Story A Will To Survive

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Twenty-Eight

After the bombshell Scott lays on Sissy is dealt with, at least temporarily, it is nice to get back to less stressful concerns. The strawberry shortcake is a huge success. Sissy again dips into the gifts she set aside for the kids “just in case” and comes up with several things Sarah and Bekah really enjoy as birthday gifts. Everyone stays up later than usual and Scott uses some of their hoarded propane fuel to keep a lantern running after the power goes off mid-way through a heated game of Uno for both light and some heat.

The next morning everyone is slightly bleary-eyed from the unusually late night, but everyone is still up at their new normal time of daybreak. So much manual-labor has to be accomplished when the power is down, they really cannot afford to sleep any daylight hours away.

It is funny, the new paradigm of working during daylight and sleeping during the dark hours has turned out not to be that difficult for most people to adjust to. With the curfew for both individuals and businesses, as well as the crowd restrictions, there isn’t exactly a lot to do when the sun goes down. Changing their schedule has also helped save on fuel and batteries. After Sissy sees Scott and the other men off for another long day, she continues to think about the various changes that they have had no choice but to accept.

The power going up and down is a pain. It would have been nice to have a consistent schedule to operate by, but that isn’t likely to happen any time soon. You just learn to keep water containers topped off and to waste as little as possible. Food leftovers aren’t really a problem, there is a lot less waste in general than there had been prepandemic, at least in Scott and Sissy’s neighborhood. Foods that require refrigeration are rarely available, and when they are they are used up as quickly as possible. Most people’s refrigerators and freezers are now just nothing more than glorified water coolers. Laundry continues to be the bane of many households. There just is no easy way to do any amount of laundry without the power on. From water to agitation to rinsing, then hanging and drying, keeping clothes clean is very labor intensive.

Of course, food availability is something everyone is anxious about, even for families that have prepped. “Preppers” as the news tends to call them – like they are some separate species of humans – started using up their preps as early as two weeks after the first illnesses were reported. Three days to two weeks of preps simply was not enough and did little more than help the markets stave off collapse for a few extra days. Those that had taken their prepping up to three months have also found out that it depended on the weather and their geographical location as to how easy it was to get re-stocked after their supplies ran low. Now the six-month preppers have seen an end to their long-term supplies. Many, like Sissy’s family, are trying to supplement their supplies with home-grown produce and foraging practices, but because it is only March, a lot of them are just beginning to set seedlings up for their spring garden. Some locations in the US still see a significant amount of snow – at least enough to delay planting – well into April and sometimes beyond.

People are learning to operate on a lot fewer calories than most people had prepandemic. Sissy is thankful that she had prepped as much as she had before everything hit the fan. Between the long term preps, the fresh foods that she is growing, and the barter items that her husband is bringing in, her last inventory shows that she will be able to stretch that out several months longer. Her personal concern is still for the lean months of the summer when it is too hot to grow most edible garden produce in her neck of the woods.

Fuel and transportation costs continue to be a crisis. Many refineries are shut down, either due to staffing or equipment failures. Those that are still running, are operating well below capacity simply because there isn’t’ enough crude oil coming in. Gasoline is extremely expensive, now going for a minimum of $10.00 per gallon if it is even available. In some areas, like California and many northern states, if private citizens can find fuel to buy it is at least double that price. Many corner gas stations have closed down their pumps. Alternative fuels are not doing any better. Most of this year’s corn crop is earmarked for heading off mass starvation here in the US. That means that even if the ethanol plants could be up and running, there simply isn’t anything for them to process, not to mention the fact it takes a lot of energy to create ethanol making uneconomical to produce. The same is true of bio-diesel. Bio-diesel is primarily a recycled product . . . no used cooking oil to recycle, no bio-fuel.

There are rumors of some “white lightening” manufacturing going on further south where the sugarcane crops grow. Sugarcane, like many starch-to-sugar plants such as corn and potatoes, can be converted into homemade liquor. The higher proof the resulting liquor is, the easier it is to use as a fuel. Local law enforcement usually looks the other way so long as the stills are being used to create "fuel.” But, if they are making drinking liquor then they get shut down pretty quickly. There is some corruption, like kickbacks and bribes to keep from getting raided, but most people are careful not to stir up trouble. It is too hard to come by replacement parts for busted stills. And no one wants to draw the attention of local gangs who have made attempts to monopolize this cottage industry.

Some of the most difficult changes though have been of a social nature. Families must unite on a constructive level to get through difficulties. The pandemic crisis is really highlighting some of the problems in marriages and parent/child relationships. Single parent families struggle even more than before. It isn’t very “liberated” to admit, but a woman alone, or even worse a woman alone with children, runs a far greater security risk than does a two parent or two adult household. It isn’t about finances, it is about the realities of the physical logistics of survival.

There are people – both male and female – who are taking advantage of the situation. But there are also marriages and relationships that have been saved by the enforced time and proximity faced in SIP and quarantine. Then there are the creative approaches where more than one adult, some with children, team together in a communal setting that has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with survival. Sissy wonders how long these relationships of convenience will last once the pandemic and the subsequent economic upheaval are over. Only time will tell.

As Sissy sits on the porch to take a break and enjoy a cool, orange blossom scented breeze wafting out of the grove, she realizes that overall – at least in this neck of the woods – life still progresses in similar ways to what it had before. You love, you work, you strive to provide something better for your family and yourself. The pandemic is a temporary event with a finite ending at some point, even if no one knows when that is yet. There will be repercussions to deal with afterwards, but even then people will survive and some will strive for success and some will allow life to just take them where it will.

Maybe tonight, if any of the local stations are up and running, they will sit and listen to what is happening outside of their city. Sissy says “maybe” because her attitude is that it is good to stay informed, but tired people need rest and lately the news isn’t very restful. She is still very careful of her family’s health as she doesn’t consider any of them back to one hundred percent yet, not even herself.

Later, as the family sits down after a dinner of Bean and Vegetable Burritos created from homemade flour tortillas, canned pinto beans, and vegetables from their garden, they turn the solar radio on and try to pick up the closest radio station which is WUSF 89.7.

They can’t raise that station at all so realize that the power outage more than likely stretches all the way to the main USF campus. This is bad news because the nearest hospital, University Community Hospital (UCH), is directly across from the university. All of those tents in the triage units have likely lost their power. Luckily there is a full moon tonight and the sky is fairly bright. When the power goes out and there is no moon, pitch black doesn’t begin to describe how dark it gets.

Scott skips back up the dial to WRBQ 104.7. It is a popular radio station from prepandemic days that played a mix of music from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Though part of a large corporation - CBS Radio Broadcasting – and affiliated with radio stations across the country, they are still very community-minded and their business continuity plan reflects this as well as an unusual commitment to their staff. One of the disc jockeys that has been in the bay area since the mid-70s is also part of the station’s management team. He quickly organized the staff, and most of their families now live and work out of the station building on Gray Street.

They park the radio dial just in time to hear the announcer come on and say “This is your nightly, in-depth news report broadcast from Q105, serving communities in the Tampa Bay area.”

In local news:

You can expect tighter gas rationing at the pump within the week. Gas purchases will be restricted to ten gallons per visit, down from the 15 gallons that it has been since November. Gas stations that are still in business are being encouraged to reserve at least one pump for walk-up customers. Safety Note: Walk-up customers are reminded that they must use appropriate fuel containers.

A local man is trying to make the legal case that using deadly force against individuals in the process of stealing from a family’s garden falls under the same laws that allow a home owner to use deadly force against an intruder that enters their home; or the new Looter Laws. The man points out that in these catastrophic times when what a family gets from their garden can make the difference between life and starvation, stealing from the garden is a deadly threat and a homeowner has the right to respond accordingly. To the consternation of several civil rights groups, this movement is receiving wide support through out the state, including the support of many law enforcement agencies and private citizens’ groups.

All of the bay area Bank of America branches have converted to drive-up-only facilities. They follow several other banks in this area who have been forced to close their customer service areas in the wake of last month’s rash of gang-style bank robberies. A statement directly from B of A headquarters in Charlotte, NC states that while Bank of America understands the inconvenience this may pose to some customers, it is a necessary step to ensure the safety of customer assets as well as respond to new OSHA work environment regulations. The statement continues further by encouraging all current B of A customers to take advantage of their broad range of online banking services.

According to a spokesman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the bay area can expect to see an increase in haze and a lowering of air quality as the fire in south Florida continues uncontained. The fire is believed to have started in a mobile home community when a gas grill exploded. The fire quickly spread through the closely spaced trailers of the retirement village and has now engulfed over 100 acres of homes just outside Naples, FL. Cool, damp weather is preventing the fire from spreading too rapidly. The National Guard is assisting in evacuation efforts and local volunteers are constructing firebreaks in an attempt to prevent the fire from reaching the Picayune Strand State Forest. Picayune Strand is home to the only stable population of panthers east of the Mississippi, one of the few native wild cat populations apparently unaffected by the current panflu strain.

In other areas of the state:

School closures are again under discussion. Legislators are preparing to vote on an emergency measure that would shut down the public school buildings at least through August. This same measure would transfer classroom teachers to positions with the FLVS and the public broadcasting classroom system. If the measure passes, parents will be responsible for transferring and registering their children with the appropriate district program office. The Florida Education Association (FEA) and the National Education Association (NEA) are offering limited support to the changes as long as all teachers currently employed are given positions within the new system at the same pay and benefits as their previous position.

To address the 180 classroom days per school year required by Florida law, the current academic year will run non-stop through October of this year. The next academic year will follow immediately on its heels and continue until a 2nd 180 classroom days have been completed. At that point, a return to a more traditional school calendar is expected.

Universities and community colleges around the state are addressing their students’ needs with the same creativity. Starting with their summer semesters, the online class list will be expanded. USF has also announced plans to offer lecture courses as downloads for Blackberries and mp3 players. Many universities will offer multi-media lectures in real-time and for replay using programs like Windows Media Player and Quick Time. HCC’s courses that utilize WebCT will more than quadruple.

A “volunteer for food” program called S.H.A.R.E. is being used as a model in the process of revamping and combining several state-level assistance programs. This is being done so that program abusers are weeded out and more people can be served in a wider geographic area. Participants will use volunteer hour vouchers to “buy” items from the program’s mobile grocery stores. The amount of food or household items available to each household will be directly determined by the number of volunteer hours that the family earns. There will be a minimum number of hours required to participate in the program, as well as required service hours in the agricultural division. Vouchers will have expiration dates 60 days after issuance. People currently receiving assistance will automatically be enrolled in the new program. People that have been on waiting lists or those who would like to apply to participate should call the assistance program office at 1-888-200-1234 for more details.

In other news, the State’s Office of Vital Statistics has reported the latest pandemic casualty figures. The numbers are disheartening. Despite stringent mitigation measures that have been in place since the beginning of the pandemic, the latest figures for a statewide population of nearly eighteen million stands at 71,159 dead. This figure only includes confirmed fatalities from pandemic influenza. Deaths for other reasons, such as from violence and infrastructure collapse, as well as for other infectious and/or chronic diseases, have not been released.

The CDC has released tentative, nationwide death figures as well. The national death total stands at 3,371,283 for pandemic influenza. When asked whether they would release ancillary death totals, a source inside the CDC who wished to remain anonymous since they were not authorized to speak to the media, stated that the true number of deaths from associated infrastructure problems would not be known until months after the pandemic had officially been declared over.

Also in national news, everyone is reminded that while a moratorium on federal income taxes is in effect, tax forms themselves must still be filed.

Federal investigators have turned in final reports on why New York City has failed to respond to every mitigation procedure imposed since the beginning of the pandemic and how this failure has affected surrounding areas. CBS and Clear Channel Broadcasting are teaming up and will offer a synopsis of this report once it becomes public.

In other health news, authorities are reporting dozens of cases of trichinosis have been popping up around the country. Trichinosis is a food-borne disease caused by a microscopic parasite. Animals such as pigs, dogs, cats, rats and many wild animals (including fox, wolf and bear) may harbor the parasite. When humans eat improperly cooked meats, they can become infected with the parasite. Many people have been forced to hunt to supplement their family’s diet. Inexperienced hunters are believed to be the primary culprit behind the sudden upswing in cases. The symptoms of trichinosis usually start with fever, muscle soreness, pain and swelling around the eyes. Thirst, profuse sweating, chills, weakness and tiredness may develop. Chest pain may be experienced since the parasite may become imbedded in the diaphragm (the thin muscle separating the lungs from abdominal organs). The incubation period varies depending upon the number of parasites in the meat and the amount eaten. It can range from five to 45 days but is usually 10 to 14 days.

The US Meteorological Society has issued its yearly hurricane prediction. Its looks like pandemic-driven infrastructure failure is not the only thing that will interrupt utilities this summer. Scientists are saying they expect to see 17 named storms, 9 of them hurricanes. Of the nine, five are expected to be category three or greater.

In international news:

Reporters from within Asharq Alawsat newspaper report tribal and sectarian feuding through out the Middle East. The only common theme appears to be general belief that the “Zionist West” either orchestrated the pandemic for its own ends or is using the pandemic to subdue the rest of the world. Unfortunately, desperation and sectarian pressures are leading many to buy into the propaganda. Already many western interests and embassies have been destroyed during demonstrations. The US remains at a critical security-threat level in response to intelligence of several credible threats.

The WHO reports worldwide fatalities have surpassed initial predictions. With no end to the pandemic in sight, a vaccine is becoming more and more important.

And that is your nightly news report.

Reminder: City of Tampa Utilities has issues a boil-water order that will remain in effect for the foreseeable future. For other community news, be sure and tune into Q105 on the quarter hour.


----------------------------------------------------------

Ship’s Log

Bekah asked me today why do all of my entries seem to be about food. I’ve looked back at this journal and agree that a lot of my entries are about cooking, eating, or gardening; but its an exaggeration to say ALL. Its just that part of our survival plan is my job. Food seems to be a preoccupation of everyone to a certain extent.

Oh sure, there are guys like Barry and his son whose primary thoughts seem to always turn to security issues. I don’t fault them for it either. But they sure wouldn’t be able to think as clearly if the didn’t have partners who thought about their stomachs for them.

I don’t mean to sound disgruntled, I’m not really. I would write about other things more often if I had time. For me though, I seem to spend the bulk of my time growing food, preparing food, trying to make the food we have more interesting or go further, etc. Even though I’m so tired of it all at the end of day, its still mostly what I think about; reviewing today, preparing for tomorrow.

So, to keep myself from sounding completely obsessed I’ll try harder to mention other things. For tonight however introspection time is over; I’m tired and its bedtime. -- Sissy
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Twenty-Nine

The news last night wasn’t the most heartening Scott and Sissy has heard, but life goes on. The hurricane prediction makes them nervous but since hurricane season doesn’t start until June 1st and there isn’t a whole lot they can do about the weather anyway, they decide to focus on what they can do. Today’s task is reorganizing all of the things that Scott has brought in from barter and the produce from their garden.

However, Scott and James decide to first see if Barry or any of the other neighborhood men want to walk to the gas station two miles away to pick up another 15 gallons of fuel before the restrictions take effect. It is always better to go in groups if you are walking, especially if you are going to the store or gas station. Scott knows he could take the van but then he would have to waste gas waiting in the longest lines. Walk-up lines are much faster and shorter.

If it is like the last few times Scott has waited in line for fuel, they will be gone all morning. While Sissy packs some snacks and a couple of water bottles, Scott puts his weapons permit in his pocket and straps on his side arm.

There are a couple of people in the neighborhood that still insist on making sarcastic comments about the “wild west” or even rude comments about “redneck hicks” when Scott and a couple of other men carry their weapons. Barry likes to irritate them further by wearing a cowboy hat and doing an imitation of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. But it is these same people who importune the gun owners to go to the store with them or take the night shifts at the neighborhood garden. The hypocrisy of it drives Scott nuts.

Thinking of all the gardening she needs to get done today, Sissy gives Scott and James a kiss as she entreats them to be careful, and to keep their masks, gloves and goggles on. She then heads out to the backyard to do a busy round of planting. Today Sissy is excited because she is planting corn! Not just corn but a number of other things she hopes will finally yield enough for her to start having some left over for preserving. She is also going to ask Mr. Jones if he knows of any empty space in the neighborhood where they can plant popcorn. Sissy knows you can’t plant some varieties of corn near each other or they don’t produce correctly. Popcorn is one that needs to be planted far enough away from sweet corn so that they can’t cross-pollinate.

First thing Sissy does is harvest the last of the mustard and collard greens to clear up that portion of the garden for new plants. The weather is really warming up and the greens are starting to get bitter. She also harvests some broccoli and lettuce; both have done fairly well all things considered. The first of her Chinese cabbage looks like it will be ready to harvest in the morning so tomorrow’s lunch will likely be homemade egg rolls. Lastly she pulls a whole row of beets. She is pretty sure she can pickle some beets tonight, keep some for her family and send a container to Mr. Jones who loves pickled beets nearly as much as she does and has been a real help in the neighborhood. Its nice to know they have enough that they can occasionally show their appreciation by sharing.

Sissy takes everything in so the girls can start cleaning them. She tells Rose to bring out the beet tops when they are finished.

Rose grins and says, “Suckerrrrr!”

“Oh hush,” says Sissy, blushing.

The girls all laugh as she heads back outside. They have good reason to tease her a bit. She is going to feed the beet tops to the gopher tortoises and peacocks that live in the orange grove. There have always been gopher tortoises in the grove, but the peacocks moved in a just a couple of weeks ago. Their cry is loud enough to wake the dead, and scary enough to put the newly risen back in the grave; especially if you don’t know what it is you are hearing. A peacock call sounds like a woman’s tortured cry.

Yeah, she is probably a sucker for feeding critters that aren’t even hers, but she is going to do it anyway. She likes to watch them, and it doesn’t hurt that it keeps them out of her garden. So far, peacocks aren’t falling ill from the animal strain of the pandemic flu. Sissy isn’t foolish enough to let the kids mess with them or their dropped feathers, but she isn’t ready to run them out of Dodge with a BB gun yet either.

As she returns to gardening, Sissy is so glad Scott found all of those containers in one of the abandoned apartments. The woman living there must have intended on using them for something, or had looted them herself, but then had found them too bulky to take when her family decided to leave. Either way, 50 large flowerpots with their price tags still on them is suspicious. But she wasn’t going to turn up her nose at them either. They are a welcome addition to her resources. The family actually kept just 30 of them and left the rest for Barry and Tom.

It has been a lot of trouble to get all of these pots filled with dirt without making huge potholes in the orange grove. Luckily their rear neighbor offered them some dirt from around her pond area if they would dig some out for her as well. It was a good trade. The dirt from the banks of the large pond is full of organic matter and mixes well with the sand from the orange grove. Sissy further enriches the mixture by adding some compost. She finishes the mixture off by adding some of her other gardening supplies like perlite and a little slow release fertilizer. Sissy is sparing with the fertilizer. There won’t be any more where that came from for a long time.

Into the pots Sissy plants another round of garbanzo beans, lima beans, garden huckleberry, husk tomatoes (aka ground cherry), different kinds of peppers, radishes, and several different varieties of tomatoes. The tomatoes are very important. Sissy stocked up on a lot of tomato products - spaghetti sauce, salsa, juice, paste, stewed, etc. – but at the rate the family uses them, they won’t last out the year. She really needs to be able to can some more. At least her edible landscaping continues to do well. This month she plants nasturtium, which makes a great addition to salads. The green seed pods are also good for making Poor Man’s Capers, which lend really good flavors to stews and soups. Just as she plants the last tomato seedling, Scott and James return.

“Perfect timing! Were you able to get fuel?” Sissy asks.

“Yep. But they had already changed the restrictions to 10 gallons. Got lucky though, they were letting every walk-up have 10, which meant that we were able to bring back 20 gallons between James and I. Good thing I brought the extra container, huh?”

“Yes dear. You are da man,” Sissy giggles. “Its also a good thing James insisted on bringing the little red wagon,” she laughs “or y’all woulda been a lot longer getting home. How many went and thought to bring some wheels this time?”

“We had six men and two boys. Tom got his son out of the house. He said the boy won’t let his mom and little brother out of his sight since they were all so sick. Boy nearly panicked and wouldn’t go because no one would be there to take care of them “in case.” He was impatient and in a rush to get home the whole time. He nearly hyperventilated when we had to wait for a train to go by. Tom is really worried about the kid. He said he was having anxiety attacks pretty regularly.”

“There are going to be a lot of people that can use some behavioral counseling when this is over with. I’m so not sorry we missed the on-air breakdown of that DJ the other night. Barry’s wife said it was awful,” Sissy said, recounting the episode for Scott.

“Yeah, several people in the neighborhood are talking about that. Can’t be any worse though than that doctor that put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger in the middle of that live, televised statement by the CA governor. A lot of kids around here saw it because they were supposed to analyze it for a social studies assignment. Whatcha wanna bet they don’t assign any more live broadcasts?”

Shaking her head at the vagaries of life Sissy says, “For now we can only do what we can do and see to our own. The girls should have lunch just about ready and then I need you guys to move some stuff around for me.”

Lunch is a pasta dish made from ramen noodles and canned ham with a fresh salad from the head of lettuce Sissy just harvested that morning. Everyone has a good appetite. Afterwards Rose volunteers to do all the clean up if Sarah and Bekah will get Johnnie down for his nap so that she can finish a paper she needs to submit as soon as the power comes back on. Scott and James go out to help Sissy with the rest of the planting.

“Now let’s put those bathtubs to use that you brought back from those burned out apartments.” One of the runs Scott and his crew have made was for a property owner who had several apartments burn when someone was trying to cook over some candles. The whole complex didn’t go, but six of the apartments are now uninhabitable, primarily due to smoke damage. The men had been paid – in cash no less – to clean out the units and seal them off. The deal was they could haul away anything so long as it didn’t compromise structural integrity. They had brought back parts from ovens; refrigerators; washers and dryers; a couple of doors and door hardware; wire and conduit that could be salvaged for something; 7 toilets; and six bathtubs.

Tom Cox took the toilets. He thinks he has figured out a way to build an outhouse that feeds directly into where his septic tank clean out opening is. If it works, he is going to see if anyone else would be willing to barter with him to install the system at their home.

Barry took the washer and dryer parts. He is going to try and cobble together a second set of appliances for his wife and daughter in law. They have started taking in Mr. Jones’ laundry as a thank you for all he did while they were down ill. Barry also wants to try and fix Mrs. Cleary’s dryer for the same reason. Most people in the neighborhood hang their laundry out to dry, but there are days when the weather makes this impossible. Scott thinks it’s a great gesture on Barry’s part if he can pull it off.

As for the bathtubs, they are about to be turned into part of a raised bed garden. In two of the tubs Sissy will plant sweet potatoes. In the other three she is going to try and plant some corn. In various places in their yard they are also planting cucumbers, peanuts, pumpkins, summer and winter squash varieties, and several different types of melons. “Oh,” Sissy thinks to herself, “it will be so wonderful if all of the plants produce. And I’m really glad that I was thought to make sure and get Florida-friendly varieties.” Sissy really was smart about picking varieties that can withstand the heat and humidity of the Deep South. For example, in addition to the traditional orange pumpkin varieties she made sure to get seeds for Seminole pumpkin and Calabaza squash. The Seminole pumpkin looks kind of odd – it isn’t even orange – but the fruit sets well in Florida’s weather and is sweeter than butternut squash. The Calabaza is kind of a cross between a pumpkin and a winter squash variety. The only drawback is the fact that its outer shell can be even harder than Hubbard squash and sometimes you have to use a meat cleaver and hammer to split it open. Its really, really good baked though and if Sissy has to do a lot of pit cooking a tough shelled squash like Calabaza will be perfect. If everything the family plants produces well, Sissy feels fairly certain there will be enough left over to preserve for off-season eating.

Sissy still can’t get the idea out of her head that they are using their preps faster than she originally anticipated. Sure, they are going to last longer than she had originally figured, primarily because of the garden. But, what about the economic recovery period post-pandemic?

Sissy manages to save some seeds from what they’ve grown following directions she found on the Internet; but she has no idea if they will germinate, especially the ones from the hybrid varieties. On the flu forums she read prepandemic, some folks were going on about heirloom varieties being more reliable for that. She wishes she had paid more attention to what that meant. It might be in one of her gardening books, but she hardly has time for any kind of research these days. Her life is already one long experiment as it is.

Take the fact that she continues to watch the unusual fruit that she planted in her landscaping last year to see if it will produce. Right now the Cherry of the Rio Grande bushes are blooming. From the little tag that was on the bush when she bought it, it can get up to fifteen feet tall but you’d never guess it looking at the scrawny things now. It’s a wonder it can even hold up the blooms it has. If all goes according to plan, she should see small, red, one-inch fruit in about three weeks. The fruit is supposed to taste like a traditional sweet cherry. Not wanting to experiment on Scott or the kids until she knows something is safe, she’ll be stuck as the guinea pig.

Overall, Sissy feels that she is fairly well informed about the various aspects of helping her family survive these trying times. But her goal is to do more for them than to help them just to survive today. She wants to make sure they survive the future as well. And not just survive, but have the ability to triumph over whatever life throws their way. She does worry about being over confident though. It seems just when they reach a certain comfort level, another curveball comes their way.

--------------------------------------------

Poor Man's Capers

After the blossom falls off, pick the half-ripened (still green) nasturtium seed pods. Continue picking as long as the seed crop continues. Drop them in a boiled and cooled mixture of:

1 quart white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons pickling salt
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon pickling spice
1 clove garlic, smashed
4 to 6 peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon celery seed

Keep the mixture refrigerated and use the nasturtium pickles in sauces, dips, casseroles, soups, stews and as edible decorations.

---------------------------------------

Ship’s Log

The few oranges left on the trees are getting really kind of ick. Mr. D left a note for James to pull anything left on the trees he is tending because the next storm would probably knock them to the ground anyway. There were enough that we got nearly one gallon of juice, and the kids ate the leftover pulp for lunch.

Scott is going on a run tomorrow and I decided to just go ahead and make a big batch of citrus-ade.

To the orange juice I added a half-pint of lime juice and a half-pint of lemon juice. I then added a whole cup of sugar even though it is so dear now. First it was too tart and then it was too sweet. I finally fixed it by adding one of my remaining small bottles of club soda.

I split it between two jugs and put one in the frig and one in the freezer. The kids will be able to have the one in the frig tomorrow with a light lunch and I’ll send the frozen one to work with Scott. It’ll be thawed, but still cool, by the time he is ready for it.

While I’m sad to see the last of the fresh oranges go, we’ve got other things coming in, even if not in the same abundance. I’ve still got canned fruits and juices. One of tomorrow’s tasks will be to check all of the expiration dates on what I have. We can’t afford to allow anything go bad. Waste not, want not. - Sissy
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Thirty

A horrific cacophony of rumbling and screeching wakes everyone at what turns out to be one in the morning. Every window in the house rattles hard in their frames. Johnnie immediately wakes shrieking and the other four kids run to their parents’ bedroom scared as well. Scott and Sissy throw on some clothes and go outside about the same time as other people in the neighborhood are pouring into the street. Just NNW of their street there is an orange glow in the sky. The fire lights the night just enough to see there is also black smoke billowing up.

“Explosion you think?”

“There ain’t nothing over there that could explode like that.”

“And what was all that racket before the explosion?”

“Train derailment.”

“Train derailment?! You think?”

“That’s the direction of where the tracks cross from the west side of US41 to the east.”

“There’s a gas station over there too.”

“But its been closed for months now.”

“Who’s for walking up the road to see what it is?”

“But there’s the curfew, and you know how strict they are about that!”

“Curfew hell. If that fire’s gonna come this way I wanna know before its knockin’ on my door.”

About then Barry limps up. “Whoa there. No body better go up there yet. Ain’t you got ears? Listen. That’s automatic weapons fire. You men better get your families hunkered down. Fire might not be the only thing thinking of paying a visit tonight.” Then sirens are added to the load of confusing sounds.

Barry pulls Scott aside and whispers, “If you want my guess someone’s done tried to hijack one of those trains. You know the rumors, they’re carrying everything from food to fuel to gold to vaccine. I bet some knucklehead decided to copycat that incident up in St. Louis. The gangs around here are getting bold enough that they could have gotten stupid.”

“It could be anything. Whatever it is, everyone needs to get off the street. Damn, there goes Vince. He’s heading up the street,” replies Scott.

“Let him go. Some people would rather satisfy their curiosity than use their common sense. He ain’t done nothing but live off his grandparents since he showed up back in October. Doesn’t lift a hand to help them and they gotta be in their 70s. All he does is complain and talk about his big plans that he’s had to put on hold. Guy is a craphead, nobody’s loss if he gets himself shot.”

“Man, Barry, that’s harsh. I thought I was the only one around here with that low an opinion of humanity,” returns Scott.

As the two men head back towards their homes Barry continues, “Yeah, I’m in good company I guess. I don’t know what your excuse is, but I had to get that way after one of my own boys turned out to be a craphead. Trying to get him out and keep him out of trouble with the law . . . no matter what we did or how much money my first wife and I spent he would just turn around and cuss us for ruining his life and do what he had been doing before. It bankrupted us financially and was one of the biggest factors in our divorce. That boy of mine is – crap, maybe was, as I don’t know whether he is dead or alive - just selfish through and through and Vince is just like him.”

Another explosion rocks the night followed by more gunfire and the two men flinch and duck.

Barry hurriedly says, “I ain’t getting home any faster knocking my gums. Look, if things do get bad . . . you are further up the street than I am. If you think you gotta bug out, fall back to my house. We’ll figure it out from there.”

“Thanks. If anything comes your direction first, you all head to our place.”

“Done. See ya.”

Scott, having seen Sissy return to their kids as soon as Barry had pointed out the gunfire, reaches home to find his wife in full Five Star General mode. Sissy has already marshaled James and Rose into installing the plywood and reinforcing braces on the few windows they have been leaving uncovered. Sarah and Bekah are moving bedding into Scott and Sissy’s bedroom.

“Hon, can you help finish covering the windows? Then move those book cases in front of the French doors like we talked about? Girls, when you are done with the bedding, I want you to say in there and keep your little brother calm. I’m going to move some of our bug-out boxes into the bedroom. Rose, James, I want you two to roll the piano in front of the front door and lock the wheels.”

Scott just lets her go to it. He knows this is her way of staying calm. Since early on they have gotten and kept their property pretty secure. Even if nothing comes of this night, he figures this is a good reminder of why they do it and an even better practice exercise. But he has a feeling this isn’t just a drill. As soon as the kids are secured in their parents’ bedroom, Scott douses the lantern and asks the kids to leave their flashlights off. Suddenly there is the sound of several large vehicles rumbling down the road to stop in front of their house.

“Remain indoors. Repeat, lay low and remain in doors. Hostile gunfire in the vicinity. Remain low and indoors,” suddenly blares into the night from a loud speaker, followed by another small burst of gunfire. Scott, peaking through a spy hole he built into the window coverings, sees that the voice is coming from a National Guard vehicle that holds several soldiers with automatic rifles.

“Why aren’t they at the end of the road? Why are they all the way back here?” Sissy asks quietly.

“They might be establishing a perimeter or something like that. I don’t know. Barry said to come to his place if things get bad, but to be honest, I don’t want to drag the kids out and through this. I don’t know what it will come down to. Just be prepared. When was the last time you checked the bug out bags?” Scott whispers back.

“The other day when I was rotating some of my instant mixes. They are packed and ready to go. We’ll just need to grab water. The kids also have a backpack of food and supplies ready to go and then they have a satchel of their personal treasures to throw over their shoulders. I even fixed a bag for Johnnie to carry with a little canteen. Oh God, I pray it doesn’t come down to us leaving this house,” Sissy says nervously.

“I don’t want to either. But you never know. Go and try and get the kids to at least lay down, even if they can’t sleep. They will probably need the rest later on. Especially James. He’s been acting jumpy again. I think Tom’s boy may have set him off with all his paranoia and anxiety about how things might go wrong.”

As Sissy turns to go they hear, “Halt! Keep your hands where I can see them!”

“Wait man! I live here, down the street with my grandparents! Point that gun some place else man! Don’t shoot!”

“Step into the light! Prepare to show your identification!”

Scott says, “That idiot. That’s Vince Johnson. He doesn’t have I.D. to prove he’s living with his grandparents.”

As they watch, Vince is cuffed with a nylon restraint and loaded into the back of a transport holding at least a dozen other people restrained in similar fashion. You can tell, even from a distance, that he is not happy with his treatment or current circumstances at all.

A sudden disturbance from out back sends them to the windows with peep holes on that side of their house just in time to see a couple of uniformed officers wrestle a large man to the ground and put nylon restraints around his wrists and legs. A woman suddenly steps out of the darkest back corner of the yard and begins to point what looks like a gun at the officers.

Without thinking about it, Scott rips down the window cover and screams, “Down!! Woman with a gun behind you!!!” The cops drop just as the woman pulls the trigger. Another cop is on top of her in seconds.

“Oh . . . my . . . God. Was that Barry Jr.?!” Sissy whispers in a shocked voice.

“Yeah. It looked like him.” Scott confirmed.

The uniforms take their prisoners out the side gate while one quickly give a thumbs-up in thanks.

The sporadic gunfire continues nearly ‘til dawn. The kids finally fall into an exhausted sleep. Scott and Sissy lean against each other as the last of their adrenaline drains away. The National Guard truck full of prisoners pulls away, Vince still among them. A mixed team of guardsmen and local law enforcement officers go door to door checking for any collateral injuries.

As the sun clears the horizon, Scott and Sissy cautiously go outside to survey the damage. After a quick look around they think their only damage is a gate swinging on one hinge and a couple of sections of downed fencing. That is until they got around to the west side of their house; the side that faces the grove.

“I can’t believe we didn’t hear that.” Scott says while staring at the damage.

They just look, not truly believing what they are seeing. From the front corner of their house to the back, running in two more or less parallel lines, are small pockmarks. One line runs just below the windows in the concrete block. The other runs above the windows and into the fascia that sides the gable end of the house. Sissy shakes while she tries to take deep breaths to keep hold of herself. Scott just stands looking, getting angrier the longer he looks.

“It has to have happened right before that scuffle in the back yard. Or . . . I don’t know. . . there was so much noise and confusion.”

“That’s our bedroom wall. The kids were in there. I left the kids in there alone,” Sissy says as she finally loses the fight to keep her tears in.

Scott wraps his arms around her and rests his chin on her head until she calms down. Finally finding her anger, Sissy grinds out, “We wanted to protect the kids from being hungry, so we prepped food. We wanted to protect the kids from being thirsty, so we prepped water and figured a way to get more when that ran out. We wanted to protect the kids from being sick so we developed an SIP plan and prepped medicines. We wanted to keep the kids safe so we prepped extra security measures and got to know our neighbors. But how the bloody blue blazes are we supposed to protect them from something like this?!!!”

Just as Scott opens his mouth on a pithy comment, Barry and Barry Jr. come through the side gate. “Well, son of a . . . Holy …. Mother F… Damn!“ Barry stutters but finally just shakes his head. “Sorry Sissy, but my Gawd. I’m assuming no one got hurt or you all would be making more noise. But man, I’m fired up I’m here to tell you, just seeing this!”

As Sissy sputters a tearful laugh at Barry’s antics, Barry Jr. walks over and shakes Scott’s hand. After receiving an affirmative reply to his question about whether every one was OK he says, “The other guy with me, Bill Nelson, said to send his thanks with mine for the warning. I told Dad what you did back here.”

“You’re welcome. You would have done the same had our positions been reversed. So what was this all about anyway?” Scott asks.

“You know how understaffed we are. Since the big sickness its even worse. We’re also dealing with fuel shortages and broken equipment. We’ve had to severely cut back on our patrols. From what we’ve pieced together thus far at some point after dark, someone or a group of someones sabotaged the tracks right there where the train switches from one side to the other. Witnesses said that when the train derailed, a couple of cars slid into that propane store which is what started the explosions. It’s a mess up there. The Lutz Volunteer Fire Department and a couple of other stations in the area are using heavy construction equipment to contain the blazes that are mostly on the west side of US41. We’re lucky there wasn’t anything but residuals in any of the holding tanks.”

“So the big racket was the train derailment and initial explosion. But what was with everything else?”

“Its still under investigation but it looks like a group of people – presumably the same ones that sabotaged the tracks – were intent on looting the train after it was stopped. My guess is the plan started getting out of control when they got a bigger accident than intended. Bill was the one to call it in. He had been on his way home after a two week shift, and was just a half-mile north of the tracks when the train derailed.”

“Unreal. Did anyone ever say what was on the train that they wanted so bad?” Scott asks.

“Some of those we arrested said they’d been told it was food. Others said money.”

“What was on the train?”

“The only thing I’ve seen is machine parts. Bill said he talked to one of the security guys from the train who said it was mostly carrying tractors and spare parts on their way to the ag fields south of here. Y’all are lucky you have a concrete block house. Several houses between here and the tracks are frame and they took a beating.”

Sissy asks, “Oh no. Who and how many injuries?”

“The only fatalities so far as I’ve heard were on the bad guys’ side, and most of them are from the initial derailment when one of the train cars slid into where a group of them were hiding. We’ve got two officers with minor injuries, 12 combatants with injuries, and 6 civilians with injuries. One of them, Mr. D next door, has a crease in his head where a bullet went through his wall. He’s refusing to go to the hospital. All the civilians are refusing to go to the hospital.”

“Can’t say I blame them,” Barry puts in.

Scott says, “Yeah. Truthfully, given all the gunfire we heard last night I would have expected more injuries.”

“No lights,” Barry Jr. says.

“Huh?”

“No electric lights. No one could see what they were shooting at. That’s how we were able to take most of them down. We didn’t bother wasting ammo. We just followed their muzzle flashes.”

“Where did civilians get that kind of fire power?”

“That’s one of the things that’s being investigated. That was some heavy crap that’s for sure. They seemed to have everything but the kitchen sink and a rocket launcher. I gotta get back to the station, just wanted to check in and say thanks. Oh, and let me tell you, that Yucca plant of yours that you have on the front west-side corner of your yard caught two of the combatants for us. That is one heck of a security feature, one of the guys was practically impaled in a couple of places, especially in one particular vulnerable spot if you catch my drift,” Barry Jr. jokes before heading back to his team.

After the men shake hands and part, Scott says that he is going to walk across the grove and make sure Mr. D’s house is secure. Afterwards he is going to go up in the attic and see what kind of damage they have. That will probably take most of the day. They agree to let the kids sleep for as long as they want. Tomrrow morning, after everyone has a full night’s sleep, he’ll mix up some concrete patch and repair the pockmarks in the block work.

“Did you hear what Barry Jr. said?” asks Scott.

“Yeah I did. I checked to make sure that jerk that ran into my Spanish Bayonet plant didn’t break the flower stalk off. I was going to start harvesting those this week,” Sissy answers.

“Well, that wasn’t exactly what I meant but its good to know we didn’t lose the plant. Its been worth every complaint and poke James suffered when he used to mow the lawn. Did we lose any other plants?”

“No thank goodness, at least nothing that I’ve found thus far. That on top of everything else would have just put salt in the wound. Anyway, if it wasn’t about the garden and orchard stuff, what was it you were talking about?” Sissy asks.

“Oh, I was just thinking how ironic it was that for once the power outages worked to our advantage.”

“I never thought of it that way. I guess we have more than a few things to be thankful for. But to be honest, I don’t want any more excitement for a while. I’m craving peace and quiet and boredom something fierce right now.”

“You and me both honey. You and me both.”
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Thirty-One

It’s been a little over three weeks since the night of the train derailment. Three blessedly boring weeks. No exploding propane tanks. No automatic gunfire. No humvees or military transports rumbling up and down the street. About the only excitement there has been is when the kids shrieked – with laughter – when Sissy made “green eggs and ham” omelets for St. Patrick’s day by adding green food coloring to their powdered eggs.

