Thursday, February 14, 2008

Chapter Eighteen

Just because there is a terrible pandemic going on the people of Tampa are apparently not going to be exempt from the impractical application of bureaucratic mandates. The most recent example of this started when some of the few remaining grocery stores complained that they were losing significant profits to the neighborhood markets that have sprung up all over. The grocers said that these profits could make the difference between keeping their doors open or closing them permanently. The grocery store chains noted in their complaint that these markets violated a lot of county health codes and also that the "vendors" were not licensed and that the county "had a duty" to enforce the laws on the books. Basically the grocery store owners were using the municipal bureaucracy as a weapon to ensure their continued monopoly.

The County Code Enforcement department over-reacted to criticism levied against them by the County Board of Commissioners (to whom the original complaint was made). This over-reaction took the form of dozens of citations being delivered around the county telling the vendors at the markets that they would have to disband or face prosecution, per local statutes. Code Enforcement even tries citing property owners, even though many of the property owners have no idea the markets or vendors were operating on their property. Most of these markets are located on public spaces such as community parks, making the citations even more senseless.

With everyone summarily ignoring their citations and threats of fines, Code Enforcement made what turns out to be a deadly mistake. They abuse their power and arrive in large number – and armed – to physically disburse one of the larger such markets operating a couple of miles south of downtown. By law, Code Enforcement Officers are supposed to utilize law enforcement officers when they attempt to evict or trespass individuals. Side arms are not even part of their uniform. But at the beginning of the pandemic, many county workers were deputized in an effort to deal with absenteeism within other city and county departments. When the dust clears every code enforcement officer who had been part of the debacle is dead or dying along with six civilians. There are also twenty-seven individuals who need emergency medical care to some degree.

Because of this incident, the county goes from being stressed-but-stable to being ready to implode all in less than 24 hours. Word spread quickly, by word of mouth and via some of the news outlets who reported the incident. People, already furious at theie local governments for doing so little to promote prepping during the prepandemic period, are aching for a fight and already a few incidences of bottle and rock throwing have taken place. Unexpectedly, a General from out at MacDill AFB steps into the breach, and working in conjunction with National Guard commanders, strategically stations heavily armed troops throughout the most vulnerable areas of the county. He then gathers the remaining County Board Members and City Council members together, holds them in the downtown Court House, and all but forces them do a quick – and publicly aired – investigation.

Despite the area being canvassed for witnesses, the only ones who come forward are those that say that the only guns they saw were in the hands of the Code Enforcement officers. No other gunmen or guns are ever found.

The final determination - which amazingly only took three days after Commissioners and Council members were told that they were being "housed downtown for the duration of the incident for the sake of security" - was that Code Enforcement officers overstepped their authority. That they failed to provide proper notification and allow for due process. They unnecessarily antagonized people by showing their weapons. And, that while they applied for extra protection, they did not wait until local law enforcement could arrange it. The investigation further shows to the public that the upper bureaucratic echelon that ordered the "crack down" refuses to back down from their view that they are in the right, appearing terribly arrogant and inflexible. A common response is that they "were just doing their job."

The Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and Tampa City Council quickly remove the CCE supervisors from their positions. They also amend county and city codes to allow for the neighborhood markets to continue unmolested for the duration of the pandemic so long as they remain peaceful, are not selling any illegal goods, and are not an obvious source of infection.

The result is an extremely deteriorated relationship between the public and local bureaucracy. Anyone working for the city or county at any level is viewed with suspicion. Some are even harassed by their neighbors. Local law enforcement has fewer friends in the community and incidences of vigilante justice slowly start to rise because of lack of confidence in the due process system.

One Desk Sergeant is heard to complain, "Wonderful. As if our jobs aren’t already beyond difficult! All of this because some pencil pushing desk jockeys where so arrogant to forget that their job was to be servants of the public, not to ride roughshod over them. Don’t forget to properly secure your bullet-proof vests people."

