A VERY new and interesting story! I don't think I've read anything like this before. And what great ideas! We have a road that connects the "back end" of our road to the one over a block and it only gets used maybe five times a week and that is usually by someone who came down our road by mistake. I'd LOVE to get it closed.
Hope your Thanksgiving is as enjoyable as I always find ours. No one expects or demands presents, and everyone contributes what they can to make a meal, and unspoken peace accords apply. So no family feuds during that time.
So I got home and got Zeb tucked into his cot to finish his nap. I printed off the DOT application for road closure and put it in an envelope. I then typed up two petitions – one for the closure of the 305 exit on to Poplar Plains Road and the turning of the driveway into 632 Cooper Street into the primary access. The second petition requested that Poplar Plains Road become a private road solely for the use of the residents in No. 1 and No. 3 Poplar Plains Road and No. 638 Cooper Street. A third petition was also drawn up for Canada Post to put a community mailbox on Cooper Street for the residents of Poplar Plains Road and Mrs. O’Keefe.
I printed them all out and met the Morettis at my door. Mrs. Moretti would watch Zeb while Mr. Moretti and I collected signatures.
It took a couple of hours but it was so worthwhile. We went first to Mrs. Helen O’Keefe – an untidy, exhausted woman in her early 70s with custody of her three young grandchildren. Her youngest is the same age as Zeb and so she and I often let the boys play together, but I had never been inside her home before. Politely it was a tip. Help her said the small quiet voice. Mr. Moretti was looking around him with the fastidious distaste of a man whose wife was a fanatical housekeeper.
We spoke about our reason for stopping by. She liked the idea of closing off the highway and making the road private, but was concerned about her mail. In the end, she signed all three petitions.
“Mrs. O’Keefe,” I started. “Can I get you some help? The kids look like they are running you over and I know how much you love them…”
Collapsing into an armchair already piled with mail, she looked up at me and just nodded. “You know that half of the little old ladies in my building worked as cleaning ladies? Why don’t I get a few to come over and give you a hand? And I can hear Mr. Hyslop out with his lawn mower. Why don’t I ask if he could so a couple of passes through your yard. Just having those done will help you feel so much better and then we can talk about what else we can do.”
“Thank you,” she said in a tired voice.
Mr. Moretti and I were then off to the Hislops. Being a Sunday afternoon, we were able to catch Greg & Susan at home in their garden. They were firmly in favour of the gardening initiative, so long as their current gardens would remain untouched and the orchard expanded. Greg decided he wanted to be on the gardening committee. They also thought that closing off the highway and privatizing the road were good ideas. They currently directed all their mail to a post office box so they weren’t interested in the community post box but signed in favour.
I then broached the topic of Mrs. O’Keefe and her yard. Susan’s lip practically curled in distaste. I spoke about how exhausted Mrs. O’Keefe was and then asked if Greg would consider mowing their lawn. He quickly agreed and went and fired up his lawn tractor.
“Aden is in the same class as Pippa,” said Susan. “He said she is really protective of Agatha but that neither are very well dressed and that the teachers sometimes take clothes out of the lost & found for them. Once the house is sorted out and we can see what they have, we could do a trip down to the Sally Ann for a clothing run.” I agreed.
Then Mr. Moretti and I headed back to our building. This was really where the challenge lay… to convince this group of transient people to invest their energy in making this their home. Mr. & Mrs. Moretti signed first, then Eric Caulder and John Caulder, and myself. Then we began on the west side of the building and began knocking on doors. Most people saw the benefit of the road issues, and the mail box, and while most liked the idea of community gardens opposed to wasteland, they were not yet ready to commit to having a plot for themselves. We invited everyone to a community meeting on Wednesday night at 7pm. In the end, for the petitions that we needed for DOT, we had an 85% sign-off and an 80% sign-off for Canada Post.
I made notes though about peoples’ reactions... The ones who said “No skin of my nose, I’m not staying.” Versus the ones who said “Hmm sounds good. Where do I sign?” Some were unsure and so we explained that at this point we were just trying to make the street safer and ensure that Canada Post didn’t decide that they would no longer come up our road because it wasn’t worth the time. As I said most were in favour. Most deeked through the apartment building parking lot anyways. A few asked about what the City had planned for the land and when we told them that the City intended to leave the land fallow, the idea of community gardens seemed far better usage.
As I mentioned there are 72 units in the building, not including the Super’s apartment. We spoke with almost everyone. I then had John make copies of the signed petitions and gave the originals DOT applicable ones to Tiny. I then spent the evening alternating between playing with Zeb and completing the GRP application. Eventually John and Eric joined me and it turned into a relaxing and fun evening. Eric ordered in a pizza – a treat to me since it’s beyond my budget. Zeb is very fond of 'zah' and does his zah-zah dance every time he smells it. His antics gave us all a laugh as we got down to some serious planning.
Good story line (but then you seem to always come up with good story lines) and a good blueprint for those of us who might someday find ourselves in just such a situation. I normally think of just the folks in my home, but there are others out here in the country that might find it a good thing to work together on a project. Thank you for bringing this up and showing us how it might work.
What we are is God's gift to us.
What we become is our gift to God.
“Okay,” I said looking at the men over a slice of pizza. “How realistic do you think our chances are of pulling this off?”
“Pretty good actually,” said the Bailiff. “By walling the road off with only the one entrance on Cooper both the City and the Province reduce the expenses of the turnoff. By making it a private road, the City can leave the driveway as is, continue to collect taxes for the land but reduce their expenses. Power lines are underground here but well marked, and will be removed as per the City’s directive when the lots are cleared. City water is another story. The fire hydrants have to remain, so water will still be there, but there is no reason not to request that waterlines be left intact at the Cooper Street apartment, 636 Cooper, 640 Cooper and next door at No. 2. If we set them up like next door at the park with a small trough and a single faucet, then we will have water to water the crops with.”
“That’s all fine and well until the power goes out…” started Eric.
“No. Even with the power out, there will still be water at those points, even if there isn’t water here in the building,” said John.
“Gravity,” I said. “The reservoir that we get our water from is entirely gravity fed. It’s not a pumping station, so there is no electricity.”
Eric just looked confused.
