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Dear Diary, It’s Me, Jessica: Part 4

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Dear Diary,

It is me, Jessica.

O!  M!  G!

It is COLD!

My cold nose is what woke me up late last night.  I was cold even in my flannel PJs and the extra blankets on the bed.  I dressed in my cold clothes and made my way to the living room and kitchen, where the fireplace was, to find Mom and Dad not only dressed but with their coats, hats, and even gloves on. Dad said we must have been hit with a ‘polar vortex’ as he was building up the fire from a decent-sized bed of red glowing coals.  

Mom’s country chicken thermometer on the wall between the living room and the kitchen read fifty-two degrees.  It had to be in the forties back in the bedrooms.  The thermometer outside the kitchen window read twelve.  Dad guessed it was even lower with the wind chill, single digits, maybe even negative. 

It was so cold that when Dad and I went out for firewood in the morning, my lungs felt like they were on fire when I inhaled.  Diary, this might be a bit gross but it felt like my nose hairs froze!  

We also got snow.  Hard to say how much with the wind blowing and the drifts, but it was had to be at least half a foot, maybe even a full foot.  Dad said we were lucky. With the cold temperatures, the snow was light and fluffy.  Had it been just above freezing, it would have been wet and heavy.  It made for easier walking through the woods, but I still got a lot of snow up to my knees.  My winter boots are more stylish with the faux fur around the tops, just below my knees. It kept most of the snow out, but my feet were numb, especially my toes.

I wore sweatpants inside of my jeans, a tee shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, a sweatshirt, and my winter jacket.  I had a hat and gloves, but I was still cold.  The wind seemed to go right through all of my clothing like it was not even there.

When Dad and I got back with wood, Mom made us mugs of hot tea to help warm us up.  It felt so good.  I propped my feet up close to the fire and sipped my tea.  Mom checked both me and Dad for frostbite, and we were fine.  Just cold!  With the fire going well, the chicken thermometer read sixty-eight.  It does not sound warm, but in front of a good fire, I was comfortable in a tee shirt, jeans, and my fuzzy slippers.  

Jack showed up shortly afterward.  He was doing rounds in the neighborhood to make sure everyone was okay.  He wore a military issue ‘arctic’ parka, snow pants over his jeans, weird-looking mittens with a separate index finger, snow boots, a winter hat, a face-like covering called a ‘Balaclava,’ yellow-tinted goggles, and snowshoes.  He carried a bolt action ‘scout’ rifle rather than his usual one.

How he could walk with all that crap and a backpack on is a wonder.  But when he took off his hat, gloves, Balaclava, goggles, and parka, he was sweating.  

I asked him where Samson was.  He said he left him at home in front of a good fire.  With this wind, he could not be sure of Samson’s safety.  

Jack then reached over to his backpack and pulled out Mom’s laptop.  Dad and I took it over to the HAM guy’s house last week with a day’s worth of firewood in trade for charging the laptop off his solar array.  HAM guy said it was not necessary, but Dad insisted.  Fully charged, we could watch movies or TV shows off Mom’s hard drive for a few days if she dimmed the screen a little. 

Jack took the hot tea Mom offered and said that Joanne seemed to be in the clear and fully recovered.  I was very happy to hear that.  She is so sweet and is such a good gardener.  Between her and Mom, we had all kinds of veggies to eat.

HAM guy’s weather station confirmed Mom’s outdoor thermometer of twelve degrees last night.  The wind chill was a negative ten.  

Jack said Rae is of the opinion that the neighborhood school would not be up and running till late spring or early summer.  Dad was the lead supervisor on the floor of the factory before he got promoted to management.  As an engineer, he would be teaching a basic engineering class and maybe an advanced one if there was enough interest.  Mom, with her background in IT, would teach a math class.  She was very excited about it. 

Rae found others willing to teach science, biology, and history.  Several volunteered for coaching sports, the drama club, the chess club, and Jack would be teaching card games.  Jack said when he was in the Marines, nothing was more dangerous than a bored Marine.  Someone always had a deck of cards, from above the Arctic Circle to the battlefield in the desert.  It also teaches some math and critical thinking skills.  He then pulled out a deck of cards and asked if anyone was interested in a game with a sly grin.

While we played rummy, Jack told us that the HAM guy’s batteries were low due to the cold and the lack of direct sunshine for the past few days.  He was only able to come up at the noon ‘group’ meetings.  He noted a number of other ‘regulars’ were not up to include the city HAM guy.  Our HAM guy was concerned but thought it had more to do with the cold and cloud cover.  

The HAM guy did talk to another HAM guy further North.  His weather station reported negative 20  without the windchill.  He, his wife, and their three dogs closed themselves off in the kitchen with a wood stove from the rest of the house to keep warm.  They slept on the floor with a few comforters as ground cloth, sleeping bags and a few more heavy blankets.  The dogs helped them stay warm.

After a few games, Jack headed out for home to check on Samson and make his own dinner.  By some unspoken word, if someone had more than they could use, a chicken, rabbit, or even a deer, people would offer up the excess to their neighbors.  Without refrigeration, it would just go to waste.  Between that and the canning of garden produce and even the canning of meat, plus the drying and curing of meat, we were not going hungry.  Rae did make the observation that while my parents had lost no small amount of weight, they made sure I was getting plenty of protein at their expense.  Diary, I have to admit I feel guilty about what my own parents are willing to sacrifice for my physical health.  It never occurred to me until Rae pointed it out.  I am trying to make up for it by doing more and not complaining about anything they ask of me.

Dear Diary, We had a slumber party!