Despite localized unrest, the general public in Hillsborough County continues to limp along as best they can. The medical facilities in the area also continue to struggle to keep their heads above water. First and foremost there is an extremely high rate of attrition in trained staff. Despite some PPE for nurses and doctors a 30% AR (number of people infected) for health care workers results. Another 30 percent of health care workers are lost with the cause split evenly between absenteeism and abandonment. Absenteeism is being defined as not coming in to work because of your illness, or the illness of a family member, but with plans to return to your position after quarantine. Abandonment is being defined as someone simply refusing to come to work, resulting in job termination.

For those staff members who are terminated, benefits immediately cease. Lawyers for the hospitals examine whether they can release the hospitals from any retirement package obligations on the grounds that employees who abandon their positions are breaking their "duty to perform" clauses in their contracts. A few union reps are already having a field day with this. Surprisingly however, the general public seems to be siding with the lawyers on this one, at least thus far. There is a perception, rightly or wrongly, that certain people who are in certain positions have a greater responsibility – or duty – to perform their job, regardless of circumstances or dangers. This includes people in the military, National Guardsmen, law enforcement officers, first responders like firemen and ambulance drivers, and not least of all health care workers. Individual contracts also come into play. If there are "turpitude" clauses in the contracts with open ended consequences, the likelihood of loss of job and benefits are even higher.

No hospital can operate with only 40 percent of their staff. What’s more, this 40 percent includes all hospital staff, not just medically trained staff members.

In Tampa there are approximately eleven actual hospitals. Of those eleven one is a cancer hospital, one is a VA hospital, one is a children’s orthopedic hospital (Shriner’s), and two are acute long-term care facilities. That leaves six hospitals that are fully designed as general medical and surgical procedures. Even if you do not take out the five specialty hospitals, there are only a total of about 3,300 actual hospital beds to serve a population of over one million in the county.

Continuing with this exercise we see that Tampa General Hospital (TGH) with 877 beds is the largest public hospital in the county and second only to St. Joseph’s private hospital in the number of beds (883). TGH employs 1011 full-time registered nurses and 339 part time registered nurses, 50 full-time LPNs and 17 part-time LPNs, and a total of 4,123 full-time facility personnel and 715 part-time facility personnel. It quickly becomes evident that there is not enough staff to man all of the duties necessary to face an influx of pandemic patients. Roughly 725 facility personnel immediately abandoned their positions in the earliest days of the pandemic. At least that number are forced into quarantine when family members become ill. That leaves 3,388 and despite all efforts to the contrary another 1,000 have succumb to the panflu. This number is expected to rise before the end of the pandemic. The absenteeism rate is increasing as well and the remaining staff struggle with fatigue and mental and emotional issues.

To try and address the staffing shortage, people are being moved from administrative positions to medical support positions. Medically trained staff that formerly worked at local doctor’s offices and medical testing facilities are being offered bonuses such as free meals, PPE, and fuel, in addition to a salary, to come work in their specialty’s equivalent at the hospitals; pediatrics, sonography, extended care, respiratory care, etc.

Not all cities have such a large number and variety of medical facilities. But Tampa, because of its population make up, large number of hospitals, large number of medical research facilities (such as those at USF), and large VA hospital has a high number of trained medical staff in the area. The College of Medicine and the College of Nursing at USF contribute numbers to the re-staffing. And, the first responder program from HCC is helping to re-staff the fire departments and paramedic fields more quickly than is found in many other metropolitan areas.

Between the mitigation procedures implemented by the state of Florida at the start of the pandemic and the large numbers of public and private medical facilities, only once are area hospitals forced to treat critically ill patients out of doors for any extended period of time. The tents still stand, however, as a testament to the possibility of it happening again.

Stringent medical triage has also helped. Non-pandemic flu patients are not even allowed on the hospital grounds. Armed guards redirect people to neighborhood medical clinics. In these clinics, the "waiting room" is located out of doors. With no heat or air conditioning, no door to door public transportation to these locations, and very limited seating, few people go unless they absolutely need to.

