Thursday, January 21, 2010

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter 18

May 15th -- I remember this debate case statement we were given for one of our matches: “Disasters bring out the best in people/Disasters bring out the worst in people.” The teams stalemated every time because the burden of proof for both statements was so easy to come up with. I think it’s because the truth is that it is both. I certainly saw that today.

Oh, I forgot to mention yesterday that I now have a working clock and pocket watch. Rand said the time might be off by five or ten minutes either way but no one is paying it that close attention right now. I had set the alarm for 4:45 but Rand still woke up ahead of me without a clock to go by. I woke up when I heard him moving around in the bathroom, bumping into things ‘cause of the dark.

I guess I hadn’t noticed yesterday that Rand had shaved for church. But this morning he was scratching his face like it itched. He noticed me noticing him doing that and he got a little red but explained that he only bothered shaving on Sundays now and it itched for a day afterwards. At least I could cover up my hairy legs with jeans. Guys have to leave their faces hanging out all the time. So maybe guys have some junk they have to put up with too … I still don’t think it is fair they don’t have to put up with the monthlies but I don’t guess there is anything I can do about that.

I found out something about Rand that is not too cool. He’s a morning person. He’s a happy morning person. He talks in the morning … a lot. Ugh. He just laughed at me and said Laurabeth and I have something in common … poor Laurabeth if she has had to put up with this happy morning person every morning for years. I looked in my match box and I’m down to about a dozen matches. I took one out only to find Rand ahead of me making a fire in the grill for coffee. I asked him how he had known where the matches were … my way of checking to see if my short term memory was on the fritz or if he had been snooping … and he showed me this thing he called Bob.

I told him I thought guys only named their cars and I thought he was going to laugh so hard he was going to choke or something. I didn’t get the joke – and still don’t really think it is funny if you want to know the truth so it must be a guy thing. He explained that he didn’t mean “Bob” but B-O-B which stands for a “bug out bag.” It’s basically some kind of emergency kit he carries in a tool belt kind of thing on his hip. I thought it was where he kept his bullets but he showed me that it is really full of a bunch of odds and ends for emergencies in case he gets caught away from home. He suggested I make one for myself even if I was just walking around my property because he said his had been dead useful on more than one occasion, especially the first aid stuff. I might do that. I can always stick it in a purse or something that I can sling across my shoulders.

I don’t like being laughed at, especially not that early in the morning, but he didn’t do it to be mean so I didn’t burn his oatmeal. That’s what I fixed for breakfast because I swear Rand’s stomach talks almost as much as he does. He was kind of easy taking the first few bites but then he really went to town. He asked what it was and I told him oatmeal. He said that it wasn’t oatmeal ‘cause they have oatmeal all the time at his house and it didn’t taste like what I fixed. I said then he wasn’t having oatmeal because what I fixed was oatmeal. He shut up for a couple of minutes and then said I was probably right because Laurabeth and Charlene were the ones that fixed it. There is no way his cousins can be as bad at cooking as he makes them out to be. I think he is just being silly on purpose.

I put a nosebag of some granola and dried fruit in with the plastic bowls and utensils we carried just in case we didn’t get fed like Rand expected we would. Now I’m glad I did. It was just barely gray when we left the house. Rand took care of Hatchet and scooped the poop and I went and cut some grass for the cows. They were bunched up against the fence again and I could just barely see the dogs crossing the field in the early morning mist. I turned to see Rand watching the dogs too.

He said the dogs must have built themselves a den somewhere nearby if I’ve seen them cross the pasture twice the same way in the early morning. He handed me one of the guns that the gangbangers used and told me to put it in my bag along with the bullets. He said the gun was called a Hi-Point or something like that and that it uses 9mm bullets. He said that he’d ask his Uncle George who the best contact would be for 9mm ammo and what they would take in trade. I didn’t tell him I already had a bunch for obvious reasons and ‘cause I know he’s just trying to help but he ruined it by saying, “The gun isn’t loaded. I don’t want you shooting your foot off. I’ll show you how to load and fire it before the day is over with.” I felt like hitting him with the handle of the swing blade. For a nice guy he can be very irritating.

I forgave him though once we finally started to the meet up point because he let me ride Hatchet. I’ve never ridden a horse before today except for once for not even a minute at Girl Scout camp. It’s like sitting on top of a barrel, a barrel with really long legs. We rode double and I didn’t know how to hold on until he said I could hold his belt loops like Janet does if I wanted to. That helped. I didn’t feel like I was going to fall off quite so much. I have to say even though it was fun my backside isn’t too happy right now. It was OK to the meet up place but coming home was another story. I felt like I’ve been bouncing up and down on a hard bleacher seat for hours.

