Thursday, May 8, 2008

Chapter Fifty-One

"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 the 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 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 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. 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 or get attention 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 it. 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 with that huge idea 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 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 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 form 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 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 battle. I’m just so tired of the war," 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 leaned 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 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.

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 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 troop 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 working aged 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 sign of 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 hard 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 for 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 a 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 any more. 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 though 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?" ask 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 cheap – 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.



Thursday, April 24, 2008

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 40 and older 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 spikes in infection were seen in the 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 proceeding 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 not 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 unnecessary 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.

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 upheavals. 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 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 dump sites 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 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.

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, 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. 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 that 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 team 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.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Chapter Forty-Nine

After the family celebrates Thanksgiving in their own personal way, things begin to settle back into a routine 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 again coming in. 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 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 street car 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 long 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 enforced 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. 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. 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 taxes at a 12 percent rate. Lower taxation will be the reward for 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 loss.

The recovery is appearing in 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.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

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 have to 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 jerked 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 locales 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 D.C. 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 concerning 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, 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 have to 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 yet 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.

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 procesor 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 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.

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 is 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?"

"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," she decides.

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.

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.

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 full 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 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.

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 ICQ about the possibility of making a cannery available that is 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 before we can 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."

"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?"

"Well besides food preservation recipes we need suggestions on how 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 ICQ the information for submission?"

"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 for things begin to improve will certainly be worth any time she puts in for the VCB.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

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, that section of the travel plans was plenty eerie.

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 inter-state 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 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 is 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.