Ambulance service in Hillsborough County has been greatly curtailed due to lack of fuel. Currently only traffic accidents get ambulance service, and most of the time it is so long getting there that casualty rates have greatly increased. Few ambulance services, all privatized over the last decade or so, will even go to someone’s home any longer. Ambulances have been attacked for their medical supplies, carjacked for their fuel, and commandeered by people desperate to get help for family members. This means that many heart attacks and strokes are automatically triaged and considered fatal, as are collapses due to many other chronic health conditions such as diabetes, emphysema, lupus, and epilepsy. Even asthma is turning unexpectedly deadly.

For those panflu patients that do make it to the hospital, if a patient comes in already needing ventilation, they are put in a terminal care ward where they are given comfort measures only. With too few ventilators to go around, only those patients with a likelihood of recovery are put on vents. The problem with this logic is that, if a patient gets so sick they need a ventilator, they rarely survive the infection. The vents do little but prolong the inevitable, and raise false hopes.

While it may seem grotesque to just assume someone is going to die if they need a ventilator, statistically it has been a medically provable fact since the prepandemic days back in Indonesia and Egypt.

Hospital wards are divided along similar lines to what they have traditionally been. There is pediatrics, geriatrics, and everything in between. One notable difference is that all obstetric cases are transferred to St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital. Unfortunately, women who are pregnant and sick with panflu have a low recovery rate, certainly many of them miscarry or have stillbirths. The NICU units are strangely empty. Most small children and babies die fairly quickly once they become infected, sometimes within hours of becoming symptomatic because of high temperature spikes resulting in seizures, and quick organ shutdown.

Most pregnant women are urged to deliver at home if at all possible. But due to the lack of prenatal care since the start of the pandemic, many problems are not detected until too late. This, in addition to panflu itself, has caused a sharp rise in infant and mother mortality. Further complicating this is the "new norm" of the last decade of pregnancies in mothers of advanced maternal age and in other high-risk pregnancies. Pre-eclampsia, hemorrhaging, and uterine ruptures are the three largest at-home-birth complications causing death. Public service announcements are made daily urging the use of some type of birth control method until the pandemic can be brought under control. Unfortunately, birth control medications and devices are in short supply and midwives and women’s groups have begun to disseminate information on natural, though less statistically reliable compared to artificial forms of birth control.

With the pandemic four months old, the hospitals are depleting all sources of disposable PPE. They’ve already been reduced to sterilization and re-use of formerly disposable items like syringes. Bedding was even becoming a problem until someone suggested contracting with local hotels and convention centers with large laundry facilities.

TECO, the local electricity provider, has made power to hospitals a top priority. Even though the hospitals rarely lose power because they are on separate circuits from residential areas, each time they do, they lose most of their vented patients. There is simply not enough trained staff to vent any number of patients by hand for hours on end. Despite these astronomical trials to overcome, the hospitals in Hillsborough County are staying afloat. Many other places are not.

The medical facilities in the greater New Orleans, Louisiana area had not fully recovered from the damage inflicted by hurricane Katrina; not in the staffing nor in the building renovations. The influx of panflu patients overwhelmed every facility that remained open within days. The CFR in New Orleans is one of the highest in the US, to date. The stench from New Orleans is so bad that it can be smelled on the other side of Lake Ponchatrain. Most of the hospitals along the Gulf Coast including in places like Biloxi, Mississippi and Mobile, Alabama have failed.

Hospitals along the southern borders of the US dealt with so many illegal aliens seeking medical treatment that most of them collapsed within a couple of weeks when they ran out of supplies. Segments of the populations in these towns are now so fanatically furious that law enforcement finds many people, obviously of Hispanic descent, dead along the US/Mexico border every morning where vigilantes have been "patrolling." And truthfully, most law enforcement departments are now so understaffed that stopping these "patrols" is on the very bottom of their "To Do" list. Neither do the law enforcement departments want to tangle with the extremely violent Mexican gangs to whom the sanctity of life means nothing. The deputies have enough problems without going out of their way to acquire more.

Hospitals on the northern borders of the US are fairing slightly better as the borders there are historically less contentious.