Turns out the meet-up place was the big parking lot in front of Walmart. We took US90 to US129 where we turned north almost until we got to interstate 10. Or maybe I should say the parking lot of what used to be a Walmart; it’s nothing but a burned out mess now. In fact most of the buildings along US129 into Live Oak are like that, even the big church on the corner. Rand told me it was because refugees came off of the interstate and almost wiped the town out. “It was like a Biblical plague of locusts. It was even worse than a lot of the big city riots they were showing on television. The town lost four deputies in as many days. Was a bad time around here, not many people dared leave their homes because when the stores emptied people would barge right into houses looking for whatever they thought they needed. The farms around here were hit really hard; luckily there aren’t any field crops near the interstate, most of that is way back to 49 and 252 and into Gilchrist and Lafayette counties. Columbia got hit pretty hard and so did Alachua because of I75.”

We were early, it wasn’t even 7 AM yet, but there were people ahead of us. The sign in line was already several yards long. About then a girl rode up with some other people and Rand’s face lit up and he jogged over to help the girl down. I didn’t exactly need to be Einstein to figure out this was Julia. In addition to the smooch, Rand had this really dorky look on his face like half his brains had trickled out of his ears. It was really hard not to laugh.

The girl seemed nice enough. I expected a girlfriend type person to be more bent out of shape about me hanging around but she wasn’t. We got in line together and I found out she was a morning person too. Ugh. The line moved pretty fast until it was my turn. Rand and Julia had already been assigned to a road work crew together since they both had horses but I had to fill out a form and we got separated. I could see Rand starting to go all fuss-budget until a woman showed up and spoke to him. He left with a wave and a thumbs up.

The woman came over to me and I could see she was twenty-something and had the same white-blonde hair color hair as Janet and Uncle George. I was meeting the infamous Missy. And Missy is most definitely cool. She got me through all the forms and proof of residency stuff without me having to lie about anything. We went over to a bunch of trailers and she said, “No favoritism even if you do know my dad. You’ll work your butt off or I’ll send you home.”

I was on the crew that made up the food boxes for people who finished their work day. Missy told me, “Cut off for each work day’s sign up is 8:00 am because all crews are expected to be working no later than 8:30. We are supposed to get a final number no later than 9:00 am and that’s when our work will really start. We take the number of people that sign and divvy it up what food supplies we have as fairly as possible. Thankfully we don’t have to do a bunch of individuals this time but family boxes instead. With individuals you wind up having to do the math down to quarter pounds and lower sometimes to make sure everyone gets exactly the same amount.”

I like math and didn’t understand the fuss until I actually had to start doing it. Missy … or Ms. Crenshaw as I had to call her when other people were around … took the inventory and divided it up. “I wish we could take into account whether someone is single or whether they have a family to feed but the logistics of that would be a nightmare. The only way to make it as fair as possible is that everyone that works gets the same share. Once people start bringing their work ticket up to the table, and that won’t happen until after 4:00 pm, I want you to stay back until our guard gets in place. If things get too wild I may ask you to go sit in one of the trucks until Rand comes to pick you up. We have had a little trouble at the last two stops along this route. People don’t like the amount or what they’re getting … or they start trading with each other which causes a lot of confusion.”

I thought of what my Kindergarten teacher used to tell us, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” Seems to me that some so-called adults need to learn that.

Until the numbers came Missy had us getting organized. We set up a bunch of tables and each table had four or five red lines dividing it up. Each of us on the work crew had our own table. We were expected to make up four or five food boxes at a time; I got the only table that had six divisions on it. I saw some of the other women on the crew smirking so I figured something was up. Ended up fooling them. Having to fill six boxes at a time actually made the work go faster. Right at 8:45 the numbers were turned in; 256 people signed up in time.

Missy did the math and then turned to us and smiled really big. “Good news, we’ve got enough that all we have to do is break it down into pounds and half-pounds this time. But ladies, I’ve had a little trouble with people trying to put the ‘good stuff’ in their own family’s pile. That won’t be happening again, not on my watch. From here on out, preparers will not be distributors. Depot staff will distribute and we’ll be monitoring to make sure nothing shifty is going on. And you can get the look off your face Doris Vayne; I really don’t care what you think about this change. If it isn’t to your liking you can leave and go one home.”

