Saturday, February 28, 2009

I have a temporary (sort of) farm

A friend of mine is going through a rather nasty divorce, and while it is terrible, she is happier than she has been in a long time. Her husband got caught cheating in a big way, and in the state of Alabama his ass is hers (particularly the part by his wallet). She’s getting to keep the house, which includes the very large garden space her husband used for his (now pretty much defunct) pepper business. So, she is renting the space to me for the growing season so I can grow vegetables for market. All she is charging me is some free veggies and the extra water. This, obviously, is grand news.

I’ve also been working on my serial this week. I am working nights, so I’ve been too exhausted to edit anything, much less get it posted. It is not the best things I’ve ever written, certainly, but I’m enjoying it.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Part Three -Tulu and Mary Ellen

(This is coming a lot faster than I thought it would. It is also turning out to be much longer than I expected. I'm all ready working on Part 5!)

Part Three
Tulu was a drifter. There were a lot of drifters in those days. The troubles put a lot of people on the move. We had people come through from as far north as New York City and as far south as Colombia. Most of those who came through our area were men. Some young, some not. There were some women and a few families. Most of them were harmless but some stole, or worse. Most all of them begged. If we had the food to spare we’d give them a meal. One. After that, if they were willing to work we would trade food for work. Some of them stayed and became members of the community. Most moved on.

Tulu was different. He came back two, sometimes three times a year. He wasn’t looking for a place to settle down. The old marine liked to wander. It was the war, Sharkey said. It did that to some people. Back in the old days they might’ve been able to treat him for PTSD and make him ‘normal’ again, but even then he would have probably been just another homeless person. He had been in Sharkey’s unit at some point and Sharkey still felt responsible for his boys even all these years later.

The old drifter always camped in the same spot, under an overhanging bank down by the creek that ran by Elvis. He only came into town to trade with Jim Bo and hardly spoke to anyone. He didn’t much care for people. He never begged, never stole, and almost didn’t drink. He was also the best source of information we had found for what was going on outside the area.

“Hail the camp!” I shouted loudly as I made my way down the bank. Tulu was generally harmless but if you startled him he was likely to shoot.

“Is that you, Ed?” Tulu called back in his damn refined Yankee accent. He was a Chicago native, though his parents originally came from somewhere in Asia. “I knew you or Sharkey would be around soon.”

By this time I was close enough to see him squatting by his campfire, working on some soup. “It’s me, Tulu. How goes it?”

“Better, if you brought something for the pot.”

I grinned and tossed a package of beef from Jim Bo’s at him. He caught it deftly, smiling. “Knew you wouldn’t let me down. Not Sharkey’s girl.”

That Sharkey was not my birth father had never seemed to register with Tulu. I finished climbing down the bank and joined him at the fire while he began cutting up the raw meat.
“Where you been, Tulu?”

“Here and there. On walk-about.”

“Got any news?”


He was silent for a while. You didn’t press Tulu. He would tell you what you needed to know in his own good time. Well, maybe not everyone. But he would tell us.

“Where’s Sharkey?”

“Sick. He’ll come round to see you in a day or two if yer still here and he’s better.”

Tulu grunted in reply. Finally he finished with the beef and got it into the soup pot. He went to the creek to wash his hands. When he came back he dug a bottle out of his pack and tossed it in my direction. “For Sharkey. His birthday present. Sorry it’s late.”

I turned the bottle around to read the label and nearly dropped it in shock. Whiskey, ol’ Jack. And not the cheap Jack either; this was the premium stuff. “Hell’s bells, Tulu, where’d you find this?”

“I came down from Lynchburg.”

“I thought it’d all be gone by now.”

“There’s some left, if you know where to look.”

That was a damn valuable gift. In those days liquor was money. Especially good liquor. But Tulu knew that. I put the bottle in my backpack. “Thanks, Tulu. I know he’ll be happy. He’s always liked Jack.”

Tulu’s only reply was another grunt. He picked up a stick and began poking at the dirt with it. Finally he spoke. “I headed west this time. I wanted to see the old river again. The Mississippi, that is. I worked on tugboats over that way a long time ago before I joined up. The river’s still dirty but it’s cleaner than I’ve ever seen it. Maybe all that’s happened has been good for something. There’s still trade going up and down, too. I hitched a ride on an old paddleboat that’s been put back in service. A few things are going up and down. Mostly food, paper, that kind of thing. There’s some man in Louisiana calling himself their Governor, but of what I don’t know. Not with Orleans gone and Baton Rouge next. There’s tolls at every town on the river and on quite a few of the roads as well.

“Memphis is a mess. No one’s in charge there these days. Not even pretending. There’s no power and no running water. They’ve got sewage in the streets. It’s the damn eighteenth century, there. Malaria is back, too. You should know that.”

I sucked in my breath. If it had reached Memphis –coming up the river, no doubt –how long would it be before it reached our neck of the woods? I would have to stop back by the Doc’s.
“Anything else?” I asked finally.

He shrugged. “I made it upriver almost to St. Louie. Word came down that there was a cholera epidemic in that old burg and I cut back east. Cut back by Nashville.”

He was silent again. “How are things otherwise? The camps still there?” Labor camps, refugee camps, or ‘displaced person’ camps, call ‘em what you would, they were no place to be.

Tulu started. “Oh yeah. There still there. I skirted the ones around Nashville. They’re holding together up there but the city’s been split in two or three. Some places have held together and some have fallen apart, like Memphis. Some are ruled by gangs and some aren’t ruled at all. I ran into a guy who said he’d walked east from L.A., trying to reach family in Georgia. He said the black and latino gangs are still fighting out there. Over a piece of desert with no water!” He laughed, but there was no humor in it. “Whoever wins that fight is going to get the worst booby prize in history. This guy said he left after the third time a mayor got killed for trying to stop the gangs fighting. I’ve heard some places still have power but I haven’t seen it. Of course, I skirt around most of the cities. It’s bad in the smaller places but not that bad.” Suddenly he grinned. “I stopped in this one river town in Missouri. The one in charge there is this little old black woman. She’s got the strongest personality of anyone I’ve ever met, bar none. She keeps those people in line, believe me!”

“Oh, I believe it. I know southern-”

“-women” We finished together, and laughed, for real this time. Especially the grannies, I thought to myself. Don’t fuck with them, and they won’t beat you to death with the nearest stick. Tulu pulled another bottle of whiskey, this one much cheaper, out of his pack and took a swig. He offered it to me.

“No thanks.” I didn’t think he had anything but there was no since taking chances.

He shrugged and put it back in his pack. “I keep meeting people who say there’s man in D.C. –or what’s left of it –calling himself President, but I certainly didn’t vote for him and I doubt he rules over much more than Virginia and Maryland. Maybe part of Carolina. I think I’ll head that way next and see what’s up. Maybe there is something left of this country. God knows enough of us gave enough of ourselves defending it.” His voice was bitter. His eyes stared into his fire, far away.

“You be careful.”

“I will. Wait, I almost forgot.” He pulled an old baggie out of his shirt pocket and handed it to me. “For the doc.”

It was filled with seeds. “What are these?”

“Poppy seeds.”

“Why would the Doc want to grow flowers?”

“They’re opium poppies, you nitwit. After all the time I spent in ‘Stan I’d recognize them anywhere. I expect he’ll have some use for them. You know where I got them?”


“Jeremiah Rhoades’ land. He’s growing them. I don’t know why, but it can’t be good.”

