I’ve lived through a lot; maybe not as much as Dino, or some other men that have “seen the kraken” as it is called in this book I’m trying to read, but I’ve seen enough to know what hard times are. I guess I just hadn’t seen enough to know in my deepest heart of hearts that as bad as hard times get, they can always get harder.
Lately up is down. Down is up. And everything goes sideways no matter how hard you try to go forward. If not for Dino’s insistence on getting winter supplies in early there would be things that we likely wouldn’t be seeing after they ran out. Alec is now glad that Dino all but bullied him into doing it too. They’ve got more people to feed over there and while they’re some better off in many ways it is Dino’s horse sense and mulish tendencies that may just have saved the day or at least the winter season.
In the last week I’ve put down a dog, a pig, and a man and the only one of those three I have regrets over is the pig. Now how big a shame is that? And all because of three little words.
No more checks.
That’s the bottom line of what has made the seams come undone but that’s not where it started. Everyone is claiming it is the fault of them new politicians up in DC but Dino said that if everyone was really honest and a quarter as smart as they think they are that they’d know it started a long time before those folks took office … maybe even before most of us were born.
What folks need to pay attention to is that the checks haven’t just stopped here in the homeland. They’d done turned off the tap to the whole world before they got to doing it at home. First they stopped the outflow of the good stuff to the countries we were paying to not be our enemy. There was a fair portion of them and Congress said since we were already at war with about half of them anyway it didn’t make a lick of sense to pay for something we weren’t getting.
Next all them countries we were paying to be our friends … uh uh, they ain’t getting nothing no more either. That’s another one of them “logical decisions” that those critters up in DC should have made some time back. You can’t pay people to be your friend ‘cause friends you have to pay are more likely going to look the other way when someone tries to knife you in the back.
Then them places we were propping up stopped getting propped. No more making the payroll to keep people in office in countries that can’t afford to pay their own people. No more sending “aid and succor” to countries that can’t do their own aiding and succoring. It’s gonna mean a lot of them little propped up places fall – some of them already did, practically overnight – but seems the folks steering our ship no longer think feeding other people ahead of our own is a smart thing to do.
Truthfullly about the only foreign country we’re still sharing financial resources with is Canada and that’s cause we share such a long border with ‘em. Shoot, they’re just about the only country we still do regular business with at all at this point. A couple of years back the politicians finally agreed to stopping paying our “financial obligations” to the countries we were at war with but to get that to pass we had to agree that we’d be putting the money in an account on the side to catch back up when we signed a peace treaty with them so it ain’t exactly like we were suddenly flush with money, the money just started flowing into a different pot. The other things that the politicians finally learned was that the world was a hungry place and compassion or not we shouldn’t sell our grain and such for a pittance to countries that were only going to feed their armies with it and continue making war on us. In our friend Canada, there’s just too many reasons not to do business with ‘em, and since it benefits both our countries to no end we keep it up. Don’t mean there ain’t the occasional squabble between us … like that time we found out Canada was reselling some of the grain we sold her to people that we didn’t care for too much or the time we revoked the travel visas of a bunch of Canadian citizens of a certain ethnicity. But we get through it each time and go back to being good buddies again.
When Congress and them new folks in the White House let it slip out that is what they planned on doing … and then miracle of miracles actually followed through and did it … most folks in this country were right happy. Didn’t matter if you were a hawk or a dove or what your political affiliation was they were all crowing “Cut the dead weight!” “Clean out the chaff!” “USA first, last, and only!” and lots of other words that looked good in the headlines. Well, at least they was happy until folks began to find out all the dead weight and chaff in this country was about to get their clock cleaned too.
When news of that tidbit got out there was disbelief at first. They said, “We’ve been doing it this way for generations. It will always be this way. Besides they know what’ll happen if they do it.” But when check time came and went and none showed up well it was like the country drew a deep breath, almost a gasp, right before the screaming and crying started. Oh my stars and garters, you would have thought they were being boiled alive for the pure pleasure of it. “Oh how could you do this to me? We paid into the system and you promised to give us a check! We are entitled!” Blobbity blobbity blah blah.
The one that irritated Dino the most was when people started saying it was the government’s way of getting rid of certain races of people or getting rid of people because of their age; that they were using their prejudice to weed out certain types of folks from the general population. “It doesn’t matter if you are old or if you are purple with pink po-ca-dots or speak Mandingo backwards as your first language, there is nothing in the Constitution that says that the rest of us are obligated to pay your way in life just because you’ve paid some taxes during it … and if you haven’t paid any taxes I sure as heck don’t feel like I should be forced to open my wallet to cover your lack of personal financial planning.”
I didn’t like to get Dino started up on politics because it got him wound up and when he gets wound up all sorts of things start coming out of his mouth and he’s not necessarily the type that cares who hears him. In fact, Alec has asked him to avoid going to town if he is going to be that way. “Cuz, I am not up to digging one more grave in the family plot and I sure don’t want to have to explain to your little boy and to Riss why you aren’t around to take care of them like you promised.” I’m not sure how I feel about being used to make such a point but if it keeps Dino’s head from catching on fire when he that gets mad then so be it.
As for me I’m not sure how I feel about all of that check/no check stuff never having been on either side of the issue. There’s an old proverb that goes something like give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach the man to fish and he can take care of himself. It ain’t a proverb you’ll find in the Bible but the Bible does talk a lot about personal responsibility and the consequences if you aren’t and about how only those that work should eat. I mean I feel bad that people who thought they could count on being taken care of are suddenly out in the cold and have to scramble fast and learn how to do it on their own. It reminds me of how the Bly family was when they first arrived at the Davidson farm. But I reckon if enough people are willing to teach, those that are willing to learn will make it. Dino calls me naive and innocent when I say things like that and it isn’t always the compliment you’d think it to be.
