Friday, March 14, 2008

Chapter Forty-Nine

After the family celebrates Thanksgiving in their own personal way, things begin to settle back into a routine Scott, Sissy, and their family. The only bump in the road is a mild spike in influenza infections that marks the third "wave" Tampa experiences. The number of people that are being released from professional medical care offsets this however, and the hospitals are able to cope.

Fewer people are ill in the traditional sense, but there is a great number that are still in recovery. The debilitating after effects of the pandemic flu will remain with many of those who fell ill for the remainder of their lives; physically as well as mentally.

Now that December is here the citrus crop is again coming in. The harvest is lighter than normal due to the wind damage from Hurricane Josephine. The Chapman’s learned from last year's partial theft of fruit and harvest as it becomes ripe and leave nothing on the tree that they aren't willing for people to "glean." This means that there are grapefruits and oranges in abundance for awhile that Sissy spends time canning for later use.

A local food distributor approached Mr. D and he is paid quite well for his whole crop. Harvesters come in and every tree except the two next to his house he kept for personal use are cleaned out in 24 hours. There goes James' "job" of grove tending. James is disappointed, but is mature enough to recognize it is a good thing for Mr. D and possibly even a sign that things are trying to get back to some kind of prepandemic normalcy.

Other areas of life are also slowly changing back to the ways things used to be. One of the first things, and the kids notice it first because so many are online for school reasons, is that the Internet bandwidth restrictions are eased. There are more graphics and even the online news agencies use streaming video again. Speed of transmissions has also risen significantly. In addition, there are fewer blackouts restricting Internet use.

Many people in the neighborhood find that their work hours are increasing as higher productivity is demanded by the healing economy. One of the more significant features of this is that grocery stores have more goods on their shelves, a few clothing outlets are re-opening, and even small eating establishments are appearing. This puts people back to work. Curfews are easing, at least for adults. Those under 18 still have to be off the street before dark sets in and must carry official identification at all times.

There are some restrictions on growth. Fuel is still being rationed and available only at a premium price. But for those that can afford to buy it, it is now there more often than not.

Even with increased availability of many goods and services, people are still very cautious. Consumer confidence is stable, but the index shows no sign of rising. No one just tills his or her garden under. No one suddenly replaces his or her worn wardrobe with all new clothing or buys their children upscale sports shoes. No one is going out and buying the latest make and model of automobile.

Plenty of people continue to economize. For example, this month Scott and Sissy are harvesting a nice selection from their garden that they will use to barter for items rather than using up their cash savings. There are grapefruits, oranges, and tangerines; even a few limes and lemons. Their garden also produces garbanzo beans, lima beans, and black beans that will be hung in their shells to dry for later use. Winter squash is coming in with pumpkins, Lakota squash, and Buttercup squash. There are still the last few tomatoes to get off the vines before the first frost kills them to go with the winter greens that are coming in like cabbage, celeriac, collard greens, and iceberg lettuce. Even the garden huckleberries are producing.

People are still going to the thrift bazaars looking for clothes to fit their growing children rather than waiting for the Mall to re-open. Most people don't even flinch at the idea of thrift shopping anymore, regardless of their prepandemic lifestyle. They are just glad that they still have their child to shop for. Too many families have lost a child to the pandemic for anyone to take this for granted. Too many parents have lost all of their children. Too many children have lost their parents.

As for automobiles, the new has long ago worn off of every vehicle that is seen on the street. Sure, some people mothballed their cars and trucks in hopes of better times, but it will be a long, long time before America is again able to satisfy their love affair with the road as they did in the later half of the 20th century. The city of Tampa has started to address the need for transportation by re-opening and expanding its antique street car line. People still wear masks while using mass transportation, but at least people now have another way to get to their jobs.

The "quick economic recovery" from a pandemic once envisioned by financial planners, economists, and politicians has proven to be a pipe dream. It will be years before countries again reach their prepandemic production levels. It will take years just to reach prepandemic population numbers and more than a decade for the "replacements" to be old enough to enter the workforce.

Some of the major corporations did have business continuity plans, but given the extreme economic slump, even the most flexible plan requires more stringent cuts than was initially anticipated. Many businesses, especially in the entertainment, tourism, and services industries have failed. All those people that depended on those industries, from executive to janitor, have experienced significant financial depravations. Other industries have taken near deathblows as well. The insurance and health care sectors are in shambles. Many insurance companies have already tried to file bankruptcy papers, but the federal government is moving in to force them to pay at least a percentage of all the claims. There are major re-writes on the horizon for insurance requirements for existing mortgages and for automobiles. Health insurance, even a nationalized form of it, is likely years away. People are encouraged to take their health and health care seriously, as they will now be responsible for it without the benefit of subsidies.

HCWs were hit worse than any profession with fatalities. Nearly an entire generation of doctors, nurses, and other trained support staff are gone. It will be at least four years before the first nursing graduates enter the workforce and enrollment will be down compared to previous trends. It will take long than that before the doctor shortage begins to fade. Specialists will be in short supply even longer.

The social security and disability programs offered by the federal government are bankrupt. A measure in Congress would move retirement age to 80 years of age and is certain to pass.

Another measure in Congress that has strong bi-partisan support is the establishment of work programs similar to those of the New Deal, Franklin D. Roosevelt's attempts to mitigate the Great Depression of the 1930's. People who want governmental assistance will have to participate in public work programs to receive it. Even people with physical and mental challenges can find a place in the suggested system that also include mandatory job training/re-training classes, parenting classes, and daily living skills training. Only children under sixteen and those on one hundred percent physical or mental disability are exempt, but even those two groups have exceptions. Children under sixteen will only receive assistance if they are in school full time or in some other type of full-time apprenticeship program and maintain a certain grade point average. The disability laws are being re-written so that even a paraplegic can obtain training on assistance equipment so that they can take a more active role in their own care and in the workforce. One hundred percent disability is now strictly enforced as the inability to participate in society in any meaningful way such as those in a vegetative state or those with severe mental or physical deficiencies preventing them from acquiring and maintaining any kind of job skills. This sector of the population will be quite small as many such individuals died due to the loss of their caregivers during the pandemic.

Time limits on benefits are being strictly enforced. Any person aged 18 and over may receive assistance for a maximum of five years so long as they fully participate in the work programs and abide by all of the restrictions and responsibilities in their contract. Once off the assistance rolls, it will be at least another five years before they may reapply for assistance. At each succeeding five-year cycle, the application process will become more difficult. If someone loses their benefits for some reason and fails in the appeals process, it will be a minimum of 10 years before they can reapply and in some circumstances, permanent removal from the roles will be the consequence.

Retirement accounts were gutted due to their dependence on the investment markets. People who did not safeguard their savings and investment dollars at the beginning of the pandemic have little to nothing left to show for it. Even those that did plan for economic interruptions in their investments realize it will be years before their investments are worth what they were before. Access to retirement accounts such as 401Ks has been frozen for one year to give the financial industry time to sort everything out.

The Internal Revenue Service is being restructured as well. Most analysts foresee the real possibility that the ten percent straight tax will be implemented. There will also be far fewer exemptions. A citizen will receive their W-2 from their employer. The W-2 will be turned in with a one page form showing what the citizen had already paid in taxes and whether they owe more or are due to receive a refund. All businesses will pay taxes, compliance with immigration laws will mean their taxes are lower. Immigrants will be taxes at a 12 percent rate. Lower taxation will be the reward for obtaining citizenship.

Now that the beginnings of economic recovery seems imminent, the federal agencies that dealt with finances are coming together and planning solutions to avoid recession, depression, or continued inflation/deflation/stagflation. What they are looking for is slow, steady gains rather than a return to large profit margins that were invariably offset by huge risks and loss.

The recovery is appearing in Scott's property management in that more cash is coming in. He figures that it will take at least a year to totally transition back to cash from bartering for rent, but at least now enough cash is coming in to pay for the utilities and mortgages without resorting to using all their savings. Their savings took a huge hit during the pandemic and the only action that saved it was being able to re-work their mortgage payment from the Mortgage Moratorium Act, due to expire in 60 days.

Most non-barter businesses are still cash-only. Those people who no longer have a bank account must stand in line at the post office to exchange their cash for a federally backed money order in order to pay bills by mail. Scott and Sissy have had to provide documentation for a few payments they made online, but they always printed out the proof of payment pages. Scott’s extremely detailed bookkeeping system has proven, once again, to be a smart move. Now if they can continue to make smart moves, they might just make it to the other side of the pandemic relatively intact if not unscathed.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Chapter Forty-Eight

As always, Scott is as good as his word and he is home within a week. This time he brings home something that the family has been desperately missing; fresh, domesticated meat.

Scott, along with his father-in-law and brother-in-law, had a very successful trip. The men trucked a large load of sugar and some south Florida fruit and produce up to north Florida to a town called Live Oak. They followed the same route north, along I75 corridor up to Lake City, FL. In order to reach their destination. At Lake City, they left the Interstate and got onto US90 and went west until they reached the outskirts of Live Oak.. The town is the seat of Suwannee County and continues to serve as a hub of commerce for several local communities, much as it did prepandemic. It took them a whole day just to get a pass into the city. After finally receiving permission to proceed, they continued west through town until they reached the former GoldKist chicken processing plant.

The large processing plant that was once a primary employer in the area has been converted to a food distribution point after being sanitized on several occasions because of panflu infections. The plant no longer processes poultry, but deals with almost everything else. Security is very tight. While it is understood that truckers – due primarily to road piracy – carry lethal protection devices, while parked in the GoldKist compound all such devices have to be registered and turned into the GoldKist guards for the duration of their stay.

One of the main production efforts taking place at the plant is the processing of fresh and jerked meat products. Even better, they recently received a federal grant to re-engineer the plant to accommodate a small cannery. The state of Florida also helped with acquiring resources to complete the project.

The federal and state governments are finally regaining enough personnel and resources that they have been able to sponsor community-seeding programs. One of these programs helps to encourage and procure the equipment for localization of food production and preservation. This program has been quite successful in those locales that had existing resources to exploit. In areas with few natural resources, the government is taking a two-pronged approach. They are encouraging relocation as well as implementing re-education and revitalization programs.

The re-education/revitalization programs are similar to those that were once conducted in Africa and many third-world countries that taught new farming techniques. Other skills taught include special water catchment and conservation techniques. The relocation option is primarily being offered to those who do not or cannot participate in the re-education and revitalization programs.

The relocation option is not as simple a solution as it sounds. Unless you have family willing to sign an affidavit stating that they will be financially and legally responsible for you for one year, you are put on a waiting list until a slot comes open in a community accepting flugees. For the move, you are limited to two bags – weighing fifty pounds each – per person on what you can take with you. However, transportation and food are provided free of charge for the travelers to their disembarkation point. Transportation primarily consists of open-air rail service.

Upon arrival, flugees are subject to rigorous quarantine procedures, especially if they come from certain cities designated as Red Zones. Red Zone cities includes cities with a certain per capita of infectious diseases such as cholera, typhoid, etc. or from a particularly violent location such as Los Angeles or the D.C. area.

Many areas further restrict flugee emigration to age groups or family groups. Some say that they will only take adult males between the ages of 18 and 40. Some areas only want females aged 16 to 35. Some areas only take orphan or unattached children. Some areas prefer intact family groups. Adults with trade experience, or teens willing to sign an apprenticeship contract, are welcome almost anywhere. For a while there was a blackmarket indenture program operating along side the Federal relocation program. This was quickly brought to a hault when it was discovered people were signing away years of their lives in the form of unpaid service just to have someone in a relocation area agree to sponsor them.

