Enduring on the Lake

Monday, November 3, 2014

Chapter 34

So you really don’t have a problem doing this?” 

I looked at Zane and realized he was really concerned.  “Zane, I’m fine.  I already told you I get it.  You have Max to look after.  And you have the rest of your family to think of.  There’s just me now.  I was working to take care of six or more.  It’s … it is what it is.” 

“Whoa, you’re getting things squirrely Syd.  Yeah Max is now my responsibility.  The family all agree on that.  Annie had more to say about it than I expected, even Mom was surprised.” 

“You think Annie is ever going to want …” 

“No,” Zane answered with a snort.  “At least if you mean take Max back.  She’s got some kind of hang up about the birthing process.  Mom says that she had a rough pregnancy and then something happened during labor … or some female something or other like that; I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention.  Either way Annie stays away whenever Jane gets late in pregnancy and will literally get up and leave a room if someone starts talking about that sort of thing.  She doesn’t have a whole lot of female friends her age because of it.” 

“Uh … ok.” 

“Yeah.  Gran said some women just don’t have the maternal instinct.  It isn’t that she doesn’t love Max because she does.  She just doesn’t, or can’t, express it in the same way a mother would.  She’s fine with the big sister role she has in his life though I have to admit she’s found him more interesting as he got older.  But that’s neither here nor there.  All that matters is that Max is mine.  OK wait, that sounded … what I mean is …” 

I grinned.  “I get it.  He’s yours to take care of, not yours to own.” 

I saw him nod in relief.  “Yeah.  That.  But saying that you need to forget the idea that I’m scoping out your stuff to take care of the rest of the family.  I’d never do that to you.  I gotta admit I’m wondering what I ever did to make you think I would.” 

“You’re like Daddy … family means a lot to you even those that have issues.  He didn’t have to like the issues but he’d put up with them for family.  And this whole thing … you said yourself you wish you’d …” 

“OK, stop right there.  I said I wish the family had taken more action sooner.  That does not translate into since you might not need your stuff that I’m going to make you share what you have.  Hell, I’m not comfortable with Max and I mooching off of you now.” 

“You aren’t mooching.  Don’t be stupid.” 

“Then don’t you be stupid about thinking that I’d take your stuff.” 

“I didn’t say you’d take it out right.  But if your family needs it …” 

“No.  You don’t know for sure about your dad and the others.  And stop with the jabber jawing about it.  I know what you feel.  I know how things look.  But there is not one hundred percent certainty yet so what I figure is we continue to operate as if things were still on course.  It is a win-win either way.”  He winced. 

“I told you how it is for me.” 

“And that’s all well and good but it doesn’t mean I don’t need to watch my mouth.  It’s just not right.” 

I grinned sadly.  Zane was a realist but one with an inconvenient idealistic streak.  I decided not to twit him about it since it made him who he is.  And I’ll admit that I like who he is.  He’s steadfast if nothing else.  When he says something he means it and what he was telling me was that partners was partners but there was room for other stuff – like fulfilling my family’s plans – and that he had no intention of derailing that or trying to turn it to his own use. 

“Fine,” I told him.  “Let’s just go ahead and get this done.  I’ve got to keep an eye on the canner and I don’t like Max up there by himself with it.  I’m afraid he is going to fiddle with it to ‘help’ and that could make a major mess.” 

“He better not.  The boy is old enough not to touch a stove.  Don’t baby him.” 

“I’m not.  He’s just wants to help and for some reason he thinks turning the heat up will make it go faster.  I’ll explain to him why another time, I just don’t feel up to it right now.” 

Zane sighed.  “Well run upstairs and see what he is into.  It’s a little quiet for my taste too.” 

I did just that but came downstairs slower.  “Zane?  Max is asleep on the sofa.  Should he be sleeping this much?” 

“He had a late night what with helping with the wood.  He’s probably just finally calming down.  He gets real nervy and wore out and then he sleeps a lot.  He’s normally calmer when he is here but you gotta admit that he’s been through a lot lately.” 

“I didn’t mean … I’m just worried about him.  Could he be coming down with something?  Mom always says … said …”  And just like that it hit me again.  I was just thinking of calling her to find out what she thought about Max’s sleeping habits and boom … I realized I’d never be able to call her again.   

