Monday, February 25, 2008

Chapter Twenty-Nine

The news last night wasn’t the most heartening Scott and Sissy has heard, but life goes on. The hurricane prediction makes them nervous but since hurricane season doesn’t start until June 1st and there isn’t a whole lot they can do about the weather anyway, they decide to focus on what they can do. Today’s task is reorganizing all of the things that Scott has brought in from barter and the produce from their garden.

However, Scott and James decide to first see if Barry or any of the other neighborhood men want to walk to the gas station two miles away to pick up another 15 gallons of fuel before the restrictions take effect. It is always better to go in groups if you are walking, especially if you are going to the store or gas station. Scott knows he could take the van but then he would have to waste gas waiting in the longest lines. Walk up lines are much faster and shorter.

If it is like the last few times Scott has waited in line for fuel, they will be gone all morning. While Sissy packs some snacks and a couple of water bottles, Scott puts his weapons permit in his pocket and straps on his side arm.

There are a couple of people in the neighborhood that still insist on making sarcastic comments about the "wild west" or even rude comments about "redneck hicks" when Scott and a couple of other men carry their weapons. Barry likes to irritate them further by wearing a cowboy hat and doing an imitation of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. But it is these same people who importune the gun owners to go to the store with them or take the night shifts at the neighborhood garden. The hypocrisy of it drives Scott nuts.

Thinking of all the gardening she needs to get done today, Sissy gives Scott and James a kiss as she entreats them to be careful, and to keep their masks, gloves and goggles on. She then heads out to the backyard to do a busy round of planting. Today Sissy is excited because she is planting corn! Not just corn but a number of other things she hopes will finally yield enough for her to start having some left over for preserving. She is also going to ask Mr. Jones if he knows of any empty space in the neighborhood where they can plant popcorn. Sissy knows you can’t plant some varieties of corn near each other or they don’t produce correctly. Popcorn is one that needs to be planted far enough away from sweet corn so that they can’t cross-pollinate.

First thing Sissy does is harvest the last of the mustard and collard greens to clear up that portion of the garden for new plants. The weather is really warming up and the greens are starting to get bitter. She also harvests some broccoli and lettuce; both have done fairly well all things considered. The first of her Chinese cabbage looks like it will be ready to harvest in the morning so tomorrow’s lunch will likely be homemade egg rolls. Lastly she pulls a whole row of beets. She is pretty sure she can pickle some beets tonight, keep some for her family and send a container to Mr. Jones who loves pickled beets nearly as much as she does and has been a real help in the neighborhood. Its nice to know they have enough that they can show their appreciation by sharing.

Sissy takes everything in so the girls can starting cleaning them. She tells Rose to bring out the beet tops when they are finished.

Rose grins and says, "Suckerrrrr!"

"Oh hush," says Sissy, blushing.

The girls all laugh as she heads back outside. They have good reason to tease her a bit. She is going to feed the beet tops to the gopher tortoises and peacocks that live in the orange grove. There have always been gopher tortoises in the grove, but the peacocks moved in a just a couple of weeks ago. Their cry is loud enough to wake the dead, and scary enough to put the newly risen back in the grave; especially if you don’t know what it is you are hearing. A peacock call sounds like a woman’s tortured cry.

Yeah, she is probably a sucker for feeding critters that aren’t even hers, but she is going to do it anyway. She likes to watch them, and it doesn’t hurt that it keeps them out of her garden. So far, peacocks aren’t falling ill from the animal strain of the pandemic flu. Sissy isn’t foolish enough to let the kids mess with them or their dropped feathers, but she isn’t ready to run them out of Dodge with a gun yet either.

As she returns to gardening, Sissy is so glad Scott found all of those containers in one of the abandoned apartments. The woman living there must have intended on using them for something, or had looted them herself, but then had found them too bulky to take when her family decided to leave. Either way, 50 large flowerpots with their price tags still on them is suspicious. But she wasn’t going to turn up her nose at them either. They are welcome addition to her resources. The family actually kept just 30 of them and left the rest for Barry and Tom to split between them.

It has been a lot of trouble to get all of these pots filled with dirt without making huge potholes in the orange grove. Luckily their rear neighbor offered them some dirt from around her pond area if they would dig some out for her as well. It was a good trade. The dirt from the banks of the large pond is full of organic matter and mixes well with the sand from the orange grove. Sissy further enriches the mixture by adding some compost. She finishes the mixture off by adding some of her other gardening supplies like perlite and a little slow release fertilizer. Sissy is sparing with the fertilizer. There won’t be any more where that came from for a long time.

