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Emergency Essentials/BePrepared

JDY Fiction - Suburban Homestead

JDY Fiction - Suburban Homestead

Postby Jerry D Young » Sat Feb 02, 2013 3:22 pm

Suburban Homestead - Prolog

“I don’t know, Honey. Things are still really tight after Christmas.”

“That’s okay, Debra. It was just a thought.”

Debra walked over and sat down beside her husband Jacob on the sofa. She took one of his hands in hers. “I wish you didn’t have to give up so much for Cheryl and me to have the things we want. I can certainly…”

“No, Debra. It is all right. Your activities and Cheryl’s are important to you. I just had a weak moment.”

There were tears in Debra’s eyes. They didn’t fall, but Jacob saw them and wiped them away with gentle fingers. “Don’t cry, Sweetie. It was just a sudden random thought. Not sure I’d even enjoy it now. I still see the guys regularly. And I have to say, I prefer my home brew to most of the commercial ales, anyway.”

“Why don’t you invite a couple of the guys over? You’ve never done that. Have a few draughts of your ale, and talk about… Well, whatever you guys talk about.”

Jacob laughed softly. “Not what you think,” he said. “Mostly sports, which you probably did think, I suppose, but mostly how bad things are getting. And with a few pints in them, it would be worse than usual. If I could even get them to drink my ales.” Jacob laughed again. “Most of them, he-men that they are, drink light lagers now, for the most part.”

“Well… We can afford a couple of six packs…”

“No, Honey. It is all right. Every penny we can save is needed for our future. Things are tough all over, and I don’t expect them to get better for the foreseeable future.”

“Well… Okay. But I am going to spring for a twelve ounce package of the good bacon this week. I saved a bit last week on sales and coupons. You deserve to splurge every once in a while.”

Jacob started to protest the expense, but could see it was important to Debra, so he nodded in acceptance. “That sounds good,” he said. “You pamper me too much sometimes.”

“Nothing like you do me!”

Cheryl came into the living room in her pajamas and snuggled up between the two on the sofa. “Can I watch a movie before I go to bed, Momma?”

“I don’t think so,” Debra said, laughing and getting up from the sofa. “You have the recital tomorrow and you need your sleep.”

Jacob rose, too, and picked up his adopted daughter. Cheryl gigged when Jacob tickled her.

“I’m going to be watching you on my phone,” Jacob told Cheryl.

“Really Daddy? On your phone?”

“Yep,” Jacob replied, carrying Cheryl to her bedroom in the small house that he and Debra had bought shortly after they married. When things were better. Just after Cheryl was born, the product of an abusive boyfriend. He had been killed in a shootout with the police during an attempted bank robbery. Jacob had been there to help Debra through the time.

“Your mother will have her phone recording you, and she’ll send it to me right after you finish, so I can see how well my beautiful daughter can play the piano.”

“I’ll try to be really good, Daddy.”

A tight hug, and then Jacob set Cheryl down on the bed. Cheryl hopped down, went to her knees and the three prayed their standard evening prayer.

When she climbed back onto the bed, Debra proceeded to tuck Cheryl in. “You’re always good,” Jacob told the girl. “Just better sometimes than others.”

“I get lost sometimes,” Cheryl said sadly.

“Not very often now,” Debra replied, making a final tuck and then kissing Cheryl on the forehead. “Good night.”

“Good night, Mommy. Good night, Daddy.”

“Good night, sweetheart,” Jacob said before he and Debra turned off the lamp and left the room.

The two were quiet as they did the dishes and put everything away before heading for their bedroom for the night.

Suburban Homestead

Things were no better six months later. In fact they were worse. Despite a promotion and raise. The money just wasn’t going as far as it had.

Oh, the family wasn’t destitute, by any means. They were current with the small mortgage payment and the utility bills each month, and the payments for the music lessons Cheryl so dearly loved.

Debra even continued her classes at the community college. It was just that there were only a few dollars left in the checking account at the end of each month. And savings were strictly for a medical or other emergency.

So Jacob’s very slow buildup of emergency preparations items came to a halt. While some money was there for emergencies, in the savings account, Jacob knew that it wouldn’t help much in many situations that seemed to be occurring all over the country and world.

Money in the bank during a three day ice storm, without power, didn’t help much in the immediacy of the event. Nor would it last long in a financial disaster that seemed to be looming. Even already occurring.

So the water, the food, the camping gear, and all the rest, had been a priority, coming only after mortgage payments, utilities, and Debra and Cheryl’s needs.

Now, with this new worry of not being adequately prepared, Jacob began to lose sleep, and Debra was quick to notice. “I should get a job, Jacob. Drop the classes and…”

Jacob was shaking his head before Debra could finish her words. “No, Debra. Not only are the classes something you want to do, they could be… are now… and could possibly be in the future, a major help to the family if things get really bad.”

“I don’t know much of the things you are learning. The food canning and other preservation methods. The gardening, which I can help with, but is one of your strong suits, especially now with the advanced knowledge. All the other courses you take like sewing, and the health care and medical classes… It is all so important. And could be vastly more important in the future.”

“But the money…”

Jacob sighed. “I guess I’d better tell you. I was offered a second job the other day. One of the customers likes my work and wants me to set up some Access databases for his business the way I did for Gus. And train some people in their use and some other office procedures he isn’t happy with. He cleared it with Gus, and Gus said I could do it if I wanted, as long as it didn’t interfere with company work.

“I kind of held it off, with the garden coming along, and the harvest just a few weeks away. It would be for a couple of months, and could run close to Christmas. I don’t want to leave you with all the work…”

“Honey, I don’t want you to have to take a job. But don’t turn it down because of me. Between helping some of the others with their harvests and preserving, we are kind of planning on doing a couple of sessions here. With several of us working, and the extra gear, things go a lot quicker.”

“Oh. I did not realize that. So you would be okay if I took the job? It means a lot less time for you, and… well… hopefully, just a little less time for Cheryl. But definitely less.”

Debra bit her lower lip. She loved the time that Jacob lavished on her. But this was far more important. “Yes. I think you should do it.”

“I’ll let Beaman know tomorrow that I can start Monday evening. I don’t want to start tomorrow. I want the weekend for us. Could be the last one for a while. I want the work done and to get paid before Christmas.”

“Oh, Honey! Don’t stress yourself over some time frame. Just do the good work you always do, no matter how long it takes. If it runs into Christmas, it just does.”

Jacob sighed, but nodded his head. He took Debra in his arms and held her for a long time.

Jacob was feeling much better by Christmas. He finished up the extra work on December twenty-third and had the check in hand at the bank on the twenty-fourth. It would mean a much better Christmas for the family, but Debra and Jacob had discussed how the money would be used. And it wasn’t for just a lavish Christmas.

No. It, plus the moderate Christmas bonus Jacob received, would buy more preps, and a chunk of it would go into the emergency fund. Some upgrades to the vehicles and the house, and at least two double payments on the house would also come out of it.

While New Year’s Day was fine, a beautiful day, actually, January Second of the New Year brought bad news of several types. Most worrisome for Jacob and Debra was the announcement by the company that Jacob worked for was on a hiring freeze, as well as bonus, wage and promotion freeze. No one would be replaced if the person left or was let go for cause, and no raises or promotions would be considered for the immediate future.

It wasn’t so much that the announcements directly affected Jacob, but it was a cautionary sign that his job was in no way guaranteed. It also seemed that every expense that the family had jumped up by a percent or two, to four or five percent. Any one of which would not have been a real problem. But for everything to go up at once called for a revised budget.

Debra and Jacob shaved things here and there in the budget, replacing some of the reduced spending with several of Debra’s recently learned skills. Other than Jacob’s suits for work, and everyone’s underwear and foot wear, Debra would get a new sewing machine to produce the rest of their clothing, especially for the growing Cheryl.

Debra had found a new Janome 712T multi-stitch treadle machine on sale, and located an old treadle cabinet at the second hand store that Jacob, using his burgeoning handyman skills, self-taught and learned at the large home supply stores, would repair, improve, and refinish during January so Debra could use it beginning in February.

The garden would be enlarged, and with the fruit and nut trees, so lovingly planted and cared for during the last few years, due to be producing at least a reasonable amount of product this year, those parts of the food budget would be cut.

The real expense in food was meat. Reluctantly, Jacob and Debra decided to purchase half a dozen rabbit hutches to provide some of the protein for the family. They decided that they might as well go full bore and add worm beds and fish tanks to the mix, including a small green house set up for aquaponics using Verti-gro vertical growing system with a small set of photovoltaic panels to power it.

After checking the zoning laws for the suburban area, they would add some chickens for eggs and meat. Jacob would build a chicken tractor to move around the back yard that wasn’t otherwise taken up. A small coop would be put by the garden shed.

And with Debra’s new food preservation group success, the purchase of half a beef and a full hog were put in the near term budget.

The hog would partly be processed at the butcher, with hams, picnics, bacon, and ribs salt cured and hickory smoked. Tenderloins, loins and roasts would be frozen.

Seventy-five percent of the rest of the hog would go into approximately thirty percent fat breakfast sausage, and twenty percent in making combined pork and beef sausages, with five percent each of the remaining beef and pork plus all the organ meats except livers used to make some combined organ sausages.

The beef would mostly be canned, with some roasts, steaks, and the ribs frozen.

Ground beef at about ten percent fat, some to be frozen and some canned, would take up about seventy-five percent of the rest of the beef, with twenty percent going into the combined beef and pork sausages. Namely Kielbasa, Polish sausage, and summer sausage, with all the livers going into Braunschweiger, all produced at home by the food preservation group with the new equipment purchased for the purpose.

Debra would help the others in the group do the same and similar work, as they were helping her, when their turn came to process their choices of foods.

Despite the startup costs, the return would more than make up the difference in the budget for the clothing and food. They looked at and discarded several options for decreasing the monthly utility costs. Simply too much investment, unless they tapped the emergency fund, and both preferred not to do that.

So with a new budget and plans in place and projects ready to be tackled, the family faced the New Year somber, but hopeful. All thoughts, mostly Debra’s, of her getting a job were squashed as the extra time and effort to care for the small stock, do the sewing, and much of the work in the garden filled her days. She would still take some classes at the community college, to continue to increase her skills that would help in keeping the family reducing costs and improving their standard of living.

Cheryl, bless her heart, was an inquisitive child, and found helping her mother, especially with the rabbits, more fun than chore. Debra and Jacob were not looking forward to the day the first rabbit would be processed for the dining table. But Cheryl was being slowly taught about the role the animals played in their lives.

With the small suburban homestead going as well as it was, Debra found herself with a significant surplus, over and above what she and Jacob decided to put up for longer term storage. At least until he finished the above ground root cellar that would pretty much take up the rest of the room in the back yard. At the moment they just didn’t have the room to store the jars where they wouldn’t freeze in the winter.

After some rave reviews of the essentially organic food they were producing, and had given away at first, Jacob agreed with Debra that they would quit giving so much away, and would start selling most of the surplus. That included fish, rabbit meat, eggs, and chicken meat that Debra and Cheryl were now adept at processing, along with the vegetables, fruits, and nuts they were getting.

Jacob would work on the root cellar during the winter when weather permitted, and finish it up during the coming summer. They would re-evaluate the sales of the food that fall when they would have room to store more. But the extra money was coming in very handy as Cheryl’s music continued to be a big part of her life.

Jacob kept his thoughts from Debra, during the best Thanksgiving they had experienced as a family, that the other shoe was about to drop. The feeling of being prepared, at least moderately well, was good, but long term they were still rather short of where Jacob wanted them to be.

And some of the additions he was thinking about adding were a bit on the other side of what was allowed in the suburban community. He’d been right on the line putting in the well, which he listed as for irrigation.

Despite the prohibition against it, Jacob plumbed in a connection in the garden shed to be able to use the water in the house, after it went through a filter/purification system. Piping and spray heads were also installed on the house roof and under the overhangs to spray down the roof and walls in case of fire.