Easter has also passed, but more quietly than in previous years. This suited the Chapman family just fine. They marked the holiday with traditional practices like resurrection rolls and hiding brightly colored plastic eggs for Sarah, Bekah, and Johnnie to hunt. They talked with relatives online to catch up on family news and sent over a basket of plastic eggs for Barry Jr.’s little girls to play with. Barry Jr.’s oldest girl is finally out of bed for most of the waking part of the day. She still tires easily when playing, but at least now she doesn’t just watch her younger sisters from the sidelines. Her appetite has finally returned as well, but she is still rail thin. Their diets don’t have a lot of fat in them. From somewhere Barry’s wife has come up with some meal supplement drinks for kids; it was probably on the black market and Sissy doesn’t really want to know how much they had to pay for them. Sissy used up all of the supplemental shakes that she had stashed when her own family was recovering.

Scott and his crew have made a couple more runs and report that at least in the areas of town that they go, all is quiet. Enough of their jobs pay cash that it is worth the fuel, and enough pay in barter that they don’t have to spend all of their cash. Good deal all around for these times.

And then one night they hear some heartening news. There has been an important break through in the area of vaccines. A trial vaccine is being tested on humans and it appears to work. It is only proving effective against the main pandemic strain, but that is 70+% of current cases. It will still be months before it is available to the general public; manufacturing is at an all-time low. There remain questions about where the vaccine will be deployed first and for whom; but there is now a little more hope on the horizon.

The only cloud is the increasing concern about a terrorist attack. The worry is enough that statements are being issued by bi-partisan groups urging people to be vigilant in their communities and report any suspicious activity to local authorities. “Local authorities” think that is a good joke considering how over-worked and under-staffed they are. They can’t run around investigating every potential lead that comes in. A group of dissidents had been arrested outside of DC, and they did have a cache of illegal weapons, but whether they are part of an imminent attack is still unclear.

The UN, the WHO, and the CDC have formed an unusually united front in their discussion of terrorism. Several delegates have mentioned that there could be sanctions, including being moved to the bottom of any vaccine list, for countries perpetuating acts of terrorism or giving refuge and/or aid to terrorist groups.

On the home front, Scott manages to repair the bullet holes in their block wall with concrete patch. He even manages to paint the wall over with matching paint left over from the original paint job last summer. The patches show in a couple of places, but over all it is better than it had been which is a psychologically helpful thing for the family.

The vinyl fascia takes more ingenuity. Scott fills the holes and cracks with color-matched latex caulk. Up in the attic he patches the plywood side with wood putty. The worst damage though is where the bullets that had gone through the fascia continued into the roof. He uses the wood putty to fill these holes as well. After the putty cures, he paints over the area with some roofing tar. He also tars that area on the shingle side of the roof. Tacking the fence back up and reinstalling the gate hasn’t been that difficult. One of the gate hinges was bent but a hammer and some muscle fixed that. The repairs aren’t perfect, but they don’t look half-bad either and the house is back to being weather tight, which is what really matters.

Now that warmer weather is here, water conservation is even more important. Average rainfall in their area for the month of April is only 1.80 inches. By the end of the month daytime temperatures will average 90 degrees Fahrenheit. This will mean more sweating which requires more fluid replacement in the form of drinking water. This will be especially true whenever the utilities are down.

Watering all the plants by hand takes a lot of their stored water when the power is out. Even when the power is on they try to be frugal and only water when they absolutely have to. Scott tries to figure out an irrigation system, but he isn’t having much luck. For now they are making do, and it is working.

Sissy continues to harvest things from the garden including cabbages, onions, carrots, celtuce, shallots, peas, amaranth, radishes, and snap beans. They also plant cardoon and add consecutive plantings of snap beans, corn, tomatoes, and watermelons to get as much out of the growing season as they can. By checking every day, Sissy manages to harvest nearly three cups of blueberries from the small bushes they had planted just this passed year. Its not much of a harvest but its certainly better than nothing and they hope that the yield will be even more next year. This year, by mixing the fresh berries with some of their remaining dried blueberries, Sissy has enough filling to make two full-sized pies. Without even having to think about it, the family agrees to give one of the pies to Barry’s family. They’ve got as many mouths to feed as the Chapmans do and good friends look out for one another. There is no doubt that Barry and his wife would do the same for them if the situation were reversed.

James, Sarah, and Bekah ingeniously build some “cages” to go over the various edible plants because the raccoons are really getting bold. They have a couple of raccoons that are even coming out during the daytime; they are losing their fear of humans. Mr. D offers them parts of his old hunting dog kennel if they will help him strip the last of the citrus off of his trees. In exchange, Sissy is going to preserve as many quarts of fruit segments of this as she can and offers a share to both Mr. D and Barry and Tom’s families. James has plans to rebuild the kennel over the top of the corn to keep squirrels out, another nuisance animal that is getting out of control.

By the end of the month the citrus trees will have small marble-sized fruit. Some tropical colors are reappearing in the landscape. The hibiscuses are in bloom to replace the azaleas. The smell of confederate jasmine has replaced the smell of orange blossoms. And the bottlebrush tree and bougainvillea bushes are showing themselves to advantage. The mosquitoes are back with a vengeance. And since the pest control companies are not operating, people are beginning to have really bad problems with ants and roaches. That’s Florida for you, but it doesn’t make it any less irritating.

Sissy figures she is pretty lucky. She paid particular attention to the potential problem of insect infestations in her preps. She addresses pests in her garden with organic solutions. She tries to do the same with the insects in the house, but certainly doesn’t say no when Scott sprays with the professional strength stuff he uses at the apartments. Between sprayings, her primary defense is plain old Borax.

Sissy is already harvesting a handful of Cherry of the Rio Grande every day. They aren’t bad either. They have a sweet cherry taste just like the plant tag said they would. She is finding that something is getting into the trees and taking the ripe fruit in the very early morning hours. Hopefully a fruit net placed over the bushes will stop this from happening. The problem with that is the net draws attention to the fact that there is something worth having on the bush. Since it is planted in the front yard and can’t be guarded 24/7, the net may keep the animal marauder out but draw the human marauder variety. Can’t win for losing on some things. All Sissy can do is pick all the ripe fruit every day and hope for the best.

They do have one problem that they aren’t going to be able to avoid much longer. Their kids are growing. Rose isn’t a problem, she reached her full size a couple of years ago and has a decent wardrobe that is still in good repair. Sarah and Bekah are still growing, but there are lots of hand me downs for them to use. Johnnie also has boxes of hand-me-downs and Sissy has patterns and material that she can use to sew if that isn’t enough. But James is down to one pair of pants, two pairs of shorts and a couple of his dad’s old shirts.

Scott has tried to find him something at the neighborhood market but anything available is either way too big or way too small. Scott says he will keep a look out when he is out and about. In the prepandemic months Sissy bought clothes for James that were a size larger thinking that would be enough, but he has already outgrown them. Her plan of last resort is to cut down some of Scott’s jogging clothes, but he really needs jeans for when he works in the grove or helps her with gardening and yardwork. After clothes will come shoes for Bekah and Johnnie, but that is a problem for another day. Sissy is hoping desperately that she can figure out a solution for James before she has to start cutting down Scott’s clothes. She and Scott have had to make adjustments to their own clothing already. It’s one of the downsides to losing so much weight. Nothing fits anyone the way it used to. And hard work and harsh laundry practices are wearing clothes out more quickly than before.

One funny thing has happened. Mrs. Cleary has found a new use for raccoons. She had her husband and Mr. Jones catch and skin a couple that had been targeting the neighborhood garden. Then, following an old “receipt” from her grandmother’s diary, she fried it up and added the meat to the neighborhood stone soup. Some people were leery, but those who did eat it said it just added a mild, gamey kind of taste to the stew. “Meat is meat,” was the most often heard comment.

Mrs. Cleary said the only tricky part was making sure all the glands were cut out the right way. “After that, cooking ‘coon isn’t any different than cooking chicken. And it’s a lot cheaper.”
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Thirty-Two

Things remain relatively quiet in Tampa as April turns into May. After months of pandemic living most people are just too tired and hungry to get up to causing a ruckus. They’ve seen the potential problems with group gatherings. Many have been affected by violence and have no desire or ability to continue the cycle by perpetuating it. That isn’t true of everyone everywhere all of the time, but overall things are definitely calmer than in the opening weeks of the pandemic. Of course, there are random bursts of civil unrest here and there, but for now things remain settled.

Even New York City has finally calmed, due probably in large part to the fact that less than a quarter of the original population remains in the city. A federal investigation into the effects of the mass exodus of New York City reveals the following timeline:

The first confirmed cases within the city were not the result of a foreign national arriving at Newark or JFK airports, but a lowly traveling computer salesman. Upon hearing the news of an impending pandemic while at a convention in Arizona, the salesman – known as NYC Index Case 1 – drove his rented car back to the state as quickly as he could to be with his mother who lived alone in a miniscule apartment in the Bronx. His return was two days before most of the AZ hotel staff where he was staying were quarantined with flu-like symptoms. On the NYC end, the index case was so difficult to pinpoint at first due to the unexpectedness of its origin, and due to the confusion of the quick explosion of cases in “Meals on Wheels” volunteers. This mobile group of people spread the virus much faster and wider than it was ever planned for in even the worst case scenarios.

Within days of the pandemic being a confirmed reality in the continental U.S., a mass exodus of NYC began. This exodus was primarily made up of the wealthy and the middle class who thought they had a place to go outside of the city – cabins in upper New York state, relatives in New Jersey, summer homes in Connecticut, etc. Most roads were quickly un-navigable due to gridlock. The bridges (like the GW, Verrazano, and other river bridges) and tunnels (like the Lincoln and the Holland) were quickly clogged with vehicles. Then, despite exits from the city being closed by the National Guard and local law enforcement – these closures included the ferries and other commercial waterway traffic - “escapees” quickly overran all of the blockades. People also tried to paddle out over the Hudson River in anything that would float.

The outbound NYC refugees poured into places like Ft. Lee, Jersey City, Trenton, Stamford, Bridgeport, Weehawken, Teaneck, Hackensack, Maywood, and Paramus. Many, who had expected to be taken in by family and friends, found themselves forcibly turned away – sometimes at gunpoint. Finding no refuge there, they continued north, south, and west like locusts, staying only long enough to run through an area’s resources or to succumb to infection.

Those people who remained in NYC did so mostly with the misconception that someone somewhere was responsible for filling the gap where they had failed to prepare for a disaster. This despite the fact that many New Yorkers had seen first hand what a catastrophe could mean when they experienced the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Even near misses by hurricanes, such as the deadly 1938 hurricane that came to be known as the Long Island Express, Carol in 1954, Donna in 1960 and Gloria in 1985 did not convince residents or city planners that having catastrophic preparations in place was a good idea.

Then the power went off. Hospitals failed, as did most public health facilities.

As reality began to set in throughout the city, some continued to wait in vain for help and some started going out and taking what they thought they needed or wanted through uninhibited looting. Everything disappeared quickly. There simply was no more to take. Even getting fresh water was becoming a problem as electricity was required to draw drinking water from reservoirs many miles from the city. Most of the remaining water sources were undrinkable because they were brackish, a mixture of fresh and salt water sources.

There were some neighborhoods that didn’t fall prey to panic and violence, but that was because in such locations there was already a well-established presence by a group or individual. These groups or individuals would brook no interference, no transgressions. They were proof that a strong arm was at least as important as a quick mind in determining who was boss and what rules people were going to follow. Of course, this wasn’t always proof against viral infection, but it at least afforded an illusion of normalcy for those living there. Many apartment buildings became the only island of refuge for their tenants, assuming all of the tenants cooperated with that concept.

When there was no more to take from the shelves, people began to prey on each other. There was some established gang activity but nothing compared to what the West Coast was going through at that time. The problem was that people eventually began to band together to create new gangs; but, congregating together exposed even more people to infection. The gangs offered some protection, but left people vulnerable to violence and infection. Not a good trade.

At this point, the weather hadn’t turned raw yet, but the stench of uncollected garbage and the sick and dying proved too much for many, so there was a secondary exodus from the city with all its accompanying problems. This group was even less equipped than the first that left the city. They had no friends or family they could expect to take them in. They had no resources to take with them. And any resources they expected to find outside of the city were long gone or well protected by those that held them.

Now, even those dedicated few that had remained . . . the health care professionals, local law enforcement, workers at all levels in a wide variety of fields . . . realized that there was nothing more they could do. Those that had not left before now left the city at the tail end of the secondary exodus. This set off another round of widespread violence as the people remaining in the city felt they were being abandoned. There was some attempt by the Federal government and the State of New York to evacuate the elderly, but many simply refused to leave. Some of the ethnic strongholds also refused to evacuate.

Because of the extraordinary amount of violence, the federal government felt it could not afford to risk its own dwindling numbers of personnel and resources to re-supply a city that, by-and-large, refused to do anything but flame like a Roman torch. Some of the worst violence was a result of ethnic and/or religious issues. It was like having miniature versions of the Middle East, Eastern Europe and parts of Africa all rolled into the confines of a dying city.

Then winter weather began to set in. The frail and elderly as well as the young and vulnerable that had thus far escaped both infection and the violence, quickly succumbed to the added problem of winter weather conditions. These fatalities further emptied the city of inhabitants.

Eventually infection rates and attrition due to violence decimated the remaining population of the city. There are still roving – and violent – bands of people, but they are more loosely aligned and can be found primarily outside of the city proper. You would no more walk around New York City alone now than you would have prior to the city-wide clean up led by Rudy Guilliani in the 80s.

With the advent of spring, roof top gardens can be seen by air patrols of the city. There is little chance of producing all the food they need, but at least people are trying. There is also evidence of cooperation within neighborhoods to clear debris from the streets and institute some organization back into their lives. Some neighborhoods have barricaded themselves off from the rest of the city using scavenged material and now rusting and useless cars.

With some semblance of self-control and order now in evidence, the federal government has expressed a hope that they can once again attempt to re-supply the remaining citizens of NYC. Whether this will work, or whether it will spark another round of civil unrest remains to be seen.


Unlike in New York, May is the month of plenty at Scott and Sissy’s home. In another way, it is also a month of worry. The family harvests a bumper crop from their gardening. They bring in burdock, parsnips, potatoes, sunflowers, black eye peas, several varieties of shelling beans, cantaloupes, more Jerusalem artichokes, lima beans, okra, garden huckleberries, husk tomatoes (aka ground cherries), both hot and mild peppers, and the first of the summer squash and tomatoes. The kids have a blast with the sunflowers, but it sure is hard work to keep the squirrels out of them. For all that though, May is the first month they are unable to plant things because of the recommended growing seasons of the seeds they have available to them. It is getting too hot to expect seedlings to survive.

Complicating things further, while May gets a little more rain than April – not much, just an inch – the hot weather is quickly depleting their drinking water reserves. The water that remains in their pool is also evaporating at a quicker rate. The rolling black outs are occurring more often and lasting longer because of increasing energy demands. So far TECO is able to cope, but several smaller electric cooperatives in rural districts are beginning to fail. Scott and Sissy deal with each of these issues as best they can. They have little choice but to deal with the situation.

They can’t change the growing seasons so they are doing the best with what they have already planted. Sissy is preserving everything that they don’t eat fresh. That isn’t as much as Sissy had hoped. She had underestimated the combined effect of a lot of manual labor and loss of utilities. Lots of hard work means a higher caloric need than the 2000 cal/day that she had prepped for. She does pull at least a handful of small, yellow plums off of her dwarf Gulfgold plum tree every day. The tree is looking a little sickly and Sissy worries that she isn’t doing something right. Time to pull out the Florida fruit tree books again. There has to be a remedy for leaf-scald in there somewhere.

The real bonus is that James and Sissy managed to keep the banana trees watered enough that the stalks never dried up. Its been amazing. They’ve managed to get twelve full-sized bunches and that has given them nearly 150 pounds of bananas. Most they ate fresh of course but Sissy did slice a few for drying and used a few more to make banana jam. And the compost is loving those banana peels. The trees are pretty well confined to a corner of their lot near their side door. The kids had strung clothesline wire on posts along the top of their privacy fence and then attached flattened cans in a facsimile of plated armor so that it hung down from the clothesline wire. While this was originally to keep the opossums and raccoons from walking along the top of the fence, it has the additional benefit of adding about three feet of height to the fence line. If you were at the road, you couldn’t even tell the banana trees had any fruit on them at all. All you saw was the very top leaves swaying, assuming there was any breeze.

Their small Barbados Cherry hedge is producing its first crop of fruit as well. Planted last year, Sissy was never sure quite what to expect from the shrubs. All she had read stated that the fruit was very high in Vitamin C. The bushes can potentially grow into small trees approaching twenty feet in height so she put them in at the front corner of her house. They really haven’t grown too much so how they are supposed to actually make it to twenty feet is beyond her. But, she has gotten a nice bucket of fruit so far. The books say that after the first big fruiting in May, the trees may continue to bear fruit off and on until December. This will be a bonus if it proves to be true. The fruit doesn’t keep though. You have to use it the day you pick it or it gets nasty. They don’t can or dehydrate well either according to Sissy’s sources so she hasn’t wasted her time or resources trying. The kids are enjoying the tart little fruits but all the seeds drive Scott crazy. The Surinam Cherry is almost the same as the Barbados Cherry except instead of continuously fruiting from this point forward, it will stop fruiting by the end of the month and then have another crop in September or October if it gets enough water.

The blackberry canes are doing what they were meant to do as well. Sissy originally planted the blackberries as a hedge on the west side of the house between her yard and the orange grove. James, the family lawn service provider, was not happy with this originally as the thorns caught him every time he pushed the lawn mower down that side of the house. However, now there is a decided benefit to them. Sissy has harvested nearly two gallons of fruit so far. It seems the more often you pick the ripe fruit, the more fruit you will ultimately be able to harvest. Sissy also planted some persimmons on that side of the house and the blackberries will keep the racoons out of the young trees. The persimmons won’t be ripe until November, but it is nice to see the baby fruit hanging from the tree branches.

Sissy is disappointed in the grape vines that she planted. So far she has only gotten two very small clusters of fruit. And the vines don’t all look like the same species either. Some have bloomed and have tried to make a little fruit while others look like they are just now waking up from dormancy. She isn’t sure what to make of it, she didn’t get any fruit from the vines last year but she hopes maybe the other vines will fruit at a later date. She won’t give up until September when she knows that Florida’s grape season is officially over with.

They are trading very little food at the barter market. Nothing that comes their way goes to waste. As an example, a raccoon turned over a pot that held a tomato plant. Sissy was just plain furious as it had been loaded with fruit. She tried to save it but the plant was too shocked and the main stem had broken. Rather than allow it to be a total loss, she pulled the green tomatoes and made things like fried green tomatoes, green tomato pie, green tomato hash, green tomato cake, and green tomato mincemeat. The remaining leaves and stems went into the compost heap.

They also can’t make more water. With only 2.5 inches of rain for the month, they are heavily dependent on water storage when the power is off for extended periods of time. Scott has his family really tighten their personal water restrictions. They must be extremely diligent to gather every drop of rain they can. They also give other forms of water harvesting a try, like condensation farming and dew gathering, with limited success. They are very careful to refill every empty water container they can scrounge up when the power is on and run water to their pool to at least partially refill it when they can.

Scott and Sissy can only effect the power going up and down in a limited manner. When the power is on they limit their power consumption to clothes washing, water needs, and canning and cooking. If the power is on they also run the air conditioning at night to drive out the humidity. They leave the air conditioner off during the day because they are in and out working anyway. They make ice when they can and when the power is off they keep it for iced drinks. When the power is on they bake bread. When the power is off they fix their bread using alternative cooking methods, or they do without.

The hurricane season is fast approaching as well. Even a hit by a tropical storm could be disastrous under current circumstances. People are living on the edge; a weather event of any magnitude will put a number of people over the edge.
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Thirty-Three
(part 1)

June has arrived like the proverbial lamb. Scott and Sissy decide to stop worrying about what could happen next semester and celebrate what their kids have accomplished this semester. Rose completed her highschool educational goals and as far as Scott and Sissy are concerned has graduated.

Though the family home educates their children, they had planned on participating in a graduation ceremony sponsored by FPEA (Florida Parent Educators Association) which is a statewide homeschool support group. Of course large gatherings are now prohibited, nor do people have the gas or money to travel to the annual Orlando function even if it was allowed. Instead, several volunteers have gotten together and created a graduate website to showcase each graduate that submitted their information, complete with picture if desired. They also recorded a downloadable graduation ceremony with names being called out and with applause soundbites following each name. The sponsors of the website had to get special permission from the State because of the bandwidth required to operate the website.

Another neat feature of the website is that kids can sign a virtual yearbook. The concept is rather ingenious and several public and private schools are viewing it as a potential model for their autumn graduation events in case public gatherings are still prohibited. Unfortunately, along with the graduation page there is a “in memoriam” page for homeschool seniors that did not live to see their graduation. After Sissy catches the kids looking at each name in morbid fascination she sits down and has a long discussion with them. The kids are handling their situation superficially well, but things like the memory page or a news broadcast can disturb the precarious emotional balance they try so hard to maintain. Raising kids is never easy, but there is so much that you have to watch out for these days.

Rose and James have behaved amazingly well for your average teenager, all things considered. They settled down admirably after it was finally and irrevocably show that sequestering them was the best option for the family’s well being and safety.

Scott and Sissy’s kids are no more immune to bad days than Scott and Sissy themselves are. No one is perfect but everyone is trying their best most of the time to work as constructively within the situational confines as possible. Their family wouldn’t be able to function successfully if the kids weren’t on board. The kids have their importance and contributions recognized regularly. Scott and Sissy receive acknowledgement of their responsibility and authority from their kids. All family members try to behave respectfully to each other even under difficult and stressful circumstances. Scott and Sissy try to keep their own relationship healthy and respectful so that they can set a good example for the kids. Consistent reinforcement is the key to good family management. By having everyone work together, cooperatively and respectfully, the great good of the family and its members are served best. Scott and Sissy’s family operates as a team; a winning team.

In addition to Rose graduating and having her birthday, Scott and Sissy’s other children have completed their year’s academic work successfully. They decide to have a party and call some friends and relatives and email others to celebrate. Sissy cooks a canned ham, black eyed peas, cornbread, fried squash, fixes a salad of cantaloupe and huckleberries, and bakes a no-egg spice cake she fills with canned apple pie filling between the layers and a dusting of powdered sugar for the frosting. Scott even makes up diplomas and plaques for the kids and he takes pictures of them using the digital camera he has kept charged. It may be some time before they can have the pictures printed up, but at least they’ll have some record of the day saved.

Speaking of pictures, one of the tasks Sissy has been keeping up with is the family journal. Sometimes the journal is handwritten and sometimes it is computer printed. Sometimes there are pictures, magazine cut outs or pasted newspaper articles and sometimes there are hand drawings. Every family member participates several times a week by adding something, but Sissy makes sure that she writes in it every day. There are menus and recipes, inventories of barter items, tales of danger and tales of kindness. It’s turning out to be as much a therapeutic exercise for everyone as it is a chronicle of the pandemic. They call it their “ship’s log” though Scott has been known to slip and call it something much ruder – and more stinky – when he begins to enumerate what went on during those days he is out and about in the community.

The last couple of entries show that Sissy, James, and Sarah have planted the last of their Jerusalem artichokes, peppers, and some zucchini and crookneck squash, praying that the plants can survive the harsh summer heat that has arrived with a vengeance. The log also shows they’ve harvested the last of the potatoes, salsify, cardoon, celeriac, snap beans, garbanzo beans, and cucumbers. Scott used a pitchfork to dig the peanuts and then hung the plants to cure so that the unshelled peanuts can be pulled and stored in mesh bags for later use. They continue to harvest tomatoes and Sissy turns these into juice, paste, pasta sauce, salsa, and ketchup. They’ve also harvested pumpkins and winter squash varieties. Further north people store hard-skinned squash in their shells but due to Florida’s heat and humidity Sissy must can what they can’t eat right away. They also begin harvesting watermelons, though they lose two to an enterprising raccoon that Sissy wound up having to trap and dispose of. Scott gave it to Barry who dealt with it the way Mrs. Cleary advised him to … breaded and fricasseed.

The gorgeous Passionflower vines that were growing on the trellis attached to Scott’s shed have given way to passionfruits. The fruits are also known by their common name Maypop. No matter what you call them, the small, yellow fruits are delicious. Without refrigeration you need to eat the fruit as soon as you pick it. They look sort of like small yellow eggs, but they are fruits. Sissy had to lay a net across the front of the trellis in an attempt to keep the animals from taking all of the fruit.

This month Sissy also starts to pick the first of her papayas. If you keep these picked, your tree – really looks more like a stalk than a true tree – will continue to produce through to the first frost. The papaya makes another nice, fresh addition to their diet. The fruit is a little on the exotic side of taste and neither Johnnie nor Bekah seem to be developing a taste for it. Scott on the other hand loves it as he grew up eating it nearly year round for breakfast. Sissy loves being able to give Scott things that give him pleasure like this. It’s one of the few rewards she can give him for all of his hard work.

The first of June is also the beginning of the dreaded hurricane season. Luckily Scott and Sissy have a solar powered weather band radio. Other people in the neighborhood are taking turns starting up their cars when the power is off to get the news. The first tropical storm of the season came and went with no more than a little wind and a slight breeze but another is out there and is causing some significant worries for the few forecasters that the American Meteorological Society still has on staff. It looks like it might reach hurricane strength and hit somewhere along the East Coast of the US, anywhere between Jacksonville, FL and the Carolina Coastal region. It is too early to tell, but folks are definitely concerned.

****

Its a very warm morning for the Chapman family. Humidity is near 100 percent after last night’s rain with temperatures hovering in the 90s. While Scott is off on a work run, Sissy and the kids are nearly finished with the morning chores when they head inside for lunch and to wait out the worst of the day’s heat as best they can. Sissy especially feels the effect of the heat. Even though she never caught the virus like the rest of her family, she has been the slowest to recover both physically and mentally from the whole episode. And ever since the violence of the night of the train derailment Sissy has suffered stressed-induced headaches, some of them nauseatingly debilitating. The heat only compounds everything.

Sissy makes one last round to check the edible landscaping in the front yard to make sure she hasn’t missed anything. Suddenly, down the road comes an unusual sight. A large semi rolls in from US41 and backs into their driveway. It takes a minute, but Sissy realizes it is her little brother’s rig right before he steps down from the cab. If she hadn’t known him so well she would not have recognized him. The past months have not been kind. He has lost a lot of weight and he has more gray in his hair than she does. He looks far older than he should at 36 years of age. The mask and goggles he is wearing do not help either. But his same old prankster grin is in place as he strips off some of his PPE and says, “Hi Sis! Should I have called before stopping by?”

Sissy gives him a quick hug and a swat as she tries to pull him inside. He stops, saying, “I can’t stay long. Look, I found out those SOBs over at the depot are only going to pay me a quarter of what I was promised to haul this load in. It will cover fuel costs, but that’s it. Well, I’ve decided that if they are only going to pay me a quarter, a quarter load is all they are going to get. I’m meeting a guy I used to work with at the Volunteer Fire Department in Dover in two and a half hours. I’m off-loading about half of what I’ve got there. I stopped by Mom and Dad’s place and gave them some of this stuff already. I’ve got some pulled for my family, and I thought you all could use some.” That wicked twinkle is back in his eyes as he finishes up by saying, “Not to mention it was just too good an excuse not to come visit my big sister.”

His shocking arrival and the sudden largesse he offers is eclipsed by the fact he has actually seen their parents in person. Her heart gives a leap and she quickly asks, “You actually got to see Mom and Dad? How are they doing? How long did you get to see them? How did you get there? I 75 or US19? We’ve been having a terrible time catching each other online and our phone service is terrible. I’ve just been worried sick since Dad ran out of his pills.”

Her brother smiles realizing despite being nearly a year since they have seen each other, she is the same old Sissy. Talking a mile a minute and asking questions quicker than he can come up with answers. “I pulled into their place right at dusk to wait out the curfew, stayed overnight, then came here by I75. They keep a lane clear that is rigs-only. Fewer cars in the other lanes too, so it wasn’t bad. They’ve finally finished pushing most of the disabled cars off the road. As far as Mom and Dad go, a doctor in town moved in next to them and has been getting their meds for them in exchange for Dad keeping an eye on things when he is on rounds. Momma’s been cooking for him and doing his laundry.”

“Moved next to them? Did that couple from Alaska sell that front five acres?”

Soberly her brother responds, “Well, no . . . look, I hate to be the one to tell you . . . but the Bodettes both died.”

“What?! When?! But . . . Momma and Daddy never said a word.“

“You know the Bodettes weren’t young. Mr. Bodette just kind of gave up after their granddaughters both died. They both just kind of gave up. Mamie got sick with something, it wasn’t the flu. Mr. Bodette had a heart attack. Their son had been staying with ‘em cause his wife had kicked him out again for carousing. They were buried the same day. The doctor is some kind of relation to Mamie.”

“Momma and Daddy must be feeling awful. The Bodettes were our first friends when we moved to Florida. We’ve known them – knew them – for over 30 years.”

“Mom and Dad are OK. The Bodettes went together. I think the thing Mom and Dad worry about most is if one or the other gets left behind. I think they prefer the idea of going together like the Bodettes did.”

“Well I prefer the idea of neither one of them ‘going’.” she humphs.

“I hear that. Look, I hate to ask, but do you have anything food-wise that you can spare; anything at all? I’m trying to get the boys to come live with me. I don’t know how long this fresh stuff will last us.” he quietly asks, a bit shamefacedly.

“We’ll figure something out, but not where the neighbors can see or hear. They’re mostly good folks but a few of them talk too much if you know what I mean. Is something up with the boys’ mother? She hasn’t taken my phone calls since way before Christmas. The only thing I’ve heard I’ve gotten second hand from Daddy. Mom is still too upset to talk about it since their calls are no longer being accepted either.”

As they begin unloading stuff from the back of the rig Sissy’s brother explains, “You know she and her new husband were basically living on disability and the money I paid in child support. Well they’ve lost their disability payments because they failed to follow through on the required volunteer hours they were assigned. They thought they could get out of it because of their “conditions” and this time they’ve paid the piper. Their mother is now screaming for my blood because I can’t pay child support. I’ve been out of work. I’d pay it if I had it, but I don’t; all our savings is gone. Lucky for me the courts aren’t hearing any civil cases at this time. It’s a mess. Big T won’t talk to me and prefers to stay with his mom. He’s holding me responsible for their change in circumstances even though I had nothing to do with them losing their monthly check. Most everyone is in the same boat. He’s nearly 16 and thinks he knows all the real reasons this is happening. Little B though wants to come live with me. His Momma is holding our whole family responsible and has said she is cutting everyone off form the boys until she is paid what she is owed from me. But with her husband’s kids coming to live with them – and she ain’t too happy about that let me tell you – I’m hoping there might be a chance to work something out, like having the boys come live with me for a while.”

As they step inside with a load of boxes Sissy tells him, “I’ve got some rice and other things I’ll give you that should last you a little while if you piece it out with this fresh stuff. What is in all of these crates anyway? It looks like some of these have Daddy’s handwriting on them.”

Nodding his head he replies, “Yeah. Some of this stuff is from them. There are some blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and some sparkleberries. Plus Momma sent you all sorts of patterns and material and God knows what all. They’re clearing their place. I don’t know what all they stuffed in these boxes. Momma says they are downsizing.”

“Why? They might need this stuff! And I know some of these dishes are family heirlooms,” as she reaches into one of the boxes and pulls out an old ceramic pickle crock and a large glass butter bell.

“I hate to say this but with things going like they are, we might have to move up there with them. I’ve got more trucking contacts in that area and I’d be closer to the fields for direct hauling. My wife can help mom and dad and the boys will be better off out of the city. Big T is hanging with some crapheads and his mother thinks they are just being boys despite the cops having brought him home twice now that I know about, and I suspect more often than that. I checked public records and she and her husband have fines stacking up against them for failing to comply with social distancing and curfew rules. Not to mention, out in the country I know I can at least feed my family better than I can here. Daddy has hardly used any of his ammo yet ‘cause the Doc keeps bringing stuff to ‘em that people barter him for services.”

Giving him a look to let him know that she understands his concerns, “You’ll be able to help Dad with the heavy stuff too. But what about your stuff here, your house?”

Shrugging he says, “We’ve talked it out and everything but one of the cars will fit in my trailer. I just need a ramp. If you all will watch the car until I can make another run this way, I’ll pick it up from here. The house . . . well, there isn’t much we can do about that. It is what it is. It’s getting no safer with us living there. People down our way are getting real peculiar. Wish our neighborhood had banded together like yours did. There is so much suspicion in our area that people answer the door – if they bother answering – with guns drawn. Two families around the corner from us were intentionally burned out of their homes just because someone thought they had food stockpiled. Or maybe it was fuel. I didn’t get the whole story because it happened while I was bad sick. Now that I’m back on the road, I’m scared to leave my wife alone.”

They continue talking back and forth while the kids finally take their turn crowding around him for attention. Sissy packs up rice, dried beans, powdered broth, brown sugar, salt, and ten pounds of flour. She also throws in some easy flatbread recipes, five pounds of popcorn, and a small stash of feminine necessities she thinks her sister in law will appreciate. It ate into her storage but compared to seeing him and getting some real news about her parents’ lives, not to mention all the produce and stuff he had taken the time to bring by, it was nothing. Her brother soon left and Sissy begins dealing with everything her brother has brought. She will shed a few tears tonight as she recounts the story to Scott, but for now there isn’t time.

First Sissy deals with the produce that includes nearly 10 bushels of snap beans that had been machine picked and originally destined for a NC cannery. She lays them out on sheets in the house to keep them from souring in the heat. She sets the girls to cleaning and snapping them as quickly as they can. She takes nearly a gallon of the beans over to where they are fixing the weekly batch of stone soup. The people tending the fire can clean and snap the beans straight into the cook pots.

Answering her neighbors’ curious questions she just tells them her parents sent her some stuff and left it at that. She likes her neighbors well enough but she is an inherently private person and she remains cautious about sharing her personal information. Luckily her brother was able to pull his rig back to within just a few feet of her front door. The “L” shape of the house prevented people from seeing what they were doing on one side. The other side was screened from view by foliage and the orange grove. Despite these precautions, Scott is sure to be grilled by the gossips the next time he goes to the market.

Sissy hurries back to the house to find that Rose and James have already started going through the remaining produce. There are tomatoes from Ruskin, but most of them have some green on them so they will need to sit and ripen. There are peanuts from up at the Florida/Georgia border, but they look pretty green as well. There are about two dozen watermelons, about four bushels of cucumbers, a dozen pumpkins, and what amounts to about three bushels of different varieties of squash. There is also about four gallons of blueberries and twice that many blackberries and raspberries. And there are some weird looking fruit from south Florida called sopadillas that she doesn’t know what to do with.

It is an incredible bounty. The tomatoes will be canned in various forms. The peanuts will be dried in their shells and later roasted and ground into fresh peanut butter because they are quickly running out. The watermelon will be eaten fresh and then the rinds will be pickled or made into watermelon rind preserves. Some of the cucumbers will be used fresh but many of them will find themselves being brined for canning. She will bake the pumpkins as she needs them, for as long as they will keep, as she still had plenty of commercially canned pumpkin puree. Or she’ll make a batch of pumpkin chips if she has time. The squash she will try to eat fresh as well but she may have to can some. The small fruit will be canned in various forms, and some of the blackberries made into blackberry shrub for summer drinking as she is running out of lemonade syrup. She is pretty sure the sapodillas have to be eaten fresh, but that is a research project to tackle later in the day.

Sissy hopes she has enough empty jars for what she needs to do. She bought a large case of rings and seals before the pandemic, but they won’t last forever either. With so many snap beans she thinks she will give making leather britches a try. That is where you string snap beans on a string and leave them to dry. She isn’t sure if it will work or not because humidity usually causes the beans to sour and grow fuzzy mold. If the power comes back on soon enough, she will definitely be drying what she can in her electric dehydrator trays. Now might also be a good time to experiment with a homemade dehydrator that they can set up on the lanai. The screening will keep the bugs out and it can be used even with the power off.

So much to do, and not near enough time to do it in. Sissy realizes she will also need to deal with whatever Scott manages to bring home this evening. She is tired of being tired. She doesn’t have any choice but to keep on going and dealing with situations as they arise. She would rather have to deal with being tired now than seeing her kids go hungry later. She imagines this is very similar to what pioneer women used to feel in early American history or any woman who lived before the 1950’s. Their families survived and so will hers; she is determined to see to it.
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Thirty-Three
(part 2)

Ship’s Log

It is so unbelievably hot. I thought we were all getting used to not having the AC but today has been just awful. To make matters worse, with the power off we have to also ration water. Johnnie, being the little boy he is, wouldn’t lay still on the lanai. He was all over the place until he just about ran himself sick. After I finally got him to lay down on the cool concrete floor, he fell asleep for several hours; long enough for me to start worrying.

One good thing happened today. I was using the quiet time while Johnnie napped to rearrange some cases of canning jars. In the corner, buried behind a bunch of empties, were buried three case of pint jars I thought held jelly that hadn’t set properly. Nope. Turns out what I had been counting as jelly is actually some of the fruit juice concentrate that I had canned up to make room in the freezer before everything hit the fan. Yippee!!

Decided to celebrate and try and give everyone something to take their mind off of this heat. I used a jar of lemonade concentrate and a jar of fruit punch concentrate and made Fruity Lemonade. It took nearly two quarts of our coolest water but the look on my family’s faces at supper was worth it. -- Sissy

------------------------------------------------------

How to Make Leather Britches

To dry green beans: Wash 3 pounds young green beans well, snap off the tips, then string up loosely (the beans should barely touch one another on heavy white thread, using a heavy-gauge needle. Hang the strong of beans clothesline fashion indoors in a sunny spot and let dry for about 2 months. Check the beans occasionally for signs of mold and discard them should they begin to soften or mold. If the spot is sufficiently dry and sunny (an east or south exposure is best), the beans will wither gradually, turn a sort of khaki color, then as they give up more and more of their moisture, become lightweight and leathery. They are now ready to cook.

Bean soup made with Leather Britches Beans
1 pound dried green beans
2 quarts cold water
1 large meaty ham bone or ham seasoning
1 teaspoon salt (or more if needed)
pinch of black pepper

Place the beans in a heavy, medium-size kettle, pour in the water, cover and let the beans soak for about 2 hours. Add the ham bone, set the kettle over moderate heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat so that water barely ripples, then simmer slowly, uncovered, about 3 hours or until beans have plumped and softened and meat falls away from the bone. Watch the pot closely toward the end of cooking and add more water if beans threaten to boil dry. There should be quite a bit of liquid in the kettle at serving time (about 2 cups). Taste for salt and add more if needed. Also add pepper to taste. Spoon into soup bowls and serve, making sure that each person gets a nice chunk of ham and plenty of “pot likker.” From The Green Thumb Preserving Guide by Jean Anderson

----------------------------------------------------------

Pumpkin Chips

7 Pounds Pumpkin
4 lemons
5 pounds sugar

Peel and slice pumpkin in one inch squares ¼ inch thick. Pack down in sugar, let stand over night. Drain off syrup, bring to boil, skim. Add chips and lemons sliced thin. Cook until clear and transparent and syrup is thick. Pack into sterile jars and seal immediately.
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Thirty-Four

All day Scott and Sissy have been listening to the solar radio while they do their chores. They keep it in the sun where it can maintain its charge, but they also have several rechargeable batteries prepared, as well as a second radio that operates on a crank dynamo just in case. And they have neighbors coming by to listen from the other side of their privacy fence.

It started as a typical tropical wave off of Cape Verde, Africa. As it moved westward it turned into a tropical storm, and received its name - Edouard . And then it became a hurricane, rapidly intensifying to Category 5 strength. But at that point it was still well out in the Atlantic and nearly 1,000 miles from any land. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) frantically tracked its movements to try and give the public as much warning as possible in case it made landfall. They nearly lost a NOAA plane and its crew doing so. No one could say for sure what it is going to do. The track is very wide and its strength makes it unpredictable.

As the day progresses the hurricane loses some of its strength when it scrapes the Caribbean, passing over Guadeloupe, the Leeward Islands, and St. Croix, weakening to a category 3 when it makes a brief landfall at Vieques, Culebra, and the eastern tip of mainland Puerto Rico, while undergoing an eyewall replacement cycle (ERC). The storm continues to weaken after leaving the warm waters of the Caribbean to a category 2. But any hope that it will dissipate all together is short lived as it quickly re-strengthens when it passes over the Gulf Stream. Five days after leveling Montserrat, Edouard smacks head long into the East Coast of the USA.

