Sorry for taking so long to get this posted. I've got some weird virus that acts like vertigo ... I can only be on the computer for so many minutes at a time before I feel like I'm going to hurl. Typing has been absolutely no fun, last night was even the first time I've been out of the house to drive and I only went because I had to. So here it is but if you read anything that looks really, really bizarre let me know so I can go back and fix it.
The New Geek Empire
I woke at my usual early hour and had to untangle from Jax … literally untangle; my braids were stuck under one of his shoulders where he had rolled over on them and he was draped over the rest of me like I was some kind of body pillow. Despite appearances I wasn't going to read too much into it since nothing but some serious sleeping had occurred. We were both still fully dressed; and besides, I'd seen him do the same thing to his bed covers. When I finally managed to get loose he barely registered me leaving which told me he was truly exhausted because except on rare occasions he was nearly as light a sleeper as I was … and still am to this day. I left him and Kelly to sleep a while longer while I got the day started.
I loved the quiet of early morning before everything started dragging on me telling me I had work to do. It was peaceful and I tried to enjoy those few minutes as much as possible. To save time I had baked a whole bunch of bacon and cheese cornmeal muffins the day before and I’d also boiled about a dozen eggs. Some would be eaten for breakfast but I planned on the rest of them going into our picnic dinner basket. I wondered briefly, as I had several times before, if Matt or any of the others had managed to jury rig some kind of refrigeration or whether they had to make do the best they could.
Jax had said Matt and the rest of the crew had been trying to design and build a solar refrigerator but they were having trouble getting the chemical reaction they needed. I remember him asking me, “Got the foggiest idea what Matt was trying to build?”
I smirked, “Sure. And so do you.”
Giving me a suspicious and slightly irritated look at my smirk he asked, “I do?”
“Yep. Where do you think our ice comes from? How do you think we have what amounts to a cold cellar beneath the house?”
“That lens gadget you were all but cussing about when that limb fell and knocked the frame?”
I nodded. “The very same. And don’t act like you are dumb because I know you are not. Matt probably just kept it as secret as he could or tried to make it sound a lot more complicated than it was; of course you know what he is like and probably figured that out for yourself. Just like you know good and well what that lens is for and why I was so upset when that limb hit its frame.”
I looked at him like a kid I had caught trying to pull a fast one in the nursery. He shrugged and gave me a small smirk. “OK … I’m busted. Yeah, I figured out that lens was heating that pipe that holds the refrigerant but I didn’t know it ran the ice maker. I thought that was pulling juice from the solar system.”
“Nope, the cooler is more passive and doesn’t really pull ‘juice.’ Dad said we had a finite amount of electricity we could store and the more passive systems we could put in place the less we’d have to spread that electricity out to too many things pulling on it.” I handed him a plate to put in the cabinet for me and continued. “The ice maker is just icing on the cake of the passive cooling system so to speak. It is like a cycle that feeds on itself. Once we built the solar cooler and got the room to cool down we used the coldest part of the room to freeze two-liter bottles of water. The more frozen two-liter bottles there were the larger the ‘freezer’ section became. Since the Fresnel lens only cycles once a day on a sunny day Dad wanted to come up with a way so that the whole system didn’t have to work so hard and would retain the cold it had created during the day when it was off at night or on days there wasn’t enough sun to get the system to cycle. During the day the refrigerant is the cooling agent but only has to cool a smaller and smaller space as the cooler itself is kept full with as much frozen stuff as possible. At night the temperature is maintained by the frozen water bottles and other cold items in that room giving off their coolness. We have a pretty good equilibrium now.”
Confirming his understanding he said, “That’s why you are so careful about how much goes in and how much comes out of the cooler at any given point.”
I nodded. “Pretty much. Too much warm stuff going in there at one time will force the system work harder and take longer to return to the stable temperature I like to keep it in there – you notice half the room is a “cooler” and the other half nearer the coils is the “freezer” – but removing cold stuff and leaving a gap of air would have the same basic effect by adding air mass that the refrigerant system would need to cool.”
Thinking about that conversation only made me even more suspicious about how Jax would sometimes play at being a dumb good ol’ boy. I hadn’t the foggiest idea why he hid it but he was a lot smarter than he sometimes let on. He may not have been as academically brilliant as Matt but he was no slouch in the brain department. Dad used to say that Jax would make a good replacement for his job when he decided to retire and work on the home place full time. All he needed was some training and a teacher to show him how to think through problems instead of only relying on manuals and cookie cutter policies.
Putting my empty cup of tea in the sink I put the muffins to warm outside in the solar oven and then when out to take care of the animals. My morning chores always included making sure their feeders were full and that they had water for the day. When I was done with the rabbits I looked in on the chickens rolled my eyes at one of the less pleasing aspects of keeping the birds. All chickens like their protein but some chickens like to hunt it up more than others. Back then nothing gacked me out worse than trying to chase down the rooster after he had started running around with a mouse in his beak.
If you have never tried to take something from an ornery Rhode Island Red let me tell you it is no easy task. Stupid thing finally flew to the roof of the coop and just strutted back and forth with that mouse flopping around enough to be totally disgusting. “Ok fine Red, keep your nasty ol’ mouse but I’m telling you right now that you are completely gross.”
I was irritated and sweating and when I turned back to the house to get something to drink it was only to find Jax sitting on the steps feeding Kelly a muffin. Worse, he wasn’t trying very hard to hide the smile on his face. I felt like throwing a bucket at him. “How long have you been sitting there?! I could have used some help you know.”
With a laugh he told me, “Long enough to get the idea that there might be chicken and dumplings in our future.”
“Humph! If that stupid rooster wasn’t such a good mouser he’d been in the pot a long time ago. Problem is I know what he’s been eating so the idea of eating him isn’t what you would call appealing.” I decided it was too hot to stay ticked off and instead said, “I swear, this weather is miserable. I don’t ever remembering it staying this warm this late in the season.”
“It’s been a while, that’s a fact,” he agreed. “But I think the humidity is the worst part. Want me to get you some breakfast?”
I shook my head and flopped on the stairs beside him. “No, I’m too hot to eat right now. I’m just gonna get me some apple juice and try and cool off.” Before I could move he handed me an insulated cup with said cool, sweet liquid sloshing around inside. I thanked him and then took a long draw on it. After a moment I asked him, “Still want to leave right before dark sets in?”
“Uh huh. I want to time it so that by the time anyone from town might be on look out it will already be too late and too dark for them to see us coming in. I don’t want to run with lights so you’ll have to lead us in and I’ll follow in trailing your running lights. First place I’d like to hit is the Feed Depot for sure but I’d also like to hit the tractor dealership next door and if there is time that craft store place that you mentioned for trying to get stuff to make Kelly some clothes with. Heck, I’d even like to squeeze the thrift store in there too if there is time. That’s where I usually got Kelly’s shoes and she needs new ones bad. I could list off a lot of places but those are the primary targets for tonight. The real question is are you still sure the animals will be ok if we leave them alone for two days running.”
