie said, "Hell yes! As you can see, we've taken some ribbing about it, but we have two acres. If it does well, we plan to harvest the seed and plant more next year. It's better for the soil than clover and is a lot prettier."
Jeff got up, walked over to Jamie and Andy and shook their hands. "I pestered Dad about giving blue lupine a trial for several years, but he just laughed at me. Glad to see you can manage that hard-headed Edwards patriarch." Everyone started laughing and applauding, including Davis. "A new day has dawned at Arkadelphia," Jeff added.
"True, true," Davis said. "Just shows how having young whippersnappers around can get even an old man out of his rut."
A short time later, people were ready to go home and Davis reminded everyone Friday was the Arkadelphia deer hunt.
Thanksgiving night, as Jamie and Ethan prepared for Friday's hunt, Scotty made it very clear that he would not be with them. As soon as he said it, Ethan prepared to defend him expecting Jamie to make some comment about him being a wuss. He was pleasantly surprised when Jamie said, "You might like it if you tried, Scotty, but I'm sure, not surprised that you haven't, and aren't interested. Not sure I would except for the fact that until very recently, having meat on the table meant hunting. It was as natural to us as buying hamburger at the grocery is for you." Ethan was surprised at Jamie's sensitive comment and very proud of his brother.
Ash, Dek and Andy declined the invitation as well, so at dark thirty Friday morning, Ethan and Jamie, Jeff and Art, Randy and Davis gathered in the plantation house kitchen dressed for a hunt. Davis drove each pair to a spot near one of the grain plots and let them off to find their way to a deer stand. Again, deer stands were new to Ethan and Jamie. They knew there were such, but had never had one they could use. They found stands about a quarter of a mile apart each overlooking a small plot of grain. During the twilight just before sunrise, Ethan saw a large buck come out of the woods in front of him. He did not have a clear shot and waited, hoping for a better one. The buck moved forward and Ethan sighted in on him and began squeezing the trigger. As he gave the trigger a final squeeze, he heard a double shot. Jamie had fired almost simultaneously with him. He hoped his shot had not caused Jamie to miss. He quickly climbed down from the stand and began field dressing the deer. His father had him field dress his first deer, guiding him and helping him, making sure he was learning how to do the job carefully. When he finished, he used a block and tackle he found at the foot of the stand and had the deer hanging when his phone rang. It was Jamie.
"Heard your shot, little brother. Hope mine didn't mess you up."
"When you see the buck I bagged you'll know otherwise. How'd you do with that new rifle?"
"I just finished field dressing a six-point buck."
"Got you beat," Jamie said. "Mine has eight points. So what do we do? We've been here less than three-quarters of an hour and each has a buck. I'd like to get these to the freezer plant."
"Same here, but we dare not call Jeff or Davis and maybe mess up their chance at a deer. I'll call Scotty and have him bring the truck." Ethan had Scotty take a roundabout way to them so as not to disturb the other four hunters. The three of them were able to get the carcasses into the truck. The temperature was not low enough that they could just hang the carcasses until the others came in, so they drove straight to Braggton where their kill was placed in a cooler.
The others came in a few minutes before noon. "You get discouraged and come in early?" Davis asked.
"Been back since 9:30." Jamie drawled. "Didn't want to wait for y'all. Any luck?"
"Yeah, I got a nice four-pointer," Jeff said. "You gave up too soon."
"I didn't say we gave up," Jamie said. "I said we didn't want to wait for you all." Ethan has a six-pointer and I have an eight hanging in the cooler in Braggton."
"Damn, I heard a shot," Randy said, "but I had barely gotten in my stand. Sounds like you got two nice ones, a six-point and an eight-point buck."
Ethan, Jamie, Randy and Davis made a couple more deer hunting trips and the plantation was well-supplied with venison for the year.
In December, Scotty did go rabbit hunting with Jamie several times and finally bagged a bunny using Ethan's old .22. Jamie still used his trusty slingshot.
The Audubon Christmas Parade was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Christmas decorations were up everywhere. The Arkadelphia Plantation 'below twenties' decided they would go. Scotty called and made reservations for them at Diners' Delight for dinner after the parade. The Friday before, Sally Ann had said, "For the first time, we have money enough to have a real Christmas." Jamie and Ethan reminded her that Christmas was about more than things. "I know that," she replied. "What I mean is we have money enough to buy lights and things for a real tree. I want that."
"Then you shall have it," Ethan said. "So you're going Christmas shopping after the parade tomorrow?"