Most of the US megalopolises – like Dallas/Ft. Worth, Atlanta, and Phoenix – have hospitals surrounded by tent cities full of panflu patients. The picture in such places is a grim one, with little time for "good bedside manner." Staff are reduced to the state of automaton. They process each new case as best they can and try to stay objective. They see too many of their coworkers having emotional and mental breakdowns. Several hospitals in Los Angeles and New York City are nothing more than burned out shells when rioters seek an object on which to vent their fear and anger.

The remaining medical facilities in the interior of the US range from the quasi-stability found in Tampa to just this side of total collapse. When the Federal government surveyed all the hospitals, they were at first relieved when so few appeared permanently collapsed. Relieved that is until it is realized that the reason there are fewer was because there are simply fewer hospitals. After factoring out all of the hospitals that have closed their doors in small town American during the prepandemic years, the country’s medical community is much closer to catastrophic failure than was originally realized.

With the weight of the federal government now behind manufacturing and distributing basic hospital supplies, some administrators are breathing a sigh of relief. But relief will be short-lived. As with the 1918 Spanish Flu, the second wave of infections is expected to be even larger than the first one.

Between the scare of anarchy in the streets and fear that panflu will escape quarantine just a few streets away from their home, December has been a tense month for Scott and Sissy. There have been good things of course. There always are if you are willing to look hard enough for them. The garden is thriving despite all expectations to the contrary. The weather has cooled down enough to make things more comfortable. No one is freezing like they are in the northern states. There are the unexpected additions to their pantry from bartering.

Another good thing that occurs is that Scott gets a partner to ride shotgun when he goes to the apartments. The man is someone in the neighborhood that the family had never met, but knew by sight. Scott and the man, who is named Barry, finally introduce themselves over a burning pile of trash between market days. Barry is retired USAF with nearly 30 years under his belt. He would have stayed in the entire 30 he said except that a sniper shattered his leg outside of Tikrit during the early days of the Second Gulf War. "They saved the leg obviously, but it is wrecked pretty good. I was one of the lucky ones though, all I have left are memories, a few scars, and a limp on cold days."

Barry is on his second marriage, living in a 3 bedroom ranch-style house at the end of a cul-de-sac. He has three grown sons from his first marriage. One son was last known to be living out in California and into "all kinds of crap that should have killed him years ago." The other two turned out "pretty good." One son, still single, was at school at MIT when the pandemic started and is working with some "techno geeks" up there trying to keep the university’s mainframes up and running. The third son is a Sheriff in Pasco County (just north of Hillsborough). That son is married with three kids, all girls.

"As soon as things started to rock and roll, Barry Jr. sent his wife and kids to live with us. He comes by every couple of weeks, but he mostly lives at the substation they put in at US41 and SR52. Thank God for my wife and daughter-in-law ‘cause I know jack about raising little girls. Give me GI Joe over Barbie any day. My son brings what money and food he can, when he can. Lord, those girls cry so hard when he has to leave again, it takes a couple o’ days to settle them back down. But I tell you that my retirement and disability pay ain’t gonna cover all these extra mouths for long. I gave up trying to get to the Base Commissary at MacDill. Doubt if they even let any but active service personnel on the base now anyway. And, I hate like sin to go try and get on commodities when there are plenty of folks worse off than we are."

After talking things over with Sissy, Scott approaches Barry with his proposition. Scott will give him twenty-five percent of what they collect if he will ride shotgun on Scott’s rent collection runs. If they see any action, such as an attempted carjacking or robbery, they will split things 50 – 50. Barry asked if he could try it once before absolutely committing himself; and so it was agreed.

On the 15th of the month, the two men head out. Of those who remain at home, one wife is more relieved than she had been and the other move anxious. When the men return in the afternoon, they both are pleased enough with the arrangement that they have already scheduled the next run for January 5th.

"So, what’d you think? Is this something you think you are interested in continuing?"

"Shoot yeah. Wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but you’ve definitely got a workable system going. But I’m surprised you ain’t had any trouble yet. Some of those folks ain’t what I’d call the stable type."

Scott laughs, "There are a few that I’ve started having trouble with but nothing too overt. To be honest some of them aren’t that different than they were prepandemic. People generally live in those areas for three main reasons: (1) its all they’ve ver known and they have no desire to live any other way; (2) it’s a step up from where they actually came from; or (3) their life choices leave them stranded with no alternatives."