I nodded. “You built that automatic water station for the chickens and I’ll put an extra bottle of water in each rabbit cage right before we leave. I’m more concerned about the heat though if this keeps up. We’ll have to make sure that we leave the cross breeze shudders open on the barn but secure them so that predators can’t get in. If you can finish that today then I’m sure that with the big fans going the animals will be fine. In fact, while you do that I’ll finish pulling together our camping gear if it’s all right.”
“Need some help getting it out?” he asked.
“Nope. But I swear if I see one spider you might just be getting it out all on your lonesome. I’m in no mood to deal with those creepy crawly things.”
He got a concerned look on his face and so I felt forced to say, “I’m kidding. C’mon Jax ... don’t go all … I don’t know … protective of me and stuff. That trailer business was a stupid mistake on my part. Done and over with. I’m gonna be packing bug killer in both holsters this time. Not to mention gloves and a hat and a shirt with a collar I can turn up.” I shuddered.
He grabbed the railing and used it to stand up while holding Kelly. “Still … if we can find any more bug bombs while we are out I want to get them. They’ll come in handy if we decide to do anymore salvaging. Who knows what kind of varmints have taken over things.”
I rolled my eyes, “Which reminds me, I got a tick off of one of the rabbits this morning only I have no idea where it came from unless it dropped out of the hay we brought in. We need to make sure and check Kelly all over until the cold weather kicks in knocks the population back.”
He gave me a goofy yet hopeful grin, “Do I get to check you all over for ticks too?”
I snorted, “You’ve been listening to too many old country songs again.” But secretly I was thinking I might not mind getting checked over so long as it was by Jax … and wouldn’t mind doing a little checking of my own.
We both got down to the day’s business after that. First I got the camping gear out of the attic and sorted through it. It was just going to be a one night trip and I tried not to be nervous about it but it would be the first night I had stayed away from home in a long time. And the circumstances of that trip were also way outside of what I was used to. I’d basically forced myself to accept salvaging those trailers and empty houses but going to the outskirts of town to simply take stuff from a business was making me nervous.
I know, I know … if we didn’t take it someone else would. But even after all these years I’ve never quite been able to convince myself that wasn’t just a rationalization for what we did … what a lot of people did. Yeah, it is called surviving; I’ve read all of treaties and journal articles on the phenomena. I know it is still being done to some extent to harvest recyclables to fuel our new power grid structure. But the plain fact of the matter is we didn’t know for sure if no one was going to return to those houses, to those businesses. We didn’t know for sure whether anyone “owned” what we took. We were just operating on what we saw as our own needs and in some cases, as the years have gone by, it has been proven that those rationalizations and excuses have been wrong. Hindsight is 20/20 however and even if I’m still leery of saying it was all justified, that doesn’t mean I haven’t accepted it for what it was and learned to live with it.
Because of the heat and because we were going to be up quite late we didn’t do any kind of major work around the home place. We took a long nap in the middle of the day making me feel a bit lazy and then before I was really ready for it we loaded the last items into the trucks and trailers to take off.
“Let’s maintain radio silence,” Jax said.
Giving him a look I told him, “You sound like those war movies Dad liked to watch. You really think … I mean … you said yourself that Matt and his crew were the largest group in town besides those people at that church. You really think that they meet that same kind of standard of danger that we have to go all commando and junk?”
With an almost incredulous look he asked, “Have you forgotten Sasquatch?! He clocked you without even an apology! Who knows what some of the others would have done given half the chance. Have you forgotten how most of them were dressed and what they were walking around with?”
“Before I took off Sas was looking lost and confused. He …”
Jax shook his head in frustration. “Lydie I know those kids were your friends … geez, Matt’s my cousin. And maybe they are still ‘good guys’ on some level but until we are sure they haven’t totally gone off the deep end like they were threatening to then we need to be careful. We haven’t got a real clue what is going on in town. The radio isn’t telling us much; either they haven’t got the power to run it, we aren’t on the air when they are, or they are becoming as cautious as I want us to be. We also don’t know for sure those two groups are the only ones in town. We might be a little off the beaten track as far as the interstate goes but we aren’t that far off and there are still the highways and county roads to think about outsiders using to travel by. Anyone could have come through and set up camp in town and I’m not sure we would know about it until it was too late.”
I sighed. “OK … ok. I read Dad’s books too. I just don’t want to automatically assume the world has gone all Mad Maxx. This isn’t a story book, this is real life.”
“Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Better safe …”
“ … than sorry. Yeah, I know. I heard that from Dad a lot longer than you did,” I told him in exasperation. “I know, OK?”
Quietly and earnestly the said, “Then let’s just be cautious. It’s the only thing that makes sense.”
My nervousness beginning to show through I asked him, “Then why go at all? We’ve got enough to get by here for a long while.”
He leaned against the truck with me while Kelly fidgeted in her car seat. She was going to be riding with me going out. He put his arm around me and answered, “Sure. We have enough to get by for a while. But we don’t know how long this … this situation … is going to last. Things in the larger cities are starting to unravel. You’ve heard it the same as I have. The definition of law and order pretty much depends on who is in charge. You’ve heard the rumors that the government plans to resettle people out into rural areas to put them to work.”
“Yeah and we’ve also heard they are going to resettle people in the rust belt to get manufacturing for the war up and running too. So which is it? What’s the truth?”
Confused I asked, “Huh? Exactly what?”
“Exactly … we don’t know for sure. Everything is crazy. Rumors are flying this way and that. Bottom line for us personally is that right now we have a window of opportunity to set ourselves up so we can … I don’t know what else to call it but survive whatever else is coming down the road. And something is coming. I feel it. Whether you want to admit it or not you feel it. You knew that you needed more than just yourself to get by and you risked a lot to go to town to get it. You trusted those feelings. I felt the same way about needing some place better, safer for Kelly and took a chance to come after you. What we have to do is also trust the feelings we are having now. Something is coming; we don’t know what, but something. We’ve both agreed on that. That something could be good but given everything that’s going on at best it is just going to be just more of the same of same kind of bad that we have had to deal with up to this point; or maybe worse. We need to be logical … and methodical. Let’s go to town, get what we can, and then set up for the winter and see how things play out. Remember what those books of your dad’s emphasized? God, gold, grub, guns, and ground. Basically community and resources. We’ve got God … or at least I think we both believe the same way.” I nodded as we’d both gone to the same church. He continued. “Grub and ground is this home place. It’s good but we could do better if we can find the right tools to work with. Guns … we’ve got some but it will go fast. Your dad taught me how to reload because we had to deal with animals – feral dogs and pigs – out in the timber and the big bosses didn’t like to give us much of a budget to work with. Even hunting will deplete what we have right now so I hope with can find something to help out. Gold … it isn’t important but it could be and I … I think it might not hurt anything to keep our eyes open for stuff like that.”