“The Churchill Park six blocks north of us covers the reservoir,” pointed out John. “It is fed by three covered streams and from two reservoirs further north. All of them allow water to flow downhill and south into the City and the whole systems was designed to work without pumps. Access into the reservoir is virtually impossible and trying to access it without authorization will get you 20 years in prison with no parole. So while it is not impossible to compromise the system, it’s blinking hard. Now this doesn’t apply to the entire system. South of us, below Highway 302, there are pumping stations and they do require electricity, so the downtown core would still be in trouble water-wise, but we’ll be okay.”
“Just the same,” I said. “We should look at a water collection system both at the Hyslops and at the O’Keefes. Speaking of the O’Keefes, I think that she may be at her breaking point with the kids. She is exhausted and everything is looking really rundown. I was thinking that if one of our young women here offered to help out in exchange for room and board that it might help. I don’t want to get Social Services involved or one look at the house and she’ll lose the kids, and they wouldn’t be with her in the first place if there had been an alternative.”
“Annie Henderson in Apt 106 might work for that set-up. She’s working as a teacher’s aide at the school, so she’ll have all of the police approvals and she can take the kids back and forth with her. That would leave only the youngest at home all day. The School Board barely pays Annie a living wage so it might be a good solution for her,” said Eric.
“You seem to know a lot about this Annie,” teased John.
Eric blushed and dropped his head. “Doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’m just a building super…”
John rolled his eyes. “It’s a tired excuse cuz. Building management is a pretty big job and if she can’t see what it entails, then move on.”
I made a note in my binder. “I’ve chatted with her a lot. She’s often in the Courtyard in the evening. So will you speak with Annie or should I?”
“Umm,” waffled Eric. “Could you do it?”
“Fine, but I need you to get a couple of the fathers to come around to Mrs. O’Keefe’s on Tuesday to start some basic repairs. I have a list. I have a couple of the little old ladies going into clean tomorrow and Greg Hyslop mowed the lawn over there today. Tony and Georg from the 3rd floor have some extra paint from the last job, so they are going to start to freshen up the house…” I paused.
“Why are you doing this?” asked John.
No way as I going to tell him that the small quiet voice had ordered me to help.
“Oh… well here we are trying to pull the neighbourhood together as a community and convince the City that we can care take it. Mrs. O’Keefe’s house is a good small project that will pay immediate dividends visually. The Hyslops’ already looks good. Eric runs a tight ship and even the Railway Riders Camp is tidy and picked-up. So when the City sends its inspectors within the next week, they will find a busy community that is well able to care for itself. What we want for them to be able to do is ignore us and if we are in good shape they can.”
“What else did you want to discuss at the meeting?” asked Eric.
“Well, I thought I’d start with asking if everyone has an emergency kit,” I said.
“An emergency kit?” asked John.
“Yeah… a 72-hour kit… an evacuation bag…” I used the alternate names.
“Okay… but why?” asked John.
“Well truth is,” I told them. “I don’t think an evac bag would do most of this crowd much good. Most of them don’t have anywhere to go. With all due respect Eric, if they had elsewhere to go they’d be gone. Even I only came here because I was desperate. Once I got here, I was able to see the possibilities but I don’t think that most people have the time, energy, or know how to be looking the way we now are.
“Okay this is my evac bag. You see it at the bottom of the stroller most days and because its there all the time, it has become invisible to most people. Obviously my bag is geared towards a single mother with a young child, and every bag needs to be customized to the individual needs of the users.”
I lifted my backpack onto the kitchen table. John quickly cleared the remaining plates and the pizza box onto to counter. I opened the box and removed three 2L milk cartons labeled 1, 2 and 3 and a fourth carton labeled snacks. Then I pulled out a package of diapers and one of wipes. There were four ziplock baggies with cloth rolled into them, a kit bag, a flashlight, a small battery powered radio, a map of the City, a computer key, a first aid kit, two face masks, a small tab stove packed into a saucepan with a mug, a sippy cup, a paring knife and two spoons. From the bottom of the basket I pulled a large bag with two blankets vacuum sealed into it. The men were fascinated.
“Look all of this will keep Zeb and I clothed, fed and warm if we have to leave here or get stuck away from here for a couple of days. Because I have a stroller I can carry more. If I had to and we were leaving from here, I could add a back pack and an insulated fold bag for more food, but this is what I carry with us every day. Now there are four items we need to deal with: (1) food/water, (2) clothing/warmth, (3) information, and (4) safety.
"In the sealed milk cartons I have a day’s worth of meals for two, elements of which can be heated on the tab stove if need be. I think that the diapers and wipes are self-evident given Zeb’s age. Each ziplock baggie contains clothes – t-shirts, socks and undies for me and flannel footed onesies from Zeb.”
John who had been holding the baggie with the brightly coloured cloth turned bright red as he realized he was holding her undies. His eyes glazed over as his brain began to imagine but he was brought up fast when Eric began to laugh. I ignored them because otherwise I’d also have started to imagine…
“You need to make sure you have lots of socks because if your feet get wet, it’s hard to warm up. Socks can also be used to keep your hands warm and my socks can also be stretched over Zeb’s legs and arms for added warmth. The first aid kit is obvious and it also contains things to debride wounds and flush eyes. It also has meds to help control coughing and to lightly sedate Zeb if needed – the noise of small children can endanger people… think Last M*A*S*H with Hawkeye and the chicken/baby. I have two face masks now Zeb’s covers his face but he wears it at home sometime and so is used to it, but in combination with the stroller cover, it will keep most debris from his airways. I also have 2 x 2L bottles of water.
“Information-wise, I have a radio to hear what is going on – it’s programmed to CBC, 680NEWS, Q107 and 820 out of Hamilton and the Wolf out of Peterborough – chances of all 3 cities going dark at the same time is possible but unlikely. I could have programed Rochester, Buffalo or Detroit but frankly their radio station news departments often don’t know there is another country next door so it’s kind of pointless. I have a map to be able to locate where I am if I need to walk and I have also marked on it places I can go safely to tuck Zeb and myself away safely and off the street, and where there are water and food sources. I also contacted the City and asked where all their official shelters were and marked them on the map - I want to stay away from them. On the computer key, I have copies of all the important documents pertaining to Zeb and me – passports, birth, marriage and divorce certificates, custody papers, insurance, university degrees and reports cards related, professional designations, lease agreement for here, banking statements, pay stubs and medical records. Normally I wear it around my neck, but I have a second one tucked in here.”