"Sounds like you’ve given this some thought."

"I’ve been doing this for over 12 years. I learned early and hard that the only way to be successful in this business is to learn to discern which of the three categories a tenant falls into. Each one needs a slightly different approach to have a good landlord/tenant relationship. I’ve learned to listen to my instincts and they rarely lead me wrong."

"So why, if you don’t mind my asking, do you want a partner if you’ve not had any problems?"

"Instincts again. And I didn’t say I hadn’t had any problems, just that it hasn’t been bad. I’m only one man and I have a feeling things aren’t as bad as they’re gonna get. One of these days my luck could change. My family needs me too much to take stupid chances. When I first went into business, one of the smartest things I did was take the advice of and learn from an old guy I hired to do a log of the maintenance work. I learned more from Mr. Morgan in the two years before his death that I ever could have in a classroom teaching the same subject. Now I see that I’m missing other skills. You’ve got the training and know how I don’t. I need the help and I’m willing to learn. And I’m willing to pay for the privilege."

"Well, if you’re open to suggestions, I do have some that should help with security. We should definitely work on a couple of ‘em before we head out again. I know I’d feel better."

Scott and Barry discuss the proposed modifications while they divide up the day’s "income."

This run is even better than the last, despite the cash brought in being less. Now that it is known that rental payments can be made to barter goods, people have been coming up to Scott at every stop he makes asking if he has any vacancies. He is sure he is going to be able to fill the vacant units he has. He just wonders how he is going to word the leases and issue receipts for barter goods . . . and how on Earth will he track something like this for tax purposes, of if that should even be a consideration at this point?

This run they bring in the following items: 4 bushels of mixed oranges, half a bushel of lemons, a bushel of mixed greens, and a small bag of limes; 6 light bulbs and two roles of metal chicken fencing; one tub of oats and 6 boxes of instant grits; 2 car batteries, 6 sparkplugs, and five gallons of gas (no telling where that came from); two sheets of plywood, some PVC pipe, and a coffee can of self-tapping screws; and a brand new color printer still in the original and unopened packaging. The most unusual thing however is two fifty-pound bags of dried corn that probably came from a feed store at some point.

Barry and Scott work out a system where they will drive into Barry’s garage, unload his share so that he won’t be seen carrying it through the street. When they are done there, Scott will head home and unload his part after dark since they don’t have a garage. The biggest pain turns out to be dividing the corn. One of the bags split and they had a mess. Barry did a little bit of cussing because every time he tried to lift the bag, the tear only got worse. Next time Scott will bring a couple of big pails and Barry will bring a couple of plastic tubs.

When Barry asks what Scott is going to do with his share of the corn he said, "My wife’ll think of something." And actually she does.

What Sissy comes up with is corn nuts. Corn nuts are similar to the parched corn that Native Americans and pioneers ate. While parched corn is traditionally made by putting dried corn on hot rocks or in hot coals. You can also make parched corn by simply covering the bottom of a greaseless frying pan with dried corn and stirring until the kernels are uniformly brown. Corn nuts are a little different from parched corn, and a lot of people think they are tastier.

As a sample batch, Sissy uses one-cup of the whole dried corn kernels and soaks the kernels in two cups of water for three days. She then pours off the water and pats the kernels dry with a towel. Next, she heats up some grease for deep-frying (bacon grease, lard, or vegetable oil can be used). When it is so hot a drop of water sputters on its top, she lowers a heaping tablespoon of kernels into the middle of the grease. The grease begins to boil violently so she has to be careful as she is doing this over the flame of the camp stove.

At first the kernels sink to the bottom. Then they rise to the surface as their moisture departs. When the kernels float to the surface, she watches until they turn copper brown. The kernels need to be crunchy, not chewy. Sissy puts the fried kernels on a screen to drain and then sprinkles them with a little bit of salt. She continues this until she uses all the prepared kernels.