That was the part I was most uncomfortable with. “Jax … I …”
“I know Lydie. I’m not talking about taking it from anyone that is already holding it. But if we are salvaging and we just happen to run across something of value that we can put away for the future … look, let’s just play that part by ear for a while. You can’t eat gold anyway and we have other more immediate priorities.” He scratched his head a little in frustration at my obstinacy and then just set the issue aside to say, “We’ve got our community – me and you and Kelly – and maybe if Matt is in the right frame of mind we can expand our community. But with or without Matt and the rest of them we will need resources. Maybe we’ll need even more with Matt and the rest of them.”
I started to open my mouth but he stopped me again, this time with a kiss. “I know. Trust me I’ve thought about it. I’m just not prepared to trust them until we’ve done a little investigating. We’ve got a sweet set up here and I don’t want to put it or any of us at risk unnecessarily.”
“I don’t want to be greedy,” I told him.
“We aren’t talking about greed Lydie. Your folks did great things. No way could I ever repay your Dad for all he did for me … and what he keeps doing for me through you. But if I learned nothing else from my mistakes I learned that eventually a man has to take the reins himself if he really plans on being a man, you can’t keep depending on someone else to do it for you. Your dad started the ball rolling; now it is up to us to keep it rolling. We do that by stocking what we can, securing our position, and then waiting to see what is coming … by digging in with the best resources we can. I know you still think it is stealing but it isn’t. The people that could lay claim to that stuff are gone and they are not coming back. What we are doing is securing those resources …”
“Assuming anything is even left at this point,” I interrupted. “Matt or someone else … even Mr. Houchins … could have already taken it.”
He nodded. “Yes, assuming anything is left what we are doing is securing those resources so they can’t be used against us. That’s not greed Babe, that’s commonsense.”
It was pointless to argue about it. We both knew that the plan wasn’t going to change. I said, “Fine. But if we get a chance to help other people we do it. I won’t sit on a mountain of stuff and watch other people starve or whatever.”
“We’ll help … if we can do it without putting ourselves in too much danger.”
Again I knew that was as good a concession as I was going to get from him. And to be honest he was certainly right about feeling something was coming. I wasn’t sure what was causing it … the strange weather, my own personal reality setting in, listening to the craziness on radio from the few people that were still broadcasting, or maybe it was from reading Dad’s books. Whatever “it” was, it felt like a jumping spider just sitting out of my line of sight waiting to make an ambush.
Sure hope you get to feeling better. Sorry that you had to catch a virus this time of year. We are just blossoming like crazy up here with our little Iowa peach trees full of blossom and the pie cherry tree blooming like crazy. Tulips and hyacinth and daffodils are out. We've had a rhubarb crunch and an asparagus quiche already. And the weatherman has just sent a freeze warning. Not fair!
Kathy, I'm sorry about my spinning around dressed like a princess!
I do hope you are doing better, I get that a lot, especially just before a migraine hits me. The ONLY thing I've found that even comes close to working (and this is only if I take it soon enough) is the "Motion sickness" pills at the Dollar General. The main ingredient is something that starts with a "M"; meclizine or something. I use to get it from the doctor as a prescription but this stuff is stronger and WAY cheaper ($1.50 vs $37). You may want to give it a try.
Bed spins are NO fun especially when you did not even get the pleasure of being drunk first!!!!!! LOL!
I love driving and that night was no exception. I was also particularly fond of driving fast with the wind blowing through my hair but was forced to roll up the window when the third bug flew in and tried to take up residence in my teeth.
Kelly was one of those kids that as soon as you put them in a car seat and pulled onto the road they crashed. It was eerily quiet in the closed cab as the sun went down. I was used to her making all sorts of racket but I supposed that her being quiet was less of a distraction since I was driving without lights. A few places I had to slow down, not because I didn’t know where I was going but because the corners were too sharp to haul the trailer around as quickly as I wanted to. Finally we made it to the outskirts of town and I led the way to pull up to an old warehouse that had been vacant even before things went south.
Jax hopped out and carefully checked around before cutting the chain on the doors and pulling the truck and trailer he had been driving into the warehouse. He came back out and then got into the truck that I was driving.
“Geez Lydie,” he said shaking his head.
“You said you wanted me to take the lead,” I told him trying to hide a grin.
It was safe to grin because he was fighting one himself. “Did your dad really know how fast you were going when you ran that ‘shine?”
I stopped trying to hide it and smiled outright. “Let’s just say that he stopped asking after he rode with me a time or two. And if you’re wondering, I’ve never gotten a ticket.” More seriously I added, “If I hadn’t felt safe doing it I wouldn’t have gone so fast. I wouldn’t be stupid with Kelly in the back seat.”
He looked at me with trust in his eyes and said, “I know. Now let’s get over to the feed store and see what we can see.”
I eased over a couple of blocks and in behind the feed store. Handley’s was more than just a feed store but was a full service farm store. The people that had run it had been some kind of shirt tail cousin on my mother’s side but then again I could say that about half the people in town … and the other half were related to my dad so that wasn’t saying too much.
Jax nodded his head toward the rear entrance. “Place looks untouched. You think you can bump that lock while I cover you?”
“Nope, that’s a Schlage lock from the look of it. But if you give me a sec I’ll go through the transom window … assuming it hasn’t been screwed shut since the last time I was here. They used to open it to let the hot air out in the summer.”
It took more work than bumping the lock would have but I managed to use a flathead screwdriver to pop the lock on the transom window and then slid inside, turned my head lamp on and after a brief turn of my head to see if things were intact I unbolted the door. “Looks good. Jax, I’m going to go through the store and open the loading bay.”
“Good deal. I wasn’t keen on the idea of leaving Kelly out here unattended.”
Once we had the truck backed in we went to work. The inventory was way down and about half of what was there had been gotten into by mice and rats … all of which had run as soon as we had gotten busy … but we managed to fill up the truck and trailer in just a couple of hours.
First I hit the rabbit and chicken feed. The laying pellets and the mash for chicks was a welcome addition to what we already had. I would have cracked corn for them but it can be labor intensive and I was glad I didn’t have to for a while yet. I also got all the fish chow they had, both the floating and sinking kind.
He grunted, “Yeah?”
“What about this canned cat and dog food? There’s a few feral cats that hang out around the old tobacco barn but they are pretty self-sufficient. Dogs … we just never got another one after Lady died because the docs said it wasn’t a good idea for Will … but … I wouldn’t mind a hunting dog if such an animal is still around.”
Jax looked like he was thinking about it and then said, “Can’t hurt I suppose. Put it on the loading dock. If nothing else we can fill empty space with it.”
I used stacking crates from the back of the store and grabbed all of their flea and tick products like sprays, treatments, collars, shampoos, and dusts. I grabbed the animal vaccinations that were still viable from the locked cabinet they were kept along with all the other animal medicines. I was sure that some were gone over but since I didn’t have the time or the light to look close enough I figured I could do it when I was putting it away back at the home place. Dewormers, animal remedies, and diet supplements followed the rest of it.