The indenture black market caused another, and very restrictive, condition to be put in place. Every flugee has to have an official picture I.D. from prepandemic times, such as a driver’s license or US passport. Children can use a picture student I.D. as long as their original birth certificate and social security card accompanies it.

The more restrictive condition with regard to identification is causing the relocation process to slow down. Babies born during the pandemic usually lack official documentation. Some communities will overlook this documentation deficiency on children under two years of age. Some will accept a notarized letter from a registered doctor, nurse, or midwife. Many communities, however, will not. This is not a harsh or arbitrary rule to hinder relocation, but is an attempt to make sure that children are not removed from their parental care except in the case of being orphaned or abandoned. Adults who find unsupervised children are required to turn them in to a law enforcement agency, show a picture ID, and sign an affidavit concerning exactly how, when, and where the child is found along with any other known information concerning the child. The system is imperfect, but it is an attempt to make sure that children aren’t accidentally shipped away from a parent who is desperately searching for them.

Live Oak is not accepting flugees. In fact, the whole state of Florida is still debating the issue. The northern border of the state has been cordoned off and is marked by armed crossing points on all major roadways. Vigilante flotillas patrol the hundreds of miles of Florida coastline. Of course people still manage to cross into the state, but once here they find it hard going without sponsorship. Most small cities are insular and can spot an outsider almost immediately. Since a state residency I.D. is required to obtain ration cards, many flugees have to obtain goods on the black market which means they pay a great deal more than the federally capped prices.

An unauthorized refugee faces a tough road. If caught, they are put on a national database along with criminals and various other offenders. The first (or second depending on state law) time they are caught they are simply deported across the state line. The second/third offense puts them in a labor camp where they clear roads, tear down condemned buildings, work agricultural fields, etc. The third/fourth offense might find them on a prison barge bound for who-knows-where to do who-knows-what, including international relief work.

The hitch is that some states count any offense on the national database. Some states only count the offenses that take place within their own borders. Some states count only deportation offenses when it comes to assignment to prison barges. There are attempts to standardize the system but the compromise will take a while to finalize as states are using the issue of state’s rights to bolster their positions, especially those that are hard-lining the flugee laws. The case for illegal foreign immigrants is even harder. A lot of the Border States simply turn a blind eye to vigilante activities. Those that do take a direct hand in the immigration issues are prone to simply shipping out any immigrant found unless he or she can prove that they have permission to be in this country from prepandemic times. Permissible exceptions include foreign tourists with a valid and stamped passport, student visas (out of date visas can reapply so long as they continue to either go to school or work in the health care field), work permits, and diplomatic corp members.

Scott knew all of this from listening to radio broadcasts. But in Live Oak the men see the reality. Individuals in institutional orange are seen loading and unloading trucks. They are also part of the ground-keeping crews. And yet another small contingent is sitting chained together in a higher security area where armed guards patrol.

When the brother-in-law asks what is up, it is explained that the group in the detention area is being shipped to Panama City where they will be placed on a prison barge. The guard also volunteers that several of the group are gang members who had been given a chance to migrate by Alabama authorities, but when they kept getting into territorial fights, they were shipped to Florida to try and work off their sentences. Unfortunately they continued their poor conduct here. If they get into more trouble on the way to the port, they will likely find themselves sent to a barrier island prison for special populations. Those prisons are very Spartan; they receive air-dropped rations of just enough food and water to subsist on each day and nothing else. There are no buildings, no walls, no guards … and no way off That penalty is reserved for only the most extremely incorrigible individuals. Even assignment to a prison barge is rare these days now that the threat is understood to be real and that there is no parole from such a location. Usually forced labor is enough to rehabilitate most offenders, or at least it is enough to encourage them to follow the laws of the land.

As harsh as the new – and hopefully temporary – prison system is, it is the only way that has been found to deal with the violence that continues to pop up, especially in large urbanized sectors of the country. For a while sending people to prison was an automatic death sentence, sending people to any kind of mass congregation facility was. Panflu infections could sweep facilities bare of living inmates in a matter of days. There is no perfect solution, but this is the one that requires the least amount of manpower, yet gives the greatest benefit to a society battling a pandemic.

After waiting a full day to get into the city to reach "GoldKist" as the locals call it, the men are forced to wait another day to take their turn at the barter table. Since the brother-in-law is an independent trucker he does most of his own contracting and negotiating. He is a dab hand at it too, surviving in an industry that struggles with many nearly insurmountable challenges.

In south Florida Sissy’s brother negotiated with a sugar procesor to truck a certain poundage of sugar in exchange for a contract in north Florida for meats and canned goods. Since he has an existing bond and a good working relationship with this sugar processor, they were willing to let him have the load with nothing down. The profit is a percentage of the sugar. Once arriving at GoldKist he negotiates a good price for the sugar and gets additional profit in the form of meats and canned goods. He saves even more by negotiating out the price of loading and unloading as the men choose to do this themselves rather than have the prison crews do it. Scott and his father in law get a cut because they went in shares for fuel and help with the labor of loading and unloading. Since the truck is not refrigerated they have to negotiate for cold packing, but that is easy because sugar is such a valuable commodity that the food processing plant will be able to make a really large profit for themselves on the re-sale, even with existing price controls in place.

While waiting for the legalities to clear and the paperwork to be readied, the plant manager makes up nice and offers to take the three men hunting. He is very interested in future trading, especially if he can continue to get sugar and other south Florida products at a reasonable price.

It is hunting season in north Florida. Deer, wild turkey, quail, and squirrel are all "bag as many as you can." The men aren’t really interested in anything but deer. Next day is a perfect hunting day and each man brings down three deer as well as two turkeys that check out infection-free. The game is processed at the plant free of charge. They also make a side deal with the plant manager to trade him a hundred pounds of sugar in exchange for some crab, shrimp, and snapper that the manager’s cousin has just brought in.

The following morning the men leave to head back south. The truck is loaded down with iced meat products and they are praying that they won’t be held up at any checkpoints. They need to get the meat down to south Florida as quickly as possible and then turn around and get their shares home before any spoilage takes place.

This is accomplished in good time and Sissy waves goodbye to her dad and brother as they pull off down the road about three hours before dusk. This will hopefully give them just enough time to get home without having to stop for the night. Curfews are not quite as tightly enforced as they have been and truckers are given some added time on either side of daylight to get to a bolt-hole before curfew sets in, but it is still going to be a push. Sissy and Scott give each other a proper greeting and then set to work figuring out what they are going to do with their share of the meat.

Luck is on their side and the power is on. They immediately put what they can in the refrigerator and freezer including venison and beef that is already been cut into roasts, tips, and steaks. There are several sides of beef ribs that Scott sets aside to give to Barry and Tom. Incredibly there is also pork that has been certified infection free. And then there is the seafood and a wrapped package that Scott stashes in the freezer before Sissy gets a good look at it.

"Are you positive that the pork is good?" Sissy asks suspiciously.

"Yeah. As a matter of fact, while we were there the plant was being inspected by the feds. They got high marks on everything except for having semolina plants growing in barrels at the office doors," Scott replies.

"Having what where?"

"You know, those semolina plants like you have at our front door."

Sissy looks confused and then suddenly laughs, "You mean centronella plants?"

"Yeah, whatever. Those stinky little bushes that keep the mosquitoes out. Anyway, if you see a piece of meat with this seal stamped on it, its from certified clean meat. And from what I understand it is also darn hard to get this seal."

"I hope you are right, but I don’t want anyone but me touching or cooking this stuff and we will process and can it completely separate from everything else," she decides.

First Sissy starts a large pot of water to boil for the crabs that has a ¼ cup of lemon juice per gallon of water. While she is doing this, she has the girls sterilizing jars and lids and setting up the three pressure canners she has. She raw packs stew meat by the quart and begins processing it. Then she starts grinding some of the meat into hamburger that she then browns and hot packs for processing. She cuts some of the steaks into cubes and makes Chili con Carne with some of the fresh tomatoes out of the garden. She also uses some of the ground meat to make Spaghetti Sauce. Sissy cans beef stew, beef and vegetable soup and several other recipes out of her Ball Blue Book. She treats the venison the same way.

Once the crabs are done she dumps them in cool water for ten minutes and then sets Scott and James to cleaning out the meat. After the guys are finished, Sissy rinses and packs the meat according to her canner’s directions and processes the crab in pint jars for 70 minutes. The shrimp she boils in an acidic brine until done and then peels them. These she packs into pint jars and processes for 45 minutes according to her canning book. The fish is cut and placed in jars and processed at 100 minutes. Sissy is very careful handling the seafood. It is one of the more difficult types of food processing in her opinion.

While the seafood is processing, Sissy sanitizes her work area and then gets started on the pork. The loins she slices and cans by the quart. Some pork she grinds and makes into sausage. Some she leaves fresh to be used for breakfast and the rest she browns and processes in pint jars. Sissy looks over at her girls and says, "I am so proud of you three. You are really helping. I don’t know if I could have done all of this by myself."

Rose, Sarah, and even little Bekah have been hard at work cutting some of the beef into long strips and marinating them. These strips are put into the dehydrator and are dried as jerky. She also has them make pork jerky and fish jerky so that Scott can have something that is more portable for his lunches when he is out working.

Sissy and the girls are on their feet for two days straight getting everything canned before the power goes out. Which it in fact does just as she is taking the last batch off the stovetop.
But Scott suddenly goes, "Uh oh."

"Uh oh what? We did it. We got everything processed while the power was still on. Even the jerky is done," Sissy says irritably. "What could possibly be ‘uh oh’ about that?"

"Um. Well," Scott starts then he says, "Well, hell. I guess it was too much to ask for the power to stay on until Thanksgiving anyway." He goes into the freezer and pulls out the freezer paper covered bundle. Out comes a small turkey.

"A turkey?!," Sissy squeals. "This is for real right? This is one of those special seal of approval meats that are infection free? Right?!"

"Yeah and," but he gets no further because Sissy has swooped down on him and starts hugging and kissing him.

"Oh you lovely, lovely man. You and your surprises. Honestly! You double my gray hairs every year with your shenanigans. Go pull out the grill. I’ll roast this sucker and we’ll have our Thanksgiving celebration a few days early," she merrily directs her spouse.

"You aren’t disappointed that the surprise didn’t keep?"

"Are you kidding?! The First Thanksgiving may have been in 1621 with the Pilgrims in Plymouth but there have been thanksgiving celebrations for many different reasons before and since. During George Washington’s time as president it took place in December. It wasn’t until 1863 that the traditional US celebration was truly born as an annual event. And it wasn’t until F.D.R. set the date in 1939 that it became celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. With history like that, I reckon we can celebrate Thanksgiving any day we want to. And having the garden doing so well and now this bounty of meat is as good a reason as any to have our own specific thanksgiving celebration and pardon me running off at the mouth," she laughs. "I’m just so excited!"

Sissy’s excitement is contagious as she calls the children to show what their father has brought them. There are grim reminders of the pandemic year all around them. There are still people getting sick and there are still people going hungry. Even in their own neighborhood people are struggling to keep body and soul together. But there are things to be thankful for as well.

They are still all together and all healthy. They’ve been able to keep food on the table and even share some with less fortunate neighbors. They have survived hurricane season. The business, while not the same as it was prepandemic, is doing OK. They have made some good friends and allies. While the world is full of troubled people, they have also found it to be full of people who are helpful and kind. There are all the personal stories of success by each family member and then there is their success as family as a whole. The blessings are numerous, all they have to be willing to do is recognize them.