Sissy read in one of her cookbooks that you can also deep fry soybeans. They are supposed to be tasty, but not as much as corn nuts. Soybeans only need to soak overnight. Also, they cook in a shorter time and are lighter than copper brown and do not become exactly crunchy; something between chewy and crunchy. She might try this another time as she hasn’t been quite sure what she was going to do with the 20 pounds of dried soybeans that she stockpiled after it turns out no one really cares for their taste.

Sissy isn’t alone in her quest for ingenious ways to feed her family. Many people have rediscovered the art of pioneer and Native American cooking. An exceptionally good example of this is how Sissy’s cousin managed to feed their group of thirteen a traditional Thanksgiving dinner despite the lack of electricity of gas.

Dear Sissy and family,

I still have that distant feeling like I have not really been here for a couple of months, but it isn’t as bad as it was. I’m trying harder to stay in the here and now and not zone out so much. This letter is proof of that. It chronicles our Thanksgiving dinner preparations and I thought you would enjoy reading it. You were always trying all this weird stuff. Guess what, some of that stuff we saw in the old pioneer museum actually works.

The temperature at 0600 is 34 F. Dark sky, heavy snow, winds with strong gusts. Woke up this morning at 0530hrs to 6 inches of snow and it doesn’t look to let up any time soon. The weather station is in and out so we can’t get an accurate forecast. Though I don’t know why we need one. There is no morning commute to deal with. No deciding whether or not it’s worth the risk of driving. No construction jobs to worry about. Habit I guess. Fortunately all but Cousin’s wife, the Aunt and MIL are hunters and have the right clothing to be out in bad weather. Woods-watches would be near impossible without it.

I’m having a "it’s Thanksgiving so I can" 2nd cup of tea and writing while waiting for the fire to make more coals. Today will present a quite a challenge. I am going to cook a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for 13 people. On a coal stove, and in a large fireplace with a minimum of pans. This bird won’t fit in my little Coleman folding oven or even my biggest iron Dutch oven. I have often cooked in my fireplace over the years, I’ve done roasting chickens in my Dutch ovens or on a drop spit. But never something as big as this turkey. What a time we had cleaning it yesterday. In the past we’ve just taken the breast meat.

But Daughter really wants a stuffed turkey on the table and she’s been so good and tries to help so much so I want to do this for her. It’s so hard on her. She’s just coming into her adult life and it was snatched from her. No way to foresee when or even if, she will be able to resume college. She was aware of the possibility but held out that young-heart hope that she could make it to graduation. At least she’ll be alive- we hope. I haven’t told her yet about the letter we got from my cousin. Her daughter that is the same age refused to come home from college and they had just received word that she has died. They grew up together, as we- their mothers-did. She did get a letter from her best friend across town, on the pony express, and all is as well as can be, or was a month ago. Her family is more like ours and was fairly prepared. She’s read that letter a hundred times since we got it. She finally had to put it in a page protector since it was getting so fragile and the folds were ripping. Her friend was to be married next summer and is still planning on it- though with different accommodations, and I know that makes her think about their futures. I hear her crying at night sometimes when she thinks we’re asleep. We are, but I have mom-hearing and I wake up.

So I got out my quite dog-eared copies of Backwoods Home magazine because I knew I’d read step by step directions for dealing with wild fowl in one of them. Found the right one and sent it out to the garage with Husband and the bird. I have never plucked anything before- and I hope never to do it again. Why didn’t I pay attention to Aunt Dixie when I lived with her? Cause I was 15 and I didn’t pay attention to much. Some of it sank in, but I never helped with something like this. This looks a might different from a store bought bird. Once we got it dressed out and cookable we wrapped it in plastic warp and plunked it on a table in front of the drafty window in the garage where it stayed good and cold and almost freezing.

Last night after the evening meal Daughter and Cousin’s wife and I sat at the kitchen table and tore up the bread we had baked yesterday morning and left out to get stale for the stuffing. Seemed kinda funny to be baking bread just to tear it up later on. But once we started ripping, it felt right. For the first time in almost two months something felt right. It felt like the night before any other Thanksgiving since that is what we do every year. Though before I always used store bought "stuffing bread" and all the leftover heels and pieces of rolls that got squashed or were about to get hard that I put in the freezer just for this. I am so glad I thought to put back some extra Bells seasoning. Stuffing just isn’t the same without it.

