I heard the urgency in Sawyer’s voice and called, “Down here!” I almost tripped trying to hurry back up the basement steps. And would have fallen after bouncing off of Sawyer when he came through the door and down the stairs unexpectedly to meet me.
I asked, “What’s wrong?!”
“Come into the kitchen and sit down.”
That really worried me. The look on his face was awful. “Sawyer?! Is … is it Gramps? Uncle Forrester? Aunt …?”
“No,” he said forcing himself with obvious effort to sit down at the table with me and calm down. “There’s been some explosions … around the country.”
“What?” I said in a voice barely above a shocked whisper. I was too young to really remember the World Trade Center disaster but I did remember what happened in California and Texas a couple of years after they let all of the illegal immigrants rush across the border. Texas had quelled the outbreak of violence a lot faster than California but it had still been horrible. When the tally of dead had been counted it had been at least triple the WTC attack … and those were the dead on this side of the border. There’d almost been a war because of all of the cross-border fighting and the drug cartels jumping in on the action to take advantage of the chaos created by the jihadists. Texas had called out their National Guards, the US military bases in those areas had been attacked, and then there’d been worse when the government had tried to override the power of the governor and sent in the US Army from other states that created even more confusion and for a while no one was sure what the end game was supposed to be. It was a free for all.
“It’s where as well as what,” Sawyer answered confusing me even more. “Atlanta just … I don’t know. It’s still there ‘cause it is too big just to up and disappear but it’s on fire in places and there’s fighting in the street. Right now they are saying they don’t know who started it but apparently there’s been some trouble brewing between the minority groups and immigrant groups that skipped amnesty the first time it was offered. The minorities think the immigrants are getting more than they should as far as public assistance goes. The immigrants have been complaining that the minorities have been targeting and attacking them and their communities. Once Atlanta got touched off, Miami and Dallas went followed by Detroit, Kansas City, and some places you’d never expect. And now there’s fighting all over the place. There’s even some starting up in town. I … I just came from the warehouse. Rissa had run off after a fight with Delly over not being allowed to go to some Fall Festival Dance or something stupid like that. Lucky for her she ran to Burt to try and talk him around instead of to her friends in town. I drove over after Delly called me crying to go help find her when all that crap started hitting the news around here.”
“Is Delly OK? Those kind of shocks aren’t good for her in her condition.”
“Yeah and that’s exactly what Burt told Rissa before putting her to work helping to empty the last of everything out of the warehouse. He made sure she was listening to the radio and watching the tv to see everything that was happening around the country. The girl is pretty well finally scared into getting it. She was white as a sheet as her and Burt finally pulled away towing that big trailer of his taking what little he hasn’t been able to get rid of back to their house. I just hope he can navigate that drive of theirs.”
“Call them please. Make sure they got home. That trailer stands out like a sore thumb. It’s fluorescent orange in patches because of that awful hunter’s camo paint job. Someone might see them and decide …”
“Oh **** …” Sawyer said jumping up to go to the porch to make the call.
Someone must have picked up on the first ring because after a couple of sentences I saw Sawyer relax. He hung up from that one and made a couple of other calls. I was starting to get the shakes, wondering if this was the beginning of what Gramps had been planning for all along. What was I supposed to do now that it was here? I hadn’t thought of that part. Sawyer and I had talked but not about this part.
I stood up and walked into the pantry and calmed down a little. The shelves were overflowing and I knew it was the same down in the basement. There was supposed to be a canning day tomorrow but now I wondered if it would happen. I walked back into the kitchen and got agitated once again. What was I supposed to be doing? I looked at the crockpots lined up on the counter top and knew that later I would need to can the different flavors of apple butter that I had cooking: regular apple butter, spiced apple butter, apple butter with figs, rum raisin apple butter, autumn maple apple butter, cranberry apple butter, apple brandy butter, candy apply butter, caramel apple butter, and that didn’t even include the other types of butters that I planned to make tomorrow like pear butter, pumpkin butter, persimmon butter, and sweet potato butter.
What else could I do? How fast did I need to get it done? My mind was stuttering over all of the possibilities.
I jumped and spun around when Sawyer called my name. “Sorry. Was thinking.”
“About?” he said coming over and drawing me into his arms.
