Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Chapter Fourteen

The USA’s celebration of Thanksgiving takes place on the fourth Thursday in November. This holiday is traditionally a time of family, food, and fun. People travel many miles to be together. Large quantities of food are cooked and consumed. Many people also spend the day watching sports broadcasts. This year things will be very, very different.

Many families have been devastated and decimated by panflu. There will be no large family gatherings. Fuel is too expensive for casual travel and large gatherings are a viral transmission risk. As for the food, with both fowl and swine proving to be infectious vectors of transmission for the panflu strain, the traditional meats of the holiday (turkey and ham) will be missing from most of those few tables still celebrating.

Technically, if infected animals are cooked appropriately their meat can be eaten. The problem lies in the butchering and processing. This issue removed a lot of the less expensive meat choices from the grocery shelves and drove the remaining meat prices even higher. Most wild fowl and swine are also suspect. Many states have banned hunting for the duration of the pandemic, though hungry families virtually ignore the mandate. Those few animals that have been found to be resistant or immune to the virus are being put into special breeding programs.

Sissy is beginning to have a difficult time. Her emotional stress level is quite high. While Scott's family has all been deceased for many years, Sissy was used to seeing her extended family at least on a monthly basis despite the distance of nearly 200 miles. She never missed a holiday with her parents. She knows she needs to come to grips with this so that she can set a good example for her children and she also knows that everyone is trying their best to do the right thing, and that many families have lost many of their members. But trying to model good behavior still isn’t doing a whole lot for her state of mind.

Sissy worries for her parents who are both in their 60's and suffer some chronic health conditions. They live alone in a small town in a rural county. Their social network has been severely disrupted by the pandemic and they have no one to physically help them should the need arise. The one good thing is that she finally convinced them, before everything went to pieces, to do some prepping and canning and their food supplies are holding out while they supplement with their small garden. Also, they were able to stock a three-month supply of their medications and have recently been re-supplied through a local doctor and a special Veterans program. The government finally got a program up and running so that people suffering chronic conditions are getting at least some of their medications supplied to prevent them from having to enter the hospital.

The video conferencing system that they were able to convince some of the family’s households to invest in has been a good way to keep the family together and share skill set knowledge. From an uncle she got directions on making an organic insect spray. From a cousin she got a recipe for broccoli that uses powered cheese. From another family member she got tip on companion planting. The electricity is not always on for everyone, but someone in their network is usually online no matter what time of day or night that they try the connection.

This holiday the extended family has made plans to have everyone taking turns well-wishing via teleconference. Afterwards Scott, Sissy and the kids will sit down to their dinner and give thanks that they have something when so many have lost so much. The holiday meal Sissy plans on serving may be smaller and they will be feeding fewer people, but it will be in a setting of thankfulness - perhaps even more so than in years past when so much was taken for granted. This year, nothing will be taken for granted because you never know if this is the last time you'll have a similar opportunity. And, thanks to Sissy's forethought, the meal will at least be semi-traditional despite all of the food shortages.

Before the pandemic one of Sissy's main concerns was to try and mitigate the trauma from the consequences of a pandemic for her children. She did this by trying to build in "normalcy" to their preps. She stored favorite foods. She stocked up on treats. And she took her creativity a little further by creating a "birthday-in-a-box" for each family member and by putting together "holiday-in-a-box" storage tubs for the major holidays the family celebrates.

For instance, in the Thanksgiving prep box she put several cans of turkey, some boxes of stove top stuffing mix, cranberry sauce, canned sweet potatoes, canned pumpkin, canned gravy, applesauce, and a few dried foods like potato flakes, corn, and green beans. She also included a couple packages of pie crust mix and a few packets of spices and seasonings. To the food she added decorative paper plates and napkins that she got on clearance after the holiday last year.

To be on the safe side Sissy had also included easy recipes to use with these foods just in case she wasn't around to do the cooking. She hated having to use that kind of thinking, but it could have happened. One of the recipes she put in the Thanksgiving box was for an eggless pumpkin pie. Before the pandemic Sissy became concerned with how many recipes required eggs. An avian influenza could make all eggs suspect. She ordered a year’s worth of powdered eggs to try and help. She also found ingredients that could substitute for eggs in some types of recipes. However, she also collected lots of "eggless" recipes so that she could still provide her family with breads and desserts.

Since the family had electricity the day before Thanksgiving and they couldn't do any outdoor chores because of a rainstorm that seemed to have set in, Sissy baked the pie and bread early. When they were finished, she put them in the pie keep that Scott build her out of an electric wine cellar. The coils in the cellar no longer worked. He had gutted it for refrigeration parts. He replace the bottle racks with flat racks. The glass front made it easy to view the inside. It was deep enough to hold a whole loaf of bread. And the door gaskets and locking handle keeps bugs and rodents out.

As luck would have it, by the time the family awoke on Thanksgiving Day there was a black out in effect. The weather was too overcast to use their solar cooker and the ground too wet for pit cooking. The kids were sure that the holiday dinner that everyone had been anticipating was ruined, but with back up plans for her back up plans Sissy just smiled and told everyone not to give up so easily.

While Scott and the kids started their daily chores, including processing the water they had harvested from the rain storm, Sissy uses a small supply of their precious charcoal and puts together a box oven to cook the turkey and stuffing casserole. She will also cook the remainder of their meal items this way.

While the food is cooking, the family continues completing the rest of their chores ... setting dirty clothes to soak in rain water, dipping debris out of the pool, picking up fallen branches and cutting them into lengths to season, picking up any fallen fruit from their two citrus trees, etc.

Just as they finish washing up in preparation of setting the table for dinner, the power flickers back on. Sissy rushes to the computer and begins to call their extended family. Providentially, she reaches her parents right away and they are able to exchange news and holiday greetings. Her parents have already spoken to most of the remainder of the family and everyone is well and accounted for in most of the households. The last bit of news is not heartening as two family members have come down sick ... not from panflu, but from exposure to the cold, one of them has had to have a couple of toes amputated due to frostbite. They have some help, but it will likely be a while before anyone hears from them on a regular basis again.

After the last "good-bye" and "I love you" is said, Scott turns the computer off. He holds Sissy While she tries to hold back tears of both relief and sorrow; the kids join in for a big group hug celebrating that most everyone is still in one piece. They then head off to eat their holiday meal.

Before the meal begins, each person is encouraged to tell at least one thing that they are currently thankful for and tell something special about another family member. The things the kids are thankful for are very basic – food, water, dry clothes, etc. Scott is thankful for a full tank of gas. Sissy chokes up again as she tries unsuccessfully to say she is thankful none of her kids are gone, but everyone understands.

Once they begin eating, everyone sets to with a hearty appetite. It seems no one gets as much to eat as they used to and everyone is always hungry. This is especially true of James. He appears to be going through yet another growth spurt, and combined with all the extra manual labor he is doing, he is thinning out so much that Sissy is getting worried.

This meal Sissy has made sure that they can all eat their fill, but there will be no massive amounts of leftovers to eat on for several days as in years past. This time there is just enough left for one serving. By family agreement they plate the remainder up, the kids quickly draw some greeting cards, and Scott surreptitiously takes it a few doors down and gives it to one of their elderly neighbors that is the most in need. He would have like to have left it on the doorstep anonymously, but you can't do that nowadays ... an animal, human or otherwise, could easily run off with it.

With no football games to watch, the family cleans up the dinner mess and then plays a few active games together. The kids moan as the power flickers off yet again. It is just coming dusk so everyone piles inside and settles down while Scott sets up the solar/crank powered radio so they can listen to how the rest of the country ... and the world ... has spent the day.

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