“Medical records?” asked Eric.
“Yeah, medical records.” I answered. “Once a year, OHIP* allows you to ask for a copy of your medical records from your doctor. Doctors are permitted to black out their thoughts and comments but if you had to be treated quickly, it might be a big help. Just like if you have a medical allergy or condition, you should wear a medic alert bracelet.
“Now Zeb’s stroller pillow contains a Kelty Big Dipper 30** children’s sleeping bag. Now it’s only rated to 30°F but frankly if its colder than that I’d want him sleeping with me. It has a zipper to make it bigger as he gets older, but in fact I shortened it from 69” in length to 40” so that it wouldn’t overwhelm him. I also sewed the top of a snow suit inside, so that if his arms come out they won’t get cold but also so that he won’t slide down to the bottom of the bag and suffocate.”
John’s mind was beginning to whirl. The completeness of thought that had gone into this was far beyond what he had expected.
“For myself, I have a Condor 30 sleeping bag***. I love it. I found it on-line from Feathered Friends in Seattle and it has been worth every single expensive penny. Its only 2-lbs 10-oz in weigh but the best part is that it can be attached to its groundsheet and stuffed with its air mattresses to make a very comfortable double sleeping bag – that gives me room for Zeb, or anyone else. I got the hoods as a birthday gift one year. I used to camp a lot before Trevor…” I stopped and looked up. Both men were looking uncomfortable. “Anyways… moving on to security. This is a lot more personal and I will not be sharing it with the building.”
I stepped back from the table and lifted my pant leg and show the blade strapped to my ankle. I put it on the table. From the back of my waistband, I pulled out my Springfield 1911”. John blanched.
“Charlie, that handgun¥ isn’t legal here,” he said.
“I know. I am not going to get into an argument with you about it. This is how I live. I’ve carried for a long time so I am comfortable with it and it never shows. I would be very uncomfortable working in the clinic I’m in, if I didn’t have protection. We’ve had five addicts in the past month try to gain access to medications. In two cases, they tried to force me back into the office building from the parking lot. I also have a knife whose sheath is sewn into the sleeve of my coat… the point is that how you chose to manage your personal security is your choice, but you should have a plan and know how to execute it.
“So that gentlemen is my 72-hr/evac bag. Most people if they are going to have to carry on their person won’t carry as much. With strollers or wagons for kids, you can pack differently. If you are driving, you pack differently. If you have a place to go to, you pack differently. But you need to have a plan. So what plans do you have in place?”
“So spend some time and write it out.” I told them. “Rome wasn’t built in a day and I bet by looking around your apartments you have most of your items for your evac bags at hand and it’s just a matter of pulling them together.
“My other suggestion, Eric… well it would depend on the building's owners,” I hedged. “If Amanda moves over to the O’Keefes, I would like to suggest that we turn her room into a community nursing station. With myself as a nurse and Patrick Austin, whose an EMT, we can provide basic health care here on site for cuts and scrapes and manage any colds or flus that sweep through. Technically I am a Practical Nurse in Primary Care. I’ve just been working in the doctor’s office because the hours were steady while Zeb was young. Most PNs work in rural/remote areas and most won’t hire you with young dependent children. Technically, I am able to hang out a clinic shingle, and handle a wide variety of primary health care issue, from basic primary care, to annual physicals, to immunizations, to setting bones, and prescribing medications. I don’t replace a doctor, and finding one to move here should be a priority. But what we would have provide is front line triage services that would reduce the need for our older population to have to go out basic health care. Then long term as things get rougher if we could turn two other apartments into the equivalent of the thrift store – with clothes, books and other items people might need – and a classroom.”
“The clinic thing is a great idea,” said Eric. “But the building owners are going to want to know about liability.”
“Well here in Ontario, Nurse Practitioners who are Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) members are automatically eligible for liability protection through Canadian Nurses’ Protective Society (CNPS),” I told him. “Just like doctors are covered through the College of Physicians.”
“How do you think we could attract a physician?” asked Eric. “It’s not like you can go down to the local golf course bar.”
John started to laugh. “Cannonball Run reference!” they laughed and high-fived. They looked at me.
“I love trees… Do you know what I love about trees?” I quoted and we all dissolved in laughter. “Did you know that the actor who played the doctor… and don’t ever tell me where you found him… the doctor’s name was Jack Elam. He was also in High Noon.
“Now Burt Reynlds and Dom Deluise aside, I may have a line on a doctor,” I continued. “But he would need a three bedroom apartment. He and his wife have four kids,” I said. “We would also then need an apartment his office/consulting room – one preferably close to the clinic. If we could incorporate one of the kitchen/pantry areas, then we could keep some medications on site, that they require refrigeration, and could be used for stocky everything for cough/cold remedies to head lice shampoos to first aid materials… really the list and possibilities are endless.”
“But no narcotics? Right?” confirmed Eric.
“None”,” I agreed. “It’s too dangerous and makes us an unnecessary target. You put signs on the clinic doors, and outside windows, and in each examining room that say “No Narcotics On-site” and “All prescriptions must be filled off-site”.
“That would work,” said John.
“This doctor is ideal,” I told them. “Firstly he’s a GP – and they are rare as hen’s teeth because for the last 30 years medical schools have heavily promoted and pushed for students to specialize. Also he has extensive experience in labour and delivery, which means that if we can’t find a midwife, he can deliver babies. Now Mme. Witkowski delivered babies back before she came to Canada and she might provide back-up but she’s 80 in the shade and might not inspire much confidence. Also the doctor’s wife homeschools their kids and she would be an excellent leader for a potential one-room school house.”
“So the first step for this one is to talk to Annie. If she can move into the O’Keefe’s then we can get that ball rolling,” I said.