I cursed. “He gave them to you?”

“Hell no. I stole them. That man is terrified of you, by the way. He has been ever since that fight at the Saddleback.”

I was surprised that Tulu knew about that, but I shouldn’t have been. It was a local legend. “He shouldn’t have killed my dog.”

“Worst mistake he ever made.” Tulu agreed.

I pocketed the seeds and thanked him, then took my leave. I had a few other stops to make, mostly minor trades, and it was nearly suppertime when I made it home. Well before I made it to the house two of the dogs came running out to meet me, barking joyously rather than in warning. Nothing larger than a squirrel came on our property without the dogs knowing about us, and letting us know. They were better security any human could be.

There was an unholy banging noise coming from the open windows of the house. The smaller kids were in the yard playing and Maria and the older ones were in the summer kitchen making dinner. I didn’t see Tim anywhere. Maria pushed open one of the screens and leaned out. “Careful, Eddie, Beth lost her mind.” She tapped the side of her head. “The baby sickness.”

I stopped, and blinked. “Okay.” I wondered what that was (not morning sickness, surely) and decided against trying to find out. Maria’s English wasn’t good enough and my Spanish wasn’t either. We’d both end up confused. The kids might know. They were fluent in both languages.

Little Andrea was sleeping peacefully on the back porch when I got there, oblivious to all the hubbub. The first thing I noticed was that all of the ceiling fans were off and the fridge in the kitchen was unplugged. Secondly I noticed a hose running across the kitchen floor, out the door, and down towards the pond. The banging sound became much louder when I stepped inside. It was coming from the laundry room off the kitchen. I found Beth inside, crying and beating the side of the old washer with a wrench. Her little boy stood in the doorway, watching with wide eyes.

“Beth?” I called uncertainly. “What’s wrong?”

Beth stopped in mid-swing and looked up at me. Her eyes were red from crying. “I don’t miss the radio,” she told me. “I don’t miss the tv or the lights. I don’t even miss the air conditioning or the microwave much. But. I. Just. Want. A. Working. Washer.” With each word she hit the washer again. It was collecting an impressive array of dents.

“Beth? We don’t have running water-”

“I carried water in from the well.”

That stopped me for a moment. Carrying water would still be less work than washing the clothes by hand. We’d had it so easy, once. Push a button and an hour later you had clean clothing. “What were you going to do with the dirty water?”

“We have a pond, Eddie. That’s what the hose is for. But it won’t work. It won’t work!” Her voice scaled up higher and approached outright hysteria.

“The washer up at Sharkey’s still works-”

Right away I knew I’d stepped in it. She brandished the wrench at me. “I don’t want to have to walk a quarter-mile to wash my clothes! I just want clean clothes.” She burst into tears again.

I sighed. Clearly this fell under the heading of ‘Things Eddie Must Fix Because She Is The “Man” Of The House'. I would have to find someway to get it working. Keeping Beth happy was too important. My heart ached again for Joey, who’d been as much a brother to me as a friend. He could have gotten it working as easily as me and he would know just how to calm Beth down. There were ways to run the washer without taking juice form the panels. Pedal power, maybe. That would give the kids a way to burn off some energy. Especially Tim.

Where was that boy?

I hugged Beth and gently took the wrench out of her hand. “I’ll fix it. I promise. Tomorrow, when the light’s better. Okay?”

Beth nodded and wiped her eyes.

The screen door banged and Callie, one of the kids who lived at Sharkey’s came running in. “Eddie! Mary Ellen wants you. She said come quick. Tim’s done something’ again.”

Dear Jesus, what foolish thing had the boy up and done now?

It was still light when I got down the road to Sharkey’s. It was June, after all. Sharkey’s damn horse was grazing contentedly in a pasture near the road. She was still the only horse we had. The Amish and the Cory’s were breeding them as fast as they could but things like that take time. Their stock had been hit by the fever too, which is another reason I think it was the flu.

Having only one horse was fine with me. I didn’t trust anything that big with a mind of its own.

Jane was in the field by the road, sitting on a blanket under a parasol and reading. She was dressed in what I think was a fair approximation of a Victorian lady’s outfit, gloves and all. I had long since eased being surprised at anything she wore. As long as she did her fair share of the work no one cared.

She was different, was Jane. She had been born Mary Ellen’s little brother Bobby Joe. But Bobby Joe hated being a boy the way most folks would hate being turned into a monkey. He spent half his childhood in tears and the other half angry. Finally one day when he was about ten (I was thirteen or fourteen, then, I think), he went crying to his father because he wanted to wear a dress and Mama Jo wouldn’t let him. Sharkey, at his most pragmatic, shrugged and gave the boy a dress. It didn’t matter to him what the kid wore or what he wanted to call himself. There were too many more important things. Thus Bobby Joe became Jane and to my knowledge never wore pants again. Joey and me only had to fight two kids in school before they stopped bothering her about it. Mama Jo, good Christian woman that she was, threw a fit at first but it soon became obvious even to her that her precious grandson was a lot happier being a girl.

Today Jane had a poultice wrapped around her cheek. I winced. “Bad tooth?”

She looked up from the book and nodded. “Doc says I need to go see the dentist in Blackberry.” She sounded scared and I didn’t blame her. Not only was seeing the dentist no cake walk, but Jeremiah tried to make trouble the last time she went over there.

“I’ll go with you.”



Jane’s relief was obvious. “Thank you. Be careful. Mary Ellen’s in one of her moods again.”
She picked up the book again as I moved on. Little Women. I shook my head. How had any of us managed to survive this long?

Sharkey was pretending to sleep in a hammock by the garden. He was pale and had lost more weight. I tried not to worry about that. If he was very sick surely the Doc would’ve been up. He opened one eye and winked at me. I felt myself relax. Whatever it was it couldn’t be too bad if Sharkey wasn’t upset about it.

Mary Ellen and Todd lived with their kids and Bobby Joe in one of the trailers. She must have been watching for me from the kitchen for as soon as my feet hit the porch she came flying out the back door, braids bouncing. Mary Ellen was a small woman with a big personality. Her features were too strong to be called pretty but she was the most beautiful woman I ever knew. She had deep black hair that she loved to braid with ribbons. Tonight they were braided with ribbons the same emerald green as her eyes. She still had quite the figure, despite having had three children (including a set of twins), and the red dress she was wearing showed enough of it to thoroughly distract me from the reason I had came.

“About time you got here!” She snapped. “What took you so long? I tell you we have an emergency and what do you do? Stroll up here like you’re taking a walk?”

“Now Mary Ellen-”

“Don’t you patronize me, Eddie! I’m no little girl you can pat on the head and send on her way. Well? What do you have to say for yourself? ”

Oh hell. She really was in one of her moods. When she got like that anything I said was going to get me in trouble. It took forever for me to figure out how Todd stayed out of trouble when she was like that. He did it by simply keeping his mouth shut.

That’s a skill I’ve never managed to master.

“Callie never said it was an emergency!” I protested desperately. “She said Tim had done something stupid and I figered if it was bad, she’d ‘ve said. ‘Sides, Beth was hormonal-”

“Beth was hormonal? Like you’ve never had that particular problem. You pretending to be a man now? As far as that fool brother of yours is concerned, yes it’s bad. Worse’n it’s ever been before. Come in.” She opened the screen door. I moved to go in and she stopped me and then held her hand out.

I stared at her blankly. “What?”