Originally forecast to come ashore in Savannah, Georgia the storm takes a belated northeast turn towards Charleston, South Carolina. The storm makes landfall at a place called McClellanville, South Carolina late in the evening as a category 4 hurricane with 135 mph winds.

The family listens to the reports coming in from all over the Caribbean and the East Coast, detailing the destruction and the response - or lack of response - of rescue operations..

The Caribbean, except for a very few privately owned islands, has reverted to very primitive facilities since the pandemic began. Most island infrastructures have collapsed so accurate reports on loss of life is the subject of much debate. Several mass graves have been noted, but it is unknown if these are truly victims of the hurricane, pandemic flu victims who were recently buried, or cadavers that were washed out of existing cemeteries. On Montserrat, 90 percent of all buildings are reported destroyed, but again, the veracity of the statement is unknown as civil unrest was severe in the opening days of the pandemic and continues in the aftermath of the hurricane damage. Heavy rains have caused severe flooding in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Nearly 30,000 people are reported to have been made homeless as a direct result of the hurricane. There is no infrastructure or international aid in operation to affect ready resettlement for these victims.

Scott and Sissy are horrified by the newest reports of extensive damage in Charleston, South Carolina. Many barrier islands where some people retreated to as a way to control their exposure to panflu are completely cut off from the mainland. Bridges are down. Boats have been pushed inland. A twenty-foot storm surge is said to have wiped some islands completely clean of all buildings, roads and inhabitants making them appear virginal and newly risen from the ocean. In addition to the storm surge along the coast, inland areas are reporting in excess of 10 inches of rainfall.

Federal services are already stretched too thin to address the pandemic, much less suddenly expand to address hurricane relief. There is no significant Salvation Army or Red Cross presence to go to the aid of residents, having collapsed months ago due to lack of volunteers and physical resources. Local services tried to get the warnings out to the public in the days preceding the storm’s landfall, but lack of electrical services - which means no television or radio for most people - prevented the warnings from reaching everyone, especially those in isolated rural settings. Staff from local law enforcement agencies and fire department personnel went street to street with megaphones trying to encourage people to evacuate with only limited success. Two hundred and fifty thousand should have evacuated, but it now appears less than half that number did. Some mass transit and school buses were pulled into service to get people out but some of the transports broke down or ran out of gas before reaching their drop off points. Most people wanted to know where they were supposed to go with no public shelters? Would their homes be looted if they left and couldn’t get back?

It was fortuitous that the worst of Edouard’s fury is spent over a sparsely populated rural area of South Carolina near the Frances Marion National Forest. After the storm, hundreds of trees are found shorn off at the 15 to 20 foot level. Everywhere streets are reported strewn with mangled debris and household goods. There are also bodies amongst the flotsam. The storm did not just hit coastal areas. . Berkely County - 80 miles inland - reports wind gusts to 120 mph. Even 200 miles inland the storm still packs winds up to 100 mph. Charlotte, NC was the next major metropolitan area ravaged.

As the Chapman family and their neighbors listen, the State of Virginia is reporting torrential rainfall and Sissy thinks of her cousin Sadie and whether she and her family are safe. Their roads flood in snowmelt. How will they fair at the hands of a tropical storm? The last weather report has the storm heading north towards Canada. All everybody in the neighborhood can think is “that could have been us” followed closely by “are we next?”

“Wowee. That coulda been us.” Barry started off saying.

“Yeah. We do not need those kinds of problems. Besides all of the obvious stuff like people suffering, I’ve got a list twice as long as my arm of delayed maintenance items that would make a storm hit that much worse. That second-story roof over on 13th keeps me up at night. We can only patch it so much. Another bad storm and I don’t know what’ll happen.” Scott adds with a weary sigh.

“Only can do so much. I still can’t believe that chick was letting her kids climb on the roof in the first place. They were just sitting up there pulling up shingles when we drove up.”

“Don’t even get me started. Man, don’t get me started. Its like no one cares anymore as long as their kids aren’t bothering them. Johnnie can get going sometimes when he is restless and needing to burn off some energy, but I’d never let him climb on the roof, much less start destroying the freaking house!”

“Yeah, my granddaughters can drive me buggy on some days. It’s actually been a relief to be able to get out even if we are working like mad men and sweating like pigs. I don’t see how my Serena and Ann do it.”

“Yeah, Sissy isn’t looking too good lately either. I don’t think it’s the kids though, at least she says it isn’t. She is the only one in the house that didn’t get sick – you know back when everyone else did – but she is the only one that hasn’t seemed to recover. I’m getting worried. I’m thinking about seeing if there is a private clinic where she can go for a check up or something. Her dad started having heart problems in his 40’s. I don’t even want to think about what could be going on with her.” Scott says with a deeply concerned look on his face.

“Don’t put the cart before the horse son. It don’t look that bad and we aren’t going to let it get that bad. You want Serena to talk to her, in case, you know, its female stuff?” Barry offered.

“Sissy is pretty up front about that stuff with me, but yeah, see if Serena will talk to her but tell her not to say that it will get back around to me. Sissy might put up a front so I don’t find out how bad she is feeling. I already know, but if Sissy thinks it is something in particular, she isn’t saying. I need to know if there is something I can do about it.”

“Come on Hoss. I’ll finish this, you pack up. I got a line on a job from a man Serena used to work with. He needs some stuff hauled and it sounds like he doesn’t care what happens to it so long as it gets gone. Might be something in there worth our trouble.”

Scott agrees and starts loading tools back into the van all the while thinking, “God I don’t know what I’d do if something happens to her.”
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Thirty-Five

June may have come in like a lamb but it goes out with the roar of a wounded lion. Hurricane Edouard decimates large areas off the coast of South Carolina. Its all people have been talking about for days. It highlights their worst fears. There are more storms on the way as well. Tropical storms Fay and Gustav are spinning harmlessly to their deaths, but T.S. Hannah looks like it might have a temper.

Tampa’s rain pattern finally returns to normal with afternoon showers on most days - June normally sees an average of 5.5 inches of rain – and everyone has been able to replenish their stored water. July should bring them about seven and a half inches as long as normal rain patterns are maintained.

With the rain comes even more heat and humidity. TECO really struggles to meet the heightened demand for electricity. Instead of their response getting better as time passes, it is getting worse. They no longer have the resources available to buy “excess” power generated by other utility companies to meet their shortfall. Those companies are struggling as well, or in the case of several small rural cooperatives, have failed, and entire areas no longer have any access to electricity. Fuel shortages have also handicapped TECO’s power production. For the past several weeks Scott and Sissy’ neighborhood has been lucky to have power one day in five. The dam on the Hillsborough River at Rowlette Park helps some, but not much.

Lack of electricity has cascading consequences. With less electricity, city municipal services, already dealing with lowered water quality, see a significant drop in water pressure. Some people on the very outskirts of the municipal system barely have a trickle coming from their faucets. Two sections of Tampa are completely without municipal water because of two water main collapses that happened after the last tropical storm. Worse is that some of the sewage lift stations in low-lying areas are failing and sewage is backing up into people’s homes or flowing into the Hillsborough River. Tampa, particularly the older sections of town, are reaping the inevitable consequences that occur to aging infrastructure under stress.

Hospitals now must care for almost all of their patients in outdoor tent facilities full time. The lack of electricity has turned the inside of their buildings into dark, barely navigable, smelly firetraps. Hospitals receive priority for electrical services, but they have chosen to turn off all wings of the hospitals except for the surgical units, the labs, and the main pharmacy area. Any left over voltage is used to operate fans used to circulate air in the tents. Its too much of a logistical nightmare to move people in and out every time there is a black out. Death from heat, dehydration, and out of control bacterial fevers rival deaths from influenza

Gas stations cannot pump fuel without electricity. A few enterprising stations have installed makeshift hand pumps; but, this means less accurate pricing and much longer waits for the ten-gallon allotments.

Those people that are still mobile in their vehicles must drive much slower because of the lack of traffic signals (no power, no traffic lights). This is further complicated by the exponential increase in the numbers of bicycles and motorcycles on the road. There are special commuter rules in effect. Anything with wheels – from semi to unicycle – must travel in the correct lanes. Pedestrian traffic is directed in the same manner, people are supposed to travel on the right-hand side of the sidewalk. If there is a sidewalk available on both side of the road, and the road consists of only two lanes, then the sidewalks are one-way with pedestrians travelling on their right. Commute times, if you are lucky enough to still have a job, have gotten significantly longer as well. The only offset is since the days are now longer, curfew is easier to meet. Even more than before, people do not participate in any unnecessary travel.

But the worst consequence of less electricity is that information dispersal is slowing down. Radio and television stations cannot operate without power and they have long ago used up all fuel for their back up generators. The most reliable news is now being disbursed on the Internet and the family makes sure that they keep their laptop batteries fully charged with their solar panel recharger. The problem is that the most unreliable news is also being disbursed on the Internet. It is a real job to try and separate the two. Everyone seems to have his or her own agenda.

Very few people have access to solar power or battery and appliance recharging. Scott and Sissy try to keep their power preps low profile to avoid conflict caused by envy. When they do come across news they think important to share, they make out like it is found out while Scott and his crew are out and about. Barry and Tom know otherwise of course, but they understand the necessity of some things not being for public consumption. In a sense, their silence is beneficial to their own families for in return for their silence Scott has taken to recharging their batteries and phones . . . after all, sunlight is one of the few things still available in great quantities and for free.

It may have been a fluke, but solar chargers for iPods and other MP3 players were a very popular gift the Christmas season prior to the beginning of the pandemic. Some of these devices have built in radio receivers. These trendy gadgets are turning out to be life-links for some families who might not otherwise have access to any other news outlet sources.

“Daddy, the last batch of batteries are reading fully charged.”

“OK Sweetheart, bring me that bag out of my closet that has the dead batteries in it.”

While Bekah runs inside, Scott asks Sissy what’s for dinner.

“Spam and veggie kabobs are in the solar cooker. I’ve got rice in there too. Its just too hot to fix anything else. I wish I could say we were having iced tea or lemonade but all the ice is gone.” About that moment Sissy gets a funny look on her face and slowly starts to collapse.

Scott cries, “Sissy!”

Sissy’s face is bright red as Scott carries her onto the lanai. “James! Bring me some water and towels. Sarah, go get that fan your Momma made you out of that palmetto frond. I want you to wave that and help cool her down. Rose, if there isn’t any Gatorade drink stuff mixed up, get some made with the coolest drinking water we have.”

As Scott has the kids do their best to cool Sissy down, Scott takes off like a shot down the road to get Tom Cox’s wife who worked in an extended care facility before the pandemic closed it down.

Laura Cox is a petite natural blonde with a rather serious outlook on life. Scott runs back to his home as Laura bikes over. They both enter to find that Sissy has regained consciousness and is very embarrassed by the scene she has apparently made.

“Mom won’t stay put!” James quickly tells his dad.

“Sissy don’t you dare move. This is Laura Cox, you remember her from when the boys were in Cub Scouts. Kids, scram and let Mrs. Cox talk to your Momma. You can come back in a minute.”

As she watches the kids file out very unwillingly Sissy says, “Yes I do and I’m really sorry that Scott got you over here from nothing. I’m fine.”

“People who are fine don’t pass out,” Laura says. “If nothing else, let me check your pulse and blood pressure so that Scott will feel better.”

“Oh all right. I just feel so stupid. I guess I just got too hot or something.”

After checking her over Laura says, “Sissy, you know I’m no doctor but it doesn’t take a neurosurgeon to see you’ve lost a lot of weight and you are working really hard. Heck, I could just about say the same thing for everyone on our block.”

Sissy interrupts by say, “Well then I’m the same as everyone else.”

Laura comes back with, “Maybe. You aren’t the first to pass out in this heat that’s for sure. But everyone reacts to various stimulants differently. Weight loss, stress, sleeplessness, etc. will hit different people differently. Tom has told me all you are trying to keep up with. Frankly I don’t know how you are still on your feet and why you weren’t one of the first down when the sickness went through the neighborhood. But if you aren’t careful, all that is gonna come due in a big payment.”

Sissy sighs and agrees she hasn’t been feeling well lately, but asks what she is supposed to do? When you have it, you need to save it because tomorrow, or next week, you might need it.

“Sissy, I don’t know what the answer is, but you need to slow down or you’re gonna really get sick. Take siestas in the heat of the day. I know you are always harping at the men to make sure they have enough drinking water to last them through the day. You probably do the same to your kids. Now you need to do it for yourself. Same with eating; no cutting back so Scott and the kids can have a little more. I think we can put this down to a little heat exhaustion. Next time you might not be so lucky.”

After Scott makes sure that Laura gets back home safely and hurriedly answers all of the questions of the worried neighbors that had witnessed his run down the block, Scott sits down with Sissy to have a serious talk about what happened.

“God Sissy, you scared me to death. If you were feeling this bad, why didn’t you tell me?!”

“I have been saying that I’m tired and stuff. I just figured that’s all it was. Trust me, I didn’t intend to pass out like that. I woke up feeling like I was going to puke and I’m still kind of nauseous. The last time I felt like this was when I was pregnant with Johnnie.”

“You aren’t are you?”

“Aren’t what? Pregnant? Lord no. Scott not only are my tubes cut but they are burnt forever closed. The baby factory is permanently closed. And besides I just had my monthly so no way am I pregnant. I’m just tired and anxious.”

“You sure it isn’t anything else? You’d tell me if you thought it was?”

“Scott, I’m just … I don’t know. In the beginning of all of this I was fine. We had a plan, I felt in control. The kids were safe. We were safe. Etc. Then when you all got sick something just … I don’t know, something just changed for me. I’ve always been a light sleeper but now I hardly ever sleep through the night. At first losing my appetite was helpful, I know I needed to lose weight anyway. Now though sometimes the thought of eating at all just turns my stomach. I’m tired of cooking. I’m tired of cleaning. I’m tired of worrying. I’m tired of these same damn walls, this same damn fenced in yard. I’m just plain tired of everything!” and Sissy starts crying.

Scott is at a loss what to do for her. He has known that she was starting to feel bad, he just hadn’t realized how hard all of this was turning out to be on her. His Sissy always seems to have an answer, always seems to make something out of nothing, was always doing things to cheer everyone else up. To see her so tore up left him the one feeling helpless and useless.

“OK, look at me. I want you to promise me that you are going to rest after lunch every day.”

“Scott, I can’t there is too much to …”

“No, there is no can’t here. If I have to turn into a chauvinistic pig here and put my foot down and demand you do what I’m saying I will. I cannot … will not … lose you. The kids need you. I need you. We will do whatever we have to do to keep you. Do you understand me?”

“Oh Scott. I’m not being a pain on purpose.”

“You aren’t being a pain at all. You took care of us for weeks while we were sick. Now you have to let us take care of you.”

“Scott, I can’t honestly say that is going to make things any better. I’ll probably just lay there thinking of all the things that I need to get up and do.”

“Look, just try it for a few days. If that doesn’t work then we’ll try something else. The kids and I’ll will take over the cooking …”

“No. Let’s not go changing the whole way we do things just because I passed out once. I’ll try the resting after lunch thing. OK?”

“Have you kept up your journaling? I know I complained about having to do it but you seemed to get a kick out of it. Maybe writing things out will help.”

“Writing things out. Scott I barely have time to do what needs to be done, much less have the time to do what I want to do. The kids have been writing stuff in the Ship’s log for me for the last couple of weeks.”

“Well, why don’t you go back to writing. Sarah can do more of the mending. Bekah is certainly big enough to do more in the kitchen and with cleaning. Rose can take on at least one of the day’s meals and the girls can help her. James and I will do any lifting here in the garden.”

“Oh Scott, I just feel like such a failure,” Sissy moans. “Rose should be going to college, the other two girls are too young to be taking on all of the household responsibilities of a grown woman. You and James already have so much work to do to keep the van going and all that equipment you bring back to repair for the apartments. If I can’t …”

“It’ll be OK darling. Whatever is going on, we’ll figure it out. I just can’t lose you. You don’t know how much you mean to me. You don’t know how necessary you are to me. I can’t raise these kids by myself. I can’t keep going on without you. Its too damn hard. We are going to get through this together.”

“Oh Scott,” Sissy sighs as she is pulled into the arms of the only man she has ever loved.

“Let me figure something out. I’ll figure out some way to get you out of the house so you can take a break. It may not be right away, but I’ll try. As far as the rest of it, we’ll work it out. But woman, you are going to get some rest and you are going to eat. We are all making sacrifices, but they don’t need to be sacrifices to the …” and Scott takes a deep breath and says, “they don’t need to be sacrifices to the death.”

“OK. OK. This day has sucked hasn’t it?” she sniffles.

“Yeah, but hopefully tomorrow will be better. Just so long as we are all together.”
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Thirty-Six

Over the last couple of weeks, Sissy has slowly returned to an outlook and attitude that is closer to her normal personality. She still has moments when she just wants to sit down and cry out of sheer frustration and fatigue, but those moments are becoming fewer.

Scott and the kids have certainly become more aware of just how much Sissy does every day. The fact that they are learning this during one of the longest black outs they’ve ever experienced made the point even more emphatically. The extra rest during the hottest part of the day helps, she has even managed to take a nap on a few occasions. Mostly it is just taking the time to stop and have some physical and mental quiet time that is helping Sissy regain her composure.

Scott has even come up with a plan to get Sissy out of the house for a bit. It isn’t at all what she was anticipating. And now that the time has come she is unexpectedly nervous to the point that her stomach is heaving. It was far from her favorite activity before the pandemic, but Scott was so pleased to be able to get this opportunity for her that she hasn’t had the heart to complain. She was going to . . . [she can hear the theme music from the movie Jaws every time she thinks about it] . . . the grocery store.

Last week a manager from a local grocery store walked the two miles from his store to practically beg Scott to come do several repairs. The county code enforcement department, using sledge hammer tactics to deal with a dust cloth problem, is going around town shutting down soup kitchens, charitable food distribution points, neighborhood produce stands, and grocery stores for “health code violations.” The CE Department seems to thrive on justifying their own existence. Scott’s personal opinion is that it is revenge for the slap in the face the department took several months back when they precipitated several near riots.

The strong-arm tactics are a response to an outbreak of shigella that has been confined to a small area in the furthermost southeast corner of the county. Instead of re-emphasizing hand washing and basic hygiene practices, or requiring sanitizing stations outside of food service locations, they are closing down businesses that are lifelines in many neighborhoods.

The store manager knows that the loss of his store will have disastrous effects, both for local customers and for his employees. The store has also become the center of his life. He now lives there full time after losing his wife and children in September. He lost his children to influenza and his wife due to the lack of insulin for her diabetes.

It is a misconception on the part of the general public to believe that grocery stores are making a huge profit at their customers’ expense. Grocers operate on a very thin margin of profit even under the best of conditions. They are as affected by the concept of supply and demand as consumers are. They are also subject to the same shortages and quantity restrictions, not to mention distribution problems. Just because costs are going up for groceries doesn’t mean profits are going up for grocery stores.

The concern for the store manager is that there is no money to pay to have the repairs made. If the repairs are not made, the store will be condemned and forcibly closed and its inventory confiscated. Most of the repairs are relatively minor, but there are a number of them.

• A minor roof leak in an unused maintenance closet at the rear of the building.
• An inoperable loading bay door at the rear of the store. The track in the roll down door was damaged during an attempted break in, preventing complete opening or closing.
• One of the automatic doors does not work, even when the power is on.
• When the power is off, customers aren’t supposed to have access to the coolers where freezer foods and meats were once sold.
• Despite being empty and unused, coolers need to be re-sanitized after a small area of mildew was noted in the back corner of one freezer.
• There is too little light when the power is off, making navigation of the store aisles difficult or dangerous.
• Code enforcement wants the entire store sanitized especially the bakery and produce sections.
• The boards over the front glass area, there for security reasons, need to come down.
• Too many customers are allowed in the store at one time, violating social distancing recommendations.
• The front windows of the store need to be cleaned, as does the front walk.
• There are not enough trash receptacles outside.
• The employee break area is ill lit and needs to be sanitized.

Scott agrees to go look and see what he can do. After looking everything over he finds that the leak is an easy fix. It will just be a minor roof repair. Same with the loading bay door. All that needs doing is to get the door and chain back in the track. The automatic door is a stupid violation, but to address it he can install a shock, similar to the ones found on screen doors or hatch backs of cars. The door can then be propped open if need be and will close slowly rather than swing shut with a bang.

The issue with the coolers is twofold. The store staff can clean them and the rest of the store to address the disinfection requirements. Following that a new floor plan can be designed and shelves moved to keep customers toward the front of the store. Since only about five customers are going to be allowed inside the store at any given time, they can remove all of the cash registers, except for the one at customer service, and replace them with stock shelves. Having products closer to the front windows will alleviate lighting issues.

Since the bakery can only operate when the power is on, that area will be shut off from customers completely. When the power is on and the bakery is operating, any baked goods can be transferred to baskets at the front of the store. The window area will be un-boarded and metal rebar left over from a construction site that Scott plundered will be used to create metal slat work. The plywood will be recycled to build temporary walls behind the area where the cash registers were. With a few additional refinements the plan is finalized.

The hitch in the negotiations is payment for the work. It is eventually agreed that payment will be made in the form of food vouchers. The compromise is that not all of the vouchers can be spent in a single week. All of the vouchers are distributed at the time of job completion, but are dated to be “spent” over a six-week period.

Scott decides to include Barry and Tom on the job. Scott will get a fifty percent cut and the other two men will each get twenty-five percent of the vouchers. Serena spends their first week’s vouchers right away as does Laura Cox. After putting it off for as long as she can, Sissy finally readies herself. The vouchers have nearly expired and she will just have to go regardless of her nerves. Scott was so proud when he explained how the vouchers worked. Its all Sissy can do to not let him see how different this is than what she expected. She understands it is a great opportunity most people would jump at, its just not what she had been at all anticipating. Sissy tells herself she really needs to work on her level of gratitude.

Sissy leaves at first light to walk up to the grocery store. Scott wants to drive her, but she argues him out of it saying that it is a waste of fuel and that one of them really needs to stay home with the kids. She thought Rose would have a chance to get away from the house as well, but the girl dropped a #10 size can of dried beans on her foot the day before and it is now very bruised and sore. Sissy doesn’t want her out and about on it in case they have to make a fast exit for some reason. James has to stay home and help Scott in the garden and the other children are too young so it looks like she is on her own.

The day is already warming up and Sissy is wringing wet with sweat before she even reaches the end of her street. Carrying a two-quart canteen over her shoulder and wearing a facemask and gloves doesn’t make it any cooler. On her back she wears a makeshift basket cobbled together from an old backpack frame, palmetto sticks with their sharp edges removed and woven into panels, and wire lashing. James originally made it for working in the citrus grove. She borrowed it to haul the groceries home in because the store can no longer provide bags or boxes. Scott had asked why she didn’t just take one of their large backpacks. Sissy decided against it because she would have been forced to empty one of their bug-out bags.

As Sissy walks the two miles to the store she notices that she isn’t the only one out and about despite the early hour. There are a lot of people on foot and bicycles. There are even a few odd, rickshaw-looking bicycle taxis. However no one is congregating together. There are a few travelling by 2s and 3s, but no groups larger than that. At least this early in the morning everyone is pretty much following the appropriate traffic patterns. Keep to your right side – whether on the road or on the sidewalk – and everything with wheels must use the blacktop and leave the sidewalks, such as they are, for pedestrian traffic.

As Sissy continues up the highway she begins to realize that even though she works very hard every day and is in better shape than she has been in years – fewer calories and more exercise does have its benefits after all – she still can use some distance training. Walking around on a half-acre lot, or across the street on occasion, is no preparation for walking miles at a time. Thank goodness her tennis shoes are still in reasonable shape. Several people in her neighborhood have simply chosen to go barefoot which has resulted in more ringworm, stubbed toes, and minor infections. Foot care is no joke any more.

Eventually Sissy reaches the grocery store’s parking lot. On one end of the strip center, which is shaped like a capital L, is the Post Office and on the other end is the grocery store. Lines of about a dozen people each are already evident at both locations. All the storefronts between the two are boarded over and abandoned giving the center a look of desperate deterioration.

Taking a deep breath she goes and takes her place in the cue for the grocery store. An armed security guard is stationed before the door in case of “dissatisfied customers” or any other form of uncivil behavior. Promptly at 7 am they allow the first five customers in.

Waiting her turn, Sissy finally takes note of the personal appearance of the people around her. Not surprisingly there are more women than men, but regardless of sex, everyone can use a shave. The men all have either closely cropped beards or several days worth of whiskers. The women appear to be going au natural with bare, unshaven legs and underarms. There is a darkly sarcastic voice in her head telling her she can mark shaving cream off her list of things to buy. Sissy is glad she chose to wear jeans and short sleeves despite the heat. She would have probably gotten some fairly curious – or contemptuous – looks otherwise. She doesn’t shave as often, but she does shave which probably would have made her stand out too much. It was bizarre to see all the cans of shaving cream and razors under their bathroom sink prepandemic, but it sure has come in handy. Toothpaste too. Those are some of the items that are most difficult for people to come by these days.

Everyone’s clothes look well worn as well with most people having at least one item on that is either quite rumpled or threadbare. One man even has on sandals that look like they have been made from car tires. And everyone is wearing a hat. There isn’t a child in sight. This makes Sissy really glad she didn’t get desperate enough to bring Johnnie with her. She could have pushed him in the stroller but the risk of infection outweighs any nerves she might experience.

What a change from the last time she had been here, that last scramble for supplies before the pandemic was declared. Well-dressed older ladies in pantsuits sporting blue hair, wearing jewelry with matching shoes and purses. Burly construction workers stopping by the deli, loudly debating the merits of a Cuban sandwich vs. the fried chicken and potato salad. Businessmen with a couple of canned energy drinks in one hand, their wallet in another, and a cell phone glued to their ear. Young mothers pushing children in buggies, looking harassed as their kids beg for cookie samples from the bakery. Now everyone looks like a refugee. This isn’t supposed to happen here, in her city, in her country.

It reminds Sissy of an episode from the Twilight Zone, all too surreal to really take in. Even more changes await inside as it becomes her turn to enter the store. Scott told her about the changes so she is somewhat prepared, but hearing about it and seeing it for herself are quite different.

Only one register is in evidence and it is an old manual one that was pulled out of a long unused cabinet in the store’s upstairs office. It is old enough that it could easily have found a place in a display cabinet in Tampa’s Historical Museum downtown. There is a wide series of shelves fronted by a very long counter top. People she recognizes from before as former cashiers and stockers go back and forth pulling items for the customers they are serving. The whole set up reminds her of the old General Stores you see and read about from before the advent of the modern supermarket.

“Any bread today?”

“No, I’m sorry. The power is still off. Maybe tomorrow. How about some olives?”

“No. Got any corn?”

“Yes, but there is a two can limit.”

“That’s fine. Got any tomatoes?”

“Not canned. We’ve got some fresh. They are a little green but you can have three pounds.”

“Give me one pound and what is the price for those snap beans?”

And on it goes, people looking for one thing but leaving with whatever they can get. As Sissy walks up, the store manager recognizes her and comes over to work up her order personally. She picks up fresh carambolas (aka star fruit) that have just come in from down south. She gets a jug of peanut oil and five pounds of honey, both of which have obviously been packaged locally and costs far more than they did prepandemic. She also picks up a five pound bag of new potatoes. She figures to try and save some of them to plant next month if she can get the eyes to sprout. She asks for bleach, dish detergent and vinegar but only gets two of the three as the store used its stock of bleach for its own disinfecting. Maybe next time. The last thing she picks up is the most expensive and the one thing she debates the most about getting. She gets three pounds of what the store manager says is locally prepared and cured Chorizo sausages.

One of the local families of Italian decent, with ties to early 20th century Tampa, still had a large number of cattle on their acreage in Odessa when the pandemic was declared. Using business sense and bravado inherited from their immigrant grandparents, they are turning a profit making beef sausages and jerky. She knows this family by reputation – their ancestors had been members of the old Trafficante gang. They are still a bunch of goons, but these days they are relatively honest goons.

Sissy places her purchases in the backpack, heavy items on the bottom and produce on top, at the check out. She pays with her vouchers and because she has gone slightly over, has to add some change that Scott insisted she bring just in case. After paying she begins to make her way home, the backpack weighing her down.

As Sissy steps outside she notices that the line for the post office has doubled, but the line for the grocery store is now wrapped around the building. A few people call out to her and ask if there is any bread. At her negative answer several sigh, get out of line and depart. Others are obviously juggling their list of other items they hope to get; counting pennies to get the most for the least.

The walk home is even more fatiguing than her walk to the store. It is hotter, there is more traffic, and she is carrying more than thirty extra pounds on her back. She still feels the effects of the malaise she had been suffering that culminated in her fainting spell. Getting out has been invigorating, but the adrenaline is now wearing off and Sissy is beginning to run down.

Even though the wreckage on the highway from the train derailment has been picked over several times, there are still people wading through what remains of the mess in hopes that something useful or valuable has been overlooked. The rails themselves, warped in the fire, have been replaced so that the trains can run again. The remaining debris has been pushed to either side and it is there that most people are wandering.

Sissy is nearly run over by cyclists several times in areas where there are no sidewalks. In these stretches she is forced to alternate her travel between parking lots and the curb of the road. She could have walked closer to some of the buildings lining the highway but Scott has admonished her to stay in plain view at all times. It is too easy to be suddenly pulled into a darkened storefront and get mugged or worse. It is a risk she prefers not to take.

Finally she turns into her street. Her steps pick up speed as she realizes that Scott has stationed himself at the end of their drive and is facing the direction she is coming from. It is both a physical and emotional relief to walk into his arms and let him lift the pack from her back.

“Now I know how you feel when I leave with the guys,” he says as they walk into the house with their arms around each other.

Sissy replies, “Yeah, shoe on the other foot and all that. Life sure is different than it was last year. But, if we can just hold on, things are bound to get better. “

With a smile and a smooch, Scott says, “If we hold on to each other, I don’t doubt it for a second. Did you enjoy getting out?”

“It was … educational. I’ve heard the stories. Even seen the changes taking place on our block. But getting out into the thick of things brings it all home.”

“But did getting out help? Do you feel better?”

“Yes Scott. I do appreciate getting out. I know it wasn’t easy to get these vouchers or for you to let me go on my own. It was good to get out. It just also brought it back home to me how well off we are compared to a lot of other people out there.”

What Sissy doesn’t say is that in a sense that also made her feel bad for acting so depressed when she should actually feel very blessed about how well their preps have worked out. She knows she needs to find her way out of this confusing emotional maze she is in, but things like this still set her off.

“You know we’ve got these other vouchers to spend as well. If you feel up to it, you can go each week to stretch your legs and get away.”

“I’m sure I’ll do that,” Sissy says and then sighs a bit before continuing. “Scott I do appreciate everything you’ve tried to do recently – and even before – to take care of me, and the kids. I don’t want you to ever think that I am ungrateful. I’m sorry if I might appear that way. I’m getting a handle on all of this, I really am, I just may not always seem like it.”

“Honey, relax. If you can put up with the crap I dish out when I come home from a bad day at work, I can put up with anything you have going. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking the last week or so. It’s a wonder you didn’t bean me with a skillet or plant me head first out in the garden. I didn’t realize at the time that you were under just as much stress as I was. I only saw my side of things.”

“You had reason to be angry. I’ve gotten angry with some of the stupid stuff you’ve been forced to deal with. Don’t suddenly treat me like you need to wear kid gloves or I’m going to fall apart.”

“I’m not honey, I just think maybe we are both so wound up with what is going on around us, we aren’t dealing with what is going on inside us. We’ve taken the time to get the kids to talk about how they feel and to deal with their feelings. We haven’t taken the same time to do that for ourselves. I know we don’t have much privacy with things being the way they are but maybe we can figure out something even if it is just going out in the corner of the yard to have a drink or something. Man, I don’t know …”

“Scott, I think that is a fine idea. Don’t beat yourself up over this, OK? It makes me feel bad to make you feel bad.”

“That’s not what I mean honey. I don’t know exactly what I do mean, but that isn’t it. I’m just glad you aren’t feeling as bad. You would tell me if you still were?”

“I said I would and if I get to feeling as badly as I was before I will. I’m feeling more … maybe balanced or something. It’s helped that everyone has pitched in and given me a bit of a break. As far as the rest goes, I’m hoping time will put things back into perspective. Either way, I’m beat. Let’s go inside so I can show you what I bought and have lunch. I’m actually feeling hungry.”
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Thirty-Seven

Thankfully tropical storm Hannah turns out to be more “hoochie momma” than “hellish harpy” though the storm did cause some problems for Galveston, Texas and the areas surrounding it. The Pelican Island Causeway is damaged, but the Galveston Causeway, which connects Galveston to the mainland, escaped damage. The Galveston Convention Center, which sits in the middle of the seawall on Seawall Blvd. and which is currently used as a health care overflow facility, sustained some damage when sections of the nearest pier pulled away during the storm and struck the building. There is also some minor flooding, but mostly in the business district. Had Hannah become a full-blown hurricane, the damage would have been much more extensive.

July has made Sissy extremely glad that she stocked as well as she did before the pandemic. Her first grocery store visit was an eye-opening experience. Her second did not change that picture one iota. They continue to harvest corn from their garden but it has been a battle trying to keep the critters out of it. After planting their corn on the east side of the house, James rebuilt an old chain link dog run around it. They also have to use chicken wire and baskets woven from wild potato vines to protect other things in the garden. Squirrels were getting through the chain link fence so they interwove razor-edged palmetto sticks to make the holes smaller and to discourage little paws. They also make garden alarms from the many, many, many empty cans they now have. It looks kind of silly to Scott, but it works for the most part.

They also harvest more watermelons and sweet potatoes, as well as the first of their pomegranates. You wouldn’t think it possible, but the family is actually a little tired of watermelon. Its not that they don’t appreciate having it, it’s just that everything seems to come all at once. This week you may sit down to squash at every meal to make sure that none goes to waste. The next week, there isn’t any squash and all you have is corn or green beans or some other crop. It can get monotonous eating the same thing over and over and over and the family occasionally has to battle food fatigue. The kids are actually threatening to boycott the next item made from zucchini. Their preps do help with this but in months like July, when they aren’t able to plant anything new because of the heat, and have harvested most of what they have already planted, it is times like this that concern Sissy with what could happen. She worries that there may come a day when she can’t figure a way to balance the meals. Her family has lost enough weight as it is, and the kids didn’t need to to begin with. Laura Cox has also come by again to remind Sissy that she shouldn’t lose any more weight if she wants to maintain her health. The “what ifs” are still keeping her up at night unless she is totally exhausted.

The local market could be a good place to try and get some diversity back into their diet, but everyone else is in the same boat they are, or worse. At least Sissy has the prep stocks of long term storage items like rice and beans. They also still have several six-gallon pails of various grains. Other families, if they have anything at all, are sitting down to only one item for every meal for days on end until the next item ripens or they can scrounge up something by scavenging.

One good thing has happened. While driving to a job the other day an elderly woman flagged Scott and the other men down. She was in pretty desperate straights and her neighbors weren’t helping at all. A water pipe burst in her yard and the city utilities shut her water off until she got the break repaired. She couldn’t’ find anyone that would repair it, or if she did, could not afford the price they were asking. Scott’s fury was very apparent as he related the story to Sissy later that night. He said all it had taken was a coupler and some PVC glue. It didn’t even take them five minutes to fix the break. He even cut the bolt off of the water main and used his water key to turn the water back on to her house. Scott said there was no excuse for what happened to her and he wondered how many other people were facing the same kind of problems. To a man they tried to refuse payment for such a small job, but the lady insisted. She said if they wouldn’t take money, would they take seeds? Finally, to make her feel better since she was determined to show her gratitude, they accepted thinking they were flower seeds or something. The lady obviously had her pride and wouldn’t give in. Scott put the shoebox in the back of the van and brought it home to Sissy.

“My God, you should have seen it! This lady was in her 70s and was taking care of her elderly mother that had to have been in her 90s. They had no electricity and no running water. She said they rarely used air conditioning so they didn’t miss it, but they missed having water from the tap. The lady was hauling water from a nearby canal. And further more, the break in that pipe was so minor and the water pressure so low that it could have probably been fixed with a piece of inner tube and some duct tape! The guys and I have agreed to run by there every other week just to keep an eye on them since their neighbors don’t exactly qualify for any humanitarian awards. What on God’s green earth is this world coming to?!”

Scott is fast boiling over remembering it, so Sissy tries to distract him by looking at the seeds. Oh, and what seeds they are. There are some flower seeds, but there are also herb seeds and vegetable seeds including a dozen different heirloom tomatoes varieties. They are all neatly bagged and labeled with the variety and storage date.

“This is a gold mine,” Sissy exclaims. “Did she look like she had a lot of plants?”

“I guess, about like our yard I suppose. Was a bit of a jungle in the back,” Scott replies.

“Then yes dear, she had a lot of plants. Before I do anything with these, I want you all to see if she really meant to give these away. I couldn’t trade for this kind of stuff for love or money.”

“They’re really that valuable?” Scott asks, perplexed.

“Scott! You see everything I go through trying to save seeds from what we harvest. That’s work; especially tomato seeds. And then when I replant not all of them are viable or breed true. With these heirloom varieties, the viability ratio will go way, way up. They will also do better as producers ‘cause I won’t have to baby them quite as much as the hybrid seeds.”

“Relax Sissy. I just asked a simple question.”

“Oh Scott, I’m sorry. I don’t really mean to take all my frustrations over the gardening out on you. I just feel so inadequate. I keep thinking I should be doing better at this than I am.”

“Honey, from where I stand it looks like things are doing well. Especially now that you are feeling better.”

“Well, let me tell you, bugs damage the plants as fast as I can stop them. I never really am able to get rid of all the pests, just try and control them to minimize losses. I know things would be better if I had more fertilizer, and I’m all but out of all that slow release fertilizer I bought prepandemic. I’m using up the compost faster than we make it. Scott I’m just at my wits end trying to figure out how to make do or do without. Watering by hand is so time consuming but necessary in this heat. And I know we’re still losing things to garden pirates even though we bring almost everything in at night.”

“Are we losing a lot? Why haven’t you told me?” Scott asks.

“Because I don’t know if the losses are from animals or from humans! The raccoon population is way down now that they are viewed as a meat source. That dog pack that Mr. D has tamed have the opossums and rats back under control and the cats no longer spray their scent every where. The squirrels are still a pain in my backside, they are too fast for most of the dogs – except that little greyhound – to catch. But, to be honest, some of the losses are too neat and selective for them to be from animals. I just don’t know.”

“Well story I heard from Serena is that a couple people have caught Bob Grinder and that loopy wife of his ‘borrowing’ things from people. Ol’ man Cleary actually threatened Grinder at the last market day in front of God and everyone. You know how even tempered the man normally is, it was shocking enough for that reason alone.”

“Surely it was just the heat making everyone foul.” Sissy says hopefully.

“No. I don’t think so, not this time. Mr. Cleary flat out told Grinder that he or his wife was going to ‘borrow’ themselves into a grave one night.”

Shocked, Sissy says, “Oh my word!”

“Yeah, and he’s not the only one that has warned the Grinders off,” Scott adds. “You know Barry can’t stand the man.”

“We don’t know if they are the ones taking stuff out of our garden.”

“No, that’s true. But we don’t know they aren’t either. Let me think on it and I’ll see if I can figure out a painful surprise to run around the top of the privacy fencing. You should see some of the stuff I’ve seen. The most elaborate was a three foot wide and three food deep trench dug inside the perimeter of a yard. Then the trench was filled with things like sharpened stakes and broken bottles.”

“Oh, that sounds awful.” Sissy says in a disgusted voice.

“Maybe so, but its been effective. The guy said he’s only had a couple of problems since he installed that set up and those he quietly disposed of at night.”

“Are you telling me one of our tenants is admitting to getting rid of people that impaled themselves on his homemade security system?!”

Scott sighs and tries to explain, “Honey, our neighborhood is a pretty good place despite some of the problems we have. There are plenty of other places that have turned being uncivilized into an art and no one thinks much of it any more. They do what they have to to survive; not all of it legal.”

