Dear Diary, It’s Me, Jessica: Part 4

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Dear Diary,

It is me, Jessica.

O!  M!  G!

It is COLD!

My cold nose is what woke me up late last night.  I was cold even in my flannel PJs and the extra blankets on the bed.  I dressed in my cold clothes and made my way to the living room and kitchen, where the fireplace was, to find Mom and Dad not only dressed but with their coats, hats, and even gloves on. Dad said we must have been hit with a ‘polar vortex’ as he was building up the fire from a decent-sized bed of red glowing coals.  

Mom’s country chicken thermometer on the wall between the living room and the kitchen read fifty-two degrees.  It had to be in the forties back in the bedrooms.  The thermometer outside the kitchen window read twelve.  Dad guessed it was even lower with the wind chill, single digits, maybe even negative. 

It was so cold that when Dad and I went out for firewood in the morning, my lungs felt like they were on fire when I inhaled.  Diary, this might be a bit gross but it felt like my nose hairs froze!  

We also got snow.  Hard to say how much with the wind blowing and the drifts, but it was had to be at least half a foot, maybe even a full foot.  Dad said we were lucky. With the cold temperatures, the snow was light and fluffy.  Had it been just above freezing, it would have been wet and heavy.  It made for easier walking through the woods, but I still got a lot of snow up to my knees.  My winter boots are more stylish with the faux fur around the tops, just below my knees. It kept most of the snow out, but my feet were numb, especially my toes.

I wore sweatpants inside of my jeans, a tee shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, a sweatshirt, and my winter jacket.  I had a hat and gloves, but I was still cold.  The wind seemed to go right through all of my clothing like it was not even there.

When Dad and I got back with wood, Mom made us mugs of hot tea to help warm us up.  It felt so good.  I propped my feet up close to the fire and sipped my tea.  Mom checked both me and Dad for frostbite, and we were fine.  Just cold!  With the fire going well, the chicken thermometer read sixty-eight.  It does not sound warm, but in front of a good fire, I was comfortable in a tee shirt, jeans, and my fuzzy slippers.  

Jack showed up shortly afterward.  He was doing rounds in the neighborhood to make sure everyone was okay.  He wore a military issue ‘arctic’ parka, snow pants over his jeans, weird-looking mittens with a separate index finger, snow boots, a winter hat, a face-like covering called a ‘Balaclava,’ yellow-tinted goggles, and snowshoes.  He carried a bolt action ‘scout’ rifle rather than his usual one.

How he could walk with all that crap and a backpack on is a wonder.  But when he took off his hat, gloves, Balaclava, goggles, and parka, he was sweating.  

I asked him where Samson was.  He said he left him at home in front of a good fire.  With this wind, he could not be sure of Samson’s safety.  

Jack then reached over to his backpack and pulled out Mom’s laptop.  Dad and I took it over to the HAM guy’s house last week with a day’s worth of firewood in trade for charging the laptop off his solar array.  HAM guy said it was not necessary, but Dad insisted.  Fully charged, we could watch movies or TV shows off Mom’s hard drive for a few days if she dimmed the screen a little. 

Jack took the hot tea Mom offered and said that Joanne seemed to be in the clear and fully recovered.  I was very happy to hear that.  She is so sweet and is such a good gardener.  Between her and Mom, we had all kinds of veggies to eat.

HAM guy’s weather station confirmed Mom’s outdoor thermometer of twelve degrees last night.  The wind chill was a negative ten.  

Jack said Rae is of the opinion that the neighborhood school would not be up and running till late spring or early summer.  Dad was the lead supervisor on the floor of the factory before he got promoted to management.  As an engineer, he would be teaching a basic engineering class and maybe an advanced one if there was enough interest.  Mom, with her background in IT, would teach a math class.  She was very excited about it. 

Rae found others willing to teach science, biology, and history.  Several volunteered for coaching sports, the drama club, the chess club, and Jack would be teaching card games.  Jack said when he was in the Marines, nothing was more dangerous than a bored Marine.  Someone always had a deck of cards, from above the Arctic Circle to the battlefield in the desert.  It also teaches some math and critical thinking skills.  He then pulled out a deck of cards and asked if anyone was interested in a game with a sly grin.