“Doris” was one of the women who had been smirking; she wasn’t smirking any more. Missy wasn’t finished however. “The other change is that canned foods and convenience items are being reserved for Special Populations such as the folks at the hospital, the nursing homes, and most of you should know who else. There are still a few but mostly what we have today is commodities including grains, sweeteners, dried vegetables, powdered milk, and the like. We are out of tobacco and coffee and I’m not sure when we will be getting any more in. Since about half as many people showed up as expected it looks like we have an abundance of paper products to hand out which should make up for that some. Anyone with questions about these changes can see me at the end of your shift. Now, let’s get to it.”

Rand wasn’t kidding; Missy managed people pretty good. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Missy had everything down to a science. The only thing was trying to not make a mess with the loose stuff and making sure that everything was measured correctly. There were bins of wheat (not flour but the whole grain), cornmeal, dried fruit, dried veggies, white sugar, brown sugar, powdered milk, mixed nuts in the shell, sunflower seeds in the shell, salt, pepper, baking soda, baking powder, and some spices and stuff. Another truck held paper goods like toilet paper, Kleenex, feminine products. The third truck was the “wet” supplies and it was the biggest mess. There was honey, molasses, and cane syrup. There were oils like corn, safflower, and olive. And then there were vinegars and other liquid flavorings. The last pile was a crate of miscellaneous odds and ends.

Missy came over and got me started since I was the only one that had never worked the supply crew. She walked me through scooping the staple goods into paper bags and making sure they weighed the correct amount. Showed me how one type of dried fruit was used until it was all gone then they opened the next bin and used it until it was all gone. That meant that even if the truck held five different types of dried fruit, each food allotment only contained one type. Same with the dried veggies. There were plastic containers that the “wet” items went into and once they were filled they were taped securely closed. The paper goods were doled out by some of Missy’s regular staff. Then each food box was given one item from the miscellaneous crate … could be anything from a package of cookies to packets of Kool aide to a box of baby wipes.

Once I had six sets of stuff on my table I took a large burlap bag and carefully piled everything in the bag and then sewed it shut with a big upholstery needle and raffia string. Missy said it didn’t have to be neat, it just needed to be knotted tightly closed to remind people to wait to start looking in their bag and going through it until after they had gotten it home.

When I asked Missy where all the paper bags and burlap bags and plastic containers came from she told me there were drop stations ahead of each work day. For every paper bag or plastic container turned in people would get an extra credit in their ration books; every burlap bag turned in would get them three. “It doesn’t add up to much if you think about it but it’s an incentive to get people to recycle them which takes the burden off of our station to requisition containers.” The ration book is a new one on me and I forgot to ask Rand about it in the melee that happened later.

A little after four o’clock people started coming in with these stamped and dated cards. No one is supposed to know the card color ahead of the work day so that they can’t be counterfeited and each crew chief is assigned a different shaped punch that is used for additional security. The people go up to the first line, their card is checked against their sign in information, if it matches they get a hand stamp and then go into the line where they can pick up their bag. If the card, color, punch or any part doesn’t match what was written down at sign in then they have to wait for it to be cleared up, however long that takes.

I didn’t think it was going to be work but it really was. There were 256 civilian “volunteers.” There were six of us preparers. That meant each of us were supposed to prepare about 42 bags of food. For me that meant I had to do seven tables of six bags each. Wowzer. Between 9:00 am and when the first group started to trickle through I had made up 35 bags but then things got crazy and I lost count.. It reminded me of the dinner rush at Good Eats.

I saw Rand and Julia go through and he told me he’d be back to pick me up when Missy punched my ticket. It was a guy in the last crew to come in that turned everything nasty. Basically he started shouting because he had a family and some of the other guys who were single were getting the same amount. The single guys said it wasn’t fair when families got so much more for the same amount of work. A couple of the men started to brawl and then things got out of control.

Missy was one of the first to go down. She had her back to the crowd and was trying to get her crew and staff up into the trucks so they wouldn’t get hurt when the brawlers ran into the distribution tables and Missy disappeared under a table and a bunch of other people. That’s when I heard whistles blowing but by that time lots of people were fighting and not all of them were men.

I ducked down by the wheels of one of the semi trailers and tried to stay out of the mess. I spotted Missy trying to crawl away from the broken tables but every time she tried to get upright she’d get knocked back over. I could see blood on her face already and knew if she didn’t get out of there she could get trampled to death. I looked around for some help but all the adults were either running away from the fight or running to it.