"Are you nuts?" she replied. "It will be a madhouse. Molly is going to Atlanta next Thursday and coming back Saturday. She has invited me to go with her."
"What about school?"
"She said I shouldn't worry about that."
"Just you and Molly going?"
"Ginger as well. Molly said you'd maybe give me a hundred dollars to spend." Ethan gave her two while thinking about the year before and what they would have done with two hundred dollars.
In early December, Joe came by to talk with Jamie and Andy. As soon as they had greeted each other and discussed the weather, Joe said, "Jamie, Andy, I checked and you can do joint enrollment with Audubon State. That will give you both college and high school credit. With just a little extra effort, you can graduate high school at mid-term next year. The only problem is all the paperwork should have been done last fall. I called your counselor and she thought she would work around that in light of the reward from the governor. She will meet with you tomorrow after school. You'll likely have to go to the university as well, but it all needs to be set before school lets out for the Christmas break. Depending on what you need to take, it is possible you can do all your work at the university and not go to high school at all."
Joe's announcements about joint enrollment sure put a different face on what Andy and Jamie would be doing, but if they were going to the university, it could make a difference in Scotty and Ethan's schedule as well since they would need to arrange things, if possible, so the four could make any necessary trips to Audubon together.
After their last class the next day, Jamie and Andy went to the counselor's office. Ms. Bates, Jamie and Andy's high school counselor, told them she thought Joe was whistling in the wind when he suggested she look into joint enrollment for the two for spring semester. "High school is rigid enough about red tape, but state universities are worse. However, seems Audubon State had already heard from the governor in regard to those of you who had been involved in bringing down that crime bunch. He was able to open doors long locked by people in the university administration. Anyway, I looked at your schedules and your grades. You two are very complementary with Jamie strongest in humanities and Andy in science and math. Hope you will study together."
"We do our study for Joe together," Andy said.
"Great! Now that Mr. Maddox is adjunct at Audubon State, you can get credit for what you do with him. I checked with Ethan and Scotty about what they planned to take spring quarter and managed to get a schedule for the four of you worked out. For you two, I've signed you up for World History until 1900 and English Composition online. I hope you are disciplined enough to do that. I will warn you to keep up. Most of those who get behind fail. Ethan and Scotty will be going to campus Tuesday and Thursday from 6:00 until 8:00 for a biology class with lab. I thought it would be a good idea for you to go with them and save travel. I signed you up for a chemistry class which, of course, includes a lab. That is ten college hours and your independent study will give you four more. Fourteen hours is a pretty heavy load and if it looks like you're having difficulty, I'll drop a course for you." They talked with Ms. Bates for about an hour longer and she told them again she was concerned about the load they were taking and whether or not they really were disciplined enough to do online courses.
Ms. Bates had completed registration for Andy and Jamie, but Ethan and Scotty had to do their own. Early registration opened the day before the Christmas holiday began and Scotty called the day before and made appointments with their advisers for 11:30. As a precaution, he made an appointment with the registrar at 1:30 as well.
Scotty's precaution of making an appointment with the registrar proved a wise move. Both advisers had no problem securing the courses they wanted, but the computer rejected it noting they had never applied for admission to the university. "I see you have taken classes," Ethan's adviser said, "but as a transient student. You'll have to complete the application process and be accepted as a regular student. There are computers in the library. I assume you had a computer userID and password when you were taking courses. Those should still be good, if not, use your last name and initials---in that order---for your userID, and the last four digits of your social security number as your password. If that doesn't work, talk to the IT person stationed in the library. Once you get on the system, complete the application form. Acceptance should be automatic, if not, you'll need to see the registrar. In any event, as soon as you are accepted, you will be registered for the courses you have selected."
Ethan practically ran into Scotty who came bounding down the stairs. "I suspect you ran into the same problem I did. We've kinda never been here," Scotty said.
"True, so are you headed to the library?"
"I am. So shall we tackle this together? Scotty asked.
"Sure, but I think your having made an appointment with the registrar was a wise move."
When they reached the library, they signed in for computers only to be told they were not enrolled and, therefore, did not have accounts. When they asked to see the IT specialist, the media assistant---she quickly informed them that she was not a librarian---pointed to a small glassed-in room at the back of the library.
"I'm Scotty McCarter and this is Ethan Taylor ...