While we played rummy, Jack told us that the HAM guy’s batteries were low due to the cold and the lack of direct sunshine for the past few days.  He was only able to come up at the noon ‘group’ meetings.  He noted a number of other ‘regulars’ were not up to include the city HAM guy.  Our HAM guy was concerned but thought it had more to do with the cold and cloud cover.  

The HAM guy did talk to another HAM guy further North.  His weather station reported negative 20  without the windchill.  He, his wife, and their three dogs closed themselves off in the kitchen with a wood stove from the rest of the house to keep warm.  They slept on the floor with a few comforters as ground cloth, sleeping bags and a few more heavy blankets.  The dogs helped them stay warm.

After a few games, Jack headed out for home to check on Samson and make his own dinner.  By some unspoken word, if someone had more than they could use, a chicken, rabbit, or even a deer, people would offer up the excess to their neighbors.  Without refrigeration, it would just go to waste.  Between that and the canning of garden produce and even the canning of meat, plus the drying and curing of meat, we were not going hungry.  Rae did make the observation that while my parents had lost no small amount of weight, they made sure I was getting plenty of protein at their expense.  Diary, I have to admit I feel guilty about what my own parents are willing to sacrifice for my physical health.  It never occurred to me until Rae pointed it out.  I am trying to make up for it by doing more and not complaining about anything they ask of me.

Dear Diary, We had a slumber party!

Rae’s house has a fireplace, but it is much smaller than ours.  The men who were in construction in the 50s and 60s were either of the Great Depression era or their parents were.  They had nearly an obsession with every home having a fireplace.  Whoever built our home made a large fireplace with an extended hearth floor three feet into the living room.  This helped in keeping the living room and kitchen very warm.  Dad has an idea he has been ‘rolling’ around in his head about how to make a steel insert to make the fire more efficient and maybe even cook on it if he can find the right materials and some welding equipment.  He might even be able to do it with brute strength and the application of ‘leverage,’ or so he says.  

So, Rae, Kathy, Joan, and Allison brought sleeping bags or bed rolls to our home to keep warm and have a good time!

Kathy had traded some of her pharmaceutical skills for bread flour.  Mom had dried yeast, and there were green onions she was growing in the kitchen window.  They made green onion biscuits to go with the roasted venison chuck roast Jack left, carrots, rutabagas, and onion gravy.  We had canned green bean casserole with fried onions on the side.  

For fun, we sang karaoke from Mom’s laptop, danced, and even did bad line dancing.  The best was to ‘I Will Survive!’  We sang and danced to it twice!  It was so much fun!  Dad watched on, smiling in amusement, made some reference to a football movie from 2000, and passed whenever us girls asked him to dance.  He kept the fire going.

As it grew late, we all got into our sleeping bags or bed rolls and began chatting about life prior to when the power went out.

Rae owned a small business accounting firm.  Only about a dozen people, but it was as she put it, “Honey, we owned the farm proper.”

Diary, I have no idea what that means, but I believe her!

Kathy took such an interest in chemistry in high school that she was determined to become a pharmacologist.  She became the head pharmacologist at the hospital despite being so young.  

Joan had the voice of an angel.  She was in school to become a choir teacher when the power went out.

Allison, I was surprised to find out she was actually a year younger than me.  All she said was that life was good before the power went out, and she missed her family.  We all left it at that.  After a long, uncomfortable pause, Rae declared she missed ice cream the most.  We all burst out laughing and then talked about things we missed till we all fell silent one by one and drifted off to sleep.

Diary, the next morning was almost but not quite as much fun as the previous night.

With everyone sleeping in the living room and a good fire, we all slept great.  

I woke up to see Dad stoking the coals and adding a few logs to the fire.  Mom was in the kitchen boiling water for the French press of coffee or tea.  She even pulled out a one-pound bag of sugar.  

Using the last of the previous night’s dinner, Mom and Rae made up a short crust, egg, and venison roast quiche in a twelve-inch cast iron pan, with the leftover onion gravy on the side.  It was so good!

While we were digging into our breakfast, we joked and teased each other, laughing all the while.

And Diary, I think I like coffee now.

Dear Diary, it’s me, Jessica. I am numb.

Not cold numb.

Emotionally numb.  

I shot a man today.

I killed him.  

I had to.  

He was beating Daddy.

As quickly as the ‘polar vortex’ came, it went.

It is sunny out, still cold but not ‘polar vortex’ cold.  It actually felt warm compared to the previous two days.