Chapter Forty-Seven

For the next two days Sissy has her family working feverishly to put away the goods that Scott brought home from the road trip. Scott spends a lot of time with Barry and Tom making plans for being gone for another week. He says that if they will continue watching things he will bring back what he can for their families from the north Florida run. Barry looks at Scott and asks, "You aren’t really expecting me to turn down that offer are you?" With a handshake Scott promises the men to do the best he can.

On the third day, Sissy’s father and brother arrive. This is a few days ahead of schedule so Scott has to scramble to get going. Again Sissy watches Scott take off in a truck to be gone for a week and she finds that it is no easier the second time around than it was the first. There is also the knowledge that they are still trying to outrun another wave of pandemic infections.

This third wave, due to a slow down in human traffic and the institution of nationwide mitigation procedures, is moving considerably slower than the first two waves did. Even so, there has already been cases that suggest the wave has reached the El Paso area of Texas.

As before, Sissy uses manual labor to keep herself from worrying to the point of getting nothing constructive accomplished. First she decides to cheer up the kids with a special treat. She makes some fresh apple sauce from a couple of the apples that Scott brought home. Then she makes Applesauce Cookies.

It is a great treat and goes well with the powdered milk drink that Sissy makes. Everyone eventually got used to drinking powdered milk in the absence of anything fresh and Sissy doubts the kids even remember the difference anymore.

It has been a bit since she has made cookies. Sissy realizes she needs to make more time to do things like this. It is easy and really doesn’t use too much of her stockpile of supplies. And the kids really get a kick out of it. She wishes she had thought to make something like this for Scott to take. Why does hindsight always have to be so much clearer than foresight?

Now that it is November, Sissy’s list of chores changes. They do plant a few things, mostly just to replace what they have used fresh. Most of her time is now spent preserving what is coming out of the garden. Not that she is complaining, having a full pantry and a full garden is certainly more comforting than a full pantry and no new items coming in.

She is tickled by the success of their potatoes. She hadn’t been too sure that the plants would produce, but they have and quite prolifically too. They have the traditional varieties like Red Pontiac and Yukon Gold, but they also have heirloom fingerlings. The funniest of all is the All-Blue potato. The potato really is a bluish-purple color and makes up into a pale violet colored mashed potato. The kids think it is neat. Scott was a little iffy the first time she plated him up a batch, but he got over his doubts really quickly.

And the tomatoes! Sissy hesitates to say she has over-planted but she has lost count of the number of fruits she has picked. The varieties that are coming in are Lightning, Tomande, Druzba, Big Rainbow, and Brandywine. There are others as well. There are the purplish tomatoes called Cherokee and Black Krim, and they are so strange looking that it took some convincing to get Scott and James to try them. Johnnie won’t touch them at all because he has it in his head they are "rotten." There are also all sorts of cherry tomatoes still coming in plus one called Brown that is nearly chocolate colored. That is one that Bekah steers clear of. Sissy’s favorite of the unusual varieties is the tomato that looks like a yellow bell pepper; you stuff like one too. It is great filled with a tuna salad mix or a TVP and rice mix that is kin to what you would stuff bell peppers with.

The other things that the are being harvested are pumpkins, acorn squash, hubbard squash, Yardlong snap beans and Kentucky wonder pole beans, and lemon ball cucumbers that looked like yellow eggs. They had to drape the fence with some old screening to keep the varmints from taking all the beans. It seems the more raccoons Sissy turns over to Mr. Jones and Mrs. Cleary the more that try and get into her garden. She long ago stopped feeling bad about "racoonicide." The garden is just too important, and a lot of people have begun to count on ‘coon stew for a solid meal.

One of Rose’s favorites from the garden is the Chiogga beet whose leaves are a good substitute for spinach. Other greens that are coming in include broccoli, Chinese cabbage, and Bibb lettuce. There are peas and Armenian cucumbers that are so odd looking that you could almost mistake them for gords, and husk tomatoes (aka ground cherries). The harvest also includes several varieties of carrots like Thumbelina, Danvers, Little Finger, and a purple colored heirloom carrot called Purple Dragon. After those started coming in, Scott wanted to know if Sissy had been trading with some immigrants from Mars behind his back. "Blue potatoes and purple tomatoes, now purple carrots. Too weird!" Scott said with a comical expression on his face. Sissy just laughed and told him to get over it. "If I can learn to eat raccoon, you can learn to eat funny colored vegetables."

They cut sunflower heads and hang them to dry where the squirrels can’t get to them. And there is an odd fruit called a Canistel that is also known as Egg Fruit which isn’t half bad once you get passed the funny texture.

Looking at the family’s food storage areas, Sissy realizes something. Where as before the shelves held mostly store-bought items, they now hold mostly home-preserved items. That is one of the truest indicators of how their life has changed. Would it ever go back to the way it was before the pandemic? "Some things maybe’" Sissy thinks. "We will probably be as affected as people were that survived the Great Depression. We’ll never be totally dependent on the just-in-time economy again." At least she hopes not.

With all the preserving Sissy has used a chunk of the extra rings and seals that she bought prepandemic. She picked up about 1000 lids for about fifty dollars on Ebay and thought that would last her years and years. She now realizes that canning everything that a family of seven needs means that 1000 lids may only last until the end of next year. She is trying to piece some things out by drying them – like turning green beans into leather britches, drying carrots and peas, etc. – but after next year they are going to have to get even more creative if things don’t start looking up.

On a positive note, Sissy did make contact with a local county official who put her in contact with the email of a volunteer group operating the former LDS cannery in Plant City. Sissy and one of the volunteers conversed via ICQ about the possibility of making a cannery available that is closer to the northern part of the county.

"Mrs. Chapman, I wish we could say that I had better news for you, but it looks like it will be at least another month before we can public access to any of the other cannery sites. Right now the State is using them as a means to distribute supplies to local food banks and the mobile ration stores."

"Mr. Henderson, just hearing that it is a possibility is good news to me. The fact that you are talking at most a couple of months is even better. I can certainly hold out for a few more months with what I have now."

"I do have a thought, if you are interested."

"If it involves leaving my home Mr. Henderson, I’m sorry but I won’t be able to. My husband and I have very strict rules to prevent exposing our kids to the flu. I’d love to do on-site volunteer work, but we still have young children at home."

"Actually it doesn’t require you to leave your house at all. We are starting a website that has a discussion board attached to it. We need local people to work the forum and to submit information for the web pages."

"That I can do. What exactly are you looking for?"

"Well besides food preservation recipes we need suggestions on how grow things in our local micro environments, how to save seeds, commentaries on what varieties have grown best for you, ways to grow native species for food and home preservation of native food varieties. If you think you would be interested anything you could submit would be work that we wouldn’t have to do. That would leave us more work hours to complete the renovations and repairs so that we can get more canneries up and running sooner."

"Now that is a task I am up for. Do I ICQ the information for submission?"

"No, if you could put it into a text document and attach it to an email to the Cannery Volunteer Board, the CVB will format it for the website."

For Sissy this will be a relatively painless activity as she has been keeping notes all along. She’ll simply copy and paste her dry information and put it in a more entertaining format to make it more user-friendly for other people to read.

This isn’t all altruism on Sissy’s part either. She is hoping that if the canneries are first-come-first-serve that she will be on someone’s list to contact. She figures that if she helps them then eventually the favor will be returned. A few more community contacts for things begin to improve will certainly be worth any time she puts in for the VCB.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Chapter Forty-Six

When Scott gets home there is quite a celebration; both before and after the kids go to bed. The centerpiece of the family’s dinner is a loaf of persimmon bread with pecans in it. Luckily the family’s supply of powdered eggs is still quite healthy because Sissy really over stocked, or so she had thought at the time, on #10 cans of whole dried eggs, powdered egg whites, as well as powdered milk.

After dinner the family sits and talks about what Scott saw and heard while on the road away from home.

They started their trek by going straight north on Interstate 75 to Lake City, FL where they had to pull over for an initial inter-state travel checkpoint, followed by another one in Jennings, FL. There was no stopping and getting out of the semi cab at the checkpoints as it is strictly prohibited by the transportation authorities. The men weren’t really interested in getting out of the cab, that section of the travel plans was plenty eerie.

There were a lot of military style vehicles on the road, some semi tractor trailers, but very few private vehicles. That is unless you counted the disabled and stripped down vehicle skeletons lining either side of the road.

This situation continued on up to Valdosta, GA and Sissy’s brother said that this is true of most major roadways, particularly the US Interstate system. Some trucker buddies of his said that it was the same way up into Canada and just south into the border towns of Mexico.

At Valdosta they faced another inter-state travel checkpoint. Since they were coming into rather than leaving the state, this checkpoint took longer. The fact that they had a signed contract with a bonafide, well-known company really helped with the approval process. Without that contract, there would have been all sorts of declarations and inspections that would have eaten up the remainder the day until they were stuck because of curfew.

After being released to travel by the Valdosta officials, they took off towards Atlanta, but were directed to by-pass the city using the marked detours by a National Guard blockade. The entire city of Atlanta was quarantined due to a severe cholera outbreak following their last wave of panflu infections. The men picked I75 back up near Marietta, GA. Marietta itself looked like an armed encampment with exits blocked off by disabled vehicles that had been piled two and three high. There were signs all over the place warning that travelers who stopped were subject to confiscation of all goods and likely loss of their due process rights. There were also some places strung with barbed wire and accordion wire to keep people from going around the blocked exits. Truckers along the way had warned them that for sure you didn’t want to try and push your luck. If a town said keep moving, don’t stop here, then that is exactly what you better do. Some towns out there didn’t fool around. They shot first and worried about justification later. They continued trucking through Calhoun and Dalton, GA and then into Chattanooga, TN where they had to stop for another border crossing.

In Chattanooga they had to pay a "toll" to get through. Bribe at gunpoint was a better description. Those that didn’t pay often found that their paperwork was marked suspect and their loads were confiscated and drivers "taken into custody." Sissy’s brother said it was better to just pay it for now, so they had to leave about 100 pounds of sugar behind. As soon as they could, they got out of there and didn’t look back.

In Chattanooga they switched from I75 to I24. They ran into no trouble until they reached Murfreesboro where they needed to refuel. They spent two hours waiting in line before they were able to take their turn at the fuel pumps. As soon as they got to the head of the line, the pumps ran dry. Luckily they were only an hour more waiting for refill. Some truckers had mentioned waiting days in line for fuel.

Also at Murfreesboro they found they would have to bypass Nashville and Clarksville. Nashville was quarantined. Clarksville was under control of the US Army that was based at Ft. Campbell Army Base. They figured their papers might get them into Clarksville, but it was getting out that was the problem. They were carrying a valuable cargo. While they were waiting for fuel they re-routed their travel plans. First they would use secondary roads to cross over to I65 and then over to I40. They backtracked on I40 to a little town called Burns where they went north to a little town called Dover, where Ft. Donelson National Military Park is located. This was the area where Sissy’s father was raised when he was a small boy and they still have connections living there.

Taking a chance they called ahead on the CB. They actually reached a cousin that was more than happy to let them park on their farm for the night to avoid problems with curfew. They were fed and in exchange left a bag of sugar that was much appreciated.

The next morning it was an easy jaunt into Christian County, KY where Hopkinsville Milling Company is located. It is also where many members of Sissy’s extended family still live. One of these is another cousin that works at the mill and she is the one who arranged the contract for the trade of sugar for other goods.

The men spent three days in town waiting for the transaction to be finalized. During this time they were pretty much quarantined in a merchants’ area which was basically a camp where truckers parked. They did have family come by with letters and news being exchanged, not all of it good. There had been losses in the family. Several family members had lost grandchildren. Sissy’s cousin, who was paralyzed and suffered some lower immunity issues, became infected and his full recovery is in doubt because due to his physical challenges he is triaged from receiving professional medical care. His mother is a former LPN who worked at the State Hospital for many years. The aunt’s neighbor, who lost her own son to the panflu, helped her get out of the house and go see her sister’s husband and her nephews. Scott reported, "She leaked tears the entire visit. She lost one of her grandchildren and has nearly lost her son. She is tired and fragile, physically and emotionally."