I sat down and put my head in my hands so Zane could see but then he was just there and saying,  “Hey … hey, you gotta cry go ahead and cry.” 

I shook my head.  “No.  No more tears.  At least not right now.  My head hurts and so do my eyes from the last round of crying I gave into.  It’s just … It doesn’t matter.  I can’t change things.  I just don’t want to screw up with Max.  He’s a neat kid and … basically I just don’t want to mess up.” 

“You aren’t.  Speaking of being tired, maybe you should go lay down for a while.  This can wait.” 

“No.  I mean I am tired but so are you and you’ve got more reason to be.  I’m not going to ask if you got any sleep last night because I’m not sure I’ll like the answer and I know you don’t like being fussing over.” 

“How do you know that?” 

“I see how irritated you get when people try and make allowances for your foot.”  He fell silent then started chuckling which seemed wildly inappropriate.  I asked, “What are you laughing at?” 

“Nothing, not really.  It’s just you are the only one that is just so matter of fact about the whole thing.  Gives me a completely different perspective on it.  And you’re right.  It irritates me when I think people are making special allowances just because of my prosthetic.  But I don’t mind a little fussing if it’s not because of that.” 

“Ok,” I said warily trying out the feelings I was having.  “How about a melted ice cream cake for dessert?  Kill two birds with one stone.  You’ll get a little fussing and the sad ice cream in the freezer will get used.” 

He smiled.  “Will I like melted ice cream cake?” 

“Probably.  You’ve eaten everything else I put in front of you, even my experiments.” 

“You’re a good cook.  A little fond of muffins but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Speaking of, what is the flour situation?” 

It took a moment for me to process the subject change and get turned back around to what we were down in the cellar for to begin with.  I showed him the inventory that I’d been keeping and he blinked and wondered how long it would all last so I pulled out Mom’s spread sheets and showed him approximately how much per person and why that she thought I needed to put back. 

“Mom’s notes said she planned on four hundred pounds of grain per adult sized person, two hundred and fifty of which should be wheat.  For planning purposes I bumped that up to five hundred pounds total but left it two-fifty in wheat.  I’ve got roughly a hundred pounds in rice per person, a hundred pounds of oats per person, and the remaining fifty in other things like barley, quinoa, and …” 

“What’s a quinoa?” 

I laughed.  “It’s a kind of grain … like millet.” 

“Chicken feed?  Let me guess, you’ve got sorghum too.” 

“Uh … actually I had some on order but I don’t know if it will ever arrive.  It was supposed to be delivered this week but …” 

“How’s it being shipped?  You got a print out of the shipping information?” 

“Yeah.  It is coming by freight.  It was just too expensive to have it and everything else shipped any other way.  The carrier was going to pick it up from the rail yard and deliver it by truck.” 

“I’ve got a buddy that works that kind of gig.  Let me contact him tonight … assuming he’ll pick up the phone … and see what we can pull off.  Is it a lot?” 

“Yeah, but it was COD so I’m not out money.”

“That might complicate things.  Let me see – assuming he can get it for you – what it will take to … er … sweeten the deal for him enough that he’ll deliver.” 

“I’ll put in what I can.  I really would like to get that delivery.  It was mostly food but it was coming packaged … let’s just say the shipper promised to ship it discreetly … if that makes a difference.” 

He nodded but I could see questions behind his eyes.  I enlightened him before the questions could turn into suspicions.  “I know it sounds weird.  Let’s just say that I met interesting people in college that had friends and family that were just as interesting if not more so.  I never really got into Daddy’s stuff … the financial end and security and things like that … but foods and supplies was where I picked up what Mom put on the backburner when things heated up for her at work and … and on a personal level. I know how to ask for what I want – usually anyway – without creating unnecessary waves where no one wants waves.  One girl I knew had a brother and dad into finding and shipping things to people that might raise eyebrows.  Nothing illegal but sometimes you just don’t want people knowing your business.” 

He nodded after giving me the Spock eyebrow.  “There were guys in base supply that could be that shade of interesting.” 