"I'm Inez Webster," the young woman---she actually looked about twelve---said. "I thought I recognized you when you came in from your picture in the paper. What can IT do for you?" Scotty explained their problem, the young woman checked on her computer and laughed. "Sometimes I wish administrators could be replaced by machines. I don't think machines would be as stupid. Since you two were here this summer, you were issued UserIDs and passwords as transient students, When you didn't enroll for second session of summer school, your UserIDs were automatically canceled. Now you need to actually enroll in the university as a regular student using a school computer, but since you have had a UserID, the program will not allow you to be issued a new one. But you can't use the old one because it was canceled because you weren't a student. So you need a new UserID so you can officially be accepted and issued a new UserID ...welcome to the world of the endless loop. I can give you a temporary UserID which will allow you to make application for admission to the university and as soon as you are accepted you'll be issued a permanent one. Use computers four and five with the last four digits of your social security number as your UserID and your last names as your password.
"By the way," she added, "the university system daily memo said you were to be granted admission to any state college or university tuition-free. There is a block in the top right-hand corner of the application form marked 'Official Use Only' put the word 'Governor' in that box. Let me know if you have further problems.
When they had completed the application forms and submitted them, Inez motioned for them to come to her office. When they walked in, she said, "Congratulations. You are officially enrolled in Audubon State University with twelve hours credit from your summer courses. She then handed them copies of the acceptance letter which would have been sent to their home address. "You have been accepted, but you are not enrolled in classes."
"Our adviser said it would be automatic as soon as we were accepted," Scotty said.
Inez looked at her computer and said, "The message is 'Enrollment on hold for tuition payment. I thought the governor was taking care of that. You'll have to see the registrar---good luck, You'll need it!"
"Wasn't that encouraging!" Ethan said, sarcastically.
"I'm getting pissed," Scotty said. "Inez knew the governor had granted us tuition-free enrollment in any state college or university. "Look, it's 12:15, let's grab lunch. We have time before our appointment with the registrar.
They walked into the registrar's office at 1:15. The young woman at the front desk was a student on a study work program. This was her third year in the office and she could do the registrar's job as well as the registrar so long as everything was standard. Their problem was not standard and the young woman seemed to shift immediately into 'protect the registrar' mode. After fifteen minutes explaining the situation and asking to see the registrar without success, Scotty was terminally pissed and placed a call to the governor's office, never expecting to get closer to the governor than the phone operator. However, he was fairly sure the operator would be able to direct his call to someone who could do something about the situation. When the operator answered, he said, "This is Alpin Scotty McCarter from Arkadelphia Plantation in Bragg County and I need to speak to the governor."
"Thank you, one moment, please," was the operator's response.
The next voice was such a surprise Scotty was rendered speechless for a moment. "Oh, Mr. McCarter! I am sure the governor would like to speak with you." She hadn't bothered to ask why he had called.
He was even more surprised when the governor said, "Mr. McCarter! Pleased to speak with you. I am looking forward to meeting you in person. Meanwhile, what can I do for you?" Scotty told him his problem and the governor let his displeasure be known and told Scotty if the situation hadn't been remedied in twenty minutes to call him back. Less than five minutes later, the two were shown into the registrar's office.
"Mr. McCarter, Mr. Taylor, I am sorry there was a problem. Had this office been notified ..."
Scotty wasn't buying what she was selling, "Oh, but you were. It was in the daily university system memo. I suppose you routinely ignore it. That's no skin off my nose until it creates a problem for me, which it has. Now, I assume that the block placed against our enrollment in classes has been removed."
"It will be, I assure you."
"I'll be assured when I am handed a copy of our schedule which should be available."
The registrar turned to her computer and typed for a minute or two. Her printer started and spit out two sheets. "Here you are," she said as she handed each of them a sheet.
Ethan and Scotty looked over the sheets and Ethan asked, "Can you explain why my eight hours for a directed independent study in horticulture was denied?"
"And mine in animal husbandry," Scotty added.
"Your supervisor, a Mr. Joseph Maddox, is not on the faculty of this university, so he is not approved."
"That is strange because Mr. Maddox was approved as adjunct faculty by someone here as were the independent studies," Ethan said. "Scotty, I guess we're going to have to enroll at Glen Stockade State."
"I don't think so," Scotty said. "Madam, I believe you need to check with the heads of the departments who approved the courses several weeks ago. We'll wait."
Half an hour, later a very chastised registrar handed them copies of their schedule. At the bottom was a notation, 'Overload approved by the Dean of the Faculty." With online courses, on-campus courses and independent studies, the two were signed up for twenty hours, definitely an overload, but they had reasoned the independent studies would add nothing to their workload as they would just continue working with Joe as they would be, whether or not they got credit for it.