With legislation pending that would prohibit the collection and storage of rain water, with the likelihood of existing systems being grandfathered in, Jacob expanded his small system of rain barrels and single back-of-the-house gutter.

He found out about the law just in time to incorporate a large cistern under the above ground root cellar when he was digging the foundation. He updated and improved the guttering systems on the house, garden shed, and greenhouse to gather as much water as possible.

The walls of the root cellar were made in layers, with an external layer of reinforced concrete filled cinder blocks, and then a thick layer of foam board insulation, with clean dry sand between the insulation and the inner reinforced concrete filled cinder block wall.

The ceiling was similar, with a heavy wooden roof supported by posts, water proofing, drainage layer of coarse rock, insulation layer, and then more dry sand topped with another waterproofing layer and capped with paving stones.

Jacob still didn’t have a good human waste disposal system, other than the chemical toilet and the waste totes it would be emptied into. The plan was to dump the wheeled totes of accumulated waste at an RV dump station at the rest stop not far away.

Other than that, he could only come up with burying the waste, either on the property, or elsewhere it wouldn’t cause a problem. There really wasn’t a good place to put in an outhouse. At least not in the back yard. And in the front yard was certainly out of the question. At least at the moment.

Christmas was another good time, though they didn’t splurge much at all. Without the yearly Christmas bonus and the lack of any side work that Jacob was actively looking for, they kept things simple and inexpensive.

Jacob was glad they did when he was called into Gus’ office on January Second. “Stevens, things are getting tight. I’m going to have to let someone go. I need to know, honestly, if you can pick up the slack if I let either Janis or Marcum go. What they do is somewhat outside your specialty…”

Jacob made sure to pause a moment and look thoughtful before he said, “I’m sure I can, Gus. I hate that someone has to go. But I honestly think I am a better fit than one of the others trying to take over my work load.”

“Might mean some long hours. And you’re exempt. No overtime pay.”

“I know. Gus, I will get the jobs done, no matter what it takes.”

“Okay. Well, I’m going to interview the others and get their opinions. I’m sure they’ll be similar to your own, but will think about it all until next payday. Someone simply will get the pink slip at that time.”

“Okay Gus. I know you have to do what you have to do.”

Jacob couldn’t say he was surprised. The handwriting on the wall had been obvious, at least to him, for the last four months. Just not enough business to maintain a full office staff of specialists. The two that stayed were just going to have to broaden their skill sets. Jacob knew he wouldn’t have a problem doing so, but also knew that Gus could be a bit arbitrary about things.

He told Debra that night about the meeting, before they went to bed. It didn’t upset her as much as Jacob thought it would. She was worried, sure, but was confident that things would be all right.

And they were. Again. Jacob kept the job, but was putting in long hours with the extra workload. It would eventually get easier, and he would be able to do all the work with only an extra hour every three days instead of two hours every weekday while learning the new skills.

But the possibility was still in the back of their minds as Jacob and Debra planned out the coming year. The previous one had been a good one, with projects completed, and the food situation stable. They thought long and hard about what else they could do to reduce expenses, and reduce their dependence on the infrastructure.

Nothing came to mind in January, but one of Jacob’s friends, laid off from his normal job, had joined forces with another of his friends and begun a firewood business.

They needed one more part time person to make the job easier and more efficient, and Andrew approached Jacob about doing deliveries on the weekends for them using Jacob’s pickup truck.

Jacob talked it over with Debra, as it would again reduce the time he had with her and Cheryl. But Andrew had mentioned getting into the outside wood/coal furnace business with a small business loan. He’d asked Jacob’s opinion on it, as well.

After studying the benefits of the units, Jacob and Debra decided that Jacob should take the job with Andrew, taking the pay in firewood, and a nice discount on the first furnace unit that Andrew would help install for free to get the experience.

So the family was able to reduce the natural gas bill for heating and hot water significantly. And after Debra found a pristine wood/coal kitchen stove, the natural gas usage was cut even further back. The kitchen stove was installed in the newly covered patio room that Jacob built on the existing patio slab.

While she used the natural gas kitchen stove for some things, Debra started using the new stove for much of the stovetop cooking and all the baking, after picking up the skills from some of friends in the food preservation group. It was now also a cooking, gardening, and sewing group with several new members looking to save money the way Jacob and Debra were.

Wanting to further reduce their food bill, but more as a move to gain more in the way of self-sufficiency, Jacob again went to the planning commission and checked zoning laws.

Having a milk cow and raising the calf and a pig were out of the question as much for the lack of space as anything, including the restriction against it. Jacob looked into the planting of additional crops on the front lawn.

He discovered that only ornamentals could be grown on the street side of the line that included the main front wall of the house. And even fruit and nut trees were discouraged as they usually became ‘attractive nuisances’ when kids and even adults trespassed to pick the fruit and nuts.

Technically, the trespassers would be in the wrong, but the draw of the fruits and nuts was so high that the presence of the trees was considered more ‘wrong’ than the trespassing and theft of the fruits and nuts.

Even with a front fence, which they couldn’t afford at the moment, any fruit or nut plants in the front yard would still be considered as ‘attractive nuisances.”

But Jacob did decide that growing grape vines on the southern, the larger of the two side yards, would be legal. And adding a short fence on the side of the house to tie the front corner of the house to the existing side fence would take them out of the ‘attractive nuisance’ category that might be applied if the grapes were easily accessible.

So Jacob started that project and looked elsewhere for the other things he and Debra wanted to do. Again Debra’s group came through for them that spring. The wife of a husband and wife team that had a newly established small homestead just outside of town joined the group.

The two had some experience, from when they were young, but wanted more training in several of the aspects that the group could provide, in addition to the community college courses they were taking.

The group was glad to have her, especially when the subject of what they were going to raise on the homestead came up. Jillian Hastings told them they were going mostly with small stock, but would have one or two milk cows, half a dozen beef cattle, and two or three breeding sows to raise market pigs, using stud services from the State University’s agriculture school animals.

Debra quickly made an attractive deal to purchase one of the market weight steers when one became available, as well as two whole hogs when they were at market weight, as well as a regular supply of whole milk.

A bit gingerly, Debra brought up the subject that evening after Cheryl had done her practice music and homework and gone to bed.

“Honey… Well I need to tell you… and get your approval on something.”

Jacob turned away from the laptop computer he was using. “Of course, Debra. I can’t think of anything you would need my approval for.”

“Well, you know how we bought the meat last time?”

“Of course. That was a good deal. We saved a bundle.”

“Yes. Well, there is someone new in the self-sufficiency group. She and her husband have started a small homestead not far out of town. I’m afraid I went ahead and cut a deal for a whole beef and two pigs when they are available. Plus five gallons of whole fresh milk a week.”

“Oh. Well that sounds great, then! I take it you got a bargain.”

Eagerly, Debra told Jacob all about how it had come about and what she had offered on the deal.

“Yep. You did great, Debra!” Debra could see he was genuinely pleased. But then he shook his head. “I’m still trying to find a way to get additional food stables.” He looked over at Debra. “Don’t suppose they will be raising grains to feed their stock?”

“No,” Debra replied. “I asked about that, actually, because of what we are wanting to do. For the immediate future they are going to buy feed. They eventually want to grow their own, but Hammond, that is Jillian’s husband, wants to learn the stock end of it first.”

“Hm,” said Jacob. “Still have to try and figure out some…”

Debra saw his eyes light up as he suddenly had an idea. “Oh, man! I should have thought of this earlier! You know the way your group shares the work, but have your own gardens and such?”

Debra nodded.

“Well, when I was researching whether or not we could plant some wheat, rice, oats and a couple more things, I found out that it is legal to have a community garden. Which I didn’t really key on since everyone has good gardens anyway. But what if we see if some of the others want to go in on a grain and specialty foods garden?

“Grains, especially rice, aren’t considered home garden crops, but there is no real reason they can’t be grown on a small scale. The rice doesn’t have to be flooded, though most people believe it does. Flooding does keep insects and all down, but rice can be grown as long as there is adequate soil moisture. And that can be done with irrigation, not flooding.”

Debra looked thoughtful. “You know, a couple of the ladies were complaining about the price of bread, and especially pasta. Now that we can our own sauces, the price of the pasta is annoying. I think some of the others might just be interested.”

Before Jacob could comment, Debra looked a bit uncertain. “But grain grinders… the good ones… are pretty expensive.”

“What if we invest in a good one, and offer to grind the wheat and other things that need it as part of our contribution to the effort? We’d still help with the other aspects, too, but take just another small share for the grinding?”

Looking thoughtful for a moment, Debra then nodded her head. “I like it, Jacob. I’ll bring it up at this weekend’s canning party over at Carman and Juan’s. Most of us will be there. I guess we need to do it quickly if we are going to do it at all. Probably need to get things planted.”

“Yes. I’ll look into what property the city will allow us to use for a community garden, while you see about who wants to be involved.”

Four days later Debra showed Jacob the signup sheet of those wanting to participate in the grain garden. And Jacob had a location, reluctantly agreed upon by the planning commission, that was suitable for the purpose. He’d made sure, without saying outright that they would be growing grains, rather than the normal garden fare, that it would be allowed.

There was even a large spring fed pond on the property that could be used for irrigation. That spring was the main reason for the park. The land couldn’t be developed due to the expense of handling the water from the spring. And without that piece of property being available, it was holding up development around it.

Since the evaporation from the pond was such that there was no runoff, Jacob was able to get the permission needed to use the water for irrigation, since the water would all be staying on the property.

To show good faith, and their readiness to invest in the project, Jacob and Debra put together the money to buy not only a Diamant 525 grain grinder and other associated grain processing components, but also a BCS 853 walk behind garden tractor and the implements needed to work the crops.

There was much doubt about growing rice, so Jacob agreed to only doing a small plot, for him, Debra, and Cheryl, on their own, while working with the others on the rest of the crops.

And there was some discussion on those, as well. Wheat was a given. Bread wheat or hard red winter wheat. But Durum wheat was added for pasta, and soft red winter wheat suitable for cakes and pastries included.

So were hulless oats, corn for corn meal and corn flour, popcorn, and small plots of rye, sorghum, sunflower, barley, millet, and buckwheat, to see how they would do and to learn how to grow, process and use them.

Dried beans were also discussed. It seemed everyone had a favorite, so moderate sized plots of six different beans, plus lentils, were planted.

Jacob, on top of his other research for the project, had looked for grain harvesting equipment for use with the BCS walk behind tractor, and then small, self-propelled combines. He found there simply wasn’t anything available in his price range.

So with hand tools the only way to go, Jacob was tasked with finding the right ones to harvest the crops and then process them into usable grains. It was the only real drawback to the project, but worth the labor, or so the group decided after long discussion.

It was a long, but productive, spring, summer and fall, with all the projects coming to fruition with great success. The grain harvest had gone better than expected, with everyone wanting a portion of the wheat spending some time with the grain cradle harvesting scythes Jacob found.

The threshing was done with flails on a moderate sized concrete pad the group poured and finished at the garden site, and winnowing done with shovels over several windy days. The grains were then scooped up into four gallon pails for distribution. There was loss, but the yield was more than adequate for their purposes.

Jacob ground at least one bucket of grain for each family initially. The group would then grind every other week to keep everyone in flour that didn’t have a grinder of their own.

The wheat and various beans were a hit, but the sorghum, millet, and buckwheat less so. The sunflowers, barley and rye went mostly to Jacob and Debra, the rye for the dark rye breads that Jacob liked, and the sunflowers for chicken feed. The barley Jacob would use in his brewing.

The next season would see some adjustment of the size of some plots and the elimination of the grains that had not gone over well, and the addition of hops, also for Jacob’s brewing. With the success of Jacob and Debra’s irrigated rice crop, substantially more room would be made for it.

Thanksgiving had been good, and Christmas was shaping up to be another nice one when the other shoe that Jacob had worried about dropped. At least for Jacob, Debra, and Cheryl.

The week before Christmas Gus called Jacob into his office. Jacob thought Gus was about to cry before he started talking. “Look, Stevens… Jacob… This is something… Well… I have to do it. You really did great when I had to lay off someone last year and pulled your weight and more.