“I have a couple of items to add to the table,” said Eric. “Now we haven’t covered heating. The building owners had already decided to make some changes there. They are intent on moving off electricity to run the boilers, to pellet stoves. One of them read about this guy in Yellowknife who was running a 10-story apartment building off an external pellet stove. He’s expecting to recoup his investment in 2 to 3 years because his wife’s family owns a saw mill and he is getting a bargain basement rate on the sawdust pellets. Only problem is that he intends to store a lot of pellets in the basement garage which means that some people will lose their parking spaces.”
“That’s not the only problem,” I said. “If the SHTF, then getting the pellets may become as much of a problem as getting electricity. I looked at one for my house and the big problem with them is that they can’t be converted to a wood burning stove. The chimney arrangements are totally different. So if the landlord wants to do the conversion, and we know we can’t do anything to stop him if he does, it is really important to have the option of converting as many of the fireplaces in this building as possible to woodstove arrangements. Some apartments like mine back onto a chimney and a wood stove could be installed but it would likely be safer out the back wall. We are lucky in that this building was built with fireplaces and that some of the big kitchens still have stove holes for woodstoves.”
“How is that going to work if we have a full house? Not every room has access to a chimney block,” said Eric.
“Also,” said John, “the same problem of wood still exists”
“Firstly Eric, you might also get your nephew to talk to the owners about converting the stoves to propane. The City has a big rebate going on them and he can probably get the City to cover the cost of the big propane tanks,” I suggested.
“But the truth is Eric that as things begin the fall apart with increasing speed, we are going to lose a lot of tenants who think that the grass is going to be greener and warmer somewhere else,” I pointed out. “I also think that a lot of these fathers are going to end up with their kids dumped in their laps as their ex-wives shack-up with someone else and he doesn’t want to feed someone else’s kids. In a couple of cases, and you know which ones, I wouldn’t be surprised if the fathers have gone from here and the ex-wives are still going to drop off the kids.”
Eric and John both snorted in agreement.
“The other thing is that not all of our old people are going to survive. Quite a number are frail as it is and there are a bunch that are medically dependant – so regardless of all that we do , there are some who will not survive the winter or without their medication,” I said.
“Can we not go there for now,” said Eric. “I had to deal with the remains of Mr. Peters in 215 last week and that was just nasty…” He shuddered.
“I think Charlie’s point, Eric,” said John. “Is that the building is not going to stay full. If things go bad then, in the first three months, we’ll lose about a third of our population due to those running away and those dying. If we add a serious flu or something like that then we’ll lose more. We are going to have a bigger issue with those amongst the recently released population who are maintenance medications to deal with their mental illness. With their meds gone, they’ll be dangerous. Luckily, they will most likely be amongst the first to leave in search of their drugs of choice.”
“You still haven’t answered the question I posed about wood sourcing. It’s going to take a lot of wood to heat this building,” commented John.
“Wood can be purchased by the cord in advance" I said, "and we could use the lot next door to tarp it and let it season. The other thing is that the world around us is made of wood and once this area clears, there is a multitude of wood sources available. Also with a decrease in tenants, we’ll be able to move people down to lower levels and then close off the upper levels. The upper levels can then become storage for salvage materials.” John nodded.
“I got to say that my brain is getting fried,” said Eric. “Time for me to get home and recharge the batteries.
He and John stood. As the headed to the door, John looked back.
“You’ve spent a lot of time thinking this through. Are you sure we are going to need it?"
“Yes,” I said. The morning proved my point. The power was down.
You never disappoint, your stories are always so carefully crafted and edited. That really makes them a joy to read.
I always enjoy the stories where people build a new community from the ground up out of such a great variety of pieces.
Sorry folks but we are in the sights of Hurricane Gonzalo and we've been down to friends in St John's to help batten the hatches. Hope to have something for you tomorrow latest but its a 650km drive home and we won't be back until tonight. Take care all.
Hi all, we're home safely but the leading edge of rain has begun. The eye is not supposed to come on shore but the storm surge combined with high tides is expected to reach between 12m and 15m (that would translate to 39-59 feet high) along the Avalon and Burin Peninsulas - not a good day to be living along the shore... We are far enough north not to have to worry beyond the rain. So here is just a small slice and a tour of the neighbourhood.
Have to admit it took me a bit to realize the power was down. I bathe before going to bed, so I didn’t need water. I fill my kettle before bed and just flick on the gas… It’s August, so it’s full light at 6:30am so it wasn’t until I opened the fridge that I realized how quiet it was. I put the eggs on to boil and made my lunch. Trevor used to buy his lunch every day. He used to say that only poor people took their lunch to work. I used to argue and say that only idiots wasted money, but he insisted that I put lunch money in the budget for myself. I did and then squirrelled it away. Trevor had a lot of bad money habits. It probably accounted in part for why he never had any, but it’s time to move my brain off the Trevor topic and onto the day. I used my camp toaster on the gas burner and toasted up three slices for Zeb and I. He had a grand time playing with egg bits and toast fingers.
I cranked up the radio to hear the news. Apparently the whole City was down. I checked my cell phone and there was a text from my boss to stay home. Apparently everything south of the Hwy 300 was out, but no reason was being given. There was also a text from the daycare saying that they would also be closed. In a way it was good, I could now be part of the mass blitz on Mrs. O’Keefe’s house. I could join that after I dropped off the GRP application. It was only three blocks away and the walk would do me good.
First Zeb and I went outside with his bucket and the watering cans. First we picked anything that was ready to come off the vine, then we took water from the trough in the park to water the garden. If you do it properly it takes about 35 minutes. We got some bean and peas, and a few small tomatoes - all of which would make a lovely dinner.
Coming back in I encountered Eric humping buckets of water from the basement to the elderly tenants on the 2nd and 3rd floors. I offered to help but he declined, so we headed in to pick-up the stroller and the GRP application.
