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It is funny to write something like that. For that matter, it is funny to write at all. On one of Dad’s scavenger trips, he came across a stack of composition books, pens, and pencils in a dumpster. He brought them all home and told me to start a diary. Back in normal times, seven months ago before the power quit, I would have just looked up on my phone ‘What is a diary?’
With the power gone, so too went the internet. So I asked him, ‘What is a Diary?’ He gave me a funny look, blinked a few times, shook his head, and said it was a journal to keep track of daily things, important events, and my thoughts and feelings at the time. I should write it as if I was writing a dear friend.
So, here I am, Diary. Sitting in my cold bedroom with my stuffed bear, wearing socks, slippers, sweatpants, a winter hat, and a heavy sweater.
Probably should back up and explain the reason for all that.
Let me start over.
It’s me, Jessica.
Seeing as how this is the first time I am writing you, I will let you know what has happened over the past seven months and even some things before.
About this time last year, Dad got what he called a great Christmas surprise gift: a promotion to management. I know what a promotion is, but I was not too sure about the ‘management’ part as he was describing it. Sounded like more of a headache ‘managing’ that many people, meetings both in person and on Zoom.
But it came with a big pay raise. Two months later, we moved from our tiny, crappy apartment across from the subway tracks to a small but very nice house in the ‘sub-burbs.’ Mom and Dad were very excited about it. I guess it is nice but older. Dad said it was a 1950s-era starter home. My room is bigger. We have a lawn and backyard with woods behind it. But it took me about a month to get used to the . . . quiet. It is deafening! No subway trains running till late at night. No police sirens. No trucks or cars driving by. No gunshots from time to time. I mean, I can hear the wind outside my window right now.
School was different, too. It was much nicer and clean, and everything seemed new. Wearing a uniform was different. I actually kinda liked it. No thinking of what I wanted to wear to school. No taking the public buses either. Dad would just drop me off on his way to work, and Mom would pick me up.
Diary, here was the crazy part! The school didn’t have cell phone coverage or wi-fi. Really! They said it disrupts class, and we spend too much time staring at screens. We need to talk more to each other face-to-face! At first, I thought it was a little weird, but really, it was just like dinner at home. No phone at the dinner table, and I talked with my parents.
I made friends with several students from different groups. Even though we were all wearing uniforms, there were still different cliques: Jocks, hoods, stoners, preppies, and probably another half dozen I don’t even know exist. I had friends from all groups, except one group of girls, who took an immediate dislike to me. One of them, Savannah, tried to bully me one day. Before I could put my books down to defend myself, one of the jocks, Christy, told Savanah to back off or she would “put you in a hurt locker.” I am not sure what a ‘hurt locker,’ is, but Christy wants to be a MMA fighter and is in training for it. Savannah and her friends never looked in my direction again.
So, the first few months were going pretty good. Mom was all excited to have a backyard to plant a garden and started ‘raised’ beds in mid-April. Dad’s work was, as he put it, ‘hectic,’ but he seemed to like it and the paycheck that went with it. We were even talking about going on a real family vacation to a real beach on the ocean. Mom got an email from a company that was interested in her work. She called it ‘headhunted’ and took the job. She laughed and called it more pay for the same work she was doing. School was going well. I celebrated my 16th birthday in early May. Dad said he would get me a car, and I could get my driver’s license. That would have never happened if we still lived at the old apartment. I would have to take driver’s ed, but that class did not start till after school let out for the summer.
It was Memorial Day weekend when the power went out.
I woke up Saturday to a more than usual quiet house.
I walked into the kitchen, staring into my phone with no cell phone connection bars.
Dad said it must be a large power outage to take the cell towers down, too. He commented on how we would have to limit opening the refrigerator door to keep things from going bad till the power came back on. He did pull out eggs and bacon to make breakfast potato hash casserole. He had to use the grill lighter to start the flame on the propane stove.
That afternoon, out of boredom, Mom and I went for a walk in the neighborhood. Diary, it is really weird. People wave to each other and say ‘hi.’ That never happened in the old neighborhood, even in the apartment complex.
When we got back to the house, the neighbors across the street were out on their front porch, sitting in rocking chairs. We went over to say ‘hi.’ Sam and Joanna were retirees, having lived there for 30 years. They seemed to know everyone in the neighborhood by name. They said their neighbor behind them had a ‘HAM’ radio and could talk to people across the nation and even sometimes in Europe. He said the power outage was not just in our area but for most of the state, and someone he talked to said it was nationwide.