Other relatives continued to come by their entire stay. There were some plans made to see if they could bring citrus fruit or strawberries when they ripen but the plans were fluid as everyone is well aware how quickly the situation could change.

As each family member came by to visit they were given a couple of sugar cones. Some sent packages and letters back with them. Eventually it was time to leave as their business travel visa was running out of time. They took the same route back but avoided Chattanooga, TN by taking back roads. This added an extra day to their trip but was worth not having to deal with the bribe process.

"I didn’t do a lot of manual labor on the road, but that life sure is tiring," Scott says.

"How did everyone look?" asks Sissy.

"About like people here. Rode hard and hung up wet; some more so than others. Your aunt looks really bad. If your cousin doesn’t fully recover it won’t be because he isn’t being given the best care your aunt can manage. Your Dad got permission on the last day there to go to her house and see him. He could hardly talk about it when he got back. Its bad."

Sissy is very somber for a while.

"We have been so lucky," she says quietly.

"Not luck, well at least not much. You got us going with prepping and then we teamed up to address our business concerns. We’ve had a game plan that’s been flexible but solid and we’ve followed it. That’s not luck, that’s forethought and strategy. You’ve taken good care of us," he says hugging her.

While she feels some vindication at his words, she responds by saying, "We’ve taken care of each other. Its just hard hearing how bad its been out there. When you don’t know people you can keep some objectivity and distance. When its family it brings it all home. Stories are just stories until you find out its happened to someone you love."

Scott and Sissy head off to bed, yet again faced with how relatively well off they’ve come out of a bad situation. Preparing has given them an edge that has turned out to be priceless. Sissy is just sorry that she couldn’t have convinced more people to do it.

Chapter Forty-Five

It isn’t long before the women come back with the list of the children’s names, grades, and the resources in their homes. Sissy sets to work trying to work out a lesson plan. Of the families that want to be part of the neighborhood correspondence school, there are 6 kindergartners, 7 first graders, 4 second graders, 2 third graders, 5 fourth graders, 1 fifth grader, 7 sixth graders, 5 seventh graders, 10 eighth graders, 9 ninth graders, 4 tenth graders, 3 eleventh graders, and 3 twelfth graders. This makes a total of sixty-seven kids in nineteen households. She is going to have the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders tell her what they want to study. She will let this be her guide to facilitate their lessons. The ninth graders she will assign mostly entry level highschool work and let them pick some electives for their own self-directed study that they can keep a journal on. The middle schoolers will all share science, history, geography, and literature lessons; she will have separate language arts and math lessons for each grade. She will assign the elementary students the same lessons but with level appropriate requirements. Good thing she kept all of her lesson plan books from over the years.

Science, history, and literature are easy; there will be lots of hands-on, grade appropriate projects. They will all also keep a nature and observation journal similar to the concept that can be found in the Charlotte Mason approach to education. For part of language arts, she will suggest that each student keep a daily journal. Sometimes she will give them writing prompts for topics, at other times they can chose their own. With luck this will also help the kids express their concerns and fears as they live during a pandemic rather than keeping them bottled up to deal with later. Math is going to be a challenge for some of the parents to teach, but Sissy has enough step-by-step instruction manuals that if applied with a little patience, everyone should be learning enough without too much frustration. Luckily, most families have copies of some of the classics. For the first few weeks, she is going to do a unit study on The Swiss Family Robinson or Robinson Crusoe. Every grade will participate and she will be able to tie in some projects quite easily.

In fact, Sissy has too many ideas. She hasn’t figured out how she is going to get every one’s assignments out to them. They still have a good supply of printer toner for now as she and Scott had really stocked up for the business. They have about six cases of paper that Scott had taken in trade from one of his jobs. Sissy figures that maybe they will continue with the idea of a correspondence school and she can set up a series of mailboxes over at the neighborhood market lot. To save time and paper, she will send out an entire week’s worth of lessons at a time. It will be up to the parents to collect the lessons and implement them in their own home. At the end of the week she will ask for feedback from parents and kids and see how things are working out. Heck, she figures she can’t do worse than the kids not getting any instructional education at all, and she can at least make an attempt to keep things fun and interesting.

Setting this up has certainly given her something to keep her mind off counting the minutes until Scott returns home. He is due back any day and this is the longest they have ever been separated without at least talking to each other on the phone in 25 years of being together. It certainly has been emotionally challenging. It gives her a glimpse at what things would be like if one day he never came home.

Early the next morning as Sissy is taking some of the last of the containers back out into the backyard there is the sound of air breaks and the whooshing of a large truck pulling into their driveway. She runs around front and straight into Scott’s arms. All the kids heard the truck roll up and quickly come out to see their dad. Sissy also greets her brother and father.

"We gotta get this stuff unloaded so dad and I can get back on the road," her brother hastily breaks in as he begins unlocking the rear doors of the truck.

"You can’t stay at least to eat?" Sissy pleads.

"Sorry honey, but no. Your brother and I are going to haul this stuff down to Sarasota and then try and make it home before dark so that we don’t have to park and wait out the curfew. I’m missing your Momma real bad and need to get home to her," her dad puts in. "But if you’ve got anything we can eat on the go, I won’t turn you down."

Sissy sends the girls into the house to throw together a bag of food to go while she helps bring in bags and boxes of stuff. They’ve backed the rig all the way to the porch overhang, but its still work to get up in the trailer, get the stuff down the ramp, and then walk it into the house and find a place to set it down amidst all the other mess in the house. She is curious but keeps it at bay until her brother and dad pull away.

"What on earth is in all these bags? And are these figs and persimmons in these crates?" Sissy asks.

"Yep. Do I get a kiss?"

"You’ll get more than a kiss when the kids go to bed. Lordy, I’ve missed you. Don’t go away like that again," she implores.

"Well, as to that . . . "

"Oh no. When do you leave?" Sissy asks, crestfallen.

"Your brother is going to try and get back as soon as he does a couple of loads he has already contracted to do. Maybe about a week." Scott replies. To Sissy’s disgust he is obviously excited about taking off again.

"You going to Tennessee again?"

"No, just up to north Florida."

"What for?"

"There is a man up there that has promised to trade us a couple of head of beef, and some wild game, for some sugar. He is someone your dad met at the truck stop before we crossed the state line."

"But there is another wave of infections coming this way! Haven’t you all heard?"

"Yeah. That’s one of the reasons we are trying to get this done quick. Look, I’ve got to run over to Barry and Tom and see how things have gone. Then I need to go out and make a run. I know its late to start, but I just feel the need to keep going as quick as possible."

"You just got in!" she says upset. "OK, we’ll talk tonight. Please try and not be out too long."

"No longer than I have to be. Dig around in this stuff and see what you think."

And with that Scott is out the door again and running. "That’s what she gets for marrying a Type A," she grouses to herself.

Sissy goes over to start "digging around" as Scott suggested. She nearly swallows her teeth a few minutes later as she tries to take it all in. "And he left before I could give him a good solid kiss. Just wait until that man gets home," Sissy thinks to herself as she gazes in stupefaction at everything.

She calls to the kids for some help and begins to unpack a veritable gold mine. The burlap bags hold about a hundred pounds of pecans. She thought they were golf balls originally. She immediately makes plans to repackage them into some smaller containers. There are some smaller bags of almonds and walnuts in there too. And a bag of what looks like hickory nuts, but she isn’t sure as they aren’t labeled. If they are, it will be a Godsend because Tom told her how Native Americans used to make a shortening-like product from them called Hickory Milk.

There are crates of figs, persimmons, Muscadine grapes, and what had to be six bushels of Granny Smith apples. She lets the kids have one of those each and hopes they aren’t so green that they get a bellyache. That’s all they need on Scott’s first day back.

Small plastic drums hold sorghum molasses of all things. But, most incredibly, there are several fifty-pound bags of flour and the same of cornmeal. The bags are all labeled as being from the Hopkinsville Milling Co. so she knows that they got as far as her extended family’s area. She isn’t sure whether they got as far north as Paducah though, she didn’t had a chance to ask. She knows her dad would have tried to see his sister if he could have. There are also two fifty-pound bags of field corn. That will come in handy.

And, there look to be a couple of jugs of something that shouldn’t have been there. What in the world they need moonshine for she doesn’t know. If the men had been caught transporting that stuff across state lines there would have been hell to pay.

What a bounty! She is down to the dregs of her flour supply and here is more than she could have ever hoped for. If she plays things out right, this will last for months, definitely through the New Year anyway. "Oh, just wait until that man comes home," Sissy vows.

Chapter Forty-Four

October is here and the weather is finally cooling off. The humidity is going down, helped along by the fact that the average rainfall for the month has fallen sharply from an average of six inches last month to two inches for this month. What this means for Sissy is that it is time to clean the house in and out. As clean as she tries to keep things – has to be for things to stay sanitary and infection free – the lack of air conditioning and other issues associated with lack of electricity has made it very difficult to keep the house as clean and fresh as in prepandemic times. Where most people do their big, yearly cleaning tasks in the spring, many people in Florida do theirs in the Autumn or early Winter.

Sissy discovers a problem this time around. As Sissy plans her strategy with regard to adding all the extra cleaning into their already busy chore list, she realizes just how low her soap and cleaning supplies have become. She knew this day would come, but it is still hard to get to this point in her supplies. It really shows how long they have been trying to piece things out and make things work without all the conveniences that they used to have at their disposal.

Sissy has heard people are advertising on the local bulletin boards that they are making soap and are willing to barter. On Scott’s next run she is going to ask him to try and get some. Mr. Jones had also put about that some of the older ladies plan to give soap making a try, but she can’t wait. She needs to get some cleaning done now while she has a block of time to work with. Sissy pulls out her book of recipes that she started making when she first began prepping, turns to the cleaning section, and looks to see what she can make to replace what she is short of.

First, for a spray cleaner, she decides to use a white vinegar solution. Vinegar is multipurpose and lasts years in unopened gallon jugs. Sissy bought cases of the stuff prepandemic and has also replaced some that she has used when they had the grocery store vouchers Scott earned for that remodeling job. To use vinegar as a spray cleaner she mixes it one part to one part water. For tougher jobs, like mineral build up around the faucets and in the toilets, she uses the vinegar straight. Smells somewhat, but not too bad after things air out.

To replace the abrasive cleaners like Comet and Ajax, she makes a soft scrub cleaner using baking soda. Baking soda is a great deodorizer for the drains too. Another cheap prep item she still has cases of.

The windows of the house get a good cleaning using a rubbing alcohol and vinegar solution. Rubbing alcohol is getting in shorter supply so is isn’t wasteful. She takes one cup of rubbing alcohol and one cup of water. To this she adds one tablespoon of vinegar. She has the girls spritz it on the windows and then wipe it off with a soft, lint-free cloth. Paper towels are now a luxury. Sissy still has about three dozen rolls stashed away inside a box spring in one of the bedrooms, but she is saving them for as long as possible.

Sissy still has plenty of commercial furniture polish and wood soap. First, she and the girls dilute down the wood soap and clean all of the furniture surfaces. Then after the furniture has completely dried, they polish the pieces with lemon oil. That helps to drive the musty smells from the house even more.