“But… Well… Cathy’s brother just lost his job… And… Well… Family has to come first. I don’t know what to say, but just say it, I guess. I have to let you go. It is nepotism, pure and simple, but family comes first.”

Jacob nodded slowly. The business was doing okay and he hadn’t expected the loss of his job. He thought he was pretty secure in the job now, for, just as Gus had said, Jacob had come through for him.

But deep down, Jacob could understand Gus’ feelings about family. He decided it would be in his best interest to deal with the situation professionally. It wasn’t really in him to make a scene or throw a fit, anyway. So Jacob nodded again and said. “I understand, Gus. When do you need me out?”

Again Jacob thought Gus would cry, this time with relief. He stood and shook Jacob’s hand enthusiastically. “You are a good man, Jacob. I appreciate you taking this so well. I know it is a lot to ask, considering, but I’d like you to work with Jimbo this week and he’ll take over after Christmas.”

“Okay, Gus. That won’t be a problem. I am hoping I can get a letter of recommendation…”

“Oh, yes! Yes! Of course! You are one great employee and I’ll make that very clear in the letter. That you were let go for… other reasons… economic reasons!”

“Thank you, Gus. Means a lot. Well, I’d better get back at it and set up a training course for… Jimbo, is it?”

“Yes. Well, James, but Cathy has me calling him Jimbo like they do.” Gus followed Jacob over to the office door and watched him walk purposefully to his office, shoulders straight and up.

When Jacob told Debra that evening when he got home she began to cry. But Jacob reassured her that things would be fine. “Gus is going to give me a good letter of recommendation, and I am very good at what I do. I should be able to get a job relatively soon. We have our preps to fall back on, so things shouldn’t be too much different. You’ll just have to put up with me being around rather more.” Jacob chuckled.

“Don’t make jokes, Jacob! This is serious.”

Jacob took Debra’s hands in his. “I know, Debra. I know. I don’t mean to make light of it, but it isn’t the end of the world. Things will work out for us. They always do. With you and Cheryl in my corner, how could they not?”

Cheryl, ten now, could tell something was wrong that evening. Jacob explained that he’d lost his job, like she’d seen others on the news being discussed.

“My music is expensive, isn’t it, Daddy? Maybe I shouldn’t do it for a while…”

Jacob took her in his arms for a hug, tears in his eyes. “Oh, no, honey! You’ll keep at your music for as long as you want to do it. Things aren’t desperate the way things have been for some people. We have our projects that help us save money. And I’ll find another job, soon, I think. But thank you for offering. You are a remarkable little girl.”

Debra could see that Cheryl wanted to protest, but it was important to Jacob that Cheryl be able to continue with her music training. It was to be a career for her in the not so distant future. “He is right, Cheryl. We both want you to continue with your music program. We’ll make ends meet.”

Cheryl sighed. “Okay. I guess. But you don’t have to give me my allowance…. For a while…”

“We can discuss that,” Jacob said quickly. He wasn’t going to reduce her modest allowance, but she obviously wanted to help and he would find a way she could, to make her feel like she was helping. Would help, actually.

Though Christmas was somewhat subdued, all the shopping had been done long before, during sales and when other bargains were available, so the impact was mostly mental. And Jacob was able to hide most of that. Debra helped by staying upbeat and keeping the subject offlimits as a topic of discussion.

And there was something that cheered Jacob and Debra up immensely. Not only had Gus written an outstanding letter of recommendation, on the day before Christmas Eve he gave Jacob a three month severance package at full salary and benefits, plus a nice Christmas bonus in cash that he asked Jacob not to say anything about at work, since the freeze was still supposed to be on.

The insurance Gus carried was a good package and the COBRA benefits would keep the family under coverage for some time after the severance ran out, at a reasonable cost. So that significant worry would be delayed until the next fall at the earliest.

One thing that Jacob took immediate advantage of was converting his substantial 401(k) retirement account to a self-managed IRA with fifty percent in US Gold Eagles and twenty-five percent in US Silver Eagles. He put the rest in the Permanent Portfolio Mutual fund.

Jacob religiously looked for a job on-line and in person even through the New Year holiday, taking only New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day off. Andrew had offered to give Jacob one day’s pay a week in cash for the firewood work he was doing, to try and help out.

But after Jacob and Debra talked it over they decided it was more important to have the firewood on hand than a few dollars that wouldn’t go very far anyway, and would put Andrew in a bit of a bind. The firewood business was seasonal, and Andrew had to collect all he could during the winter to help tide him over during the summer when they were cutting, splitting, and storing wood, but not selling much.

Besides, Jacob didn’t want to jeopardize his unemployment benefits for taking a few dollars under the table, either. That was another reason he looked religiously for a new job. He had to in order to keep his benefits. And that was on top of the extreme drive not to be a burden on society, the way he saw it.

Jacob was able to keep himself busy through January, looking for work and doing additional low cost projects and improvements around the house. He’d signed up with a temp agency immediately, but he was over qualified for most of the jobs the agency was getting, so hadn’t worked at all during January.

Then, not long into February, Jacob did get an assignment. It was in his specialty, Access databases, but for a large independent home construction, lumber, and hardware store. He was making an okay wage through the temp service, but the work was worth three times what he was paid. But work was work, and the owner really needed it done, so Jacob rolled up his sleeves and got to work.

The owner, Jeff Cunningham, was pretty laid back and knew the bargain he was getting in Jacob. After the first week the two were talking about the project over cups of coffee in the employee room. The conversation quickly drifted from what Jeff found boring, to what he had a passion about. The economy and the fact it was going, not so slowly, downhill.

Jeff was likable and Jacob found himself telling him a little about some of the money saving projects he and Debra were involved with, including the group that had grown up around the initial canning group.

“Sounds like you have things well in hand,” Jeff said.

Jacob sighed. “Oh, at this point in time I suppose we are better off than most, but I feel like we have so much further to go, the way the country is going.

“I like you, Jacob. You do not only good work, but put aren’t dogging it the way some might, to get additional time on the job. I know I’m getting a bargain. So I tell you what, I’ll offer you the same incentive I do my direct hires. You can get anything I carry or can get, at a hefty discount.”

“Why, thanks, Jeff! But I’m afraid I can’t take much advantage of it right now. Like I said, we’re doing okay, but the money I make through the temp service is just keeping us from getting into our reserves. Paying the have to bills and purchases. Projects are pretty much on hold.”

Jeff nodded. “Yeah. I can see where that would be the case. But if you ever want to take advantage of it, while working here or after, just let me know. I’m getting more for my money than a person should have a right to.”

“Thanks, Jeff. I’ll keep it in mind.”

The work kept Jacob busy for most of the rest of the summer. He wasn’t able to take advantage of Jeff’s offer during that time, but it did prompt him to do some project planning and pricing.

Another year and the house would be paid for, though they were due for another vehicle pretty soon. Jacob liked to buy new and run a vehicle ten years or so before selling it and getting another, modest, new one. He took excellent care of his vehicles, but after ten years maintenance started to outweigh the savings of not having a car payment.

Debra still had five good years in her Subaru, but Jacob’s three door Sonoma was already over ten years old and that sideways rear seat was getting very cramped for Cheryl. She didn’t have to ride it much, but did occasionally, especially when they were working at the community grain and bean garden.

Jacob and Debra had several discussions, without putting much heart into them since it seemed unlikely they would be able to get anything anytime soon. But when the Sonoma service engine light came on and Jacob had the diagnostics run, he found out the small truck would need a new or rebuilt transmission.

That prompted a reevaluation of their vehicle situation. Jacob began looking for some alternatives that didn’t include a new vehicle, since it might be very difficult to finance it without a regular full time job, and Debra going to work was still counterproductive to their continued savings of her being a work at home mom.

Jacob really wanted something with more passenger space than the Sonoma, but also cargo space. The extended cab trucks had much more room in the back seat area than the Sonoma, so one of those was a possibility.

A Suburban would be nice, with good hauling capacity, if nothing too tall needed hauling. Debra and Jacob finally took that possibility off the list since a pickup bed was now almost essential for their projects.

So that put it back to a pickup. Standard size; standard, extended, or crew cab. When they priced new ones, Jacob knew they were out of the question this time, so he went on a search for something suitable used.

It would have to be fairly soon. The Sonoma was drivable, but he would damage the transmission further if he drove it much. He mentioned the situation to Jeff during the last week of his assignment there.

“Too bad a Suburban won’t do you, Jacob,” Jeff said. “My next to useless brother in law put together a sweet one. Rebuilt non-electronic diesel engine and tranny, new transfer case and rebuilt steerable drive axles front and rear. Everything snorkeled for fording streams and such. Extra and larger fuel tanks for maximum range. That’s about as far as he got, other than a primer coat on the body after he put it back on.”

“Hm,” Jacob said, looking thoughtful. “It is mainly cargo space for tall items that we need. I guess we could get a trailer if the price was right on the Suburban and it didn’t need too much more work done on it. I’m a good handy man and can do routine service on vehicles, but I’m not much of a mechanic.”

“Oh, the thing is drivable as it is. Just ugly as sin and needs cosmetic work, not really any mechanical work. What would you say to six grand and he’ll throw in a trailer made of a same model year and make pickup truck bed and frame.”

“Six thousand? Including a trailer? Come on, Jeff. I’m serious here. I really need a running vehicle. Besides, you sound so sure. Can you speak for him?”

Jacob saw the rather satisfied grin on Jeff’s face. “That rig has been taking up space in my driveway for four years. I want it out of there, and with my brother in law in jail for the next year, I don’t think he’s going to object much.

“Especially when I give him the cash when he gets out. He got into motorcycles before he finished the Suburban and then landed in the pokey on a DUI. I actually financed the cotton pickin’ thing. I must have been out of my mind, knowing his propensities. Ought to keep the money myself. But my wife would kill me.

“So. Take a look tonight after work with the Missus, talk it over and let me know tomorrow. You know where I live. Got to get back to work. Talk to you tomorrow.”

Jacob really didn’t think there was much chance of the vehicle being usable for his and Debra’s needs, but it wouldn’t hurt to take a look. Jeff wouldn’t lie to him. So after work he went home and had Debra drive him and Cheryl out to Jeff’s.

It was exactly as Jeff had described. Ugly as sin in the reddish brown primer. But the inside was pristine, covered everywhere with plastic held in place with copious amounts of duct tape.

Jeff came out of the house in t-shirt and shorts, keys in hand. It took a minute and a couple of tries to start it, since it hadn’t been run in months, but it did start, and when Jacob looked at the exhaust pipes, they looked like the diesel was burning clean.

Debra and Cheryl were whispering together, heads inside opposite side doors of the vehicle. Jacob had imagined something with a huge lift, but that wasn’t the case. While Debra and Cheryl would have to make a slight jump, both could get in and out of the Suburban without any real problems. Jacob could always add steps if needed. He did have enough metal crafting skills for that kind of bolt on project.

“Go ahead,” Jeff said. “Take it for a drive.”

“No plates,” Jacob said.

“There is that,” Jeff said. “Just around the development. Johnny shouldn’t be around at this time of day.”

“Johnny?” Jacob asked.

“County deputy. He lives nearby.”

Rather reluctantly, and only with Debra’s encouragement to do so, did Jacob get behind the wheel of the Suburban and close the door. Before he could buckle up, Debra was in the front passenger seat and Cheryl behind Jacob in the rear passenger seat.

“Well, here goes,” Jacob said, carefully working the manual transmission. He only squeaked the tires a little when he touched the accelerator, bringing a grin from Debra and slight, quickly stifled laugh from Cheryl.

Though he made it a short trip, Jacob did manage to get a feel for the rig. It was solid and responsive, again not what he was expecting. Before they got back to Jeff’s, Cheryl was asking, “Can I pick the color we paint it? I want camouflage! That would be so cool!”

“No camouflage,” Jacob said. “But yes, you can help pick out a color. If we buy it.”