Animal bedding and litter took up a lot of space but better to take it while we had access to it. Bulbs for the brooder and heat lamps was of particular importance so I packed them into the cab and wrapped some horse blankets around them to keep them cushioned.
After grabbing all of the animal stuff we hit the organic garden section. Fertilizers, soil amendments, weed control, fungus control, and as man bags of soil and mulches as I could fit was crammed in as well. All of the insect and pest control was crated up and shoved anyway it would fit. Grabbed all of the gorilla glue and tape off of the end cap where they had been prominently displayed.
The area I should have hit first was the canning area. I had a gazillion and one jars, many older than I was, but having too many jars never hurt anything and I decided I could store the extras out in the loft of the tractor barn if I needed to. So all the cases of jars – weren’t really that many in stock anyway – along with all the lids and rings got its own corner of the trailer. I also grabbed all of the ascorbic acid and what commercial pectin was on those shelves along with canning salt and pickling spices. There were a bunch of boxes of ice cream salt so I grabbed that too. In the back in the out-of-season storage area were bags of sidewalk salt and blocks or deer salt.
I handed Jax another small box to find room for only he stopped and then turned to me and wanted to know, “Why am I carrying a bunch of animal urine?”
I laughed. “Fox, coyote, mountain lion, and bobcat pee can be used as repellents.”
“Uh huh, I’d reckon so given how this stuff is likely to smell.” He went on to the trailer but he was still shaking his head. I thought to myself that if he thought that was bad he obviously hadn’t seen all of the buckets of Snake Away I planned on taking with us.
Not too long after that Jax and I had to stop and admit that not another thing was going to fit. “Dirt is dirt,” I told him. “Sure it would be nice to take all of this back with us but it isn’t happening on this run. We got most of what we came for.”
He nodded. “I say we go switch vehicles. I don’t want to run this trailer any heavier than it already is. If the other places don’t pan out we’ll come back and get what’s left.”
When I drove I could tell the trailer was really pulling. “Jax, we are going to have to go back a different way. I’ll never get this thing around some of those curves out on River Road, especially in the dark and with those inclines.”
“Guess it’s a good thing we made alternative plans for the trip back then.”
As soon as the switch was made we had to pacify Kelly with a meal and truth be told Jax and I were starving by that point as well. We ate tuna fish on biscuits with apple chips and a few slices of aged cheese. In no time Kelly was out again … lucky for us … and we hit up the tractor dealership for all of the parts on Jax’s list of must haves and a few on his would be nice to have list.
From there we had to drive a couple of blocks down river but as soon as I pulled in I thought it was going to be a bust at the Mennonite store. Got out of the truck and I could smell male cat in every direction. “Whew! That is some heavy territory marking,” I told Jax.
Jax was making a face and said, “What the heck? I don’t want to even breathe this stuff.”
“Are you familiar with the store’s lay out?” I asked.
“Uh uh. What’s it like inside?”
I thought for a second and then suggested, “Tell you what, you stay here with Kelly and let me get inside. These cats gotta be eating something and if the mouse population is in the building the hassle might not even be worth it.”
He twitched his nose, nodded, then shut the truck door so that Kelly wouldn’t have to breathe the air. He had a good grip on his rifle because no way did either of us want to be surprised by anything feral enough to create the odor we smelled.
But we were either lucky or blessed as whatever catty creature was outside appeared to have kept all the varmints outside as well … probably as dinner. That wasn’t to say the place wasn’t rank but it was the rankness of food long gone bad and dried up rather than fresh ripeness. Still Jax and I didn’t waste any more time than necessary. It was the wee hours of the night and we were both starting to drag.
Anything that could spoil obviously already had although there was surprisingly little of that in the store. The freezer cases looked pretty well cleaned out as was the dairy cases. In fact most of the shelves were a lot more barren than I had ever remembered seeing them which told me that either the Mennonite community had been taking care of their own towards the end, someone had already been through the place though that didn’t make too much sense, or the store owners simply hadn’t been able to restock before things really went south.
Most of the bulk food was in plastic bags with twist tie tops and appeared to be OK although there were some bags that were damaged; by what or from what wasn’t readily apparent so I just made sure to take bags that didn’t look like anything had got at them. The beans, rice, and dried soup mixes would certainly not be going to waste and I just shook my head that Matt and crew hadn’t thought to come out this way to take possession of any of it.
Cereals and grains were next. The less common grains quinoa and spelt could only be found in small bags on the shelves but there was plenty of wheat, mixed grain cereals, rye, oats, and the like in fifty pound bags stacked on pallets. I left those to Jax who would stack a dolly full and then take it out to the trailer to load into the eighteen foot enclosed trailer. There were plastic bags of muesli and I threw a couple in the cab before I boxed up the remaining cereals into plastic storage tubs I’d brought along for the ride.
Next came the dry mixes, teas, dried gelatins and pudding mixes. I wasn’t too sure about some of the baking mixes because they were made up fresh. The ones I worried about I put into a different container to keep any possible rancid food from contaminating the rest of it. I grabbed all of the oxygen absorbers and mylar bags too. The absorbers might have gone over – I wasn’t sure – but the mylar bags could be dead useful for many different things. There were several two pound buckets of lard and coconut oil too that were stacked for hauling off.
Over in the spice area I grabbed all the jars of vanilla beans as well as just about everything else. Most of them came in this little plastic butter dish kind of containers. They were opaque so I could see what was inside just in case a label was missing. I did find a couple of containers that had weevils in them and left them where I found them. Sadly all of the nut butters were rancid as they were mixed fresh but I did find some bulk nuts like pistachios and cashews that didn’t grow anywhere near. And even though we had a few almond trees I got almost two hundred pounds of almonds … whole and still in the shell … and was grateful for every single nutmeat.
Got a lot of dried and glazed fruit that I was also grateful for; the more that was already fixed up would mean less sugar that I would have to use from our supplies because the one thing I was noticing a real shortage of was white granulated sugar in bulk. I did find some brown sugar, molasses, and honey in both liquid and crystallized form but white sugar was scarce as hen’s teeth. The sugar issue did lead me to take all of the candy and chocolate I could find though there wasn’t a huge amount of it.
In the personal hygiene area I threw all of the Burt’s Bees products and Barlean’s Oils products into a tub and decided organizing it could wait until we got it back to the home place. I also put all of the homemade soaps and other beauty products into another tub though the smell just about knocked me on my keester because some of the natural oils were quite strong and didn’t combine into a cohesive perfume.
I almost wasn’t paying attention to what came off the shelf in the kitchen accessory area because I was starting to get really tired and my head lamp was going dim and needed a battery change. I figured it would all prove useful eventually.