“Your gun. You know I don’t let guns in my house. Give it.”
“Mary Ellen-”

“Give it, Edna Jean.”
Hell, she really was pissed if she called me Edna, much less Edna Jean. Reluctantly I handed over the handgun I kept tucked in my waistband. She sat it on a table just inside the door. Todd’s shotgun and rifle were there as well. Then she held out her hand again. “I want the other one too.”

I managed not to roll my eyes as I gave her the gun I carried in my boot.

“That’s it?”

“That’s all my guns.” I decided mentioning my knives would not be a good idea.

“How’d you get so paranoid, Eddie?” She sounded exasperated.

“Ask your father. He made me that way.”

Mary Ellen leaned out the door and yelled loud enough for Sharkey to hear. “Daddy! Me and you are going to have a talking-to later.”

Sharkey raised a hand in a friendly acknowledgment. He looked like he was trying not to laugh.

I expected to see Tim and possibly Bobby sitting at the kitchen table, looking sheepish. It was a surprise when they weren’t there. Todd was there though, looking slightly grim but also as if he too was trying not to laugh. On the table in front of him was a mapbook –the large kind that would fill your lap –and a note. He shoved them at me. “We found this on Bobby’s bed. The note was sticking out of the top."

The mapbook was open to Alabama. Someone had taken a pink highlighter and traced a route from our region in Tennessee all the way to the coast near Panama City. The note was in Tim’s handwriting and addressed to me.
Sis, Bobby and me decided to take a walk. We want to see the ocean while we still can. We’ll be back in time for school to start. I promise. See you soon. Love, Tim.
P.S. Please don’t be too mad.

“Well?” Mary Ellen demanded when I’d had time to read the note. “I told you it was bad. What are you going to do?”

I stood staring at the note for a moment. It took some time for it to sink just how stupid my little brother had been this time. Anger started welling up and then abruptly it changed to humor. I laughed.

Mary Ellen was taken aback. “Why are you laughing? This is serious!”

I looked at Todd. A smile was playing around his lips and he was clearly trying not to laugh too. “How much food they take, Todd?”

“About four days worth.”



“What else?”

“A couple of knives, some camping gear, water bottles, some rope. A tent. That’s about it. And my polaroid and most of the film.” He sounded disgusted and well he should be. Todd had a passion for archaic machines and had kept that camera going far longer than it should have.

Of course they had taken a camera. To take pictures of the beach, no doubt.

Stupid gits. No guns, no trading supplies, and only a few days worth of food. Yep, they were going to get real far like that. And the idiots were planning to take the road the entire way. The road, in those days!

“Well?” Mary Ellen repeated. “Aren’t you going after them?”

I shook my head. “Nope.”

This was clearly not the answer she expected. “Well why in Jesus’ name not? You know those boys can’t take care of themselves out there.”

“I know, but there’s no need to go after ‘em. They’ll be back.” Todd nodded his agreement.

Mary Ellen opened her mouth and before she could get going I rushed on. “Think, Mary Ellen. Those two ain’t never spent a night away from home before. Remember when they tried camping? They didn’t even last the full night, and that was in the field!” Less than half the night, if the full truth were told. I’d sat up with Sharkey that night, drinking and waiting on them.

“They were younger then-”

“Mary Ellen, it was LAST YEAR. Look, they’ll probably come draggin’ in ‘bout supper time tomorrow, or even later tonight, tails between their legs. And no harm done.”

Mary Ellen glared at me. “You- You are just as bad as Daddy! That’s what he said. And here I thought you, at least, would have the sense to go after them!”

That stung some but I pushed it aside. “I will if they’re not back in a day or two.”

“You had better.” She looked at me with those flashing green eyes. “I don’t want to lose my cousin or Tim.”

“Neither do I. I promise I’ll go after ‘em if need be and fetch them back.” I would’ve promised a lot more to her than to track down a couple of idiot boys I’d go after anyway. Looking back, I should have saddled the horse and went after them then and there. I could have brought them home in the middle of the night and been done with it. Except the stupid pups probably would‘ve tried again. And I really did think they would be back.

They didn’t come back the next day. One day stretched into two, and then three, and on the fourth day it became obvious I was going to have to go after them.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Part Two -Elvis

(Here is part two of my ongoing serial. Feel free to post comments, and point out any problems. I'm still editing it.)

Part Two

I slipped into the world quietly in Huntsville, Alabama about the time the first troubles began. Ah, who am I kidding? I’ve always been about as subtle as a forest fire and my birth was no different. My parents had planned a nice, quiet birth at a birthing center across the line in Tennessee. That was before my mother started hemorrhaging one afternoon three weeks before her due date. So I arrived by emergency C-section at the local hospital. Family legend has it that my normally mild, executive father, confronted with this unexpected emergency, completely freaked. Emergencies do that people. They either bring out the best or the worst in everybody. In my father’s case it was probably the best. He picked his wife up –somehow- put her in his sports car, and drove down Highway 53 and Jordan Lane like all the demons of hell were after him. A man who never broke the speed limit suddenly turned into a NASCAR driver.

When they arrived at the hospital they were searched, of course. A bleeding pregnant woman shows up and you search her before letting her into the ER. It wasn’t like they needed to; Huntsville wasn’t Detroit or L.A., or even Atlanta. It was one of those things they did because they could. Things were like that back then. I’m not supposed to know about that, of course, and I wouldn’t if Grandpappy Thompson had not gone on about it every time I saw him until the day he died. He was an old coot, was Grandpappy. True southern born redneck. He didn’t forgive his daughter for marrying a black man (even one who was mixed) until I was born. He served in ‘Nam and to him anyone he didn’t like was a ‘damn commie’. He had more guns than God (not uncommon in our area) and was always worried ‘someone from the gummat’ was going to try and take them. It never happened, and even if it had, the only one of his that was registered was the one he carried in his waistband. He and Grandma had a huge fight in the parking lot of the hospital over whether or not he should leave that gun in the truck. She won, and it was a good thing since they (naturally) were searched too. Grandpappy nearly got arrested for talking back to the cops. I’m not supposed to know that, either.

I was healthy, despite being premature. I guess I was in a hurry to come into the world. My childhood was happy, I suppose. I don’t remember much of it. We were sheltered from most of the dislocations that took place during that time period. My mother was a housewife who worked part-time once I started school but my father was a high-level executive at one of the defense contractors in town. I don’t remember what his title was or which company he worked for, but he traveled a lot. He also made a lot of money, which is what sheltered us as things began to deteriorate. We had a big house in Harvest that was always warm in winter and cool in the summer. I had a giant bedroom and more toys than I could count.

I was a stubborn, strong-willed child who severely tried my parents. I was a tomboy from the time I could walk and resisted any and all efforts to turn me into a lady. I was my mother’s sorrow. Grandma Davis thought it was funny and whenever I would come to her house she let me climb trees and run wild with the neighborhood boys. Grandpappy Thompson was as happy as he could be that he had a grandchild who liked to go fishing and camping with him. He took me fishing for the first time when I was two and camping when I was four. I was seven when he taught me to shoot. Whenever I was on their farm in Elvis I kept Grandma busy patching me up.
All through my childhood there were problems. There was war and rumors of war. The economy got worse and worse, with periods of stability in between dislocations. We were hardly affected but as I got older I couldn’t help but notice them. Shortages started at some point and just kept happening but it never affected us at home. Papa could just pay more for whatever we needed. Including gas, when it started running short. I first noticed the problems at school when more and more kids showed up without some or all of their supplies. Mother would often take bags of school supplies and give them to my teachers and more’n once she rounded up clothing and even shoes for some of the kids who couldn’t afford them or find them. When her part-time job ended (the business folded, I think) she devoted all her efforts to charity.

