Friday, February 15, 2008

Chapter Twenty-One

The New Year has come and gone. Decorations have been packed away. The radio and television stations that are still in business have returned to their pandemic scheduling. And life is settling back into a measured routine.

Choosing to accept barter goods for rent is turning out to be one of the best adjustments in their business continuity plans. Especially, at least for the foreseeable future, since they accept nearly everything. On the January 5th run they picked up the usual bushels of citrus as well as tangerines and loquats (aka Japanese plums). They also pick up a selection of Craftsman tools, a 50-foot ladder, some miscellaneous plumbing supplies, two towing ropes, a heavy-duty pulley, a marine battery still in good condition, an assortment of miscellaneous household goods, and a couple of spare tires that fit Barry’s car. The car has been out of commission since picking up some nails while going through an area that had seen some rioting.

While out, Scott uses some of the plumbing supplies to help another landlord in the area fix a broken water line into a small apartment complex. For that piece of work he picks up some cash and a selection of goods that has been abandoned in empty units including several pieces of enamel and cast iron cookware. He decides to split this evenly with Barry, as the extra work wasn’t in their original agreement.

Strange as it may seem, this proves to be a turning point in the business. Now several landlords in areas where Scott has his own apartments contact him and make appointments for repairs. Apparently regular repair/handy-man companies are few and far between and those that are still in business, have a long waiting list; or a long list of things that they won’t or can’t do. Even if you can find one and they don’t have a waiting list to next Juvember, many of those companies simply will not go in certain areas of town. After careful consideration, Scott decides to continue keeping his runs down to three or four times per month because of fuel costs; but, if the extra work keeps up, especially if there is cash or fuel as payment, he will add another day or two. Or, better yet, he might be able to hire a couple of more guys from the neighborhood and they can complete more jobs on the same gas. Just in case, he and Barry begin talking about whom in the neighborhood might be good candidates as partners. Not only did the men need the skills, but they also need the steady nerves to be able to work out in the open in neighborhoods that might prove dangerous, and the temperment to be able to avoid being the cause of any problems.

"Serena thinks Tom Cox would be a great addition to the team."

"Yeah he would. But the question is would he be willing to. He runs his custom cabinet business, at least he did prepandemic."

"Do you know whether he is a carpenter or does he just own the business?"

"He’s a heck of a carpenter. He was James’ Cub Scout leader. He made his troop’s Pine Wood Derby track and when the boys crossed over into Boy Scouts he made these shadow boxes that held all of their awards. Its beautiful work."

"Sounds good, but in case he isn’t available have you thought about anyone else?"

"I thought about trying Bob Gri …" Scott doesn’t even get to finish before Barry interrupts.

"No. Now way, man. Guy is a boneheaded loser. He signs up to work in the community garden and then ever shows up; or show up after all the real work has been done. Mr. Cleary has also caught him asleep when he is on guard duty. I wouldn’t trust the guy. Guy is lazy and shiftless."

"OK. It was just a thought and was really more about his wife and kids."

"Kids deserve some sympathy with an ol’ man like Bob, that’s a fact. But forget the wife. She isn’t much better the ol’ Bob. Ann caught her ‘borrowing’ a few things out of our garden … twice … even after she was told we couldn’t spare anything ‘cause of the girls."

"That sucks, but explains how they haven’t starved to death yet. So it seems we may have our own garden pirate in the neighborhood."

"OK, Bob Grinder is definitely out. Thank gawd. You think of anyone else?"

"There’s a couple. I wouldn’t mind asking Mr. Jones but I’m not sure how’d he do if a situation got rough. Same with Mr. Cleary. Most of the others I know I could ask are too young because they are friends of James, and most of them don’t have dads around."

"Why don’t we just wait. I’ll do some recon and check out who might work out on my end of the block, you check out your end. Don’t let Mrs. Cleary figure out what you are doing though."

"Man, I’m glad I finally found someone to agree with me. Nice old lady, but she is a gossipy ol’ thing. She means well, but sometimes I don’t want my business all over town. Let’s meet again tomorrow if you’re up to it. The better planned out we get this the quicker we can get out, get ‘r done, and get home."

While Scott is working at keeping their outside business going and the bills paid, Sissy is trying to keep the home up and running. This task is made a little easier by the fact that the power company has finally fixed whatever the problem was with the voltage and they are back to being able to run all of the 220 appliances; at least when the power is on.

To Sissy’s way of thinking it is good to have all the equipment and skill sets necessary to provide for her family when the power is out. But, there is no question about life being much easier when the power is on. Being able to turn a handle and have hot water for the taking is a Godsend. Being able to throw a casserole in the microwave sure doesn’t hurt either. And being able to do the washing and drying of clothes in her automatic machines, rather than in a horse trough, just about tops everything. The conveniences mean she can do more than one major task at a time.

Sissy juices and cans the nearly thirty bushels of grapefruit they picked on Christmas day. Some she cans in segments, but most she just juices and lets the kids eat the remaining pulp for dessert. She also cans some of the oranges that her husband is bringing home in trade. James, Sarah, and Bekah often slip into the orange grove next door and bring another couple of bags home in exchange for weeding around a tree or two and pulling the always-encroaching saw-briar vines out of the trees.