This gives Sissy even more to think on and worry about.

The following week when the men stop by to check on the two elderly women, a young man greets them on the front porch.

Scott asks, “Where are the two older ladies that lived here?”

“Who wants to know?” the young man asks suspiciously.

“We were by here last week and we were just dropping by to check on them again.”

After a momentary blankness that was just beginning to make Scott uncomfortable, a light begins to appear in the young man’s eyes and then his face is transformed from wary suspicion to complete welcome.

“Oh man! You are the guys that fixed Granny and Grammy’s water! Dad! Dad! Those guys came back. Dad!”

“What’s the problem?” a man says gruffly as he comes to the door.

“Dad, these are the guys that fixed the water!”

The same transformation happens on the father’s face, only more quickly. “Hello!” he says as he reaches out to shake hands and then pulls back. “Uh, sorry about that. Old habits are hard to break. Thank you so much. Mom said she was at the end of her rope and you are the only people who stopped to help her,” he says with a strong Southern accent.

“It was our pleasure. We were just stopping by to see if they were still doing OK.”

“Oh yeah. It’s taken us six months, but we finally got clearance to cross state lines and come get them. We’re from Georgia you know. We just convinced them to pack up and let us bring them with us. Gram finally told Mom to stop being hard headed. She said, ‘You made me come live with you. Now its your turn to go live with your kids.’ And that’s what they are going to do,” the man says as his mother steps onto the porch.

“Oh lands. I was wondering what to do with all of this stuff that we can’t fit onto the truck, and here you all are. I just know you’ll find a good home for everything. What providence,” the elderly lady said in happiness.

Barry says, “Uh, ma’am we don’t want to take your stuff.”

“No ma’m we were just stopping in to see how you two ladies were doing,” Tom chimes in.

“Nonsense and don’t be so bashful. If I leave it here, someone’s just gonna trash the place. I may be old, but I’m not stupid. And I don’t want my neighbors to get it all. I could’ve overlooked a lot of things, and have mind you, but not letting my poor mother go thirsty,” the lady replies. “You have a trailer on the back end of that van, come in here and help my son and grandson get this stuff out of here. Now that I’m ready to go, I want to get out of here.” The older lady replies swiftly and surely. “Come on. I’ll fix a pan of beans to finish off the last of them out of the garden and you’ll have a good soup in your bellies.”

Scott, Barry, and Tom just look at each other then look at her son. He shrugs. The grandson says, “Best do what Granny wants. We don’t need any of this stuff. We are just taking some of it for Granny and Grammy’s sake. My mother and sisters already have our farm loaded down with all kinds of everything. The heavier the truck is the slower we’ll have to go and the more gas it will take. Just pretend you are doing us a favor.” Then he plastered a big grin on his face and says, “Besides, she’s bringing enough and I don’t want to have to do all the packing by myself.” All the men laugh and just put their backs to it while the two old ladies make sure they do it the right way.

When all is said and done, the older ladies have snipped off pieces of this plant and that plant, but then put the remaining pots onto the trailer. Really, they live a Spartan life and have little enough to pack. But there are things like gardening equipment and pots, work gloves, and some old jars and linens, more seeds, four shelving units, two bookcases, cast iron pots, and some books and magazines that don’t find a place in the back of the pickup and go onto Scott’s trailer instead. There are bushel baskets and enamel ware bowls that are considered a waste of space that go home with the men as well.

“I want to thank you again, for stopping by to check on mom and Gram. Seems like there is a lot less of that going around nowadays,” the mother’s son says as they prepare to drive off.

“In some places. In others, a lot more of it is going on than you would expect. Drive safe and take care,” Scott says. And the loaded down pick up truck leaves to join a caravan that is headed north for the state line checkpoint.
 

Dosadi

Brown Coat
Thanks Kathy. I just got caught up. Having flu run through the house here is taking its toll, and this is kinda spooky to be reading at the same time.

My brother down to pennsacola was telling me that last night he had over 24 inches of rain right there on the bay / ocean. in 24 hours. Set some kinda record.

Said His wife walked in and says "hon, do we have flood insurance?"

Yep.

Good and walks off.

He looked out and it was just touching the top edge of his porch and a bit into his garage. Fortunatelly it crested and is going down now.

She cracks me up how she just says something without any hype or excitement.

D.
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Thirty-Eight

Its that time again. Sissy has put off going to the grocery store until the food vouchers have nearly expired. Its not that they do not need things, its that the things they need are either prohibitively expensive or they are unavailable. Scott keeps asking her when she is going to go and she knows her nervousness isn’t completely logical. After all her noise about wanting to get out and away from the house, its proving amazingly difficult to make herself actually do it.

They really do need to get either some flour or some corn meal soon. The prices are really tripping her out though. Who ever heard of a three dollars per pound for flour, at least this side of the US Civil War? Just prior to the pandemic starting, you could get five pounds of flour for under two dollars, and considerably cheaper than that if you bought your flour in bulk. There is roughly four cups per pound of flour … just enough for two small or one large loaf of bread. But to that cost you have to add all the other necessary ingredients. The cost of flour would be much higher than it already is if the US Federal Government had not instituted price ceilings. Most other staple goods, such as sugar and cornmeal, are the same way.

The issue is that when the government puts those types of price controls into effect, many producers will simply drop out of the market rather than lose money. To respond to this, the government has a couple of choices. They can either give incentives such as subsidies or they can take much more drastic steps like they did during World War II when they enacted the Smith-Connally Act, also known as the War Labor Disputes Act. This act authorizes the president to take over production facilities if companies refuses to continue manufacturing goods that are needed by the public.

This time around, the federal government is trying a combination of things – encouragement of door-yard gardens (aka Victory Gardens), price ceilings, strict rationing, federalization of food production facilities, etc. Sissy doesn’t see this as keeping food affordable so much as keeping inflation from keeping it from being totally unavailable. It feels like being between a rock and a hard place, but as difficult a situation as it is, it is far better than in other countries that are totally dependent on imports for their sources of food.

The USA has restructured its supply-demand and gross national product way of thinking and plans to keep most of its products at home for the citizens here. That means that items like computers, other electronics, telecommunication equipment, etc. – any manufacturing that used to be farmed out to countries like China and India - are very hard to come by; no more imports. On the other hand, you can’t eat a computer or telephone and right now food is on everybody’s list of priorities. A lot of people have been forced to learn to re-use, make do, or do without very quickly. Just like there were no civilian vehicles built between the years 1942 and 1945 here in the USA, luxury-item manufacturing has been suspended during this pandemic year. This has created a black market for such items, but because of economic problems and resource shortages, it hasn’t flourished to any great degree yet.

Some manufacturing facilities have been repurposed for things like repair and recycling of items similar to what they had been making before. Most however sit closed and dark, leaving their former employees struggling to find replacement income with which to feed and house their family.

With all of this in mind, Sissy waits her turn yet again in the cue to get into the grocery store. It is hard to believe that they are in the twelfth month of the pandemic. It seems that just yesterday everything was normal, yet at the same time it feels like they’ve been struggling with drastic lifestyle changes forever. The one thing that she notices this time as she waits in line is that now that August’s brutal heat is on them, people are much more irritable than before. There is always this simmering anger that seems to lurk just below the surface. God help them if they have to deal with yet one more thing, because sometimes it feels like people can’t be wound any tighter and things are going to explode all over again like they did in the opening days of the pandemic.

As she gets into the store, brightly lit because the power is on, baskets of breads and rolls are on prominent display. While she is tempted to get a loaf, she knows that she can make it herself at home so long as she is willing to put the work in. There is a chalkboard listing the fresh food items available at which she just had to take a second glance.

Shaking her head, she finally gets up the nerve to ask exactly what nutria is. The guy behind the counter grins and calls them “good eating.” He continues by explaining, “They are actually a non-native, invasive species of animal here in Florida. Nutria are members of the rodent family. Adult nutria are about 14 inches long from the nose to the base of the tail. The tail itself is 12 to 17 inches long, round, and hairless. Nutria average 15 to 20 pounds in weight. Nutria are native to South America and prefer to live in salt water shoreline mudflats and tidewaters. They can disrupt catfish farming, destroy rice and sugar fields, and disrupt flood control. Nutria tear out aquatic plants by the roots to eat them. They are destroying many hectares of marsh vegetation, such as bulrush and cordgrass. When nutria eat all of the grasses in a marsh, the ecosystem is disrupted. This damage impacts wading birds, fish, mollusks, crustaceans, and many other organisms. The roundworms infesting nutria can cause health problems for humans. The roundworm larvae are present in the water where nutria are found, and these larvae can penetrate human skin. Known as "nutria itch", severe inflammation can result, which requires medical attention.”

“Well, you’ve certainly got that down don’t you, but eat them? Come on, are things really that bad that we have to put rodent in the meat cooler?” Sissy laughingly asks with only a little credulity in her voice.

“Well Nutria occurring in the wild are clean animals. Contrary to their look-alike cousin the rat which is a omnivore, nutria exclusively consume plant life; they are strict herbivores. They are like cows in that respect. Also, in addition to Chef Philippe Parola, many premier Louisiana chefs created nutria dishes, including Chef Paul Prudhomme, Chef John Folse, Chef Enola Prudhomme, Chef Suzanne Spicer, Chef Daniel Bonnot, Chef John Besh, and many more! So you could actually say that Nutria is a delicacy.”

“Maybe so, but I’m not that adventurous yet,” she laughs. “I’ll stick with another three pounds of that Chorizo. And send complements to who ever delivers it. That is some of the best chorizo that my husband said he has ever eaten and he is of Hispanic decent.”

“I’ll tell the store manager. Anything else for you today?”

“Hmmm. How many pounds of flour and cornmeal can I get?”

“Ten pounds of each or 15 pounds of one.”

“Give me ten pounds of each. And I’ll take my limit on all of the fresh fruit on the board except I only want one avocado.”

“Anything else?”

“How much is sugar going for and how much can I get?”

“Sugar prices are on the board over there. Your best bet is to get the sugar cones. They are made of 100% pure brown cane sugar just like the colonials used to receive from the Indies and Caribbean. There are about seven ounces in each cone and it has a molasses taste just like the originals would have. You use them by grating the sugar off in the amount you need. Due to sugar melting in a lot of the hot humid climates of the Caribbean and places like Central and South America, that is what you still find today instead of white granulated sugar. Some people claim it is even more nutritious than the refined sugars. They are called Piloncillo if they are shaped like a cone and Panela if they are shaped like blocks.”

“Ok, “ Sissy laughs “you’ve sold me. Give me my full ration on the sugar cones.”

The store manager looks over and grins. It is a good day for him as the power is on and the bread is selling. Sissy, pointing to her checker, says, “He’s good.”

“Yep. That boy could sell snowballs to the Abominable Snowman,” as he smiles at the next customer who steps up.

Sissy is tempted to ask about the fresh vegetables like corn and tomatoes, but she has canned tomato products at home and they pulled fresh ears of corn just yesterday. She doesn’t want to buy just because she can. As it is, she feels she has over spent this time. That boy really is a good salesman.

After Sissy checks out and is walking home with her extremely heavy pack, she thinks about how much she wanted to buy some fresh meat. The thought of grilling a steak or pressure cooking a roast is just about turning her stomach inside out. But, she has to be practical. There is still plenty of canned meat, commercially canned and home-canned in their pantry . . . or at least enough to last a good long while yet as they are not eating as much as she had planned for. She also hasn’t broken into much of the TVP (textured vegetable protein), and she has about a dozen #10 cans of that.

Sissy would love to get more pasta and rice, but doesn’t know if that is likely or not. Wonder if someone in the neighborhood can give her some pointers on making her own pasta? Every time she has ever tried, hers always turns out a little thick and tough, more like thin dumplings than what she intends.

As she turns onto her street, there is Scott again, waiting for her return. “Power is on! The kids are filling up all the containers and I washed out those two extra barrels of soda syrup that I brought home the other day.”

“Hurray! The power was on at the store too. Hey, you didn’t throw that syrup away did you?!”

“Nope. The girls boiled some jars first thing and I emptied the syrup into those. I used those big gallon jars though instead of your other ones.”

“Oh . . . you . . . are . . . good,” Sissy teases. “Seriously though, thanks for thinking of that. I know it looks like I’ve got a ton of empty jars, but they’ll go fast once the new produce is planted and begins to produce. Plus, I never know what you are going to bring home from work. Better to be safe . . . “

“Than sorry. We know, we know,” he grins.

“OK smarty pants, then help me get this stuff in the house. It weighs a ton. And you will not guess what they are selling in the meat market!” Sissy exclaims.

They walk into the house while Scott listens to how her trip went, shaking his idea at the thought of eating a rat’s cousin.

------------------------------------------------------

Ship’s Log

Argh! I can’t believe I mislabeled an entire bucket of cornmeal!! I had it labeled self-rising and it surely wasn’t. Of course I didn’t figure that out until after I had baked two large skillets of cornbread.

Only instead of cornbread I wound up with two big round cornmeal plates. It was nearly crispy-crittered but at least I saved it on this side of edible.

I was so mad and upset I cried like a baby for a minute or two. This is the kind of mistake we can’t afford for me to make. There can be no wasting of food. So I made do the best I could. Not having anything coming in from the garden is scary, but I managed to make a reasonable facsimile of something fresh.

Black Eyed Pea Salsa

1 can black eyed peas, rinsed & drained
1 can black beans, rinsed & drained
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
2 1/3 cup salsa
½ cup chopped onion
1 small can chopped olives, drained
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded & chopped
1 envelop Italian salad dressing mix
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. garlic powder

Combine everything in a large, glass bowl.

I’ll admit it wasn’t a perfect solution but for a treat I made sour cream out of some of our powdered milk reserves. The whole mess made a passable mid-day meal, even if it was different than what I originally planned. I just hope I haven’t mislabeled anything else.

--------------------------------------------------------------

Today’s Fresh Picks

Meats
Nutria (water herbivore)
Alligator - Tail
Wild Hog – prime cuts
Wild Hog – economy cuts
Beef Chorizo (sausage)
Beef – prime cuts
Beef – economy cuts

Fresh Fruit
Avocado
Atemoya
Guava
Mango
Passionfruit
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Thirty-Nine

True to his prediction, Sissy’s brother moved his family to their parent’s home. The word from her sister-in-law is that it is turning out to be a really good decision for everyone involved. Her parents are now getting the physical help they need with the upkeep of their garden and home. Her brother can now rest easier knowing that his family is out of an area that was very unsafe. And everyone is generally happier, though there are the natural adjustments that come from combining two households into one.

The only real fly in the ointment is that Sissy’s oldest nephew refused to go. He chose to stay with his mother and friends. He didn’t want to move to some “hick town in the middle of no where, away from friends, to work like some white slave.” Her brother is heart broken, but knows that he cannot forcibly take his son without severe repercussions and at nearly 16 the boy would fight him tooth and nail the whole way and just run away the first chance he got. Her brother says that he’ll do his best to keep in contact with the boy, despite his resistance, in case he changes his mind but by that time it could very well be too late for anything to be done. It broke Sissy’s heart to see her brother crying as he pulled out after leaving their car at her home for safekeeping. The pandemic was not just hurting families; it is tearing some of them apart.

August has been an exceptionally wet month. Its normally the wettest month of the year in Tampa any way with an average of eight plus inches of rain, but this year they might well break some records. The plants and trees love it, but combined with ninety plus degree heat, it’s like working in a sauna with no relief even in the shade. It’s very, very draining and dehydration is a constant specter. Sissy tires easily though her health continues to improve. James and Johnnie seem to feel the heat more than the girls do and often lay down when Sissy does. The girls, and Scott when he is home, prefer to find a quiet corner and read or make something to go in the family journal, rather than napping during siesta time. Despite the curfew, most people now prefer to travel in the pre-dawn and just past dusk hours. Even trying to take a bath to stay cool is like sitting in warm soup. The concrete floor in their lanai seems to be the coolest place and Sissy tries to keep it as clean and clutter free as possible so whoever needs to can peel out of their clothes and lay down and soak up some of the coolness.

Despite the heat and humidity, Sissy is taking the opportunity to do a little early planting. When most areas are winding down their planting and harvesting schedules, central and south Florida's is just really getting started. Scott and Sissy learned their lesson last year and have really done a lot to expand their garden. This month Sissy plants broccoli, okra, a handful of potato varieties, pumpkin, radishes, a couple of winter squash varieties, and sunflowers. The family is missing salad greens in their diet so she plants a couple of boxes of arugula and mesclun greens mix, hoping that by keeping them in the shade during the hottest part of the day they won’t wilt before the are big enough to harvest.

One of Sissy’s gardening challenges is that they have a really large number of tomato seedlings to plant . That box of seeds that the older ladies gave Scott has turned out to be nothing less than a treasure trove. She has started several hanging baskets of cherry tomatoes. There are also about 10 other varieties of tomatoes that she needs to transplant. In fact, her seedlings came up so well that she has given some to Barry and Tom’s families as there is no way she has room for them all in her yard.

Even though Sissy does a lot of planting, she hasn’t been able to harvest very much. They did finally get their first couple of chayote from the vines that they started nearly a year ago. The vines stretch all down the fence on one side of their property. They were so heavy they had to add more supports to keep the vines from pulling the fence down. Chayote is very versatile and a member of the squash family. It is shaped something like a pear but has a taste and texture that is closer to a water chestnut. It is usually eaten fresh or baked but you can also mash it, fry it, boil it, or pickle it. You use it about the way you would summer squash. Sissy won’t say it would ever become a favorite for her family, but it gives them some welcomed variety at the dinner table.

The elderberries are almost ready to pick again as well. Since no one has really been mowing around the ponds and canals, the shrubs have gone crazy and put out a lot of shoots. But most bushes won’t produce until they are two to three years old. With all the new green growth, the berries are fairly well hidden unless you know what you are looking for. And Sissy definitely knows what she is looking for. It will just be a matter of getting to them without anyone else noticing. That might be a problem with the neighborhood men patrolling around the community garden. She’ll have to do this at night, which is risky, but hopefully worth it.

They do get some guava off of their containerized guava tree. It isn’t much, but it adds variety to the breakfast table. Even though the container they are growing the tree in is huge, they’ll never get as much from it compared to what they could eventually get from a tree planted directly in the ground. But, guava trees are frost-sensitive and completely lose their foliage if temperatures get below 30 degrees F. While those temperatures are hard to imagine in the August heat, they aren’t unheard of in January around in this area.

Their fig tree is also in a container and has its first few fruits ready for harvest. The fig is much more cold hardy than the guava but frankly they just don’t have the room to plant it in the ground. A container can be moved to different locations to take advantage of the seasonal weather. This way Sissy doesn’t have to worry about roots growing into their septic system field.

Sissy continues to harvest pomegranates from the containerized bushes and will hopefully continue to do so until November. The bushes make a lot of very pretty blooms, but they aren’t making near as many fruit. Seems like the bees are busy pollinating everything in the yard except the pomegranates even though its flowers are a very pretty red color. Sissy also continues to harvest every papaya she can as it turns yellow.

The last unusual fruit she harvests is from her Jujube tree. It is also known as the Chinese Date. The fruit from this tree can be harvested at two stages for two distinct flavors. At its just-turned-ripe stage it tastes something like a green apple. If you allow the fruit to stay on the tree until it is overripe, it tastes like a date. Either way, its worth the experiment it was to spend the time and money to cultivate it. It ripens right when most of the domesticated vegetables are between harvest cycles.

They continue to harvest a bit of corn, but the heavy rains and extreme heat is beginning to cause the stalks to wilt so Sissy expects to pull the stalks out of the ground soon and throw them into the compost pile. The only other thing they harvest is something that Sissy just took a chance on. It is called cardoon. It resembles a bunch of flat celery but is a member of the thistle family. You have to first boil or bake the stalks to tenderize them (this takes about thirty minutes) and then you batter and fry them. It is supposed to be a popular delicacy in some areas, but her family really doesn’t think all that much of it. Maybe if they were fonder of artichoke which is also a member of the thistle family. They probably won’t grow it again, so Sissy has allowed some of the flower heads go to seed and Scott takes them over to the neighborhood market for sharing if anyone is interested.

It seems strange to be picky when food is so expensive or hard to come by. Sissy is grateful they have the opportunity to be picky as weird as that sounds. She would hate to survive by eating things like cardoon and those nutria rodents no matter how much of a gourmet delicacy they may have been prepandemic. She would if she had to of course. She’d feed her family palmetto shoots and armadillo – both of which are edible – if she had to. She’s just glad she doesn’t have to.

Next month Sissy won’t get a chance to harvest much from the garden either. It isn’t until October that they will really start being able to live out of the garden again. Sissy hopes between now and then that all their long-term prep foods hold up. Having enough to go around for her family’s meals is a constant source of concern. Her own weight loss, which had leveled off after Laura Cox’s intervention, has started happening again. Scott isn’t pleased but even a little work in this heat really burns up the calories. Some weight loss is to be expected, she’ll just need to make sure everyone’s is kept in check, including her own.

To mark the one year anniversary of the pandemic, a couple of the local television and radio stations do “the year in review” type shows, but the broadcast takes place while the family is without power. Some of the television stations simulcast with the radio stations, but the speakers on the shows refer to charts and pictures so often that the radio versions don’t make much of an impact on the listeners. By and large, it is nothing more than rehashes of old news bulletins, presidential speeches, and congressional debates. Sissy isn’t sure if anyone will every really know the full impact of this pandemic year; certainly not for many years to come.

Starting one of the family’s morning educational discussions Scott asks the kids, “What did you think of the show last night?”

“I think we could have put a better one together just using people here in the neighborhood,” answers James.

“I didn’t like the simulcast aspect. They kept referring to some Power Point presentation. Couldn’t they have at least explained what they were referring to for those of us who were listening to the radio broadcast?” asks Rose.

“I didn’t like how they kept putting on people that cried,” says Bekah.

Sarah agrees and adds, “Yeah, that was totally creepy. I mean its sad and all but everyone already knows that. Then on top of the people in the interviews crying they had sound effects of little kids crying. The baby crying sound was the worst.”

“You are all right. They could have done a much better job on the show. But it reflects the fact that a lot of industries, including the entertainment industry, has lost a lot of their skilled and talented laborers,” responds Scott.

Sissy adds her opinion by saying, “It was also probably due in some part to there not being an adequate liaison between the two medias. Television is very visual, radio is strictly auditory. More knowledgeable production staff would have realized the problems before the show was aired. The whole thing seemed rushed and amateurish compared to what was produced prepandemic.”

Rose then mentions, “They are having the same type of problem in my college classes. They are re-using some audio lectures they used last semester and some of the lessons don’t make sense because the visuals are missing. I got bumped by one of the TA’s in the science department asking me if I would TA for the Freshmen English I forum because so many questions were being posted that the professor in charge couldn’t keep up.”

“How did they get your name? You’re a new student and technically a freshman yourself.”

“They went through the student body records and any one that made A’s in both FE I and FE II are being contacted. When I explained I took those classes as a dual enrolled student and told them my age, they didn’t care. All they cared about was my grades in those two classes and my overall GPA. The fact I have an academic scholarship only put me higher on the list. They are desperate for help with the forums.”

“Are you going to get a stipend or something? Most TA’s do,” asks Scott.

“I think this is all voluntary but with extra privileges.”

“What kind of privileges?”

“I’m not sure. But they mentioned we might be able to access old exams from the classes we are taking as well as free access to their electronic libraries at the main campus branch and the science library including all of their academic journal subscriptions.”

“It would be nice if they would help with the cost of books.”

“I don’t know Dad. This just happened. Its being put together really fast so all the details haven’t been hammered out.”

“If this is something you want to do, fine. But don’t let it affect your own GPA or interfere with your responsibilities here at home,” Scott says, giving his permission.

“No sir. I won’t. I don’t want to risk my academic standing or I’ll lose my scholarships. And I know Mom can’t do everything.”

After a breakfast of muffins made with the help of some Amish Friendship Bread starter, Rose heads off to her room after collecting her laptop battery from the solar recharger. Sarah and Bekah get their own school projects and sit with Johnnie while he plays with Legos. James and Scott go to hang up the solar shower bags for the day’s hot water supply. James prefers doing his schoolwork later in the day, after his chores are all done and the girls and Johnnie aren’t underfoot so much.

This leaves Sissy to clean up the kitchen and go through what little bit of fresh produce they still have to see what needs to be used up first before it spoils. Just as she is putting the last dish into the dish drainer to dry, there is a knock at the door.

“Sissy, its Laura Cox. Have you got a minute?”

Sissy quickly goes out the front door to find Laura looking even more serious than normal.

“Hey Laura. Let’s sit over here out of the sun. The look on your face says something is up.”

“Not really. I just came by to see how you were doing. Tom said except for the heat we’re all suffering from you looked a lot better than you did there for a while. I wanted to see for myself.”

“I am better, thank you for asking.”

“You sure you aren’t just saying that?”

“No. I really do feel better. I was letting myself go too much. I freaked Scott out pretty bad and I still catch him watching me like he’s afraid I’m going to fall apart again.”

“No more bad days huh?” Laura asks like she trying to catch Sissy in a fib.

“I’d be lying if I went that far. I still get the weeps every once in a while. I finally said something to my aunt. She used to work at the Kentucky State Hospital, and she mentioned something I’d never even considered.”

“What?”

“She asked if I was perimenopausal or having hormonal issues. I told her I was still too young for that but she told me my cousin, her daughter, had gone through menopause before she turned 45. I’d had no idea and don’t know if early menopause runs in the family or not. My mom had a hysterectomy in her 40s for fibroid tumors so she would have no idea if she would have experienced early menopause. ”

“Do you think that’s what the problem is?”

“Oh I don’t know. I don’t have any other symptoms of menopause. Even my monthlies got regular again after my weight loss leveled off. It could be part of it I suppose but I’m pretty sure its not the biggest part. Mostly I think it is being unable to take care of myself the way I should. But we are all in that boat. Add fear, anxiety, you name it. Looking back I was running on autopilot and I’m pretty lucky something worse than passing out didn’t happen. But enough about me, what put that look on your face when you first got here? It really does look like something is bothering you.”

“I was fine coming over here. I needed to get out of the house, my oldest is better but he still is driving me nuts with his constantly overprotective behavior. He even snapped at Tom this morning. He is displaying signs of OCD and it just makes me crazy that I can’t do anything to help him beyond what we are already doing. But then I had to run into Bob Grinder.”

“He’d put a crimp in anybody’s day. Wait. He didn’t, you know, accost you are anything did he? Tom, Scott, and Barry will blow a gasket.”

“No, not really. But would you believe this? He was drunk!”

“Drunk?!” Sissy exclaims in shock. “There is no way that man has been holding onto liquor all this time.”

“If he wasn’t drunk he was on something. He wasn’t falling down stupid or anything, but he would definitely have failed a field sobriety test.”

“Lord, that’s all we need around here. A drunk.”

“A belligerent drunk. He was spouting off at the mouth with that nasty Vince Johnson. They were talking about something and how everyone was gonna owe them big.”

“Good grief! You don’t happen to know when Barry Jr. is going to be back around do you? I hate to bother him when he is off duty but this sounds like trouble waiting to happen.”

“Yeah. A lot of people in the neighborhood have lost patience with Grinder and his wife. We’ve managed to avoid major problems with them so far, but it wouldn’t take much to tip the scales. You saw what happened to Vince when people found out he was bringing home those underage girls and letting them stay in the house and eat in exchange for sex.”

“I heard about it but never saw him. Did anyone finally find out who it was who kicked the crap out of him?”

“You haven’t heard?!” Laura asks conspiratorially.

“Scott’s tight as a clam about it so I stopped asking.”

“It was his own brother! After Mr. Johnson died in that diabetic coma, Vince apparently started terrorizing his grandmother. She finally got up the nerve to call her son, Vince’s dad. Vince’s brother shows up the next day, beats the living hell out of Vince, throws this naked girl out onto the lawn and while they’re both lying there senseless, packs up their grandmother and all her belongings and leaves, nearly running over Vince in the process.”

“If it wasn’t anyone here on the block, I wonder why Scott wouldn’t tell me?” Sissy wonders.

“It happened not too long after you collapsed. Everyone was refusing to talk even if they had witnessed it because Vince tried to bring a complaint against his brother and no one wanted to cooperate with it.”

“Scott did say that Barry Jr. said he’d arrest Vince if he found him with another under-aged girl, whether she was willing or not.”

“Yeah. I heard that too. So far he hasn’t, at least not around here. Look, I didn’t mean to stay so long, my son is going to be going bonkers. I just wanted to see how you were doing.”

“Thanks for thinking of me,” Sissy says appreciatively. “I don’t want you walking back by yourself if Grinder has a toot on. Let me get Scott.”

“No. Really its all right.”

“Uh uh. You know Tom wouldn’t let me walk back by myself under those circumstances. Besides when Scott hears about this you know he’s gonna get the guys together anyway. Might as well let him make your house the first stop.”

“Oh all right. Maybe he can keep Tom from decking Grinder. Tom is to the point he is starting to hate that guy. He is still living in his grandparents house and its just two houses over from us on the opposite side of the road.”

****

Scott comes back a couple of hours later to report, “By the time we tracked Grinder down he was counting daisies under a tree, high as a kite and barely lucid.”

“I don’t know who is more disgusting, Grinder or Vince Johnson. I know every neighborhood has at least one bad apple, but why did we get stuck with those two?”

“You shoulda heard a couple of the guys. They said he might be counting daisies today, but if Bob or Vince get caught bothering another female no matter what her age is, they’re gonna find themselves pushing up daisies.”

Sissy rolls her eyes and says, “Lovely. I take it those two have finally pushed everyone passed forbearance.”

“Yeah buddy. And Grinder just grinned like an idiot when we tried to find out where he had gotten the liquor from.”

“He wouldn’t say or was he too drunk to answer?”

Scott just shrugged. “Barry said he might not have been drunk ‘cause as bad as he stunk, he didn’t stink like a drunk. And it wasn’t marijuana ‘cause that has a distinctive smell also.”

“Well then what could it have been?”

“Don’t know but Barry’s got a call out to his son. We’ve got a good thing going on our block. Drugs is something that could mess it up quick and bring in violence that no one wants.”

Scott and Sissy both agree with that. For the rest of the day, as they go about their chores, they check all of their security measures to make sure nothing has been compromised or needs reinforcing. It is a sorry day when on top of everything else, they have to start worrying about addicts and pedophiles living in their neighborhood.
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Forty

What a horrible day this has turned into. Despite all of the extra rain, most families in Tampa must still rely on water from local lakes, ponds, and canals for some of their needs. Due to the heat, some people also go down to the water to cool off. Once Sissy finds out how many people are doing this, she refuses to use water from the ponds and canals around their neighborhood, even for watering the garden. The danger of contamination is too great. Because of this Sissy rarely thinks about what else could go wrong with being around the local “wild” water sources. Sissy has enough problems of her own to solve and knows that Scott has tried to warn people in the neighborhood to be careful. At a certain point, you have to let people take responsibility for their own choices.

But people who were using those water sources should have given it more thought. Other people should have remembered that this is Florida; and that there have been sightings of dangerous wildlife in their neighborhood almost every year for as long as anyone can remember. Obviously, need warred with common sense as did the “it can’t happen to me or mine” thought process.

Earlier in the day, three brothers went down to the canal behind their house to wade in the water. Afterwards, the boys said they were down there for just a minute when the youngest was pulled down and out into the canal. The boys’ screaming immediately drew responses from every adult within earshot. What they see when they arrive is like a scene from a horror movie. The two older brothers are struggling to pull the youngest from the water. No matter how hard they struggle, they can barely keep him from going under much less get him to dry land. Attached to his leg, just below his knee, are the jaws of an alligator.

The adults all run down the embankment, men and women, and wade in to save the boys. Some grab the boy and pull and some commence to beating the gator in hopes of running him off. Mr. Jones tries to stab the animal with a sharp pitchfork but is swept off his feet by the thrashing tail. Mr. Cleary is beating the animal with a baseball bat until he too is dunked.

Tom Cox, whose great grandfather was a Seminole Indian and who has hunted gators down in the ‘Glades, is able to get a line on the alligator. He lets the animal roll until he has wrapped himself all up in the rope. This gives everyone a way to pull the animal to the bank, which will get the boys to dry land.

The animal continues to try to roll so several men pile on him and Barry strikes the back of the gator’s head several times with a sledgehammer. The animal finally releases his jaws enough so the adults can obtain the boy’s release. All of this terror and work and it was only a four foot gator. They would not have been able to subdue anything larger in time to save the kid.

What an awful sight. The boy’s leg is obviously broken and is mangled. He is in shock with a thin, reedy pulse. While some of the adults get him stabilized and wrap the leg, Tom Cox runs to get his pick up truck and Scott runs to get a can of fuel. They both meet at the canal bank and they get the boy and his parents loaded into the truck bed and head off to the fire station that is about 2.5 miles down US41.

The other two boys are left in the care of the neighborhood. They are understandably shaken and have scrapes and cuts of their own where they fought for their brother’s life. Their wounds are washed and fussed over by everyone. They are given a hot sweet drink and put in the shade and are not left alone for even a moment. They are prodded to eat and held when they cry. Even the oldest, a highschool junior who played varsity football, sheds more than a few tears, scared to death his baby brother is going to die.

At the fire station, the boy receives immediate attention. In a lucky turn of events, one of very few seen on this day, a doctor has been temporarily assigned to the station as an experiment to try and give some relief to the community clinics. As bad as the leg is, the doctor still opts to treat him in an open-air operating room rather than run the risk of cross infection at the hospital. In the boy’s weakened condition, he is a prime candidate to get influenza or some other infection like MRSA.

The doctor makes no promises, but does his best to save both the boy and his leg. After the wounds are cleaned and treated, the leg is stabilized with a splint to allow for daily cleaning and re-bandaging. The parents are given strict instructions on wound care and what to do at the first sign of infection. Unfortunately pain medication is in short supply. They give the boy what they can, but it will only last about 48 hours. Antibiotics are impossible to come by right now so it will be even more important to clean and dress the wound with the utmost care. There is still a greater than even chance the boy will lose the leg anyway, even under the best of care. They will know within the week at the latest.

Returning home, they found the gator already skinned and the meat prepared for a “Stone Soup” gathering. Several families have donated what medical supplies they can pull together for the boy’s care. Several with some wound care experience volunteer to help spell the parents so they can get some rest.

The parents of the boys thank every one for helping and then settle in for a few long days of waiting for signs of infection. Tom drives his pick up back to his house, Scott dumps a couple gallons of fuel in it and then he walks home to his own family.

“How is the boy?” Sissy asks anxiously.

“He’ll live, if they can keep any infection from getting out of control. I think the doc was calling it sepsis or something like that. He might still lose the leg. No one is sure right now. The doctor they have up at the station came close to just amputating the leg from the knee down.”

“Oh my Lord. What are the chances of infection?” Sissy asks in a horrified voice.

“Pretty good unfortunately. That canal isn’t real clean and neither is a gator’s mouth. They gave the kid a shot of some kind of antibiotic but there weren’t any pills for him to send home. The boy had a tetanus shot at his last school check up so that part was OK. Even if they can deal with any infection, his bone was snapped clean in two, and they set it without benefit of x-rays. So while it might heal, it more than likely will need to be re-broken and set some time down the road. Worse though is the muscle and soft tissue damage. He’ll definitely need some kind of extensive work and therapy, but who knows when he’ll get it.”

“Is there anything we can do?”

“Everyone in the neighborhood is pitching in. Serena and Anne have started a big tub of washing for everyone’s wet and muddy clothes. Mr. Cleary has stretched the gator hide to make something for the boys, a memento of some sort I guess. Mr. Jones has posted a warning sign and has gotten on his bike and is spreading the news about what happened. Don’t bother calling or sending a telegram … just tell Jonesie. People are volunteering to sit with the boys, help with meals, work in the family’s garden, and whatever else they feel led to do.”

“Count me in. I can fix some broth and I’ll take it over.”

“Uh uh. No you won’t. You can make the broth, but I’ll take it over, “ Scott snaps.

“Excuse me?!” Sissy says, rather taken aback by Scott’s sudden change in tone.

Scott bends his head and rakes his hand though his hair, something he only does when he is under a lot of stress. “Look. I didn’t mean to bite your head off. Its just we’ve gotten all off track from our social distancing plan. You’ve gone to the grocery store four times now. It eats me alive each time you go. And we are exposing the kids . . . “

“I wear a mask and gloves and they don’t let anyone in who is cou . . “ Sissy says, trying to allay his fears, before Scott cuts her off.

As Scott begins pacing he says, “I don’t care. Things have got to change. I’m not being as careful when I come home from work either. People are still getting sick. The EMTs up at the fire station were telling Tom and me some stuff. I just don’t want to take any more unnecessary chances. I know you and the kids, especially you, have gotten used to getting out more and I am sorry. But I couldn’t live with myself if something happens to any of you, especially this late in the game, just because we got complacent.”

After staring at Scott and realizing how serious he was, she accepts this is a non-negotiable issue for him – for now any way. Sissy capitulates with more grace than she feels like for Scott’s sake. She gives him a hug and goes inside to fix the broth. And she tries really hard to not get bent out of shape. She knows Scott is just trying to protect his family. But it isn’t easy for her to keep her mouth shut and the suddenness of Scott’s outburst leaves her feeling close to tears.

For Scott’s part, he feels like a heel. He knows Sissy has begun to look forward to getting out and away from all the work she has to do. He knows the kids enjoy the extra freedom they have had lately. But he and Tom talked on the way home. Neither man is comfortable with the stories they heard from professionals who should know. They realize that their neighborhood really does have it fairly good because they started working together and cooperating early on. What they had not realized was that the problems they have been seeing in the traditionally lower socio-economic areas of town where they work actually is mirrored in the “best” parts of town. According to the EMTs, some of the formerly “better” parts of town are actually even more dangerous than the formerly “bad” parts of town. Life continues to dole out surprises, usually right when you think you are beginning to get things figured out.

Both Scott and Tom expect to catch a lot of flack at home for the new rules. Neither one knows if it will be their kids or their wives who will object the most. Hopefully they’d be around to make it up for the return to stricter rules when the pandemic is over. They just want their families to live that long.
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Forty-One

Scott is as good as his word. Sissy does no more grocery runs. Scott quickly finishes off the remainder of their grocery vouchers and picks up what he can in staple items like rice and flour. He most assuredly does not relish the experience and tells Sissy that she must have really been hard up for entertainment if she did. Sissy just shakes her head and tries really, really hard not to say “I told you so.” The one bright spot here at the tail end of August is that when Sissy’s brother comes back to collect his car he also brings good news concerning her parents and some fresh produce from their neck of the woods.

Sissy’s parents have been lucky enough to get a hold of a hand pump for their potable water well. Now they have water whether the power is on or not. Her dad tried monkeying around with a 12V solar system for power, but their five acres is so treed over, especially around the house where the well is located, that he could never seem to get it to juice up. The small energy cooperative that serves their county has collapsed and their power is on every third or fourth day only because the National Guard has taken over the facilities.

Sissy’s parents still continue to collect water though because it is what most people do and they don’t want to draw any unwanted attention to themselves. They have even covered the pump with a small well house to make it as inconspicuous as possible. They wouldn’t mind sharing, but some people take advantage, and its just safer to fly under the radar when you have something most other folks don’t. The doctor knows, but as a former military flight surgeon, he isn’t so idealist as you would expect and has done his part to keep the secret, especially as he directly benefits from it.

As her brother couldn’t stay long they quickly unload the produce, load the car into the trailer and then they watch as he drives off. At least this time Scott has a chance to see his brother-in-law and to ask his own questions about how things are going around the state. He has a vantage from his trucking that a lot of people don’t. There are pockets of abject misery, but most people are doing the best they can and are getting by . . . but it is a far piece from the way things used to be.

Sissy’s brother did mention a funny incident. Seems he actually got to meet Devon McLoud, the travelling reporter. He had pulled his rig over, waiting for a checkpoint to open up near I95 outside of Jacksonville, and McLoud was walking down the long line of semis asking the drivers what they had seen and heard on their trips. Some of the truckers were offering up tidbits of news that the general public might not otherwise hear.