It was a lovely soft morning, the type of August day that you know will only get hotter and hotter until everything is sweltering. We walked along Cooper Street, crossing over Hwy. 307. We waved at the Sartos as they stood in the door way of his tailor shop. The lack of power would not stop him. If necessary he would have done all the work by hand. Upstairs Mrs. Sarto had a dress making business. She also did a brisk trade in remaking communion and wedding dresses. She had done a couple of skirts for me and I loved them. Mr. Moretti came out and presented Zeb with a pepperoni stick. We commiserated about the lack of power. Then Zeb and I strolled passed Tony’s Barber Shop. He was a widower but his daughter and her cousins had a hair salon upstairs. The women were all seated on the bench in front of the store. They all lived in the apartments above the shop and all were furiously complaining. Next was the Home Hardware, which never had anything in stock I needed and was locked up tight. Then came Vincezo Bartoli’s restaurant. Really delicious food. He had the grills already going out back and the smell was delicious. Then there was the entrance to the now defunct brick works which ran from behind the shops to the railway. The Royal LePage sales sign tacked to the gates had long ago faded. Then there came the coffee shop, with their gas stoves, they were running a brisk business. The men drifted in and out of their stores for a shot of cappuccino or espresso and a chat for all the world replicating the work patterns of their northern Italian ancestors. Then came the wonderful Aladdin’s cave of a grocery store. Stocked full of foods I had never heard of in packaging that made the contents uncertain. Then there was the library. I occasionally brought Zeb for story time there.
I crossed Warren Road at this point. The travel agency was closed but it’s windows advertised cheap trips to Italy or the Caribbean. Then there was the Italian Men’s Club. I’ve never been in but I gather there is lots of card playing, lots of chess, lots of very bad privately made wines decanted out of glass demi-johns… The rest of the block was made up of Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church, the Priests’ House, the Church Hall, parking lot, the school and Zeb’s day care, and the playground. It too ran all the way back to the railway line.
We then crossed Foxbar Road and the first store front held the GRP offices. As I expected there was someone there and as expected they made a big fuss about their being someone there and being open to conduct business. They took the application and gave me a receipt. I desperately wanted to talk to someone who was informed about the process, but the only one there was Princess Activist-Want-To-Be.
Now normally I would have walked the rest of the block to the park at the end and let Zeb swing but there is too much to do and the day was heating up. Normally, I would have jogged home, but really it was getting hot, so a brisk walk back up the street. Waving and hello-ing again as we went.
We were home before 9:30am and there was still no power on. So I changed into shorts and a t-shirt and changed Zeb. I grabbed my cleaning basket and my boy-o and I headed over to the O’Keefe’s. Pippa was outside with her younger siblings and she took Zeb from me and put him in the swing. He’s at the stage where he’s happy to be there for hours, and often will fall asleep.
“Miss Charlie,” said Pippa in quiet tones. “Is it true?”
“Is what true?” I replied.
“Are you all really going to clean the house?” she asked.
“Is that okay?” I asked her.
“Oh yes!” she sighed. “I love Grandma a lot but I think it might all be a bit much for her. She has lots of stuff we don’t need, like newspapers, but she says we might need them and she won’t get rid of them. Mrs. Brown, my teacher, knows that things aren’t okay here but I can’t tell her or we’ll have to leave and we don’t want to.
“We’ll see if we can get your grandma some help,” I told her. She nodded and went back to the kids.
I went up the stairs to the porch and found Bob Saunders patching the front porch spindles and scraping the peeling paint. Inside, Mrs Moretti and her team of five ladies were hard at work. She smiled when she saw me ready for work.
“Let me see you basket,” she demanded. “Ah…bouna! You have listened. Signore! Il nostro giovane si sta imparando a fare i propri prodotti per la pulizia! Look her own supplies made to my recipes…” Angelina Moretti beamed with pride.
She set me to work in the bathroom. I collected the towels and took down the curtains. While I was there I opened the window and waved to Mrs. Vancenzi who was hand washing clothes in galvanized steel tub. Beside her, someone had lit a bonfire and put a huge tub on. Water was boiling away.
“Tu mi portano gli asciugamani e le tende !” shouted Mrs Vancenzi.
“What?” I called back. My Italian is limited.
“The towels and curtains. I wash. You bring.” She said again.
Checking the cupboard, I found that they all looked thread bare and slightly grimey. I pulled them all out. I also made a note in my book that new towels were needed. I threw out the nasty looking bars of soap and the congealed bottles of shampoo and conditioner. Checking under the sink I discovered that there were no cleaning supplies. Another note went into my notebook.
The countertop looked okay so I sprayed it and the back splash with a diluted vinegar solution. The salmon pink tiles cleaned up nicely but the grout was still very grey. So I took my baking soda paste and laid it along the grout lines. I set my phone alarm for 20-minutes and moved onto the shower.
A fast look at the faucet, handles and shower head had me reaching for the Ziploc bags and white vinegar. Left for a couple of hours the soap scum and calcium buildup would dissolve. Letting the water run, I found that it was really slow, so ¾ of a cup of baking soda and some hot water would hopefully help dissolve or dislodge the blockage. It didn’t take long to clean the tiles but again the grout needed a deep lean. So out came the baking powder paste. I decided to save the joy of the tub until after the tile work was clean.
So help me, the toilet was just gross. At 18-months Jamie was still in diapers so it should not have been that bad. If there had been power, I would have heated the vinegar, but without power, I just used the straight stuff. Slowly, with some elbow grease it began to come clean, but not clean enough. SO I pulled out the big gun grease cleaner** The ammonia cut right through the grime and the pink toilet cleaned right up – at least on the outside. I also used it on the floor around the toilet and the old linoleum came clean. It took more straight vinegar in the toilet bowel to clean out the layer of… lets call it sediment.
I used the general cleaner on the white painted cabinetry and on the metal medicine cabinet. On the window and mirror I used the glass cleaner*** The room began to sparkle. I waved at Mrs. Vancenzi and she beckoned me to come out.
“Oh ! Lo stato di questi asciugamani...” she bemoaned. “There is nothing left of them… they are rags… stracci! I bambini non possono usa questi…"
“You are right,” I agreed. “We are going to go to the Salvation Army tomorrow and see what we can get for them.”
“No. Ho asciugamani extra… I have extra… I will give for the children,” she said firmly.
It took six hours with the seven of us working to get that house clean. Well as clean as it was going to come with the carpets as worn and threadbare as they were. Mrs. Moretti had run a carpet sweeper over them but they really needed a Dyson.
We had taken a break about noon to sit under the trees and eat. Zeb had reluctantly got out of the swing to eat, but as soon as he was done and changed, he wanted back in. Pippa pushed him and he was asleep in minutes with his buddy Jamie also asleep in the matching swing. The hot August day, with the cicadas singing loudly, pulsed around around us. The heat and hard work made us all sleepy.