After Dad and I brought in firewood, we went over to the Miller’s.  When Dad tried to apologize for not showing up for two days, Mr. Miller interrupted Dad and said not to worry.  Traveling in that kind of weather was dangerous.  The smart thing was to stay put and stay warm.  The Millers did only what was necessary themselves, feeding and watering the livestock, and stayed in the house in front of their cast iron wood stove in the kitchen to keep warm.  

Mr. Miller had an idea but needed Dad’s engineering knowledge and they went into the house to talk.  I went over to the one barn where Billy, Olive, and Daisy were moving hay bales, set my rifle up against the barn door, put on a pair of working gloves, and jumped into the chore.

After lunch and what work Mr. Miller had for us, he paid us with a freshly slaughtered chicken and a five-pound bag of flour. Dad and I were walking home when a man hiding in the overgrowth next to the road leaped up and swung a club at Daddy.  Daddy tried to dodge but he got a glancing blow to the head and went down.  Daddy raised his arms to protect his head, so the man kicked Daddy in the side a few times.  He then raised the club to strike Daddy when I squeezed the trigger.  I did not even know I had unslung my rifle, shouldered it, and aimed.  I did it all without thinking.  It was not till I felt the recoil and saw the man crumple to the ground that I realized what I had done.

We were just outside the neighborhood when it happened.  After the shot, a few of our neighbors showed up with their firearms. Rae was one of them.  She pulled out an orange whistle, turned toward the neighborhood and blew it three times, paused, then did it again while the others tended to Daddy.  Rae took me aside.  She squeezed my shoulder, almost hard, and told me what I did was ‘okay.’  She said if I did not do what I did, Daddy might be dead right now.  

Jack showed up a few minutes later.  Jack ordered a ‘sweep’ of the area. 

I get it.  I saved Daddy.  

But I keep seeing the man with the club raised, the sound of the shot, and feeling the recoil of the rifle as the bullet hit him just below his armpit.  Him, dropping to the ground.  Never to get up again.  

Jack showed up at our home later in the evening to check on us.  Daddy had no signs of a concussion, though he had a heck of a bump on the head. He did have some bruised ribs and would have to take it easy for the next few days.  They had found where the man had made a small campsite.  Based on what they found and the condition of him, Jack assumed he was not quite ‘right’ in the head.  

Jack took me aside from Mom and Dad, and told me that I did the ‘right’ thing.  

I saved Daddy.

About 1stMarineJarHead

1stMarineJarHead is not only a former Marine, but also a former EMT-B, Wilderness EMT (courtesy of NOLS), and volunteer firefighter.

He currently resides in the great white (i.e. snowy) Northeast with his wife and dogs. He raises chickens, rabbits, goats, occasionally hogs, cows and sometimes ducks. He grows various veggies and has a weird fondness for rutabagas. He enjoys reading, writing, cooking from scratch, making charcuterie, target shooting, and is currently expanding his woodworking skills.

1stMarineJarHead

1stMarineJarHead

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  • Good story, reads just like a teenager’s diary, too! Well done!
    I’m glad that you and Daisy are both writing something that will get people to really thinking about what things could be like after the balloon goes up! People really do need to think about those things, and do something to get themselves ready to survive.
    Thanks to you both! Bigtime!
    OD

    • Thank you!
      Do you have any idea how hard it is to write like a teenager? I have had to do more than a few re-writes.
      Jessica is based loosely off my own daughter. However, she is very unusual as she was practically a wordsmith even as a teen, even correcting other people grammar and spoke that way too.
      I try to use my own experiences to convey certain ideas, like heating with wood. In the winter I have to get up twice a night to top off the fires. If I do not, yeah, I have experienced 52 degrees in the main house before.
      All the arctic gear Jack was wearing. I own all that gear and have had to use it. Even if it is single digits in the morning, the livestock still need watered and fed.
      I really like Daisy’s Saturday Shenanigans, entertainment!

  • This is getting deep. Really showing what life is going to be like when shtf. I’m seeing now why lone wolves aren’t a good idea. I talked to several of my neighbors who are “awake” and several have said they’re ready to bug out, but I’m gonna share you and Daisy’s stories with them.