I was ten when the fever came through. It was the flu, I think. The public health system had been overstrained for years but it completely collapsed when that epidemic began. The stories are that it turned into a full-blown pandemic but I’ve no way of knowing if that’s the case. When it began Papa drove Mother and me up to the farm in Elvis. Grandpappy had died the summer before in a car accident and Papa said Grandma could use the help. Mother was very pregnant with Tim. Papa dropped us off and went back to Huntsville, and to work.

That was the last time I ever saw him. One of his colleagues called when he passed away of the fever.

Mother gave birth to Tim two weeks later and he was about a month old when the fever made it to Elvis. It hit hard. Isolation helped some. When it reached Elvis a lot of people just stayed on their farms or in their homes until it was over. A lot of people did the same in the cities. It made it harder to get the fever but also harder to get treatment. About sixty percent of the people around our parts got the fever, and about half of those who got it died. Most of pneumonia. I’ve no way of knowing if it was that way everywhere or if it was worse in Elvis. We didn’t have much healthcare to speak of and it was impossible to get to the hospital in Fayetteville, much less Huntsville.

I was the first to get sick in our family. While I was recovering Mother got sick and passed away. Grandma didn’t tell me until I was well. Tim never got it. A few days after I was back on my feet Grandma passed away. Not of the fever; she never got sick. Her heart just gave out, I think. It had been bad for years and she’d been off her meds for weeks. The power was out for some reason but I managed to get the emergency radio going. Things were bad. They gave a lot of numbers I didn’t understand and can’t remember. I do remember they said the president had not gotten it and was still in charge. I remember wondering why I should care about someone I didn’t even know when my parents and Grandma were gone forever. For a couple of days I managed okay on my own with Tim. But everything in the fridge went bad, we ran out of formula and diapers, and I didn’t know what to do about Grandma. So finally I bundled us up (it got really cold in winter at times, in those days) and walked down the road to Sharkey’s and Mama Jo’s. They’d always been really good friends with my grandparents but I hadn’t seen them in days. Mama Jo opened the door, took one look at us, and sat about feeding both of us while Sharkey –missing a foot though he was –went and buried Grandma.

The power came back on a few weeks later. Several months after that it went off again and stayed off. Why I don’t know.

But all of that was a long time before Tim decided he wanted to see the ocean.

When Tim didn’t show up early that morning I assumed he and Bobby Earl had gone fishing. We were taking things easy for a few days since the planting was done and I had told him to just be back for evening chores. They even left a note on Sharkey’s table that said that’s where they were so no one would look for them.

I had business in Elvis that day. Part of it was ours and part of it was Sharkey’s. He was feeling poorly and had asked me to go in his stead. He often had me run errands or attend to other business for him. I think he trusted me even more than Todd, who was his son-in-law. I know he had taught me things he never Todd.

Beth and Maria were sitting on the porch drinking tea when I left. It was shortly after dawn. Beth was nursing the baby. Her daughter really had slipped quietly into the world, naturally and without any complications, only two days after Tim told me he wanted to go see the ocean. “Leaving all ready?” She called when I stepped out.

“Have to.” I grunted in reply. My backpack was full of trade goods and I had a basket of eggs tied to my belt. “I want to back by supper.”

“You be careful,” Maria told me firmly. “Bring back some blackberries, no?”

“If there are any.” It was early yet, but you never knew. “You have a gun handy?”

In response, Beth lifted the corner of the afghan on the porch swing next to her enough to reveal the butt of the rifle concealed there. I nodded. It had been some time since we’d had any trouble but I didn’t want to risk anything happening to any of my family.

It was another clear, cloudless day. Nice enough for traveling, but worrisome since this made it a week since we’d had rain. We didn’t need another drought. Elvis was three miles from the farm by the road and two-thirds of that cross-country. Blackberry was northwest of Elvis another five miles up the old road. Our Amish neighbors lived juxtaposed in between the two and slightly further west. I took the road but kept an eye out for trouble.

As I walked I scanned the sky for contrails. It was an old habit of mine, one I still haven’t broken. I suppose my fascination with airplanes is due to Papa. When I was a small child he was always traveling and my mother and I would see him off or pick him up at the airport whenever possible. I always wanted to go somewhere in a plane and never did. Suddenly I understood Tim’s fascination with the ocean a little bit more.

Little did I know he and Bobby Earl were heading southwest at that very moment.

There were several other places on the way from ours to town. Some were occupied and some were not. I passed the Heckert place first. They were on my left. Their winter wheat was doing poorly. It didn’t look like it was going to come to harvest and that was worrisome. Only two other families still grew wheat. Their garden was looking good at least, and they had a trial patch of corn this year. It was a different kind than I had seen before and I made a mental note to ask them where they had gotten the seed. I wondered how they made it on their own. There were only three of them, and they were too proud to ask for help. The McCrays were next. They grew the famous blackberries, some cattle, and lots of sweet potatoes as well as a huge garden. In the old days the big blackberry patch had been a pick-your-own farm and people came from all over, even as far as Huntsville and Chattanooga, to do just that. The entire extended family lived there now –what was left of it –as well as some others they had taken in. The blackberries were not in yet. The last really big plot was the old Smith place. Old man Smith and his wife had both died of the fevere and none of their kids had ever shown up to claim it. The year after some of the Hispanic migrants had moved in. There was trouble over that at first, but Sharkey had handled it with his usual finesse. They were good neighbors and had brought lots of seed for peppers, corn, and other traditional vegetables. Without them a lot of people might have starved. When the state militia tried to evict them on one of their periodic run throughs the entire town swore they owned the place legitimately and had lived there for two generations. It had been years since that militia came through, and no one missed them much. The town militia handled trouble just fine, thank you very much.

Elvis had never been a big town. It had once had another name, before the King’s time, but whatever it was I never found out or have long since forgotten. Suburbanization had never reached it from either Huntsville or Chattanooga, much less Nashville. There had been about five hundred people in the town when the flu came through, and now there were less than three. There might have been a thousand people in the whole region when all this happened. It may sound like a lot but there were more in the subdivision I lived in during my childhood.
My first stop was the medical clinic. Elvis had never rated more than a single doctor’s office, but now it was basically a clinic. It was one of the few buildings that still had any power. Most of the solar panels we had scrounged up went to ensure that. Doctor ‘the Doc’ Hatcher used to practice up near Winchester way but now kept closer to home. His wife had once been a chemistry prof but now she spent her time testing water and helping her husband make what few medicines we head.

Shekina, one of the apprentices, poked her dark head out of the clinic door as I neared.

“I thought that was you, Ms. Davis! How are you?”

“It’s Eddie, Shekina, I’ve told you.” I replied, laughing.

“My momma says to respect my elders, and that it’s Miss, Missus, and Mister when it’s not sir or ma’am.”

“You’re eighteen now, ‘Kina. That means you’re an adult. Call me Ed or Eddie.”

“Long as you won’t tell my momma.”

“Deal.” I entered the clinic as she held the door open for me. It was noticeably cooler inside. The building was brick, with a full basement and the best insulation in town. “The doc in?”

“Nah, Rory Cratchett broke his leg in a bad way and he and Bobby Joe went to fetch him. He asked me to stay in case anyone else came in. What do you need? Has your brother done something stupid again?”