Rae’s house has a fireplace, but it is much smaller than ours.  The men who were in construction in the 50s and 60s were either of the Great Depression era or their parents were.  They had nearly an obsession with every home having a fireplace.  Whoever built our home made a large fireplace with an extended hearth floor three feet into the living room.  This helped in keeping the living room and kitchen very warm.  Dad has an idea he has been ‘rolling’ around in his head about how to make a steel insert to make the fire more efficient and maybe even cook on it if he can find the right materials and some welding equipment.  He might even be able to do it with brute strength and the application of ‘leverage,’ or so he says.  

So, Rae, Kathy, Joan, and Allison brought sleeping bags or bed rolls to our home to keep warm and have a good time!

Kathy had traded some of her pharmaceutical skills for bread flour.  Mom had dried yeast, and there were green onions she was growing in the kitchen window.  They made green onion biscuits to go with the roasted venison chuck roast Jack left, carrots, rutabagas, and onion gravy.  We had canned green bean casserole with fried onions on the side.  

For fun, we sang karaoke from Mom’s laptop, danced, and even did bad line dancing.  The best was to ‘I Will Survive!’  We sang and danced to it twice!  It was so much fun!  Dad watched on, smiling in amusement, made some reference to a football movie from 2000, and passed whenever us girls asked him to dance.  He kept the fire going.

As it grew late, we all got into our sleeping bags or bed rolls and began chatting about life prior to when the power went out.

Rae owned a small business accounting firm.  Only about a dozen people, but it was as she put it, “Honey, we owned the farm proper.”

Diary, I have no idea what that means, but I believe her!

Kathy took such an interest in chemistry in high school that she was determined to become a pharmacologist.  She became the head pharmacologist at the hospital despite being so young.  

Joan had the voice of an angel.  She was in school to become a choir teacher when the power went out.

Allison, I was surprised to find out she was actually a year younger than me.  All she said was that life was good before the power went out, and she missed her family.  We all left it at that.  After a long, uncomfortable pause, Rae declared she missed ice cream the most.  We all burst out laughing and then talked about things we missed till we all fell silent one by one and drifted off to sleep.

Diary, the next morning was almost but not quite as much fun as the previous night.

With everyone sleeping in the living room and a good fire, we all slept great.  

I woke up to see Dad stoking the coals and adding a few logs to the fire.  Mom was in the kitchen boiling water for the French press of coffee or tea.  She even pulled out a one-pound bag of sugar.  

Using the last of the previous night’s dinner, Mom and Rae made up a short crust, egg, and venison roast quiche in a twelve-inch cast iron pan, with the leftover onion gravy on the side.  It was so good!

While we were digging into our breakfast, we joked and teased each other, laughing all the while.

And Diary, I think I like coffee now.

Dear Diary, it’s me, Jessica. I am numb.

Not cold numb.

Emotionally numb.  

I shot a man today.

I killed him.  

I had to.  

He was beating Daddy.

As quickly as the ‘polar vortex’ came, it went.

It is sunny out, still cold but not ‘polar vortex’ cold.  It actually felt warm compared to the previous two days.

After Dad and I brought in firewood, we went over to the Miller’s.  When Dad tried to apologize for not showing up for two days, Mr. Miller interrupted Dad and said not to worry.  Traveling in that kind of weather was dangerous.  The smart thing was to stay put and stay warm.  The Millers did only what was necessary themselves, feeding and watering the livestock, and stayed in the house in front of their cast iron wood stove in the kitchen to keep warm.  

Mr. Miller had an idea but needed Dad’s engineering knowledge and they went into the house to talk.  I went over to the one barn where Billy, Olive, and Daisy were moving hay bales, set my rifle up against the barn door, put on a pair of working gloves, and jumped into the chore.

After lunch and what work Mr. Miller had for us, he paid us with a freshly slaughtered chicken and a five-pound bag of flour. Dad and I were walking home when a man hiding in the overgrowth next to the road leaped up and swung a club at Daddy.  Daddy tried to dodge but he got a glancing blow to the head and went down.  Daddy raised his arms to protect his head, so the man kicked Daddy in the side a few times.  He then raised the club to strike Daddy when I squeezed the trigger.  I did not even know I had unslung my rifle, shouldered it, and aimed.  I did it all without thinking.  It was not till I felt the recoil and saw the man crumple to the ground that I realized what I had done.

We were just outside the neighborhood when it happened.  After the shot, a few of our neighbors showed up with their firearms. Rae was one of them.  She pulled out an orange whistle, turned toward the neighborhood and blew it three times, paused, then did it again while the others tended to Daddy.  Rae took me aside.  She squeezed my shoulder, almost hard, and told me what I did was ‘okay.’  She said if I did not do what I did, Daddy might be dead right now.  

Jack showed up a few minutes later.  Jack ordered a ‘sweep’ of the area. 

I get it.  I saved Daddy.  

But I keep seeing the man with the club raised, the sound of the shot, and feeling the recoil of the rifle as the bullet hit him just below his armpit.  Him, dropping to the ground.  Never to get up again.  

Jack showed up at our home later in the evening to check on us.  Daddy had no signs of a concussion, though he had a heck of a bump on the head. He did have some bruised ribs and would have to take it easy for the next few days.  They had found where the man had made a small campsite.  Based on what they found and the condition of him, Jack assumed he was not quite ‘right’ in the head.  

Jack took me aside from Mom and Dad, and told me that I did the ‘right’ thing.  

I saved Daddy.

About 1stMarineJarHead

1stMarineJarHead is not only a former Marine, but also a former EMT-B, Wilderness EMT (courtesy of NOLS), and volunteer firefighter.

He currently resides in the great white (i.e. snowy) Northeast with his wife and dogs. He raises chickens, rabbits, goats, occasionally hogs, cows and sometimes ducks. He grows various veggies and has a weird fondness for rutabagas. He enjoys reading, writing, cooking from scratch, making charcuterie, target shooting, and is currently expanding his woodworking skills.

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