Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Chapter Sixteen

The next day dawns cool and clear; or at least it is considered cool for Florida. The highs are only going to be in the upper 60’s. Last year, this would have been "Black Friday," the biggest shopping day of the year.

This reminds Scott and Sissy that Christmas is not that far away. They know Rose, James, and Sarah will understand that things are different this year, but they believe Bekah and Johnnie still need something to look forward to. Heck, with things being the way they are, they all need something to look forward to. Scott and Sissy agree that a family conference is in order. So, after morning chores are complete and the lunch dishes are put away, then everyone sits down to decide what to do about Christmas.

Scott opens the meeting by saying that he really enjoyed the day they had had together yesterday, and that even though it was different than what they normally did on Thanksgiving, he was grateful they were all together to celebrate. He also explains how they want to continue trying to celebrate traditional family events, including Christmas that is coming next month, even if things are different.

Sissy says, "You know why our family celebrates Christmas. You know all our traditions and why we have them. With the pandemic we are going to have to change some things we do, but it doesn’t have to change everything."

Scott continues by saying, "Money is tight this year . . . " and Rose and James break in to say, "We don’t need . . . " Scott holds up his hand to stop them. "Let me finish, OK? Money is tight this year and you all know how iffy the stores are. I’ve always appreciated the homemade gifts you guys have made me in years passed. This year Mom and I are going to follow your example. This year our family is going to celebrate a homemade Christmas."

Sissy, with a grin on her face, then asks, "What do you think we are having for dinner tonight?"

Rose and James are the first to get it and respond with questioning looks on their faces. Then Sarah’s eyes get real big and she starts to smile. Then the Bekah hesitantly asks, "Sloppy joes?!" Everyone laughs, even Johnnie, though he doesn’t know why. This is their family’s traditional meal on decorating day.

Sissy laughs and says, "You got it!"

"But," the kids say, "we don’t have a tree?"

"Remember, some things have to be a little different. I’ve already set the dough for the buns to rise. We still have several quarts of Sloppy Joe mix that I canned. Even though we don’t have tater tots, we can have home fries made from canned potatoes. We’ve got plenty of cocoa and powdered apple cider mix, so that’s OK. We won’t be decorating outdoors but we can go hog wild inside. For the tree, I have an artificial one I got on clearance last year. It won’t smell like a real tree, but I have a couple of pretty, pine-scented air fresheners we can hang on it."

The kids become very excited, even the two oldest, to find that while some things have to change not all the changes have to be painful. In a good mood, they are all eager to help pull the decorations out of storage from around the house. While the kids are making plans, some of them rather hilarious, Sissy finishes the laundry that was set to soak in yesterday’s rainwater.

To get the laundry finished, Scott starts a low fire from coals he got at the empty lot where the neighborhood burns the garbage. Then he places a large galvanized tub – originally designed to be a water trough for horses – above the heat.

While the water comes to a boil, Sissy looks over the clothes to be washed, separating them and pre-treating any stains that hasn’t loosened during soaking.

Most of the time Sissy tries to do laundry when the power is on. She missed her chance yesterday because everyone was focused on other things. Unfortunately, it looks like they will be doing most of the laundry by hand from now on. Scott recently noticed that even when the power is on they don’t seem to be getting all the voltage into the house they are supposed to. None of the 220 appliances want to work . . . stove, microwave and dryer, as well as the central heat and air. The well pump still works, but barely and it seems to struggle when it does come on.

At first Scott thought they had a major electrical issue someplace between their panel boxes and the transformer at the street. But when other people in the neighborhood start saying the same thing, he realizes that TECO (their electric provider) has either started rationing power or there is a delayed maintenance issue on one of the lines that serve their neighborhood.

The washing machine works because it doesn’t require 220, but trying to run it really causes the well pump to pitch a fit. It is just wiser to save the well for drinking water to prevent it from totally giving out and really leaving them up the creek. Scott isn’t sure if he can get another pump if the one they have burns out.

Sissy knows that cooking will be a greater challenge as well. Luckily they are prepared for this eventuality. Scott found a nice toaster oven abandoned at one of the rental properties about two months into the pandemic. It now sits on top of their stove to replace the oven. It is big enough to bake bread in, as long as the loaves are small. When the power is on they use the toaster oven. When the power is off they use their camp stove and other alternative methods like the box oven Sissy cooked in yesterday; or they do without.

As for today, with the power still off, Sissy has the reflector oven out by the wash-water fire. The reflector oven is homemade, but works really well. They found the plans for it from a website called prepandemic and Scott and their kids had fun building it. The buns for the Sloppy Joes will bake as she does the laundry, making the fuel for the fire go further by serving two purposes simultaneously.

As Scott and Sissy work through the laundry - the job is simply too big for one person - they wonder about the people they haven’t heard from or about recently.

"Did you ever finish that letter you were writing to your cousin in Virginia?"

"Just finished it last night before we went to bed. Why, have you heard whether the mail is expected to run today or tomorrow?"

"No, you know they can’t promise when home pick up and deliveries will occur, just that they will occur at least bi-weekly. But I’m going out tomorrow and if you have it, I’ll drop it off with a few other things that need to go to the post office directly."

"OK. I hope they are still taking regular stamps ‘cause that is all we have left."

"They’ll take them, but you have to get the inspection stamp added before it will be shipped out. And nothing is shipped out without that stamp on it. Postal workers won’t tough it with a ten foot pole otherwise."

