Monday, January 25, 2010

Chapter Fifty-Five

Chapter 55

October 28th – Well, it turns out that Mr. Coffey’s grandson is a goldmine … OK, not literally, but figuratively he sure is by some measures. We are going to get a freezer in exchange for the two horses. It has to be on the quiet so Rand is going to build a room in the barn to accommodate it. Basically, if I am understanding it, they are going to take a propane type refrigeration system … which Mr. Coffey’s grandson already has several of since he was in that green energy business before and brought a bunch of his junk with him … and utilizing the ammonia gas system and a special lens you get “heat exchange” or something like that. Rand drew me a picture, it didn’t help much. It looks like a regular refrigerator … he said we are getting one called an EZ-Freeze … that has a hose that would connect to a propane tank. Only instead of utilizing propane to heat the ammonia gas we’ll use a Fresnel lens (curved kind of like a lighthouse lens) to concentrate sunrays and generate enough heat to generate the heat exchange. It isn’t very big but at eight cubic feet it is enough to cool down meat and stuff to make sausage and to save food from one day to the next to keep it from spoiling.

It sounds simple but I have a feeling if it was as simple as it sounds it would be a lot more common than it was pre-pandemic. I can see right off the bat that one of the drawbacks would be what happens if the sun doesn’t come out … like it rains all day, or for a couple of days. And what if you get a gas leak or your lens breaks? When I asked Rand about it he said that nothing comes without risks but this was as close as we were likely to get. The horses really didn’t cost us anything to begin with, they were “found assets.” The refrigeration, even if it just gets us through the first butchering season, will be a tremendous benefit. He emphasized though he didn’t want anyone else to know about it, whether it was the Crenshaws or Henderson and his men. Word about something like this would spread and we’d become a target.

“Keeping this to ourselves and proving we can keep our mouths shut … well, I have a feeling that Ben Coffey just may have some other ideas he’d like to try out, may already be trying out, and we might get some side benefits from that.”

I suppose, but I just don’t trust something that sounds too good to be true. I think I will just keep on doing as many things without the need of a frig or freezer as I can that way if the thing doesn’t work or breaks I’m not out too much. Rand calls that my “redundancy fetish” and he thinks it’s “cute.” I’ll give him “cute” if he ever calls me that in public.

I’m actually excited about it even if I might not sounds like it; but, Momma always warned against counting your chickens before they were hatched. Take the Bantam corn for example; I thought there would be a lot more corn from the rows I planted than there actually was. It is too late in the season to plant more, plus I have to hold some seed back to plant next season’s crop which has to be bigger than this season’s crop. I’ve got two other chances that I hope will help. The first one is a corn called Country Gentleman, the other is called Hickory King. But neither one is a yellow corn; Country Gentleman is a white shoepeg corn (and I have yet to figure out what that means), and the Hickory King is a dent corn that hopefully I’ll be able to dry.

The other thing is that the chickens are slowing down on their eggs. I thought we’d get more. Rand said it is natural. As the days shorten and the weather gets cooler they stop laying as much. Good thing I have all of those powdered eggs.

And clothes … I thought about clothes as I washed our clothes and hung them out on the line first thing this morning. I now understand why women used to wear those huge aprons all the time. The aprons catch splatters, dirt, and ashes before they could ruin their dresses. Rand and I are trying to be more careful with our clothes too. When he’s working outside Rand wears these Dickey coveralls or a pair of bib overalls if it is too hot for the coverall. I wear big canvas aprons when I can, sort of like I used to wear when I worked at the diner. I’ve certainly got a pile of them … Momma had a thing for aprons. Some of them are really pretty and she only wore them at the different holidays or when Daddy brought home important people from the base but most of them are meant to be work aprons, but even those are pretty.

I needed something to make me feel pretty today. Cassie came by and she had Julia with her. Mitch was driving Julia back to Ron’s place and the two had wanted to stop in to see us. I still don’t know what to make of the visit but I didn’t want to embarrass Rand or make Mitch any more uncomfortable than he already very obviously was.

Julia is really big now. I wasn’t sure how to go about asking when the baby was due without bringing up potentially uncomfortable subjects so I just told her she glowed … which wasn’t a lie, she really does make for a pretty looking person. I asked them all if they’d like something to drink. Mitch said they couldn’t stay long but was happy to get away for a few moments with Rand to look at Taz. I hadn’t moved the chairs off of the porch yet so all I needed to do was set a small table there and fetch some glasses and the tea. I also brought out some cookies that I had baked.

I don’t think they knew what to say any more than I did but then Julia asked, “How do you keep up with it all?”

“Keep up with what?”

“The cooking, cleaning, laundry, garden … just everything. How do you keep up with it?”