When they returned to Jeff’s, Cheryl continued to climb around in the Suburban while Jacob and Debra stepped away and discussed it. The decision came down to the whether or not the trailer was going to be suitable.

When Jacob and Debra walked over and told Jeff that, he asked Jacob to help him with a tarped over item that Jacob had thought was a stack of building materials. It was the trailer. Cheryl came running over. “Can we paint it camouflage?” she asked hopefully. It was the same color as the Suburban.

“Note the dual fuel tanks underneath, the swing arm crane and stabilizer on the bumper, and the lift gate and dump mechanism on the bed. Hydraulic power unit for them on the tongue.” Jeff said. “Lots of lash points and I’ll throw in all the strapping and both cargo nets.”

Jacob was comparing the tires on the trailer to those on the Suburban. “Same ones,” Jeff said. “Got four spares on identical wheels. Don’t know why he wanted that many. They go, too. What’cha say?”

Jacob looked at Debra. She nodded slightly. Cheryl was jumping up and down in eagerness. “Yes!” she called out when Jacob said they would take it and shook Jeff’s hand.

“We can do the paperwork tomorrow, at work,” Jeff said. “What kind of payments you want to do?”

“Payments?” Jacob asked. “I thought we’d just pay cash…”

“Oh. Didn’t occur to me,” Jeff replied. “No offense, but from the fact you are working as a temp, I thought you’d want to finance it. I’d be glad to. No interest. Just would need it all before the slime bucket gets out of jail.”

“Debra?” Jacob asked.

Debra looked sure when she said firmly, “We can do a thousand a month without getting into the emergency account.”

Jacob looked over at Jeff. “Works for me.” The two shook hands again. “Say,” Jeff added, “What do you want for the Sonoma? My daughter wants a small truck.”

“The tranny…” Jacob protested.

“Ah, that. No big deal. I’ve got a brother in the mechanic business. He can fix it for me for next to nothing. Owes me big for helping him set up his business.”

“I don’t have any idea what it is worth,” Jacob said, somewhat at a loss.

“How about we take fifteen hundred off the deal, since it does have a bad tranny?” Jeff asked.

Again Jacob looked at Debra and got the okay nod. Jacob nodded, looking at Jeff again, and they shook once more. “Okay,” Jeff said. “I need to get a shower. My daughter has something doing this evening I have to attend. See you tomorrow, Jacob.”

Slowly Jacob got back into the front passenger seat of the Subaru. “I guess we own a Suburban and trailer, as of tomorrow.”

“It is so cool!” Cheryl said excitedly from the back seat. “Can we take Marla and Vickie for a ride in it. Uh… After it is painted?”

Debra chuckled. “Yes, Cheryl. Your father will be happy to chauffeur you around in it when the time comes.”

“I will?”

Debra laughed outright. “Yes, dear. You will.”

Fortunately, Jacob didn’t have to depend on any extended benefits to make ends meet and work on the Suburban and trailer. Two days before Christmas Gus called him.

“Uh… Jacob…”

“Gus, I can’t hear you. That is you, isn’t it, Gus? Gus?”

Jacob heard Gus clear his throat and then speak louder. “Yes. It is me. Look, Jacob. I know I didn’t treat you all that well last year. Letting you go the way I did to let that Jimbo work for me.

“And before you say it, yes, the severance package was good and all, as was the bonus, but it still wasn’t right to put you through that. I feel bad, Jacob. And I need you back. Desperately. Jimbo managed to foul up most of your databases, and wasn’t making regular backups.

“So I’m on my knees, Jacob. I need you to come back. I’ll give you everything I gave you when I let you go as a signing bonus and a ten percent… No. Twelve percent raise. How about it Jacob? Will you come back? If I don’t have things straightened out by January Second, my tail is in a sling.”

Jacob knew he should have just stopped Gus early on and told him he would come back, at his old salary, with no hard feelings. But he had to admit, the loss of the job had stung, and could have been an unmitigated disaster had the family not had preps.

Gus seemed to really want to do exactly as he said, so Jacob let him finish and simply said, “Okay Gus. I’ll take the offer. Guess you need me out there today to take a look at things and see what it will take to get things back on track.”

“If you would, Jacob, I’ll throw in a really nice Christmas turkey and a ham. Real ham. None of that water product stuff.”

Jacob felt guilty enough to say, “That isn’t necessary Gus. I’ll be there in an hour or so.”

When Jacob turned around he saw Debra and Cheryl looking at him. Debra’s hands were at her mouth and Cheryl was grinning.

“You got the job back?” Debra asked.

“Yes, I did. I’ll give you the details later. For the moment, I need to get a shower, change clothes, and get going. Gus really does sound desperate.”

“Oh, honey! That is so great!” Jacob caught her when she almost leaped into his arms. After a quick hug Jacob released her with a grin.

“Yes, it is. Now I really do have to get going.”

Jacob was glad he’d let Gus keep talking, after getting to the office and seeing what Jimbo, nowhere in evidence, had accomplished in his year at the place.

“Gus, I honestly taught Jimbo how to avoid these mistakes. I hope you don’t think I sabotaged things in some way.”

“No, of course not!” Gus exclaimed. “Jimbo just… well… he just isn’t as educated as I gave him credit for. He pulled the wool over my eyes for several months, hiding the problems. Jacob, Jimbo is a functional illiterate.”

“Ah, man! I’m sorry, Gus!”

Gus sighed and shook his head. “Even my wife didn’t know. We’re getting him some help, but it is going to be a long time before he can get a real job where he can make real money. It explains why he was going from job to job constantly.

“And you’d better know why I’m desperate. I’m way behind on taxes and can’t even get a reasonable estimate until you get something I can base it on.”

“Yeah. I guess I’d better get started,” Jacob said, determined to put out this fire for Gus. How could one be mad at someone that was illiterate in this day and age? Jacob found he couldn’t even imagine how hard and stressful it would be.

Jacob worked every day, only taking off a few hours late on Christmas Eve and early on Christmas Day, and worked twelve hour days straight through January Second. But he had the data bases repaired, backed up, and the data recovered or duplicated for Gus’ meeting with the IRS.

Jacob hadn’t asked, and Gus hadn’t offered up the package he’d told Jacob he would get during that time. But Gus was smiling when he returned to the office that afternoon.

“You did it, Jacob. Everything is fine. I’ve been so worried, I forgot all about our agreement, other than you working again. I’ll get that all set up and have it ready for you when you get here tomorrow morning. Thanks, man. You pulled a miracle off for me and I won’t forget it.” The two men shook hands and Jacob let it go at that.

There was still much work to be done to have the accounts and databases back up to the professional level Jacob had left them in, so he put in quite a few extra hours in January. But the unexpected signup bonus was more than worth it.

Jacob filled a couple of holes in the preps created when they were used during the layoff. Then, after discussions with Debra, and now Cheryl, who was old enough to give an opinion, a color was chosen to paint the Suburban and trailer. It was still a ‘no’ reply to camouflage paint on the two, but the pair were painted, a light tan.

A few features were added to it, such as a front winch, some spare parts, roof rack, and pioneer tools. Not much was done to the trailer other than the paint job.

But after a long discussion Jacob was able to convince, primarily Debra, as Cheryl was all for it, to build a disaster shelter using some of the money from Gus. As there was no room in the back or either side of the house, it was decided to build the shelter into the existing garage and build a new garage in front of the old one, with a redone driveway that would include a slot for parking the trailer.

For three reasons. One was that the shelter could be constructed without anyone the wiser. The second was to provide a dedicated storage room for preps in the available space and still leave a hallway from the existing kitchen doorway in the old garage to the new garage.

And the third was that Debra was reluctant to lose the garage, so the compromise of building a new one satisfied that requirement. Jacob had to check with zoning, just to be sure that they could extend the garage out that far, and to the side. It was frowned upon, but legal.

He also had to work on the design quite a while to get the three bays and still have the place looking good from the street. He finally worked one out that Debra approved.

Since Jeff was more than happy to honor his offer to Jacob about a large discount on anything his store carried or could get, Jacob decided to add a good security fence to the front yard. Though there was a pretty good setback, the new garage was going to be closer to the sidewalk than Jacob felt comfortable with, without the fence as a barrier.

Feeling better about things than he had in some time, Jacob, with a little help from Debra, and quite a bit from Cheryl, worked hard that summer with the garden; small stock; community garden; and the shelter, garage, and fence projects.

The gardens, orchard, berries, and stock were bringing in a little additional cash, since things were kept well irrigated. The grapes weren’t producing yet. It would be two or three more years before they did.

But the community garden was doing well, too, and the family was able to get some additional funds from the sale of the part of their share they couldn’t use. At least until the additional storage became available when the shelter and store room were finished.

The shelter would be built very similarly to the root cellar, which had proven its worth the last few years, with the mass for radiation protection rather than heat moderation, though that was just a plus.

The three new exterior garage walls were built with ICF and CMU units on wide foundations. The twelve inch insulated, reinforced concrete forms were filled with concrete and then faced with eight inch concrete masonry units, also reinforced and concrete filled.

With the addition of the twelve inch ICF roof panels filled with reinforced concrete, capped with a standing seam metal roof, the garage was proof against most situations that Jacob thought likely, including a fire attack with Molotov cocktails.

Though the Suburban took up one full bay of the garage, the Subaru and the pickup bed trailer took up only about two-thirds of the other two bays. That extra space was designed to facilitate the processing of the various products the small homestead and community garden provided, with work benches and storage units for the tools and equipment that Jacob had collected and made available to the other members of the savings group.

With those projects complete by Thanksgiving, the family celebrated their success. And planned out three more projects that would take precedence in the coming months, as they were able to save money for them specifically, on top of their regular savings and emergency fund.

After another check with the zoning commission, Jacob began the preliminary work to get a communications antenna tower installed, a GALE vertical axis windmill installed, and a 12.5kw diesel generator installed.

Jacob was able to buy just the necessary components for the concrete work. The concrete block with the tower base bracket was installed before the weather got cold, as was the concrete base for the windmill, and the footings and slab for the generator and battery house.

The units, along with a two thousand gallon diesel tank for the generator, would be installed some time during the next year, if things went as planned. First would be the generator and battery house, and then the generator. The batteries and inverter system would be next, and then the GALE installed and connected to the system.

Finally the retracting, fold-over antenna tower would be installed on the base. Jacob was watching for good prices, especially sales, of the various types of communications gear he wanted to get. If something was found, and the budget allowed, it would be picked up and stored until needed.

Everything was going on the narrow north side of the house. After the earlier projects, the open area had rather begged for something to be put there, since the back yard and other side yard were full up. Jacob felt he’d maximized the use of space, except for the front yard. And he had to admit, having the large patch of green grass made the place look pretty much standard, like the houses around it.

Only when one went down either side of the house, or into the back yard, did one realize the capability of the place. With the original tall privacy fences that circled the back yard, including along the alley, things really weren’t that visible from the neighbors or the alley, unless the alley gate was opened.

It took several months of buying diesel two hundred gallons at a time to get the tank filled while the other things were being done.

The generator, when it was installed, was not sufficient to run the entire house load, so Jacob had an electrician break out into another breaker panel the critical circuits he wanted to have power to in a power failure. The refrigerators, freezers, some lights and receptacles, controls for the HVAC system, security systems and such were included. The automatic transfer switch was installed between the main panel and the emergency circuit panel and fed from the generator and battery house.

Due to the noise the generator made, even with the extra quiet mufflers and being in the sound and weather insulated generator and battery house, when the power went off the battery and inverter system would take up the emergency load.

The battery banks, when fully charged, would run things for at least four days. More if the wind was blowing at all and the GALE vertical windmill generator could keep charging them at the same time.

If the GALE couldn’t keep up with charging the batteries, when they got below fifty percent charge, the generator would start, powering up just those emergency circuits and helping the GALE in recharging the batteries. With the combination, they could have full emergency power for a very long time, and even some limited power from the GALE if they did run out of fuel for the generator.