“Yep.  Daddy will have a cow if he finds …”  I took a deep breath and pushed it to the side.  “I doubt I’ll have much access to that kind of interesting again, or at least for a long while.  Most of those folks are interesting but they aren’t fond of interesting times so will likely have found their own ‘cabin’ someplace and are taking care of them and theirs so let’s just get back on topic here.  Now on top of the grains per person I’ve been working on totals like a hundred pounds of beans and legumes, twenty pounds of dried milk, twenty pounds of cooking oils, a hundred pounds of sweeteners like honey or sugar, and twenty pounds of salt.  That’s not nearly everything but it’s the backbone of my plan.” 

Zane was nodding then asked, “You mind if I suggest some tweaking of that list?” 

“Go ahead.  Assuming I can get it anyway.” 

“I worked in electronics when I was in the military but some of that was following the mobile kitchens around fixing things that got broken.  Even with gas range heads and stuff like that the kitchens still pulled a lot of juice and were forever getting something farked up.  But it gave me a chance to realize that the old saying about an army travelling on its stomach was true.  MREs are fine as far as it goes but when the mobile kitchens provided something a little more home-cooked – even if it was cafeteria style – everyone was happier.  But that meant major supplies.” 

“Well I’ve got major supplies.  Just look around.” 

“I’m looking.  And I’m impressed.  But here’s a question … are your totals for normal every day or are they for people working hard?” 

It took a minute for me to work out what he was saying.  “Oh, I get it.  To tell the truth probably somewhere in the middle.  Mom’s totals weren’t subsistence level but were based on a concept of getting by until things got better.  She and Daddy didn’t really agree on the duration factor.” 

“Duration factor?” 

“Yeah, as in how long things were going to go south and stay that way.  They agreed it was going to be bad whatever it was but Mom was more inclined to think about short term events of a year or less before things started to swing back to the normal range.  Daddy’s mindset was plan for a zombie apocalypse and you were prepared for everything … or close to it.” 

“Zombies?  I wondered about that DVD collection of yours … surprisingly heavy on the death, destruction, and gore.” 

I rolled my eyes.  “What?  You think the only entertainment I’m into is chick flicks and sappy movies?  Zombies are just a symbol of whatever bad thing you can think of.  Romero … aw forget it, you either get it and go along or you don’t.  Doesn’t bother me either way.  However I promise if you try and force me to watch a chick flick I’ll burn every meal for a week. 

He shrugged.  “Relax, I was just teasing.” 

“Don’t.  Apparently I’m grumpy and can’t stay on track too well right now.  What were we talking about again?” 

He smiled and said, “You were letting me give you some suggestions based on my vast experience in the food industry.” 

“Oh brother.” 

He chuckled then got serious again. “So how long do you figure you have food for here?  And stick with the six you were originally working on.” 

Fighting depression and slowly winning the battle if not the war I told him, “At subsistence level with only a limited restocking here and there I’m fairly certain I could feed six people for a year.  But at the end of that year I would have absolutely no reserves left and we’d be really bad off.  The chickens were some of the reserve I was counting on but between the upsets and cool weather starting to set in they aren’t going to be laying much longer.  I can’t afford to cull more than five because I didn’t set any chicks; I had planned to buy more … thought there was more time.” 

“There might be yet.  Things don’t have to be totally in the toilet.”  He looked at my inventory over my shoulder then sat down on his stool he kept in the cellar so he could take some weight off when he needed to.  “You need more meat.  Hopefully we will remedy that by hunting.  We are still going tomorrow.  You up for it?” 

Without hesitation I said, “Yes.” 

“You sure?” 

“I said yes didn’t I?”  I sighed.  “Sorry.  Shouldn’t snap like that.” 

“Relax.  I grew up with three sisters and associated other female relatives.  If I can’t take a little snapping every now and then – especially all things considered – then as Annie would say, I need to turn in my man card.” 

I nearly choked on my own spit.  “Man card?  Oh my Lord.  Are they licensing that now too?” 

That surprised him and we both chuckled for a moment.  Zane said, “It do seem like they are out to tax and control everything these days doesn’t it.  Seriously though, your share of tags will be helpful.  I’m not totally comfortable leaving your place unattended but I’ll see if Junior will come keep an eye on things.  He and a couple of the cousins could cut those trunks down for shares while we do some hunting.” 