There are some really grimy areas of the house that need some tougher cleaning. Even with daily sweeping and mopping, the tile floors through out their entire house need a good scrubbing. For this Sissy uses a solution of diluted, non-sudsing ammonia. Sissy is glad that she still has rubber gloves that are useable because she has to scrub the floor by hand in several areas. Bringing the garden containers in and out every day really does a number on the floor, the grout is completely gone in some places, but the security of their food supply easily trumps the extra housework.

The bedrooms, which are the only carpeted areas in the house, have the walls washed and the mattresses sprinkled with baking soda and then brushed. They then rinse the plastic mattress protectors as best they can and hang them outside. After these are thoroughly dry, they are put back on the mattresses. The mattresses are still in very good shape because of these protectors and Sissy is glad that she had invested in the good, heavy grade plastic ones. The few places that the plastic has begun to tear are quickly repaired with water proof tape. The pillows are taken care of in the same way, as they too have plastic protectors on them.

As for the carpets themselves, Sissy had purchased a couple of non-electric floor sweepers prior to the pandemic. These are good for surface dirt and dust, but are pretty hopeless for embedded dirt and sand. Their vacuum cleaner died several months ago. Scott tried to fix it, but it was hopeless. Scott’s shop vac still works and Sissy decides that unless an emergency arises to prevent it, the next time the power comes on, they will spend the day vacuuming all the carpets over and over until they get out as much sand as possible. They may even pull up the carpet and re-stretch it. Sissy thinks, "if you’re gonna clean, you might as well clean right."

They did have three large area rugs to deal with. These are rolled up, taken outside, and beat to get as much ground in sand out of them as possible. They have a couple of bad spots that they clean by making a paste of baking soda, rubbing it onto the spot, allowing it to dry and then brushing it off. It isn’t a perfect fix, but it is better than it was. Their rag rugs from the kitchen and utility area are washed pretty regularly with the clothes so nothing major needs to be done with them.

All of the bed and bath linens in the house are given a close inspection. A bunch are set aside into the mending basket. Between socks, underclothes, and linen that basket is always full. Luckily Sarah seems to really enjoy sewing and she is getting pretty good at it. For a middle schooler, that is an amazing skill to have. Out of necessity, all of the kids are getting handy with a needle. Sissy just hopes that her needles and thread last for as long as she needs them to. A good sewing needle is a pricey barter item.

The pots and pans also need additional scrubbing. She does this using baking soda and elbow grease. Thank goodness for cast iron cookware though. Her non-stick pots and pans, though convenient, are terrible for cooking on the grill and out of doors. When the family is lucky enough to have the electricity on, they use the non-stick cookware, but they haven’t been very lucky in that way lately. The cast iron stuff is seeing a lot of use as are the big aluminum pots that she boils water in. She has a couple of dark speckleware pots she uses in the solar oven.

The oven is a horrible mess, there is no way around it. It is one of the tougher cleaning jobs. Sissy had not gotten around to stocking oven cleaner when the pandemic hit. It was just one of those things that she forgot about. But, the oven can no longer go without cleaning or it is going to become a fire hazard. She tries something that she read in some frugality magazine. She puts a half-cup of full strength ammonia into a glass bowl. Then she sits the bowl inside the oven and closes the door. She allows this sit overnight. In the morning she is able to wipe away most of the grimy build up. For the few places that are still gunky, she makes a paste of baking soda and scrubs those areas with a worn out toothbrush. Again, not quite as squeaky clean as she remembers the commercial products cleaning, but then again she has let it go a long time. A second overnight with ammonia might work, but it will have to wait as she still has a lot of other stuff to do.

In the bathrooms, mildew is getting to be a real problem. You wipe at mildew and scrub it, but because it gets imbedded into surfaces, it is very difficult to get rid of permanently. And with no air conditioning to keep the airflow going in the interior bathroom, the shower stall is getting particularly bad. Sissy still has a small supply of chlorine bleach. It is running out its power to be a water sanitizer so she decides to use a small amount on the mildew and on the cutting surfaces in the kitchen. She takes three-quarters of a cup of bleach and mixes it in with a gallon of water. Sissy asks James to use the same solution on a couple of places outside where the algae is making for slick walking surfaces. But, she is very, very careful to not use any bleach product around any other type of cleaning product, especially when she is using ammonia. Mixing bleach with other things can create a poisonous gas capable of suffocating living creatures, including humans.

October isn’t just the month of cleaning. Sissy is kept busy taking care of everything being harvested from the garden. After seeing their garden compromised by the hurricane and hot weather, having all of the fresh produce to eat was a real treat. This month they harvest jicamas, broccoli, broccoli raab, okra, more mesclun greens and arugula, mustard greens, yellow crookneck squash, scallop squash, cucumbers, and a funny little roly poly zucchini that looks like green eggs whose seeds came from a child’s gardening kit. The first of the heirloom seedlings start to produce as well. There is a weird radish that looks like a white carrot and another radish that is a Chinese heirloom that is white on the outside but watermelon pink on the inside. Both are really strange looking, but that doesn’t stop them from being good eating.

Best of all, some of the heirloom tomatoes have also started to make. There is the Red Tumbler cherry tomato, the Sun Gold cherry tomato, an orange colored tomato called Tangerine, and there is also a Golden Sauce yellow plum tomato. And boy, are they producing. A couple of times per day though, Sissy has to go outside and check for hornworms. With many of the bird populations decimated from avian influenza, the insect population is exploding. The bat houses that James and Sarah built months ago have a lively colony roosting in them and bats in the neighborhood are helping with some mosquito control. Tom Cox and his sons have a gppd trade business going building bat houses. The work is proving a therapeutic outlet for his son with anxiety issues.

With a good population of snakes around, the rodent population is also under control. In those places without these natural predators, pests run amuck. In Sissy’s case, her secret weapon is the peahens that live in the orange grove. The male peacocks are still arrogant and standoffish, but the peahens come when she calls. Sissy pulls off the hornworms from tomato plants and tosses them to the birds and they gobble them right down. Its as good as having geese patrolling things. They are just as noisy too. She is still careful to avoid any potential contamination, but so far no one on the web has reported infections in peacocks or peahens, apparently not all varieties of any one species of birds are susceptible to the current avian influenza.

This month Sissy also plants rows of beets, burdock, carrots, onions, parsnips, salsify, shallots, and turnips. For greens she plants broccoli, cabbage, celtuce, collards, leeks, lettuce, mustard greens and spinach. She plants English peas and more strawberry baskets just because she has the room. She figures they may eventually have enough extra food for trading.

Towards the end of October, Sissy’s brother shows up again. This time he has their father with him. Sissy is stunned and the whole family shares an ecstactic reunion.

"I sure do wish your Momma could be here but I can’t risk her getting sick. Let’s step inside. I need to talk to Scott. We’ve got a proposition he’ll be interested in."

Sissy’s brother has come up with a scheme that will likely only work a couple of times because of shipping limitations. But, if they can get three drivers to drive straight through with no breaks, avoiding the problems with driving too many hours for each driver, they can actually get between check points they have to cover in less than 24 hours. Their destination is the Kentucky and Tennessee area where they are desperate to trade some of their homegrown supplies for some sugar from south Florida. The brother has a load of sugar on board. Sissy’s father is going to be the second driver and they want Scott to be the third driver. Scott has his trucker’s license and it is still up to date. They will make the run, see family, pick up what they can in trade and be back in under a week making a hefty profit even after it gets split three ways.

This makes Sissy’s heart sink. It is hard enough to watch Scott drive off into potential danger when he leaves to manage the properties every week, but have him driving several states away? And to have to make the decision so quickly? But there really is no decision to make. It is too good an opportunity to pass up. They’d get cash to split for some of the load, but they would also get trade goods that might not be available around home.

So it is quickly planned out. Sissy throws together a good supply of food, mostly fresh that they can eat on the go, refills their water reserves, and off they go. She and the kids cannot stop watching as the truck drives away. They stand there for a while longer after it is finally out of sight and then Sissy shakes herself and gets everyone back into the house.

"When daddy be back?" little Johnnie asks.

"They said they would be back in a week more or less," Sissy replies.

James hesitantly starts out, "Dad said that Tom and Barry would be around if we needed anything but . . . I don’t want them coming in the house.’ More forcefully he adds, "Dad said I was supposed to make sure everything gets locked down at night and keep you all safe."

"I know sugar." Sissy replies carefully to acknowledge his growing need to prove his maturity. "I wouldn’t go to Barry or Tom unless it was an emergency we couldn’t handle anyway. We’ll do for ourselves. Dad was just trying to cover all the bases. He asked us, me in particular, to push really hard to keep our disinfection protocols priority."

"We’ll stay safe, won’t we guys? And we will help mom lots and lots and before you know it, dad will be back and maybe he’ll bring everyone a surprise," says Rose to the youngest children.

"I miss Daddy!" cry Sarah and Bekah in near unison.

"I know sweethearts. But Daddy felt that this was a really good chance to make up for the money he can’t make around here right now. As a matter of fact, it is a chance that is too good to pass up, no matter how we feel personally. The pandemic won’t be around forever and we have to be ready for when the rules go back to the way they used to be. This is going to require cash, which is something too few people have too little of right now."

"Like what kind of rules? I don’t understand." asks Bekah.

"Like paying all the insurance premiums, mortgages, and taxes that they stopped to let everyone try and prepare. They are already talking about doing it now even though there are still areas that have a lot of panflu in the community. Daddy just wants to be able to take care of things the way he used to."

And that is true. The pandemic has lasted longer than anyone had anticipated. And the economic impact has been bigger as well. A lot of people have lost everything, financially speaking. Not even Bill Gates’ Foundation has been unscathed by panflu economics. Not even Bill Gates himself has gone unscathed. He and his wife were caught on some kind of European tour when the air traffic quit running and are rumored to have died over in Eastern Europe. A lot of people that ran the large corporations have been affected directly by infection, or their families have. No one with any amount of money has gotten away scott-free. Even the mega-rich members of the entertainment industry – those with no permanent homes who lived off of fast food and restaurant fare – have found out that their potential worth of yesterday means nothing to their current value. Many died when they were abandoned by their personal entourages of managers, personal assistants, and body guards.

Sissy herself, ever practical, realizes how important it is while Scott is away for her family to stay grounded and active. The garden producing well and keeps them busy. But with the good comes the bad. The white flour is almost all gone. Sissy still has some baking mix so they aren’t totally without light bread, but fairly soon all that there will be left is cornmeal and tortilla flour and not much of that either. Even the acorn flour she made back in August and September is gone. Sissy has been using bread as a way to put some calories into their work laden diets. Bread is also a way to make the other food seem like it is going further. She doesn’t know quite what she will do when it all runs out. She knows other people in the neighborhood are either paying the high prices at the grocery or going without. She wishes there were a third option, but isn’t aware of what it could be at the moment. She got an email from her aunt last month saying how the local mill is as busy as it ever was prepandemic. "Must be nice," she thinks, though she tries not to be envious, that gets her no place fast. There are enough other issues that need her time and thought.

The holidays are again looming on the horizon. Bekah and Johnnie are growing out of all their clothes and shoes. They still haven’t heard from their insurance companies regarding any of their claims, not even on their policies that are held by Citizens which is run by the state of Florida. Other items in her food storage are beginning to run short. Scott’s work van really needs an oil change but they can’t find any to trade for. And she can’t support the family’s needs out of their yard forever. The compost can’t keep up with all of the soil depletion though she is doing her best.

There are just so many things to worry about and now she has no one she can talk to them about. Scott just left, and she is feeling left behind. She can’t take the chance and go out much because what if she gets sick? Who could the kids turn to? About 5 miles from here there is an active outbreak of panflu. She can’t count on any kind of immunity. And what if Scott, or her father or brother, get ill while they are away and on the road? What if Scott brings it home without realizing it until it is too late? What if he doesn’t come home at all?