They were well along into the next summer, with a lull after the finished projects, before planning any more, when the country was hit with what was shaping up to be the hottest summer and fall in recorded history.

Most of the US was getting into the high nineties in the northern tier of states, with more southerly ones often above one hundred fifteen degrees, usually with high humidity. Although the differential was less the closer one got to the equator, that area was experiencing one twenty plus temperatures with ninety-five percent or higher humidity levels.

The US might not be able to feed its population that winter, much less export any meaningful amounts of food. If there was any rain, the extended hot spells could have meant more crops, but the dry heat was killing the plants shortly after they emerged from the ground, if they germinated at all.

An avid watcher of the Weather Channel, Jacob saw the handwriting on the wall early on. After having the insulation of the house upgraded significantly, he invested in some lightweight aluminum conduit and fittings, heavy weight aluminum conduit and fittings, some PVC pipe and fittings, misting nozzles, and garden shade material while it all was still available and relatively cheap.

Jacob was ready when the temperatures at the suburban homestead hit one hundred degrees. The lightweight conduit was used to build a support structure to carry the PVC pipe with misting nozzles attached, and support the shade cloth over the entire garden area before the weather became almost unbearable.

The stronger conduit was used to raise misting nozzles above the trees in the orchard. Pretty much wherever the family had something growing, Jacob had shaded and prepared so the plants could be misted.

Jacob conserved water when he could, but the combination of shade and fine mist kept the burning sunlight and the temperatures at plant level down enough to be able to continue to get the normal amount of product from them initially.

He’d tried his best to get those involved with the community garden to do something similar. When too few agreed to help defray the costs, Jacob abandoned the idea. There was no way he could afford the expense of the materials or the labor to install any meaningful amount to protect the grains on a large scale. The community garden would have to make it with the basic irrigation they had been doing.

In addition to cooling the garden areas, Jacob would turn on the roof sprinklers of the house during the hottest part of the day to greatly reduce the cooling load on the air conditioner. That water went back to the large rainwater cistern under the root cellar.

The whole family found themselves looking for excuses to be in the root cellar or the shelter, as they were so much cooler than even the house, unless the air conditioning was running full bore.

The family had decided to save money by letting the temperature in the house rise to eighty-five degrees before having the air conditioner kick in. It was still low enough to keep from damaging interior furnishings and appliances. It just wasn’t very pleasant.

Another thing Jacob and Debra decided to do was to get two large chest type freezers for the storage room to hold additional meat that their homesteading friend was selling off before they had to be destroyed because of the conditions.

During the middle of the summer, while the Stevens family began harvesting from their gardens, one after another of the savings group asked to buy as much as they could. Their gardens just weren’t producing much because of the weather. The community garden was essentially a total loss, just like many of the farms in the area.

There was some food being brought in from areas not hit quite as hard, but it was scarce, and very expensive. And some of it simply was not of good quality, especially compared to the home grown foods the group was used to.

It was a little disconcerting to see some the members of the group become a little aggressive in their demands for a portion of the products that the family was producing. Only three or four of them, but they seemed to feel they were entitled. It really bothered Debra, even more so than Jacob.

From that point, Jacob and Debra were more cautious about letting anyone know just how much they were harvesting, rather than letting members of the group harvest what they wanted themselves. It was certainly more work, but it lessened the stress of dealing with the group.

With that eye opening experience, the Stevens family discussed security, in terms of people knowing their situation, as well as physical security. Jacob had already incorporated some security features, just in the way he’d laid out the various components of the small homestead, and specific things like the front fence, which, while decorative, was also a good security fence.

The property had come with the tall privacy fences, so the work that the family had done over the years wasn’t too obvious to the close neighbors. And none of the three had been very talkative to others about preps, other than a little bit with the savings group.

Cheryl, from the time she could understand the situation, had been very close mouthed to her friends about it. Mostly due to Jacob’s and Debra’s encouragement, but also due to the looks and comments she got from her friends when that type of subject came up and she commented on it. So she just didn’t discuss prepping with anyone other than her parents.

So the real extent of their preps wasn’t well known to very many. But some was known, and they decided on what to do about it. While Jacob was no aficionado of weapons, he had a passing knowledge of them. Debra, on the other hand was basically scared of them. And Cheryl, while bombarded with anti-gun sentiments at school, was curious and rather open minded.

Debra quickly decided that Jacob should learn more about guns and get something to help protect the family. It took rather longer for Jacob to convince her to go along with him and do the same. At least learn about them from a safety standpoint since there would soon be guns in the house, though in a gun safe.

It was even a harder sell for Jacob to persuade Debra to include Cheryl in the activities. But with Cheryl adamantly asking to learn about firearms and how to shoot, Debra admitted that she should at least learn the safety aspects the way Debra herself was planning on doing.

As is often the case, one not very familiar with firearms, once they learn that they are not anything evil on their own, find they actually enjoy the shooting sports. Debra was one of those. With the professional training each member of the family received, all three became quite proficient with the small battery of firearms they decided to purchase after trying many different ones in their training sessions at the range.

With her interest strictly in defending the family from attack, and being rather recoil sensitive, Debra’s choice of an Auto Ordnance .30 M1 Carbine, which she fell in love with upon her first trial shots, made sense for her.

She didn’t particularly want a handgun, but Jacob’s choice of a Beretta Tomcat .32 ACP pocket gun, when she tried it out, was much like the M1 Carbine. Small, easy to handle, and little recoil. With both mother and father having one, Cheryl tried one and liked it well enough to decide she wanted one, too.

Cheryl had never been especially athletic, and was of slight build, like her mother, so the decision for her to have her own .30 M1 Carbine, like the one her mother had chosen, was quickly accepted.

Between the two weapons, the three felt that Debra and Cheryl could defend themselves adequately, in short range situations. Anything with much more recoil or complexity would be to their disadvantage.

Jacob, on the other hand, wanted something with more power and range than the .30 Carbine round and .32 ACP, though he did get one of each for himself. From his research he had decided on a .308 Winchester round as his primary rifle round. After looking at, handling, and then shooting, several of the available models of magazine fed semi-auto rifles, he chose the PTR-91 GI for his use.

He opted to swap out the full length butt stock for the HK telescoping stock for compactness when needed. As with the M1 carbines, Jacob loaded up on magazines for the rifles and carbines.

Jacob, for something more effective than the Tomcat that he could carry when the PTR wasn’t at hand, chose, for many of the same reasons he’d chosen the PTR, a Glock 21SF in .45 ACP. Both were effective at what they were designed for, and relatively cheaper than most of the close alternatives. Plenty of magazines were obtained for the Glock and the three Beretta Tomcats.

Appropriate gear was ordered for the weapons, including FMCO vests for the long guns, and holsters and ammunition pouches for the handguns. Plenty of ammunition was obtained, with a budget buying plan set up for regular purchases of more.

Also added to the budget was the future purchase of a dual purpose shotgun for defense and hunting, and a dedicated hunting rifle. The PTR-91 would work quite well for hunting with the addition of a scope, but Jacob wanted something a bit more low key and set up for hunting, as well as sniping, full time.

So a Remington 700 bolt action .30-06 with Bushnell scope on see through rings and Williams front blade sight and rear peep sight was chosen as the hunting rifle.

For small game, the .30-06 was rather too much cartridge, so, following some advice from the gun store owner, Jacob went ahead and ordered four .32 ACP to .30-06 chamber adapters. They would allow for the taking of small game quietly and without out wasting the larger hunting rounds.

The hope was that the weapons would never be needed, but all three felt better about their situation if things did turn violent. They would not be helpless, and would be able to defend themselves.

Things were still worrisome as fall approached with no break in the heat and dryness. Most of the US was in some state of official drought. Much of the rest of the world was, as well. Food imports and exports were almost nonexistent everywhere in the world.

Even within the US, where interstate commerce provided much of the food from the various high production states to the low production, high consumption states, there was little movement of food.

Besides the actual lack of food, the lack of the need for shipping it hit the rail and trucking sectors of business hard. More people were out of work than ever before, making it even more difficult to get any of the expensive foods that were available.

The early supplies of meat, after the herds and flocks were culled, were no longer. Meat and dairy items were getting even harder to get now than other foods.

With those things in their minds, Jacob, Debra, and Cheryl sat down for another family planning session. “Dad, Mom, I need to start taking some different things to school for my lunch. Some of the kids… Even a couple of teachers, have started to notice the fresh foods. The quality as well as the quantity. It is making me really uncomfortable. I want lunch, but I don’t want problems.”

“That’s just not right!” protested Debra. “You deserve the best we can provide for you.”

“Oh, Mom. I can still eat just fine. I just don’t need quite as much, or the specific things I’ve been taking. A cup of yogurt, since we make it now ourselves, a basic sandwich, and some fruit would be fine. I don’t need all the extra celery and carrot sticks, and the cake and pie and cookies, and regular entrees you pack for me. I get plenty of nutrition here at home to eat just a little light at school.”

“Would you buying your lunch at school be better?” Jacob asked.

“Yuck!” Cheryl replied. “Not only is it expensive, it isn’t very good. More and more are bringing lunches, but not like what I’ve been having. I just don’t want to give the impression I’m lording it over other kids because we have it so good.”

Jacob looked over at Debra. “What do you think, Debra? Let Cheryl choose her own lunches?”

Debra sighed. “I so want you to have a good healthy diet,” She told Cheryl. “But you have raised some valid points. I’ll let you choose your foods and quantities, subject to my approval.”

“Thanks, Mom. Dad.”

“What are we going to do about the savings group?” Jacob asked. “You both know I’m a fairly patient man, but some of those in the group are really getting under my skin with the actual demands that we provide more food for some of them.”

“I know, Honey,” Debra said, putting one hand on his on the kitchen table. “We have to be careful, for sure, but I don’t like turning people away hungry.”

Jacob shook his head. “We aren’t really doing that, are we, Debra? I know for sure that Higgins is selling some of the food we gave them.”

“Selling it!” Debra’s ire was now raised. “He said that they were barely getting enough to get by!” Debra gave Jacob a hard look. “Is anyone else doing something similar?”

“Don’t know for sure,” Jacob replied, truthfully, despite his suspicions otherwise. “I do know that some have completely quit trying, depending on us for just about everything that we can provide, and filling in from the stores, rather than the other way around. Some of them could be growing smaller gardens than usual, using the techniques we use.

“Fortunately they have been recommended by the government and the media, so we didn’t have to come right out and say we were doing it. The supplies, at least some, are available again. Anything the others could grow would be less of a load on us.”

“Hm…” Debra looked thoughtful. “I don’t know, Jacob. What would happen if we just cut people off?”

“It wouldn’t be good,” Cheryl added, silent on the subject up to then. “Marty Higgins said his dad said that he would do whatever it takes to feed the family. Marty is only eleven, but he seemed proud of the fact. Maybe I wasn’t understanding what he meant, but it sure felt to me like he thought his father would take the food if necessary.”

“Oh, really?” Debra asked. The more she heard, the less she liked it and the more aggravated she became. “I don’t like the idea that people think they could just take things from us. We have the means to protect ourselves, but I don’t want to shoot someone over a tomato.”

“Don’t worry, Debra,” Jacob replied, squeezing her hand. “It won’t come to that. We won’t let it. Let’s think about this for a bit before we decide what to do ultimately. For the meantime we can just bring out smaller amounts each time, indicating we are having trouble with the garden. Which is actually true.”

Jacob was correct. Even with the misting and shade systems, only the fact that the garden was so large, were they able to produce what they were. The actual production rates were down by a good fifteen percent from what they used to get during normal weather times and even early in the drought. Jacob wouldn’t outright lie about things, but he was more than willing to allow people to believe what they might.

So for the rest of the summer, the family, doing it alone, without the help of those in the group, canned and put up more of the produce they were getting, and made less and less available at the weekend swap meets.

There was some grumbling, but the overwhelming majority of those still in the savings group were thankful to get what they were. Especially when Jacob agreed to accept a few things in barter besides other food items the way the exchange had started.