“Not that I know of. I just came to deliver these.” I had a sack of sweet potatoes and assorted salad veggies slung over my shoulder. She accepted them graciously. The Doc always needed food. They didn’t have time to grow or raise much of their own.

Shekina insisted I have a cold glass of water before I left. “Why didn’t you radio ahead on the shortwave? I would have made you breakfast. I’m sure you haven’t eaten yet.”

“I didn’t want to waste the power. And I had some grits and eggs before I left.” I took my leave shortly after that before she had a chance to really start talking. Shekina could talk your ears off.
There were a lot of empty buildings in Elvis in those days. Some people had combined housing to make things easier. Others simply belonged to those who had passed away or left. One old building had been converted into the schoolhouse that was now closed for the summer. Widow Harrison was sitting on her front porch as I passed by, fanning herself and looking for gossip.

Some things never change.

“Mornin’ Ms. Davis! How are you?” She called.

“Good, Mrs. Harrison. And you?”

“I’m good. You found yourself a man yet?”

“No ma’am.”

“My boy’s still single.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, ma’am.”

“You’re not getting any younger, you know.”

“I know.”

“You have time to sit and talk?”

“’Fraid not today, ma’am.”


I moved on, trying not to mutter to myself in her sight. She was the biggest gossip in town. I dared not tell her I had no intention of ever ‘finding myself a man’. Now if I had been a man myself, and Mary Ellen had not married Todd –I pushed the thought away. Such things might have been possible once but not now. Things had changed.

Mary and her husband Jim Bo ran the grocery and dry goods store. Their old big box store had long been shut down but they operated out of an old convenience store next door. They had enough power for some refrigeration cases and a couple of fans. They sold all kinds of things out of their store, and the old one had been converted into a warehouse that held even more. You could buy just about anything you wanted if you had the credit but some things –papers, ink pens, ammo –had to be requested.

Jim Bo was behind the counter when I came in and greeted me enthusiastically. “What can I do for you, Ed?”

“You can give me a beer to start with, you old codger, and don’t bug me about the credits. You know I’m good for it.”

The old man laughed. “You’re the only woman I’ve ever known who likes a good brew.”

“I’m not an ordinary woman, Jim.”

“True.” Jim Bo took a beer out of the case behind him, unscrewed the cap, and handed it to me. It was an old twenty-ounce soda bottle. The once red label had long since faded, but some of the letters were still visible. I took a long swig and let it go easy down my throat. “Good stuff. How does Mike do it?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care, as long as he keeps doing it.”
We both laughed. “Where’s Mary today?”

“Out and about. She went to see several friends. Said she reckoned I could handle the store on my own for one morning.”

“I reckon she’s right.”
“Hope so, otherwise she’ll be right pissed off. What can I do for you?”

“Eggs, to begin with.” I set the egg basket on the counter. Jim Bo counted and examined the eggs with the eye of an expert. “Twenty-four, eh? That’s quite a lot.”

“We’ve got a lot of hens now. They’re all fresh.”

“I believe you. These are nice. This’ll get you twelve credits.”

“Done. I also have some of Maria’s homemade cornbread.”

Jim Bo perked up and he gazed longingly at the parcel I pulled from my backpack. “That’ll get you six more. But I’m not going to sell that. I don’t know how she does it.”
“The jalapenos, I think.”

“Hmm. Gary’s still not remarried. Tell her that, would you? I wouldn’t mind having her for a daughter-in-law. Anything else?”

“No, but I have a list.”

“Hmm. Thought so.”

We bargained through it. Mary was a stickler on prices but Jim Bo liked to barter as much as I did. We had good credit, so a baby brush and some bottles was no problem. There were a few other things, including some butter, and when we were done we still had plenty of credits left. Jim Bo tallied up the purchases and marked them in the book. “Pick them up on your way out?”

“Sure. I got things to do.” While I was nursing my beer and looking around the store I couldn’t help but notice some pretty red ribbon he had on a shelf. Jim Bo noticed my gaze. “You should get that for her. She likes red.”

“Who?” I asked innocently.

“You know.”

“’Fraid not.”

He gave me a look. “Half the town knows, Eddie. And most don’t care. Those that do ain’t gonna say anything. Not to you.”

“Oh shut up.”

I bought the ribbon.

Pastor Smith was entering the shop as I left. He gave me a semi-dirty look. I returned it. “Haven’t seen you at church lately, Edna Jean.”


“We gonna see you soon?”


“Mama Jo would like you to come to church.”

“Mama Jo is dead.”

“She’s in heaven with Jesus. Don’t you want ta join her one day?”

“Not any time soon.”

“Jesus loves you too.”

“If you say so, Pastor.”

Pastor Joe was the only pastor left in Elvis in those days. There had once been three. He was annoying as all hell. Not as annoying as the Mormon missionaries who came through from time to time, but still. The last time the latter showed up I nearly ran them off at gunpoint. I still haven’t decided which annoys me more: dead guys comin’ back to life or salamanders holdin’ the keys to heaven.

Both are about equally likely.

The Saddleback was my next stop. The bar was still under the same old bar keep. Sallie had never shut down for long, even during the flu. When the trucks stopped coming she just bought moonshine. Every Saturday some of the locals played and people gathered to dance and drink.
The bar was as much a general hangout as anything in those days. It was bright enough in the day with all the windows open and at night there were lanterns. There was a town militia meeting there that day. Sharkey was Captain and I was his chief deputy. The militia was formed a few years after the fever to help keep order. It had been Sharkey’s idea, of course. Well, him and some others who had military experience. Service was about as voluntary as you could get but most of the men and quite a few of the women were in it. I joined as soon as I could, on my sixteenth birthday. It was a loose structure, more along the lines of the old National Guard than regular service. We communicated by shortwave most of the time and got together once a month to exchange reports.

The meeting was short. All had been quiet lately. Even Jeremiah had been lying low, and that worried me some. The people of Blackberry didn’t like him anymore than we did but they weren’t as well organized and if he decided to take full control over there he could.

“He’s too busy trading that rot gut and pot to cause any trouble right now,” Joe Cratchett, Rory’s son, said.

“Trading where?” I asked.

Joe shrugged. “Outside the area, somewhere.”

“What is he trading it for?” I pressed him.

“Does it matter?”
“If it’s ammo and guns, then yeah, I’d say it matters.”

Joe grinned. “Eddie, from all we can tell he’s trading it for food. Lazy sum a bitch won’t grow ‘is own!”

There was general laughter at that. The meeting over, we all had a beer. As I was leaving Joe caught up to me and whispered in my ear. “Thought you’d like to know, ole Tulu is back.”

“He is?”

“Yep. Saw ‘im yesterday. We traded for some spices. He had some cinnamon from somewhere or other.”

“Same spot as usual?”

“Yep. Thought you’d like to know.”