Mom did not seem too concerned, but when she told Dad, he looked worried when she told him that bit of news.
After two days of no power, Mom and Dad started what they called an ‘inventory’ of things we had on hand. So we would not have to move as much ‘crap’ as mom put it to the new house, we used up as much as we could of canned goods, what was in the refrigerator and freezer in our tiny apartment, not that there was much. Once in the new house, Mom and Dad got a membership to a bulk discount big box store and restocked from there. Everything was in bulk sizes, multi-paks, flats, or came in industrial-sized containers. The pantry in the kitchen was easily bigger than all the cupboard space in the apartment. It seemed big when we first moved in, but it was quickly filled floor to ceiling. Anything that did not fit in there went into the garage. At the time, it seemed like a lot.
Monday came, and still no power. Out more of habit than anything else, I got up and dressed for school. Dad did the same for work. He pulled into the school parking lot to see it was closed, but there were more than a few other parents there to drop off their kids, too.
Dad and I got out, and he talked with other parents while I talked to some of my classmates. Some I knew, others I didn’t.
One boy a few grades lower than me said his dad was curing and smoking all the meat. Another said his dad was ‘canning’ all their meat over a propane boiler. I didn’t know what either of those meant.
Dad and I went back home.
Mom and Dad went out into the garage and spoke in hushed tones. That’s when I began to worry.
Well, Diary, it is that time in the afternoon to help Dad get some dry firewood. More tomorrow.
Where was I?
Oh, yes. It was about a week without power when things started to get weird.
Our neighbors across the street were sitting on their rockers, talking with a man. He had a rifle slung over his shoulder and a handgun on his hip. He had a very big, black German Shepard with him. Dad poked his head out the front door to see if something was wrong. There must not have been, as the neighbors waved him over. I saw the man offer his hand as it looked like the neighbors made introductions and Dad took the man’s hand and shook in greetings. They talked for about half an hour when Dad came back, and the man and his big dog left.
Dad had Mom and me sit down at the dining room table, and he repeated what our neighbors and the man said.
The power outage was, in fact, nationwide.
Without power, water did not come out of the tap. The toilets did not flush. Gas pumps did not work. Credit and debit cards did not work. Grocery stores did not get resupplied. We had been lucky, so Dad said. Our neighborhood was much older, with separate wells and septic systems. Dad did have to make a hand pump-like tool to pump water out of the well, but at least we had water.
The man said the local, state, and federal governments were trying to do something about all of it, but there was a lot of confusion, and no one seemed to know what to do. He said if the power did not come back on soon, things were going to go from bad to much, much worse.
By week two, we began to understand what worse was. For some people, food was getting short in supply. Mom expanded her garden. Some of the neighbors started gardens, too.
Week three was much, much worse. It had been nearly half a year since I heard gunshots in the middle of the night, let alone during the day. And not just the usual gang banger popping off two or three rounds but dozens of shots from different directions from more than two shooters in the distance. No police sirens followed.
That is when the neighborhood formed a militia.
We did not have any guns, so Mom and Dad were part of the ‘support’ section.
A little over a month since the power went out, I was over talking with Sam and Joanna, when the man with the big dog walked up. His name was Jack, and his dog’s name was Samson. Jack had just returned from a ‘scouting’ trip to the West. He said at the big river bridge, someone set up a blockade with heavy trucks, big rigs, and over turned cars to prevent anyone coming from the city to our side of the river. People could still walk across, but someone demanded payment in the form of ammunition, fuel, alcohol, antibiotics, or ‘other things.’ I noticed when he said ‘other things, ’ he said it with a hint of disgust. He said most people turned and walked back the way they came. But a few demanded to cross without paying the ‘toll.” That is when the shooting started. Jack shook his head and said it was like “shooting fish in a barrel.”
Mom had planted things that grew quick, like chard, spinach, and some green beans. It is not like I dislike them, but it was getting boring, the same thing nearly every day. Mom and Dad were never what I would call ‘fat,’ but they both lost weight to the point dad had to punch extra holes in his belt to keep his pants up.