The items were still mostly food production related, such as mulch, compost, seeds, and even some tools, which really bothered Jacob. Giving up the tools the others needed to produce food themselves was not a good sign.

Worldwide, there were well over a million deaths directly attributed to the heat and drought, with another million or more indirectly related. The US was not immune. Cooling and hydration centers were set up wherever the resources were available, but there were still deaths.

In many locations the draw on the electrical system was so heavy that overloads took the system down, ruining hard to get major transformers and other critical parts to get the system back up. More people died for the lack of electricity, sometimes for days or even weeks in some places.

The heat continued well into October of that year. And then, when it changed, it was as if a light switch had been flipped. From over a hundred degrees in some northern latitudes on October 11, to under forty degrees on October 12, temperatures plummeted. The change broke the months long heat wave in places, and was the beginning of what became the worst winter in the northern hemisphere since the Little Ice Age starting in or before the sixteenth century and continuing into the early nineteenth century.

Though the temperatures began to drop all over the hemisphere at that point, for the most part the drought continued, with very little precipitation in the worst of the drought areas.

And the cold was brutal. Places had two hundred year old records not just broken, but shattered. Often by ten or twenty degrees colder than historical lows.

And, as often and widespread the electrical power outages were in the summer, they were ten times worse during the winter. With not just overloads blowing transformers, but the cold temperatures, high winds, and what little precipitation that some places received, taking down long stretches of power line that were impossible to repair in the weather conditions. That was even if the supplies of materials were available. They often weren’t.

On top of the food shortages, the subfreezing temperatures began a massive human die off in the Northern Hemisphere not seen in centuries. Desperate efforts were made to save people in place, and move those the farthest north, southward.

Those already at the limit of livability in the southern areas that were to be hosts for those from the north did not take on the task willingly in many cases.

Road blocks were put up to direct the convoys around cities, towns, and even rural areas, pointing them further south. Mexico moved military forces to their northern border with the US and denied everyone that was not a citizen of Mexico entrance to the nation.

After the first month, with thousands of Mexican citizens in the US legally and illegally streaming back home, Mexico shut the borders completely, not even taking their own citizens back. And those from Central and South America wanting to pass through from the US to their home nations were denied that.

The only option most had to bypass Mexico was a rather small makeshift fleet of ships and boats, crewed with the dregs of the maritime cities. People that paid huge sums of money were just as likely to be killed and dumped overboard as reach their destination in Central and South America.

The US government actually tried to cooperate with the Mexican government initially, keeping the border closed to prevent US citizens from leaving the country, all the while protesting the refusal of Mexico to allow her own citizens to return.

That was the situation when Thanksgiving Day rolled around again in the US. The insulation that had protected the Stevens house from heat gain during the summer also protected it from heat loss when the temperatures plummeted.

There had not been much firewood sold during the summer, so Jacob, to help out Andrew, had purchased all the excess production so the business could continue. So there was plenty of seasoned, stacked, and covered hardwood for the external furnace to keep the house comfortable.

But another family meeting resulted in the decision to keep the temperature much lower than they usually kept it in winter, to conserve resources. The heat was brought up each morning and evening, to be comfortable for showers and such, before being reduced again for the night and for the rest of the daylight hours.

Debra had plenty of handmade sweaters and blankets for the days when the temperature was kept at sixty-two, and the nights when it was allowed to go down to fifty-two.

It didn’t take long for many in the savings group, at least those that hadn’t left for warmer climes, or simply left the group, to look elsewhere when it was obvious that the Stevens could not be producing much food with the weather the way it was.

Had they known the extent of what Jacob, Debra, and Cheryl had put by, the family might have had a hard time keeping it without the use of violence.

Again, Jacob saw the handwriting on the wall, and was ready when Gus announced that he was shutting down the business and leaving for Texas where some of his family had property. Jacob didn’t bother to warn him that Texas was one of the worst hit by the drought, and wasn’t actually that much warmer than where they were.

Gus did give some severance pay to everyone, but no bonuses, and no other help to the employees. Jacob was the only one that stayed and shook Gus’ hand and wished him well on the last day.

Jacob had already warned Debra and Cheryl of the probability of him losing the job again, so they weren’t surprised, or even worried very much. They were in good shape and Andrew’s business saw an explosion of requests for firewood.

With the weather the way it was, the State and Federal forests were allowing higher than normal firewood cutting permits, still stressing the harvesting of deadfall, standing deadwood, and diseased trees, with limits on healthy living trees.

Jacob became a full partner with Andrew when he provided the financing for additional equipment that would allow them to upgrade their harvesting capability significantly. Jacob got the equipment cheap, as Gus’ company closing was as much a sign of the economy tanking even more, as it was the cold affecting the operation.

Between the economy and the numbers of those fleeing the weather, many things were available for a dime on the dollar or less. Even with the price freeze on firewood harvested from public lands, Andrew and Jacob were able to increase sales significantly, while paying premium wages to those willing to do the work in the often bitter cold.

The equipment helped, but it was still cold out, and not everything could be done from inside the cabs of the equipment. Handwork was required, as was servicing the equipment. Though that task was eased when the company had made enough to afford a temporary pole barn on the property where their harvesting permits were located.

The building was put up over the stationary equipment, and divided to allow a heated maintenance bay and office so they could do the mobile equipment service inside the building, and where the guys could get inside and warm up and have lunches out of the weather.

Despite all the attempts to save people, the summer heat and drought death tolls were miniscule in relation to those tallied that winter. The combination of starvation and bitter cold killed over one hundred million people around the world.

But spring did arrive in the Northern Hemisphere, late and chilly, but the worst of the weather moderated as each day toward summer came and went. Still below normal when the summer solstice arrived, things quickly began to warm up, bringing on fears of another killer summer.

But it wasn’t to be. Though the drought continued unabated for the most part, the temperatures ran well within normal for the Northern Hemisphere, while the Southern went into the freezer just like the Northern Hemisphere had. Between crop failures due to drought in the equatorial band and the much colder temperatures, another hundred million died.

Also, as in the Northern Hemisphere, the poorer countries in the Southern Hemisphere suffered the most, with few, if any options to prevent the deaths.

Jacob, Debra, and Cheryl managed to get the community garden going again, with only a handful of other people. They put in many hours, from prepping the ground to get it ready for planting again, and then the planting and tending the crops during the summer.

But it was almost all for naught. As soon as anything was ready for picking, and sometimes even before, raiders would take it all. Other than keeping an armed guard, willing to shoot the thieves, there was nothing Jacob and the others could do.

And the guard idea was quickly squashed by Jacob. He gathered the ones that were helping with the community garden to talk to them after the first incidents.

“For one thing, thefts like this don’t justify killing. And the law would look on it as hoarding, anyway, and murder, I’m sure. We just have to let it be. But I’m not willing to continue to tend the place if we can’t even hope to have much, if any, of its products.

“I suggest that everyone just get what you can as you can and leave it at that. I know things are tight, but it isn’t worth going to prison over killing someone over a tomato.”

Some didn’t like it, having put in their share of time. But all agreed to simply harvest what they could when they could and let the garden go, just as Jacob said he, Debra, and Cheryl were going to do.

The only things that they were able to get any reasonable amount for themselves were the grain crops, hops, and sunflowers. It seemed that no one else either knew how to gather them or process them, so the wheat, oats, rice, hops, barley, and rye, that weren’t trampled down accidently or out of spite, were harvested by Jacob.

He gave a share of the wheat, rice, and oats to all those still in the group, but since the Stevens had done the overwhelming majority of the work, kept the largest share for them.

The rest of the garden was essentially destroyed by those that were raiding it, as few of them knew or cared about protecting anything for a future day, long before it would have quit producing, given even a modicum of care.

“Jacob, what should we do?” Debra asked one fall day, after picking the produce the homestead had produced that day. “I feel so bad for the people that aren’t getting enough. Bridgett was basically begging me for anything we had to spare. I know we agreed to build our stocks back up, but…”

Jacob looked at Debra, and then at Cheryl, now fifteen. Both looked at him expectantly.

“You want to distribute some, I take it?” Jacob asked softly.

Debra bit her lip, but nodded.

“I think we should, Dad,” Cheryl said. “There are some kids at school that are only getting two meals a day, and one of them is that junk they have at school. I know we can’t help everyone…” Her eyes filling with tears, her words faded away.

“Okay,” Jacob said. “I’d come to the same conclusion. You beat me to it. Don’t cry, Cheryl. We’ll do what we can. Earmark ten percent of what we produce, and trade for with what we produce, to those that are still part of the savings group that have stuck by us.

“Another ten percent to the food bank at church, anonymously, in addition to what we’ve always given. And ten percent that we’ll do ourselves to those we think that need it the worst. Also anonymously. We have to be very careful, just as in the past, or even more so.

“People don’t have nearly the options they used to, and you know how it was there for a while.”

“Oh, Dad! Thank you!” Cheryl stepped forward and hugged Jacob tightly. “I know the families of some of the kids at school that sure could use anything we can do. And I understand about keeping it anonymous.”

“Yes, Jacob,” Debra said. Taking his hand in hers for a quick squeeze of agreement. “One thing… I didn’t quite understand what you meant about the things we trade for.”

“People are going to need protein, quality protein… Meat. And with the new agreement with the new owners of the homestead that Jillian and her husband had, we can provide more than just rabbit, chicken, and fish. A little beef and pork. Not much. But enough to give those we help at least a solid serving of each once a week.”

“You have been thinking about this!” Debra said pleased more than she could say. Jacob had been very firm about some things, especially when those of the savings group had given them such a hard time. But he hadn’t lost his humanity. Far from it. He was offering to do much more than Debra had even envisioned.

With Debra still holding one hand, and the other arm still around Cheryl’s shoulder, Jacob said, “So, I guess we need to sit down and decide who is to get what. After we take care of the bounty of the day.”

That took well into the night, after the food was processed. The next day was Sunday, and Jacob carefully packed up a large box of preserved foods, in addition to the smaller box they’d been giving to the church food bank every week since the crises had started two years previously.

But rather than carrying the second box in with them to put in the receiving box the way he did the smaller box, Jacob left the second for later. They would drop it off at the rear door of the church after church was over and most everyone would be gone.

They’d discussed it, and to avoid problems, it perhaps being taken by someone else, or being overlooked and ruined, Jacob would tell the minister about it privately and give it directly to him, with his assurance that no mention of it would be made. In church or out of it. The minister was big on giving thanks, by name, to those that helped out a bit more than usual. Which was exactly what the Stevens didn’t want.

Jacob had to stand firm with Fred Stearn and his wife, the new owners of the former Hastings’ homestead, about their agreement for Jacob to get first refusal rights, at a set price, for the milk, beef, and swine they were producing. The Stevens steady buying and trading had kept the Stearns going during the worst of the weather problems. Only that money had allowed them to keep the animals sheltered and fed.

Now Fred wanted to sell to the highest bidder, despite the agreement. Jacob’s warning that if things were to change again for the worst, there would be no help forthcoming as there had been in the past. It was enough to convince Fred to let Jacob have the products he wanted, since they were only a portion of what he had available now.

With many pounds of various cheeses, butter, and other dairy products put by, Jacob cut the milk order down from the five gallons a week they had been getting and processing, to just two gallons a week.

But he stood firm on the two full beef and five hogs he’d ordered the previous fall, when things were tough and Fred was struggling to keep just his breeding stock alive, for delivery this fall, all on a handshake deal, with, at the time, very good prices paid in advance. To sweeten the pot, Jacob put half down, at slightly higher prices, on the same number of animals for the next fall.

So, even with their generosity, Jacob, Debra, and Cheryl went into the Christmas season fairly well off in supplies, though their cash was lower than they liked. They had been spending it, investing it actually, just as they’d done with Andrew and the firewood business and Fred with the arrangements they’d made with him.

Though they were doing okay, and Jacob was fairly busy with Andrew, not having a good paying job with benefits was bothering him. There was some cash from the firewood, but the family still took a significant portion of Jacob’s wages in seasoned hardwood firewood.