After loading all of the bulk grains and such Jax started at the other end of the store, this time with Kelly on his back. I felt badly but he told me not to worry about it as he was used to it. He found some sturdy plastic boxes from the back area and loaded products like from Bob’s Red Mill, Mrs. Wage’s Canning products, Dutch Valley chips. He kept Kelly quiet by giving her a bag of veggie chips after making sure they were still good.
It was hard to believe but there were still a whole lot of green coffee beans. Jax asked, “Your dad said something about your mom knowing how to cook … no roast, he called it roasting … coffee beans. Can you?”
“Sure. That’s how my folks bought their coffee. Green coffee beans last longer than the ones that are already roasted. I’d leave them in that barrel though if you can move it while it’s full. That’ll be the best container for them.”
He nodded and just slid the dolly under the barrel and hauled it out. I’d worked my way over to where he’d been unstocking the shelves and then just about squealed. They had several cases of birch beer and cheerwine and I couldn’t wait and popped the top on a can of the beer right then and there.
Jax caught me guzzling and he stood there with a surprised look on his face and then laughed when I couldn’t stop a belch. “I take it you like?”
“I love birch beer … and no it isn’t alcoholic; it is sorta like root beer or maybe sarsaparilla if you’ve ever had that. Here, have a sip,” I offered generously.
He sipped gingerly and then nodded. “Not bad. I like orange cream soda better but haven’t had any in a long while. Stuff isn’t cheap.”
“There’s bottles of the stuff on the end cap down there. We just need to make sure not to hit a bump and break them on the way home.”
He smiled and said, “Looks like your prejudice against salvaging is changing.”
And just that quick most of the fun I’d started to have drained away. I sighed. “This is just too easy. I keep forgetting the reason behind all of this stuff just sitting here like this.”
“Hey,” he said, chagrinned. “I shouldn’t have brought it up. Now c’mon … don’t go all … depressed and morose on me.”
I shook my head. “I’m not. But I shouldn’t be taking this for granted like I am either. People died. That’s the only reason we can do this. I shouldn’t let myself forget that.”
He leaned in and kissed me for no good reason. “I don’t think you are the type that will ever simply take stuff for granted. Just don’t let it weigh you down like a ton of bricks either. You didn’t engineer what has happened but you’ve got responsibilities. If God is giving us all of this should we just turn our nose up at it because we think we are too holier than thou?”
I shook my head harder that time. “No. That’s definitely not what I mean. I’m just having a hard time figuring out … oh just forget it. You and I both know I’m not going to stop salvaging; to complain about it midstream is beyond hypocritical.”
He wrapped me in a one armed hug. “Don’t be too hard on yourself Lydie. This is just one of those … things.”
He nodded. “Yeah, one of those adjustment reactions like that book talked about. Reality is setting in and we are adjusting to a new … a new paradigm. We’ll get through this.”
I snorted. “I know and I hope I’m realist enough to admit it. I suppose I’m just concerned we aren’t trying to set ourselves up like kings with the only purpose being to get one over on someone else. I never saw myself like that and don’t want to think that I’d fall into that trap and get greedy.”
We continued on with the job at hand as I forced myself to put guilt to the side that was more gratuitous than constructive. What we started boxing up at that point wasn’t necessarily edible in and of itself but would make other things I fixed more so. Shank’s flavoring and extracts; Golden Barrel cooking oils; Gunter’s honey and locally jugged blackstrap molasses; imported maple syrup; Yoder’s jams, jellies, pickles, and relishes; McCutcheon’s preserves and sauces; and enough Jake and Amos products to make a road side vendor envious. I made sure to pack the bottles of Bragg’s vinegar and amino acid so that they wouldn’t break as I was fond of using both. Candy sticks and corn syrup made a colorful combination in another box. I didn’t know for sure what I was going to do with a dozen three pound tubs of marshmallow fluff but I figured might as well take it.
Not everything on the shelves was salvageable. There were some plastic containers of perishable items that didn’t look too healthy or had bulging sides in the packaging that I gave a wide berth to. There were weevil infestations on the shelves containing the packaged bread and cornmeal mixes. Most of the cookies and pretzels were too stale to bother with. And most of the packaged flour and such looked like damp or something had tried to get at them at one point.
We did get lucky and found plenty of sausage and ham seasoning for hunting season. I took every box of rennet tablets that I could find as I would need them for cheese making if I could ever figure out a way to trade for milk … or capture the goats. Did the same for all of the yogurt starter I could find. Got a couple of new lids for my sprouting jars … they look like strainers that screw onto the top of a regular canning jar … as well as all of the sprouting seeds they had that hadn’t already tried to sprout in their packaging.
Jax nearly had me in stitches when I saw him carrying out huge gallon jars of pickled eggs and pickled sausages. “Where on earth did you get those?”
He shuddered and then hawked up a wad of gross from his throat and spit it in the general direction of the rain downspout. Before he could answer Kelly tried to imitate him and said, “Stinky, stinky.”
I raised my eyebrow and Jax explained, “Behind the counter over by the deli foods. It smells worse the further into the back you go. I don’t think anything else in there is worth a risk on.”
I gave myself a dope slap and said, “The smokehouse!”
“Wha …? Wait, you think it still has something in it?”
I shrugged. “No clue but they kept that thing locked up like Fort Knox. It would take bigger bolt cutters than we brought to get into it if …”
“Keys are in the manager’s office I bet. Saw some hanging behind the door.”
I rolled my eyes. “Good place for them. Anyone could have broken in here and … Oh. Never mind. That’s what we’re doing so I’m not going to complain.”
Soon enough we had the last of everything out of the store and had walked around the side to see if there was anything worth taking. It would have been a fantasy to have opened it to find all the meat we would need for a long while but there wasn’t. It wasn’t completely empty but it was obvious, just like the store itself, that someone had either given a lot of the stock away or had been eating it themselves for a while. But the locks were rusted pretty fiercely requiring some pretty strong persuasion to open so whatever had happened it had been some time ago.
“Country hams and some strings of sausages. Better than nothing,” I said.
Jax added, “A lot better than nothing. I think I saw some butcher’s paper back in one of the supply closets. We’ll wrap these then unless you have a different idea I say we set up camp for the night. We’ll need to have some kind of watch through the day and then we’ll get the last few places on our list once it gets dark and go home.”
Thinking about how much we already had I asked him, “Are you sure you don’t want to just head back now?”
He gave it some honest thought. “Here’s a compromise. We’ve had good luck up to this point. Let’s secure the trailers in the warehouse and then walk over to the thrift store and fabric store. If they look picked over we leave, if they look untouched … or relatively so … we stay and finish up after we rest.”
I nodded. “Probably the best we can do at this point. We’re already really loaded down though. We’re going to have to start being choosey.”
“True dat. I just wish we had found more reloading supplies. I found a lot of brass and shell capsules but the shot and everything else wasn’t where I thought it would be.”
“What about the pawn shop next to the thrift store?”