“Thanks.” I had other things to do, but this couldn’t be put off. If Tulu was here, then I needed to see him right away. I put my backpack on and headed down to the creek.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Spring is Coming

Narcissus, jonquil, paper-white, daffodil
It gives my heart such a thrill
To see you in bloom
On a cold winter’s noon

Together with the lowly crocus
The hyacinth and lovely iris
You are flowers fit for a king
And the heralds of another spring
-(Daffodil, a poem I wrote)

I am not a fan of winter. I know it is necessary and I try to grin and bear it, but there is always a part of me that looks forward to pulling out the box with the shorts and tank tops. By the middle of February I am ready for spring and I start looking around for the harbingers. We had a week of warm weather here and it is now cold again, but that is not enough to stop the daffodils. No sir and no ma’am –they are blooming big time. My own are not in bloom yet, but they are the kind that tend to bloom in the middle of March. Everywhere I go I see the pretty yellow and white flowers, nodding their heads in defiance of the cold. Yesterday I discovered the first tiny yellow flowers on my forsythia bushes. All the joints are swelling and soon they too will be in full bloom. And this morning I discovered the first hardy, determined little purple hyacinth blooming in the back yard.

It has been a pretty hard winter. But the Wheel always turns, and spring is coming.

In other news, I have gathered a few hundred dollars towards getting a piece of land. It is not what I need, but it is a start. And I have added several more things to my crafts website. Some of my soaps are up there now. Check them out:

The next part of Eddie’s story will be posted in a day or two.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Part One

I've been wanting to try my hand at writing some post-peak and otherwise futuristic fiction for a while now, and I finally got around to it. This is my first crack at it, so keep that in mind. This is the first part of what will be a many-part serial. Please post any comments. It is a work in progress.

Before I post the story below I want to make a couple of comments. First, I do not necessarily agree with all of the main character's views. In fact, I disagree with several of them. Writing fiction would be really boring if you only wrote about people you always agreed with.

Secondly, many of the places listed in this story are real. They say 'write what you know' so I have. This story is set in the Deep South, right around the Alabama/Tennessee line and in places in Alabama. Hence the vernacular and cultural refrences. I am from the South, so keep that in mind before flaming me for stereotyping or making fun of Southeners. Also, as I said many of the places are real. A few have had their names changed, and I have denoted this by an asterik after the names the first time they appear. Everywhere else is real.

The setting is sometime later in this century. You can guess just when. I will post at least one update a week to this until its done. Unless, that is, I get an avalache of comments telling me how awful it is.
Anyway, here goes.

Part One
Every story must have a beginning, and this one is no exception. I suppose the proper place to begin is with an introduction, but if the truth is to be told, I do not want to tell this story at all. Why? There seems to be no point. For posterity, Mary Ellen would tell me if she were here. But it seems to me that most of our “posterity” couldn’t give a rat’s ass about my life, or its story. It is their own lives, and their own stories, that they will be concerned with. But Mary Ellen is still nagging me to tell this story, so I guess I will. For her, if for no one else. Yes, she’s dead and has been these past twenty years and more, but she’s still nagging me. She nagged on me for fifty years in life and you would think that would be enough, but no. She still nags me even though she’s dead and gone. I may sound cross about it but I’m not. I’d give both my legs and my arms too if she could still be here to nag me. It never really bothered me, though I groused about it enough at the time. Still do. Sometimes I think I hear her calling me, you know. Usually when I am about to drop off for a nap or when I’m trying to get to sleep at night. I’ll be almost asleep and then I will hear her voice and jerk awake. I look around, expecting to see her walk through the door, and only then do I remember she is long gone.

What was that? Oh, the story. Have some respect for your elders, young man. Kids these days. (Laughs.) No, sorry. I don’t mean that. Every generation from the cave men on down has railed against the younger. It’s the way of the world, I suppose. But I at my age I’ve earned the right to ramble if I wish. I’ve outlived all of my contemporaries. Far outlived, in most cases. I guess I’m just too stubborn to die. When I was a kid my grandpappy used to say I was as ornery as any mule ever born, and it’s true. Believe you me. I’ve known a lot of mules in my time.

But where was I? Oh, the story. I’ve got a lot of stories. Mary Ellen wanted me to tell them all, and have them written down. That’s your job, boy. I’ll do the tellin’ and you do the writin’. I’m running out of time, I suppose, and I promised Mary Ellen on her deathbed that I would do this. It sure took me long enough to get around to it. (Laughs again.) I’ll start with the first one, I suppose, and I can work enough of the back story into that to give you the picture.

But first things first. In case anyone ever reads this who actually gives a hoot, I am Edna Jean Davis, and I am a hundred and three years old, but back then I was still young…

Approximately 50 miles north and east of Huntsville, Alabama, near Elvis* and Blackberry* Tennessee.
“I want to see the ocean.”

The remark came out of the blue one warm, late spring day. It was hot, despite the fact that we were not yet into June. Every year it seemed like the heat came sooner and left later. We were on our grandparent’s land, planting sweet potatoes, my brother Tim and I, when he made this odd remark. Tim was always making odd remarks. He always had his nose buried in a book or his head up in the clouds instead of on the ground where it belonged. Had I known how much trouble that simple sounding remark would cause, I would probably have turned around and clocked him then and there. I should point out that Tim was my brother by blood and not just by raising. Not that it matters, but I still haven’t figured out how our parents managed to produce two children as different as the two of us.

“Ed?” Tim called when I didn’t answer after a moment. “Did you hear me? I said I want see the ocean.”

I felt a surge of irritation towards the boy and choked it down. He was only sixteen –ten years younger than I –after all, and all boys were prone to make stupid remarks occasionally. Particularly when they were between fifteen and twenty. Not that I hadn’t made plenty of stupid remarks in my time, but nothing like teenage boys are prone to do. That Tim was more prone to do it than most was just a function of his personality. Suddenly I realized that this one was probably my fault. How many times had I told him of the trips our family had taken to Gulf Shores and Panama Beach when I was little?

We were almost finished with the sweet potatoes. Tim had just finished putting the last starts in the last row, and I was close behind him with the hoe, which I used to fill in the trench. One person could have handled the job but it was easier and faster with two. You learned to minimize labor when you had to grow all your own food.

Finally I stopped working for a moment. I took my hat off with my free hand and transferred it awkwardly to the hand that held the hoe. Then I took my handkerchief out of my front pocket and wiped the sweat from my brow. After that I took a long swig from the water bottle at my belt. I took my time, rolling the water around my mouth to wet my parched tongue before I finally swallowed.

Tim was still looking at me expectantly.

There was no help for it. “Yes.” I said finally. “I heard you.”

“Well?” He replied. “Do you have anything to say?”

“Like what?” I let a bit of my annoyance show as I resumed hoeing. “So you want to see the ocean. Great. I want to ride in an airplane. Both are about as likely to happen. And so what?”

“That’s not true. The ocean is still there, but no one has an airplane anymore. Or if they do they don’t have any fuel.”

He had me there, I had to admit. It had been at least five years since I had seen a contrail. Maybe six or seven. I tried to remember when the last time had been and gave up. It hardly mattered.

Tim was still talking. “We could still get to the beach. It’s not that far, maybe not as far as it used to be with the way sea level has been rising.”
“We’re hundreds of miles from the ocean, Tim. You’d have to walk. You don’t even like walking to Elvis. And who knows what’s between here and there these days?” I was thinking of all the rumors about Huntsville and Birmingham, in particular, but did not say what I was thinking aloud. Maybe I should have. But then, Tim had always been the sort who thought no one would ever try to hurt him. I doubt he would have listened.

“So? We could do it in a summer. Me and Bobby were thinking-”

“Hold it right there,” I stopped hoeing again and gave him The Look. You know the kind a parent turns on a child who is in trouble. Tim was my son as much as my brother, as I had most of the raising of him. “Timothy Joseph Davis the Second, I don’t give a rat’s furry ass what you and Robert Earl have been thinking. Put it out of your mind right now.”