Into the pots Sissy plants another round of garbanzo beans, lima beans, garden huckleberry, husk tomatoes (aka ground cherry), different kinds of peppers, radishes, and several different varieties of tomatoes. The tomatoes are very important. Sissy stocked up on a lot of tomato products - spaghetti sauce, salsa, juice, paste, stewed, etc. – but at the rate the family uses them, they won’t last out the year. She really needs to be able to can some more. Just as she plants the last tomato seedling, Scott and James return.

"Perfect timing! Were you able to get fuel?"

"Yep. But they had already changed the restrictions to 10 gallons. Got lucky though, they were letting every walk-up have 10 which meant that we were able to bring back 20 gallons between the two of us. Good thing I brought the extra container, huh?"

"Yes dear. You are da man. Its also a good thing James insisted on bringing the little red wagon," she laughs "or y’all woulda been a lot longer getting home. How many went and though to bring some wheels this time?"

"We had six men and two boys. Tom got his son out of the house. He said the boy won’t let his mom and little brother out of his sight since they were all so sick. Boy nearly panicked and wouldn’t go because no one would be there to take care of them "in case." He was impatient and in a rush to get home the whole time. He nearly hyperventilated when we had to wait for a train to go by. Tom is really worried about the kid. He said he was having anxiety attacks pretty regularly."

"There are going to be a lot of people that can use some behavioral counseling when this is over with. I’m so not sorry we missed the on-air breakdown of that DJ the other night. Barry’s wife said it was awful."

"Yeah, several people in the neighborhood are talking about that. Can’t be any worse though than that doctor that put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger in the middle of that live, televised statement by the CA governor. A lot of kids around here saw it because they were supposed to analyze it for a social studies assignment. Whatcha wanna bet they don’t assign any more live broadcasts?"

Shaking her head at the vagaries of life Sissy says, "For now we can only do what we can do and see to our own. The girls should have lunch just about ready and then I need you guys to move some stuff around for me."

Lunch is a pasta dish made from ramen noodles and canned ham with a fresh salad from the head of lettuce Sissy just harvested that morning. Everyone has a good appetite. Afterwards Rose volunteers to do all the clean up if Sarah and Bekah will get Johnnie down for his nap so that she can finish a paper she needs to submit as soon as the power comes back on. Scott and James go out to help Sissy with the rest of the planting.

"Now let’s put those bathtubs to use that you brought back from those burned out apartments."

One of the runs Scott and his crew have made was for a property owner who had several apartments burn when someone was trying to cook over some candles. The whole complex didn’t go, but six of the apartments are now uninhabitable, primarily due to smoke damage. The men had been paid – in cash no less – to clean out the units and seal them off. The deal was they could haul away anything so long as it didn’t compromise structural integrity. They had brought back parts from ovens; refrigerators; washers and dryers; a couple of doors and door hardware; wire and conduit that could be salvaged for something; 7 toilets; and six bathtubs.

Tom Cox took the toilets. He thought he has figured out a way to build an outhouse that feeds directly into where his septic tank clean out opening is. If it works, he is going to see if anyone else would be willing to barter with him to install the system at their home.

Barry takes the washer and dryer parts. He is going to try and cobble together a second set of appliances set for his wife and daughter in law. They have started taking in Mr. Jones’ laundry as a thank you for all he did while they were down ill. Barry also wants to try and fix Mrs. Cleary’s dryer for the same reason. Most people in the neighborhood hang their laundry out to dry, but there are days when the weather makes this impossible. Scott things it’s a great gesture on Barry’s part if he can pull it off.

As for the bathtubs, they are about to be turned into part of a raised bed garden. In two of the tubs Sissy will plant sweet potatoes. In the other three she is going to try and plant some corn. In various places in their yard they are also planting cucumbers, peanuts, pumpkins, summer and winter squash varieties, and several different types of melons. "Oh," Sissy thinks to herself, "it will be so wonderful if all of the plants produce." If everything produces well, Sissy feels fairly certain there will be enough left over to preserve for off-season eating.

Sissy still can’t get the idea out of her head that they are using their preps faster than she originally anticipated. Sure, they are going to last longer than the nine months she had originally figured, primarily because of the gardening. But, what about the economic recovery period post-pandemic?

Sissy manages to save some seeds from what they’ve grown following directions she found on the Internet; but she has no idea if they will germinate, especially the ones from the hybrid varieties. On the flu forums she read prepandemic, some folks were going on about heirloom varieties being more reliable for that. She wishes she had paid more attention to what that meant. It might be in one of her gardening books, but she hardly has time for any kind of research these days. Her life is already one long experiment as it is.

Overall, Sissy feels that she is fairly well informed about the various aspects of helping her family survive these trying times. But her goal is to do more for them than to help them just to survive today. She wants to make sure they survive the future as well. And not just survive, but have the ability to triumph over whatever life throws their way. She does worry about being over confident though. It seems just when they reach a certain comfort level, another curveball comes their way.

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