He ran out of the barn and asked, “What’s wrong? Did you aunt fall again?”
“No! The … the radio!” I couldn’t explain even if I had the breath left to do it with so I pulled him towards the house completely ignoring how sweaty, dirty, and smelly he was. Well, mostly ignoring it.
Cliff gave me enough credit that I wasn’t just pulling a girl and ran with me. He could hear it through the open window as we jumped onto the porch.
THIS IS THE EMERGENCY ALERT SYSTEM. THIS IS NOT A TEST. ….
After listening to the EAS announcement until it started repeating itself Cliff sighed and said, “Well that tears it.”
My response was a tad more emotional. “Tears it?! It blows it out of the water! And I can’t reach Uncle Carmichael. The phone just says all lines are busy, try again later.”
Calmly Cliff told me to, “Try texting and then give it a rest. You aren’t going to do any good trying to call out if they are trying to call in.”
Aunt Rachel called to us in a quavering voice, “Winifred, are the water jugs full? Did the feed come this morning?”
Since she’d already signed for the feed and watched me fill the jugs earlier in the day I knew we were in for a bad episode brought on by agitation and fear. The only way to handle it was simply to answer her calmly and try and redirect her.
“Yes ma’am. I’ll wind your radios for you.”
In a suddenly calm voice she answered, “Yes do m’dear. Farm report is due on in a moment.”
Cliff and I glanced at each other and in unspoken agreement we knew we were on our own for a while. I got Aunt Rachel settled in the area she called her parlor while Cliff went upstairs to get his radio and take it onto the back porch. By the time I got there he was pretty pale.
“What?” I asked almost afraid to hear.
“The president was one of the targets and no one is willing to confirm she survived the attack. They’ve declared all of the US states and her territories a no fly zone. The interstate system is going to be shut down at six pm eastern standard time. They are calling up all of the National Guard troops still on US soil.”
“Oh … oh no. Are you …?”
“Me no. Dad, Carl, and Chris yes.”
“And Uncle Carmichael. Oh my gawd. And then there is Christine. What is she …? And your mom. Can … can Connor handle your mom by himself?”
“No way. He’s her biggest enabler. Then there’s Cevin.”
I took a breath but before I could even suggest it Cliff said, “No.”
“Look, Dad already has a plan. He put it together after the big riots then modified it when Carl, Cev, and I stopped living at home. Dad will make sure Connor and Mom get installed at my grandparents’ place. Papa and Nana know how things stand and Nana and my Aunt Leona – she’s the one that had the pink tips in her hair in Chris and Christine’s wedding pictures – used to be a nurses out at the state hospital so getting Mom to take her meds will hopefully be a non-issue. And Dad laid in a supply of her meds with the help of her psychiatrist. Connor gets along great with my Uncle Buff who lives in the duplex right next to Papa and Nana and will room with him. Cev’s ALF is just around the norner from them so if for some reason Cev can’t stay there Uncle Buff says he’ll go get him. That just leaves Christine.”
“She can’t stay by herself. She’s pregnant!”
“Relax. She won’t be. Chris signed a lease with Uncle Buff to rent the other half of the duplex. It wasn’t gonna start until they finished rehabbing the space but I expect they’ll go ahead and stick her in there and let Flacco and his brother move into the apartment over the business. They’ll help my Uncle Dan, who is partners with Dad, keep an eye on things.”
“I wonder what Uncle Carmichael is going to do about Barb. She was on that cruise with her friends.”
“Not your problem,” he said ruthlessly. “We gotta figure out what we’re going to do. I’m glad you got out of your funk long enough yesterday to get your Aunt to go shopping.”
“Cliff, it’s not that I don’t appreciate your honesty but could you not like … take my skin off with it?”
“Huh?” He said looking at me like I’d just given him an answer he hadn’t asked a question to. “Oh. Look Gypsy, this is just me.”
“No kidding. I just don’t need to hear about how big a wuss I am right now.”
“You aren’t a wuss … you’re … I had a computer class professor who used to get on to the girls in the class that would get frustrated at his criticisms. He’d come back with something about them emoting too much and that they need to push on through. Well … you’ve done all the emoting you’re gonna do. It’s starting to get in the way even if it is how girls do things. Screw your head on and hit the field.”
With resigned horror at the inevitable I said, “Tell me you did not just use a football analogy on me.” When he just stared I said, “Fine, just for pete sake, no more sports references. I have enough trouble following that stuff normally. I so do not want to figure it out under current circumstances.”