I told her about having specific chores for specific days so that I wasn’t trying to do everything every day. “So you do all the laundry on one day?”

“If I can get away with it. And as you can see Rand and I have started trying to protect the clothes we do wear so I usually only have one load of really dirty stuff and I can wash it separate from everything else.”

Cassie said, “I’m so glad I don’t have to do any of that. Tia Cia takes care of it all.”

For the first time I saw Julia snap at her friend, “Yeah Cass … and who do you think is going to do it for you when Tia Cia gets too old, or gets sick or something. God, you’re such a princess.”

Whoa. Then after another uncomfortable silence Julia looked around and not seeing the men leaned over and asked me, “Does Rand … does he hate me?”

“Um … I don’t think that is actually something I should be talking about … “

“Look, I know I messed things up. Just tell him … just tell him … that I don’t blame him for anything if he does. I just … I know I made mistakes and now … now I’m paying for them. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life feeling like I feel right now. Ron … he’s different … from the way he used to be I mean. He’s always going on about not wasting the second chance we got. We’re … working on things. I just …,“ and then she kind of sputtered out of words to say.

“Look Julia, I can’t speak for Rand but … I think he is dealing with the way things turned out. That’s all I can say; that’s all I’m gonna say. You want more, man up and go talk to him yourself.”

“You’re mad at me too.”

“Not really Julia. If I think about it too much then yeah, I can get angry but right here, right now? I just don’t like being put in the middle of stuff and the stuff between you and Rand that came before me and Rand … I consider it NOMB.”

Cassie was the one that asked. “NOMB?”

“None of my business.”

“Oh.”

Julia said, “Look, I will … I just … not right now. I’d mess it up. I know I would. And people would talk. They’re already talking. I hate going anywhere. People always look and stare.”

“Julia, people were looking and staring at you before all of this, it was just for a different reason. I’ve had to put up with people looking and staring ever since the accident. I don’t like it but there isn’t a whole lot I can do about it. You learn to ignore the people who do it and get on with your life. Or you go crazy. I tried both … I prefer getting on with my life, it’s a lot less work.”

The guys came back and Mitch packed everyone up and then they were off.

“Thanks.”

“Huh?”

“Thanks … for being civil. I know the two of them. They can be …”

“Rand, I’ll tell you like I told Julia and please, please don’t take this the wrong way. What went on between you and her? As long as it doesn’t deal with our here and now I consider it none of my business. It’s not that I don’t care it’s … I just don’t want to make things harder and thinking about … you know, her and you, together … I just don’t like it.”

“What brought this on? Did she upset you?!”

“No! Don’t go getting all upset. That’s not it at all Rand. If you want to know the truth I think she is sorry. Sorry about what I’m not exactly sure but she admitted the place she now finds herself in is her own fault. And as long as she isn’t trying to get you back – or get back at you – I can let it go at that. Can you?”

He did that scrunchy thing with his eyebrows that he does when he’s thinking something over. After a pause he said, “Yeah. I don’t really think about her much anymore. What kind of guy does that make me?”

“One that has moved on. Trust me. I learned about moving on when I had to learn about letting go of how angry I was at the drunk who killed my family. I can’t tell you the last time I really thought about him. Do I get angry if I think about it? Yeah … but not so much at the guy anymore as at that it happened at all. The guy just became a nonentity for me. I can barely even remember what he is supposed to look like. He is the past. This … and us … this is my present and my future. Does that make sense or does it sound too corny?”

Rand gave me one of his grade A hugs and said, “No, it doesn’t sound corny and it does make sense, at least to me. I used to be mad at the doctors because they couldn’t save my mom. You have to let some things go or you’ll destroy yourself over them. Lot’s of people are going to have to do that … get passed all the people they’ve lost in this pandemic and all the violence that has come along with it.” And then after a deep sigh, “Look, if she asks again … and if you are in the mood to tell her … say … say that I’m OK and over it and getting on with my life and that I … I guess I figure now isn’t the time to hold grudges. We’ve got more important concerns in life.”

And work, we’ve definitely got work to do.

Today the first variety of popcorn – Japanese Hull-less – was harvested. We can’t pop it yet, it needs to dry a little more. But we lost several ears to birds and squirrels. They’ve learned that Fraidy and Woofer can’t get in the garden fence. So Rand is thinking about putting a doggy door in there, we’ll just have to lock it during the night.

It’s always something. But even with what we consider to be our biggest problems and set backs we are so far ahead of a lot of folks around here. We haven’t seen Pastor Ken very much lately. He’s been very busy ministering to people – weddings, funerals, comfort, and care. Rand has been hearing all sorts of talk.

