Thursday, February 28, 2008

Chapter Forty-One

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

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

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

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

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

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

The grapes the family eats fresh. The blackberries too as there weren't that many of them. The peaches and the canning pears Sissy preserves in light syrup or makes into fruit butter for spreading on homemade bread or biscuits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Well life sucks then."

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

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

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

"Yeah right. And all of that could change tomorrow."

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

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

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

"Why?! Why keep trying when we just keep getting kicked in the teeth?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"That’s easy for you to say."

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

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

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

Chapter Forty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"How is the boy?" Sissy asks anxiously.

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

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

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

"Is there anything we can do?"

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

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

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

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

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

"I wear a mask and gloves and they don’t let anyone in who is cou . . " Sissy says, trying to allay his fears.

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

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

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

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

Chapter Thirty-Nine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I think this is all voluntary but with extra privileges."

"What kind of privileges?"

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

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

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

"If this is something you want to do, fine. But don’t let it affect your own GPA or interfere with your responsibilities here at home."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I am better, thank you for asking."

"You sure you aren’t just saying that?"

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

"No more bad days huh?"

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


"She asked if I was perimenopausal or having hormonal issues. I told her I was still too young for that but she told me my cousins, her daughter, had gone through menopause before she turned 45. I’d had no idea and don’t know if it runs in the family or not."

"Do you think that’s what the problem is?"

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

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

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

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

"Drunk?! There is no way that man has been holding onto liquor all this time."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You haven’t heard?!"

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

"It was his own brother! After Mr. Johnson died in that diabetic coma, Vince apparently started terrorizing his grandmother. She finally got up the never to call her son, Vince’s dad. Vince’s brother shows up the next day, beats the living hell out of Vince, throws this naked girl out onto the lawn and while they’re both lying there senseless, packs up their grandmother and all her belonging and leaves, nearly running over Vince in the process."

"If it wasn’t anyone here on the block, I wonder why Scott wouldn’t tell me?"

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

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

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

"Thanks for thinking of me. I don’t want you walking back by yourself if Grinder has a toot on. Let me get Scott."

"No. Really its all right."

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

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

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

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

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

"Lovely. I take it those two have finally pushed everyone passed forbearance."

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

"He wouldn’t say or was too drunk to answer?"

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

"Well then what could it have been?"

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

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

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Chapter Thirty-Eight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Fresh Picks
Nutria (water
Alligator - Tail
Wild Hog – prime cuts
Wild Hog – economy cuts
Beef Chorizo (sausage)
Beef – prime cuts
Beef – economy cuts

Fresh Fruit

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Ten pounds of each or 15 pounds of one."

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

"Anything else?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Than sorry. We know, we know," he grins.

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

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

Chapter Thirty-Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"They’re really that valuable?"

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

"Relax Sissy. I just asked a simple question."

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

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

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

"Are we losing a lot? Why haven’t you told me?"

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

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

"Surely it was just the heat making everyone foul."

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

"Oh my word!"

"Yeah, and he’s not the only one that has warned the Grinders off."

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

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

"Oh, that sounds awful."

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Who wants to know?" the young man asks suspiciously.

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

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

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

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

"Dad, these are the guys that fixed the water!"

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

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

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

"Oh lands. I was wondering what to do with all of this stuff that we can’t fit onto the truck, and here you all are. I just know you’ll find a good home for everything."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Thirty-Six

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

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

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

Last week a manager from a local grocery store walked the two miles from his store to practically beg Scott to come do several repairs. The county code enforcement department, using sledge hammer tactics to deal with a dust cloth problem, is going around town shutting down soup kitchens, charitable food distribution points, neighborhood produce stands, and grocery stores for "health code violations." Scott’s personal opinion is that it is revenge for the slap in the face the department took several months back when they preciptated several near riots. Does bureaucracy never learn or is just the bureaucratic officials?

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

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

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

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

  • A minor roof leak in an unused maintenance closet at the rear of the building.
  • An inoperable loading bay door at the rear of the store. The track in the roll down door was damaged during an attempted break in, preventing complete opening or closing.
  • One of the automatic doors does not work, even when the power is on.
  • When the power is off, customers aren’t supposed to have access to the coolers where freezer foods and meats were once sold.
  • Despite being empty and unused, coolers need to be re-sanitized after a small area of mildew was noted in the back corner of one freezer.
  • There is too little light when the power is off, making navigation of the store aisles difficult or dangerous.
  • Code enforcement wants the entire store sanitized especially the bakery and produce sections.
  • The boards over the front glass area, there for security reasons, need to come down.
  • Too many customers are allowed in the store at one time, violating social distancing recommendations.
  • The front windows of the store need to be cleaned, as does the front walk.
  • There are not enough trash receptacles outside.
  • The employee break area is ill lit and needs to be sanitized.
Scott agrees to go look and see what he can do. After looking everything over he finds that the leak is an easy fix. It will just be a minor roof repair. Same with the loading bay door. All that needs doing is to get the door and chain back in the track. The automatic door is a stupid violation, but to address it he can install a shock, similar to the ones found on screen doors or hatch backs of cars. The door can then be propped open if need be and will close slowly rather than swing shut with a bang.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Any bread today?"

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

"No. Got any corn?"

"Yes, but there is a two can limit."

"That’s fine. Got any tomatoes?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But did getting out help? Do you feel better?"

"Yeah, I do appreciate getting out. I know it wasn’t easy to get these vouchers or for you to let me go on my own. It was good to get out. It just also brought it back home to me how well off we are comapred to a lot of people."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Chapter Thirty-Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott cries, "Sissy!"

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

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

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

"Mom won’t stay put!" James quickly tells his dad in frustration.

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

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

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

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

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

Sissy interrupts to say, "Well then I’m the same as everyone else."

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

Sissy sighs and agrees she hasn’t been feeling well lately, but asks what she is supposed to do? When you have it, you need to do something to save it because tomorrow, or next week, you might need it. The family needs to be fed, there is laundry to do. You fix it, you make do, or you do without ... but all of that takes time and energy. Both in short supply.

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

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

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

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

"You aren’t are you?"

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

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

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

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

"OK, look at me. I want you to promise me that you are going to rest after lunch every day just like Laura said."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Oh Scott," Sissy sighs as she is pulled into the arms of the only man she can imagine going through this catastrophe with.

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

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

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