Thursday, February 28, 2008

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.

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