I grabbed a couple of cans from the Miscellaneous Crate and dumped them in a burlap bag and started making my way over to Missy. When people started getting too close I’d swing the bag. If they were smart they moved. If they weren’t smart they got smacked by a load of cans in the back or gut and that moved them. When I got to Missy she wasn’t moving much but it was all I could do to keep people from stepping on her any more. I couldn’t bend down and help her.

About that time some really big guy with a blonde flat top showed up and picks up Missy and starts heading toward the trucks. I’m suddenly looking at a horse’s belly from where I’ve been tossed over a saddle … that thing on the front, the saddle horn, knocked the wind out of me. Rand had used Hatchet to wade through the crowd; apparently being stepped on by a horse or kicked by one moves you out of the way even better than a burlap bag of cans. Even after Rand put me on my feet between two of the semi trailers it took me a minute to get my breath back.

The big guy … found out later his name was Major Sawyer … told us to stay with Missy and then he went out and started shouting orders and I heard some screams as some crowd control started happening. Missy was a mess but she had started cussing by the time the medics showed up. She had quite a vocabulary; most of it wasn’t really what you would call curse words per se, it was more like creative descriptions of people’s lack of character and mental capacity. I was trying not to smile but when Rand looked at me all sour-faced I lost the battle and had to put my hand over my mouth to stop the snickers. Then the medics started smiling. My personal opinion is that if she still had that much inventiveness then there was nothing wrong with her brain even if her head had gotten stepped on.

There were some people who didn’t want to disperse. They were complaining that they hadn’t gotten their supplies or that they had been stolen or that the bag had ripped or whatever. The Major summed it up by saying, “Forget it people. This station is closed. If you have problems, take it up with your neighbors that started this riot. And don’t make it worse than it already is; when word gets back to command they may just close the work for food program in this area all together.” Now that last bit shut people up and I saw some scared eyes staring at the mess that had been made.

The Major was nice enough but he said that we’d need to go because they were securing the area. Missy told her staff to make sure that we both had our food bags and then I saw the Major slip something to Rand. The medics took Missy away after she told Rand not to worry her Dad, that she would get word to him as soon as she could. The Major told Rand that he’d see to Missy’s care personally. I think there is something going on between Missy and the Major but I didn’t feel it was my place to ask.

As we were leaving the Major pointed to my eye and asked if I had gotten hurt in the fight. I told him no but he had one of the medics look at it anyway. It got a clean bill of health and told to stop getting into fights. I opened my mouth to defend myself when I figured out he was ribbing me. Gosh, it doesn’t matter how old they are, guys are just trouble with a capital T. And silly too, for a fact.

Rand tied the two bags across Hatchet’s saddle and we started walking out of town. It was spooky. It went from there being a huge crowd and fight to no people, like everyone had found a place and hid. We almost got run over at the corner of US90 and SR129 by a bunch of military vehicles that were going really fast down the highway. Some of them almost didn’t make the corner. Rand said they must have been called in as backup in case people started to change their mind and come looking for trouble again. “Word is going to get around fast that the Major said the program site may close. Some people might think they have nothing to lose at this point.”

I asked him what happened to Julia and he said she left as soon as she had gotten her food allotment. Her brother had been there to escort her home. I asked why her brother hadn’t been the one to work and all he did was laugh. I took that to mean that Rand’s opinion of Julia’s brother wasn’t very high.

We kept walking and Rand’s stomach growled so I asked him if he was hungry. He told me yes that the lunch had only been a sandwich and an apple and he was saving the apple for Janet. I pulled out the nose bags I had put together and handed him one. He grinned and dug into his. He asked me what kind of lunch I had gotten and I just shrugged. I really hadn’t noticed whether we got lunch or not, I’d been so busy making up bags that I hadn’t even noticed when lunch had come and gone. The oatmeal for breakfast was really filling. Rand got upset when he figured out I hadn’t eaten and tried to give me what was left of his granola and dried fruit. I told him I was fine, I hadn’t been out on the interstate stripping down cars like he had. He grumped and proceeded to read me a lecture on paying better attention and not letting things like free lunches get passed me. I just nodded my head like I was listening; guys seem to like that. I was really thinking about the day and what I needed to do tomorrow as I already had some plans.

We were exiting the city limits when we saw Uncle George coming lickety split with the wagon from one direction and a truck coming from the other. They both pulled up short right where we were at. The driver of the truck was the medic that had looked at my eye. Rand calmed Uncle George down … apparently someone named Marjorie Mitchell had come home with a story of having seen Missy “trampled near to death” that sent him tearing here to check on everyone … and the medic assured him that while Missy was pretty banged up she was still full of vinegar and would make a full recovery if she would mind the Major. That is another thing that makes me think that Missy and the Major are more than friends.