“Won’t Junior want to go hunting?” 

“It isn’t his favorite thing.  He does it but mostly because Josh makes him stay in practice.  It isn’t the shooting his minds so much as the processing.  He don’t puke when we field dress the animals but he comes close every stinking time.  And you know how it is when one person starts gagging and heaving.” 

“Yeah, it gets contagious.” 

“Yeah it does.  And the meat issue brings up the fact that you don’t have enough salt.  And not all the right kinds of salt.” 

“Kinds of salt?” 

“Yeah, I see you wrote down that you have iodized salt, pickling salt, ice cream salt, and sea salt but you also need kosher salt and curing salt if we are going to process meat.  I already bought some kosher and curing but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have more.” 

“What do you mean you bought kosher and curing salt?” 

He turned and tapped me on the nose playfully.  “I mean when I told your dad I would take you hunting and help you I wasn’t just whistling Dixie.  And if you get in my face about paying for it I will be very unhappy.” 

He was playing but I could see an underlying seriousness to his statement that I decided not to ignore.  “Fine,” I told him.  “But the other end of that is you can’t squawk all the time about rent or any of that other junk you’ve been mumbling about.  Deal?” 

His grin got broader and he said, “Deal.” 

“So what else, O Wise Man of the Mountain, have I missed?” 

“You thought about a garden?  I know you don’t have a lot of room right here around the cabin but you have that flat piece of land to the east.  Looks like it gets a good bit of morning and mid-day sun.” 

“It’s where my great grands, and before them, had the garden.  I’ve got old family pictures around here somewhere that you can see it in the background.  And they also grew things in terraces closer to the house.  You know those rock walls that make steps closer to the lake?  They used to be grape arbors there.  And what’s left of the old rose garden is still out on the west side of the cabin.  Apparently my great great grandmother had a pretty hot business selling rose hips back in the day.  Mom has tried off and on to grow stuff but she says the soil is pretty bad plus we were never up here enough to take care of something that was anything less than super hardy.” 

“You never said, why did your family move off the land?” 

“The Spanish Flu pandemic started it.  You know the story, they even have a plaque in the town square.  It hit here hard and mean.  It’s why the Zitterbarth name is so uncommon in Harmon despite our family having been one of the earliest year round settlers in the area.  The parents of that generation lost almost all the kids and not a few of the young adults.  It left mostly old folks to start over.  They did but there was no more having a house full of kids.  Then the Great Depression hit followed by World War II.  My grandfather was the last male and after going off to war and seeing the world he came back and could just never settle to living in Harmon.  His sisters both stayed but never married or had kids.  My great grandparents and both great aunts died within a few years of each other.  Daddy said by then Grandpop had even less desire to live here at the cabin full time as he was making really good money as a machinist.  The cabin became a place to go for vacation but not much else.  Uncle Hershel never had much use for the cabin so when Grandpop died – I was a little girl and just barely remember him – he willed eighty percent of the cabin to Daddy and twenty percent to Uncle Hershel.  Uncle Hershel promptly offered to sell Daddy his twenty percent in exchange for Grandpop’s 1955 Chevy BelAir.  Daddy said sure and the rest is history.” 

“What happened to the Chevy?” 

I shrugged.  “As far as I know Uncle Hershel was still driving it.  He was crazy when it came to that car.  The only thing he was crazier about was family.  He had the car on the auction block but because it was a daily use car no one wanted to pay what it was worth regardless of its pristine condition.  Then the insurance kicked in after all and things turned out different.  Where it is now?  Don’t know.  Uncle Hershel wanted to be buried in it – it was official and everything in his will.  Maybe that’s …” 

“Syd!” 

“Huh?” 

“Don’t.” 

“I told you my matter of factness gives people the willies, even my own family.” 

“Be matter of fact all you want, just don’t use it to hurt yourself by doing it on purpose like some kind of punishment.  Whatever is happening it isn’t your fault.  Got it?  You worked as hard and as fast as you could with the resources you had.  But you are one person.  You did your end and your parents know it … even said so.  I remember that even if you don’t right now.”
 
 

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