"OK . . . I’ve got to stop this," Sissy abruptly says to herself. Scott’s leaving has freaked her out more than she thought it would. "It is time to get busy and work off some of this anxiety and paranoia." She is shaky enough that Rose and James probably see it. She needs to stay in control or they might all start falling apart emotionally.

"How would you guys like to surprise Daddy? Think we can complete the whole chore list before he gets back?" Sissy asks the kids.

With the indoor cleaning pretty well under control, it is time to move on to the outside of the house. Sissy looks and thinks, "The yard never was a showcase, but good gravy it looks very reggledy-taggledy now."

The front yard doesn’t look all that much different except that a lot of the normal landscaping plants have been replaced with edible items. Celtuce, burdock, salsify, horseradish and many other unusual food plants were interplanted with herbs and some semi-tropical bushes like azaleas and hibiscus. There are also patches of edible flowers like bee balm, basil, borage, calendula, chamomile, and anything else they have seeds for. There are also the two grape fruit trees. The grass is scraggly and sand shows through in many places where it isn’t covered with oak leaves and her attempts at planting edible ground covers. The wintergreen and houttuynia are only doing so so since it has been so hot. There isn’t much they can do with the front yard for now except rake up the latest mess of leaves, a never-ending job. They have been cutting the grass with a scythe or swing blade to keep it from getting too long and they keep any fallen branches picked up and put into their woodpile as part of their normal chore schedule.

Now the backyard is a different story. During the day the backyard looks like you have stepped into a huge edible landscaping experiment. There are vines climbing the fences on all three sides of the yard. There are barrels, large and small, containers of all shapes and sizes, hanging baskets of every description in almost every available space. There are several old bathtubs serving as raised planting beds (currently holding several varieties of potatoes). Amidst all of this are hung flattened cans strung on fishing line and odd pieces of wire and twine to act both as burglar alarms and as metal scarecrows to keep marauding animals (and people) out. Then there is the in-ground pool with its faded blue cover where they store their non-potable water. There are bat houses on a couple of old antenna poles and under some of the eaves of the house to help those blessed little creatures who keep the mosquito population from taking over the world. The compost bins are homemade and in need of some reinforcing as they are beginning to lean. Lastly, but certainly not least, is their water catchment system. This includes a series of jury rigged pieces of metal flashing, gutter, and rain barrels with screening to keep out as much debris as possible.

At night the family brings in all of their movable containers. People still have their gardens raided pretty regularly by both human and animal predators and with seven mouths to feed, Scott and Sissy just barely make do. The yard will never make the cover of House Beautiful but it helps to keep them fed.

The one major outside task that Sissy feels must get done is to expand their compost pile system. She wants to add another bin. They have two, but she would like to have at least one more. They have an old wooden pallet that they are going to dismantle and use for this purpose. Scott said not to ask where he got it from, so she figured there was a story there she might not want to hear.

One of their problems is that, even after just one year of intensive gardening, Sissy can tell that the sandy soil is getting tired out. Even if the pandemic comes to a halt tomorrow the economic infrastructure is going to take some time to repair; perhaps many years. She figures she will be feeding her family out of the garden for some time yet. But without replacing the soil nutrients and some decent plant fertilizer she doesn’t know how she is going to accomplish it.

Sissy really envies the ground her extended family has in Kentucky and Tennessee. That is real dirt. Sure, some of it Is clay, but by and large there Is some nice black dirt for them to grow things in. The sand here in Florida lets both water and nutrients slip right through with barely a by-your-leave. There is hardly any organic material in it. She is doing well to get the compost into the ground to build up the soil, but still, the intensive growing she is doing is eating the nutrients up just about as fast as she can put them in. The days of being able to go to a store and pick up all the fertilizer and insecticides you need are gone for a while, maybe for a good long while. It is just one of many worries that Sissy is trying to come to grips with.

Another is that Rose really needs college books for next semester. She has done well this semester as Scott went out to the college and was able to purchase the books at a discounted price since they were so overstocked. But where is the money coming from next semester? Will her laptop hold out so she can keep doing the online work she needs to do? What happens if any of their home computers fail?

As homeschoolers Sissy’s family has plenty of educational material for the four children that haven’t entered college yet. To make up for the deficit in the educational options – many people are refusing to send their children to the public schools due to the danger of infection – she is also writing lessons for Barry’s granddaughters and Tom’s two sons. The kids aren’t going to school together exactly, but they have formed a sort of neighborhood correspondence school. If the power is on, they keep in touch by computer on a bulletin board Sissy was able to set up especially for this purpose. If the power is off, they keep in touch by "Fairy Ferry," which is a play on a wildly popular children’s book series where people kept in touch using owls. The kids write letters and the adults place them in a PVC tube that has been attached to a tree in their backyard. Even the older kids play along although the boys prefer something that is closer to a Star Wars theme than a bunch of fairies flitting about. They are even playing games by mail. So far they have figured out how to play chess, scrabble, checkers, and trivia games by mail. The kids are proving to be incredibly resilient if they are given the right tools to work with.

Three days after Scott leaves, Sissy has just about reached the end of her extra chore list and the end of her rope. She has way too much time to think about what could be going wrong with the men’s venture, and it plagues her so much she can hardly sleep at night. For example, last night she sat up as long as the solar batteries lasted on the lantern and sliced pickles for pickling and prepared seven quarts of pasta sauce from the yellow plum tomatoes that came in. News reports that talked of a third major wave of pandemic infections beginning out in California making its way eastward did absolutely nothing for her peace of mind either. The reports are so ominous in tone that those few people who have returned their kids to a classroom setting are pulling them out left and right.

Sissy is pondering all of her worries as she pulls weeds in the front yard flowerbeds to throw into the compost pile. The sun is beaming down on her back when suddenly it is replaced by a looming shadow. She quickly turns around to find a half dozen women looking down at her.

"Uh, hi. What’s up?" Sissy asks hesitantly as she stands.

"You homeschool all your kids."

"Yeah," Sissy replies cautiously.

"And you’ve been sharing some of your school stuff with a couple of families in the neighborhood."

"Well, just Barry’s grandkids and Tom Cox’s kids. Why?"

"We need them too."

"You need what too? Uh, I mean, what is the ‘them’ you need? I mean … oh heck, what are y’all talking about?" Sissy says as she gives up on grammatical correctness.

"You’ve heard that another wave of panflu might be coming this way."

"Well, it never really went away," Sissy replies. "A few blocks over those people, the ones that were bringing in the fish to sell, came down with it. So, another wave is bad, but . . . "

"Yeah. OK. Whatever. But our kids need to be in school. Some of us are going crazy with the kids just sitting around gloomily all day or getting into mischief left and right. But, they can’t be ‘in’ school right now. It’s never been a problem for you. And now you’ve fixed it for other people. We want that. We want someone to give us something to work with for our kids."

"You can. Homeschooling isn’t against the law. Just send in your letter of intent to the county."

"But what else do we need to do? We don’t know anything about teaching."

Sissy comes back with, "Did you teach your kids to walk? Did you help them learn to talk? Did you potty train them? Did you help them to learn to dress themselves? What about their numbers and colors? Did you help them with their homework once they started school? If you did any of that, then you have already been teaching and training your kids. You don’t need to learn to teach. You already know how."

"What about lessons? You’ve already done this for every grade there is from preschool through highschool. Word has it you have even started helping one of your kids with college level work. We need that. You have something we need and we are willing to trade for it. What would you take for teaching our kids."

"Whoa. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to get done what I need to get done now. If you are asking me to share my lesson plans with you, no problem; but, if you are asking me to do the actual teaching, I just can’t."

"But we need . . . "

"Wait, let me explain. To qualify as a homeschool child in the state of Florida, you as the parent need to be responsible for the teaching and training of your child. I can’t be your child’s teacher. Now, I can do some tutoring in the form of giving you lesson ideas, but you as the parent need to implement them. That is the way the laws are written here in Florida."

"Oh. Look. I know we are coming off pushy, but we are scared. We don’t want to run the risk of losing our kids. But some of them are driving us Gawd all mighty crazy! But we also don’t want them to fall behind or turn out ignorant. We don’t have the money to put them in a private school and we don’t have the electricity to keep up with any of the virtual school programs. We’ve got to do something and like we said, we are willing to trade for it."

After a brief prayer that she isn’t getting herself in over her head, Sissy asks, "When do you want to start?"

"As soon as possible."

"How many kids and in how many different grades are we talking about?"

"Well, we are not the only families. We only represent the families that need some kind of educational option for their kids. If you total us all up there are about twenty families on this street, or right off this street, with about 55 or 60 kids between us. Maybe more because some people have inherited kids from other family members, but say no more than 75 total. And we’ve got at least a couple in every grade from pre K to 12th grade."

"Good gravy. I had no idea there were that many kids in the neighborhood. Do you know if everyone has a dictionary? Even better, have everyone make a list of all the books they have in the house. I need to know what kind of resources everyone has. If we can get this done in the next couple of days we’ll try and start next Monday."

"So you’ll do it? You’ll teach our kids?"

"No but I’ll help you to teach your kids. One thing up front though, you are going to have to be realistic. I’m one person. I have my own way of doing things and they might not work – probably will not work – for every family or every kid. I’ll give you ideas and I’ll try and facilitate some ways that you can apply it in your own homes, but you will do the teaching. For older kids its fairly easy. By the time they get to a certain age, all you can do is facilitate their learning, provide resources for them to work from, encourage them. The little ones require more one-on-one work especially as you are teaching them to read. If what I’m offering doesn’t work then I can offer suggestions, but I’m not the school system. I can’t individualize every lesson for every child. And I can’t make your kids learn if they don’t want to. The discipline, grading, and record keeping will be up to each household."

"OK. So what do you want to do this? We haven’t talked price."

"Um. Look. I’m not looking to make a killing off of this. In fact, I’m not real inclined to get paid at all because this is more of an experiment than anything else right now. A ‘payment’ would obligate me and I’m not there in my thinking yet. I’ll do this because it sounds interesting and I know some of your kids. I don’t want to get bullied and it felt like that was what was happening there for a while. Let’s just leave it as a friendly gesture on my part for a while, that way if any of us becomes uncomfortable or find its not working, we can pull out without a big fuss. OK?"

"Hey, sounds good to me. I was afraid you were going to ask cash to do this," one woman says.

"Yeah I was too and my husband just lost his job . . . again," another woman chimes in.

"Isn’t your husband the one that used to work down at the boatyard?" Sissy asks.

"Yeah, he’s been trying to pick up work here and there, but he hasn’t found anything steady in almost a year."

"That’s a tough thing to be going through," Sissy says as she files the name for later because she knows that Scott is looking to add another two men to their crew so that they can split work between two teams.

As the women leave Sissy wonders what she has gotten herself into. She also wonders what Scott is going to say about this. As she heads to the disinfection station to clean up, she realizes this isn’t just more work for her, but it means more work for Scott. Since she’s not allowed to risk exposure – and boy is she glad she remembered to wear a mask and gloves – Scott is going to have to act as the delivery person.

"The logistics of this little project are starting to get complicated," mulls Sissy. "I wish Scott was here to talk them over with."

Monday, March 3, 2008

Chapter Forty-Three

Clean up from the Hurricane Josephine continues and probably will for quite some time yet. Despite storm-related damage, Tampa’s infrastructure did not further destabilize though hospitals did have some setbacks. Tampa General Hospital (TGH) received some ground floor damage to their lobbies and waiting areas. Some of the diagnostic areas were also damaged, but most of these aren’t being utilized anyway due to lack of electricity to run the diagnostic equipment. University Community Hospital (UCH) and St. Joseph’s hospital complexes had to move all of their patients back indoors during the storm but suffered little structural damage. All hospitals had a spike in patient deaths, likely due to the additional stress of being moved. As far as the rest of the city, due to the depravation already caused by pandemic economics, people have been forced to return to a way of life that demands more self-sufficiency and personal resiliency. It is a life that demands more patience. Personal property damage is dealt with as it best as can be.