People are hungry. Many of them were dependent on the military and National Guard bringing food in. Those that have overcome that are struggling to raise any kind of garden without automation or chemical fertilizers. Even if they’ve been able to get a garden going they are fighting thieves … human and animal … and realizing that it is very difficult to subsist off of a garden.

People are thirsty. No more working well pumps. Ponds and lakes are becoming contaminated with human and animal waste and the clean open water sources are insufficient for all of the people taking bucket after bucket of water out of them. The free flowing water sources, like the Suwannee and some of the local springs, just aren’t that easy to get to and transport water from in sufficient quantity.

People are dirty. Water shortages means washing is a lower priority to cooking and drinking. But this is creating environments that bacteria and junk can grow in, making people sick.

People are depressed, sick, angry and a lot of other things that aren’t healthy and it is this that keeps Pastor Ken the busiest. Getting people to meet together and work together is helping but people resist this, sometimes out of suspicion and sometimes out of pride.

And those of us who are succeeding? We feel like we have to be very careful. People are unpredictable.


October 29th – No church services today. Rather than go out … we had thought about going to Itchnetuckee for a picnic … we decided just to hang out and have a rest day. I don’t know exactly how “restful” it was but we got caught up on our inventories and plans and that was something that had started to bug both of us.

Later in the afternoon I made a treat for us, Spiced Pecans. I took enough powdered egg whites to make the white of one egg and then dumped in three cups of pecan halves stirring until the nuts are completely moistened. In a bowl I mixed together a half cup of sugar, a half teaspoon of salt, one teaspoon of cinnamon, a half teaspoon of ground cloves, and a half a teaspoon of ground nutmeg. I sprinkled the spices over the moist nuts. I then baked them for thirty minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven, stirring them two times to keep them from burning. They smelled so good.

It was nice to have something sweet to go with the sour news we listened to on the radio.

Some of the radio operators try to perform a service. Technically they aren’t supposed to just be broadcasting like a radio show, they are supposed to be having a conversation but sometimes you just have to do what you can do. Directions on how to collect water and purify it is being passed around. How to cook certain types of greens. Information on places you want to avoid if you are traveling. Messages are being called out to try let people know their loved ones are still alive.

Some of the news isn’t very good at all. There are rampant diarrheal diseases running around the country. And no, that wasn’t an attempt to make a bad joke. What is scary is a lot of this stuff is real third world like the cholera and dysentery outbreaks. Lots of upper respiratory stuff too from exposure now that the weather is cooling off around the country.

Then you have the lawlessness. It has tapered off now that citizen groups have formed in earnest … that is a quote from a one of the conversations we overheard … but now there are fights between citizen groups over scarce resources, hunting areas, etc. Basically say you have Small Town A, then a nature area or preserve or federal lands, then Small Town B. Both Small Town A and Small Town B claim the land that is between the two. If the area is big enough with enough resources it is fine but if it is a relatively small area with limited resources … it can turn into a free for all with very little provocation. Think along the lines of the Hatfields and the McCoys ... lots of fueding for little to no reason or because people have forgotten the original reason it all started if they ever knew.

Rand was saying that even as trimmed down as our population currently is, if we return to a totally agrarian society, there may still be too many people in some areas.

The most worrisome of all is that there was a “landing” of foreigners around Port Charlotte. These “foreigners” were heavily armed and quickly overpowered the locals but the military was in the area and it reportedly was a route after that. The military was all over it from that point on and there has been a news blackout since. So the question being asked is whether this was just a onetime pirate or “boat people” type of event or if this was a precursor of the worried about invasion.

Scary stuff.


October 30th – Chili on the menu tonight. It’s getting cooler. I’ve also noticed the days are getting shorter too. Before, I usually had some daylight left to write by but not for the last couple of days.

Rand and I were kind of bummed when we woke up this morning; hard not to be after what we listened to last night but the day got better. Uncle George came by with Brendon. He brought two gilts with him … that is a female pigs that hasn’t had babies yet. Let me tell you, Taz thought it was Christmas. We put the gilts in the new pig yard that Rand had built. A nice tree, located outside of the yard, was big enough to shade half of the pig pen; one quarter of the yard got filtered sunlight, and the last quarter got full sunlight. Rand told me pigs get sunburned really easy so you have to be careful. The tree had dropped a lot of acorns into the pig pen and as soon as the two gilts calmed down from being transported away from all their friends they started snuffling and snorting and chewing those acorns right up. I also put some garden scraps in the pig trough and they liked that too.

Then Rand, with Brendon and Uncle George’s help, moved Taz into a little penned off section of the pen. You should have heard him trying to sweat talk the gilts. Both the gilts and Taz have a little house they can go into for the night if they choose. The walls of the pig pen are solid for now until we can try and make it safe for them to have a regular fence. There are still reports of dog packs but not nearly so many. I hate to say it, but I think people might be eating them. Ew.