I looked around and found Mrs. O’Keefe looking shell shocked in a lawn chair. So much activity and the rearrangement of her house had done her in. Eric and John stopped by to see what we had accomplished and were effusive in their compliments. I thought that Mrs. Orlandini deserved a medal for whipping that kitchen into shape. Nasty was the politest word I could think of. I never thought that I’d see the fridge clean and sparkling – it had been the laboratory of a mad scientist. The oven was perfectly clean – still had all of its instructions inside. The stove top had been a mess. Cleaned-up it was actually a pretty nice kitchen.
Eric took a moment to look under the carpet.
“There are perfectly good wood floors under this!” he exclaimed “I’ll go get a couple of the guys and we’ll get this nasty thing out of here.”
Mrs. Moretti smiled serenely, like the Madonna, and said we would wait to wash the floors when they were done. I went back in and took the ammonia spray and finished off the bathtub and the floor. No one would ever say that the 1950s salmon pink and black tiled bathroom was a thing of beauty but it was clean and no one would catch anything from it. Mrs. Vancenzi brought back some lovely soft white bath towels, hand towels and face clothes and a big thick bathmat – thick enough to absorb water from three children being bathed. I put some of my own bars of goat milk soap and a bottle of my shampoo****
I put my head in to Pippa’s room. Now that it was clean it was a horribly depressing space. School books, a class photo taped to the wall and a stuffed animal was all that was there. On the bed was a clean folded but very worn quilt – there were no sheets or pillow cases. I went to find out where they were.
“Pidocchi,” explained Mrs. Moretti. “Every one of them has head lice. The sheets they are boiled and on the line to dry. When everyone goes, I will use olive oil and a small comb. When the power comes back, I will clean couches and beds. Until then I put plastic over beds and pillows and then sheets back on. I am so mad at their Nonna…” There followed a furious torrent of Italian that ended with “…Io vi aiuterò Dio vegli su questi bambini.”
I suggested that Annie Henderson might work well as another “mano destra di Dio.” Mrs. Moretti smiled and agreed that another hand would be a good idea.
Eric came back with a couple of the fathers and they ripped the horrible carpet out and pulled up the tack strips. The floors were gorgeous, barely worn. While the ladies and their polish attacked the floors, I collected Zeb and took him home. It was four o’clock and hot as Hades. Time for Zeb to play in the Mr. Turtle pool.
The power was still off when I went to bed at 10:30pm. There was no explanation as to why.
*General Spray Cleaner:
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
Put in a spray bottle – label contents clearly
½ cup sudsy ammonia
Mix with one gallon of water
Put in spray bottle – label contents clearly
*** Glass Cleaner
1 cup rubbing alcohol
1 cup water
1 tbsp white vinegar
**** Homemade Shampoo
1/4 cup coconut milk (fresh is better than canned)
1/3 cup Liquid Castille Soap
1/2 tsp Vitamin E oil
20 drops of essential oil (I like almond - smells like the Vidal Sassoon shampoo I had as a kid)
for dry hair/scalp, add: 1/2 tsp olive or almond oil
The power was still out this morning. The talking heads on the radio explained that they were operating on back-up generators. In pockets along Yonge Street, store owners were sweeping up after a night of indiscriminate vandalism. There were not enough people involved and it was too unorganized to be a mob, but a large number of stores had been damaged. The stupidity of it showed in the storming and theft from places like Future Shop electronics stolen when there was no electricity to use them. A whole bunch of sporting goods stores had been broken into as well – skateboards and bicycles taken but not camping stoves showed the youth of the thieves.
Corner stores were broken into but the Korean Businessmen’s Association had a low tolerance for such activity and they had fought back. There were several young men with broken arms after attempting thefts of cigarettes. The media was claiming an overreaction on the part of the KBA, who was in tern congratulating its members on their restraint. One well-to-do mother from Forest Hill was claiming the her Aaron had never done anything wrong that she would sue for compensation for his injuries. This despite the cctv photos of him punching out an elderly woman and taking cigarettes and money from the till.
There was still no explanation and no speculation on the part of the media on why the power was down. Struck me as an odd note. All media thrives on speculation and yet there was a complete blackout. It was giving me a hicky feeling. Usually by this point there was a whole lot of finger pointing going on and if there was it wasn’t being reported.
I checked my freezer and it was all still frozen, but I quickly started to canned the veg in the fridge that was not eaten. I love asparagus, but I had twelve bundles of fresh and I knew I wouldn’t eat it before it went off. I raw packed them by filled three quart jars with long spears and filling the other four with the spears cut into small pieces. I love the fresh green colour of asparagus and Zeb likes the too. I made sure that there was the inch head space. I filled the jars with boiling water and added a ¼ tsp of salt. Some people don’t salt theirs and some like a ½ tsp but I’d learned that a ¼ tsp was perfect to my taste. I put the lids and rings on snuggly and put them into rack in the canner. There should be about 3-inches of boiling water in the canner (if it has boiled down lower than that, add more hot water from the kettle). When all the jars that the canner will hold are in, I put on the lid but left the weight off (if your canner has a valve leave it open open). The canner then steams for about 10 minutes before I put the weight on and let the pressure build to 11-lbs and maintain it for 40 minutes. It’s worth the gas and the heat in the kitchen not to lose that asparagus.
I also pulled out the large bricks of cheese I had bought on sale and I cut them into smaller chunks. I then pulled out my wax pot, and proceeded to wax all of the blocks twice before I heard Zeb wake up. After a change and a cuddle, I put him in his chair with a bowl of cheerios – no milk. The milk went into his sippy cup. I gave the cheese two more coats of wax and the carefully put them on a rack on a shelf in pantry. Normally I would still refrigerate it but I would just have to trust that the wax would protect the cheese.
The timer went and I turned off the heat under the canner. It usually take about 40 to 45 minutes for the canner’s pressure to fall to zero so that the jars can be removed. There wasn’t much else left in the fridge. I try to buy shelf stable products but there was no doubt I was going to lose some food stuffs.
I had put Zeb down on the floor to allow him some freedom and I had just gone to check on him when there was a knock at the door. Mrs. Orlandini was standing there looking very distressed.