It was something of a miracle that none of them had any major health problems or accidents during the last couple of years, but it was almost a certainty that medical care would be needed at some point and Jacob wanted insurance, to keep the emergency fund and their retirement plans intact.

He went looking for computer work after the first of the year. The economy was still in the dumps, but there was still an economy, with people, a few less now, still buying and selling and needing financial work done.

Jacob kept his standards up, and decided to pass on a couple of jobs that he was very over qualified for, with salaries that were an insult, and with minimal benefits, to boot.

But Gus’ reputation had been good in the area, and the letter of recommendation that Jacob had held onto stood Jacob in good stead when he applied to a series of computer management level positions at half a dozen of the larger corporations still functioning in the area.

He interviewed for three of the positions he applied for, turned one down, and then wavered between the other two. He wasn’t much to play one person against another, but he was thinking of his family and essentially gave each of the HR people the same idea that he was considering the other company, and wanted a bit more than was being offered from the one he was talking to at the moment.

Jacob was relieved when the ploy worked, without much effort, actually. The company he was really hoping to get on with upped the offer two percent, and added a couple of financial perks and several smaller perks, such as a dedicated parking spot and a grander job title.

He was also guaranteed time off when he needed it to handle the fall harvest and meat processing, though he didn’t put it quite that way when he asked for the specific times off in lieu of a couple of other perks offered he didn’t care about.

It put a lot of pressure on Debra, with Cheryl in school and doing very well with her music training, to get everything done at home. Jacob saw how tired she was, though she never complained. He called another family meeting and brought up the subject.

“Debra, I know the load on you is tremendous, and you are doing a great job, but I think, now that I’m working again and can’t do as much as I have for the last year or so that we need to get you some domestic help. We need the benefits, and the cash coming in is nice, and we need it, too, but I’m making enough to get someone to help you with the routine things so you can concentrate on the things you want to do. You haven’t taken a class in some time and I know you miss it.”

“It is okay, Jacob. I’m managing.”

“Mom,” Cheryl said quietly, “I think that is the point Dad is trying to make. You’re managing, but some of the spark and sparkle is gone. You work from before I get up to late at night. It isn’t good for you.”

There were tears in Debra’s eyes. “I don’t want to let you down. Either of you. Cheryl, you keep your room cleaned and help with the laundry and... And Jacob, you…”

Jacob took her hands into his. “You aren’t letting us down. And sure we help. But we’ve created a place here that takes more than one person to handle day in and day out. Even you with your almost inexhaustible supply of energy. You haven’t had a real break in months.”

Debra was openly crying now. “But we need to keep ahead… I don’t want to spend money on things in case we need it for… for something else…”

“We’ve made it through tough times before, Honey. We probably will again. But while things are going good, let’s lower the work load for you, significantly, and on Cheryl and I a little. A domestic to help you will let you get back to doing some of the things you love. And they always seem to come in handy when we need something when the times are hard.”

“But…” Debra slid her hands from Jacob’s and wiped her eyes with a tissue. “I don’t know… Do you think we could find someone we could trust? We have so much to lose now, if word gets out about what we do have here.”

“I know someone,” Cheryl said suddenly.

Jacob and Debra both looked at Cheryl in surprise. “You know a domestic that would work for us the way we need?” Jacob asked.

Cheryl nodded her head with certainty. “Yes. Mrs. Russell.” Cheryl colored slightly. “Brian’s mother…”

“She’s one of the ones you had us help…” Debra said.

“And Brian?” Jacob asked, a twinkle in his eye and humor in his voice.”

“Well… Okay. I kind of like him. A little… I guess.” She saw her mother and father both smile. “But really. Mrs. Russell is a good worker and really needs the job. You saw how she was at that last event we had at school.

“She’s just like you, Mom. Always willing to help, no matter what, and almost never asks for help herself, or take anything for helping. Brian is like that, too. I think she could be trusted. And Brian. They really do need some help. Brian is so thin… and Mrs. Russell is just as thin.”

“Well, then. I think you should approach her and see what you think, Debra.”

Debra was looking at Cheryl. She looked over at Jacob. “Me? But you…”

“Don’t want to approach a woman, try to find out about her, and then offer her a household job right out of the blue. Nope. I don’t think so.”

“He’s right, Mom. Brian said… Well… A lot of people know the situation they are in. And Mrs. Russell is really pretty, even as thin as she is. You’ve seen her.

“A couple of men have sort of tried to take advantage of the situation… Brian almost got into a fight with one of them. He said… Well, he didn’t really say, just implied, that it wasn’t right in any way what the guy was offering.”

“I see,” Debra said. She looked at Jacob again. “You are right. I think in that situation I would be very careful about who I talked to and about what. If you two really think this is the right thing to do…”

“I do,” Jacob said.

“Me, too, Mom,” Cheryl added. “Good for you and us, and for Mrs. Russell and Brian.”

“Well, I guess it is settled, then. What would be the best way for me to contact her, Cheryl?” Debra asked.

“I’ll ask Brian to ask her to call. If they still have a phone. If not, maybe you could come down to the school. She helps out at play practice most of the time. Brian said she used to act in community plays and stuff and knows all about putting on plays and building sets and things.”

“I guess I have been a little lax in getting involved with your school activities this year, haven’t I?” Debra asked sadly.

“Oh, Mom. That’s okay. You’ve had more important things to do lately. This will give you more time for things like that.”

“When is the next play practice?” Jacob asked.

“Tomorrow, actually,” Cheryl said.

Jacob looked at Debra. “We can both go over and maybe I can lend a hand while you talk to Mrs. Russell.” Smiling he looked over at Cheryl. “Brian will probably be there, I take it?”

Cheryl looked a little uncertain, but she nodded.

“Might just run into him, then, and introduce myself.”


Jacob chuckled. “Don’t worry. I’ll try not to embarrass you.”

Debra smiled and admonished. “Don’t tease her, Jacob. There will be plenty of times for us to check out Brian.”


A red faced Cheryl found an excuse to make herself scarce, so Jacob and Debra could discuss the situation and possible duties and salary.

Jacob was impressed immediately with Brian. He came up and introduced himself before Jacob had a chance to do the same. And was very respectful in the process. It pained Jacob to see how thin the boy was. Cheryl was right. If Brian’s condition was any sign, the family needed some help. More than what they were already getting on the sly from the Stevens. He hoped that Debra found Mrs. Russell suitable for the job.

Jacob was helping Brian with rigging some of the sets, with Cheryl keeping an eagle eye on them, when Debra walked over with the woman in question beside her.

Jacob had to admit that Cheryl was right. Belinda Russell was quite pretty, despite being, as Cheryl had said, very thin. “Jacob, this is Belinda Russell. She’s agreed to work for us, if you approve.”

“I’ll leave that to you, Dear,” Jacob replied, shaking Belinda’s hand carefully, afraid he might actually hurt her. But she had a firm grip and he matched it, realizing that despite her appearance, she was a strong woman. In more ways than one.

“Don’t you want to ask me any questions?” Belinda asked.

Jacob shrugged and said, “No. Debra and I discussed what was required of someone to work for us and you obviously qualify or she wouldn’t have brought you over.”

“Actually, I think Belinda wanted to see if she’d be willing to work for us, depending on your… approach.”

The all saw Belinda color slightly. But she spoke up quietly. “I suppose I did. It has been rather… difficult lately.”

“Mom…” Brian said softly. All the Stevens could see he was hurting because of his mother’s past experiences.

“It is quite all right, Brian,” Belinda told her son. “You were right about this family. Very close and of a single mind, I think.” She paused and then looked at Cheryl, Brian in turn, and then Debra and Jacob. “You are the ones that have been leaving the food and things at the apartment, aren’t you?”

“That’s you guys?” Brian asked, startled. He looked over at Cheryl and saw from her look that his mother was right. “We’ll pay you back. Every cent… We don’t take charity… Well, we did, I guess, but we didn’t know where it was coming from and…”

Belinda put a hand on Brian’s arm and was about to speak when Cheryl spoke up first. “It was my idea, Brian. I know you didn’t want to take anything, but I was so worried about you and your mom…” Cheryl was close to tears and Brian knew it.

“It’s okay, Cheryl,” Brian said gently. “Really. You only did what you thought right, obviously. We really did need some help. I just want to be able to thank and repay that kindness.”

“I’m proud of you, Son,” Belinda said. “And that is just what we will do. By my working for the family, because from what Debra told me, she is having a hard time keeping up with everything. She is quite the homesteader, I’ve discovered already.”

“I’ll help…” Brian said.

Debra, Belinda, and Cheryl all started to protest. But Jacob beat them to it. And it wasn’t to protest. “I think that can be arranged. To give Debra some extra time for herself, you can help me with the gardens and stock and such.

“But under the same conditions as your mother. Straight employment that has nothing to do with water under the bridge. Just if you want a job worth a few dollars every week, plus some barter goods if you want.”

Brian looked at Jacob wonderingly. Then at his mother. When she nodded, Brian looked at Cheryl. She nodded eagerly so Brian looked back at Jacob and held out his hand. “Yes, Sir. I would like to have that job. I don’t know much about gardens and stuff, but I can learn.”

“That you will. What say we go out to dinner after play practice to celebrate the new jobs?”

“Oh, we couldn’t…” Belinda was protesting. Brian said almost the same thing.

“We have a lot of details to discuss,” Jacob said. “Might as well do it over a nice meal. Debra deserves a night out, too, anyway.”

It took a little more persuasive talking, on Debra’s part, but the two finally agreed to go to a nearby restaurant for dinner after the play practice.

Cheryl was being called up onto the stage for the rehearsal, and Belinda and Brian had to hurry to get some of the set work ready, leaving Jacob and Debra to finish up what Jacob and Brian had been working on. They worked companionably for the rest of the rehearsal and then had a pleasurable meal getting to know the Russells a bit and explaining just what they did and how important keeping the knowledge secret was.

It was all the Stevens could do to keep the Russell’s from working far too much, too hard, and too long, but both began to gain some weight and look much better than they had.

Belinda was as much of a stickler for a clean house as was Debra and there were no complaints about the work. And Jacob found Brian a bright and personable young man, willing to learn anything Jacob would teach him.

Jacob and Debra agreed that Cheryl could see him socially, following the guidelines that Cheryl had been raised by, if she wanted to, and he was agreeable. Both quickly made it clear they were.

As the winter came upon them, the fear of another bad one was justified. Not as bad as the previous, but bad enough. After careful training, especially safety training, Brian was allowed to join the firewood production crew on Saturdays to make extra money above and beyond the two days a week he worked with Jacob on the suburban homestead.

Brian and Cheryl studied those two evenings together and were allowed to go out together one night a week, either Friday or Saturday, depending on school functions and what other activities were going on.

Debra and Jacob made sure that Belinda and Brian were all right when the power went out four times that winter. The apartment building where Belinda and Brian lived not only lost power each time, but the water and sewer systems froze up twice.

They were invited to stay at the homestead for three days each time that happened, but with the prep goods that Jacob was getting for them at discounted prices, they were able to weather the other two outages on their own.

Part of Cheryl’s daily chores was now the primary care of the small stock, consisting of the worms, rabbits, fish, and chickens. Brian, as much to spend additional time with her, as learning all he could about the operation, began helping and learning about that part of the homestead. From the care and feeding to the humane dispatch of the chickens, rabbits, and fish.

Brian was a bit reluctant at first, but Cheryl was so matter of fact about it that he found himself following her lead and doing what needed to be done with no regrets.

It was a bit different with Belinda. She was a good cook, in addition to her cleaning abilities, but was more than a bit squeamish about handling the freshly killed animals.

While Cheryl or Brain did the actual killing and skinning, plucking, or scaling, the carcass was taken to the kitchen for processing. Belinda had no trouble handling the meats from the freezer, but the first time Cheryl brought in two rabbits and a chicken, she almost lost her lunch.

Debra, having gone through the same adjustment period, was patient with her, and after a few weeks Belinda, still not extremely comfortable with the task, learned how to process the meat efficiently.