I hurried up and made a little more for lunch but Uncle George hemmed and hawed about it being too much trouble.

“You’re Rand’s uncle … the only one he has as far as I know. Don’t tell me what is too much trouble please.”

By the time he was finished eating the greens, beans, and bread I fixed he was in a more relaxed mood and he sure didn’t turn down the spice cake that I made. He got talkative too. They are having their own challenges with their garden. Squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, and even humans have done their fair share of raiding. They’ve also had trouble with rats in the feed barn and had to trade for a mother cat and kittens to try and take care of the problem.

They are shooting for the week before or the week after Christmas for butchering depending on the weather. “When we do start it we need to be quick. Henderson has had a lot of trouble with beggars coming by to demand that he kill his herds to feed all the hungry people around. I don’t want any more notice taken of us than absolutely necessary and you’ll both need to come to help out. It’s going to be a lot of work without the extra help I normally hire. How’s them goats of yours?”

Billy is just as mean as ever but the two female goats are real ladies, one of them is a little ditzy though. Both Brendon and Uncle George laughed when I explained that we tried them in a fenced enclosure but this goofy female goat keeps getting her head stuck so Rand put up the solid panels again. I think she might be far sighted or something because every once in a while she just seems to walk into the panels and then she jumps back like she startled herself. I told Rand about it the other day and he laughed so hard when I asked him if goats ever wore glasses. I didn’t think it was that funny, I’ve seen horses that wear blinders.

Brendon helped Rand split a little firewood while Uncle George looked around. He noted the fence that Rand had finished and how we were just waiting for Mr. Henderson to bring the cow and calf. He saw all that we had done … really looked at it for the first time I think. I just stood back and let him. When they left I watched him say something to Rand and Rand’s look of surprise that followed it.

Found out later that Uncle George had praised him for all the progress he had made and it wasn’t followed by a “but … “ or anything. I know that made Rand happy. Maybe I said what needed saying after all.


November 1st – Pretty momentous day. Mr. Henderson brought the cows. Yes, that’s right … cows. Two heifers and their calves. He wouldn’t let us say anything about the extra, just said it was something he could do so he was doing it. And one of the calves is a boy … a little bull. The two Momma cows aren’t related so we have the start of some breeding stock. Rand had to hurry up and build a couple of more stalls in the barn … it sure is getting full at night when we put all the animals up.

I milked a cow for the first time today! Yippeee!! It was fun but I’ve just added at least two extra hours of work to my day. And I haven’t got a clue what I am going to do with all that milk!

Ben Coffey came by with the refrigerator today too. It takes at least a day before it is cool enough to do anything with so we drank our fill and are trying to save the extra milk in the cold water cooler. Mr. Henderson said that we’ll likely get at least twelve gallons of milk per day from the cows. Oh my goodness. If we don’t milk them they’ll go dry after the calves wean but I hate the idea of wasting any of it. If the milk is soured in the morning I’ll use it for cooking. I’m just having a hard time imagining Rand and I being able to go through twelve gallons of milk a day. Boy do I have homework. I had no idea that cows made so much milk every day!

I think I finally finished harvesting all of the dried beans and getting them put in containers in the pantry. Sometimes I just stand in there and look around and feel so good.

Of course then I remember that there are people all around us that could be starving. I told Rand that we could spare some bushels of apples but he doesn’t want to. He said if people came asking for work we’d pay them in food but the few times he’s been approached they just have their hand out. So I continue to dry or juice the apples, at least a batch every day.

I give the leftovers to Taz and his harem and Ol’ Billy and his. Pretty Boy and his brood don’t do too badly either. Even Rand looks like he has stopped losing weight. I’m glad.

Sometimes all of our blessings make me feel guilty, something I never really felt before over the money Mr. Barnes managed. Rand said I shouldn’t. He said God doesn’t mind people being well off, He just wants people to acknowledge where it all comes from. Then he got a pensive look on his face and said, “If they would just ask for work instead of a hand out.” I guess it isn’t always easy for him to overlook the suffering around us either. But he has standards and I guess that is just one of them.

Weather has warmed back up a little. Almost reached eighty degrees today but there isn’t much humidity. That is nice.

More crazy talk on the radio. You just never know what to believe any more. We keep getting opposing reports about what happened down in Port Charlotte. Haven’t heard the crazy guy on the radio for the last little bit. Now there are a couple on the radio talking like they are the KKK and white supremacist, calling for all of the "non-white" or "foreigner-looking" people to be thrown out of the country or sent back where they came from. Of course there are also reports that an Islamic territory is being set up in the midwest and that sharia law is the rule once you cross into their ever growing territory. I swear, if it isn’t one flavor of crazy it is another.

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