“Quella donna è pazza !” she exclaimed.
“Who is crazy?” I asked, slightly confused.
“Mrs. O’Keefe!” She said. “She has locked the doors and she won’t let us in! Come dovremmo aiutare?”
“Okay,” I said. “Let me grab Zeb and I’ll come over.”
I put Zeb into the carry pack. It was just too early for me to deal with the stroller. Come to think of it I had no idea what time it was. Eric was still walking up and down stairs with buckets. Some of the fathers who lived on the 6th floor were laid out on couches trying too cool off.
Mrs. Orlandini said softly “There are people asleep in the garage too because its cooler… but I have seen topi e ratti in there. I stay in my own appartamento.”
“You aren’t too warm on the 4th floor?” I asked.
“No… I had to live in Napoli early in my marriage… this is not too warm… Ero sempre caldo li,” she replied with a flash of a saucy smile.
I could only giggle at the thought of the now stocky, hawk-nosed, widow-weed clad Mrs. Orlandini as the Sophia Lauren of Naples. I love how little we know about our neighbours and the facets we discover.
Mrs. O’Keefe was another story. Mrs. Moretti and her team were all standing on the grass as I approached. Tony and Georg were parked in the driveway and stood leaning against the truck. I could hear Mrs. O’Keefe shouting at them to go away. We could all hear the panic and fear in her voice.
I took off my back pack and handed Zeb to Mrs. Moretti, who turned from irate to cooing.
“I’ll go and speak with Mrs. O’Keefe,” I told the ladies.
I finally convinced her to let me inside. I looked around at the clean house and saw that Mrs. O’Keefe had set out her piles again. The piles were much smaller because so much had gone out, but they were there and Mrs. O’Keefe was obviously clinging to them. I had been concerned that there was a hoarding behaviour but if she could keep it under control then it would be okay. We talked for a few minutes and then I went outside.
“Ladies, we have a problem,” I said in a quiet voice. “Mrs. O’Keefe is exhibiting all the classic signs of a hoarder. She has re-established many of her pile in the living room and she is now embarrassed that you will see them. I have explained that we are here to finish cleaning the house and that our goal is to make the house a safe and healthy place, and that if it is not, then I will have the children removed.
“She also thought that in the process of cleaning yesterday, that you had cut the power to her house. I have explained that there is no power anywhere in the City right now. So she has backed down and will let us finish.
“Mrs. O’Keefe has also agreed to let Annie Henderson move in to help. So, we need to move the girls into one room together. We will turn the small box room into a bedroom for Jamie and let Annie have the third bedroom.”
It was almost noon before I got home again. I hope that they can keep it altogether over there but with enough people watching now I have no doubt that Pippa, Agatha and Jamie will now not fall through the cracks.
I finally got the jars out of the canner and had them sitting on the counter on a towel. Zeb was having fun with cold noodles and chunks of chicken when the buzzer at my door sounded. Expecting one of the ladies, I yelled out “Entrare!”and in came the last two people on earth I expected… Princess Activist-Wanna-Be and Mister-NGO-Poster-Child.
Princess-Activist-Wanna-Be’s name was Ariel Hollowell. I didn’t ask her if she’d changed her name or been called after a Disney mermaid… With her bangles and beads and hippie skirt, it was too much to expect that she’d been named for a Shakespeare character. Mister-NGO-Poster-Child’s name was Rufus Martin. I figure that a sadist had named him. Who the heck gives their kid a name like Rufus? The playground must have been a special type of hell for him. He had about him the mannerisms of a lot of money. If I looked at his resume, I bet it would be full of all the right private schools but none of the marks, so that he had only qualified for a second tier university, and there he had become radicalized to UN and NGO causes.
I should clarify that sometimes these organizations do a lot of good, well digging, doctors, teachers, giving countries a place to talk, and the like. But that I believe that they have become too self-important, forgotten the purpose of their origin and lost their mandate. I really do believe that many young people, mostly those bank-rolled by parents and brought up with the heavy liberal/socialist message that pervades the school and university systems, buy into the “cool” of activism before figuring out that they are nothing more than a band aid being applied onto a problem whose roots are so culturally deep that they are not really resolvable. And if they are, they are not resolvable by the Western political agenda. That is not to say that a wells, doctors and schooling aren’t valuable to the individual person or community, but rather it’s that the inter-tribal politics of so many of these places quickly nullifies the good done.
But I digress, Ariel and her boss Rufus were here to see where we intended to garden. What they saw was a single mother, braid down her back, long skirted and t-shirted, canner on the stove, food in jars on the counter… I fit their image of the happy urban gardener, so they relaxed. I put a sleepy Zeb into his carrier and as we headed out met Eric, who was reprising his role as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice getting water to the seniors on the upper floors, and I was able to introduce them.
We first went to see my garden. They oohed and ahhed and sampled and asked all the right questions about soil and water and yield. I then talked about the buildings across the street coming down and out hope to be able to turn the waste land into productive gardens to feed the inhabitants of the Cooper Street Coop. I talked about the board with John the Bailiff, Eric the building manager, and Greg who had already reclaimed and made productive the abandoned lot beside his house. I talked about the ethnic make-up of the building (predominantly old world Italian). They were really eager to see it happen. I then pointed out that they had the old brick works in their neighbourhood, which had long ago been cleared and abandoned, perhaps the city would allow them to do something similar.
You know it’s a wonderful thing to watch fireworks go off in someone’s brain.
“You have to get something going Rufus. There are 40- homes in the Mews. There are another 60 or so apartments along the street and they are full. Things are changing and perhaps not for the best. The power is out for the second day and the media is asking no questions. Time for you all to start checking on the neighbours. To make sure everyone has food and water. Go talk to the Padre. With his support and your drive…”
“That is enough,” stated Ariel in a firm voice, her face the colour of putty despite the hot day.
“No,” said Rufus. “Charlie is right. And turning the Brick Works into a community garden is brilliant. This plan here is approved. Here is your paper work. Also complete this for a grant for gardening equipment through Canadian Tire. If approved, it would give your group a $10,000 start-up for seeds, equipment right through to canning and jars. I will recommend its approval.”