For their part, Scott and Sissy put together some rice, ears of corn still in their husk, some chayote, and some sugar and a small jar of honey for her brother to take back with him. From her parents they received the last of the blackberries that her mom had been able to pick, six five gallon bucketfuls of canning pears, grapes – both domesticated and Muscadine, and about a bushel and a half of peaches. Sissy makes a mental note to try and arrange for her brother to come by when the citrus starts coming in. Citrus is something that her parents live too far north to grow. Her dad can’t eat the grapefruit because it interferes with his cholesterol medication, but she is sure they would appreciate some oranges or lemons.

The grapes the family eat fresh with gusto as Sissy’s grape vines never did make any more fruit. The blackberries are eaten fresh too as there weren’t that many of them. The peaches and the canning pears Sissy preserves in light syrup or makes into fruit butter for spreading on homemade bread or biscuits. All the scraps are a welcome addition to their compost pile.

They add what Sissy’s brother brought to their own harvested fruit. First the lime trees are making quite nicely despite being in barrel halves. Their containers aren’t pretty but they appear to be doing the job. They have already picked nearly two dozen small, tart fruits. Sissy candies the peel and adds it to their collection of homemade treats for the kids.

Sissy also harvests the fruit off of this really unusual bush called a Jaboticaba. Sissy has two of these in containers and they are really bizarre. The fruit grows on the trunk of the bush rather than at the tip of the branches. The fruit looks like a really dark, thick-skinned grape that is about an inch in diameter. The fruit pulp is also similar to a grape in that it is soft and gelatinous. Unlike the grape however, you don’t want to eat the skin as it has a high tannin content. You peel the skin off and eat the fruit pulp fresh. You can also make jelly and wine from the pulp but for Sissy that’s just too much work right now.

It blows Sissy’s mind some times. First there is abundance after weeks of slim pickings and everyone is happy and content again. Then the pendulum swings back and now there is something else to worry about. Hurricane season is not over and though it has not been quite as active with named storms as was predicted, there is a storm on Florida’s horizon again. This one is proving to be even more unpredictable than Edouard, and it’s not because of meteorological ineptitude. Every time they think they have a track for it, it swings a different way. As a result of its wandering pattern it is getting stronger because it is remaining over warm waters longer. Everyone is getting nervous and there is a lot of talk around the neighborhood about what they can do if the storm heads their way.

Just to be on the safe side, Scott and James begin a pre-storm inspection routine. They check the roof inside and out. Scott puts more roofing tar over those places where bullets came in just to be as safe as possible. There is no sense in risking damage for want of a little tar. They also dismantle the old dog kennel and take down the trellis that are currently not in use and put them in the shed. Scott remarks that it is a good thing that it is a newer shed with good hurricane tie-downs on it. It’s also a good thing that they covered the windows months ago, though it was for security rather than to prevent storm damage. Scott and his crew follow the same routine at all of the properties he manages as well as at Barry and Tom’s houses. He tells all of the tenants that they need to bring in anything that isn’t nailed down at the first sign of the storm.

For her part, Sissy goes around their garden and harvests the last of the chayote. That is the last thing to be harvested from the yard. She worries about their new seedlings but most are in containers that can be brought in. The remainder of the recently planted items haven’t even sprouted to any great degree yet. The one thing she is in a quandary about are the bathtubs that they have the potatoes planted in. Scott says to leave them until they are for sure that a storm is on the way. If it is, he will use the rolling jack and dolly to bring them in through the French doors. Scott talks to Barry and Tom and they too are feeling a little antsy about the storm that can’t make up its mind.

Barry says, “This thing reminds me too much of Hurricane Elena from back in ‘85. I was renting a place over near the Port of Tampa that year and the place had water in it passed the four-foot mark. What are they calling this storm again?”

“Josephine. That was my mother in law’s name. Pray that this storm ain’t nothing like her,” Tom replies as he theatrically shudders.

The men get a good laugh, but all twitch their shoulders like a goose has walked across a grave. As it turns out, it’s the last laugh they have for a while.

****

:”Man I am so sick and tired of everything always going wrong!” complains James.

“Honey, try and relax. Some of that is just life,” Sissy says as she tries to calm James down.

“Well life sucks then.”

“James.” Sissy says using her your-treading-on-thin-ice voice.

“Come on Mom. You can’t tell me that you are like all bubbly and happy.”

“I’m not saying things are going perfectly son. I guess everyone witnessed my melt down a couple of months ago and would know if for a lie if I tried to play it otherwise. But things are no where near as black for us as they could be. We are all healthy and still alive, we have food to eat, the bills are still getting paid.”

“Yeah right. And all of that could change tomorrow,” he says refusing to be pacified.

“James, I know things are rough. I can’t even pretend to tell you when they are going to get better. I can’t even tell you if they are going to go back to the way they used to be. But we are really blessed. It’s up to us whether we take the time to appreciate what we have or not. None of us are ever promised tomorrow. We can plan on it, but that doesn’t mean we will ever experience it.”

“Mom … ,” starts James as he rolls his eyes and crosses his arms. “You just don’t get it.”

“I do get it; maybe better than you think. You don’t think I’ve been depressed and anxious and everything else? What do you think all of that was about when I was getting sick? But at a certain point you have to make up your mind that no matter what happens you are going to keep trying.”

“Why?! Why keep trying when we just keep getting kicked in the teeth?” James asks in frustration.

“For all those times when we don’t ‘get kicked in the teeth.’ What about the good times you’ve had with your Dad? You would never have been able to spend as much time with him if things hadn’t turned out the way they have. You remember the long hours he used to work. Or what about everything we’ve learned on how to survive? These are the kind of skills that will last us the remainder of our days. No one can ever take that from us. What about the fact we are still all alive and together? Not everyone in your family can say that and you know it. The last we heard about your cousin is that he was picked up and is now in a prison infirmary, assuming he is even still alive. You want your Dad or I to trade places with your uncle?”

“No, but … I am just so sick of having to ‘re-use, make do, or do without’ and I’m really tired of always having to think ‘better safe than sorry.’ I’m sorry, but that’s the way I feel.”

“I’m not knocking your right to feel this way James. I am saying that when you start feeling this way, the only way to feel better is to start thinking about the things you do have and not dwell on the things you don’t. Believe me. There are days I have to go find a quiet corner and count my blessings or I’ll implode out of sheer frustration and fear.”

James continues, “Things just don’t stop. Its always something. We put all that work into fixing up the garden and we could lose it all because of some stupid storm.”

“Yes we could. But that doesn’t mean we will. Have some faith buddy. Everyone is doing everything they can. We may lose some stuff if the storm comes our way, but we’ll still have a lot of stuff in the house to get the garden going again.”

“Yeah, and if we lose the house? We are talking a hurricane here.”

“We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it. Your Dad and I have talked about moving to one of the rental units if that happens. We’ve got options, more options than a lot of people have. Let’s just take this one step at a time. In the absolute worse scenario we’ll move to your grandparents’ place. I don’t want to, but it could happen if we needed to. As for the rest, let’s just take it one day at a time.”

“That’s easy for you to say.”

Sissy replies, “No it’s not. It’s really, really not. The wisdom I’m sharing with you has been hard won. Just don’t give up hope and faith that things will eventually work out. We may get tired, we may get sick again, we may get hungry … but for now we are doing OK. Try and just be satisfied with that for a bit.”

James sighs, “I’ll try. But, it just doesn’t seem fair that we are still going through all of this. This was supposed to be like a three-month event or something. It’s been over a year now. When are things going to get better?”

“Look son, the only thing I know is that even prepandemic things were never as quick and as easy as we wanted or expected them to be. Bad things have always happened right along with the good. Sometimes the bad things are really bad and sometimes the good things are really good. We are doing pretty much all we can to make things better for our family. We also try and make things better for the people that have turned out to be our friends. Just keep trying and one of these days you will wake up to find out the pandemic is over with. What happens after that is anyone’s guess at this point.”
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Forty-Two


Beep . . . beep . . . beep

Beep . . . beep . . . beep

The broadcasters in your area in voluntary cooperation with Homeland Security, the FCC and other authorities have developed this system to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. This is not a test.

Beep . . . beep . . . beep

Beep . . . beep . . . beep



They have been hearing that signal off and on since yesterday. Hurricane Josephine, now a category 4 storm, has been wreaking havoc on the Gulf Coast of Florida for the last two days. The storm began as a mild tropical wave off of the coast of Africa. Originally it was moving west so quickly that everyone expected it to remain disorganized and be ripped apart by wind shear. However, as it moved through the Greater Antilles it slowed down and began to strengthen, turning into a tropical depression when it was between Haiti and Cuba. After paralleling the northern coast of Cuba it became a tropical storm. After getting into the warm, open waters of the Gulf of Mexico it took less than 24 hours for it to become a hurricane.

It was making a beeline for Mississippi when it suddenly slowed and stalled out due to a frontal trough of low pressure that turned the storm to the northeast. But when the trough outran the storm, steering currents collapsed leaving behind a stalled, strengthening hurricane.

No one is quite sure which way this storm is going to go. It is nearly stationary. Rainfall totals are currently ranging from about one inch down in Key West, FL to over ten inches and rising in Manatee Springs State Park in Chiefland, FL. The outer bands of the storm are producing some strong tornadoes and several trailer parks have reported bad damage across a wide area, including two to the immediate north and one to the immediate south of the Chapman’s neighborhood. Pinellas County has been dealing with storm surge as has the entire shoreline of Tampa Bay. The last tide is reported to be seven feet above normal in the Bay, which means lots and lots of flooding and property damage all along the coast and intracoastal waterways.

There are areas of Pinellas County that have already become islands from rainfall alone, cut off from the rest of the county by more than 5 feet of water where drainage ditches and pumps are clogged and inoperative. Intersections are impassable, even if you are crazy enough to be out in the weather and give it a try. All of the Bay bridges are shut down due to high winds, further cutting off Pinellas. Major damage is being reported on the Howard Franklin Bridge and the Memorial Causeway. There are a large number of wash outs along the Intercoastal Waterways.

MacDill AFB has at least two feet of standing water all along the water way that surrounds the base. Any grounded jets and other aircraft have been tied down or moved into storm resistant hangers. Not much other information is coming in from the base.

Bayshore Drive is almost totally flooded out. All of those retirement condominiums and expensive homes facing the water always have been a disaster waiting to happen. Palmetto Beach and Hooker’s Point, two areas immediately adjacent to the Port of Tampa, are suffering appalling flooding. Because of the low-lying topography, any flooding reaches very far inland. What makes it worse is that these areas have traditionally been where the working poor lived. They saw significant revitalization during ’06 but the ’07/’08 real estate bust quickly ended the trend.

All major roadways are under flood advisory. Many secondary roadways are impassable. There have been several reported roof collapses in some commercial strip centers and warehouses in business districts. Downtown Tampa is completely flooded and the Channel 10 news building has been evacuated. Davis Island is completely cut off and that means that Tampa General Hospital will likely suffer significant damage.

Several schools, formerly used as hurricane evacuation locations, were converted to panflu treatment facilities. Now hurricane evacuees have no place to go. Not only that, the close environments of the typical evacuee facility is totally against the strict social distancing protocols that are in effect. Some churches, not strictly approved as evacuation locations, have opened their doors but are asking people to bring food and water to share as they have nothing to offer but a roof and a dry place to lay down.

So far the part of the Hillsborough River that runs through parts of Tampa and Temple Terrace is not flooding. There are a few flooded homes, but this is due mostly to people who refused to take advantage of the natural flood resistant areas when they were building. Outside of the city and into the outer parts of Hillsborough County it is another story. The Alafia River and the Little Manatee River are swollen and are expected to crest somewhere around 10 feet above flood stage. In the north of the county, the Hillsborough River, at Morris Bridge road, will likely crest at two feet above flood stage and at Zephyrhills the river will be four feet above flood stage.

Scott, Sissy, and their kids are suffering through the storm like everyone else. So far there has been no major damage that they can tell. Scott and Sissy do have to struggle out into the storm when wind driven debris is tossed into their yard or thrown against their fence. Several people must have tried to set their rain barrels up to catch water as some barrels have rolled down the road and smashed against their house. These they brought in to save damage and to see if they could be returned to their owners later on. With this wind those types of mistakes are foolhardy and will cost plenty. As the wind really began to whip that first day, Scott and James decided to go ahead and bring in everything – including the bathtubs they are using as raised gardening beds. It is a wet and muddy mess, but when the winds really start howling in the night, they are thankful to have already had the task out of the way.

Scott also closes all of the security shutters on the rear of the house and re-boarded the remainder of the windows they had been forced to open because of the heat. The security shutters are on the outside to prevent window breakage, but the makeshift security boards on the rest of the house are on the inside. So far no broken windows, but they can’t count on that staying true. If they do lose a window, Scott has some Plexiglas to patch the hole, but they’ll have to watch for wind-driven water damage until he can get it repaired.

As the storm progresses they lose a screen off of one of the windows and a screen is torn on the lanai. Scott has an extra screen in the shed for the window, but Sissy figures the lanai is going to require some darning and ingenuity to fix. Their pool, whose water level has been down over two and a half feet, is now nearly over flowing. Water is pouring in from the rain, water off the roof, and water that has swamped the backyard. For now, the canals, ponds, retention areas, and lakes that surround their neighborhood are taking all the rain and holding up. Only one subdivision close to them is being threatened. Tiffany Lakes is a newer upper scale neighborhood that has had consistent problems with flooding over the last 10 years. There are no pumps to help this time and no place to pump the water to even if they could.

Scott is worried about their septic field collapsing. He does not want anyone in the yard barefooted until things are dried out and he can tell whether anything has started bubbling up or if something nasty has been washed into the yard. Actually he wants everyone to use rubber goulashes until he says otherwise just to be on the safe side. Sissy thinks it is a good idea if for no other reason than it will keep gross stuff from being tracked inside. The outside disinfection station that they had built at the first sign of the pandemic has really come in handy. Most of their family takes showers outside now rather than make a muggy mess inside. This way, so long as it is muddy outside, they’ll clean up before coming inside to keep from tracking anything in. That is if the privacy fence walls make it through the storm intact.

When the wind really starts to kick it up a notch, Scott and Sissy move their family into the center of the house where there is a bathroom that does not have any windows. They bring a couple of twin mattresses to reinforce their protection as well as some plastic sheeting in case the ceiling begins to leak, although they hope it is unlikely as there is a double roof over this portion of the house from a previous building addition. They move all the linens out of the closet and load it as full of food and dry goods as they can manage and even put stuff in the bathtub underneath a sheet of plywood. The kids all go to sleep in there with the walls blocking the sound of the storm raging, while Scott and Sissy prowl around the house.

“I wonder how Barry, Tom, and their families are holding up,” Sissy whispers, to keep from waking any of the kids.

“They should do OK. Both are solid men and they have done as much storm prep as we have. Tom doesn’t have any trees in his yard except for some small citrus trees. The rest is just greenery. Barry has that one big tree, but he has been pruning it all year to cure wood for cooking fuel. We’re the ones with too many dang trees in the yard. I know we are bound to lose that long, tall oak that has started leaning,” replies Scott just as quietly.

“At least it is leaning away from the house. But if it falls it will block the road.”

“Well, its not like there are too many people out driving.”

“Funny dear. Ha ha. Seriously though, are you worried about any of the rental properties? I know you all spent as much time as you could at them, but with delayed maintenance items to deal with and few supplies …” Sissy’s own concern is reflected in her tone of voice.

“I’m worried about all of them; especially that one out on 113th street. That area floods in a bad rainstorm if they don’t have the pumps going. You really think they are going to be able to keep the pumps going during a hurricane?”

“We’ve done good to keep things up as well as we have. You and the guys are breaking your backs to make things better every time you go out. There is only so much we can do. You aren’t superman. “

Before Scott can reply they hear an audible crack from the front of the house and peek out to see that the top of an oak that stood in their neighbor’s yard has snapped off and landed in their driveway, just missing one of their grapefruit trees. As the last of the weak light leaves the sky, Scott and Sissy bolt the door and retreat to spend the remainder of the night watching over their children. Goodness only knows what they are going to find come morning.

****

A couple of days later Sissy finds it easier to recount their storm damage in a letter to her cousin than she did trying to tell her parents, who she luckily reached via email on the laptop the morning after the storm passed through.

Dear Sadie,

I don’t know how reliable the information is that is getting out. All our news here is local. We aren’t even hearing much from the state level. All the national and international news has been run off the air by the storm coverage. To be honest I’m not even sure when or if this letter will make it out. But, with nothing but extremely intermittent power and downed phone lines as far as the eye can see, I’m trying to let family know what has happened with whatever resources I can scrounge up.

First off, our family is very lucky to have the solar battery re-charger we originally bought for camping. And, I’m glad Scott went ahead and got the bigger one than the one that I was willing to make do with. It helps keep the cell phone and lap top batteries charged. The DSL lines are still operating, as are the Fios lines but sometimes a connection is still hard to get. A couple of cell towers have been lost, but you can still get a line if you sit and try over and over and over again to get past the busy signals. We’ve left messages and email for those we can; but, like us, many people are dealing with lost or intermittent services.

Scott and a lot of the men (and women) in the neighborhood have been doing their best to get all of the roof repairs dealt with around here. No one that we know lost their whole roof though there are news reports of some that were caused by tornadoes a little north of the county line. No one in our neighborhood even lost any roof decking, but there are some torn shingles and ripped away gutters. A couple had their ridge vents damaged and lots of folks have minor soffit and fascia damage. We are lucky, no outright leaks, but the rain was blowing so hard at one point that it was blowing into our ridge vents. As a result, the back bedroom ceiling got pretty wet as did all of the insulation immediately above that room.

We’ve removed all of the wet insulation and opened windows and attic accesses to try and get things dried out. We rigged up a kind of pulley system with an old bike and fan so we can keep the air circulating up there. Scott is trying to locate a spare car battery that we can alternate with the van charging them to use with a power converter we have. If we can do that then we can stop taking turns pedaling the bike. The heat and humidity is so bad we can only take 10 minute shifts or we risk heat exhaustion.

Everything is just so humid. I made up a chlorine solution from the pool chemicals we had left over and sprayed the rafters and the underside of the roof decking so hopefully we won’t have to deal with mold and mildew on top of everything else. Boy, does that stuff smell. I was wearing one of Scott’s painting respirators and I still got dizzy. We had to evacuate the house for a couple of hours just to let things air out. We all sat in the backyard drinking warm blackberry shrub and swatted the mosquitoes.

There are several downed trees on our street. Even if there was fuel for the chainsaws, there aren’t any replacement chains and even Scott’s are nearly too thin to sharpen one more time. Everyone is getting a real work out with hand saws, axes, and hatchets, cutting limbs and trees – some really huge – down into lengths that can be stacked for drying and curing. We lost one good-sized oak in the front yard and had two more large pieces of trees land in our driveway. Thankfully, the trees didn’t strike anything important, but they made a hideous mess to clean up..

All of the canals, lakes, and ponds flooded around here and are still well above normal, but no one that we know was flooded out. A few came close, but nothing got in the houses. The family that lives directly across the street from us is sitting on their back porch fishing for their dinner in what used to be a rose garden.

We did have one of our rental properties flood. In fact, the whole area where the house is located flooded because the city failed to keep the pumps on. It could have been worse. The water didn’t get above the baseboards and that saved the walls. Scott just had to rip out all of the carpet and padding and most of the linoleum had to come up as well. The tenant is just grateful that she still has a place to live. She said that a concrete floor is easier to sweep than carpet anyway. Thank goodness for realistic people.

Get this. Scott had wondered how to get rid of all the wet carpet and stuff when the tenant said just to leave it because someone would steal it eventually. Hard to believe, but that is exactly what happened. What on earth would people want with old carpet padding and rolls of drenched carpet? The smell alone would knock a skunk out.

Several of our other units came close to flooding and there is some roof damage at various units, but nothing catastrophic. Scott and his crew have been dividing their time between our properties and our neighbors’ houses. There is more work than you can shake a stick at and they’ve got requests that will take them ‘til next Juvember to fill if they could take all of the work orders. We keep wondering where are all the itinerant workers and self-employed people that did this before the pandemic.

The scary part is that of those people who have been paying their homeowner’s insurance, few are getting any response back from their policy carriers, us included. Lawmakers have stepped in to try and help but they aren’t making much headway either. There is something bad looming. We already knew that the life and health branches of the insurance industry have all but collapsed, but now the property insurance companies look to be going the same way. I’ve heard that even Lloyd’s of London is not paying out. Thank goodness we planned for a lot of self-insuring, but we had still hoped that we were over-reacting. We may still be in a shortfall. I have no idea if we’ll receive the recompense we insured for.

Another thing, I think we are going to be in trouble this winter if people are counting on their citrus fruit. A lot of the small, green fruits were knocked off the trees by the ferocious wind and rain. That’s not the worst of it. A lot of people’s gardens are wrecked. We didn’t lose too much that was not about ready to give out anyway since we bring in all of our containers every night. Some of the stuff I had in the landscaping took a beating, but I don’t plant anything there that isn’t really hardy. I’ve had to reset some plants, but overall the damage to our garden efforts is mild, if not exactly minor.

Our chayote vine was shredded by the wind. The entire backyard except were we built the raised beds had ankle deep water. Its still early enough in the season that we can replant, but folks will need seeds to do so. I haven’t replanted with my seedlings yet because there is still muddy places in the yard.

As far as the path the storm took, the eyewall never came any closer than 60 miles off of Tampa Bay. It finally got going north again and made landfall at Biloxi, Mississippi but it had dropped to a minimal category 2 by that time. Even so, not much info is coming out of Biloxi. They really didn’t need this. I think Josephine is down to a Tropical Wave again and is somewhere near Kentucky. My family up there say they’ll welcome the rain as they desperately need it.

Hope you and yours are still doing well. We’ve been Blessed and wish the same for you all. I’d best get up and get going as the laundry hasn’t learned to wash itself yet and there is a ton of it to do.

Your Florida Cousins

After finishing the letter Sissy asks Scott if they are going to listen to the radio. She is pretty sure the next Devon McLoud segment is supposed to be aired tonight.

As the family listens to the news, they find that weather isn’t just an issue in their neck of the woods. Many geographical regions are experiencing weather phenomena that are no longer mitigatable because of the lack of municipal utilities such as water and electricity.

Devon McLoud’s latest installment highlights the cascading and sometimes unusual effects of this. He reports that while in Colorado observing one of the new “neighborhood schools” during recess for a completely different story, one of the adult sentries guarding the complex made a signal and the teachers and older children quickly shepherded the younger children back indoors and closed all the doors and windows despite it being a warm day.

As I stood wondering what was going on, one of the young men acting as sentry ran over and told me to follow him. He rushed me back up into his sentry tower – one of a series of armed hunting blinds erected at the four corners of the school yard.

I had no idea what was going on, but suspected the sentries had spotted a danger to the children. They had, but it was not at all what I expected.

The young man pointed out a large black bear that was making a beeline towards the school. When I asked if this was a common problem, he told me that it was one of the primary reasons they installed the tall fence and sentry stations around the school.

I was aware that a wide area of the state had suffered a late freeze in June that killed off a lot of the wild berries in the surrounding hills and mountains. That was followed by lower than normal precipitation, contributing to a drought that was already in its third year. Lack of rain has dried up most of the grasses and roots. Lots of people who had counted on hunting and gathering to supplement their meager and dwindling supplies are suffering. The young man explained the rest of the situation to me.

“The lack of food has been driving the bears down into the valleys. The people still living up in the hills got hit first. Its not just garbage the bears are into, since there isn’t much of that around. Now they are so desperate they are busting into houses. The bears have gotten more aggressive the closer it gets to them going into hibernation. Bears are omnivorous, they’ve been feeding on the weak and small. Pigs, chickens, goats, you name it. They’ve also killed and partially eaten an elderly couple that lived right on the edge of the National Forest about five miles from here. And in the next town over, they’ve lost three small children to bear attacks. A friend of mine was mauled and killed right before the town put up this here fence.”

When I asked him why didn’t they just shoot the bears he said, “We do if we have to, but ammunition costs money and the bears are plentiful. They haven’t fattened up enough yet to make them worth killing for food, though some folks have tried. You also have to be real careful with bear meat because it can make you bad sick.”

Later, the man in charge of the town’s small militia force told me that their town’s goal was to hold out until November when the bears go into hibernation. “We don’t want to deplete one of the major predators. Heck, it’s the damn bears that helped us deal with the dog packs and all the feral cats. There’s a price to pay for environmental balance. We’ve been educating the town folk and we are already planning work crews to help people reinforce their home security with things like shutters, reinforced doors and the like. But that’s for the winter after we’ve gotten the last from scavenging all the empty houses and ski resorts and backyard gardens. Hopefully, when the bears and cubs come out in the spring we’ll be ready for ‘em.”

The situation faced by this town, and others like it, only re-enforces that the biology of a pandemic goes beyond the direct effects of the virus itself. A pandemic can disrupt environmental factors such as food chains and artificially maintained living conditions. These disruptions can be furthered magnified when naturally occurring, cyclical phenomena – such as weather patterns – come into play.

I’ll investigate this further as I make my way over to the Mississippi River. I’ve been hearing stories of paddle wheelers again being used on the Big Muddy, and I’m looking to ride one down to the Gulf of Mexico. I’ll let you know if I get to play Samuel Clemens or not, so stay tuned.

 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
I had no idea that I had not finished posting this old story. It is one of the first ones that I did way back in the Fluwiki days. Seems weirdly appropriate to finally finish this up. Please forgive how really awful this one is. I've learned a lot by dent of practice if nothing else. However, it includes statistics from real life (at the time it was originally written). And while it is a little "woo" for a pandemic, there are things that can make you go hmmm as well. The formatting is carrying over weird but I think it can still be read without too much effort.

--------------------------

Chapter Forty-Three (part 1)
Clean up from Hurricane Josephine continues and probably will for quite some time yet. Despite storm-related damage, Tampa’s infrastructure did not further destabilize though hospitals did have some setbacks. Tampa General Hospital (TGH) received some ground floor damage to their lobbies and waiting areas. Some of the diagnostic areas were also damaged, but most of these aren’t being utilized anyway due to lack of electricity to run the diagnostic equipment. University Community Hospital (UCH) and St. Joseph’s hospital complexes had to move all of their patients back indoors during the storm but suffered little structural damage. All hospitals had a spike in patient deaths, likely due to the additional stress of being moved. As far as the rest of the city, due to the depravation already caused by pandemic economics, people have been forced to return to a way of life that demands more self-sufficiency and personal resiliency. It is a life that demands more patience. Personal property damage is dealt with as it best as can be.

There is little federal government assistance in storm clean up efforts. All government resources are going towards pandemic related issues and food supply chain rebuilding. The Gulf hurricanes have not helped fuel supplies and refining, but then again, higher fuel costs and business closings have also reduced demand. The federal government – temporarily anyway – nationalized most fuel production about four months into the pandemic after many of the big name fuel companies began shutting down due to lack of manpower. The Army Corps of Engineers now has a division exclusively charged with overseeing national fuel production. The Coast Guard and Navy have also been called in to protect off shore oil platforms and ports from piracy.

So, despite the appearance that the government has abandoned its people, the reality is that they are taking care of the macro issues and are just as restricted by lack of manpower and resources as everyone else. It is up to the local governments to again be responsible and realistic with local needs. Some areas have better leadership than others.

Clean up is roughly organized by neighborhoods. Where large trees are down, people strip the tree of limbs back to the trunk, primarily using hatchets and axes and a few saws. The wood becomes cooking fuel and a potential source of heat for this winter after it cures. Then the tree trunk is maneuvered out of everyone’s way and left wherever it can be pushed.

The utility company crews are doing their best to restore lines; however a shortage of supplies means they have to do a lot of splicing and jury-rigging. This takes more thought and effort and therefore more time, delaying service restoration.

Neighbor is helping neighbor. Those homes with compromised structures are exchanged for abandoned housing, that might need a little rehab but which is still habitable. Vandalism, an ever-present problem, is still rampant but back under control and down to pre-hurricane levels. Some structures, too damaged to remain standing, are stripped of any potentially useful items and are then razed to the ground; through demolition or by controlled burn. All of this occurs without the permits and oversight that would have been required in prepandemic times. This is a new era. People have no choice but to do things for themselves, or through cooperative effort. There isn’t any one else to do it for them.

The demolition of unsalvageable buildings begins to address the increasing problem of rodent and insect infestation. Flooding in the Port of Tampa and other areas has driven large rats deeper into the city. The problem has become such that the county is offering a bounty for each rat caught and killed. Animal control heads this project up as well as the hunting and destruction of violent dog packs. Dog pack hunters have to have special licenses issued by the city, but are paid well for their service.

Scott and Sissy keep up-to-date listening to local radio broadcasts, which occasionally have installments from their favorite reporter at-large, Devon McLoud. They also have a small, battery-operated television that picks up the local public broadcast channels and the three remaining for-profit TV stations. Cable television went off the air long ago. The reception is poor and broadcasts are intermittent; but, the family is still getting more reliable news than a lot of other people. They purchased a converter for the television so can receive broadcast signals whether they are digital or analogue.

Speaking of Devon McLoud, his eagerly awaited installment reveals that he did indeed make it down the Mississippi on a paddle wheeler. His reports continue to chronicle the mundane and the extraordinary of the country’s pandemic landscape. One of his most recent segments covered the demolition of uninhabitable structures in New Orleans.

“The rats sho done inherited the Earth,” or at least that’s how it feels on some days according to Max Thibodaux . “No matter how many we trap, kill, or burn out more just take their place. And they’s sho vicious. Everyday we send folks to de clinic wit bites. Even wit gloves on they can give you a bruising pinch wit dem teeth they got.”

Pulling down the buildings, some leftover from the devastation this area suffered at the hands of Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, takes away some of the rats’ sanctuaries and helps to interrupt their breeding cycle. It also makes them more vulnerable to predators. But rats are not the only vermin problem facing the city. Roaches and snakes also occupy these buildings as well as the occasional maggot covered corpse. But there is one foe that really worries the neighborhood clean up crews.

“You been in de South any amount a time, you get used to most o’ de creep crawlie critters. You get used to ‘em or you move back where you came from. But that mess we ran into las’ month has us all running cautious,” Thibodaux said.

“That mess” was a swarm of Africanized Honey Bees. This fierce hybrid strain is better known as “killer bees.” They have the same strength venom as honey bees, but attack in groups. Africanized honey bees are the result of an experiment to increase honey production in Brazil. A swarm escaped a lab and headed north. When they mated with native strains of bees, their offspring proved to be as aggressive as their African parents. They reached the US in 1990 when they were found in Texas; they’ve continued to spread ever since.

And where one hive of bees is found, you known there are others waiting to be found. During last month’s incident, two workers died after they were stung in excess of 800 times each. Most non-allergic people can survive up to 10 stings per pound of body fat. But its not unusual for the amount of venom from a swarm attack to quickly overwhelm a person’s autonomic functions.

“We found two otha hives since in de same general area. We was lucky as no one died dem times. We got some stings, but most folks made it to cover befoe de bees could git ‘em. Once day settle down, usually de next day, we jus’ burn de house down. No sense taking chances you ain’t got to.”

But taking chances they don’t have to is what these neighborhood work groups are all about. The unsung heroes. Without them many towns across America would be much worse off. Its doesn’t matter whether they are pulling buildings down or helping to rehabilitate existing structures; delivering food to the hungry or growing food in victory gardens; volunteering in neighborhood schools or helping to retrain thousands of workers that are desperate for jobs; or any of the numerous other unpaid, but very needful, jobs. These people may never have a statue erected in their honor, or have their name engraved on a plaque, but they are heroes nonetheless.



During this time, James’ birthday comes and goes and Sissy surprises everyone by making vegan burgers, baked beans, home fries, and fresh baked buns. The burgers are grilled over a small wood fire. But the highlight of the day is when they use some of their precious ice reserves to make “Kick-The-Can Ice Cream.”

It is amazing how uplifting a celebratory meal can be. The food doesn’t have to be fancy, just filling. And good company, even during sober times, can bring smiles.

The Chapman’s neighborhood has gone from weekly “Stone Soup” gatherings to almost daily ones. Parents pick up meals to take home to their children. People take meals to their homebound neighbors. The effort is shared and food and fuel are used more efficiently. So far the neighborhood remains diligent and there are no food borne illnesses or other infectious outbreaks.

A local newspaper ran a story on successful neighborhood ventures. The Chapman’s neighborhood is mentioned, though not by exact location for security reasons. For once the author of the piece is both realistic and objective, mentioning both the good and the bad. Some city planners come out to view the set up in hopes of replicating similar ventures in other neighborhoods. Scott muses that it is better late than never, but maybe the hurricane will bring about some good.

With most of the ground now dry enough to replant, people quickly return to their gardens. This month Sissy plants garbanzo beans, lima beans, several varieties of shelling beans and peas in several large barrel halves. She replaces the chayote vine that was on the fence with several yard-long snap bean plants. In freshly prepared window boxes she plants carrots and beets. She also plants broccoli, burdock, cabbage, celeriac, collards, bush cucumbers, garden huckleberries, husk tomatoes (aka ground cherries), Jerusalem artichoke, lettuce, mustard greens, okra, parsnips, salsify, crookneck and zucchini squash, and more tomatoes. She plants more potatoes as well as she is quickly coming to the end of her other main source of dietary starch – rice. This is also the month to start the strawberry plants in hanging baskets. It’s a great deal of work, but the potential pay off is huge.

Despite all the planting, harvesting is still lean. Radishes, arugula, and mesclun greens are the only fresh items on the menu. But a nice, spicy green salad always perks a meal up. A little oil and vinegar or Italian dressing makes it even better.

Thanks to Tom’s wife, the family now has a small herb garden. Sarah and Bekah have taken this project for their own and are doing amazingly well with it after they figured out how to keep the tortoises out of their patch. The first try was a sign that showed a turtle in a pot of boiling water with the caption “Turtle Soup.” When that didn’t work, much to the girls’ chagrin, James helped them build a fence from sticks and saw briar vines.

Sissy laughs at the idea of recycle saw briar vines but it is certainly no stranger than some of the other things that she has tried recently.

“Mom, are you sure this is going to work?” Rose asks doubtfully.

“Is what going to work?” Scott asks as he comes around the corner of the house.

Rose answers before Sissy can. “Mrs. Cox gave Mom this weird recipe that uses lettuce cores.”

“It is not weird. Unusual maybe, but not really what I would call weird,” Sissy objects with a laugh.

After Rose explains what they are trying to do Scott says, “Sounds weird to me.”

Sissy just rolls her eyes. The recipe is a way to make do and to use something that would normally have just been thrown into the compost pile.

First you make sure there are no strings on the lettuce cores, then you cut them into two or three inch long chunks. After washing the chunks really well, they are placed into a syrup made by mixing one pound of sugar, two heaping tablespoons of powdered ginger, and five pints of water. Then you boil the syrup and chunks together for 20 minutes. After that you remove the pan from the heat and let everything set and soak for two days.

At the end of the second day you boil everything 30 minutes per day for five days straight or until the chunks of core become fairly transparent. After the fifth day, you drain off the syrup and pat the stalks dry and store in an air tight container. You wind up with two products. One is a syrup that can be used over pancakes or something similar. The resulting chunks of lettuce cores make a good substitute for candied ginger.

As Sissy puts the candied cores away for later use she thinks, “OK, so maybe Rose and Scott were right. This is a little bizarre but it worked. Maybe ‘weird’ is the new normal. Or maybe we are just trying to get back to some semblance of normal, even if it is a mirage of sorts.”

All-in-all people quickly recover from the effects of the hurricane and are now more determined than ever to overcome whatever the pandemic can throw at them. After so many slipped into apathy and discouragement, it seems that the added adversity of the storms is just enough to recharge everyone's determination.
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter 43 (part 2)

There is some disturbing news coming in from other areas of the country though. The detrimental affects on infrastructure have not just made it hard on the economy and more difficult to address the pandemic. It has left huge gaps in the health care and hygiene industries so that illnesses that were basically eradicated in the 20th century are now making a return engagement in the 21st.

The Gulf Coast of the United States has always been susceptible to diseases. The last Yellow Fever epidemic took place in New Orleans in 1905.[1] In 1900, Dr. Walter Reed had confirmed what had been suspected since the 1880’s; Yellow Fever was transmitted by mosquitoes. Five years later many cities were still unprepared. At the time, New Orleans continued to operate a quarantine system. They fumigated ships and sanitized clothing and bedding on board. In the spring of 1905, a smuggler's ship, loaded with bananas, avoided the quarantine requirements. That June cases of yellow fever began appearing near the Mississippi River in a community of immigrants, many of who worked unloadinged banana boats. The city declared an emergency on June 22, after 100 people had contracted the disease, including 20 who died.

Despite the conclusions of the U.S. Army Yellow Fever Board in 1900, many people in New Orleans still did not treat the threat of mosquitoes seriously. Residents got their water from cisterns. These water storage containers were a breeding ground for the insects. Dr. Quitman Kohnke, the head of the New Orleans health board, urged the city to address the mosquito issue. "Even if you are not positive that the mosquito is the only source of the transmission of yellow fever," he told physicians, "give your city the benefit of the doubt in this important and vital matter." It wasn’t until after the outbreak began that the city of New Orleans finally mobilized.

On August 4, local officials requested and received federal assistance. Workers employed the techniques that had proven successful in Havana, another frequent location of yellow fever. They fumigated the city, screened cisterns and destroyed breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Residents who failed to comply with public health measures were heavily fined. After Archbishop Placide Louis Chapelle died from yellow fever, holy water in St. Louis Cathedral was found with mosquito larvae. The priests emptied the containers. Still, the epidemic was not immediately stopped.

On August 12, 100 people fell ill from the disease, but by September the numbers of victims diminished. Further evidence that mosquitoes transmitted the disease surfaced at Charity Hospital, which reported that no other patients or medical personnel became infected from the approximately 100 cases of yellow fever treated there. The public health campaign to address yellow fever was working in a city that fewer than 30 years before had lost thousands to the disease. October marked the end of the epidemic, with 452 deaths recorded in New Orleans. The year also marked the last time a yellow fever epidemic plagued the United States, though the disease has remained a problem elsewhere in the world.


Because many places in the world have returned to a pre-1900 technology, people are again using cisterns and other open containers for securing water. In the southern USA, this means that mosquito populations have exploded. This is further complicated by the lack of spraying for mosquitoes and the fact that many bird populations that ate mosquitoes as part of their diet (such as the Purple Martin) have been greatly reduced by avian influenza.

According to national news reports, a small outbreak of Yellow Fever has been detected along the Louisiana/Mississippi border. The months since the first case has seen additional outbreaks in several other locations. Yellow fever, which is also known as sylvatic fever and viral hemorrhagic fever or VHF, is a severe infectious disease caused by a type of virus called a flavivirus. Once a mosquito has passed the yellow fever virus to a human, the chance of disease developing is about 5-20%. Infection may be fought off by the host's immune system, or may be so mild that it is never identified or recognized.

In human hosts who develop a full-blown case of yellow fever, there are five distinct stages through which the infection evolves. These have been termed the periods of incubation, invasion, remission, intoxication, and convalescence. Yellow fever's incubation period (the amount of time between the introduction of the virus into the host and the development of symptoms) is three to six days. During this time, there are generally no symptoms.

“Invasion” lasts two to five days, and begins with the onset of symptoms, including fever and chills, intense headache and lower backache, muscle aches, nausea, and extreme exhaustion. The patient's tongue shows a white, furry coating in the center, surrounded by a swollen, reddened margin. While most other infections that cause a high fever also cause an increased heart rate, yellow fever results in the opposite effect. Throughout “invasion” there are still live viruses circulating in the patient's blood stream. A mosquito can bite the ill patient, acquire the virus, and pass the infection on to others.

The next phase is called “remission.” The fever falls, and symptoms decrease in severity for several hours to several days. In some patients, this signals the end of the disease; in other patients, this proves only to be the calm before the storm. “Intoxication” represents the most severe and potentially fatal phase of the illness. During this time, lasting three to nine days, degeneration of the internal organs (specifically the kidneys, liver, and heart) occurs. This fatty degeneration results in what is considered the classic triad of yellow fever symptoms: jaundice, black vomit, and the dumping of protein into the urine. Jaundice causes the whites of the patient's eyes and the patient's skin to take on a distinctive yellow color. This is due to liver damage. The liver damage also results in a tendency toward bleeding; the patient's vomit appears black due to the presence of blood. Protein, which is normally kept out of the urine by healthy kidneys, appears in the urine due to disruption of the kidney's functioning.