Ok- lots of coals have developed. It’s time to try out our plan. 1100hrs So far so good. We got out the big enamel covered roasting pan that we’ve always used. It was my grandmother’s and there are many good memories attached to it. I cleared a good-sized section of the fireplace and set up my fire bricks on their sides in an oval the size of the pan. Left gaps between them so the coals can breath and scooped in the coals. We put the stuffed bird in the pan and set the pan on top of the bricks. I didn’t want to scoop hot coals on top of the enamel cover like I would my Dutch oven. I have no idea what would happen. Cousin looked at the situation, made some measurements and went back to his house where FIL and Uncle and their wives are staying (I’ll get into that later) and came back an hour later with an oven. A piece of steel that he had cut and bent to make an open box type thing. He set it over the pan and TAH DAH- an oven of sorts. It’s big and clumsy to deal with but it’s working. By 10:00 we started to smell the best smell in the world. Roasting Turkey. Thankfully Cousin has always been a serious pack rat and just could not pass up a big piece of steel he saw at the dump a few years ago. He can do anything with metal the same way Husband can do anything with wood. I don’t know why I never showed him the drawing of a colonial era reflecting oven with an adjustable spit. I will now!

1400hrs The rest of the preparations went just like any other year, peeling and chopping, except the pans of veggies went on the coal stove or into the fireplace to cook instead of on the electric range. They might taste different as we are cooking some together to save water and pans. I’m sure they’ll be fine. We haven’t had food like this since the power and then the water went down. Cooking this way is more work, but it’s oddly gratifying. And I am so glad I practiced all these years

1600hrs I was sweaty and grimy from tending the bird and the steaming kettles and pans so went off to have a sponge bath and a nap. When I woke at 1530hrs I could smell the other most wonderful smell in the world. Apple pie. Daughter has a good hand with crusts and had rehydrated some of our dried apple slices and made pie. It’s in the Coleman oven on top of the coal stove. I hugged her so hard.

1700hrs The kitchen is steamy, the table is practically groaning under the load on it. The men are drooling over the most perfect, only slightly singed, apple pie I have ever set eyes on, set in a place of honor in the center of the table with the turkey- which is a wonderful golden color and made tons of drippings for the gravy. There is no space left to put another bowl or plate and there are 13 chairs squeezed in around it- one with a booster seat. This is the first thanksgiving the little guy will probably remember even a little.

1900hrs. We had by unspoken planning put on good clothes- though we never have any other year. The guys even shaved. We all sat down and looked at each other and the bounty on the table and Husband tried to make a toast with apple cider but no words would come out. Cousin tried- same thing. We all just sat and looked at each other and a few tears dropped off chins and then the little guy said "have turkey Daddy?" and we all laughed and just started passing plates and bowls.

2030hrs. I guess wild turkey has tryptofan too. There's a living room full of content snoring men. There was not one scrap of food left when we were done with dinner. Not even anything to scrape off the plates. No leftovers for midnight turkey sandwiches. It’s good because there was no waste, and nothing to try to store, but it’s sad too because the late night turkey sandwich seems to be as much a tradition as the meal itself. Most of us will be so asleep by then anyway we’d never get up- but the night watch wasn’t too happy.

Another thing that felt really strange and we hated to do it but we had to- paper plates, cups and serving bowls. It feels just plain uncivilized on a regular day and especially for a meal like Thanksgiving. But we couldn’t spare the water it would take to wash all those extra bowls. Regular meals are often a one or two pot meal and it goes directly onto the plates/bowls- no extra serving containers. In fact the husbands and wives usually share our plates/bowls. With scraping and wiping before washing we’ve managed to keep water use for dishes to a minimum. Note for the next big turkey - need to get the pan up higher above the coals so it doesn’t scorch.

2100 hours. Off to bed. Today was special, the best Thanksgiving ever, but it’s back to the new-normal tomorrow.

Love, Cousin Cinda and family

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