“Trying to figure out what I am supposed to be doing right now. We talked about all of the before. We talked about what life might be like after. But this part … the during … I … I guess I just never … realized …” I looked up at him and asked pleadingly, “Do you know what I am supposed to be doing?”
Sawyer bent down and kissed me. “To be honest I’m feeling a little lost myself. I tried to reach Gramps but I guess a lot of the family have his line tied up.”
“And that’s another thing, how are we supposed to know what to do if the phones stop working or there’s no fuel for the truck or tractor or anything else. Sawyer? I think … I think …”
Like a light was slowly going off in his head Sawyer said, “I think … I think you and I need to start making some plans of our own instead of just counting on someone to tell us what to do.”
I nodded, relaxing a little because Sawyer had already seen the problem. “Yeah. That’s what I think too. I … don’t like not knowing what I’m supposed to be doing.”
“I don’t either.” He put his chin on my head and just held me as we both stood there lost in our thoughts. Then he said, “Well one thing is for sure, if the power goes out we got problems. How does the deep freeze look?”
I blanched. “It isn’t full but I’ve been putting things in there until I can get to them … and there’s more than I’d like there to be. I mean the bottom half is nothing but two liter bottles of frozen water but that was to try and control how often the compressor has to kick on to keep it cold. The top is full of other stuff. A lot of that hamburger you traded for still has to be canned and … some of the sausage that I had wanted to make into patties and brown and can like Uncle Ned mentioned and … we were supposed to have a canning day tomorrow. I’d planned … oh Lord Sawyer … I …”
“Easy. We don’t need to panic. I think they still want to have it … the canning day I mean, unless they put some kind of temporary moratorium on driving around and even then they can just cut across the farms and not use public roads or highways. At least that is what Tommy told me when I was able to reach him. Lots of the family still need to finish emptying their freezers; we aren’t the only ones. And the issues with the propane haven’t just gone away, if anything now it is more imperative that everyone save what they can for the winter months. I also know that Uncle Mark still wants to go hunting – that’s one of the ones that I was calling. He says if they declare martial law that some folks might try to give hunters grief so we’d better do it before they think to start moving in that direction. I know tomorrow some of the family was supposed to come and start taking their share out of the woodpiles and that mess needs to be cleaned up. Let’s just plan on a … well not a normal day but let’s try and continue to plan on tomorrow being what we planned it to be but stay flexible.”
“But Sawyer, what happens if someone sees you out hunting and …”
“What if they think you are … are … one of the bad guys I guess. What if someone sees you, gets scared, and … and starts shooting at you? Or … I don’t want to bring it up, I really don’t, but what if something happens again like it did with Jamison leading a pack and going off half-cocked.”
Sawyer shook his head. “Don’t get carried away. We’re staying on our land … the Hartford land I mean. ‘Supposed to pick up Uncle Ned as well so we’ll stay off that a ways and I doubt because of that we’ll even come near anyone else’s place that would notice. And Jamison has left to go visit Bud to supposedly clear his head and get it on straight with what he wants to do about his wife and kids. Just not sure if he’ll be back or not; Uncle Forrester is super PO’d at the both of them and Samuel too. And get that look off your face, it is about more than you plugging Jamison with a rock and then him setting his side of the family on you. There’s more to it but it’s none of our business and I mean for it to stay that way as much as possible.” He sighed and changed the subject. “I do worry a little about Delly with them being closer to town but …” He stopped and shook his head. “I can’t worry about everything and everyone. Hopefully Burt keeps his head if there is trouble. I … I told them if there was trouble that they were to load up and come here. I know … dammit I guess I was supposed to discuss this with you but …”
Understanding I told him, “But she is your sister. And there’s room here. And if they bring their stuff there will still be room here. But will that mean that Mrs. Penny will come as well?”
“I have no freaking idea. I kinda left that part of it open ended. Guess I shouldn’t have. And if Mrs. Penny comes you know that cousin of Burt’s has to come; he can’t live on his own. Charlie lives with Mrs. Penny and he isn’t nearly as high functioning and independent as Tommy and Linda are, not to mention he’s older than Burt is by several years. Then there is Mrs. Carmichael and her husband. Oh my Lord. I should have kept my mouth shut but … but there’s Delly and the other are old folks with no one to look after them except Burt and Delly.”