    • Thank you!
      I have read too many bad prepper fiction with the one guy who has the Bug Out Bag at the ready, does all the right things has all the tacticool gear.
      Granted, Jack is kinda that to a degree.
      But I am trying to come at it from a small family who have never owned guns. A small community that is off the beaten path but still has obstacles to overcome.
      That not all of a post-SHTF world is doom and gloom. There is a very real mental health need to laugh and dance even if it is bad line dancing.

  • LOVE this story! I find myself looking forward to Saturday Shenanigans, wondering which story it will be. I was hoping it was Jessica today and was not disappointed. 🙂 Thanks for such great writing and story telling – you have a gift.

  • This story could easily be told the same in 1870’s context. No power, no running water, skilled labor and trades are the center of the community and are vigorously defended. Very difficult to not admire Jessica. Very difficult also not to feel her conflict over her actions. There are many documented stories of women in 1870’s western America that had to defend themselves, their children and husbands from criminals, bandits and others.

    I don’t envy you. Writing from the perspective of the opposite sex and with a generation gap to boot can’t be easy. Respect.

    • Jim, did you hack into my computer? 😉
      You lightly touched on the next chapter I just finished. Making minor adjustments now.

      As I mentioned to Old Duffer, Jessica is based loosely off my own daughter. I think it is more of a problem that I will sometimes lose her ‘voice’ and slip back into my own. Some of the description parts are to read as being what I call neutral.

      • “Jim, did you hack into my computer? ”

        No, your writing is flying faster than you think. It’s inspiring people to imagine. I’m stubborn and you’ve hooked me. You just keep writing. I’ll read.

  • I enjoy reading all dystopian stories. Each one has something new to teach me. I like your small town joint of view and sheltering in place. The very large fireplace sounds like a necessity. Perhaps you can create a water tank with pipes that go through the fire area to heat water – somehow. I’ll leave that to you. Your story, and the fact that I live is growing zone 4 with windchills well below zero on a regular basis, tells me I should make sure to have a large enough kitchen in which to put a futon- seating by day, bed at night. lol.
    I do have two exceptions to point out. Unless you are a canner, you may not realize that you cannot “can” green bean casserole. A typical green bean casserole has cream – cream of mushroom soup and or a cream base with the beans. That is not “allowed” in pressure canning. You could assemble the casserole from canned ingredients, soup and beans, but not “have” a canned casserole like that. Unless you are a rebel canner which I bet most off-grid people are. Second point – the food at the party sounds like enough to feed people for several days and is too much for a rationed time period. It sounds like a feast for a normal time, such as now. I suggest the guests have brought food over to share to allow for such an expansive dinner. The green bean casserole sounds like an an unnecessary addition to your otherwise delicious dinner.
    Thank you for writing. I enjoy reading everything that you write. Keep it up.

    • Ah, Cinnamon Grammy, I do apologize. What is sometimes in my head does not necessarily translate to written word.
      What I was trying to covey was the green beans were canned by themselves. Then, they made the green bean casserole from those.
      Also, I was using Joanna Gaines recipe for home made green bean casserole which does not use canned mushroom soup (Joana Gaines, Magnolia Table, Vol. 2, p. 189). I have made it three times now, the last time I used with the green beans, pea pods, shiitake mushrooms, and bacon.
      It could of been the main meal IMHO!
      Thank you for bringing that to my attention. I will try to do better in the future.
      BTW, the whole green onion biscuit thing, inspiration from wife who has made buttermilk green onion biscuits for me recently. One is breakfast in itself! The buttermilk, green onion AND Bacon ones are even better!

      • I would like to meet green beans that canned themselves! ha ha. The other bean, pea, mushroom and bacon dish sounds delicious. My Ex had the Arctic parka & gear. He truly was bundled and looked like the Michelin man. I know nothing about weapons of any type so there I take the word of the experts. I am not an expert, but have been canning for twenty years, and sometimes been too creative only to find out “that” combination does not can well. Keep it up. You may inspire us canners to try something different.

  • After the great die off & gang violence, reimposing ordinary manly morality means some have to learn the hard way.

    G3

  • You call that a cold snap? Sorry, I reveal my Minnesota to Iowa background, with its -20°+ temperatures with windchill bringing feelings down to -50°+.

