Wednesday, February 27, 2008

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.

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