There is little federal government assistance in storm clean up efforts. All government resources are going towards pandemic related issues and food supply chain rebuilding. The Gulf hurricanes have not helped fuel supplies and refining, but then again, higher fuel costs and business closings have also reduced demand. The federal government – temporarily anyway – nationalized most fuel production about four months into the pandemic after many of the big name fuel companies began shutting down due to lack of manpower. The Army Corps of Engineers now has a division exclusively charged to oversee national fuel production. The Coast Guard and Navy have also been called in to protect off shore oil platforms and ports from piracy.

So, despite the appearance that the government has abandoned its people, the reality is that they are taking care of the macro issues and are just as restricted by lack of manpower and resources as everyone else. It is up to the local governments to again be responsible and realistic with local needs. Some areas have better leadership than others.

Clean up is roughly organized by neighborhoods. Where large trees are down, people strip the tree of limbs back to the trunk, primarily using hatchets and axes and a few saws. The wood becomes cooking fuel and a potential source of heat for this winter after it cures. Then the tree trunk is maneuvered out of everyone’s way and left wherever it can be pushed.

The utility company crews are doing their best to restore lines; however a shortage of supplies means they have to do a lot of splicing and jury-rigging. This takes more thought and effort and therefore more time, delaying service restoration.

Neighbor is helping neighbor. Those homes with compromised structures are exchanged for abandoned housing, that might need a little rehab but which is still habitable. Vandalism, an ever-present problem, is still rampant but back under control and down to pre-hurricane levels. Some structures, too damaged to remain standing, are stripped of any potentially useful items and are then razed to the ground; through demolition or by controlled burn. All of this occurs without the permits and oversight that would have been required in prepandemic times. This is a new era. People have no choice but to do things for themselves, or through cooperative effort. There isn’t any one else to do it for them.

The demolition of unsalvageable buildings begins to address the increasing problem of rodent and insect infestation. Flooding in the Port of Tampa and other areas has driven large rats further into the city. The problem has become such that the county is offering a bounty for each rat caught and killed. Animal control heads this project up as well as the hunting and destruction of violent dog packs. Dog pack hunters have to have special licenses issued by the city, but are paid well for their service.

Scott and Sissy keep up-to-date listening to local radio broadcasts, which occasionally have installments from their favorite reporter at-large, Devon McLoud. They also have a small, battery-operated television that picks up the local public broadcast channels and the three remaining for-profit TV stations. Cable television went off the air long ago. The reception is poor and broadcasts are intermittent; but, the family is still getting more reliable news than a lot of other people. They purchase a converter for the television so can receive broadcast signals where they are digital or analogue.

Speaking of Devon McLoud, his eagerly awaited installment reveals that he did indeed make it down the Mississippi on a paddle wheeler. His reports continue to chronicle the mundane and the extraordinary of the country’s pandemic landscape. One of his most recent segments covered the demolition of uninhabitable structures in New Orleans.

"The rats sho done inherited the Earth," or at least that’s how it feels on some days according to Max Thibodaux . "No matter how many we trap, kill, or burn out more just take their place. And they’s sho vicious. Everyday we send folks to de clinic wit bites. Even wit gloves on they can give you a bruising pinch wit dem teeth they got."

Pulling down the buildings, some leftover from the devastation this area suffered at the hands of Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, takes away some of the rats’ sanctuaries and helps to interrupt their breeding cycle. It also makes them more vulnerable to predators. But rats are not the only vermin problem facing the city. Roaches and snakes also occupy these buildings as well as the occasional maggot covered corpse. But there is one foe that really worries the neighborhood clean up crews.

"You been in de South any amount a time, you get used to most o’ de creep crawlie critters. You get used to ‘em or you move back where you came from. But that mess we ran into las’ month has us all running cautious," Thibodaux said.

"That mess" was a swarm of Africanized Honey Bees. This fierce hybrid strain is better known as "killer bees." They have the same strength venom as honey bees, but attack in groups. Africanized honey bees are the result of an experiment to increase honey production in Brazil. A swarm escaped a lab and headed north. When they mated with native strains of bees, their offspring proved to be as aggressive as their African parents. They reached the US in 1990 when they were found in Texas; they’ve continued to spread ever since.

And where one hive of bees is found, you known there are others waiting to be found. During last month’s incident, two workers died after they were stung in excess of 800 times each. Most non-allergic people can survive up to 10 stings per pound of body fat. But its not unusual for the amount of venom from a swarm attack to quickly overwhelm a person’s autonomic functions.

"We found two otha hives since in de same general area. We was lucky as no one died dem times. We got some stings, but most folks made it to cover befoe de bees could git ‘em. Once day settle down, usually de next day, we jus’ burn de house down. No sense taking changes you ain’t go to."

But taking chances they don’t have to is what these neighborhood work groups are all about. The unsung heroes. Without them many towns across America would be much worse off. Its doesn’t matter whether they are pulling buildings down or helping to rehabilitate existing structures; delivering food to the hungry or growing food in victory gardens; volunteering in neighborhood schools or helping to retrain thousands of workers that are desperate for jobs; or any of the numerous other unpaid, but very needful, jobs. These people may never have a statue erected in their honor, or have their name engraved on a plaque, but they are heroes nonetheless.

During this time, James’ birthday comes and goes and Sissy surprises everyone by making vegan burgers, baked beans, home fries, and fresh baked buns. The burgers are grilled over a small wood fire. But the highlight of the day is when they use some of their precious ice reserves to make "Kick-The-Can Ice Cream."

It is amazing how uplifting a celebratory meal can be. The food doesn’t have to be fancy, just filling. And good company, even during sober times, can bring smiles.

The Chapman’s neighborhood has gone from weekly "Stone Soup" gatherings to almost daily ones. Parents pick up meals to take home to their children. People take meals to their homebound neighbors. The effort is shared and food and fuel are used more efficiently. So far the neighborhood remains diligent and there are no food borne illnesses or other infectious outbreaks.

A local newspaper ran a story on successful neighborhood ventures. The Chapman’s neighborhood is mentioned, though not by exact location for security reasons. For once the author of the piece is both realistic and objective, mentioning both the good and the bad. Some city planners come out to view the set up in hopes of replicating similar ventures in other neighborhoods. Scott muses that it is better late than never, but maybe the hurricane will bring about some good.

With most of the ground now dry enough to replant, people quickly return to their gardens. This month Sissy plants garbanzo beans, lima beans, several varieties of shelling beans and peas in several large barrel halves. She replaces the chayote vine that was on the fence with several yard-long snap bean plants. In freshly prepared window boxes she plants carrots and beets. She also plants broccoli, burdock, cabbage, celeriac, collards, bush cucumbers, garden huckleberries, husk tomatoes (aka ground cherries), Jerusalem artichoke, lettuce, mustard greens, okra, parsnips, salsify, crookneck and zucchini squash, and more tomatoes. She plants more potatoes as well as she is quickly coming to the end of her other main source of dietary starch – rice. This is also the month to start the strawberry plants in hanging baskets. It’s a great deal of work, but the potential pay off is huge.

Despite all the planting, harvesting is still lean. Radishes, arugula, and mesclun greens are the only fresh items on the menu. But a nice, spicy green salad always perks a meal up. A little oil and vinegar or Italian dress make it even better.

Thanks to Tom’s wife, the family now has a small fresh herb garden. Sarah and Bekah have taken this project for their own and are doing amazingly well with it after they figured out how to keep the tortoises out of their patch. The first try was a sign that showed a turtle in a pot of boiling water with the caption "Turtle Soup." When that didn’t work, much to the girls’ chagrin, James helped them build a fence from sticks and saw briar vines.

All-in-all people quickly recover from the effects of the hurricane and are now more determined than ever to overcome whatever the pandemic can throw at them. After so many slipped into apathy and discouragement, it seems that the added adversity of the storms is just enough to recharge everyone's determination.

There is some disturbing news coming in from other areas of the country though. The detrimental affects on infrastructure have not just made it hard on the economy and more difficult to address the pandemic. It has left huge gaps in the health care and hygiene industries so that illnesses that were basically eradicated in the 20th century are now making a return engagement in the 21st.

The Gulf Coast of the United States has always been susceptible to diseases. The last Yellow Fever epidemic took place in New Orleans in 1905. In 1900, Dr. Walter Reed had confirmed what had been suspected since the 1880’s; Yellow Fever was transmitted by mosquitoes. Five years later many cities were still unprepared. At the time, New Orleans continued to operate a quarantine system. They fumigated ships and sanitized clothing and bedding on board. In the spring of 1905, a smuggler's ship, loaded with bananas, avoided the quarantine requirements. That June cases of yellow fever began appearing near the Mississippi River in a community of immigrants, many of who unloaded banana boats from Central America. The city declared an emergency on June 22, after 100 people had contracted the disease, including 20 who died.

Despite the conclusions of the U.S. Army Yellow Fever Board in 1900, many people in New Orleans still did not treat the threat of mosquitoes seriously. Residents got their water from cisterns. This water storage containers were a breeding ground for the insects. Dr. Quitman Kohnke, the head of the New Orleans health board, urged the city to address the mosquito issue. "Even if you are not positive that the mosquito is the only source of the transmission of yellow fever," he told physicians, "give your city the benefit of the doubt in this important and vital matter." It wasn’t until after the outbreak began that the city of New Orleans finally mobilized.

On August 4, local officials requested and received federal assistance. Workers employed the techniques that had proven successful in Havana, another frequent location of yellow fever. They fumigated the city, screened cisterns and destroyed breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Residents who failed to comply with public health measures were heavily fined. After Archbishop Placide Louis Chapelle died from yellow fever, holy water in St. Louis Cathedral was found with mosquito larvae. The priests emptied the containers. Still, the epidemic was not immediately stopped.

On August 12, 100 people fell ill from the disease, but by September the numbers of victims diminished. Further evidence that mosquitoes transmitted the disease surfaced at Charity Hospital, which reported that no other patients or medical personnel became infected from the approximately 100 cases of yellow fever treated there. The public health campaign to address yellow fever was working in a city that fewer than 30 years before had lost thousands to the disease. October marked the end of the epidemic, with 452 deaths recorded in New Orleans. The year also marked the last time a yellow fever epidemic plagued the United States, though the disease has remained a problem elsewhere in the world.

Because many places in the world have returned to a pre-1900 technology, people are again using cisterns and other open containers for securing water. In the southern USA, this means that mosquito populations have exploded. This is further complicated by the lack of spraying for mosquitoes and the fact that many bird populations that ate mosquitoes as part of their diet (such as the Purple Martin) have been greatly reduced by avian influenza.

According to national news reports, a small outbreak of Yellow Fever has been detected along the Louisiana/Mississippi border. The months since the first case has seen additional outbreaks in several other locations. Yellow fever, which is also known as sylvatic fever and viral hemorrhagic fever or VHF, is a severe infectious disease caused by a type of virus called a flavivirus. Once a mosquito has passed the yellow fever virus to a human, the chance of disease developing is about 5-20%. Infection may be fought off by the host's immune system, or may be so mild that it is never identified or recognized.

