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Dear Diary, It’s Me, Jessica: Part 5

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Dear Diary,

It’s me, Jessica.

I went to the market today!  

Well, Dad, Mr. Miller, Jack, Rae, and I went to the market today.  

It was so different and crazy!

Mr. Miller wanted to build a small windmill to power a pump for both the house and the livestock. Mr. Miller and Dad worked up plans for one, but they needed some parts. Dad asked Jack if he thought the market would have some of the parts Mr. Miller needed. Jack thought so, as long as they had things to trade the parts for.  

I asked to go with them!

Dad looked uncertain at first, looking to Jack for advice.  

Jack said since Andy was gone, the people at the market had ‘elected’ a retired sherif with two deputies.  The rest of the community would back him up.  There was a basic set of rules, but they were ‘more like guidelines. There were still some shady people around, but it was relatively safe as long as we stayed vigilant.  ‘Buyer beware,’ whatever that means.  

Rae heard of the plan to go to the market and said she was in.  She had things to trade.  Then, both Dad and Jack were okay with me going.  I was a bit annoyed that they seemed to think I was naive.  Diary, they were right.  I am glad Rae was there.

Everyone met at our home in the early morning.  Jack and Rae had breakfast with us.  Mr. Miller declined as he ate before he made the hump to our place.  He did have a cup of coffee, though.  

I asked him where Billy was.  Mr. Miller simply said, “He is guarding the farm.”

Over coffee, Jack said no one was to go off on their own.  We would all stay together.  Everyone was to keep their eyes out for anything that seemed off.  

Mr. Miller brought 5lbs of maple cured and smoked bacon, maple syrup, and honey to trade for parts.   

Rae had half a dozen quart-sized jars packed full of canned seasoned venison with onions, potatoes, and rutabaga—a ready-cooked meal in a jar. One jar could easily feed two people.

We left for the market to arrive by midday when the number of people willing to trade would be at its peak.  

Before the power went out, I never thought about how hills, even low ones, could make walking more difficult. Now, I was feeling it—feeling it in my feet and legs. And that was just on the way to the market!

The market just seemed to pop up along the road.  It was an absolute ‘chaos’ of slapped-together wood shacks, broken down trucks, cargo vans, other vehicles, and even two tractor-trailers.  It centered on a small clearing at the crossroads of the county road leading to the bridge and the Old River Road.  The river to the West and the heavily wooded and hilly terrain prevented anything much larger.  People milled about mostly on foot, but some pushing bicycles.  I saw a few people on horses.  Several fires were going to help people keep warm, and a few folks were cooking something.  Even though I ate breakfast, when I smelled the hot food, I was suddenly hungry.

People were talking, some laughing, others haggling over an item for trade.  Winter hats, coats, and boots of all kinds and colors, from orange blaze to hunter camouflage to navy blue.  Nearly everyone was carrying some kind of rifle, shotgun, or a drop-leg holster like Jack wore.  Jack said if someone tried to ‘start’ something, they would quickly find themselves surrounded til the sheriff and his deputies could arrive to sort things out.  Since the new arrangement after Andy and his deputies were gone, things were much better. And no taxes.

As we walked through the market, several people called out to Jack. He then took their hands and warmly greeted them, asking how they and their families were doing. It was a side of Jack I had never seen. Rae said he was ‘playing’ the crowd.

Just off the four corners, sitting on a big log in front of a small fire, was an old man with a long beard, a weathered leather hat, and an equally weathered leather long coat, plucking a banjo. Seeing Jack, he stopped to shake Jack’s hand in greeting.  

“Good to see you, Jack,” he said with a heavy Irish accent.

“Good to see you, Sean.” 

Jack reached out to shake his hand but passed something to Sean, who quickly slipped whatever it was into his long coat.  Jack then asked where the parts Mr. Miller was looking for could be found.  Without hesitation, he nodded over Jack’s shoulder.  

“North Old River Road, right side, you’re looking for Nate.  Funny green hat, big guy with a red beard and mustache.”

He then looked at me and asked what my name was. After I replied, “Jessica,” he began plucking the banjo at a rapid pace, occasionally using his thumb to thump the banjo cover like a mini-drum. He sang a song about a woman named Jessica, whom an Irish sailor longed to see again. When he finished, several people who stopped to listen around us began to applaud vigorously. Rae did, too.  

Jack went to hand him something else, but he held up his hand and, in his strong Irish accent, simply said, “The inspiration was worth it,” giving me a wink and a smile. 

Jack said to Sean, “softy,” with a grin.

I blushed.

Dad did not look thrilled.  

Jack then turned and led us across to North Old River Road.  He explained Sean and several others were the unofficial organizers of the market.  They kept the road clear, made sure people used the outhouses, and applied homemade lye to them as needed.  If someone was cooking something for trade, it had to be reasonably sanitary, and the food had to be real.  No unnecessary ‘fillers,’ whatever those are.  They were also the only ones who could push back against Andy and his deputies when they were around.  Sean was the ‘information desk’ even though there was no desk.  He knew just about everyone in the market, who had what to trade and where they could be found.  For trade for information to make navigation of the market faster, a bit here or a bit there and the occasional song, he ate well or could trade for something else of ‘value.’