It was a bit different when Brian asked to go along on one of the family shoots for training one weekend. Having been brought up in a liberal household, and trained in the performing arts, Belinda had acquired a dislike, distrust, and fear of firearms. The subject had never really come up in their household, so Brian wasn’t anti-gun like his mother, but simply didn’t know very much about them.

Again, wanting to spend all the time he could with Cheryl, and appear skilled in her eyes, he wanted to learn to shoot. It took some calm explanations, discussion, and gentle persuasion to get Belinda to allow Brian to go to the range with the Stevens. But she refused to join in.

At least at first. Eventually, after several things happened that made the news sources she was now exposed to at the Stevens’ and through Brian’s exposure to them, Belinda finally had her eyes opened enough to the advantages of being able to effectively defend oneself with a firearm.

She did join them one day at the range and learned the basics. After that, as time passed, she became not only familiar with weapons, but at ease with them, too.

Those weren’t the only changes that winter. While Debra and Jacob had decided early on not to have a child of their own and began to use prevention from the very first, the best rate of success for family planning, except for abstinence, is only ninety-nine percent.

Debra and Jacob found themselves part of the one percent prevention failure rate. Debra told Jacob she was pregnant on Christmas Eve that winter. She wasn’t really worried about his reaction, but she was curious.

“Pregnant? The protection failed?”

Debra nodded.

“Well, what do you know about that?” He took her in his arms and hugged so hard she had to break the hug or stop breathing.

“You’re okay with it?”

“Well of course! Some surprises are happier than others. I’m more than happy about it. Not that it happened, but since it did, and even though it wasn’t what we planned, yes. Some things happen for a reason. We are doubly blessed now, in my opinion.”

Jacob was grinning proudly and it was he who had to break the hug that Debra was giving him.

They waited until Christmas Day to tell Cheryl. While Debra and Jacob were happy and pleased, Cheryl was ecstatic. She’d given up asking about a little brother or little sister years ago, but had always wished for one.

“This is so great! What are we going to name it? If it’s a boy? Or if it’s a girl? This is the best present ever!”

“Honey,” Debra said, a smile on her face, “I just found out and told your father last night. It’s a little early to be picking names just yet.”

“Yeah. I guess so. But you’re okay? Everything is normal and all?”

“Yes. Of course. I haven’t been to the doctor yet, but I’m sure things are fine,” Debra reassured Cheryl.

“I can’t wait to tell Brian!” Cheryl said. She started to run off to her room to call him, but stopped. “That’s okay, isn’t it? To tell Brian?”

“Yes, of course,” Debra said after getting a nod from Jacob.

But Jacob, smiling, said, “But he and Mrs. Russell are coming over this evening. You want to wait and tell him then? Might get an extra hug out of it.”

“Oh, Dad!” But Cheryl looked thoughtful for a moment. She shook her head and added, “I’ll bust if I don’t tell someone. I’m going to call and tell him.” She hurried off.

“Well,” Jacob said as he and Debra picked up some wrapping paper and tidied up the room after having opened the presents after church, but before the announcement.

They sat down together on the sofa, with the television on. But they mostly ignored that when Jacob said, “I guess we have some plans to make.”

Debra nodded. “We have the things for pregnancies and babies stored. For other people. I guess we do need to plan for ourselves, now. It is kind of getting scary to me now. It was a long time ago when I had Cheryl.”

“You still under forty, are healthy as can be, and things went fairly easily with Cheryl, you’ve told me. Of course we’ll do all the things to avoid problems, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it.”

“That’s true. Thank you. It was just overwhelming there for a moment.”

“I understand. It kind of hit me this morning about three. I’m going to be the father to a newborn. It is different from Cheryl. She was already a toddler when we married.”

Debra chuckled. “So that was why you were up, pacing this morning. I thought it was indigestion, or something.”

“Not hardly,” Jacob said. “You and Mrs. Russell are far too good of cooks for me to get indigestion.”

Debra chuckled, but asked, a bit more seriously, “Why do you continue to call her Mrs. Russell? She’s become as much a friend as an employee.”

“I know. I’m just more comfortable with Mrs. Russell. It keeps that little bit of extra distance between us that I prefer. I don’t ever want a misunderstanding about that.”

“Oh, Jacob! You do worry too much about some things. But never mind. I guess I’d better get started on the turkey for this evening.”

“Are you sure you don’t want me to help?”

“No. You deserve a real day off. You’ve been going full out for months, with everything going on.”

“Well, in that case, I may just get on the computer to see where we can improve our preps, pregnant mother and baby wise.”

“That wasn’t the day off I was thinking about. More like a nap on the sofa.”

Jacob laughed. “Maybe after the turkey.” He headed for the study, his thoughts turning to the need that they would have to convert it back to a bedroom eventually, and a nursery within a few months. He’d need to move the desk and filing cabinet somewhere else. Either his and Debra’s bedroom, or the living room.

He decided to leave that decision to later, after he and Debra could discuss it. For now, the supplies were more important.

Jacob checked the various bank balances and the cash on hand first, and then began to check inventories and supply lists. It occupied him until Mrs. Russell and a very excited Brian arrived to join them for Christmas dinner.

It was a pleasant evening, with the small exchange of simple gifts to and from Belinda and Brian. Cheryl had splurged a bit on Brian, and he on her, but none of the parents objected. They had been both thoughtful and useful gifts, just somewhat over the price range agreed upon.

Debra and Belinda ushered Jacob unceremoniously out of the kitchen when he tried to help with the cleanup. So he did what he’d very seldom done. He did take a nap on the sofa while the two women talked babies and took care of the cleanup, and Cheryl and Brian discussed potential college plans, together.

That evening, after the Russells left, Jacob saw Debra to bed and then went back down to the study for some more computer time. The nap had refreshed him, and he wasn’t ready for bed yet.

Despite the drought, and other problems around the world, the rest of that winter was mild where they were, and the Stevens were at a new level of preps and happiness.

When spring arrived, and then school was out, things changed again. Or the plans for the future changed. While Brian had been a good B grade level student, with the occasional C and the occasional A, with Cheryl’s help and tutoring, he’d raised his grade point average enough to earn several small scholarships, and qualify for the State college there in town.

Cheryl, a straight A student from an early age, was Valedictorian of the class and won full four year scholarships, and had her pick of the several colleges she’d applied to. After considerable debate and discussion with her parents, with financial matters, travel distances, the coming baby, and her intended major all being factors, the decision was finally made that Cheryl would continue to live at home and go to the State college, as well.

Brian’s name was never mentioned, but it was in the back of all three Stevens’ minds. Even with the scholarships he’d won, it would still be quite a struggle for Brian to get through college on his own. He would need to work to supplement the scholarships, and though a good student now, he still needed to study much more than Cheryl did to make the same grades.

So Jacob talked it over with Debra and they decided to set up an anonymous scholarship for Brian, to be given through the high school. It wasn’t all that much, but it would allow Brian to have the time he needed to concentrate on his studies. He would still need to work part time during the weekends, in addition to what he did at the Homestead and the firewood operation during the summers.

Cheryl was the first one Brian told when the counselor at school had him come in a few days after graduation and told him of the scholarship. He was told it was from one of the civic groups in town that always waited to see how much those in need received before they picked a recipient.

Cheryl thought about asking her parents about the sudden scholarship, but decided that she didn’t need to know, if they hadn’t told her. The story the counselor told Brian was believable, anyway. She was just happy for Brian and quit worrying about him being able to complete college on a timely basis.

It was important to her, because they’d agreed not to get married until both finished college and had good jobs. The sooner that was done, the better, Cheryl thought.

Brian took every job he could do and get that summer, in order to have enough money set aside to make it just that much easier, and have a little extra so he could treat Cheryl once in a while. Besides, he wanted whoever had set up the scholarship to know he was worth the effort and money, no matter who they were.

Cheryl was able to be with her mother and Jacob when the baby was born, right on time, with no complications, very early the third Sunday of September.

The winter was shaping up to be another tough one, with a minor snowstorm blowing all day Saturday, Sunday, and the following Monday. Thus Stormy Jacob Stevens became the name that all three existing family members agreed on.

Cheryl didn’t find out for sure until after she and Brian got home from classes that Monday, as the storm moderated. Brian wasn’t able to afford a vehicle, so when the weather was marginal or worse, Cheryl picked him up in the mornings and dropped him off in the evenings. Their class schedules were such that it was working okay for the class year.

One of the graduation gifts that Jacob and Debra had given Cheryl had been the old Subaru, still in decent shape for local trips. Debra, after much thought, had opted to get one of the new, small crossover SUVs for her primary use.

They wanted something safe and reliable with the baby in the picture now. The old rebuilt Suburban was doing just fine. Jacob was capable of keeping it serviced, but Brian was a bit of a whiz with vehicles and between the two of them, it was in excellent shape. But it was Jacob’s daily driver and their homestead work vehicle, so Debra had needed something for herself and Stormy, especially with the weather again on the bad side of normal.

Suburban Homestead – Epilog

The economy wasn’t doing all that great, either. But Jacob’s job was for a company that did well despite the economy. Perhaps even better when the economy was in the shape it was now. Though he worked in the offices of the company, and the manufacturing plant was in another city, one of Jacob’s perks was the employee discount he got on the company’s products.

The company manufactured, among many other things, a line of quality home, estate, and homestead tools. Jacob was able to pick up new tools, far in excess of what he already had for less than he had invested in the originals. With the use the originals had seen, the older ones were literally wearing out. The new ones, with the spare parts and extras he bought with the discount, would last for years of more hard work.

And it looked very much like that was going to be the norm for the foreseeable future. All indications were that the weather patterns were on the swing to near record bad winters and near record bad summers every couple of years. Within historical norms, but the worst of them.

The days of wonderful weather for years at a time were over for now. But it wasn’t expected to be as bad as it had turned there for a while, either. So the homestead would continue to be a major factor in the Stevens and Russell families’ lifestyles.

With the harsh conditions and deaths from the past disasters on many peoples’ minds, small homesteads like the Stevens’ were being developed in many places, for the same reasons the Stevens had started theirs.

The community grain and bean garden was again put into production with some of the old members of the group helping and teaching the many new people that wanted to have the benefits that it provided. The city came through with additional land that could be used for vegetable gardens, and even a couple more grain and bean gardens.

Debra, often with Stormy on her hip, was the leader and organizer, with Belinda’s help, of a renewed gardening, canning, and savings group.

And when Cheryl and Brian graduated college, Cheryl with dual degrees in music and animal husbandry, and Brian with one in farming, the on again, off again, out of town homestead was acquired and began to provide the groups with all the quality protein they would need in the still difficult times ahead.

But the Suburban Homestead was still the center of life for the family. Stormy would learn at his mother’s and father’s side what it took to take over the operation, years later, when they retired, happy with their lives, despite the occasional trial and tribulation they had so successfully handled.

End ********

Copyright 2013
Jerry D Young

Jerry D Young
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Re: JDY Fiction - Suburban Homestead

Postby fastback65 » Sun Feb 03, 2013 10:46 am

Thanks, Jerry, for a real feel good story. No inheritances, or lotteries, just good honest work and savings. BTW, I am in the middle of "Expedition", and I was wondering if the Jack Sandusky, character was based on the exploits of Jerry D. Young.
"Never, under any circumstances, ever become a refuge... Die if you must, but die on your home turf with your face to the wind, not in some stinking hellhole 2,000 kilometers away, among people you neither know nor care about." - Ragnar Benson
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Re: JDY Fiction - Suburban Homestead

Postby Jerry D Young » Mon Feb 04, 2013 4:19 pm

Thanks fastback65!

I would like to think I would do what Jack does in similar situations. But it is only vicariously that I even come close. Jack is a conglomeration of several people that I know or have met, or read about. Only some of me is in Jack.
Jerry D Young
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Re: JDY Fiction - Suburban Homestead

Postby stjwelding » Sat Apr 11, 2015 6:50 am

Jerry thanks for the story very good and thank you for sharing your gift with us.
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