“But Eddie-”

“Don’t ‘But Eddie’ me. The last time you two got to thinking together you both got hurt and I got to drag your butt to Sharkey’s on a litter and then walk all the way to Elvis to get the Doc. No more ‘buts’. Stop thinkin’ whatever it is you’ve been thinkin’. Now get yerself over to that well and get the water to do the sweet potatoes. Ya hear?”

“Yes’m.” He muttered, almost too low to hear.

“What was that?”

“Yes ma’am.” Tim repeated, this time much louder.

“That’s better. Now get on with you.”

Tim turned and shuffled off, muttering rebelliously to himself. Only a teenager could manage to look that sulky. I finished planting the sweet potatoes and headed back to the house. Tim passed me on the way, a full watering can in each hand. He glared at me as I passed. “Aren’t you going to help?”


“Why not?”

“I’m going up to Sharkey’s. Water the tomatoes and beans when you’re done with the potatoes.”

The boy said some words as I moved off, none of them very nice. I chose to ignore them. He was still small enough for me to wash his mouth out with soap if I chose but he was getting close enough to being a man to speak his own piece. ’Sides, I knew it would help him to cool off and the sooner he cooled off the sooner he would get back to work and wear himself out enough to get the foolish notions out of his head.

Walk to the beach, indeed.

Maria and her daughters were in the strawberry patch picking the last of the berries. They waved and called “Hola!” as I neared. I took off my hat and waved back. “Hola! How are the berries?”

“Good, good!” Maria assured me, as her children chattered at me in a strange patois of English and Spanish that I had gradually gotten used to. She had seven girls, though only two were hers by birth. She and Miguel had had four of their own, counting the boy, until the fever that had also taken my parents. Miguel too had been carried off that winter, along with many others. Including the parents of her adopted girls. Like Sharkey she had taken in as many of the orphaned children as she could care for. Three of the girls weren’t even Hispanic, and the other two were Guatemalan instead of Mexican.

That hardly mattered, either. We were well past the time of the riots.

Twelve people shared my grandparent’s house back then. At one point we’d all been crammed into Sharkey and Mama Jo’s place like a basketful of puppies but as we’d all grown we’d felt the need to spread out. The day I turned eighteen Sharkey handed me the deed to the land and house. “It’s yours now.” He said simply. “I took care of it like I promised but now it’s yours.”

I looked at it and back at him. “What the hell am I supposed to do with it?”

Sharkey shrugged. “Move over there with some of the folks? You won’t have to walk so far to tend the fields and we need the room.”

So we did.

Beth was sitting on the back porch, sewing. Her feet were propped up on an ottoman and she had a glass of peppermint tea at her elbow. Cold, since we had enough power from the solar panels to run the fridge and ceiling fans, if not the air conditioner. A fan was turning lazily overhead. She was so big with child she could hardly walk. Her two-year-old slept on the porch swing nearby. The boy had his thumb in his mouth. He was the spitting image of his papa, and I was glad for Beth’s sake. Joey had been killed by a stray bullet over the winter.

A supposedly stray bullet. He had been on his way back from visiting the Amish community and cut a little too close to Blackberry. Jeremiah and his crew knew Joey and Beth lived with me, and he might have been trying to send Sharkey and me a message. But I had no proof, and I wasn’t about to do anything without proof.

No matter how much I wanted to.

“You all right?” I asked as I came up the porch steps.

Beth nodded, smiling. “I’m fine. Sister Ruth is coming out to check on me this afternoon. She reckons to stay here until the baby is born. That all right with you?”

I nodded. The unassuming young Amish midwife was always welcome, and I certainly didn’t want to have to try and get the truck going or ride Sharkey’s damn horse pell-for-broke in the middle of the night to fetch her. The Amish didn’t have any of the shortwaves. One of our girls was her latest apprentice, just as another was apprenticing with the Doc. There were certain skills we daren’t lose. “The Doc’ll be on call, I take it?”

“He’s taught her fine how to do a Caesarean, Eddie.”

I jutted my chin out in my most stubborn manner. “I still want the Doc on call.”

“Fine. But I’ll be okay. I’ve done this before. What do you think?” She held up her work for my inspection. It was a tiny dress, just the right size for a newborn girl. I stared at it in bewilderment.

“Hell Beth, we have enough baby clothes for all of Tennessee and half of ‘Bama between what we’ve got here and the stockpile up at Elvis. What are you making more for?”

She shrugged, still smiling. “It’s a new baby. I figure she should have at least one new outfit.”

“Your call. Not mine. I’m going over to Sharkey’s. Keep an eye on Tim for me, would you?”

“Sure. What’s he up to now?”

“Jesus only knows. Not me.”

“Well, tomorrow’s Monday so he’ll be back in school and out of mischief then.”

Frankly, I thought having so much school was part of his problem. Sharkey may have taught me everything else he knew, but he somehow infected Tim with his love of books. I stopped inside long enough to have a glass of tea and then walked the quarter-mile over to Sharkey’s. There weren’t as many people packed into the house and the two trailers as there had once been but there was still plenty of people about, most of them around my age or even younger. Most of the household was out working before the heat really sat in for the day. Sharkey had gone into town for a trustee’s meeting and Mary Ellen had gone with him. But Todd, Mary Ellen’s husband, was there and I explained what Tim’s latest foolish notion was. He rolled his eyes.

“Those two! They’re the devil’s own children, I swear. We’ll keep an eye on Bobby, don’t worry, if ya’ll will keep an eye on Timmy. They’ll get it outta their heads soon enough.”

I nodded, and that was the last I thought of the incident, save for keeping a closer eye on Tim for a few days. Two weeks later I had forgotten about it completely. So when he asked to sleepover at Bobby’s I didn’t hesitate to say yes. School was out for the year and he’d been good all week, so I didn’t have any reason to say no.

The trouble was, he didn’t come back the next morning.


Friday, February 13, 2009


I have not spoken much of my crafting here. Perhaps I should, for we are going to need more skilled craftspeople if we are to live sustainably in the future. The ages of importing everything and extreme specialization are just about over. More and more people are going to need to start making more of their own goods, and perhaps selling the excess.

I have always been an arts and crafts type person. I like creating things of all sorts. Everything from my writing to more traditional crafts. I am also extremely sensitive to a wide range of chemicals, ranging from bleach to the artificial scents used by the beauty industry. I can not even walk down the cleaning aisle in a store or by a bath store without getting a headache. A few years ago I started making my own soap and lotion and lately I have started selling it at various local craft fairs. I make other things too, but these are currently the only things that I can actually sell. They are all natural, of course.

Now I have made a website on Etsy for my things. I am ridiculously proud of this. (Warning: Luddite playing with technology. Stand back. This could get ugly.) The story of getting it up and running could fill several pages. I had to borrow a digital camera, take the pictures, and then find a way to transfer the pictures to my computer. This was more difficult than it sounds, for the camera does not have a USB cable and my computer would not read the card. The lady I borrowed it from has had the flu going through her household so I could not come over to use her computer. After much searching, I finally found someone who had a computer that could actually read this card. It is a new format and apparently, no computer older than a few months can read it. But it gets even better. My friend’s computer is one of those new mini laptops. No CD drive. My memory stick wasn’t large enough. So, she has emailed me the photos over the past few days. One at a time. And I have spent hours getting it up and running. There’s not a lot there yet, but there will be soon. Check it out:
(As I said, I'm ridiculous proud of this.)