‘Okay,’ I thought. ‘I am done being ‘Miss Nice Neighbour’ for a while. Time to do some things for Zeb and me.’
So I packed us up and headed down to the garage. I will admit to the sin of having two cars. One is a wonderful old 1979 maroon Jeep Wagoneer Grand Cherokee with a tan interior. My parents had bought it new as I had headed into high school and I bought it from them when I went off to university. I love that old truck. Actually it’s a toss-up as whether I love the truck or my computer more. The other is my everyday car, a dark blue 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser. It’s a great little car for being anonymous around town. I love the Jeep but it does stand out. The Cruiser with its dark, plain colour vanishes into the sea of vehicles.
The ultimate goal of this trip was Costco. With this being day 2 of the power outage, they were going to need to unload their meat freezers soon. I was hoping to get some good deals. But for my first stop, I needed the Jeep. I went to the local Petro Canada Station where I bought a new 20lbs propane tank. Down the road I stopped at an Esso Station and bought a 2nd tank, and then to the Ultramar for a 3rd. I was able to get a 4th tank at the Canadian Tire station. With the two I had stored at home and the new one on the stove, that brought me up to just shy of 140-lbs of propane. That should buy me enough time to find a wood cookstove.
Canadian Tire store was open, but they were taking people’s lists and sending staff to collect the items off the shelves. They had my pre-paid order of canning jars, lids and rings, but sent me around back to collect them. With this order, it would bring my stock of empty jars up to 500 quarts (32oz), 600 pints (16oz), 500 half pint (8oz) and 100 quarter pint (4oz). I also had 30 2-quart (64oz) jars, but I used those to store dry goods. I had been placing a monthly order with Canadian Tire for two years now. So they had ceased to think of me as being odd or ordering oddly. My order was always 2 flats of each size. Only one of the kids who loaded for me looked at what he was loading.
“Power’s been out for 2-days,” he said. “My mom is doing the same thing.”
“Good for her,” I said nodding to him.
I took everything home. While I store the jars in my locker, the propane tanks go into my pantry. I have this handy dandy cart* that I use to move things around in the building. It was one of those items that the Bailiff had let me keep, largely because I was moving things out on it and it just went in the trailer. It’s a life saver in the building. It allows me to move everything into the apartment without doing multiple trips. I moved everything into the storage locker. I’d take the propane up tonight once the building had gone to bed. Too many eyes right now.
With the truck empty, I parked it. Zeb and I headed back out to CostCo in the Cruiser. Everyone laughed when I bought it, but it has the most amazing amount of space in it. Even with the back seats up, can easily fit Zeb’s stroller in it. And with the seats up, I can turn of the airbags and have his car seat in the front. Highly illegal I know, but you do what you have to. I’ve been stopped once but the cop let me off when he saw that the airbag had been turned off. Nice man…
I have to tell you that I have this love hate relationship with CostCo. I love that I can buy in bulk and store but I have to say that their prices aren’t always the best. And if you go to the one down by the 701, it doesn’t carry any pork products for fear of offending the Muslim and Orthodox Jewish populations. But thankfully there is one about 20 minutes away. There was a line-up at the door.
I parked and walked up and joined the line. A woman with a clipboard came scurrying over.
“Here are the rules Miss,” she said breathlessly to me and the people who came and stood behind me. “$200 limit unless you are getting fresh vegetables, meat or frozen goods. Cash only. No coupons accepted. You will be accompanied by a staff member with a calculator. When they say you have reached your limit that’s it. Any argument and you will be thrown out without your purchases and you won’t be allowed back in. Period. Got it.”
I said yes, but of course the people behind had questions.
The line moved forward slowly. Zeb fell asleep while we waited. I am so thankful for the back pack-style baby carrier. The frame let Zeb’s weight sit on my hips and kept his grabby fingers under control. The line moved head. I saw Eric coming across the parking lot with John. They waved and went to the back of the line. Soon I was two from the front.
I pulled out my list. I confirmed with the young man that I had understood that I could buy $200 worth of goods and that that limit did not include meat, frozen food or fresh vegetables. He concurred. So moving quickly through the store I took:
3 x 15kg Japanese sticky rice
1 x 22kg flour
1 x 22kg sugar
1 x 22kg steel cut oats
4 x 2kg jars of crunchy peanut butter
2 x jug of pure vanilla
4 x large bags of chocolate chips (I love these!)
2 x jugs of fancy molasses
4 x jar of baking powder
10 x large boxes of baking soda
6 x 5L jugs of white vinegar
6 x 5L jugs of vegetable oil
4 x jugs of soya sauce
I then hauled the exhausted young man over to the hygiene aisles. He told me I was his sixth customer in 2-hours and he’d been run all over the store. I asked what the others had bought and he mostly listed the convenience foods I’d avoided.
3 x jugs of bleach
1 x box of 12 Fels Naptha bars
“How much do I have left” I asked.
“$32.45” said the young man.
So I took two large boxes of tampax.
I then led the way to the fresh veg and grabbed 3 bags of onions, 5 bags of potatoes, and 6 bags of carrots. I also got a couple of bunches of over ripe bananas. The rest of the fruit and veg were looking not particularly nice, so I led the way the way to the frozen veg section. I proceeded to get 6 bags each of frozen, corn, peas, green beans, broccoli, edemame and mixed veg.
“Miss,” said the young man. “You are at $320 now, can you pay cash for that?”
“Yes,” I said, “But thanks for your concern. Time to head to the meat department.”
In the meat department, all meat was marked at 70% off with signs saying that it had to be consumed within 24-hours even if the power did come back on. I took chicken, chicken liver, pork roast, stewing beef, bacon, and ten large packages of ground beef. The butcher came out and checked my purchases. He then boxed them and put the price on top. I appreciated his keeping the prying eyes away during checkout. The total it was $150 for the meat. The savings were fantastic. I went through the checkout, where it was all done by hand from the calculations of the young man who had walked through with me. Carefully I counted $470 in cash into the clerk’s hand. She kept her hands low. Counted carefully and nodded. I was given a receipt and then handed over to an armed guard who walked me to my car. He waited while I loaded. I offered to tip him, but he declined.
“Accepting cash just makes us a target,” he told me.
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