Patients who survive “intoxication” enter into a relatively short period of convalescence. They recover with no long term effects related to the yellow fever infection. Infection with the yellow fever virus results in lifelong immunity against repeated infection with the virus.

The course of yellow fever is complicated in some patients by secondary bacterial infections. Even under the best of conditions there are no antiviral treatments for Yellow Fever. The only treatments for yellow fever are given to relieve its symptoms. Fever and pain should be relieved with acetaminophen, not aspirin or ibuprofen, both of which could increase the already-present risk of bleeding. Dehydration (due to fluid loss both from fever and bleeding) needs to be avoided. The risk of bleeding into the stomach can be decreased through the administration of antacids and other medications. Hemorrhage may require blood transfusions. Kidney failure may require dialysis (a process that allows the work of the kidneys in clearing the blood of potentially toxic substances to be taken over by a machine, outside of the body). With no modern medical interventions though, blood transfusions and kidney dialysis are impossible for cases that extreme.

Under the best conditions, five to ten percent of all diagnosed cases of yellow fever are fatal. Once jaundice occurs, a patient’s chances for recovery drops to only fifty percent. A very safe and very effective yellow fever vaccine exists, but is currently in limited supply due to pandemic economics. The Arilvax vaccine is made from a live attenuated form of the yellow fever virus, strain 17D. Yellow Fever Vaccination Centers, authorized by the U.S. Public Health Service, have been set up through out – and in – areas that are seeing active cases of Yellow Fever. About 95% of vaccine recipients acquire long-term immunity to the yellow fever virus.

Broadsides are being printed and handed out telling people how to protect their area from a Yellow Fever outbreak. Now, in addition to warnings on how to prevent pandemic flu, there are public service announcements on the prevention of other infections. It isn’t just Yellow Fever making a come back; its cholera, typhoid, measles, TB, chicken pox, and many other diseases that had nearly been eradicated in the US.

It isn’t just the southern states that are suffering. Other areas of the country, as well as Canada and Mexico, are facing the rise of other infectious diseases. According to news bulletins, Los Angeles is still under quarantine for Cholera.

Cholera is a severe diarrheal disease caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. Transmission occurs by ingesting contaminated water or food. It is extremely deadly.
[2]

In its most severe forms, cholera is one of the most rapidly fatal illnesses known: A healthy person may become hypotensive within an hour of the onset of symptoms and may die within 2-3 hours if no treatment is provided. More commonly, the disease progresses from the first liquid stool to shock in 4-12 hours, with death following in 18 hours to several days without treatment.

Symptoms include general GI tract (stomach) upset and massive watery diarrhea. Symptoms may also include terrible muscle and stomach cramps, vomiting and fever in early stages. In a later stage the diarrhea becomes "rice water stool" (almost clear with flecks of white) and ruptured capillaries may turn the skin black and blue with sunken eyes and cheeks with blue lips. Symptoms are caused by massive body fluid loss. The body is "tricked" by nuerotoxins produced by the bacteria into releasing massive amounts of fluid into the small intestine; up to 20% of body weight. Radical dehydration can bring death within a day through collapse of the circulatory system.

In general, patients must receive as much fluid as they lose due to diarrhea. Treatment typically consists of aggressive rehydration (restoring the lost body fluids) and replacement of electrolytes with commercial or hand-mixed ORS solutions or massive injections of liquid given intravenously via an IV in advanced cases. But again, with the health care industry in collapse, there are few if any IV resources. Without treatment the death rate easily reaches 50%.

Although cholera can be life threatening, it is always easily prevented if proper sanitation practices are followed. In most of North America and Western Europe, because of advanced water treatment and sanitation systems, cholera was no longer a major threat. The last major outbreak of cholera in the United States was in 1911. Good sanitation practices, if instituted in time, is usually sufficient to stop an epidemic. There are several points along the transmission path at which the spread may be halted:
  • Sickbed: Proper disposal and treatment of the germ infected fecal waste (and all clothing and bedding that come in contact with it) produced by cholera victims is of primary importance.
  • Sewage: Treatment of general sewage before it enters the waterways or underground water supplies prevent possible undetected patients from spreading the disease.
  • Sources: Warnings about cholera contamination posted around contaminated water sources with directions on how to decontaminate the water.
  • Sterilization: Boiling, filtering, and chlorination of water kill the bacteria produced by cholera patients and prevent infections, when they do occur, from spreading. All materials (clothing, bedding, etc.) that come in contact with cholera patients should be sterilized in hot water using (if possible) chlorine bleach. Hands, etc. that touch cholera patients or their clothing etc. should be thoroughly cleaned and sterilized. All water used for drinking, washing or cooking should be sterilized by boiling or chlorination in any area where cholera may be present. Water filtration, chlorination and boiling are by far the most effective means of halting transmission. Cloth filters, though very basic, have greatly reduced the occurrence of cholera when used in poor villages for untreated surface water.
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter 42 (part 3)

The source of the contamination is typically other cholera patients when their untreated diarrhea discharge is allowed to get into waterways or into groundwater or the drinking water supply. Any infected water and any foods washed in the water, and shellfish living in the affected waterway can cause an infection.

Rich or poor, it doesn’t matter. It is cleanliness that is most important. In the past many famous people have succumbed to cholera: Tchaikovsky, James K. Polk (former president of the USA), the son of American poet Robert Frost, Daniel Morgan Boone (son of pioneer Daniel Boone), both the father and son of the author Mary Shelley, and many others.


Los Angeles, California is situated in a Mediterranean climate zone, experiencing mild, somewhat wet winters and warm to hot summers. It only gets an average of 15 inches of rain per year so the city relies very heavily on local ground water and imported water sources, such as those from the Sacramento River.

It appears, from what investigators have been able to determine that local ground water supplies became compromised with the cholera bacteria. The first few cases were noted in the Hollywood District. Infected fecal matter then made its way into the storm drainage system and spread from there into other local water sources causing additional infections. Over 13,000 deaths have been directly attributed to cholera in the city. Federal agents have cordoned off the area and no one is allowed in or out; of course people do manage to escape.

Several smaller cholera outbreaks are being reported spreading outward into Santa Monica, Glendale, Pasadena, and Long Beach. Local governments are trying to enforce a boil-water order in effect for a two hundred mile radius around the city. On the opposite side of the Continental US Buffalo, New York is also reporting an outbreak of what appears to be cholera. Every hour on the hour in cities across the country people are reminded over and over again through public service announcements and billboards how important basic hygiene is in the prevention of contagious diseases.

Yellow Fever, Cholera, Small Pox, Chicken Pox, Measles, Polio, Tuberculosis are all making inroads into neighborhoods and cities across the country. And now Typhoid Fever are appearing.

Typhoid Fever
[3] is an acute illness associated with fever caused by the Salmonellae Typhi bacteria. The bacteria is deposited in water or food by a human carrier, and is then spread to other people in the area. The incidence of the illness in the United States has markedly decreased since the early 1900's after improved sanitation practices become commonplace. Mexico and South America were the most common areas for U.S. citizens to contract typhoid fever. India, Pakistan and Egypt were also high-risk areas for developing this disease.

Patients with acute cases of typhoid can contaminate the surrounding water supply through the stool, which contains a high concentration of the bacteria. Contamination of the water supply can, in turn, taint the food supply. About 3-5% of patients become carriers of the bacteria after the illness. Some patients suffer a very mild illness that goes unrecognized. These patients can become long- term carriers of the bacteria. The bacteria multiplies in the gallbladder, bile ducts, or liver and passes into the bowel. The bacteria can survive for weeks in water or dried sewage. These chronic carriers may have no symptoms and can be the source of new outbreaks of typhoid fever for many years.

The incubation period is usually 1-2 weeks and the duration of the illness is about 4-6 weeks. The patient experiences: poor appetite, headaches, generalized aches and pains, fever, and lethargy.

Persons with typhoid fever usually have a chronic fever as high as 103 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (39 to 40 degrees Centigrade).

Chest congestion develops in many patients and abdominal pain and discomfort are common. Improvement occurs in the third and fourth week in those without complications. About 10% of patients have recurrent symptoms (relapse) after feeling better for one to two weeks. Relapses are actually more common in individuals treated with antibiotics.

Typhoid Fever is treated with antibiotics. Prior to the use of antibiotics, the fatality rate was 10%. Death occurs from overwhelming infection, pneumonia, intestinal bleeding, or intestinal perforation. With antibiotics and supportive care, mortality can be reduced to 1-2%. The carrier state, which occurs in 3-5% of those infected, can be treated with prolonged antibiotics. Often, removal of the gallbladder, the site of chronic infection, will cure the carrier state.

Again, the problem with the pandemic economy is that antibiotics are in short supply. Many drug makers are totally focused on developing and manufacturing a pandemic flu vaccine. With so much of their energy focused in that one direction, antibiotic manufacturing has fallen dangerously low. This is exacerbated by the use of antibiotics to treat secondary infections in panflu cases. In 1897 an effective vaccine was developed for typhoid. Unfortunately the vaccine, like many others, is in short supply.

Like cholera, many famous people in history have died of typhoid: Pericles, Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria, Margaret Breckenridge (highest-ranking Army nurse under Ulysses S. Grant), Benjamin Harrison's wife Caroline, Robert E. Lee's daughter Annie, Herbert Hoover's father and mother, William McKinley's daughter Katherine, Wilbur Wright (one of the famous Wright Brothers), William T. Sherman's father and oldest son, Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (British prince consort and Queen Victoria's husband), William Wallace Lincoln (third son of President Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln), Louis Pasteur's daughters Cecile and Jeanne, President John Adams's wife Abigail Adams, Charles Darwin's daughter Annie, and Belle Boyd the most famous female confederate spy.

Chicago is facing a typhoid epidemic. To date there have been 2,000 deaths due to typhoid fever. No one is sure if a particular carrier is involved or whether it is a matter of simple hygiene. The only good thing in this situation is that Chicago’s population was greatly reduced by the fire that razed half of the city ealier in the pandemic year. Survivors, those willing, were relocated to other population centers as quickly as possible. Typhoid is yet another disease that is preventable if good hygiene habits and conditions are maintained within communities and within homes.




[1] the description of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1905 is attributed to the website The Great Fever | American Experience | PBS and symptoms and treatment issues are from http://www.healthatoz.com/healthatoz/Atoz/common/standard/transform.jsp?requestURI=/healthatoz/Atoz/ency/yellow_fever.jsp
[2] information on cholera and historic cholera epidemics comes from Cholera - Wikipedia ,
[3] Information on typhoid was taken from Typhoid Fever Vaccine, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Forty-Four (part 1)
October is here and the weather is finally cooling off. The humidity is going down, helped along by the fact that the average rainfall for the month has fallen sharply from an average of six inches last month to two inches for this month. What this means for Sissy is that it is time to clean the house inside and out. As clean as she tries to keep things – has to be for things to stay sanitary and infection free – the lack of air conditioning and other issues associated with lack of electricity has made it very difficult to keep the house as clean and fresh as in prepandemic times. Where most people do their big, yearly cleaning tasks in the spring, many people in Florida do theirs in the Autumn or early Winter.

Sissy discovers a problem this time around. As she plans her strategy with regard to adding all the extra cleaning into their already busy chore list, she realizes just how low her soap and cleaning supplies have become. She knew this day would arrive, but it is still hard to get to this point in her supplies. It really shows how long they have been trying to piece things out and make things work without all the conveniences that they used to have at their disposal.

Sissy has heard people are advertising on the local bulletin boards that they are making soap and are willing to barter. On Scott’s next run she is going to ask him to try and get some. Mr. Jones had also put about that some of the older ladies plan to give soap making a try, but she can’t wait. She needs to get some cleaning done now while she has a block of time to work with. Sissy pulls out her book of recipes that she started making when she first began prepping, turns to the cleaning section, and looks to see what she can make to replace what she is short of.

First, for a spray cleaner, she decides to use a white vinegar solution. Vinegar is multipurpose and lasts years in unopened gallon jugs. Sissy bought cases of the stuff prepandemic and has also replaced some that she has used when they had the grocery store vouchers Scott earned. To use vinegar as a spray cleaner she mixes it one part to one part water. For tougher jobs, like mineral build up around the faucets and in the toilets, she uses the vinegar straight. Smells somewhat, but not too bad after things air out.

To replace the abrasive cleaners like Comet and Ajax, she makes a soft scrub cleaner using baking soda. Baking soda is a great deodorizer for the drains too. Another cheap prep item she still has cases of.

The windows of the house get a good cleaning using a rubbing alcohol and vinegar solution. Rubbing alcohol is getting in shorter supply so she isn’t wasteful. She takes one cup of rubbing alcohol and one cup of water. To this she adds one tablespoon of vinegar. She has the girls spritz it on the windows and then wipe it off with a soft, lint-free cloth. Paper towels are now a luxury. Sissy still has about three dozen rolls stashed away inside a box spring in one of the bedrooms, but she is saving them for as long as possible.

Sissy still has plenty of commercial furniture polish and wood soap. First, she and the girls dilute down the wood soap and clean all of the furniture surfaces. Then after the furniture has completely dried, they polish the pieces with lemon oil. That helps to drive the musty smells from the house even more.

There are some really grimy areas of the house that need some tougher cleaning. Even with daily sweeping and mopping, the tile floors through out their entire house need a good scrubbing. For this Sissy uses a solution of diluted, non-sudsing ammonia. Sissy is glad that she still has rubber gloves that are useable because she has to scrub the floor by hand in several areas. Bringing the garden containers in and out every day really does a number on the floor, the grout is completely gone in some places, but the security of their food supply easily trumps the extra housework.

The bedrooms, which are the only carpeted areas in the house, have the walls washed and the mattresses sprinkled with baking soda and then brushed. They then rinse the plastic mattress protectors as best they can and hang them outside. After these are thoroughly dry, they are put back on the mattresses. The mattresses are still in very good shape because of these protectors and Sissy is glad that she had invested in the good, heavy grade plastic ones. The few places that the plastic has begun to tear are quickly repaired with water proof tape. The pillows are taken care of in the same way, as they too have plastic protectors on them.

As for the carpets themselves, Sissy had purchased a couple of non-electric floor sweepers prior to the pandemic. These are good for surface dirt and dust, but are pretty hopeless for embedded dirt and sand. Their vacuum cleaner died several months ago. Scott tried to fix it, but it was hopeless. Scott’s shop vac still works and Sissy decides that unless an emergency arises to prevent it, the next time the power comes on, they will spend the day vacuuming all the carpets over and over until they get out as much sand as possible. They may even pull up the carpet and re-stretch it. Sissy thinks, “if you’re gonna clean, you might as well clean right.”

They did have three large area rugs to deal with. These are rolled up, taken outside, and beat to get as much ground in sand out of them as possible. They have a couple of bad spots that they clean by making a paste of baking soda, rubbing it onto the spot, allowing it to dry and then brushing it off. It isn’t a perfect fix, but it is better than it was. Their rag rugs from the kitchen and utility area are washed pretty regularly with the clothes so nothing major needs to be done with them.

All of the bed and bath linens in the house are given a close inspection. A bunch are set aside into the mending basket. Between socks, underclothes, and linen that basket is always full. Luckily Sarah seems to really enjoy sewing and she is getting pretty good at it. For a middle schooler, that is an amazing skill to have. Out of necessity, all of the kids are getting handy with a needle. Sissy just hopes that her needles and thread last for as long as she needs them to. A good sewing needle is a pricey barter item.

The pots and pans also need additional scrubbing. She does this using baking soda and elbow grease. Thank goodness for cast iron cookware though. Her non-stick pots and pans, though convenient, are terrible for cooking on the grill and out of doors. When the family is lucky enough to have the electricity on, they use the non-stick cookware, but they haven’t been very lucky in that way lately. The cast iron stuff is seeing a lot of use as are the big aluminum pots that she boils water in. She has a couple of dark speckleware pots she uses in the solar oven.

The oven is a horrible mess, there is no way around it. It is one of the tougher cleaning jobs. Sissy had not gotten around to stocking oven cleaner when the pandemic hit. It was just one of those things that she forgot about. But, the oven can no longer go without cleaning or it is going to become a fire hazard. She tries something that she read in some frugality magazine. She puts a half-cup of full strength ammonia into a glass bowl. Then she sits the bowl inside the oven and closes the door. She allows this to sit overnight. In the morning she is able to wipe away most of the grimy build up. For the few places that are still gunky, she makes a paste of baking soda and scrubs those areas with a worn out toothbrush. Again, not quite as squeaky clean as she remembers the commercial products cleaning, but then again she has let it go a long time. A second overnight with ammonia might work, but it will have to wait as she still has a lot of other stuff to do.

In the bathrooms, mildew is getting to be a real problem. You wipe at mildew and scrub it, but because it gets imbedded into surfaces, it is very difficult to get rid of permanently. And with no air conditioning to keep the airflow going in the interior bathroom, the shower stall is getting particularly bad. Sissy still has a small supply of chlorine bleach. It is running out its power to be a water sanitizer so she decides to use a small amount on the mildew and on the cutting surfaces in the kitchen. She takes three-quarters of a cup of bleach and mixes it in with a gallon of water. Sissy asks James to use the same solution on a couple of places outside where the algae is making for slick walking surfaces. But, she is very, very careful to not use any bleach product around any other type of cleaning product, especially when she is using ammonia. Mixing bleach with other things can create a poisonous gas capable of suffocating living creatures, including humans.

October isn’t just the month of cleaning. Sissy is kept busy taking care of everything being harvested from the garden. After seeing their garden compromised by the hurricane and hot weather, having all of the fresh produce to eat was a real treat. This month they harvest jicamas, broccoli, broccoli raab, okra, more mesclun greens and arugula, mustard greens, yellow crookneck squash, scallop squash, cucumbers, and a funny little roly poly zucchini that looks like green eggs whose seeds came from a child’s gardening kit. The first of the heirloom seedlings start to produce as well. There is a weird radish that looks like a white carrot and another radish that is a Chinese heirloom that is white on the outside but watermelon pink on the inside. Both are really strange looking, but that doesn’t stop them from being good eating.

Best of all, some of the heirloom tomatoes have also started to make. There is the Red Tumbler cherry tomato, the Sun Gold cherry tomato, an orange colored tomato called Tangerine, and there is also a Golden Sauce yellow plum tomato. And boy, are they producing. A couple of times per day though, Sissy has to go outside and check for hornworms. With many of the bird populations decimated from avian influenza, the insect population is exploding. The bat houses that James and Sarah built months ago have a lively colony roosting in them and bats in the neighborhood are helping with some mosquito control. Tom Cox and his sons have a good trade business going building bat houses. The work is proving a therapeutic outlet for his son with anxiety issues.

With a good population of snakes around, the rodent population is also under control. In those places without these natural predators, pests run amuck. In Sissy’s case, her secret weapon is the peahens that live in the orange grove. The male peacocks are still arrogant and standoffish, but the peahens come when she calls. Sissy pulls off the hornworms from tomato plants and tosses them to the birds and they gobble them right down. Its as good as having geese patrolling things. They are just as noisy too. She is still careful to avoid any potential contamination, but so far no one on the web has reported infections in peacocks or peahens, apparently not all varieties of any one species of birds are susceptible to the current avian influenza.

This month Sissy also plants rows of beets, burdock, carrots, onions, parsnips, salsify, shallots, and turnips. For greens she plants broccoli, cabbage, celtuce, collards, leeks, lettuce, mustard greens and spinach. She plants English peas and more strawberry baskets just because she has the room. She figures they may eventually have enough extra food for trading.

Towards the end of October, Sissy’s brother shows up again. This time he has their father with him. Sissy is stunned and the whole family shares an ecstactic reunion.

“I sure do wish your Momma could be here but I can’t risk her getting sick. Let’s step inside. I need to talk to Scott. We’ve got a proposition he’ll be interested in.”

Sissy’s brother has come up with a scheme that will likely only work a couple of times because of shipping limitations. But, if they can get three drivers to drive straight through with no breaks, avoiding the problems with driving too many hours for each driver, they can actually get between check points they have to cover in less than 24 hours. Their destination is the Kentucky and Tennessee area where they are desperate to trade some of their homegrown supplies for some sugar from south Florida. The brother has a load of sugar on board. Sissy’s father is going to be the second driver and they want Scott to be the third driver. Scott has his trucker’s license and it is still up to date. They will make the run, see family, pick up what they can in trade and be back in under a week making a hefty profit even after it gets split three ways.

This makes Sissy’s heart sink. It is hard enough to watch Scott drive off into potential danger when he leaves to manage the properties every week, but have him driving several states away? And to have to make the decision so quickly? But there really is no decision to make. It is too good an opportunity to pass up. They’d get cash to split for some of the load, but they would also get trade goods that might not be available around home.

So it is quickly planned out. Sissy throws together a good supply of food, mostly fresh that they can eat on the go, refills their water reserves, and off they go. She and the kids cannot stop watching as the truck drives away. They stand there for a while longer after it is finally out of sight and then Sissy shakes herself and gets everyone back into the house.

“When daddy be back?” little Johnnie asks.

“They said they would be back in a week more or less,” Sissy tells him.

James hesitantly starts out, “Dad said that Tom and Barry would be around if we needed anything but . . . I don’t want them coming in the house.’ More forcefully he adds, “Dad said I was supposed to make sure everything gets locked down at night and keep you all safe.”

“I know sugar.” Sissy replies carefully to acknowledge his growing need to prove his maturity. “I wouldn’t go to Barry or Tom unless it was an emergency we couldn’t handle anyway. We’ll do for ourselves. Dad was just trying to cover all the bases. He asked us, me in particular, to push really hard to keep our disinfection protocols priority.”

“We’ll stay safe, won’t we guys? And we will help mom lots and lots and before you know it, dad will be back and maybe he’ll bring everyone a surprise,” says Rose to the youngest children.

“I miss Daddy!” cry Sarah and Bekah.

“I know sweethearts. But Daddy felt that this was a really good chance to make up for the money he can’t make around here right now. As a matter of fact, it is a chance that is too good to pass up, no matter how we feel personally. The pandemic won’t be around forever and we have to be ready for when the rules go back to the way they used to be. This is going to require cash, which is something too few people have too little of right now.”

“Like what kind of rules? I don’t understand.” asks Bekah.

“Like paying all the insurance premiums, mortgages, and taxes that they stopped to let everyone try and prepare. They are already talking about doing it now even though there are still areas that have a lot of panflu in the community. Daddy just wants to be able to take care of things the way he used to.”

And that is true. The pandemic has lasted longer than anyone had anticipated. And the economic impact has been bigger as well. A lot of people have lost everything, financially speaking. Not even Bill Gates’ Foundation has been unscathed by panflu economics. Not even Bill Gates himself has gone unscathed. He and his wife were caught on some kind of European tour when the air traffic quit running and are rumored to have died over in Eastern Europe. A lot of people that ran the large corporations have been affected directly by infection, or their families have. No one with any amount of money has gotten away scott-free. Even the mega-rich members of the entertainment industry – those with no permanent homes who lived off of fast food and restaurant fare – have found out that their potential worth of yesterday means nothing to their current value. Many died when they were abandoned by their personal entourages of managers, personal assistants, and bodyguards.

Sissy herself, ever practical, realizes how important it is while Scott is away for her family to stay grounded and active. The garden is producing well and keeps them busy. But with the good comes the bad. The white flour is almost all gone. Sissy still has some baking mix so they aren’t totally without light bread, but fairly soon all that there will be left is cornmeal and tortilla flour and not much of that either. Even the acorn flour she made back in August and September is gone. Sissy has been using bread as a way to put some calories into their work laden diets. Bread is also a way to make the other food seem like it is going further. She doesn’t know quite what she will do when it all runs out. She knows other people in the neighborhood are either paying the high prices at the grocery or going without. She wishes there were a third option, but isn’t aware of what it could be at the moment. She got an email from her aunt last month saying how the local mill is as busy as it ever was prepandemic. “Must be nice,” she thinks, though she tries not to be envious, that gets her no place fast. There are enough other issues that need her time and thought.

The holidays are again looming on the horizon. Bekah and Johnnie are growing out of all their clothes and shoes. They still haven’t heard from their insurance companies regarding any of their claims, not even on their policies that are held by Citizens which is run by the state of Florida. Other items in her food storage are beginning to run short. Scott’s work van really needs an oil change but they can’t find any to trade for. And she can’t support the family’s needs out of their yard forever. The compost can’t keep up with all of the soil depletion though she is doing her best.
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter 44 (part 2)

There are just so many things to worry about and now she has no one she can talk to them about. Scott just left, and she is feeling left behind. She can’t take the chance and go out much because what if she gets sick? Who could the kids turn to? About 5 miles from here there is an active outbreak of panflu. She can’t count on any kind of immunity. And what if Scott, or her father or brother, get ill while they are away and on the road? What if Scott brings it home without realizing it until it is too late? What if he doesn’t come home at all?

“OK . . . I’ve got to stop this,” Sissy abruptly says to herself. Scott’s leaving has freaked her out more than she thought it would. “It is time to get busy and work off some of this anxiety and paranoia.” She is shaky enough that Rose and James probably see it. She needs to stay in control or they might all start falling apart emotionally.

“How would you guys like to surprise Daddy? Think we can complete the whole chore list before he gets back?” Sissy asks the kids.

With the indoor cleaning pretty well under control, it is time to move on to the outside of the house. Sissy looks and thinks, “The yard never was a showcase, but good gravy it looks very reggledy-taggledy now.”

The front yard doesn’t look all that much different except that a lot of the normal landscaping plants have been replaced with edible items. Celtuce, burdock, salsify, horseradish and many other unusual food plants have been interplanted with herbs and some semi-tropical bushes like azaleas and hibiscus. There are also patches of edible flowers like bee balm, basil, borage, calendula, chamomile, and anything else they have seeds for. There are also the two grape fruit trees. The grass is scraggly and sand shows through in many places where it isn’t covered with oak leaves and her attempts at planting edible ground covers. The wintergreen and houttuynia are only doing so so since it has been so hot. There isn’t much they can do with the front yard for now except rake up the latest mess of leaves, a never-ending job. They have been cutting the grass with a scythe or swing blade to keep it from getting too long and they keep any fallen branches picked up and put into their woodpile as part of their normal chore schedule.

Now the backyard is a different story. During the day the backyard looks like you have stepped into a huge edible landscaping experiment. There are vines climbing the fences on all three sides of the yard. There are barrels, large and small, containers of all shapes and sizes, hanging baskets of every description in almost every available space. There are several old bathtubs serving as raised planting beds (currently holding several varieties of potatoes). Amidst all of this are hung flattened cans strung on fishing line and odd pieces of wire and twine to act both as burglar alarms and as metal scarecrows to keep marauding animals (and people) out. Then there is the in-ground pool with its faded blue cover where they store their non-potable water. There are bat houses on a couple of old antenna poles and under some of the eaves of the house to help those blessed little creatures who keep the mosquito population from taking over the world. The compost bins are homemade and in need of some reinforcing as they are beginning to lean. Lastly, but certainly not least, is their water catchment system. This includes a series of jury rigged pieces of metal flashing, gutter, and rain barrels with screening to keep out as much debris as possible.

At night the family brings in all of their movable containers. People still have their gardens raided pretty regularly by both human and animal predators and with seven mouths to feed, Scott and Sissy just barely make do. The yard will never make the cover of House Beautiful but it helps to keep them fed.

The one major outside task that Sissy feels must get done is to expand their compost pile system. She wants to add another bin. They have two, but she would like to have at least one more. They have an old wooden pallet that they are going to dismantle and use for this purpose. Scott said not to ask where he got it from, so she figured there was a story there she might not want to hear.

One of their problems is that, even after just one year of intensive gardening, Sissy can tell that the sandy soil is getting tired out. Even if the pandemic comes to a halt tomorrow the economic infrastructure is going to take some time to repair; perhaps many years. She figures she will be feeding her family out of the garden for some time yet. But without replacing the soil nutrients and some decent plant fertilizer she doesn’t know how she is going to accomplish it.

Sissy really envies the ground her extended family has in Kentucky and Tennessee. That is real dirt. Sure, some of it Is clay, but by and large there Is some nice black dirt for them to grow things in. The sand here in Florida lets both water and nutrients slip right through with barely a by-your-leave. There is hardly any organic material in it. She is doing well to get the compost into the ground to build up the soil, but still, the intensive growing she is doing is eating the nutrients up just about as fast as she can put them in. The days of being able to go to a store and pick up all the fertilizer and insecticides you need are gone for a while, maybe for a good long while. It is just one of many worries that Sissy is trying to come to grips with.

Another is that Rose really needs college books for next semester. She has done well this semester as Scott went out to the college and was able to purchase the books at a discounted price since they were so overstocked. But where is the money coming from next semester? Will her laptop hold out so she can keep doing the online work she needs to do? What happens if any of their home computers fail?

As homeschoolers Sissy’s family has plenty of educational material for the four children that haven’t entered college yet. To make up for the deficit in the educational options – many people are refusing to send their children to the public schools due to the danger of infection – she is also writing lessons for Barry’s granddaughters and Tom’s two sons. The kids aren’t going to school together exactly, but they have formed a sort of neighborhood correspondence school. If the power is on, they keep in touch by computer on a bulletin board Sissy was able to set up especially for this purpose. If the power is off, they keep in touch by “Fairy Ferry,” which is a play on a wildly popular children’s book series where people kept in touch using owls. The kids write letters and the adults place them in a PVC tube that has been attached to a tree in their backyard. Even the older kids play along although the boys prefer something that is closer to a Star Wars theme than a bunch of fairies flitting about. They are even playing games by mail. So far they have figured out how to play chess, scrabble, checkers, and trivia games by mail. The kids are proving to be incredibly resilient if they are given the right tools to work with.

Three days after Scott leaves, Sissy has just about reached the end of her extra chore list and the end of her rope. She has way too much time to think about what could be going wrong with the men’s venture, and it plagues her so much she can hardly sleep at night. For example, last night she sat up as long as the solar batteries lasted on the lantern and sliced pickles for pickling and prepared seven quarts of pasta sauce from the yellow plum tomatoes that came in. News reports that talked of a third major wave of pandemic infections beginning out in California making its way eastward did absolutely nothing for her peace of mind either. The reports are so ominous in tone that those few people who have returned their kids to a classroom setting are pulling them out left and right.

Sissy is pondering all of her worries as she pulls weeds in the front yard flowerbeds to throw into the compost pile. The sun is beaming down on her back when suddenly it is replaced by a looming shadow. She quickly turns around to find a half dozen women looking down at her.

“Uh, hi. What’s up?” Sissy asks hesitantly as she stands.

“You homeschool all your kids.”

“Yeah,” Sissy replies cautiously.

“And you’ve been sharing some of your school stuff with a couple of families in the neighborhood.”

“Well, just Barry’s grandkids and Tom Cox’s kids. Why?”

“We need them too.”

“You need what too? Uh, I mean, what is the ‘them’ you need? I mean … oh heck, what are y’all talking about?” Sissy says as she gives up on grammatical correctness.

“You’ve heard that another wave of panflu might be coming this way.”

“Well, it never really went away,” Sissy replies. “A few blocks over those people, the ones that were bringing in the fish to sell, came down with it. So, another wave is bad, but . . . “

“Yeah. OK. Whatever. But our kids need to be in school. Some of us are going crazy with the kids just sitting around gloomily all day or getting into mischief left and right. But, they can’t be ‘in’ school right now. It’s never been a problem for you. And now you’ve fixed it for other people. We want that. We want someone to give us something to work with for our kids.”

“You can. Homeschooling isn’t against the law. Just send in your letter of intent to the county.”

“But what else do we need to do? We don’t know anything about teaching.”

Sissy comes back with, “Did you teach your kids to walk? Did you help them learn to talk? Did you potty train them? Did you help them to learn to dress themselves? What about their numbers and colors? Did you help them with their homework once they started school? If you did any of that, then you have already been teaching and training your kids. You don’t need to learn to teach. You already know how.”

“What about lessons? You’ve already done this for every grade there is from preschool through highschool. Word has it you have even started helping one of your kids with college level work. We need that. You have something we need and we are willing to trade for it. What would you take for teaching our kids.”

“Whoa. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to get done what I need to get done now. If you are asking me to share my lesson plans with you, no problem; but, if you are asking me to do the actual teaching, I just can’t.”

“But we need . . . “

“Wait, let me explain. To qualify as a homeschool child in the state of Florida, you as the parent need to be responsible for the teaching and training of your child. I can’t be your child’s teacher. Now, I can do some tutoring in the form of giving you lesson ideas, but you as the parent need to implement them. That is the way the laws are written here in Florida.”

“Oh. Look. I know we are coming off pushy, but we are scared. We don’t want to run the risk of losing our kids. But some of them are driving us Gawd all mighty crazy! But we also don’t want them to fall behind or turn out ignorant. We don’t have the money to put them in a private school and we don’t have the electricity to keep up with any of the virtual school programs. We’ve got to do something and like we said, we are willing to trade for it.”

After a brief prayer that she isn’t getting herself in over her head, Sissy asks, “When do you want to start?”

“As soon as possible.”

“How many kids and in how many different grades are we talking about?”

“Well, we are not the only families. We only represent the families that need some kind of educational option for their kids. If you total us all up there are about twenty families on this street, or right off this street, with about 55 or 60 kids between us. Maybe more because some people have inherited kids from other family members, but say no more than 75 total. And we’ve got at least a couple in every grade from pre K to 12th grade.”

“Good gravy. I had no idea there were that many kids in the neighborhood. Do you know if everyone has a dictionary? Even better, have everyone make a list of all the books they have in the house. I need to know what kind of resources everyone has. If we can get this done in the next couple of days we’ll try and start next Monday.”

“So you’ll do it? You’ll teach our kids?”

“No but I’ll help you to teach your kids. One thing up front though, you are going to have to be realistic. I’m one person. I have my own way of doing things and they might not work – probably will not work – for every family or every kid. I’ll give you ideas and I’ll try and facilitate some ways that you can apply it in your own homes, but you will do the teaching. For older kids its fairly easy. By the time they get to a certain age, all you can do is facilitate their learning, provide resources for them to work from, encourage them. The little ones require more one-on-one work especially as you are teaching them to read. If what I’m offering doesn’t work then I can offer suggestions, but I’m not the school system. I can’t individualize every lesson for every child. And I can’t make your kids learn if they don’t want to. The discipline, grading, and record keeping will be up to each household.”

“OK. So what do you want to do this? We haven’t talked price.”

“Um. Look. I’m not looking to make a killing off of this. In fact, I’m not real inclined to get paid at all because this is more of an experiment than anything else right now. A ‘payment’ would obligate me and I’m not there in my thinking yet. I’ll do this because it sounds interesting and I know some of your kids. I don’t want to get bullied and it felt like that was what was happening there for a while. Let’s just leave it as a friendly gesture on my part for a while, that way if any of us becomes uncomfortable or find its not working, we can pull out without a big fuss. OK?”

“Hey, sounds good to me. I was afraid you were going to ask cash to do this,” one woman says.

“Yeah I was too and my husband just lost his job . . . again,” another woman chimes in.

“Isn’t your husband the one that used to work down at the boatyard?” Sissy asks.

“Yeah, he’s been trying to pick up work here and there, but he hasn’t found anything steady in almost a year.”

“That’s a tough thing to be going through,” Sissy says as she files the name for later because she knows that Scott is looking to add another two men to their crew so that they can split work between two teams.

As the women leave Sissy wonders what she has gotten herself into. She also wonders what Scott is going to say about this. As she heads to the disinfection station to clean up, she realizes this isn’t just more work for her, but it means more work for Scott. Since she’s not allowed to risk exposure – and boy is she glad she remembered to wear a mask and gloves – Scott is going to have to act as the delivery person.

“The logistics of this little project are starting to get complicated,” mulls Sissy. “I wish Scott was here to talk them over with.”
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Forty-Five
It isn’t long before the women come back with the list of the children’s names, grades, and the resources in their homes. Sissy sets to work trying to build a lesson plan. Of the families that want to be part of the neighborhood correspondence school, there are 6 kindergartners, 7 first graders, 4 second graders, 2 third graders, 5 fourth graders, 1 fifth grader, 7 sixth graders, 5 seventh graders, 10 eighth graders, 9 ninth graders, 4 tenth graders, 3 eleventh graders, and 3 twelfth graders. This makes a total of sixty-seven kids in nineteen households. She is going to have the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders tell her what they want to study. She will let this be her guide to facilitate their lessons. The ninth graders she will assign mostly entry level highschool work and let them pick some electives for their own self-directed study that they can keep a journal on. The middle schoolers will all share science, history, geography, and literature lessons; she will have separate language arts and math lessons for each grade. She will assign the elementary students the same lessons but with level appropriate requirements. Good thing she kept all of her lesson plan books from over the years.

Science, history, and literature are easy; there will be lots of hands-on, grade appropriate projects. They will also keep a nature and observation journal similar to the concept that can be found in the Charlotte Mason-approach to education. For part of language arts, she will suggest that each student keep a daily journal. Sometimes she will give them writing prompts for topics, at other times they can chose their own. With luck this will also help the kids express their current concerns and fears rather than keeping them bottled up to deal with later. Math is going to be a challenge for some of the parents to teach, but Sissy has enough step-by-step instruction manuals that if applied with a little patience, everyone should not feel too much frustration. Luckily, most families have copies of some of the classics. For the first few weeks, she is going to do a unit study on The Swiss Family Robinson or Robinson Crusoe. Every grade will participate and she will be able to tie in some projects quite easily.

In fact, Sissy has too many ideas. She hasn’t figured out how she is going to disseminate every one’s assignments. They still have a good supply of printer toner for now as she and Scott had really stocked up for the business. They have about six cases of paper that Scott had taken in trade. Sissy figures that maybe they will continue with the idea of a correspondence school and she can set up a series of mailboxes over at the neighborhood market lot. To save time and paper, she will send out an entire week’s worth of lessons at a time. It will be up to the parents to collect the lessons and implement them in their own home. At the end of the week she will ask for feedback from parents and kids and see how things are working out. Heck, she figures she can’t do worse than the kids not getting any instructional education at all, and she can at least make an attempt to keep things fun and interesting.

Setting this up has certainly given her something to keep her mind off counting the minutes until Scott returns home. He is due back any day and this is the longest they have ever been separated without at least talking to each other on the phone in 25 years of being together. It certainly has been emotionally challenging. It gives her a glimpse at what things would be like if one day he never came home.

Early the next morning as Sissy is moving some of the last of the containers back into the backyard there is the sound of air breaks and the whooshing of a large truck pulling into their driveway. She runs around front and straight into Scott’s arms. All the kids heard the truck roll up and quickly come out to see their dad. Sissy also greets her brother and father. No one is thinking about safe distances and disinfection at that moment.

“We gotta get this stuff unloaded so dad and I can get back on the road,” her brother hastily breaks in as he begins unlocking the rear doors of the truck.

“You can’t stay at least to eat?” Sissy pleads.

“Sorry honey, but no. Your brother and I are going to haul this stuff down to Sarasota and then try and make it home before dark so that we don’t have to park and wait out the curfew. I’m missing your Momma real bad and need to get home to her,” her dad puts in. “But if you’ve got anything we can eat on the go, I won’t turn you down.”

Sissy sends the girls into the house to throw together a bag of food to go while she helps bring in bags and boxes of stuff. They’ve backed the rig all the way to the porch overhang, but its still work to get up in the trailer, get the stuff down the ramp, and then walk it into the house and find a place to set it down amidst all the other mess in the house. She is curious but keeps it at bay until her brother and dad pull away.

“What on earth is in all these bags? And are these figs and persimmons in these crates?” Sissy asks.

“Yep. Do I get a kiss?”

“You’ll get more than a kiss when the kids go to bed. Lordy, I’ve missed you. Don’t go away like that again,” she implores.

“Well, as to that . . . “ Scott hedges.

“Oh no. When do you leave?” Sissy asks, crestfallen.