    In Norway, there’s a saying that there’s no such thing as cold, just not having the right clothing. Even though so far there has been only limited hunting in the story, and I expect only limited hunting, I’m surprised that there are no furs to deal with the cold. When I was in Iowa, I had large sheepskin mittens with the wool inside, a down cap that covered all of my head except my face, a woolen scarf wrapped just below the eyes, and so forth such that even with a wind chill of -50°, I was comfortable. I was surprised to read that Jessica got really cold. Rabbit and squirrel skins could be used for mittens and caps. What about hides from domestic animals slaughtered for food? Isn’t there someone there who can tan hides? If farmer Miller saved all the feathers from when he slaughtered chickens, he could put them into big bags to use as blankets. That won’t be as warm as real goose down nor as light weight, but those bags can still be warm.

    With global cooling, there will come more polar vortexes. Are your characters protected?

    I expected Jessica to notice more of the food sources by now. Who grinds grains for bread? What crops does farmer Miller grow? Does he have hand tools now that fuel is not readily available for sowing and reaping? How many people go out to help in sowing and harvesting as in a Pieter Bruegel painting? How many people live in that little community? What other skills are there in the community? Or is this too early after the lights went out before people settle in for long-term survival? Jessica sounds like she is in her mid to late teens, wouldn’t she know more? Where are the other people in her age group?

    These questions come up, because I enjoy the stories. Thanks for writing them.

    • Good questions. I bet we’re going to find out as the story unfolds just how many of your questions may have some very surprising answers. Im willing to bet a lot of readers will be amazed at the ingenuity and resourcefulness of this little community.

    • R.O.
      Well, Jessica and her family are in a more moderate latitude than Minnesota or Iowa. A “polar vortex” is a one off for them, not the norm like you and I. It was 1 degree the other morning here. For us in winter, we call that “Monday.”
      For them, they do not have that kind of gear. Be like my parents, retired in FL, having arctic cold weather gear.
      Otherwise, you nailed it!
      These are things that have happened since the power went out that they are now, after their first winter without power, they will have to think about in the short, mid and long term. Like tanning hides, saving feathers etc.
      There are also certain details I leave out for our good readers to ask themselves, “In the event of a total power out situation, how would I do that?”
      I saw a Nat Geo video of women in Africa who would grind wheat berries into flour by pounding the berries with wooden staffs in a stone bowl. 3-4 women around the bowl, one would sing a song to a beat that each woman would beat the berries. The Clint Eastwood movie, Pale Rider. The men gather around a large rock with sledge hammers and they develop a rhythm to pound the rock. The task would be nearly impossible by an individual. But with a group or community, it is possible.
      There are certain details a 16 year old teenager, writing in her diary she would not mention. It is not important to her. But then I mention other things as to point out some details we as preppers need to think about.
      Jack in the polar vortex, he is carrying a bolt-action scout rifle rather than his normal rifle, assuming it is a semi-auto. Why? In those temps, a semi-auto is a lot more likely to fail to function than a bolt-action. I know. I have experienced it. Went click instead of bang.
      Again, for the most part, Jessica and her family are not preppers. Jack may be. Some of the neighbors are older and that is the way they were brought up. Back then, it was just prudent before the term “prepper” ever came along.
      Things will unfold as time goes on.
      Jessica is in a new world and she and her family are learning as they go.
      Just as I think most of non-preppers would.
      Oh, concerning Jessica and her age peers, I am looking at the current destruction of the nuclear family or even just people having children as commentary. Also, without gas, what was once a 30 minute drive at 55mph is now a 3 day hump, the world changes to a much more local, within a half day walk.

    • I’ve seen many winter nights that reached the -20f at night and -17f days. Once a wicked record breaking night hit -46 and killed most fruit trees to the ground. The snow on the roof was deep enough to cover the propane furnace vent and it wouldn’t run till I swept the roof off. Thankfully that isn’t a normal temperature. And at my last home I heated and cooked on a gravity fed pellet rocket stove. I miss that.

  • Enjoying the story. Working on my new lathe. Currently learning to turn simple bowls. Practicing daily with targets and assorted items. It’s soon going to be seed starting time. At just a bit under 7,000 ft elevation in an area with an average of 12” of moisture, Spring arrives late and growing season is short. You learn to work with what you have. Considering moving my old solar array to my new residence. I like the power but hate the work.

  • I swear, if this was a TV series, Jack would be the most popular character, by far. LOL

    They’d be making memes based off him.

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