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."

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