Monday, February 09, 2009

What are they going to eat?

What are they going to eat?

Several of my friends have a problem. At least, I consider it to be a problem. They are picky eaters. I mean, really picky eaters. Most of them won’t eat soup. Or any salad more complex than the standard Caesar. They won’t eat greens. Or beans. Or squash. Most of their meals come from a drive thru. My best friend also has that strange almost disorder where she can’t stand it when different foods are touching. (Hence the reason she won’t eat soup: too many different foods mixed up.)

The next segment of my generation, who are currently between about 14 and 21, are even worse. Every single thing the majority of them eat comes from a drive thru, a box, or a bag. They’ve never seen raw meat, much less a chicken. They’ve never eaten a carrot. They know what peanut butter is but not peanuts. Step down the age ladder a bit more, and you see the same patterns, only even worse. Not too long ago I heard a six-year-old, when asked where a tomato comes from, proudly proclaim that they come from a certain big box store based in Arkansas.

I don’t think I need to go in-depth into the problems facing our world. Every one who reads this blog is certainly aware of them. But here’s a short list: economic depression, climate change, topsoil depletion, peak oil, peak water, drought, genetic engineering, and the breakdown of the industrial food system. This last is what concerns me most. Anyone with eyes to see can tell that our system of food production is slowly breaking down. This is only going to accelerate as time wears on and these other problems become worse. Relocalization is not really an option. It is going to be forced on us sooner rather than later. All of our food production is going to have to be done closer to home. Before many more years have passed there will be no more McDonald’s, no more Wendy’s or Subway or Burger King. There will be no more 3,000 mile Caesar Salads or chicken mcnuggets from a bag. No more corn chips, cheezdoodles, and soda pop.

Which has me seriously worried. Not so much for myself. I can grow food. I can find food –I know most of the local edible plants. I can even hunt if I get hungry enough. Oh, I wouldn’t want to, but I could and would. Not so most of my friends and the others my age and younger. Which leads me to a very important question:

What are they going to eat?

We are talking about people to whom food comes from a can. They could not recognize a carrot plant, or an okra plant, and wouldn’t know what to do with a carrot or some okra if they had it. They might recognize a tomato plant, if it had a red ripe tomato on it, but that is about the extent of their knowledge. Most of them wouldn’t know a pecan if one hit them on the head (quite literally, as that is often what happens). We have an entire generation and half of another one, with very few exceptions, who do not know what real food is. They do not know what it looks like or tastes like, how to grow it or how to cook it.

As the growth economy and the industrial food system continues their contraction and conditions deteriorate further, all those things mentioned above are going to slowly disappear. What are these children and young adults going to do? Are they slowly going to transition to squash and beans and soup, will they riot in the streets demanding their cheez doodles back, or are they going to go hungry? This is not an idle concern, especially as so many of those in this category are children and they are totally dependent on their parents, who have trained them to like this food (which they probably also eat) and who also do not have the skills necessary to grow or cook real food.

And none of this takes into account the very addictive properties of MSG. A major dietary shift coupled with withdrawal? That’s a recipe for disaster.

If you know someone who falls into this category and you have any influence over them at all, you can start trying to get them used to ‘real food’ now. Start slow. Invite him/her over to dinner if the person is a young adult and serve real food. For children, have some real snacks out the next time they come over. It is often necessary to eat a new food several times before adjustment takes place. At the very least, introducing these young people to real food now might help them to make the adjustment later. As for the rest…the Goddess help us. We are going to need it.


Friday, February 06, 2009

Odds and Ends

The weather here has been absolutely crazy for the past three weeks or so. It generally is crazy to one extent or another these days, but it has been much worse. It will start with a really nice day or two or three –mid 50s, even 60s. Then we have a bad cold spell for about a week. When I say bad, I mean lows in the teens or single digits and highs in the 20s or 30s. Then it will slowly warm up and we will have another day or two of really nice weather. Then the cycle repeats. We are in our third or fourth round of this. The night before last the low was 12 with a windchill of 5 and the high was, oh, around 32 or so. Today and the next few days are going to be in the 50s and 60s. Sunday the temp is going to be 67 –and next week it is projected to cool down again. Does this seem to be completely ridiculous to anyone else?

There is a reason it is called ‘climate change’ and not just ‘global warming’. But I am beginning to wonder if we have shut down the North Atlantic Current and that might be plunging us into a temporary miniature ice age. I hope not, but it a possibility that some researchers have been warning against.

I ran out of frozen blueberries this week. I froze 15 pints last summer. Note to self: stop eating so many blueberries! LOL. I now have a website for my crafts but it is not completely up and running yet. I will post a link in a few days when I have it ready.

On a much more somber note, there have been three high-profile suicides around here in the past week. Two of them jumped off bridges into the river, and the third jumped off an overpass onto the highway. It makes me wonder how many more there have been that did not make the news. The financial crisis is resulting in a very human toll, and one that will only get worse as time goes on.

Here is a scary news report from China:
China Declares Drought Emergency
I don’t think I need to point out that this will be a disaster.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Corporate Psychopaths and Sociopaths: The Peanut Butter Killer

Corporate Psychopaths and Sociopaths: The Peanut Butter Killer
psy·cho·path (sī'kə-pāth')n. A person with an antisocial personality disorder, especially one manifested in perverted, criminal, or amoral behavior.
sociopath [(soh-see-uh-path, soh-shee-uh-path)]
Someone whose social behavior is extremely abnormal. Sociopaths are interested only in their personal needs and desires, without concern for the effects of their behavior on others. (Compare psychopath.)
(Both definitions from

The headlines have been everywhere. There is a massive recall of peanut butter and peanut butter products underway, courtesy of a salmonella outbreak from a peanut butter plant in Georgia. When I was at the store last night my receipt had a huge list of things on it that have been recalled.

More than 500 people have been made sick. Eight have died. But it gets worse. This same company has knowingly shipped products contaminated with salmonella over the past eighteen months. Let me repeat that: this company has knowingly shipped contaminated products, resulting in multiple deaths and illnesses. (Sources: NPR, the AP, etc.)

Let’s change things for a moment. Let’s assume that a single person was responsible for all this. What would the headlines say then? Not ‘peanut recall widens’ or ‘FDA investigation expands’. No, they would read something along the lines of: “Police Hunt for Peanut Butter Killer”. This person would be labeled a psychopath or sociopath, and rightly so. He or she would be charged with murder, or at least manslaughter.

But what will happen to this company? A fine, possibly some lawsuits. Then they will probably declare bankruptcy (to get around the fine and lawsuits) and be right back to manufacturing in a few months. A few people will lose their jobs. But that will be about it.

Does this make sense to anyone? It certainly does not make sense to me. Corporations are legally considered to be persons. They have all the rights of people. But none of the responsibilities. A person kills another person, and we scream “murder!”. But a corporation kills someone, and it is a ‘regrettable accident’. And yet, in this case as in many others, the incident was not an accident at all. It was a direct result of actions knowingly taken. The results could be foreseen. The corporation and its managers simply did not care. What is the definition of a psychopath again? A sociopath? I should think that if we could morph these companies into actual people we would quickly lock them all away.

This has got to STOP. We can not keep granting personhood to non-entities. This is what caused the Exxon Valdez spill, this is what caused the coal ash spill in Tennessee, and this is what killed 8 people. Other factions of our culture are also complicit, yes, but if these companies did not have personhood they could be held accountable. And they need to be.

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