The medic said, “Mr. Crenshaw, the Major sent some stuff along for your trouble and for the young lady here for defending one of his staff members.” He then took several large bags out of the truck bed and put them in Uncle George’s wagon. Uncle George for his part told the medic, “Please tell the Major that should Missy … or either of them or both … need a bed, we’ve got the room.” The medic grinned and waved as he pulled out.

You could tell that Uncle George was having a hard time pulling himself together. Rand went over and put his arm around him. I didn’t know what to do so I just stood there trying not to be obvious. After a moment Uncle George sniffed real big and squared his shoulders and things were back right again. “Now young lady, exactly what did that man mean about you defending one of his staff?” That meant I had to tell the story to Uncle George’s satisfaction. I laid it on heavy about being tossed upside down on Hatchet so he wouldn’t pay too much attention to the other stuff but he didn’t fall for the misdirection the way Aunt Wilma always had.

I got hugged. It felt funny but funny in a good way, not funny in a bad way. But it was weird too. I barely know the man but “uncle” somehow feels right when I think about it. How strange is that? I’m pretty sure Momma and Daddy would like Mr. George Crenshaw quite well. While I’d been explaining Rand had rearranged the bags and put them all into the bed of the wagon. One of the bags had a piece of paper stapled to it that said “Miss S.” Rand asked me if the S was for Snow or for Stubborn. Ha ha; very funny. He needs to take that act on the road.

Rand put me up on Hatchet and told me to hold on while he got in behind me. Uncle George followed us to my gate and then all the way back to the house this time but like Rand he didn’t say anything about my funky looking lattice barricade. Rand got down and helped me down; I was pretty sore at that point which made Rand grin and made me want to kick him in the ankle.

While Rand was looking around to make sure no one was hiding in ambush, Uncle George said, “I was going to try again to get you to come home with us but I can see why you’d want to stay here. But you listen to me, if you ever get in trouble, you run to our place. Don’t worry about anything else, we’ll figure it out. You hear me?” Rand had already drawn me a map and made me memorize the directions just in case I lost the paper.

I knew it was getting late and they knew it was getting late. They needed to go but neither man felt comfortable leaving me. I figured they were being so nice I told them to wait a second. Rand followed but stopped at my porch to put down the two bags giving me time to go out to the orchard. I had picked a sack full and was running back when we met up and we walked back to Uncle George one last time.

He didn’t want to take the blueberries but I said they were for the girls to make dumplings and then told him how I’d made them. “Dumplings are real simple and once they get the hang of it it will make them feel so good that when some weiner-headed boy makes fun of what they put on the table they won’t care.” I was looking at Rand when I said it and he got that “What? Who me?” look on his face. Uncle George finally smiled, if a little sadly.

It has been a full day and I’m really glad to be home. It’s quiet without Rand or Uncle George around but I’ll be glad to sleep in the dormer room again. I was surprised as all get out when I dragged the heavy burlap bags inside and opened them. The one that I had earned by working was full of the stuff like I had packed in all the other bags but instead of dried fruit there was a big bag of gingerroots. The other bag that Major Sawyer had sent had several packages of toilet paper in it, a big package of feminine stuff, a big bag of wheat, another of cornmeal, and a third of sugar. The rest of the bag was filled with what looked like all the odds and ends from the Miscellaneous Crate.

That’s what I meant about seeing both the best and the worst of people. The work day wasn’t so bad until the end but I’m glad it’s over. It was nice earning something but I’m not too sure that I want to go on another one any time soon; some folks around here seem pretty touchy.

I almost didn’t notice it but written on the back of the note that had said “Miss S” Rand had written, “Don’t think I’ve forgotten about your shooting lessons. I’ll see you on Saturday after the Farmer’s Market. Until then, don’t go any place outside the house without that rifle. And keep it loaded brat. Uncle George will have my head if anything happens to you. I wouldn’t like it too much either. – R”

I just don’t know where he gets off trying to order me around. It’s OK for now I guess but I’ll have to put my foot down eventually.

Something good did come of today. That woman Doris helped me whether she meant to or not. I overheard her bragging to her friend how she was canning over an open fire outside. Ding, ding, ding … we have a winner. I spent a couple of hours tonight after my evening chores going over Momma’s recipes for canning blueberries. I’m ready to give it a try so that’s what I’ll be doing tomorrow assuming it doesn’t rain.

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