How James, the budding landscape architect, made those arrangements is still a mystery. But, it makes the kids feel good about contributing to the family’s pantry so she doesn’t forbid it. Her primary rule is that there is to be NO interaction with people outside of the family unless either she or Scott is present and even then they are to get no closer than twenty feet to the other people. Before the pandemic, that would have probably caused accusations of excessive control and child abuse. Now Sissy doesn’t care what people think. She is going to do whatever it takes to keep her family safe from panflu. All she can think of sometimes is that poor woman who lives three streets over. She lost her baby, her husband, and now rumor has it that her older child is ill. As a matter of fact, that whole four-house enclave has lost at least two members per house and this is despite them having a stockpile of Tamiflu. No, she refuses to second guess herself when it comes to the safety and health of her children.

The kids also help with the gardening in their own yard, especially James and Sarah. The family is starting to enjoy some real benefit from their "farming." As soon as they pick the beets, lettuce, mustard greens, onions, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, and celtuce that they planted a couple of months ago, they turn around and plant another crop of them. January also sees the first fresh sweet peas make it to the dinner table. About mid-month they pull all of the dried pods from the shelling beans and hang them in mesh bags on the lanai to finish drying before Sissy hulls them and then vacuum seals them with her Food Saver for later use. Good thing she thought to stock up on all those extra rolls of bags for the FS. That wasn’t cheap, but it sure has come in handy on more than one occasion.

In addition to the other things that they have replanted, it is finally the time of year to give parsnips and shallots a try. They also add new burdock and collard greens in anticipation of harvesting their earlier plantings of these at the beginning of next month. This succession planting will mean that they can stretch their fresh food season out considerably. And thanks to some trading her husband has done, she also has some Chinese cabbage seedlings to bed out.

Yes, it is a lot of work to keep her family of seven safe, fed, and clean. Having the power on, even if it is intermittent, sure doesn’t hurt. But it is the extra helping hands her family pitches in with that is the biggest help.

Sissy is so glad she doesn’t have to worry about sending the kids back to school. They have always homeschooled and she sees no reason to stop. Truthfully her kids have continued to school in much the same way they always have. The panflu only provided a minor interruption in their schedule at the very beginning. There is some concern about whether the oldest daughter, finishing her senior year in highschool, will be able to continue with her dual enrollment, but the community college just carried over her registration from the fall and she has been able to pick up two classes online. Hillsborough Community College is going to have a few classrooms open, but no where near the full capacity they usually are running.

Now that the Florida legislature has declared that public schools will re-open no later than February 1st, many families are struggling to figure out how they are going to get their kids there. People are up in arms that school bussing has been cut back by over half. There are no more free school breakfasts either, but every child – regardless of whether they were on the program before or not – will receive a free lunch just for coming to school.

All after-school care has ceased as well. Most of the sports programs have been cut for the semester, as has all of the academic and interest clubs. The legislature wants the schools to re-open but they are trying to address the concern of too many group gatherings.

The FCAT, the state’s standardized test that is used to determine a child’s academic placement for the following year, has been suspended. So far for only one year, but the news reports that some activists have made noise about taking the opportunity to scrap the test all together. Wouldn’t it be strange to have something good come out of the public schools being closed for months?

There are enough parents refusing to send their children back to school that all of the home education offices in every school district across the state are quickly overwhelmed with Letters of Intent. In all of the states that have begun to talk about reopening schools, this is the case. Homeschool advocates that have been aware of the pandemic threat have reminded people since the beginning that homeschooling is legal in all 50 states of the USA and that people need to make themselves familiar with the laws that governed their state specifically. Homeschool websites are hitting record numbers of views, at least those that remain available. The websites that offer free curriculum plans and materials are getting hit the heaviest for page views.

So few teachers are choosing to return to work that many districts have to fall back on the same video lessons they have been offering on public broadcast channels while the school buildings have been closed. Registration in the state’s Virtual School Program (FLVS) has been re-opened and applications are coming in so fast that the semester will be over before all of the forms can be processed. The State is really trying to make accommodations. They show some concern for the children but they also want to see more adults return to the work force instead of staying home with their children.

The law makes it clear that until a child reaches the age of 16 – older in some states – each state is required to provide them with an education. There is also an obligation on the parent and child’s part to avail themselves of this education or suffer the charges of truancy (child) or educational neglect (parent), either of which could lead to incarceration. The reality is that things are so crazy that tracking truancies is way down on the priority list. The problem is that while it might not matter this year, it could seriously impact a child’s progress over the next couple of years. You can’t just lose an entire year’s education without repercussions of one form or another. The current educational system is simply unable to address the magnitude of issues brought on by a long-term catastrophic event like a pandemic.

And the problems don’t stop there. There are many schools without reliable water and electrical service. The legislature still needs to address the number of school days mandated by law that encompasses a full school year (180 days). Some schools in smaller towns are being used as triage facilities for panflu patients. Some schools have even suffered physical damage from rioting or looting.

The State, under pressure to "do something about the children" – except that there is no consensus as to exactly what that should be – has tried to please everyone and winds up pleasing very few.

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