In human hosts who develop a full-blown case of yellow fever, there are five distinct stages through which the infection evolves. These have been termed the periods of incubation, invasion, remission, intoxication, and convalescence. Yellow fever's incubation period (the amount of time between the introduction of the virus into the host and the development of symptoms) is three to six days. During this time, there are generally no symptoms.

"Invasion" lasts two to five days, and begins with the onset of symptoms, including fever and chills, intense headache and lower backache, muscle aches, nausea, and extreme exhaustion. The patient's tongue shows a white, furry coating in the center, surrounded by a swollen, reddened margin. While most other infections that cause a high fever also cause an increased heart rate, yellow fever results in Faget's sign. This is the simultaneous occurrence of a high fever with a slowed heart rate. Throughout "invasion" there are still live viruses circulating in the patient's blood stream. A mosquito can bite the ill patient, acquire the virus, and pass the infection on to others.

The next phase is called "remission." The fever falls, and symptoms decrease in severity for several hours to several days. In some patients, this signals the end of the disease; in other patients, this proves only to be the calm before the storm. "Intoxication" represents the most severe and potentially fatal phase of the illness. During this time, lasting three to nine days, degeneration of the internal organs (specifically the kidneys, liver, and heart) occurs. This fatty degeneration results in what is considered the classic triad of yellow fever symptoms: jaundice, black vomit, and the dumping of protein into the urine. Jaundice causes the whites of the patient's eyes and the patient's skin to take on a distinctive yellow color. This is due to liver damage. The liver damage also results in a tendency toward bleeding; the patient's vomit appears black due to the presence of blood. Protein, which is normally kept out of the urine by healthy kidneys, appears in the urine due to disruption of the kidney's functioning.

Patients who survive "intoxication" enter into a relatively short period of convalescence. They recover with no long term effects related to the yellow fever infection. Infection with the yellow fever virus results in lifelong immunity against repeated infection with the virus.

The course of yellow fever is complicated in some patients by secondary bacterial infections. Even under the best of conditions there are no antiviral treatments for Yellow Fever. The only treatments for yellow fever are given to relieve its symptoms. Fever and pain should be relieved with acetaminophen, not aspirin or ibuprofen, both of which could increase the already-present risk of bleeding. Dehydration (due to fluid loss both from fever and bleeding) needs to be avoided. The risk of bleeding into the stomach can be decreased through the administration of antacids and other medications. Hemorrhage may require blood transfusions. Kidney failure may require dialysis (a process that allows the work of the kidneys in clearing the blood of potentially toxic substances to be taken over by a machine, outside of the body). With no modern medical interventions though, blood transfusions and kidney dialysis are impossible for cases that extreme.

Under the best conditions, five to ten percent of all diagnosed cases of yellow fever are fatal. Once jaundice occurs, a patient’s chances for recovery drops to only fifty percent. A very safe and very effective yellow fever vaccine exists, but is currently in limited supply due to pandemic economics. The Arilvax vaccine is made from a live attenuated form of the yellow fever virus, strain 17D. Yellow Fever Vaccination Centers, authorized by the U.S. Public Health Service, have been set up through out – and in – areas that are seeing active cases of Yellow Fever. About 95% of vaccine recipients acquire long-term immunity to the yellow fever virus.

Broadsides are being printed and handed out telling people how to protect their area from a Yellow Fever outbreak. Now, in addition to warnings on how to prevent pandemic flu, there are public service announcements on the prevention of other infections. It isn’t just Yellow Fever making a come back; its cholera, typhoid, measles, TB, chicken pox, and many other diseases that had nearly been eradicated in the US.

It isn’t just the southern states that are suffering. Other areas of the country, as well as Canada and Mexico, are facing the rise of other infectious diseases. According to news bulletins, Los Angeles is still under quarantine for Cholera.

Cholera is a severe diarrheal disease caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. Transmission occurs by ingesting contaminated water or food. It is extremely deadly.

In its most severe forms, cholera is one of the most rapidly fatal illnesses known: A healthy person may become hypotensive within an hour of the onset of symptoms and may die within 2-3 hours if no treatment is provided. More commonly, the disease progresses from the first liquid stool to shock in 4-12 hours, with death following in 18 hours to several days without treatment.

Symptoms include general GI tract (stomach) upset and massive watery diarrhea. Symptoms may also include terrible muscle and stomach cramps, vomiting and fever in early stages. In a later stage the diarrhea becomes "rice water stool" (almost clear with flecks of white) and ruptured capillaries may turn the skin black and blue with sunken eyes and cheeks with blue lips. Symptoms are caused by massive body fluid loss. The body is "tricked" by nuerotoxins produced by the bacteria into releasing massive amounts of fluid into the small intestine; up to 20% of body weight. Radical dehydration can bring death within a day through collapse of the circulatory system.

In general, patients must receive as much fluid as they lose due to diarrhea. Treatment typically consists of aggressive rehydration (restoring the lost body fluids) and replacement of electrolytes with commercial or hand-mixed ORS solutions or massive injections of liquid given intravenously via an IV in advanced cases. But again, with the health care industry in collapse, there are few if any IV resources. Without treatment the death rate easily reaches 50%.

Although cholera can be life threatening, it is always easily prevented if proper sanitation practices are followed. In most of North America and Western Europe, because of advanced water treatment and sanitation systems, cholera was no longer a major threat. The last major outbreak of cholera in the United States was in 1911. Good sanitation practices, if instituted in time, is usually sufficient to stop an epidemic. There are several points along the transmission path at which the spread may be halted:

  • Sickbed: Proper disposal and treatment of the germ infected fecal waste (and all clothing and bedding that come in contact with it) produced by cholera victims is of primary importance.
  • Sewage: Treatment of general sewage before it enters the waterways or underground water supplies prevent possible undetected patients from spreading the disease.
  • Sources: Warnings about cholera contamination posted around contaminated water sources with directions on how to decontaminate the water.
  • Sterilization: Boiling, filtering, and chlorination of water kill the bacteria produced by cholera patients and prevent infections, when they do occur, from spreading. All materials (clothing, bedding, etc.) that come in contact with cholera patients should be sterilized in hot water using (if possible) chlorine bleach. Hands, etc. that touch cholera patients or their clothing etc. should be thoroughly cleaned and sterilized. All water used for drinking, washing or cooking should be sterilized by boiling or chlorination in any area where cholera may be present. Water filtration, chlorination and boiling are by far the most effective means of halting transmission. Cloth filters, though very basic, have greatly reduced the occurrence of cholera when used in poor villages for untreated surface water.
The source of the contamination is typically other cholera patients when their untreated diarrhea discharge is allowed to get into waterways or into groundwater or the drinking water supply. Any infected water and any foods washed in the water, and shellfish living in the affected waterway can cause an infection.

Rich or poor, it doesn’t matter. It is cleanliness that is most important. In the past many famous people have succumbed to cholera: Tchaikovsky, James K. Polk (former president of the USA), the son of American poet Robert Frost, Daniel Morgan Boone (son of pioneer Daniel Boone), both the father and son of the author Mary Shelley, and many others.

Los Angeles, California is situated in a Mediterranean climate zone, experiencing mild, somewhat wet winters and warm to hot summers. It only gets an average of 15 inches of rain per year so the city relies very heavily on local ground water and imported water sources, such as those from the Sacramento River.

It appears, from what investigators have been able to determine that local ground water supplies became compromised with the cholera bacteria. The first few cases were noted in the Hollywood District. Infected fecal matter then made its way into the storm drainage system and spread from there into other local water sources causing additional infections. Over 13,000 deaths have been directly attributed to cholera in the city. Federal agents have cordoned off the area and no one is allowed in or out; of course people do manage to escape.

Several smaller cholera outbreaks are being reported spreading outward into Santa Monica, Glendale, Pasadena, and Long Beach. Local governments are trying to enforce a boil-water order in effect for a two hundred mile radius around the city. On the opposite side of the Continental US Buffalo, New York is also reporting an outbreak of what appears to be cholera. Every hour on the hour in cities across the country people are reminded over and over again through public service announcements and billboards how important basic hygiene is in the prevention of contagious diseases.

Yellow Fever, Cholera, Small Pox, Chicken Pox, Measles, Polio, Tuberculosis are all making inroads into neighborhoods and cities across the country. And now Typhoid Fever are appearing.

Typhoid Fever is an acute illness associated with fever caused by the Salmonellae Typhi bacteria. The bacteria is deposited in water or food by a human carrier, and is then spread to other people in the area. The incidence of the illness in the United States has markedly decreased since the early 1900's after improved sanitation practices become commonplace. Mexico and South America were the most common areas for U.S. citizens to contract typhoid fever. India, Pakistan and Egypt were also high-risk areas for developing this disease.

Patients with acute cases of typhoid can contaminate the surrounding water supply through the stool, which contains a high concentration of the bacteria. Contamination of the water supply can, in turn, taint the food supply. About 3-5% of patients become carriers of the bacteria after the illness. Some patients suffer a very mild illness that goes unrecognized. These patients can become long- term carriers of the bacteria. The bacteria multiplies in the gallbladder, bile ducts, or liver and passes into the bowel. The bacteria can survive for weeks in water or dried sewage. These chronic carriers may have no symptoms and can be the source of new outbreaks of typhoid fever for many years.

The incubation period is usually 1-2 weeks and the duration of the illness is about 4-6 weeks. The patient experiences: poor appetite, headaches, generalized aches and pains, fever, and lethargy. Persons with typhoid fever usually have a chronic fever as high as 103 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit (39 to 40 degrees Centigrade). Chest congestion develops in many patients and abdominal pain and discomfort are common. Improvement occurs in the third and fourth week in those without complications. About 10% of patients have recurrent symptoms (relapse) after feeling better for one to two weeks. Relapses are actually more common in individuals treated with antibiotics.

Typhoid Fever is treated with antibiotics. Prior to the use of antibiotics, the fatality rate was 10%. Death occurs from overwhelming infection, pneumonia, intestinal bleeding, or intestinal perforation. With antibiotics and supportive care, mortality can be reduced to 1-2%. The carrier state, which occurs in 3-5% of those infected, can be treated with prolonged antibiotics. Often, removal of the gallbladder, the site of chronic infection, will cure the carrier state.

Again, the problem with the pandemic economy is that antibiotics are in short supply. Many drug makers are totally focused on developing and manufacturing a pandemic flu vaccine. With so much of their energy focused in that one direction, antibiotic manufacturing has fallen dangerously low. This is exacerbated by the use of antibiotics to treat secondary infections in panflu cases. In 1897 an effective vaccine was developed for typhoid. Unfortunately the vaccine, like many others, is in short supply.

Like cholera, many famous people in history have died of typhoid: Pericles, Archduke Karl Ludwig of Austria, Margaret Breckenridge (highest-ranking Army nurse under Ulysses S. Grant), Benjamin Harrison's wife Caroline, Robert E. Lee's daughter Annie, Herbert Hoover's father and mother, William McKinley's daughter Katherine, Wilbur Wright (one of the famous Wright Brothers), William T. Sherman's father and oldest son, Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (British prince consort and Queen Victoria's husband), William Wallace Lincoln (third son of President Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln), Louis Pasteur's daughters Cecile and Jeanne, President John Adams's wife Abigail Adams, Charles Darwin's daughter Annie, and Belle Boyd the most famous female confederate spy.

Chicago is facing a typhoid epidemic. To date there have been 2,000 deaths due to typhoid fever. No one is sure if a particular carrier is involved or whether it is a matter of simple hygiene. The only good thing in this situation is that Chicago’s population was greatly reduced by the fire that razed half of the city ealier in the pandemic year. Survivors, those willing, were relocated to other population centers as quickly as possible. Typhoid is yet another disease that is preventable if good hygiene habits and conditions are maintained within communities and within homes.