He gave a small grin of triumph because he knew he was getting his way just like he always did and said, “Deal.” It’s not like I thought he was wrong, I’m just admitting that his phrasing rubbed me the wrong way. It also made me wonder about all of his apparent success with the female of our species ‘cause I just wasn’t seeing him getting away with this with most of the girls he dated. Most of those cats could be ruthless in proving that you had to take their feelings into account over every little thing. Sure, I may pull a girl on occasion but I’m no drama queen. And I gave myself a mental shake and decided I wasn’t about to pick that moment to start being one either.
We listened to the radio another ten minutes then Cliff shook his head and said, “They’ve started repeating themselves every other sentence. Keep listening just in case they actually say anything new. I’m gonna bike down to the gate and see when the electric company is going to be finished. While I’m gone think about what we could need from the store if Aunt Penny Pincher wasn’t watching over your shoulder.”
“Hey, you know it’s true. Do YOU know anyone else that saves plastic wrap from church dinners, brings it home, washes it and then puts it in a Christmas box to be reused?”
Rolled my eyes. “Ok, she just has a few quirks.”
With a snort Cliff muttered, “Quirks?! Is that what you call it?”
Cliff brought the bike down from the porch and then pedaled off. I was so involved in watching him leave that it took me a moment to realize what I was hearing and had to run to answer the phone that had started ringing in the kitchen. “Prissy Britches?!”
“Uncle Carmichael! I can barely hear you! I tried to call …”
“Hush and listen up. You heard the news?”
“I love you girl. I wish I could promise you things will turn out.”
“We’ll deal Uncle Carmichael, that’s what us Baumann’s do.”
“That we do Prissy Britches. Now I’m going to ask you and Cliff to … to help each other and look after the Old Woman. It won’t be easy. At some point she might even start fighting you. I’ll keep in touch as I can … but …”
There was some weird crackling then the phone croaked. The last that I could just make out was to mind m p’s and q’s.
I looked at my phone until I heard something on the porch. I whipped around in sudden fear but it was just the barn cat depositing a mouse shape care package before scampering off. Having stepped on one or two of her previous care packages I grabbed the broom and dustpan and took care of it so I wouldn’t have the pleasure again.
While I did that I also did what Cliff had asked me to and decided as far as groceries we were doing pretty well under the circumstances, mostly thanks to Uncle Carmichael getting a little crazy about the way Aunt Rachel ran things.
“This isn’t the ‘blipping’ Depression and I’m not going to let anyone come out here and say I’m not taking care of my family!” Followed by lots of male snorts and growls.
Aunt Rachel, whose memory has gotten considerably worse since her stay in the hospital, doesn’t know about all of the stuff that Uncle Carmichael bought and stored in the basement. I was still in a splint when he sent Cliff and I to the nearest Warehouse Club with a List. Capital “L”. Cliff’s dad also sent a list with him. While understood Uncle Carmichael doing it – or at least thought I did – I wasn’t sure about why Mr. Montgomery felt the need to get involved.
It was Cliff who explained, “I’m here that’s why and Dad has been doing a little overcompensating.”
“A little what?”
“You know, trying to prove – when he absolutely doesn’t need to prove – that he cares about me as much as he cares about the others. Sometimes when he gets stressed out over Mom and her damage he lets the guilt get away from him and he … you know … over compensates. This is just his way of making sure that I’m taking care of. Don’t let it flip your wig Gypsy.”
I remember trying to weigh just how much my hand would hurt if I punched him for “overcompensating” with his attitude.
As it was when Cliff and I went out into the world to play at being adults we realized the lists we were given were pretty good but there were still some holes where our personal comforts were concerned. We managed to put a dent in our own savings filling those holes. Cliff likes those disgusting protein bars and powders so we got four big boxes of his cardboard flavored namesakes and several large cans of protein and whey powder. I on the other hand, not wanting to rebulk parts of my anatomy I had only started to get trimmed up, stuck to things more on the low-fat, high-fiber end of the spectrum like my favorite rice cakes that I could guiltlessly munch on when my monthly made me want to constantly have something in my mouth.
I had also gotten used to drinking all the milk I wanted and remembered how much I had missed it when the cow had gone dry last winter. To address that craving I added a couple of cases of evaporated canned milk and several large cans of NIDO which was real dried milk and not the fluffy stuff that you normally got that tasted like white water if you didn’t doctor it up. That wasn’t all we added. Cliff and I both prefer tea to coffee. We aren’t tea snobs, and Cliff tends to hide his preference when there are other guys around, but he didn’t complain at all when I put on the cart a big variety pack full of different tea flavors plus another one that was all herbal tea flavors. When I would have bypassed the chocolate to try and avoid the inevitable plantation of zits that would result if I even thought about it too much, Cliff added the fixings for a winter’s worth of hot chocolate. By that point we were both feeling our oats.