"Lovely. But I guess they are just trying to keep the system up and running. Thank goodness we still have access to online banking or I don’t know how we would get all these bills where they need to go in a timely manner."

"Yeah. Did you know we actually got a thank you email from the mortgage company and an offer to discount the loan if we continued making full payments?"

"You’re kidding me. Are you going to take the offer?"

"I’m going to run the numbers and see how it pans out, but I might just. Depends on how much they are willing to discount the loan and whether the agreement is permanent or affected by the moratorium in effect. I don’t want to be caught up in a legal battle after all of this is over with."

After Sissy and Scott finished the laundry and had it all hung to dry, Sissy re-read the letter she had written then sealed and stamped it for Scott to take.

Dear Cuz,

Oh yes indeed, it was so good to hear from you. I’m always worried that when the power goes off for more than 2 or 3 days straight that I’ll miss an important family communication or that my email will start bouncing and people will stop trying to reach us.

I’m glad to hear that your officials are doing right by your state. That turkey business made news around here. I have to say though that I might have been too scared to eat ‘em. Silly, I know . . . I sure would have been second guessing myself where the kids were concerned.

With our coasts so vulnerable we’ve had the worst experience with refugees from all over the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America. As bad as it is to hear that another makeshift boat of dead bodies has washed ashore, its somehow worse when some live passengers remain because they are almost always ill and if not caught and quarantined immediately, invariably cause a jump in infections where they have come ashore.

So I guess, no matter how badly some folks talk ‘em down, our officials are definitely earning their oats, so to speak. There just aren’t any easy fixes this time around.

I was so sorry to hear about your Uncle Jake. It seems there is just so much sorrow in the world right now; too much for some to bear. You can never tell what will break some folks. Hopefully his family will find some comfort in his posthumous recognition. I hope some of his young assistants will try to continue his work. That would be a true recognition of his worth.

Your story brought to mind the fate of a man that our family attended church with. He was married to a fine woman, a nurse. In recent years she participated in several medical mission trips and she said she got more pleasure from that than her administrative position out at that fancy private hospital she worked for. A couple of weeks before the start of the pandemic she went off again with a group to Haiti. There was, I believe, twelve of them all together. They were being recalled to the States in those first frantic days when efficient human-to-human transmission was recognized but the only flight they could get was out of the Dominican Republic. From what I understand, the officials in Santo Domingo conscripted them right off the plane to work in the hospitals there. That’s the last anyone has heard from them. For weeks her husband called and called; emailed every official imaginable. He sent prayer requests out begging us on the prayer chain not to forget her. Even without seeing him or hearing his voice, you could tell he was on the ragged edges of control.

Last weekend word came that he had died of a massive stroke, he wasn’t even 48 years old. His adult daughter said that she believed her parents were back together and that the younger two sons that were still living at home were going to go live with her. Such heart break.

Perhaps if you’ve a mind to, you will also keep my cousin in your thoughts. You will remember him from the family reunion. He was the one that worked for that big ethanol plant in Kentucky.He took a private consulting job setting up the same type of plant over in Baghdad. He was on one of the last US transports out of the city and spoke to my uncle just before take off to let him know he was OK and no one was sick. Then my uncle received a voice mail confirming that he had made it to Germany and would be stateside by the following morning, but didn’t know the flight number or where they would land. Somehow he sent a short text message when they were airborne and that he would send word on how he would be getting the rest of the way home. But, it has been over two months and still no word. As you can imagine my uncle is beside himself; and, to make matters worse, they had quarreled. Uncle had called him every kind of fool for taking the job in the first place, no paycheck was worth that kind of risk. I don’t think they had quite finished making up yet.

Our winter garden is doing grand. We opted to grow everything in containers, and thank goodness for that. Every night we take the dolly and trundle everything inside. In the morning, after I harvest anything ripe, it all goes back out. My lands it is a lot of work, but hubby can’t stay up all night guarding things and then work all the next day too. The garden pirates – vermin of both the animal and human varieties – have gotten just horrible around here. We haven’t lost anything more, excepts maybe a bucket or two of pool water since we started carting things in and out. I know all that work sounds kinda crazy, but I’d rather be crazy than see my husband and kids get any thinner. My husband is already as thin as when we were married twenty years ago. Its not like he and I didn’t need to lose a few pounds, but this is not the way I had ever envisioned doing it.

On a brighter note, you should see the inside of our house. It looks like a cross between St. Nick’s workshop and greenhouse and every cheesy Christmas show ever made. LOL! We dare not decorate outdoors, it would draw too much attention even though some folks in the neighborhood have. I did give the kids have free reign inside so long as nothing was a fire, tripping, or hanging hazard. They took me at my word and all I can say is "oh my!"

It does us all good to have something to look forward to. Something nice to mark the days on the calendar. I don’t like to brag of our plenty when so many have less than nothing, but I feel pretty close to doing so when I inventory our remaining preps . . . still plentiful in most areas . . . and those Christmas tubs I scrimped and saved for so we’d have some special things "just in case." Even Scott thought I was going too far at that point. But the other day he gave me a big hug and kiss and said thanks for ignoring everyone who thought you were crazy, including me.

Take care. Its bound to be cold there now. Last thing you need is to come down sick with a chill, or worse.

Your Florida Cousins.

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