He was really upset so I told him, “We’ll work it out if it happens. Or maybe we can work things out ahead of time if there is time. Gramps said that it could all blow up at once or it could just go to a boil and calm back down again a bunch of times, just the calming wouldn’t ever be quite as calm as it was before.”
Sawyer blew some air out and then nodded. “Yeah. Yeah it could go either way. If things do get bad Uncle James and Uncle Junior plan on blocking some of the roads that come onto the land – they’re our private roads anyway that people sometimes use them to cross between the county roads. They’ve got a couple of big pieces of granite placed so they can roll them into place to make the road too narrow. They’ll drop two gully bridges, and on a few of the steep ones just dropping a couple of trees and putting chains across like we’re trying to protect people from getting hurt on a bad washout.”
“OK but … but what should I be doing right now?”
Sawyer chewed the inside of his lip then nodded and said, “Let’s sit down and … and plan the rest of the day, what’s left of it.” We walked over to the kitchen table and sat down but it was next to each other instead of across like we normally sat, and he kept his arm around me. I was grateful for it.
“After I bring in what Burt made me bring home I’m going to start stacking some of our wood down in the basement along that long wall, that good black locust wood at the very least. I looked at what’s in piles out by the splitters and there just ain’t enough to go around the way Gramps has wanted there to be and I have a feeling there’s going to be some noses out of joint when the uncles start naming names of the ones that are getting some and those that aren’t because they could never manage to get over here and help for whatever reason. I know some of them are going to complain about what I’ve put away in the barn for us but that’s wood that I cut when no one else was around. I may just cover it up with tarps and rearrange some other stuff out there to cover it up just to try and head that off. I know for a fact some of the others have been doing extra wood with hand splitters and things like that and I hear some of the families have wood that’s still seasoning from last winter. That’ll take some of the pressure off but not enough. I just refuse to run short when I’ve put in all that work while others didn’t and there’s a possibility that we are going to take people in as well.”
I nodded and then squaring my shoulders I said, “I’m going to go ahead and brown up all that burger and do what I planned to do with the sausage instead of waiting for tomorrow. I’ll keep an eye on these butters and if any of them get finished before dark I’m going to go ahead and can them rather than waiting as well.”
Sounding even more positive now that we’d started Sawyer said, “Speaking of dark I’ll get the lanterns fixed and bring them in here if you can get those oil lamps set up … and make sure there is one in our room too.”
Then it was my turn. “It is getting really cool. I’ll put an extra blanket on the bed and make sure all of the drapes are closed really well around the house. That way if the power goes off we can have a lantern on without having to worry that anyone will see the light. Like they did in that documentary we watched. And I’ll also put those draft savers at the base of the doors we have closed to keep any heat we generate from escaping into the unused rooms.”
“Blackout curtains. Yeah, that’s a good idea. Do me a favor and set the coffee maker to go off earlier than normal. I don’t want to have to fool with that percolator in the dark.”
“I’ll be up with you and do it if we have to.”
“Stay in bed.”
“I won’t be able to sleep anyway and if the aunts and everyone else comes earlier than normal because they have more to can …”
He sighed. “Yeah. OK. I suppose that’s the way it has to be but I was hoping you could stay in bed until it warms up a little bit. I saw what the cold did to you the other morning.”
“Might as well get used to it sooner as later. It isn’t exactly going to warm up. The predicted Indian Summer never happened.”
Sawyer nodded then I asked, “I don’t want to go overboard or anything but … should I fill some water containers up? I mean if the power goes out, there goes the well. I know we have the hand pump but …”
He nodded, “Better safe than sorry. One of the things Burt sent home with me are some empty five gallon water bottle things that usually fit on water coolers. He was going to turn them in and get credit but said they might come in handy. Now I know what he means. I’ll bring ‘em in here and you fill them up and I’ll move them down to the basement. And I think we better put that cover back on the basement window. I know it means no light down there …”
“But like you said, better safe than sorry. I was thinking the same thing about the window that lets light into the pantry. It isn’t a big window but it is still a window.”
“Good thinking. And with that I’m pretty sure we are going to run out of time to do anything else before we need to go to bed. Just keep the radio going and we’ll try and see if there is anything new going on.”