I splurged and stocked up on all of the spices and extracts Aunt Rachel turned her nose up at because of the expense. We both grabbed large tubs of various lemonade flavored drink mixes – my favorite is strawberry lemonade but Cliff can chug the more exotic flavored mango lemonade like he’s on the beach being served by girls in bikinis. And because we’d both been raised on it we got giant cans of orange flavored powdered breakfast drink. Afterall the astronauts used to drink that stuff so how bad could it be?
I tried to send him away for one of my last additions but Cliff shook his head. “Forget it Gypsy. You’ll wind up pushing this cart into something expensive and knocking it over and that stuff doesn’t phase me. Mom used to send me to the store to pick it up for her.”
“What?! But … just ew. Geez, damage you for life why doesn’t she.”
Cliff slowly smiled but it wasn’t a happy one. “She already thought I was and … and I just got to where I refused to give her the satisfaction.”
The more I know about what I didn’t know the … well really, Mrs. Montgomery … sometimes there is no right word to describe something or someone adequately.
On top of what we bought on and off The Lists, Uncle Carmichael and Mr. Montgomery bought more than a few things themselves for storing at the farm. They tried to play off the curiosity and concern of certain family members by calling it “feed for the metal animals” that we had to take care of. They thought they were being funny of course and most ate the bait hook, line, and sinker. Cliff and I were less prosaic but then again we were more directly involved since we got all sorts of instructions on what to do and what not to do with it all. They bought barrels which they then filled with fuel and stored in the older of the two storm shelters on the farm. They also brought in junk to maintain and repair the family vehicles. I suppose it shouldn’t have surprised me but it did when I found out that carpentry wasn’t the only skill that Cliff had. And then there was the ammo that we were instructed not to even tell Cliff’s brothers about … all except for Carl who was in on that buy and even asked that most of his personal gun collection be stored by Cliff. This was for multiple reasons, but biggest one was Mrs. Montgomery but the other one was because he was going through a rough break up with his longtime girlfriend whose parents had suddenly taken to hating cops in general and him in particular because a friend was busted for taking a swing at a cop during a traffic stop.
Together with Cliff, Uncle Carmichael and Mr. Montgomery went over all of the small machines regularly used on the farm and bought things like bar oil and extra chains for the chainsaw, special oils, and lubricants and to be honest I don’t know what all. I left that up to Cliff because Aunt Rachel requires a lot more time than she did before. Her hip may not have been broken but she was still pretty banged up and not getting around too well on her own.
I jumped when Cliff asked, “Got that list together?”
After forcing myself to relax I answered, “I looked; we’re in good shape.”
Cliff stopped what he was doing and sighed. “Gypsy …”
I winced. “So I made a mistake?”
“Yeah,” he said using a tone that said he didn’t want to start a fight but that it was important. “I need a list. One like we got from the dads … uh … dad and uncle.”
I turned to look at him and saw something that gave me worse shivers than the news had; Cliff was scared. I’d never seen him scared; ever. Not even during the riot.
“Don’t freak out on me Gypsy. We’ve got to keep our heads in the game.”
“I’m trying not to.” I mentally shook myself. “Ok, serious I think we are OK on groceries. But … look, you know that canning stuff I ordered?”
“It would be really good if it has come in and you pick it up.”
“What else?” he asked.
“Pastas, rice, vinegar, dried beans, ammonia, lemon juice, borax, honey, white and brown sugar, bleach tablets …”
“Whoa, when you start a list …”
“I looked up Depression Era and World War II cooking and living when Uncle Carmichael flipped a switch and kept growling about it.”
“’K. I’m gonna change shirts. Can you write down the list?”
I did just that adding bulk oatmeal, grits, wheat berries, and more dried milk and eggs. I also made a call.
Cliff came in the kitchen right as I was hanging up.
“Phones are up?”
“Local calls only but yeah,” I said reminding myself to tell him what Uncle Carmichael had said and to ask him if he’d heard from his dad or brothers. “I got through to Mr. Oppenheim at the Mennonite grocery. He said the canning stuff came in this morning. He is also pulling an order for all this stuff on the list. Instead of the store he wants you to pull in the warehouse entrance and his son will show you where to go from there. This is pay back for helping his brother when his buggy broke down.”
“Hey, I didn’t
“Shut up Cliff. This is the way things work around here. Take this cash and …”
“Holy ****! Where did THAT come from?!”
“Aunt Rachel’s Bank of Sealy.”
“Oh no. You ain’t saying …?!”
“She’s got a grudge against the bank for charging her a fee for something back in the 60s. And yes I know how crazy that sounds. The only reason she has a bank account at all is because of her social security and pension checks started requiring direct deposit. I’m her payee – Uncle Carmichael set it up – and he and I emptied things out making like it was to pay her medical bills.”
Cliff shook his head like we were all crazy, not just Aunt Rachel. “Explain it to me later. I gotta run.”