“Your brother is going to try and get back as soon as he does a couple of loads he has already contracted to do. Maybe about a week.” Scott replies. To Sissy’s disgust he is obviously excited about taking off again.

“You going to Tennessee again?”

“No, just up to north Florida.”

“What for?” Sissy asks trying to hide her irritation at his enthusiam.

“There is a man up there that has promised to trade us a couple of head of beef, and some wild game, for some sugar. He is someone your dad met at the truck stop before we crossed the state line.”

“But there is another wave of infections coming this way! Haven’t you all heard?”

“Yeah. That’s one of the reasons we are trying to get this done quick. Look, I’ve got to run over to Barry and Tom and see how things have gone. Then I need to go out and make a run. I know its late to start, but I just feel the need to keep going as quick as possible.”

"You just got in!” she says upset. “OK, we’ll talk tonight. Please try and not be out too long.”

“No longer than I have to be. Dig around in this stuff and see what you think.”

And with that Scott is out the door again and running. “That’s what I get for marrying a Type A,” Sissy grouses to herself.

Sissy goes over to start “digging around” as Scott suggested. She nearly swallows her teeth a few minutes later as she tries to take it all in. “And he left before I could give him a good solid kiss. Just wait until that man gets home,” Sissy mutters as she gazes in stupefaction at everything.

She calls to the kids for some help and begins to unpack a veritable gold mine. The burlap bags hold about a hundred pounds of walnuts and pecans. She thought they were golf balls originally. She immediately makes plans to repackage them into some smaller containers. There are some smaller bags of almonds and hazelnuts in there too. And a bag of what looks like hickory nuts, but she isn’t sure as they aren’t labeled. If they are hickories, it will be a Godsend because Tom told her how Native Americans used to make a shortening-like product from them called Hickory Milk.

There are crates of figs, persimmons, Muscadine grapes, and what had to be six bushels of Granny Smith apples. She lets the kids have one of those each and hopes they aren’t so green that they get a bellyache. That’s all they need on Scott’s first day back.

Small plastic drums hold sorghum molasses of all things. But, most incredibly, there are several fifty-pound bags of flour and the same of cornmeal. The bags are all labeled as being from the Hopkinsville Milling Co. so she knows that they got as far as her extended family’s area. She isn’t sure whether they got as far north as Paducah though, she didn’t have a chance to ask. She knows her dad would have tried to see his sister if he could have. There are also two fifty-pound bags of field corn that will come in handy.

And, there looks to be a couple of jugs of something that shouldn’t have been there. What in the world they need moonshine for she doesn’t know. If the men had been caught transporting that stuff across state lines there would have been hell to pay.

What a bounty! She is down to the dregs of her flour supply and here is more than she could have ever hoped for. If she plays things out right, this will last for months, definitely through the New Year anyway. “Oh, just wait until that man comes home,” Sissy vows.
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Forty-Six
When Scott gets home there is quite a celebration; both before and after the kids go to bed. The centerpiece of the family’s dinner is a loaf of persimmon bread with pecans in it. Luckily the family’s supply of powdered eggs is still quite healthy because Sissy really over stocked, or so she had thought at the time, on #10 cans of whole dried eggs, powdered egg whites, as well as powdered milk.

After dinner the family sits and talks about what Scott saw and heard while on the road away from home.

They started their trek by going straight north on Interstate 75 to Lake City, FL where they had to pull over for an initial inter-state travel checkpoint, followed by another one in Jennings, FL. There was no stopping and getting out of the semi cab at the checkpoints as it is strictly prohibited by the transportation authorities. The men weren’t really interested in getting out of the cab due to the eeriness of that section of the road.

There were a lot of military style vehicles on the road, some semi tractor trailers, but very few private vehicles. That is unless you counted the disabled and stripped down vehicle skeletons lining either side of the road.

This situation continued on up to Valdosta, GA and Sissy’s brother said that this is true of most major roadways, particularly the US Interstate system. Some trucker buddies of his said that it was the same way up into Canada and just south into the border towns of Mexico.

At Valdosta they faced another interstate travel checkpoint. Since they were coming into rather than leaving the state, this checkpoint took longer. The fact that they had a signed contract with a bonafide, well-known company really helped with the approval process. Without that contract, there would have been all sorts of declarations and inspections that would have eaten up the remainder of the day until they were stuck because of curfew.

After being released to travel by the Valdosta officials, they took off towards Atlanta, but were directed to by-pass the city using the marked detours by a National Guard blockade. The entire city of Atlanta was quarantined due to a severe cholera outbreak following their last wave of panflu infections. The men picked I75 back up near Marietta, GA. Marietta itself looked like an armed encampment with exits blocked off by disabled vehicles that had been piled two and three high. There were signs all over the place warning that travelers who stopped were subject to confiscation of all goods and likely loss of their due process rights. There were also some places strung with barbed wire and accordion wire to keep people from going around the blocked exits. Truckers along the way had warned them that for sure you didn’t want to try and push your luck. If a town said keep moving, don’t stop here, then that is exactly what you better do. Some towns out there didn’t fool around. They shot first and worried about justification later. They continued trucking through Calhoun and Dalton, GA and then into Chattanooga, TN where they had to stop for another border crossing.

In Chattanooga they had to pay a “toll” to get through. Bribe at gunpoint was a better description. Those that didn’t pay often found that their paperwork was marked suspect and their loads were confiscated and drivers “taken into custody.” Sissy’s brother said it was better to just pay it for now, so they had to leave about 100 pounds of sugar behind. As soon as they could, they got out of there and didn’t look back.

In Chattanooga they switched from I75 to I24. They ran into no trouble until they reached Murfreesboro where they needed to refuel. They spent two hours waiting in line before they were able to take their turn at the fuel pumps. As soon as they got to the head of the line, the pumps ran dry. Luckily they were only an hour more waiting for refill. Some truckers had mentioned waiting days in line for fuel.

Also at Murfreesboro they found they would have to bypass Nashville and Clarksville. Nashville was quarantined. Clarksville was under control of the US Army that was based at Ft. Campbell Army Base. They figured their papers might get them into Clarksville, but it was getting out that was the problem. They were carrying a valuable cargo. While they were waiting for fuel they re-routed their travel plans. First they would use secondary roads to cross over to I65 and then over to I40. They backtracked on I40 to a little town called Burns where they went north to a little town called Dover, where Ft. Donelson National Military Park is located. This was the area where Sissy’s father was raised when he was a small boy and they still have connections living there.

Taking a chance they called ahead on the CB. They actually reached a cousin that was more than happy to let them park on their farm for the night to avoid problems with curfew. They were fed and in exchange left a bag of sugar that was much appreciated.

The next morning it was an easy jaunt into Christian County, KY where Hopkinsville Milling Company is located. It is also where many members of Sissy’s extended family still live. One of these is another cousin that works at the mill and she is the one who arranged the contract for the trade of sugar for other goods.

The men spent three days in town waiting for the transaction to be finalized. During this time they were pretty much quarantined in a merchants’ area which was basically a camp where truckers parked. They did have family come by with letters and news being exchanged, not all of it good. There had been losses in the family. Several family members had lost grandchildren. Sissy’s cousin, who was paralyzed and suffered some lower immunity issues, became infected and his full recovery is in doubt because due to his physical challenges he is triaged from receiving professional medical care. His mother is a former LPN who worked at the State Hospital for many years. The aunt’s neighbor, who lost her own son to the panflu, helped her get out of the house and go see her sister’s husband and her nephews. Scott reported, “She leaked tears the entire visit. She lost one of her grandchildren and has nearly lost her son. She is tired and fragile, physically and emotionally.”

Other relatives continued to come by their entire stay. There were some plans made to see if they could bring citrus fruit or strawberries when they ripen but the plans were fluid as everyone was well aware how quickly the situation could change.

As each family member came by to visit they were given a couple of sugar cones. Some sent packages and letters back with them. Eventually it was time to leave as their business travel visa was running out of time. They took the same route back but avoided Chattanooga, TN by taking back roads. This added an extra day to their trip but was worth not having to deal with the bribe process.

“I didn’t do a lot of manual labor on the road, but that life sure is tiring,” Scott says.

“How did everyone look?” asks Sissy.

“About like people here. Rode hard and hung up wet; some more so than others. Your aunt looks really bad. If your cousin doesn’t fully recover it won’t be because he isn’t being given the best care your aunt can manage. Your Dad got permission on the last day there to go to her house and see him. He could hardly talk about it when he got back. Its bad.”

Sissy is very somber for a while.

“We have been so lucky,” she says quietly.

“Not luck, well at least not much. You got us going with prepping and then we teamed up to address our business concerns. We’ve had a game plan that’s been flexible but solid and we’ve followed it. That’s not luck, that’s forethought and strategy. You’ve taken good care of us,” he says hugging her.

While she feels some vindication at his words, she responds by saying, “We’ve taken care of each other. Its just hard hearing how bad its been out there. When you don’t know people you can keep some objectivity and distance. When its family it brings it all home. Stories are just stories until you find out its happened to someone you love.”

Scott and Sissy head off to bed, yet again faced with how relatively well off they’ve come out of a bad situation. Preparing has given them an edge that has turned out to be priceless. Sissy is just sorry that she couldn’t have convinced more people to do it.
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Forty-Seven
For the next two days Sissy has her family working feverishly to put away the goods that Scott brought home from the road trip. Scott spends a lot of time with Barry and Tom making plans for being gone for another week. He says that if they will continue watching things he will bring back what he can for their families from the north Florida run. Barry looks at Scott and asks, “You aren’t really expecting me to turn down that offer are you?” With a handshake Scott promises the men to do the best he can.

On the third day, Sissy’s father and brother arrive. This is a few days ahead of schedule so Scott has to scramble to get going. Again Sissy watches Scott take off in a truck to be gone for a week and she finds that it is no easier the second time around than it was the first. There is also the knowledge that they are still trying to outrun another wave of pandemic infections.

This third wave, due to a slow down in human traffic and the institution of nationwide mitigation procedures, is moving considerably slower than the first two waves did. Even so, there has already been cases that suggest the wave has reached the El Paso area of Texas.

As before, Sissy uses manual labor to keep herself from worrying to the point of getting nothing constructive accomplished. First she decides to cheer up the kids with a special treat. She makes some fresh apple sauce from a couple of the apples that Scott brought home. Then she makes Applesauce Cookies.

It is a great treat and goes well with the powdered milk drink that Sissy makes. Everyone eventually got used to drinking powdered milk in the absence of anything fresh and Sissy doubts the kids even remember the difference anymore.

It has been a bit since she has made cookies. Sissy realizes she needs to make more time to do things like this. It is easy and really doesn’t use too much of her stockpile of supplies. And the kids really get a kick out of it. She wishes she had thought to make something like this for Scott to take. Why does hindsight always have to be so much clearer than foresight?

Now that it is November, Sissy’s list of chores changes. They do plant a few things, mostly just to replace what they have used fresh. Most of her time is now spent preserving what is coming out of the garden. Not that she is complaining, having a full pantry and a full garden is certainly more comforting than a empty pantry and no new items coming in.

She is tickled by the success of their potatoes. She hadn’t been too sure that the plants would produce, but they have and quite prolifically too. They have the traditional varieties like Red Pontiac and Yukon Gold, but they also have heirloom fingerlings. The funniest of all is the All-Blue potato. The potato really is a bluish-purple color and makes up into a pale violet colored mashed potato. The kids think it is neat. Scott was a little iffy the first time she plated him up a batch, but he got over his doubts really quickly.

And the tomatoes! Sissy hesitates to say she has over-planted but she has lost count of the number of fruits she has picked. The varieties that are coming in are Lightning, Tomande, Druzba, Big Rainbow, and Brandywine. There are others as well. There are the purplish tomatoes called Cherokee and Black Krim, and they are so strange looking that it took some convincing to get Scott and James to try them. Johnnie won’t touch them at all because he has it in his head they are “rotten.” There are also all sorts of cherry tomatoes still coming in plus one called Brown that is nearly chocolate colored. That is one that Bekah steers clear of. Sissy’s favorite of the unusual varieties is the tomato that looks like a yellow bell pepper; you stuff it like one too. It is great filled with a tuna salad mix or a TVP and rice mix that is kin to what you would stuff bell peppers with.

The other things that the are being harvested are pumpkins, acorn squash, hubbard squash, Yardlong snap beans and Kentucky wonder pole beans, and lemon ball cucumbers that looked like yellow eggs. They had to drape the fence with some old screening to keep the varmints from taking all the beans. It seems the more raccoons Sissy turns over to Mr. Jones and Mrs. Cleary the more that try and get into her garden. She long ago stopped feeling bad about “racoonicide.” The garden is just too important, and a lot of people have begun to count on ‘coon stew for a solid meal.

One of Rose’s favorites from the garden is the Chiogga beet whose leaves are a good substitute for spinach. Other greens that are coming in include broccoli, Chinese cabbage, and Bibb lettuce. There are peas and Armenian cucumbers that are so odd looking that you could almost mistake them for gords, and husk tomatoes (aka ground cherries). The harvest also includes several varieties of carrots like Thumbelina, Danvers, Little Finger, and a purple colored heirloom carrot called Purple Dragon. After those started coming in, Scott wanted to know if Sissy had been trading with some immigrants from Mars behind his back. “Blue potatoes and purple tomatoes, now purple carrots. Too weird!” Scott said with a comical expression on his face. Sissy just laughed and told him to get over it. “If I can learn to eat raccoon, you can learn to eat funny colored vegetables.”

They cut sunflower heads and hang them to dry where the squirrels can’t get to them. And there is an odd fruit called a Canistel that is also known as Egg Fruit which isn’t half bad once you get passed the funny texture. The Meyer Lemons have produced a bumper crop, thankfully and James is trying to propagate some of the seeds using some of Mr. D’s suggestions. The last of the pomegranates are pulled off the bushes and instead of being eaten fresh are turned into pomegranate syrup, also known commonly as grenadine.

The persimmon trees survived the hurricane fairly well but lost about half of their fruit. Even after the loss, they still out-produced last year’s crop. And last but not least are the prickly pears. Sissy learned after last year’ harvest and preserving went much quicker with only a few bandages to show for all the work.

Looking at the family’s food storage areas, Sissy realizes something. Where as before the shelves held mostly store-bought items, they now hold mostly home-preserved items. That is one of the truest indicators of how their life has changed. Would it ever go back to the way it was before the pandemic? “Some things maybe’” Sissy thinks. “We will probably be as affected as people were that survived the Great Depression. We’ll never be totally dependent on the just-in-time economy again.” At least she hopes not.

With all the preserving Sissy has used a chunk of the extra rings and seals that she bought prepandemic. She picked up about 1000 lids for about fifty dollars on Ebay and thought that would last her years and years. She now realizes that canning everything that a family of seven needs means that 1000 lids may only last until the end of next year. She is trying to piece some things out by drying them – like turning green beans into leather britches, drying carrots and peas, etc. – but after next year they are going to have to get even more creative if things don’t start looking up.

On a positive note, Sissy did make contact with a local county official who put her in contact with the email of a volunteer group operating the former LDS cannery in Plant City. Sissy and one of the volunteers conversed via WhatsApp about the possibility of opening a cannery closer to the northern part of the county.

“Mrs. Chapman, I wish we could say that I had better news for you, but it looks like it will be at least another month or two before we can provide public access to any of the other cannery sites. Right now the State is using them as a means to distribute supplies to local food banks and the mobile ration stores.”

“Mr. Henderson, just hearing that it is a possibility is good news to me. The fact that you are talking at most a couple of months is even better. I can certainly hold out for a few more months with what I have now.”

“I do have a thought, if you are interested,” Mr. Henderson says.

“If it involves leaving my home Mr. Henderson, I’m sorry but I won’t be able to. My husband and I have very strict rules to prevent exposing our kids to the flu. I’d love to do on-site volunteer work, but we still have young children at home.”

“Actually it doesn’t require you to leave your house at all. We are starting a website that has a discussion board attached to it. We need local people to work the forum and to submit information for the web pages.”

“That I can do. What exactly are you looking for?” Sissy asks.

“Well besides food preservation recipes we need suggestions on how to grow things in our local micro environments, how to save seeds, commentaries on what varieties have grown best for you, ways to grow native species for food and home preservation of native food varieties. If you think you would be interested anything you could submit would be work that we wouldn’t have to do. That would leave us more work hours to complete the renovations and repairs so that we can get more canneries up and running sooner.”

“Now that is a task I am up for. Do I forward the information for submission to you?”

“No, if you could put it into a text document and attach it to an email to the Cannery Volunteer Board, the CVB will format it for the website.”

For Sissy this will be a relatively painless activity as she has been keeping notes all along. She’ll simply copy and paste her dry information and put it in a more entertaining format to make it more user-friendly for other people to read.

This isn’t all altruism on Sissy’s part either. She is hoping that if the canneries are first-come-first serve that she will be on someone’s list to contact. She figures that if she helps them then eventually the favor will be returned. A few more community contacts that help her improve her family’s situation will certainly be worth any time she puts in for the VCB.
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Forty-Eight
As always, Scott is as good as his word and he is home within a week. This time he brings home something that the family has been desperately missing; fresh, domesticated meat.

Scott, along with his father-in-law and brother-in-law, had a very successful trip. The men trucked a large load of sugar and some south Florida fruit and produce up to north Florida to a town called Live Oak. They followed the same route north, along I75 corridor up to Lake City, FL. In order to reach their destination. At Lake City, they left the Interstate and got onto US90 and went west until they reached the outskirts of Live Oak. The town is the seat of Suwannee County and continues to serve as a hub of commerce for several local communities, much as it did prepandemic. It took them a whole day just to get a pass into the city. After finally receiving permission to proceed, they continued west through town until they reached the former GoldKist chicken processing plant.

The large processing plant that was once a primary employer in the area has been converted to a food distribution point after being sanitized on several occasions because of panflu infections. The plant no longer processes poultry, but deals with almost everything else. Security is very tight. While it is understood that truckers – due primarily to road piracy – carry lethal protection devices, while parked in the GoldKist compound all such devices must be registered and turned into the GoldKist guards for the duration of their stay.

One of the main production efforts taking place at the plant is the processing of fresh and dried meat products. Even better, they recently received a federal grant to re-engineer the plant to accommodate a small cannery. The state of Florida also helped with acquiring resources to complete the project.

The federal and state governments are finally regaining enough personnel and resources that they have been able to sponsor community-seeding programs. One of these programs helps to encourage and procure the equipment for localization of food production and preservation. This program has been quite successful in those locations that had existing resources to exploit. In areas with few natural resources, the government is taking a two-pronged approach. They are encouraging relocation as well as implementing re-education and revitalization programs.

The re-education/revitalization programs are similar to those that were once conducted in Africa and many third-world countries that taught new farming techniques. Other skills taught include special water catchment and conservation techniques. The relocation option is primarily being offered to those who do not or cannot participate in the re-education and revitalization programs.

The relocation option is not as simple a solution as it sounds. Unless you have family willing to sign an affidavit stating that they will be financially and legally responsible for you for one year, you are put on a waiting list until a slot comes open in a community accepting flugees. For the move, you are limited to two bags – weighing fifty pounds each – per person on what you can take with you. However, transportation and food are provided free of charge for the travelers to their disembarkation point. Transportation primarily consists of open-air rail service.

Upon arrival, flugees are subject to rigorous quarantine procedures, especially if they come from certain cities designated as Red Zones. Red Zone cities includes cities with a certain per capita of infectious diseases such as cholera, typhoid, etc. or from a particularly violent location such as Los Angeles or the DC Metro area.

Many areas further restrict flugee emigration to age groups or family groups. Some say that they will only take adult males between the ages of 18 and 40. Some areas only want females aged 16 to 35. Some areas only take orphan or unattached children. Some areas prefer intact family groups. Adults with trade experience, or teens willing to sign an apprenticeship contract, are welcome almost anywhere. For a while there was a blackmarket indenture program operating along side the Federal relocation program. This was quickly brought to a hault when it was discovered people were signing away years of their lives in the form of unpaid service just to have someone in a relocation area agree to sponsor them.

The indenture black market caused another, and very restrictive, condition to be put in place. Every flugee has to have an official picture I.D. from prepandemic times, such as a driver’s license or US passport. Children can use a picture student I.D. as long as their original birth certificate and social security card accompanies it.

The more restrictive condition with regard to identification is causing the relocation process to slow down. Babies born during the pandemic usually lack official documentation. Some communities will overlook this documentation deficiency on children under two years of age. Some will accept a notarized letter from a registered doctor, nurse, or midwife. Many communities, however, will not. This is not a harsh or arbitrary rule to hinder relocation, but is an attempt to make sure that children are not removed from their parental care except in the case of being orphaned or abandoned. Adults who find unsupervised children are required to turn them in to a law enforcement agency, show a picture ID, and sign an affidavit detailing exactly how, when, and where the child is found along with any other known information concerning the child. The system is imperfect, but it is an attempt to make sure that children aren’t accidentally shipped away from a parent who is desperately searching for them.

Live Oak is not accepting flugees. In fact, the whole state of Florida is still debating the issue. The northern border of the state has been cordoned off and is marked by armed crossing points on all major roadways. Vigilante flotillas patrol the hundreds of miles of Florida coastline. Of course people still manage to cross into the state, or land on the coast, but once here they find it hard going without sponsorship. Most small cities are insular and can spot an outsider almost immediately. Since a state residency I.D. is required to obtain ration cards, many flugees must obtain goods on the black market, which means they pay a great deal more than the federally capped prices.

An unauthorized refugee faces a tough road. If caught, they are put on a national database along with criminals and various other offenders. The first (or second depending on state law) time they are caught they are simply deported across the state line. The second/third offense puts them in a labor camp where they clear roads, tear down condemned buildings, work agricultural fields, etc. The third/fourth offense might find them on a prison barge bound for who-knows-where to do who-knows-what, including international relief work.

The hitch is that some states count any offense on the national database. Some states only count the offenses that take place within their own borders. Some states count only deportation offenses when it comes to assignment to prison barges. There are attempts to standardize the system, but the compromise will take a while to finalize as states are using the issue of state’s rights to bolster their positions, especially those that are hard-lining the flugee laws. The case for illegal foreign immigrants is even harder. A lot of the Border States simply turn a blind eye to vigilante activities. Those that do take a direct hand in the immigration issues are prone to simply shipping out any immigrant found unless he or she can prove that they have permission to be in this country from prepandemic times. Permissible exceptions include foreign tourists with a valid and stamped passport, student visas (out of date visas can reapply so long as they continue to either go to school or work in the health care field), work permits, and diplomatic corp members.

Scott knew all of this from listening to radio broadcasts. But in Live Oak the men see the reality. Individuals in institutional orange are seen loading and unloading trucks. They are also part of the ground-keeping crews. And another small contingent is sitting chained together in a higher security area where armed guards patrol.

When the brother-in-law asks what is up, it is explained that the group in the detention area is being shipped to Panama City where they will be placed on a prison barge. The guard also volunteers that several of the group are gang members who had been given a chance to migrate by Alabama authorities, but when they kept getting into territorial fights, they were shipped to Florida to try and work off their sentences. Unfortunately they continued their poor conduct here. If they get into more trouble on the way to the port, they will likely find themselves sent to a barrier island prison for special populations. Those prisons are very Spartan; they receive air-dropped rations of just enough food and water to subsist on each day and nothing else. There are no buildings, no walls, no guards … and no way off. That penalty is reserved for only the most extremely incorrigible individuals. Even assignment to a prison barge is rare these days now that the threat is understood to be real and that there is no parole from such a location. Usually forced labor is enough to rehabilitate most offenders, or at least it is enough to encourage them to follow the laws of the land. Also, rampant panful infections are a threat no one ignores.

As harsh as the new – and hopefully temporary – prison system is, it is the only way that has been found to deal with the violence that continues to pop up, especially in large urbanized sectors of the country. For a while sending people to prison was an automatic death sentence; sending people to any kind of mass congregation facility was. Panflu infections could sweep facilities bare of living inmates in a matter of days. There is no perfect solution, but this is the one that requires the least amount of manpower, yet gives the greatest benefit to a society battling a pandemic.

After waiting a full day to get into the city to reach “GoldKist” as the locals call it, the men are forced to wait another day to take their turn at the barter table. Since the brother-in-law is an independent trucker he does most of his own contracting and negotiating. He is a dab hand at it too, surviving in an industry that struggles with many nearly insurmountable challenges.

In south Florida Sissy’s brother negotiated with a sugar processor to truck a certain poundage of sugar in exchange for a contract in north Florida for meats and canned goods. Since he has an existing bond and a good working relationship with this sugar processor, they were willing to let him have the load with nothing down. The profit is a percentage of the sugar. Once arriving at The GoldKist he negotiates a good price for the sugar and gets additional profit in the form of meats and canned goods. He saves even more by negotiating out the price of loading and unloading as the men choose to do this themselves rather than have the prison crews do it. Scott and his father in law get a cut because they went in shares for fuel and help with the labor of loading and unloading. Since the truck is not refrigerated they have to negotiate for cold packing, but that is easy because sugar is such a valuable commodity that the food processing plant will be able to make a really large profit for themselves on the re-sale, even with existing price controls in place.

While waiting for the legalities to clear and the paperwork to be readied, the plant manager makes up nice and offers to take the three men hunting. He is very interested in future trading, especially if he can continue to get sugar and other south Florida products at a reasonable price.

It is hunting season in north Florida. Deer, wild turkey, quail, and squirrel are all “bag as many as you can.” The men aren’t really interested in anything but deer. Next day is a perfect hunting day and each man brings down three deer as well as two turkeys that check out infection-free. The game is processed at the plant free of charge. They also make a side deal with the plant manager to trade him a hundred pounds of sugar in exchange for some crab, shrimp, and snapper that the manager’s cousin has just brought in up the Suwannee River.

The following morning the men leave to head back south. The truck is loaded down with iced meat products and they are praying that they won’t be held up at any checkpoints. They need to get the meat down to south Florida as quickly as possible and then turn around and get their shares home before any spoilage takes place.

This is accomplished in good time and Sissy waves goodbye to her dad and brother as they pull off down the road about three hours before dusk. This will hopefully give them just enough time to get home without having to stop for the night. Curfews are not quite as tightly enforced as they have been and truckers are given some added time on either side of daylight to get to a bolt-hole before curfew sets in, but it is still going to be a push. Sissy and Scott give each other a proper greeting and then set to work figuring out what they are going to do with their share of the meat.

Luck is on their side and the power is on. They immediately put what they can in the refrigerator and freezer including venison and beef that has already been cut into roasts, tips, and steaks. There are several sides of beef ribs that Scott sets aside to give to Barry and Tom. Incredibly there is also pork that has been certified infection free. And then there is the seafood and a wrapped package that Scott stashes in the freezer before Sissy gets a good look at it.

“Are you positive that the pork is good?” Sissy asks suspiciously.

“Yeah. As a matter of fact, while we were there the plant was being inspected by the feds. They got high marks on everything except for having semolina plants growing in barrels at the office doors,” Scott replies.

“Having what where?” Sissy asks thinking she hadn’t heard him right.

“You know, those semolina plants like you have at our front door.”

Sissy looks confused and then suddenly laughs, “You mean centronella plants?”

“Yeah, whatever. Those stinky little bushes that keep the mosquitoes out. Anyway, if you see a piece of meat with this seal stamped on it, its from certified clean meat. And from what I understand it is also darn hard to get this seal.”

“I hope you are right, but I don’t want anyone but me touching or cooking this stuff and we will process and can it completely separate from everything else,” Sissy declares.

First Sissy starts a large pot of water to boil for the crabs that has a ¼ cup of lemon juice per gallon of water. While she is doing this, she has the girls sterilizing jars and lids and setting up the three pressure canners she has. She raw packs stew meat by the quart and begins processing it. Then she starts grinding some of the meat into hamburger that she then browns and hot packs for processing. She cuts some of the steaks into cubes and makes Chili con Carne with some of the fresh tomatoes out of the garden. She also uses some of the ground meat to make Spaghetti Sauce. Sissy cans beef stew, beef and vegetable soup and several other recipes out of her Ball Blue Book. She treats the venison the same way.
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter 48 (part 2)

Once the crabs are done she dumps them in cool water for ten minutes and then sets Scott and James to cleaning out the meat. After the guys are finished, Sissy rinses and packs the meat according to her canner’s directions and processes the crab in pint jars for 70 minutes. The shrimp she boils in an acidic brine until done and then peels them. These she packs into pint jars and processes for 45 minutes according to her canning book. The fish is cut and placed in jars and processed at 100 minutes. Sissy is very careful handling the seafood. It is one of the more difficult types of food processing in her opinion.

While the seafood is processing, Sissy sanitizes her work area and then gets started on the pork. The loins she slices and cans by the quart. Some pork she grinds and makes into sausage. Some she leaves fresh to be used for breakfast and the rest she browns and processes in pint jars. Sissy looks over at her girls and says, “I am so proud of you three. You are really helping. I don’t know if I could have done all of this by myself.”

Rose, Sarah, and even little Bekah have been hard at work cutting some of the beef into long strips and marinating them. These strips are put into the dehydrator and are dried as jerky. She also has them make pork jerky and fish jerky so that Scott can have something that is more portable for his lunches when he is out working.

Sissy and the girls are on their feet for two days straight getting everything canned before the power goes out. Which it in fact does just as she is taking the last batch off the stovetop.

But Scott suddenly goes, “Uh oh.”

“Uh oh what? We did it. We got everything processed while the power was still on. Even the jerky is done,” Sissy says irritably. “What could possibly be ‘uh oh’ about that?”

“Um. Well,” Scott starts then he says, “Well, hell. I guess it was too much to ask for the power to stay on until Thanksgiving anyway.” He goes into the freezer and pulls out the freezer paper covered bundle. Out comes a small turkey.

“A turkey?!,” Sissy squeals. “This is for real right? This is one of those special seal of approval meats that are infection free? Right?!”

“Yeah and,” but he gets no further because Sissy has swooped down on him and starts hugging and kissing him.

“Oh you lovely, lovely man. You and your surprises. Honestly! You double my gray hairs every year with your shenanigans. Go pull out the grill. I’ll roast this sucker and we’ll have our Thanksgiving celebration a few days early,” she merrily directs her spouse.

“You aren’t disappointed that the surprise didn’t keep?”

“Are you kidding?! The First Thanksgiving may have been in 1621 with the Pilgrims in Plymouth but there have been thanksgiving celebrations for many different reasons before and since. During George Washington’s time as president it took place in December. It wasn’t until 1863 that the traditional US celebration was truly born as an annual event. And it wasn’t until F.D.R. set the date in 1939 that it became celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. With history like that, I reckon we can celebrate Thanksgiving any day we want to. And having the garden doing so well and now this bounty of meat is as good a reason as any to have our own specific thanksgiving celebration and pardon me running off at the mouth,” she laughs. “I’m just so excited!”

Sissy’s excitement is contagious as she calls the children to show what their father has brought them. There are grim reminders of the pandemic year all around them. There are still people getting sick and there are still people going hungry. Even in their own neighborhood people are struggling to keep body and soul together. But there are things to be thankful for as well.

They are still all together and all healthy. They’ve been able to keep food on the table and even share some with less fortunate neighbors. They have survived hurricane season. The business, while not the same as it was prepandemic, is doing OK. They have made some good friends and allies. While the world is full of troubled people, they have also found it to be full of people who are helpful and kind. There are all the personal stories of success by each family member and then there is their success as family as a whole. The blessings are numerous, all they have to be willing to do is recognize them.
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Forty-Nine
After the family celebrates Thanksgiving in their own personal way, things begin to settle back into a routine for Scott, Sissy, and their family. The only bump in the road is a mild spike in influenza infections that marks the third “wave” Tampa experiences. The number of people that are being released from professional medical care offsets this however, and the hospitals are able to cope.

Fewer people are ill in the traditional sense, but there is a great number that are still in recovery. The debilitating after effects of the pandemic flu will remain with many of those who fell ill for the remainder of their lives; physically as well as mentally.

Now that December is here the citrus crop is ready for harvest. The harvest is lighter than normal due to the wind damage from Hurricane Josephine. The Chapman’s learned from last year's partial theft of fruit and harvest their fruit as it becomes ripe and leave nothing on the tree that they aren't willing for people to "glean." This means that there are grapefruits and oranges in abundance for awhile that Sissy spends time canning for later use.

A local food distributor approached Mr. D and he is paid quite well for his whole crop. Harvesters come in and every tree except the two next to his house he kept for personal use are cleaned out in 24 hours. There goes James' "job" of grove tending. James is disappointed, but is mature enough to recognize it is a good thing for Mr. D and possibly even a sign that things are trying to get back to some kind of prepandemic normalcy.

Other areas of life are also slowly changing back to the ways things used to be. One of the first things, and the kids notice it first because so many are online for school reasons, is that the Internet bandwidth restrictions are eased. There are more graphics and even the online news agencies use streaming video again. Speed of transmissions has also risen significantly. In addition, there are fewer blackouts restricting Internet use.

Many people in the neighborhood find that their work hours are increasing as higher productivity is demanded by the healing economy. One of the more significant features of this is that grocery stores have more goods on their shelves, a few clothing outlets are re-opening, and even small eating establishments are appearing. This puts people back to work. Curfews are easing, at least for adults. Those under 18 still have to be off the street before dark sets in and must carry official identification at all times.

There are some restrictions on growth. Fuel is still being rationed and available only at a premium price. But for those that can afford to buy it, it is now there more often than not.

Even with increased availability of many goods and services, people are still very cautious. Consumer confidence is stable, but the index shows no sign of rising. No one just tills his or her garden under. No one suddenly replaces his or her worn wardrobe with all new clothing or buys their children upscale sports shoes. No one is going out and buying the latest make and model of automobile.

Plenty of people continue to economize. For example, this month Scott and Sissy are harvesting a nice selection from their garden that they will use to barter for items rather than using up their cash savings. There are grapefruits, oranges, and tangerines; even a few limes and lemons. Their garden also produces garbanzo beans, lima beans, and black beans that will be hung in their shells to dry for later use. Winter squash is coming in with pumpkins, Lakota squash, and Buttercup squash. There are still the last few tomatoes to get off the vines before the first frost kills them to go with the winter greens that are coming in like cabbage, celeriac, collard greens, and iceberg lettuce. Even the garden huckleberries are producing.

People are still going to the thrift bazaars looking for clothes to fit their growing children rather than waiting for the Mall to re-open. Most people don't even flinch at the idea of thrift shopping anymore, regardless of their prepandemic lifestyle. They are just glad that they still have their child to shop for. Too many families have lost a child to the pandemic for anyone to take this for granted. Too many parents have lost all of their children. Too many children have lost their parents.

As for automobiles, the new has long ago worn off of every vehicle that is seen on the street. Sure, some people mothballed their cars and trucks in hopes of better times, but it will be a long, long time before America is again able to satisfy their love affair with the road as they did in the later half of the 20th century. The city of Tampa has started to address the need for transportation by re-opening and expanding its antique streetcar line. People still wear masks while using mass transportation, but at least people now have another way to get to their jobs.

The "quick economic recovery" from a pandemic once envisioned by financial planners, economists, and politicians has proven to be a pipe dream. It will be years before countries again reach their prepandemic production levels. It will take years just to reach prepandemic population numbers and more than a decade for the “replacements” to be old enough to enter the workforce.

Some of the major corporations did have business continuity plans, but given the extreme economic slump, even the most flexible plan requires more stringent cuts than was initially anticipated. Many businesses, especially in the entertainment, tourism, and services industries have failed. All those people that depended on those industries, from executive to janitor, have experienced significant financial depravations. Other industries have taken near deathblows as well. The insurance and health care sectors are in shambles. Many insurance companies have already tried to file bankruptcy papers, but the federal government is moving in to force them to pay at least a percentage of all the claims. There are major re-writes on the horizon for insurance requirements for existing mortgages and for automobiles. Health insurance, even a nationalized form of it, is likely years away. People are encouraged to take their health and health care seriously, as they will now be responsible for it without the benefit of subsidies.

HCWs were hit worse than any profession with fatalities. Nearly an entire generation of doctors, nurses, and other trained support staff are gone. It will be at least four years before the first nursing graduates enter the workforce and enrollment will be down compared to previous trends. It will take longer than that before the doctor shortage begins to fade. Specialists will be in short supply even longer.

The social security and disability programs offered by the federal government are bankrupt. A measure in Congress would move retirement age to 80 years of age and is certain to pass.

Another measure in Congress that has strong bi-partisan support is the establishment of work programs similar to those of the New Deal, Franklin D. Roosevelt's attempts to mitigate the Great Depression of the 1930's. People who want governmental assistance will have to participate in public work programs to receive it. Even people with physical and mental challenges can find a place in the suggested system that also include mandatory job training/re-training classes, parenting classes, and daily living skills training. Only children under sixteen and those on one hundred percent physical or mental disability are exempt, but even those two groups have exceptions. Children under sixteen will only receive assistance if they are in school full time or in some other type of full-time apprenticeship program and maintain a certain grade point average. The disability laws are being re-written so that even a paraplegic can obtain training on assistance equipment so that they can take a more active role in their own care and in the workforce. One hundred percent disability is now strictly defined as the inability to participate in society in any meaningful way such as those in a vegetative state or those with severe mental or physical deficiencies preventing them from acquiring and maintaining any kind of job skills. This sector of the population will be quite small as many such individuals died due to the loss of their caregivers during the pandemic.

Time limits on benefits are being strictly enforced as well. Any person aged 18 and over may receive assistance for a maximum of five years so long as they fully participate in the work programs and abide by all of the restrictions and responsibilities in their contract. There is no exception to this. Once off the assistance rolls, it will be at least another five years before they may reapply for assistance. At each succeeding five-year cycle, the application process will become more difficult. If someone loses their benefits for some reason and fails in the appeals process, it will be a minimum of 10 years before they can reapply and in some circumstances, permanent removal from the roles will be the consequence.

Retirement accounts were gutted due to their dependence on the investment markets. People who did not safeguard their savings and investment dollars at the beginning of the pandemic have little to nothing left to show for it. Even those that did plan for economic interruptions in their investments realize it will be years before their investments are worth what they were before. Access to retirement accounts such as 401Ks has been frozen for one year to give the financial industry time to sort everything out.

The Internal Revenue Service is being restructured as well. Most analysts foresee the real possibility that the ten percent straight tax will be implemented. There will also be far fewer exemptions. A citizen will receive their W-2 from their employer. The W-2 will be turned in with a one page form showing what the citizen had already paid in taxes and whether they owe more or are due to receive a refund. All businesses will pay taxes; compliance with immigration laws will mean their taxes are lower. Immigrants will be taxed at a 15 percent rate. Lower taxation will be the reward for successfully obtaining citizenship.

Now that the beginnings of economic recovery seems imminent, the federal agencies that dealt with finances are coming together and planning solutions to avoid recession, depression, or continued inflation/deflation/stagflation. What they are looking for is slow, steady gains rather than a return to large profit margins that were invariably offset by huge risks and losses.

The recovery is affecting Scott's property management in that more cash is coming in. He figures that it will take at least a year to totally transition back to cash from bartering for rent, but at least now enough cash is coming in to pay for the utilities and mortgages without resorting to using all their savings. Their savings took a huge hit during the pandemic and the only action that saved it was being able to re-work their mortgage payment from the Mortgage Moratorium Act, due to expire in 60 days.

Most non-barter businesses are still cash-only. Those people who no longer have a bank account must stand in line at the post office to exchange their cash for a federally backed money order in order to pay bills by mail. Scott and Sissy have had to provide documentation for a few payments they made online, but they always printed out the proof of payment pages. Scott’s extremely detailed bookkeeping system has proven, once again, to be a smart move. Now if they can continue to make smart moves, they might just make it to the other side of the pandemic relatively intact if not unscathed.
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter Fifty
Many population sectors have been decimated by the pandemic.

Overall, people under the age of 40 suffered in a much greater proportion than their over 40 counterparts. In any given area you can see an average of a 3% to 40% infection rate. This rate was largely dependent on the early and consistent application of mitigation procedures. The most significant rates of infection were seen in school age children when schools and public gatherings involving children were not closed or halted quickly enough. This was in direct contrast to the reports preceeding the pandemic that closing schools would not bring any significant benefit as a mitigation practice.