He got thoughtful and said, “Mebbe. Let’s just take care of this first.”
It was no easy task to get the trucks and trailers lined up for a quick getaway. Once I stopped moving it was awful hard to put my body in motion again. I pulled a packet of energy pills out of my pocket and looked at them carefully. I’d had to resort to them a few times when I was running shine but I didn’t like to because they made my scalp feel like it was going to crawl off my skull but I was getting to the point of being really done in. I popped them even against my better judgment and swallowed them just in time to here Jax asked suspiciously, “What did you just take?”
I gave him a look that said don’t be stupid. “You know what I took. It isn’t a narcotic but this needs doing and I’m dragging too much to get it done.”
“Then you should have said so,” he growled.
I put my hand on his tense forearm and squeezed. “I know my limits Jax. We’ll get this done. I’ll take first watch because you’ll probably have to cuddle with Kelly to get her to sleep. When the tabs wear off I’ll wake you up and you can take a good long watch and let me sleep it off. When I get up I’ll fix us some food and then …” I stopped with a shrug. “Besides, if the stores we are going to check on are a bust I would still need something to be able to drive home safely.”
He calmed down and then gave me a look. “If we do go back tonight you got any more of those?”
I nodded and showed him the ones in my fanny pack. We locked everything down and then using our own chain and lock from home locked up the warehouse, brushed the tire marks away as well as our boot prints, and left things looking as undisturbed as we could while we quietly making our way over to where I knew the last few stores were on our list.
The thrift store had a picked over feel to it but not necessarily from any recent activity. Things had gotten tough after the hospital was bombed and my family was killed. The act of terrorism brought in a boat load of new restrictions on personal freedoms. At first people were willing to give up a lot to feel “safe”; but, after a while the reality of what they had given up began to set in and there were a lot of people expressing their regrets at what their own choices had wrought.
It wasn’t just personal freedoms that were affected but somehow it all spilled over into other areas of life like manufacturing, trade, the ability to acquire goods and services, and personal and commercial banking. A lot of imported items became outrageously expensive even when they were necessary for quality of life, such as medications and reasonably priced food. With the newer, stringent laws -and the “tell on your neighbor” atmosphere that sprung from them – the economy didn’t just sputter to a stop again but did a one eighty and started to pick up steam in the wrong direction like a runaway freight train.
Thinking about how things had been in the last days prior to the collapse, or whatever you chose to call it, I wasn’t surprised that the feed and farm store and the Mennonite store had had that derelict, hanging on by the fingernails, atmosphere to them. You could see it in how the inventory was spread extra thin to hide all of the otherwise empty shelf space; items only one or two deep on the shelves rather than five or six. And what inventory was there looked a little beat up like even the scratch-and-dents were put out rather than sold at a discount.
Despite how large the trailers were, filling up a twenty-four foot enclosed trailer shouldn’t have come anywhere close to emptying the feed store but it did except for the dirt and spoiled items we left behind. The eighteen foot trailer that Jax had been driving shouldn’t have emptied the Mennonite store either, but it did; and there was still some room in the eighteen-footer plus the beds of the two trucks and the cabs had we really been pushed for space. Remembering those trailers I’m still glad Dad had opted for the tandem wheels or the loads we were hauling would have destroyed the trucks’ frame and alignment.
All of this ran through my mind as I looked hard at the interior of the thrift store while I tried to ignore that locker room smell that those types of stores could develop when hot weather set in with poor ventilation and no relief available from air conditioning. Mildew lay almost like a blanket in some places and dust was thick in others and the miasma of the atmosphere was depressing. But despite that and despite being tired as we were I figured since we were already there we might as well grab a few things.
I found some old, canvas laundry bags in the back store room and split them with Jax as we started going over the racks. First off we got all the useful shoes in our sizes that we could find. I ran barefoot as much as possible but wore shoes when I went beyond the house and porch if for no other reason than developing a bad case of ring worm was not something I wanted to have to deal with. From the shoe section we split up, trying to cover as much area as we could in as little time as possible.
I turned my nose up at most of the kids’ clothing but we did find a couple of sweaters and a winter coat that Kelly could use and which would leave her some growing room; though there was no way any of them would last more than a season or two. By next year I would need to either use my old ones in the attic or sew her one of her own.
Jax took a quick look at the music and DVD area but looked at me and shrugged. I couldn’t see his face for sure in the gloom but got the idea from his body language that there wasn’t anything interesting in the collection. I did run through the books and magazines area and found a couple of cookbooks and craft books that looked interesting. I also grabbed a cookie tin full of mismatched buttons, some of which were like antiques from the look of them.
We dumped all of the blue jeans on the racks into the bags because even if they didn’t fit any of us I could cut them up for patches or some other project. We even managed to find a couple of Dickie winter coveralls that would come in handy for Jax to wear if we managed to go hunting … assuming it ever cooled off enough for it. We piled the bags near the door and then headed next door.
The pawn store was a bigger mess than the thrift store was. It had obviously been ransacked; didn’t look like any rhyme or reason was used unless you count the smashed glass display cases where the expensive stuff would have been put on display to tempt customers. In the back however I saw Jax pick up a string of keys lying on the floor and after a couple of tries opening the big safe behind the owner’s desk. Most of the jewelry was gone but there were still tubes of coins and some loose precious stones that he raked into a small bank bag. He looked at me but I just looked away. I had to keep justifying it in my head so decided I’d leave that part of it up to Jax since he seemed to already have it thought out. The one thing that made both of us happy was a small locked room with a heavy door labeled “PRIVATE – KEEP OUT.”
“Eureka,” Jax whispered excitedly. There weren’t any guns in the gun cabinets but there were plenty of fixings for reloads and not a few rounds already in boxes. Jax was so excited he started to look around for something to pack the supplies into right then and there.
Trying to be cautious I told him, “Jax, ease up. If you want to grab some of the shot and powder fine but I thought all we were doing was coming to check things out. We already spent an hour in the thrift store. The sun will be coming up soon. We had a plan, let’s stick to it.”
He nodded excitedly. “I know, trust me my butt is dragging. But I don’t want to take a chance and miss this in case we have to bug out during the day for some reason. Dang, I wish we would have come here first now.” He turned as asked, “Can you go grab a buggy from the thrift store? We can at least bring back a few things.”
There was no turning him off once he’d gotten going so I carefully did as he asked, feeling strange being out relatively alone and walking those particular streets in the dark. Once I got back my nerves were pinging and I insisted that we head back to the truck. “Jax, you’re so tired you aren’t thinking straight. Let’s just go hunker down. If you won’t do it for yourself or me, look at Kelly.” That stopped him and he realized his daughter was weaving drunkenly in her back pack, unable to stay awake but also unable to sleep with all that was going on.