We were making our way through the market when some unkept, greasy-looking man staring at me smiled with yellow teeth and called out, “Hey, little girl!  How much?”

Rae put her arm around my shoulder and responded, “She is not interested!”

“How about you,” he asked Rae, grinning even bigger.  

“I am not either!”

Diary, I have never seen my Dad even hint at taking a violent action in my life, but the look in Dad’s eyes, I think he was about to use his rifle on the yellow tooth man when Jack stopped and turned around.  The man saw we were with Jack, his eyes went wide, his yellow smile gone.

“Whoa! Jack,” he held up his hands, empty. Hey man, no harm, no foul. Just asking!”

Jack paused for a moment, then nodded and said, “Right, Bob. No harm, no foul.” Jack glanced at Dad and gave a single nod, as if to say everything was okay and to leave it.

“What did that man mean?” I asked Rae.  She said she would explain later as we continued on our way.

We pressed on into the market till Jack found a big man with a green beret and red beard.  

As they shook hands, Jack introduced himself.  Nate said he had heard about Jack and he was trustworthy.  Jack simply shrugged but then turned to Mr. Miller and Dad and said, “These are the men you will be trading with.  I will vouch for them.”

Nate nodded understanding and then asked what they were looking for.  Mr. Miller gave Nate the basics.  Nate thought for a moment and suggested a few parts when Dad interjected with specifics.  Nate gave a broad smile and said, “You’re an engineer.”  It was a statement, not a question.  Dad nodded.  Nate gave a chuckle, offered his hand to Dad, and said, “Good to meet a fellow engineer!”

Then, for the next half hour, the three of them totally geeked out about Mr. Miller’s windmill. 

Jack and Rae both turned and watched the people strolling about.  Jack motioned for me to come closer and whispered into my ear,

“The crowd.  Watch them.  Not only the look in their eyes but their body language.  Note in your mind’s eye how they carry themselves.  Are they nervous?  Are they relaxed?  Are they hostile?  Are they friendly?  Who are they talking with?  Watch them, too.  Rae is doing the same thing.”

While both Jack and Rae seemed relaxed, they held their rifles in a manner that looked comfortable and relaxed but could easily be used if needed. I took a similar stance with my rifle, watching the crowd as Jack instructed and making mental notes.  

When we were ‘humping’ it to the market, Jack said haggling at the market was the norm.  Haggling was more an art form than a science.  If you haggled poorly, that was on you.  However, if someone cheated and did not deliver what was agreed upon, word would get out.  No one would trade with someone like that.  At the market, name and reputation were gold.  

Mr. Miller said he was okay with haggling.  He had been to hundreds of county fairs and livestock auctions.  Mr. Miller traded all the maple syrup, all the honey, and three of the five pounds of cured bacon for the parts he needed.  

Once they shook on the deal, the items were exchanged, and we left and made our way back to the four corners.  

Sean greeted us warmly in the afternoon light.  

Jack told him of the remaining bacon Mr. Miller had and Rae’s canned venison to trade.

Without hesitation, Sean hooked his thumb behind him and said, “See Anne.”  

Jack nodded and led us away to South Old River Road. 

We moved past most of the market, and Jack took us on a trail leading into the woods.  

The woods opened to a good-sized meadow with three buses in the middle. The rear ends of the buses were backed up to each other, with a clearing in the middle and a large fire pit. Each of the buses’ sides was buried with a deep earthen berm and topped with thick raw logs just below the bus windows.  

Jack said that about two weeks after things went ‘sideways,’ Sean and his friends drove the converted buses here, stole a back hoe, and built up the berms around the buses. He also said not to ‘stray’ off the path, or you might lose a leg or more, and to keep our hands in the open, off our rifles.  

He stopped a good fifty feet away and called out, 

“Anne!  Sean sent us!”

The back of one of the buses opened, and a woman older than Rae but younger than Joanna hopped down the stairs.  She smiled broadly and exclaimed in an accent similar to Sean’s, “Jack!  Good to see you lad!” She then shouted over her shoulder, “The soup is hot!”

I saw movement inside the buses, but no one else came out.

Jack later explained that “the soup is hot!” was a passphrase for “all clear.” Had Anne said, “The soup is cold!” we would have been shot right then, right there.  

Diary, I nearly peed myself at the thought of people aiming at me with loaded rifles and safeties off at that very moment.  

For Mr. Miller’s bacon, Anne traded animal dewormer. For all six of Rae’s meals in a jar, she traded a variety of seeds in packets marked “heirloom” and two dozen column-like bee wax candles.  

Anne offered to host us for dinner, but Jack said we needed to get going to get back home before dark. I was so hungry. I wanted to stay for dinner. But I didn’t say anything.

On our way out of the market, Rae pulled out a worn wax paper bag and offered it to me. I pulled out a bacon and green onion biscuit. The top had been rolled in warmed bacon grease. Rae said it was hardy and calorie-dense.

It was a bit dry but so good at the same time.

Diary, I ate two.

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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