Then, a few weeks later, Jack came by to let us know a farm a few miles down one of the back roads was looking for ‘an honest day’s work’ in exchange for food. The next morning, Dad got us up early, and he and I hiked it to the farm. It took about an hour and a half to get there. Diary, it looked like something right out of a history book. Big, white farmhouse, clothesline, not one but three big barns, and a windmill. The old kind, not the new ones. We were about halfway down the long dirt driveway when three dogs came out barking. Then, a man and a boy came out of one of the barns with rifles. Dad said to put my hands up and keep calm. The man and the boy came closer, and asked us what we wanted. Dad said that Jack told us there might be food for ‘an honest day’s work.’ At the mention of ‘Jack’, both the man and the boy relaxed. The man was Farmer Miller and his son was Billy.
Diary, what Jack did not mention about ‘an honest day’s work’ was it was hot, sweaty, hard work. The next time I saw Jack, I let him know that too. Jack rarely smiled or laughed, but he did then.
For ‘an honest day’s work,’ we got two dozen eggs, and they made us lunch. Lunch was a thick ham slice on toasted and buttered bread, a big glass of milk, and a small piece of apple pie. Diary, I swear it was worth ‘an honest day’s work.’
Dad and I became ‘farm hands,’ coming to work for farmer Miller three or four days a week. We would get other things than just eggs. Ham, milk, beef, flour, and the occasional apple pie. We would see Jack at the farm about once a week. Farmer Miller said that Jack was the ‘go to’ guy who could get things others could not. He was also someone no one messed with.
Being a farm hand was not all hard work. I got to talk with Billy and his two younger sisters, Olive and Daisy. They are not like other kids. They seemed more grown up for their age. I asked Billy why I never saw him in school as we should be in the same grade. He said he was home-schooled. When I said I never heard of such a thing, he explained it to me, but I still did not understand why they seemed so ‘different.’ But I did not say that to him. I was afraid I would hurt his feelings. I like him. I am also learning all kinds of new farm things. Billy is even teaching me to ride a horse!
One day, farmer Miller, Jack, and Dad were talking. Farmer Miller was concerned about the fall harvest. Not only him but other farmers around the area. They got their crops planted in the spring prior to the power going out. But now, there was no market to sell to. No point in harvesting crops that are going nowhere. All the farmers had big tanks of diesel fuel as they usually bought in the previous winter when prices were low. Now, better to save fuel for other things. Some farmers were talking about culling part of their herds or flocks. Farmer Miller offered Dad his own starter flock of chickens for a few days’ work. Dad agreed readily. Farmer Miller did say with crops going un-harvested, wild game will have a good winter. Deer, turkey, and other wild game will be plentiful next year.
The guy with the ‘HAM’ radio also kept track of what day it was. The importance of the seasons never occurred to me. The Winter Solstice was a few days ago. The shortest day of the year. The longest night of the year. Another day closer to Christmas and then a new year.
I am excited for Christmas tomorrow. We have been using the propane for only cooking, using the fire place for heat that only heats the family room. We have plenty to cook a big meal. Dad traded Jack some moonshine for a wild turkey. Dad cured and smoked a ham Farmer Miller paid him for work. Now I know what curing and smoking is. Mom is making homemade stuffing with chunks of the ham, some wild mushrooms she found in the woods, walnuts from trees in the woods too, thyme she grew and homemade chicken stock. Mom had plenty of green beans, snap peas, and onions for a green bean casserole. She is also roasting carrots, parsnips, and rutabaga with a honey glaze.
We invited Sam and Joanna, and Jack to spend Christmas dinner with us. Joanna is bringing an apple pie. Jack is bringing something he calls a ‘venison’ meat pie, whatever that is.
For the first time in . . . months, I feel ‘fat.’ ‘Fat’ as in a truly full belly ‘fat.’ Everything was fantastic. Even Jack’s venison meat pie was delicious. And the apple pie. I could not help myself! I had two servings! Everyone laughed at me.
Jack, Sam, and Dad all had a few shots of the moonshine dad traded Jack for. Jack also brought two bottles of mulberry wine for us ‘ladies,’ as he put it. I didn’t like it, but Mom and Joanna sure did.
I was sitting in front of the fire with Samson’s big head in my lap, scratching his ears, when the men began talking. Sam heard from the ‘HAM’ guy that things in parts of the country are very bad. In the cities, there has been something called a ‘mass die-off.’ Something about unsafe water, dysentery, diseases, and lawlessness. The government at different levels has failed.
It was then not only did I feel ‘fat,’ but ‘safe’ with Dad, Jack, and Sam behind me, Samson quietly snoring in my lap.
Things have been hard since the power went out. But I had a Christmas that a lot of other kids didn’t have. From what I am getting listening to them talk, they never even made it to this Christmas.
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.