The shopping cart was quickly filled and we finally pushed the overloaded buggy to the warehouse, hid our tracks by brushing the dirt and gravel with a handy branch, and lock ourselves in. I managed to convince Jax to crawl into one of the truck cabs and go to sleep while I put away what we’d brought since it would give me something to do while I kept watch. Finding corners in the trailer for the reloading stuff wasn’t as easy I thought it was going to be because it was heavy and bulky. However, after a little frustration I pulled it off and locked the now full to capacity longer trailer with a thick hasp.
I walked the perimeter of the warehouse a few times and did some stretching trying to relieve my tension. I was feeling anxious for some unknown reason. It was like how the hair on your body feels right before a big lightning storm. When the sun came up I heated a little water on my butane stove and poured it into a large thermos of oatmeal and then set it aside for Jax and Kelly. I had a feeling by the time my watch was over I was going to crash and burn pretty and that feeding them would be beyond me; better to prep it while I still had something left in me.
The other problem with those no-doze pills was that not only did my scalp crawl but I got jittery. Physically jittery on top of mentally jittery is not fun when you are the only one awake for what seems like miles and miles … only you aren’t sure that you are the only one awake. Your mind starts playing tricks on you.
I jumped at every little noise … and a few not so little noises as animals came and went though they never bothered us. Birds landing on the roof clicking and clacking across it with their claws was another nerve wracking sound that brought forth memories of all the horror movies and books I had consumed in my life. Dogs having a brawl and then deciding it was more fun to come together as a pack and chase a couple of cats … with the cats fighting back the few times the dogs got too close. I even saw a family of feral pigs banging around down by the river and finally settling down once the dogs left the area.
A few times off in the distance I thought I heard engines but I wasn’t completely sure. Sound carries funny on the wind and I admitted to myself I was beyond making good sense of what it might have been. By lunch time I was sick with fatigue and nerves and stumbled over to Jax just in time to see Kelly rudely wake him up with a teddy bear to the nose. The guy could move when he needed to I’ll give you that. Unfortunately I was so tired I couldn’t even laugh at the expression on his face as he tried to figure out what was going on.
Jax quickly got his bearings, took one look at me and moved out of the way so I could lay down. I mumbled about the food and to listen for strange sounds in the distance but I later found out I hadn’t been very coherent. I didn’t even get all the way into the truck before I was asleep and I only vaguely remember Jax pushing me up onto the seat.
“Bless it all Kelly,” the voice whispered fiercely. “Didn’t Daddy tell you not to do that? Now come here you little wiggle worm and stop throwing chips at Lydie.”
“Shhhhh. Lydie seepin’,” came a soto whisper followed by a giggle and a very loud “IT’S UP TIME LYDIE!!!”
Despite having sensed someone nearby I hadn’t felt threatened so I didn’t try and wake up. However, when you have a toddler blaring like a bugle in your ear all of a sudden sleep evaporates pretty quickly. I sat up fast enough to make myself dizzy and the surprised and alarmed look on my face only made the little terror laugh even more.
Jax groaned and said, “Just point me in the direction of something to feed this eating machine and you can sleep a while longer.”
I squinted at my watch which said dark was still a couple of hours off and told him, “You were supposed to wake me up before now so you could get a few more hours of sleep before we headed out.”
“Sleep? With Brunhilda here trying to wake the dead? Ain’t happening. I’ve had to keep her in the other truck most of the time or you would have been able to hear her clear across town.” He was half joking and half exasperated and a whole lot irritated. Jax had a ton of patience but even a saint needs a break every now and again.
I crawled out and said, “Give me a sec and some privacy and I’ll pull dinner together.”
He told me, “I popped the lock on the old bathroom. It’s pretty disgusting but not as bad as the one at church camp used to get.”
I made a face, “Nothing could be as bad as those bathrooms. On a hot day with no wind those things would gag a maggot.”
I used a moist towelette to freshen up a bit but I was still no spring rose when I came back to our makeshift camp. “Has she been hard to handle?”
He nodded. “She’s gotten used to being able to move around during the day in that run we built for her. The novelty of the back pack has worn off and she wouldn’t even stay in that without pitching a fit. I don’t know what we are going to do if she doesn’t go to sleep tonight. I mean I know we could give her that kid-strength Dramamine but I’d prefer not to knock her out if we don’t have to.”
I agreed. “Last resort for sure.” After I pulled the butane stove back out and the baggies of dinner I told him, “Let me have her and you go lay down. Now don’t fuss Jax … just until dinner. If nothing else it will give your ears a break.”
He looked guilty and relieved at the same time which told me that Kelly must have been out doing herself while I had been asleep and dead to the world. As soon as Jax crawled into the cab she tried to tune up and I gave her the I-Don’t-Think-So look. Then she stuck her bottom lip out which I knew meant she was about to turn mutinous.
“Listen Bumble Bee, you’ve worn you’re daddy out and he’s frazzled. He needs to take a nap so he isn’t cranky. You don’t want Daddy to be cranky do you?” The bottom lip didn’t move. If anything she looked like she was going to really let loose a scream so I decided to head it off. “Of course, if you stay quiet and let Daddy take a nap like a good boy then you get to help me make dinner and you get a dessert too.”
Her mouth was half way open when she heard the magic word dessert. “I hungin’ Widdie … I hungrin’ yots and yots.”
Rolling my eyes I said, “You’re always hungry. As a matter of fact there is no way in this plain of reality that you can actually hold everything you eat every day. But … and this is only if you behave … I have some yogurt drops for your dessert if you’re quiet and help me make dinner.” I know that no two year old is really going to understand fully the way I was talking to Kelly but my mother had been one of those that really didn’t agree with a lot of baby talk by adults to children once they started leaving diapers behind. I’d heard the same thing in day care training so I just talked to her like she would understand but helped her understanding along by giving concrete directions and clues as we went along.
Believe it or not I was able to distract her by asking her to hold things until I needed them just long enough for me to get dinner finished. Then I fed her, cleaned her up, and gave her a plastic cup of the dehydrated yogurt drops that I had made just for this trip so that she’d have some finger foods to keep her busy. It was one of the tricks that I had learned working in the day care … cheerio type cereals did the same thing but the homemade yogurt drops were just as healthy.
Dinner was Lemon Tuna Spaghetti and before anyone goes gack and gag I have to tell you it is really good. You take eight ounces of spaghetti and break the noodles into thirds and then store them in a baggie. In another baggie you pack a quarter cup of bread crumbs, a quarter cup of Parmesan cheese, a teaspoon of dried parsley and a quarter teaspoon of ground black pepper. In another baggie you pack a three ounce packet of tuna, three packets of TrueLemon or enough lemon juice packets to make three tablespoons of lemon juice, a packet of olive oil (one tablespoon worth), and if you want a very small can of chopped kalamata olives.
In camp you bring four cups of water to a boil. The water was from the jugs I had brought from home and I boiled it in a small pot on the butane stove. I added the noodles and then cooked them al dente and then drained them of all the water except a half cup. Next I added everything to the pan of noodles except for the bread crumbs and stirred to coat the pasta evenly. Then I sprinkled the bread crumbs over that mess and gently tossed to distribute them evenly with everything else.