Forced containment and congregate living facilities suffered up to 100% infection rates and up to 90% death rates. Prisons suffered the greatest losses followed closely by mental health facilities. However some juvenile detention facilities escaped mass fatalities by instituting immediate lock downs - putting many inmates in solitary confinement - an option open to few adult prison facilities.

State run and private mental health facilities that had residential wards released as many of their residents as they could once the pandemic was confirmed. The remaining resident populations were quarantined. Further, some of these hospitals were forced to close their doors when staff numbers dropped below the institution’s ability to care for their residents releasing even more mentally at-risk people into the general public. A small number of the worst mental health patients, such as those incarcerated because they were mentally incompetent to be tried for criminal offenses, were transferred to local prison facilities where they were housed separately from the general population.

This mass release by the prison and mental health facilities caused a marked problem for the communities that they were being released into. Research is ongoing but it is believed at present that communities experienced additional civil unrest as well as the compromising of mitigation procedures as a direct result.

There are marked demographic changes through out the entire country. Not only in age, but in social make up. In some areas religion and religious institutions have become a driving force. This is usually found in communities where local government failed thereby forcing faith-related charities and groups in the area to step in to keep their towns going. Some towns are willing to release the reins back to local governments now that the pandemic appears to be waning; some are not. This is causing its own set of problems, especially if the community also wants to keep the faith-based groups in control because they’ve lost confidence in the previous bureaucracy.

Racial supremacy groups are firmly entrenched in some areas with the full support of local residents. This crosses the whole racial spectrum with some areas being controlled by whites, some by Hispanics, some by Asians, some by blacks, some by various Persian and Middle Eastern ethnicities, etc. And each group is running their area based on their cultural beliefs and practices. These practices do not always follow US Constitutional law, thus creating significant additional tensions within US borders.

Some cities still suffer an extremely high crime rate. Such cities also suffer from a high rate of mental illnesses. Reported homicide rates and suicide rates are at historical highs across the nation.

Months still remain before the removal of federal troops from deployment on American soil can be accomplished. The National Guard will be on permanent deployment for the foreseeable future, but each division will be assigned within their home state unless a waiver is signed. To address overwork and shortages of trained soldiers, instead of a Draft, there may be a call for mandatory service by all citizens similar to what occurs in other countries with each citizen over the age of 18 owing their country so many months or years of active military service. The emergency bill currently under consideration makes no distinction between male or female, but would give the option to serve either in the military or the national guard. No one is sure whether this bill will pass. Incentives are being considered to make enlistment more appealing to the public so as to avoid requiring mandatory service for all.

Contrary to the 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic, the wave pattern for infections were not dramatic spikes so much as they built to plateaus which only gradually declined before rising to the next plateau. The waves lasted longer thus appearing flatter on a graph. Of the three major waves of this pandemic, the first was the most infectious but was not the most lethal because some prophylactic medications and care were still available. The second wave was only slightly less infectious, but the death rate was considerably higher for this wave because of the lack of trained health care as well as the debilitation of the population caused by infrastructure collapse including the lack of food distribution.

The third and final distinct wave was much less infectious and much less lethal than the earlier waves. While the research is still out, there are some hypotheses to explain this. The first is the “herd immunity” theory that says that enough people had been infected that the virus no longer had a viable population to survive and transmit in. The second is that the virus itself had mutated to a less lethal and less infectious form. The third is that the application of mitigation procedures and newly developed vaccines to special populations had prevented the virus from finding hosts that it could efficiently replicate in. Yet another hypothesis stated that it was not one of these, but a combination of all of them and possibly more. Only time and research will determine the true cause for the decrease in lethality.

The world population was estimated to be 6,602, 674, 916 just prior to the pandemic starting. A compiling of the last number of worldwide infections revealed a ballpark estimate of 2,641,069,966 pandemic infections. Additional compiling has revealed that there have been 264,106,996 reported deaths from pandemic infections in all reporting countries. These numbers are still subject to change and it is unclear in some countries whether these totals include collateral deaths or not. Communications and information from some areas is still very sketchy. It will be months, if not years, before anything approaching a certified count is offered to the general public.

As a result of pandemic destabilization, different areas of the world are seeing a resurgence in political upheaval. Religious and ethnic clashes are escalating. Many governments lost their heads of state or have large gaps in their ruling parties. While these entities may have been imperfect, they did offer some structure and stability. With it gone, it will take a while for a strong enough and charismatic enough leader to emerge to re-meld what was broken.

A modicum of international trade has re-started, but only between countries that proved themselves to be allies during the pandemic. The US, Canada, and the UK have already set up mutual aid programs. They are trading resources, personnel, and committing political support in the international landscape. Mexico may become part of this coalition in the coming months if their national government can wrest control back from the drug cartels and gangs.

It hasn’t just been depravations of health and finances affecting countries around the world. There are environmental depravations evident as well. The oil fields of the Middle East are on fire after they became the target of opposing military and guerilla factions. There is literally tons of medical waste that still needs to be dealt with. Burial details are still weeks and months behind in trying to dispose of human remains. The aftermath of hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, LA – when it took months to legally process all of the corpses found after the flooding receded – was barely a foretaste of what faces the forensic communities in the face of a pandemic. Water sources have been contaminated by waterborne disease. There are few central garbage collection companies still in operation. Toxic waste dumpsites have begun to leak and infiltrate ground water when their disposal containers began to break down due to lack of care.

For now most people are still focused on individual survival rather than environmental repair. For some, survival is still so precarious that they are willing to compromise their ideals, beliefs, and preferences. If that means helping to support a candidate or government that will help you to survive better, then so be it.

The economic outlook for the USA: Because of existing - if temporarily off line - infrastructure and equipment, the US is finding post-pandemic rebuilding easier than many countries. Plants that closed when jobs were moved overseas are slowly being re-opened. The back-to-work support programs are spearheading the refurbishing of many of these manufacturing facilities. Most of the pieces of the economic puzzle already exist within our borders, manufacturing plants and the majority of the natural resources to operate them. The US has staff, It has the know-how and the flexibility to create work-arounds for changes necessitated by lack of resources. It has significant agricultural resources, which means that we don’t have to import all of our food needs. Of course there will always be complainers. But things were so bad for so long, the first shining rays of tomorrow are, for now, enough for most people.

Speaking of import and export issues, when the US stopped exporting food so that the government could feed its own citizenry first many countries retaliated. Some manufacturing export countries threatened to stop trading with the US. Given no choice, the US said, “OK. And when we get back on our feet and replace the manufactured goods that you refused to sell us, we’ll be sure and remember you then.” And that is exactly what is happening. Those countries that continued to act as an allie to the US during the pandemic are at the top of their list for any mutual aid that the US can offer. Those that refused haven’t even made the list yet; some that threatened to unleash nuclear and biological warfare never will. After the discovery of the large oil reserves in North and South Dakota, the US dependence on crude from places like Venezuela and the Middle East has dwindled. Population and service decreases, resulting in greatly decreased demand, have also broken those bonds. Development of alternative energy sources – including wind, solar, and water – have received top priority in the new economy.

Transportation systems within the country are still compromised. Some mass transit systems are trying to get back up and running, mainly through the efforts of the “work for food” programs sponsored by the Feds. Horse driven trolleys are being used along existing track systems in some areas. Old steam engines have been pulled off of the tourist routes to be used in the commercial industries but some are still being re-fitted for modern tracks and industry safety standards. A couple of savvy entrepreneurs in the Gulf of Mexico, who borrowed the idea from a similar venture in the Great Lakes, have created a commercial fleet from sailboats of various sizes. Small sailboats are used as water taxis. Larger boats are used in a fishing fleet. The largest sailboats are used for shipping and receiving items being traded from Mexico, around the entire Gulf coast, down to the Florida Keys, and are starting to venture into the Caribbean though piracy is still a huge problem.

Sissy’s brother and three other truckers, plus a machine shop owner and his family, have teamed together to create a fleet of commercial trucks that will run on both regular diesel and bio-diesel. They’ve contracted with a work-for-food program operating in northern Florida to get all of their used cooking oil and grease, which is considerable, as they feed large numbers of people everyday. The set-up is still primitive, but they’ve already had a representative from several nearby counties come by to see about replicating their system. Some communities have instituted mandatory recycling for cooking oil and grease. In exchange, participants receive an allotment of the resulting biofuel.

Aquaculture in Florida has, so far, quadrupled from prepandemic production. This has been due in large part to partnerships between E.P.C.O.T. (formerly a well-known tourist attraction), the University of Florida’s Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, and many family-owned hatcheries. The aquaculture supports a hydroponic gardening method that in turns helps feed the aquaculture tanks. The symbiotic relationship is easily established producing both local meat, fruit and vegetable supplies. The Federal government, after reviewing the methodology of the Florida companies, has begun educational training/re-training programs in several other states to offer aquaculture and hydroponics business opportunities.

While the US has done quite well in some areas, in other areas there are still steep challenges facing the residents. Florida in particular has been quite transparent in publicizing their efforts, both the success and the failures. At the start of the pandemic the population of FL was estimated at 19,668,279 people. So far, a state government sponsored commission has confirmed nearly 8,000,000 reported pandemic flu infections statewide. Additionally they have confirmed 786,731 deaths due to pandemic influenza. The average number of fatalities recorded prepandemic was approximately 170,00 annually. The number of pandemic flu deaths is over four times greater. The fatality numbers will rise however once collateral deaths (deaths not caused by pandemic flu, but contributed to by it) and non-pandemic deaths (deaths that were not pandemic-related at all) are tallied and reported.

The Commission also reported on other areas of population change. Births alone will take many years to replace the lost population as normally births only increase Florida's population by one percent annually. Many people expect there to be some population increase due to emigration and flugee relocation. However, flugee relocation efforts are on-hold until more infrastructure and job opportunities can be re-built.

No one has been left unaffected. Even the roving reporter Devon McLoud eventually had to face the music. Luckily for him, it wasn’t a funeral dirge.

First, I want to express my gratitude to all of you listeners who have been sending your prayers and well wishes for my survival and now recovery. I would also like to express my humblest gratitude to the people of Olustee, Florida who looked after me as if I were a member of their family rather than a stranger found collapsed on the side of the road.

I finally understand why so many people didn’t prepare during the prepandemic years. It wasn’t a failure by the government to inform because the information was out there. I understand why people thought they could avoid infection yet continue to live however they chose. The failure wasn’t with the media because story after story proved such attempts to be failures. I understand why, even when people personally witnessed others doing things that got them infected, they themselves did those very same things and became ill during subsequent waves of infection.

These circumstances can 99.9 percent of the time be attributed to one single thought. “It cannot happen to me.”

I finally fell victim to this myself. Some where along the road my sincere desire to report on this incredible historic event turned to the arrogant belief that this was my calling. My arrogance led to feelings of invincibility. Invincibility led me to make risky decisions and just plain stupid mistakes.

I was in a hurry to get to my next segment location and felt too rushed to read notices that were posted along the road I was travelling. It was only after I had cussed myself breathless because I was having to climb over yet another fence that I stopped long enough to read one of the signs that had hung on posts for the last couple of miles. WARNING: BIOHAZARD ROUTE.

My initial panic quickly gave way before my need to believe everything would be OK. I hadn’t seen or spoken with anyone along the way. There had been debris on the road, but I hadn’t picked it up to examine it, had barely paid it any attention at all. This was primarily due to the fact that I had been breaking another rule by travelling at night, breaking curfew. Remember, I excused myself because The Great Reporter was in a hurry.

Within the week I was flat on my back on the floor of the Olustee Civic Center struggling not to breathe my last. The surprise wasn’t in getting sick, the surprise was that it hadn’t happened sooner. Looking back I did everything but paint a bright red bullseye on my chest. It was inevitable that I caught panflu. My one relief is that I walked untravelled back roads and across empty fields; it is extremely unlikely I had the opportunity to infect anyone else.

My recovery is far from over. My full recovery may never occur. I’m exhibiting the symptoms of cardio pulmonary damage.

I am no longer on the road. I’m taping this segment for broadcast in the studio of WJCT 89.9 in Jacksonville, FL. Tomorrow I join a convoy heading to Washington, DC where I’ve been asked to become part of a commission putting together a detailed history of the pandemic.

Though I would love to stay on the road and chronicle the Nation’s recovery – and I firmly believe the people of the US will recover – my health precludes doing this task justice. Others will be better able to give the job the energy and time it deserves.

My final thought, on this my final installment, is that people need to believe in their own recovery. Believe in it and participate in it. Don’t wait for the Calvary. It isn’t coming. Don’t wait for another to do something. It will never get done. Don’t wait for someone else to be the leader. You do something if it needs doing. You step up and be a leader. Have confidence. Have faith. Believe. Without this, without each person doing their level best, recovery is nothing but a failure waiting to happen. And if we want our children to have a future, failure is not an option.

This is Devon McLoud signing off.
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter 51 (part 1)

“What did you think of McLoud’s last segment?” Sissy asks Scott.

“It was a pretty good ending, kind of apropos. I’m glad he didn’t die. I’ve had my fill of that sort of story for a while,” Scott responds.

Sissy agrees wholeheartedly as she packs lunches for Scott and James to take to work.

Despite some issues, Scott has had surprisingly little trouble retaining tenants in the properties he manages. While he is slowly reverting to the practice of accepting cash-only for rent, he still has several individual arrangements where he takes trade or work for portions of the rent. Because of his willingness to be flexible, and his ability to keep the utilities on, the units are deemed desirable within the community and he has a waiting list. He has even been contacted by the county’s housing assistance program. Scott isn’t sure how long this will last. There is a lot of empty housing out there. Most of the empty properties are in really bad condition however and a lot of it is being condemned. Squatters are being removed from properties that they can’t prove legal ownership to. But, eventually equilibrium will return to the housing market and it will be at that point that Scott and Sissy will know if they will be able to stay in business or if they will have to try and sell out. Some houses are already going on the auction block for unpaid taxes, both property and federal. Housing all over Florida is very mixed.

Rebuilding of infrastructure is primarily focused on the large, urban areas in hopes of stimulating economic growth. However, the state says that rural areas will be coming online in the next couple of months with coastal areas receiving assistance last, possibly some time next year at the earliest. This has some coastal property owners furious, but the State and Federal governments have basically triaged all coastal communities for the foreseeable future. The only exceptions to this are the large commercial ports, ports serving commercial fishing fleets and areas immediately adjacent to power and desalination plants. While the coastal areas were prime realty markets prepandemic, the government feels they are too vulnerable to storm damage and without insurance feel the risk of re-building is too great, especially with the glut of empty housing currently available. In other areas, towns built in known flood plains receive the same triage treatment. What this has done is move whole sectors of the population inland. Retirement condos on the beach are also emptying, if they had not done so already, for the same reasons.

As in other states, many Florida families are in some type of transition – financial or familial. Existing issues have been magnified, or minimized in some circumstances, by the pandemic. There is a lot of realignment of relationships. Economic pressures are forcing some extended families to move under one roof. The death of so many young members has led some families to splinter and disintegrate completely. Domestic violence incidences peaked during the pandemic but are now subsiding into prepandemic numbers. State-run mental health programs and mental-trauma units work round the clock addressing a wide range of issues. The problem is addressing these issues quickly and constructively so that people can still function and support themselves. The legal system, of course, is just as busy as it ever was and there is no shortage of in-mates to man the chain gains now seen on most interstate roadways and railways.

Disability and SSI are no longer the broad spectrum support programs they once were. Restructuring now requires that everyone work in some capacity to receive any kind of assistance, or even ration cards. People with physical and/or mental challenges must function enough to participate in the workforce in some way – thereby earning assistance on a sliding scale basis – or they must be solely supported by their family/social network. Those who cannot or will not participate in these wellness programs are taken into custody and become wards of the state. They are then generally assigned to state hospitals where they receive court-ordered treatment. Most will eventually graduate out to assisted living facilities, group homes, return to their families, or will be placed in other supervised housing arrangements. While on the surface the measures appear harsh, it is currently the only humane and fair way to deal with people that are unable or unwilling to help themselves thereby relieving the community of untenable burden of care issues. Legally these orders fall into the same category as laws dealing with individuals who are a danger to themselves or others.

Scott and Sissy have faced their own crisis and survived. It has been very difficult for Sissy to relax and allow the family to return to behaving the way they did prepandemic. This caused arguments with Scott as well as their children. Sissy just can’t hear the “all clear” sound as clearly as everyone else seems to be hearing it. As secure as Scott and Sissy’s marriage remained during the pandemic despite extraordinary stresses, the marriage came close to cracking apart when it came to dealing with the issue of Sissy’s diagnosis of post traumatic stress. She keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the next wave to be announced, for the next incidence of civil unrest. Insomnia and stress caused her to become so emotionally fragile that she finally broke down and called one of the phone counselors down at the civic center. It helped. So did talking to some of the other women in her neighborhood who were feeling the same way.

"Sissy,” Scott begins hesitantly.

“Scott, really, I’ll be OK,” Sissy tries to reassure him.

“Are you sure?”

“I haven’t had a meltdown in a couple of weeks. I know you and James need to go to work. I know Rose needs to go to her class over at USF. Sarah and Bekah have a play-date and Johnnie is going to the neighborhood preschool for that party some of the parents put together. If there is a problem, the cell phones appear to be working today even if the landlines aren’t. If I can handle you going out in the middle of the pandemic and taking trade trips with my brother, I can handle a few hours alone. I’ll do some gardening or something.”

“Hey, I didn’t know you were going to be completely alone. Where are the girls going? Maybe I’ll just …”

“Enough Scott. I know I fell apart. I know that I still have some bad moments. I know it’s been very hard on you and I know you blame yourself for leaving me alone so much there towards the end. I feel bad enough about this happening. I feel like I did nearly everything right during the pandemic only to do practically everything wrong when it started to end. Just … just don’t stop trusting me, OK? It was really bad for a little bit but I’m better now. I’ve got to prove that I’m better.” Sissy pushes out in a very tense voice.

“I trust you …” Scott starts to say as he tries to gather Sissy in his arms.

“No you don’t and I understand why. No, wait, let me finish,” Sissy says as Scott trying to break in. “I need to say this once and for all,” and she pushes Scott to step back and give her some space.

Sissy takes a deep breath and says, “I’m going to be OK. I don’t know when I’m going to be totally better, but I know I’m well into the process. I don’t know which has been worse, feeling what I was feeling or watching you and the kids try and deal with me as I became more irrational. I could see how I was acting, I just couldn’t seem to stop doing it. I know you have tried to understand, but I don’t know if you can, not really. You weren’t the one that stayed healthy while the rest of you all could have died. You weren’t the one running from bed to bed trying to take care of each of you and afraid what I would find the next time I made it back to that bedside, waiting for someone to breathe their last breath. Afraid to sleep or even go to the bathroom because while I was gone something could have happened, you all could have needed me and I wasn’t there. And later, you weren’t the one left behind as you escaped the house to do what needed to be done. That being said, I know it isn’t your fault. It happened the way it happened for whatever reason it happened that way. I don’t blame you. But you can’t understand what it was like to feel so alone and scared spitless that I was going to stay alone. I know it happened months ago and I know I should have dealt with it better somehow and I know because I didn’t deal with it better then I’m – we all are – paying the consequence now. But I am better. And I’ll keep getting better. And … I need some space to do my getting better. I love you and appreciate that once you realized how badly I was struggling and that I wasn’t doing it just to be a pessimist that you gave me the support that I needed. I truly appreciate that Scott … but I feel sometimes like no one expects me to keep getting better, that I’ve been given up on. Sometimes I feel like I’m being smothered or caged for my own good.”

“That’s not how we mean to make you feel.”

“I know. I really do know that, but … Look, its like I’m some mother hen. And, the fox has been at the hen house door for months. I’ve just barely scraped enough corn together to keep my chicks going. I watched my rooster take on the fox a couple of times and could do nothing to stop him. Then one day some other hen starts clucking that the fox has finally slunk away, is just gone for no apparent reason. Farmer didn’t shoot it. I never saw its decaying corpse. Everyone else in the chicken coop seems to be celebrating and getting on with their lives and I keep expecting the fox to crawl out of its den and go ‘Fooled you’ right before it starts gobbling my family up.”

“Baby, its over. Its time to go back to our regularly scheduled lives.” Scott tries to gently reinforce.

“So everyone says. But Scott, its not ever going to be like it was before. Too many people have died. Too many things have changed. Too many things are in the process of changing or still need to change. I’m back to the point that I can cope but it’s not easy. I wonder what the future is for our kids. What the future is for our business. Is what we are experiencing now the new normal or just a transition period? You know I’m a planner. I hate not having enough data to plan with. The idea of planning for the worst and hoping for the best just isn’t cutting it with me anymore. You used to be the one that was always stressed out and were on pins and needles and now you seem to be thriving and in your element. I just don’t get it.”

“I don’t know how I’m doing it. Maybe I changed during the pandemic too,” Scott says.

“Yeah, but why did you get to change for the better and I seem to have changed for the worse. And right when you and the kids need me to be strong,” Sissy whispers heart brokenly.

“Honey, oh man,” and this time Scott does manage to gather Sissy into his arms and keep her there. “We don’t blame you for not getting sick. We don’t blame you for whatever you are going through now. I guess we haven’t dealt with things at this point as well as we were giving ourselves credit for doing. I know James is confused about the future and Rose can only seem to focus on things going back to the way they were. She refuses to talk about finding out which of her friends survived and who didn’t. Sarah and Bekah and Johnnie are just so excited to go and play with new friends that they don’t realize how lucky they’ve been. I don’t think any of us have appreciated the position you were in. If you need space, we’ll give you space, but don’t hide your feelings from us just to spare us. That would be as bad as when you did nothing but act emotionally.”

“Scott, I’m trying. I’m really trying. Its like all the fatigue I couldn’t let myself feel has finally just broken through and I’m just so tired physically and mentally. The counselor down at the center had me get that physical and you heard what the doc said. Between losing all the weight, dealing with the sudden lifestyle and dietary changes, the emotional issues from when you and the kids were sick, my family’s history of health problems and everything else, he said I was in better shape than I had any right to be. I had been wound so tight for so long I could have snapped rather than just become unraveled.”

“That scared the hell out of me when he said that. That’s when I really admitted the problems were legitimate and not just some figment of your imagination. I’m still trying to find a source for that blood pressure medication he wanted you to take.”

“The behavioral therapy techniques have helped so its not as bad as it was. So has changing my schedule and getting more sleep. But I didn’t mean to bring all of that up again. I just need you to see that I’m getting better and that you don’t have to have someone babysitting me 24/7. I don’t want to be a burden.”

“The last thing you are to me is a burden. I’m scared of losing you too you know. Of not being able to provide for you and the kids like I did before.”

“Scott, we are so much better off than a lot of other people out there. You’ve worked so hard …”

We’ve worked so hard,” Scott interrupts.

“Yeah. OK. We’ve worked so hard to get where we are at. Is it possible to feel guilty about not feeling guilty about that? I just can’t seem to feel bad because we’ve got so much when we could have so little. I’m thankful for everything we have. My problem seems to stem from the fact I’m afraid things won’t stay this way.”

“I worry about the same thing Sissy, but for me it’s a motivator rather than a paralytic.”

“I know. I appreciate that. I just … I just feel ashamed that … “ Sissy tries to push out.

“No. You look at me right now lady. You have nothing, NOTHING, to be ashamed of. You have been there for us from before the beginning. By prepping in the first place. The gardening stuff. Making do when there wasn’t much to do anything with. Continuing to school the kids and trying to keep some normalcy for us. Being there for me every time I was ready just to give up. Now its your turn. I just wish that we – I – would have recognized that sooner.”

“Oh Scott, I don’t know where I’d be if I had lost you or one of the kids.”

“So don’t. Don’t think about it. It didn’t happen. You didn’t lose any of us. And thank God we were able to get help before we lost you. We’re all still together. Just keep that in mind when you start to panic or get depressed.”

“I’m trying Scott. I really am. And I’m winning the war. I’m just so tired of the endless battles,” Sissy sighs as she gives Scott another hug before forcing herself to stand up straight and push him out the door to where James has been waiting patiently.

“Mom?” James asks uncertainly after seeing the look on their faces.

“No son. Go to work with dad. I’m fine. Daddy and I were just talking. Don’t worry,” Sissy tells James.

As James looks back and forth between his parents he asks, “Are you sure?”

“Sweetheart I’m fine. Really. Every day gets better. I need to prove to you guys, and myself, that I can do this. I had to learn how to let you guys go. You’re going to have to learn to let me stand alone when I need to.”

“OK,” James replies uncertainly, but a thoughtful frown remains on his face and Sissy can see him start talking to Scott as the van pulls out of the drive way and heads down the block to pick up Barry and Tom.

Sissy hasn’t exactly relaxed her vigilance, but she has learned to relax her need to control her family’s lives down to the last detail and “personal exposure.” It will take much longer though for her to find the same sense of nonchalance that she had before the pandemic, if she ever does. Her involvement in her husband’s businesses has helped as much as anything primarily because she has less time to sit at home and brood. Her personal confidence level is rising exponentially now that she has more balance in her life and activities.

For his part, despite Sissy’s best attempts to change him, Scott is as much of a workaholic as ever. Even more so now that his skills are in such high demand. Being able to stay in business during the pandemic has given him an economic edge over those just trying to restart their business or start a new one.

In addition to the property management and maintenance businesses that Scott runs, he has started three other ventures. The biggest is a “recycling” business where he and a crew go in and take out old fixtures, furniture, belongings, etc. from abandoned or foreclosed buildings. The maintenance arm of his businesses can then go in and replace and repair any damage, if contracted to do so, so that a new family or business can move in. To go along with this there is a medical disposal business which is sometimes called in to remove bedding, furniture, or other potentially contaminated items when corpses of humans or animals are found.

The last enterprise is primarily managed by Sissy. She is helping to identify potentially exploitable local food sources and then provide cooking instructions and recipes to maximize nutrition and quality. There is little cash income in this last business, but there is a wealth of community networking and a healthy plant exchange that occurs between co-op members. In fact, the group has grown so quickly that they will begin meeting in the parking lot every other Saturday, across from the post office. They’ve also gained several sponsors including the grocery store that is in the same strip center as the post office, several neighborhood watch groups, and a new thrift store that opened in the same strip center.
 

Kathy in FL

Has No Life - Lives on TB
Chapter 51 (part 2)


The thrift store just happens to be the storefront for Scott’s recycling business. They are trying to keep their businesses from becoming too incestuous, but it isn’t easy. They don’t want to rebuild the faulty just-in-time supply and demand system of the past. But, there are still far too many people waiting for the “other person” to rebuild things to the way they were before. Not everyone has woken up to the need for more diversification of efforts yet. Not everyone realizes that things won’t ever be quite the way they were before as too many lives were changed; too much infrastructure damaged and systems shown to be vulnerable. Too many of the mega mart type stores have closed. The era of the small business has at least partially returned. Not everyone, however, is ready for the work and changes that entails.

Scott and Sissy’s children are slowly easing back into their public lives as well. Rose continues to go to college, though she is now adrift on what she wants to major in. Opportunities have narrowed in some fields and widened in others. James is very involved with Scott’s businesses and contemplates not going to college at all, at least when he isn’t within his father’s hearing. Sarah, Bekah, and Johnnie are slowly getting involved in social outlets. Neighborhood parents have formed both a Girl Scout troop and a Cub Scout pack and the kids meet weekly to work on various projects and socialize. Another parent has taken it upon themselves to start a track and field club to slowly rebuild muscles and stamina that the kids lost by having to stay indoors or in their yards so much, and especially for those that were ill and those still recovering their health. Area churches are finally meeting in their sanctuaries again, assuming the building is still usable, and are offering youth programs of their own.

Out in the community long term care is a very hot topic. Some pandemic flu victims will likely suffer long term consequences from their illness including respiratory weakness and in a small percentage some mental challenges. Nursing home issues didn’t just go away either. Florida’s older adult population suffered a significant number of collateral fatalities but there are still a lot of people of all ages who need assisted living options. The key problem is that there is a smaller pool of trained people available to hire from to staff such facilities. Healthcare workers suffered a very high fatality rate, so trained staff is at a premium. Thus far, the only available alternative is in-home care. Several work-for-food programs are creating on-the-job training experiences to address this desperate health care need.

Scott and Sissy are well aware of how fortunate they are that no one died in their immediate family, though they’ve had close calls. Sissy’s eldest nephew was removed from his mother’s custody after too many curfew infractions and was sent to a juvenile living facility where he caught the pandemic flu. He is recovering, but it is a slow and painful process and his personality has undergone a lot of changes. Whether those are emotional issues or side effects of the panflu is uncertain. The boy’s mother and maternal grandparents are among the thousands of people that are missing and unaccounted for. Sissy’s brother found both houses abandoned and gutted with no clues to what occurred. Their names do not show up on the fatality rosters, but may be any of the Unknown Doe’s on the records. For now he has applied for permanent and sole custody despite the boy’s continued resistance. Until a final determination is made, he’ll remain a ward of the court and continue to remain locked in at the juvenile detention center where he is currently being cared for. “There’s nothing else I can do. At least he is getting medical treatment,” is all that Sissy’s brother will say on the subject.

Many families did lose members. There are so many single parent families that an interesting dating phenomena has been created. Instead of two people going out on a traditional date to get to know one another, family groups come together for social interaction. The kids have as much input into a parent’s choice of partners as the parent themselves do, some even going so far as to interview prospective mates for their parents. By and large though, people are still going through survivor’s guilt and grief for their loved ones. But needs must be met at times and some adults move in together more for survival than sex, though birth rates do appear to be on the rise.

Sissy intends to keep up with her gardening though she gets more help from the younger kids these days since Rose and James are either working with their father or going to school. She tries to plant or harvest something every day if possible as a hedge against the challenging economic times they still face. She is able to change some of the ways that she does things though. She doesn’t have to bring as many plants in and out as they once did. Wider food availability has helped some with theft by marauders and so has putting people back to work in the work-for-food programs. Larger quantities of food are being grown and distributed and with fewer people on the street with nothing to do, there is less time and energy for illegal activities. Not all areas of the country are seeing this effect, but come Spring it is hoped that more of the civil unrest and lawlessness will calm.

Most food being grown will remain local for at least another year or two as markets are challenged to grow and redefine themselves. This is known as the “locavore” phenomena. Wheat-based products will be much more expensive in the south. In the north and Midwest, citrus and tropical fruits will be luxury items. Replacements for the nutrients in foods no longer common will need to be cultivated to fit local growing zones. Milk and milk products will need to return to more local production every where. Former city and county parks are being used as grazing areas by families trying to keep a cow or goat or two for this purpose, as most yards are too small and are given over to dooryard gardens. An interesting program being tried is that families can buy shares of a local herd’s milk production, similar to a co-op. Scott and Sissy are participating in just such a program where a small herd of milk cows are being grazed on the green space at Nye Park, just down the street from their home. They’ve received milk, cream, and butter thus far and hope to make cheese in the coming months.

There are still no eggs on the market and many places have renewed their restrictions against raising and/or housing domesticated avian species. But broadcast news has leaked reports of several disease-resistant chicken varieties being bred at Federal facilities for distribution later in the year.

****​

“Hey Hon, we’re home!” Scott calls out to Sissy as James and Rose follow him inside the house. Sarah, Bekah, and Johnnie come running and immediately start telling him what a fun day they had.

As Scott tries to listen to all three of them at once he is looking around for Sissy who still hasn’t shown up. “Whoa guys, one at a time. I take it you had a good day.”

“Yes sir! We …” all three kids answer together.

“OK kiddoes, you all save it for dinner and I can hear all about it then. Smells like Momma baked bread and something with lots of garlic in it, but where’s Momma?” Scott asks beginning to get concerned.

“Momma said it was an Italian Vegetable Casserole and I helped make it,” says Bekah.

“Well, I helped bake the bread, which was harder,” retorts Sarah who is going through a competitive phase.

“OK, but where’s Momma?” Scott asks once again, just beginning to lose his patience.

“Out thide gavering,” lisps Johnnie, eager to show off his knowledge.

Its takes Scott a second to translate Johnnie’s words into “outside gathering” and just as he heads to the backyard to check on Sissy she walks inside with a basket on her arm.

“Hey, you’re home early!” Sissy exclaims with happy relief.

“Yeah, we finished out the last of that strip center. We lost the painting contract though. The county is having another crew start on that tomorrow. They want to open it as a ‘K through 8’ school next week so they can drop a school bus route.”

“I thought we had that contract locked down,” Sissy states with surprise.

“Apparently no, but its OK. They have two other strip centers they want me to start on as soon as possible and we got some pretty good stuff from this clean out,” Scott replies without concern.

“Yeah, you said there was a plumber, an air conditioning business, and an auto parts dealer all under one roof.”

Scott adds, “Plus a small import business, a deli, and a dentist’s office. The mess wasn’t too bad. I cherry picked through everything for the store and I’ve got quite a bit of stuff for us too. But even after Barry and Tom took what they needed or wanted there was still a ton of stuff leftover to deal with.”

“They were saying on the Noon Show that the landfill is full. What are you going to do with it?”

“Well, that report isn’t strictly true. The landfill is still accepting biohazard materials at the incinerator from licensed companies and I can usually slip some carpet and flooring in with those loads. And of course they are still taking all of the recyclables like metals, tires, and glass.”

“But what about broken furniture that Tom can’t fix and that sort of thing?” Sissy asks.

“Anything wooden gets broken down into lengths. Then we bundle it and stick it by the road and its usually gone before you know it. Scavengers are starting to circle our work sites like vultures anymore. That’s why I have to cordon everything off, use closed trailers for hauling, and set security details at all of the locations. The Scavs make a damn mess if they get in and start picking through everything.”

“I would have thought with those kinds of shops the whole building would have been gutted long ago.”

“The place was pretty new and didn’t have those big showroom windows except on each end for the deli and for the dentist’s office. Store signs hadn’t even gone up yet. They only had banners and those ripped off long ago. The management company, from what we were told, came in and installed hurricane panels and dropped the roll down security doors right away. The place was a pain the butt to break into. Worse, we didn’t know what we would find once we got in. The county’s records were pretty limited.”

“Are you telling me the shops were in pristine condition?!” Sissy asks in disbelief.

“No. Someone was getting in there somehow, at least at some point. There wasn’t anything except condiment packets and some seasonings in the deli, at least as far as food went. There weren’t any drugs in the dental office either. The acetylene tanks were gone from the auto place but whoever it was missed the smaller torch tanks at the plumber’s shop. Things were messy like someone had rifled through stuff, but it was probably just one or two people rather than a crowd ‘cause things were still somewhat organized. Everything was still locked down from the outside when we got there. If I had to guess, it was either a realtor with access or someone with keys from the property management company.”

Sissy ponders, “Maybe one of the shop owners?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. Doesn’t really matter now anyway. No one from any of the businesses or the property management company, or even the lender of record, has responded to the county’s imminent domain inquiry in 60 days so they took it over for back taxes, etc. You know the drill.”

“So you managed to still do better than break even on this job?” asks Sissy.

“Yeah, much better than break even. Even picked over it was a gold mine so long as we can find customers for the stuff at the thrift store. I also managed to score some brownie points on top of everything else.”

Sissy’s curiosity is piqued as she asks, “For what?”

“Tom and Barry had the good idea that instead of trying to salvage everything for the thrift store or Tom’s used furniture and cabinetry shop, that we take unusual items and find a home for them free of charge.”

“Well, that would certainly save the gas of having to haul something weird all the way out to the dump where they might not take it any way,” Sissy concurs.

“Yeah it does. And Barry is finally going to start an appliance and electronics shop. His leg is just getting too bad to work out in the field anymore. We are gonna stock a store for him in exchange for him keeping our guns in good working condition and being our ammo contact,” Scott says as he knocks his boots off outside the front door.

“I talked to his wife today and she told me. She is really relieved. She said it has gotten to where Barry is in almost constant pain from being on his feet so much.”

Scott continues by revealing, “We took most of the dental equipment and the waiting room chairs to that new hospital annex over off of Fowler Avenue. We left most of the deli equipment in place so the school could start a cafeteria, which made the lady from the school board very happy. The condiments and seasonings we dropped at the local soup kitchen although I split most of the salt amongst the work crew as part of their bonus pay.”

Sissy asks, “That where the brownie points came in at?”

“Yep. Hey, have you got time to come to the store and help do some sorting and stocking? Even with stuff going out as fast as it seems to do lately, the back room is overflowing with boxes and bags of items that need to be put out on the floor. James said he’ll help, but I’ve got to get on top of the paperwork. I’m about to drown in all the un-logged work orders, invoices, receipts, and everything else.”

“Tomorrow is good for me if it is for you. Rose is going to be home all day so I won’t have to bring the girls and Johnnie into that chaos,” Sissy answers.

“Sounds good Babe. How long ‘til supper? I’m starved!”

“As soon as you and James finish cleaning up I’ll have it on the table,” assures Sissy.

After dinner where everyone shared what they had done that day and after end of the night clean up, Scott and Sissy see the rest of their family off to bed before heading that direction themselves. As they lay in bed enjoying each other’s company, Scott once again seeks confirmation that Sissy’s day had gone as well as she seemed to say it had.

“I’ll admit that there was a moment or two when I dropped the girls and Johnnie off that I felt kind of strange and at loose ends, but it passed quickly. No panic attacks at all.”

“Did you come home and do some gardening like you said?” Scott continues.

“I didn’t have time. I started off in that direction then kept getting distracted by people wanting a word or two. I wound up having to hustle to get back to pick the girls up on time and then all three of us had to really hoof it to pick up Johnnie,” Sissy says with a laugh. “That’s why the girls had to get dinner mostly on their own and I was just coming inside when you got home. I was playing catch up.”

“Sounds like it used to be; the kids going in five different directions while you played chauffeur trying to keep up with everyone’s schedule.”

“Yeah, in a way I guess now that you put it that way. Except then I was carpooling in an air-conditioned van and traveling at least 20 to 30 miles every day and now we’re all on foot and rarely go more than a mile or two from home in any direction. I’ve forgotten what the rest of town looks like.”

“Trust me, you aren’t missing anything. Everything is still pretty messy despite work crews on some project or other every couple of blocks or so. You wouldn’t recognize a lot of areas any more. To be honest, I’m getting tired of working six days a week away from home even though I know I need to make hay while the sun shines. At least fuel is getting less expensive. I doubt it’ll ever be as cheap as it was prepandemic – and I never thought I’d hear myself call $4/gallon gas the good ol’ days – but at least now if you can afford it, its available,” Scott quickly replies.

“I’ll ride one of the bikes up to the shop tomorrow and get started. Last time I rode with you …” Sissy begins.

“I still can’t believe you got car sick between here and the store,” Scott snickers. “My driving isn’t that bad you know.”

Sissy sputters out, “Don’t laugh, you goof!” as she tries to elbow him in the dark. “It had been over a year since I’d driven any where and for some reason the feeling caught me off guard.”

“Look, give it another couple of weeks and maybe I’ll get your van up and running. If I can, then I’ll take you guys on a sightseeing tour of the city if you really want to see what is going on out there. Maybe we’ll make a picnic of it or something,” ponders Scott consideringly.

“That sounds like it could be fun.”

“Maybe, maybe not. But at least you’ll get a chance to compare now with then and you’ll get further away from home besides a few blocks.”

As they continued talking and then began to fall asleep, one of Sissy’s last thoughts were how things really were getting better if they could actually make plans for a couple of weeks into the future rather than just a day or two at a time.

Even better was the plans that Scott and her brother had hatched so that Sissy could see her mother. Her parents were coming for a visit the next time her brother had a shipment through Tampa. She wasn’t sure how long they would get to stay but it would be at least a week, maybe two depending on the truck route they took. Sissy was so excited. She hadn’t seen her mom in nearly two years. It would be quite a reunion.

The next morning Sissy actually woke with something besides worry and fear on her mind. The sun was shining, there was food for the table, and there were plans to look forward to with pleasure as well as the means to bring those plans to fruition. She bounded out of bed to begin waking the rest of the house to the new day.

The challenges hadn’t disappeared and there was still more work than you could shake a stick at, but life was good and worthy of the effort it took to live it.

THE END
… OR A NEW BEGINNING
 
Top