While Kelly ate her yogurt drops in her car seat I got Jax awake. While he cleaned up I ate my serving of the dinner out of a plastic bowl, wiped it clean and when he came back he used it to eat his portion while I cleaned the pot and put everything else away as well as packing the trash up so that we would leave as little evidence of our presence as possible. Right before it went dark the bugs came out making us all miserable.
“Dang Lydie, these blood suckers are going to drive me crazy,” Jax growled as he swatted at several that had decided to use his carotid artery as a buffet.
Neither one of us was at our best and I almost snapped and asked what he expected me to do about it. Instead I reached into the door pocket of the truck I’d been driving and pulled out some bug spray. “Spritz some in your hands and rub your ears and neck and put some in your hair. I’ll do Kelly. As soon as full dark gets here the vampires should settle down.”
The spray helped and we all got some relief and stopped fidgeting so much. I turned to Jax and asked, “Did you hear anything while I was asleep?”
He nodded slowly. “Problem is I don’t know if I was hearing it because it was real or hearing it because you’d put the idea in my head that there was something to hear. It could have been a fan spinning on a warehouse, a vent stack on a building … for all we know Matt and his crew could have dreamed up something new. The sound wasn’t close whatever it was and I haven’t heard any repeats for a couple of hours. Let’s just be careful and not go borrowing trouble.”
That only brought so much comfort but it was the best he had to offer. I thought at least he’d admitted to hearing something. Besides it was time to get a move on.
The first order of business was to collect what we had gathered from the thrift store and pack it into a trailer. Next was to go back to the pawn shop and go over it better than we had the night before. Jax spent some time taking chains off of the bikes and go over the gas powered yard tools for parts for what we already had. I was looking through the music and DVDs. I know that may have seemed very shallow under the circumstances but since we didn’t know what winter was going to be like it was best to be as proactive as possible.
Which reminded me … “Jax?”
He grunted a response.
“Try and not use all those tubs for parts and gizmos and things. There’s a used bookstore beside the fabric store and if we have time I want to go in there.”
He grunted again in what I thought was an affirmative. A half hour later when he looked like he was going to continue grunting and going through things I told him, “I’m going across the street to get started on the fabric store.”
That made him look up and take notice. “I don’t think so. Just give me a few more minutes …”
“Jax, you said that over an hour ago. All I’m going to do is start stacking bolts of fabric … assuming there is anything worth taking.”
“Just … aw heck. Just hang on. I’ll throw the rest of this in to the back of the truck whole and then dismantle them back home. This could take all night at this rate.”
We had to take the time to load the buggy up with stuff and then take it to the trailer but on the way back I grabbed three more shopping carts to take to the fabric store. As soon as I got the back door opened I smelled damp and mold and mildew. Sure enough the roof had leaked and roughly half the store inventory that remained was ruined. I looked at Jax and grimaced, “So much for that.”
“Any of it worth saving?”
I shrugged. “Let me go to the front and see.” As it turned out most of the ruined fabric was actually the fancy stuff that I wouldn’t have taken anyway … or at least wouldn’t have taken if I had fought temptation. This way I didn’t have to fight it which may have been a blessing in disguise. I directed Jax, “If you want, why don’t you just start taking all of those notions and threads off the wall over there and putting it in this laundry bag. I’ll go through the fabric and try not to get silly.”
I did the best I could by prioritizing what I took since space was becoming a premium and so was time. First were the bolts of denim then the muslins and then the lightweight and heavyweight fleece and flannel. That filled up three of the four buggies and the fourth was full of stuff that Jax had been gathering. Run it to the trailer, stick it in as fast as we could and then back. Next came the sweatshirt material, then heavyweight cottons, the lightweight cottons, fat quarters for making quilts with, and then the materials I could make under garments with. Jax emptied the file drawers of patterns and we went back to the trailer and then returned again.
“Lydie, I hate to rush you but we need to leave time to get home and driving the trailers is going to be slow going.” He added to tease me, “At least for me it is.”
I gave him a half smile though my heart wasn’t in it. “I know Jax.”
My tone of voice caught his attention. “Hey … what’s wrong? Feeling bad about taking this stuff? Memories? I know your mom …”
I shook my head quickly, not wanting to bring any of that up. “No. I’ve … I’ve got the heebies. Not like anyone is watching us … just … just the heebies. Don’t you feel it?”
He looked at me in concern and then around. “No. But if something is bothering you then that’s good enough for me. Let’s check the fabric store one more time and then hit the bookstore …”
I shuddered. “Forget the book store and forget the fabric store. Let’s go. Now.”
Realizing how upset I was getting he said, “Hey, you are shook aren’t you.”
I couldn’t explain it but now that I’d admitted to the feeling it was only growing. “Let’s go now Jax. I’m not kidding. Something …”
I stopped because Jax had gotten a strange look on his face. Then he lifted his nose to the wind. As soon as he did it I did it too and I could just make out an odd smell on the wind that was blowing from the other side of town; not odd as in unusual in and of itself but odd as in I shouldn’t have been able to smell it. “Jax? Is that …?”
“Yeah. That smells like … like …” He gave a confused look and then asked, “Is it me or does that smell like the fair?”
There are smells from childhood that are forever and indelibly written into your memories. The smell of my mother’s canned green beans cooking while cornbread was baking in the oven is one for me. Another fond memory was the smell of the ancient cedar chest that sat at the foot of my parents’ bed and which held all manner of family history; it was like a treasure chest, one my mother only rarely opened. But then there are the shared memories like the smell of the bathrooms at church camp; all either one of us had to do was bring it up and it evoked the same type of memory response in the other. Another one of those shared memories was the fair.
On the air floated faint whiffs of a combination of scents so complex that they immediately brought to mind the yearly event held out at the old air field on the end of town closest to the nearest interstate. There were food smells – greasy yet with a sweet undertone – but there was also the smell of machines that used combusting engines, animal smells from the rodeo and petting zoo, an odd woody smell from the farm exhibits and chainsaw art contests, and a bit of pungent body odor and trash gone sour from the heat.
Jax and I looked at each other and I could feel my chest growing tight and the hair on my neck not just standing up but doing some pretty complicated ballroom dancing. Jax said, “OK. We’re out of here as of fifteen minutes ago. I don’t know what that is from but I don’t want to get caught out in it with what we’re hauling.”
Back to the trucks we went lickety split with the last couple of bags and bolts of fabric that hadn’t it in the last load. Kelly was pacified with her sippy cup and being told that it was time to go home to her toys. I was going to lead back again pulling the larger of the two trailers and was ready to go as soon as Jax opened the warehouse bay doors wide enough for me to exit but he kept just standing there like he was looking at something or listening to something I couldn’t hear.
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