Oh I understand that there are people in this life who are just out to get what they can get at the expense of others’ hard work but that’s just people being people. That’s what teaches you to be discerning about the people you associate with. Granddaddy used to say “lay down with dogs and you’ll wake up with fleas” and that is a good piece of sense right there that should be more common than it is. One of my aunts was fond of saying “you’ll be known by the company you keep.” Well there’s lots of sense in that too. I had to learn the hard way though that dogs don’t always come dressed as what they are and that it’s a lot harder to judge your company when you want to believe the best of them.
No matter whether you believe stopping the checks had to be done based on financial reasons or based on moral decisions, the consequences of that action have come down to the same thing. People are just plain mad. Actually mad don’t come near to covering it. People are in a rage and that rage has been foaming to the top of the pot and spilling over and causing a mess; some like when something I’m canning gets too hot and makes a mess on the stove top, sometimes to clean it up I have to near about take a stick a dynamite to get the burnt gunk unstuck. But be that as it may the way things is being managed you can tell that someone has ben fooling around with the idea for a while and been getting counsel and advice from folks that have more than spun sugar between their ears.
First off, getting most of the males between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine in one type of service or the other where they are indoctrinated – that’s what Dino calls it – to be sympathetic to the cause of those currently in control of the government has taken a lot of manpower away from the opposition. Second, rounding up all the malcontents and troublemakers that ain’t part of that group, including the ones between the ages of thirteen and seventeen, and getting them out of the cities and at hard labor wiped another good size batch of potential trouble makers off the playing board. Younger than thirteen and you can get thrown in a state run “group home for disturbed children” which is just a politically correct way of saying you’ll get sent to an orphanage with bars on the windows, locks on the doors and guards at the gate. Older than thirty and men start getting more sense and are less likely to pop a cork without some forethought first; they really aren’t looking to be cannon fodder for just any ol’ yahoo’s agenda.
While that takes care of most of the male population that still leaves a lot of girls and women to make noise and you got a few of those leading the pack but you’ve also got twice that many that no longer have the time for it ‘cause they are too busy figuring out how they are going to feed their children and keep them out of trouble … cause parents are now legally accountable for any and all mayhem their kids get up to and they are also gonna go to jail if their kids don’t get to school on time and refuse to learn and “progress according to their age and grade.” One night on the radio I heard one woman boo-hooing that it was just too unfair to make her responsible for doing all of the work of feeding her kids, keeping them off the street and out of trouble, and for getting them up and out the door on time; she paid taxes for services and anything else was pure slavery and sexual descrimination.
Feeling snarky I muttered “can’t do the time then don’t do the crime.” Dino thought that was funny until he took noticed I was looking at my own belly and feeling the pinch of unexpected responsibility.
I looked up and caught him watching and knew it was important to say it right. “I’m not resentful. It isn’t the baby’s fault I played the fool and lost. It’s just hard you know? I’m not sure I was finished growing up and now I’m having to be the grown up whether I’m ready for it or not.”
He winced, still a little sensitive about my age but manfully said, “From where I sit you’re doing a good job. And if all you are doing with Kerry is practicing then you must be some kind of prodigy.”
I shook my head at his attempt to flatter me into being less pensive. “I’m not practicing on Kerry. He’s an easy boy to love and I reckon I’ve found where I’m supposed to be between him and you. But I don’t know where I’d be if Harry hadn’t talked me around to hearing you out and that’s kinda scary to think about.”
“Then don’t think about it. You are here and this is where you are going to stay.”
Reckon it is pretty obvious that he’s taking for granted that I’ll say yes to his proposal come the time he asks it. And I reckon it is pretty obvious that I’m letting him take it for granted that I’ll say yes. I guess we are both just enjoying the unspoken words before we have to let the rest of the world in on it.
Sometimes I wonder if Dino hadn’t come into my life would I have signed up for any of that government money which is really nothing more than a gentle way of saying money made off the sweat of other people’s brow. I like to think I’d have more pride than that but if I got desperate enough … well, it ain’t a pleasant idea that I’d get that desperate to be honest. In all the years since Daddy died I’ve never run to anyone with my hand out, not even when I was young enough that I probably should have. I just wasn’t raised like that and never even thought to. Aw, every oncet in a while someone up at the school would say something but then it would be dropped since I seemed to be doing just fine and even some better than other kids that came from families with more.
But where do you draw the line? There are people I worry about. I mean we’re supposed to look after widows and orphans and folks that for whatever reason can’t (not won’t) look after themselves. And I must not be the only person that has wondered about where that line should be. The ranks of the disabled has done a lot of shifting. It’s become a different world with different rules these days.
The fact that to be declared disabled you have to be missing a vital body part – like half your brain – has all but kept people from escaping the net of the system of enforced volunteerism. The way they’ve kept that portion of the population from rioting is that the government has agreed to continue employing them so long as they behave themselves and their personnel files keeps saying they are in good standing. In other words they have to do the job they get assigned, do it well, and keep their mouths shut. It ain’t all a giveaway though, their job assignment is based on their capacity to perform and to keep their disability status they have to provide an indepth annual physical done by an approved physician or psychiatrist depending on what the disability is, and they have to do it on their own dime.
Kids in the city get fed during school, unless their parents send them to a private school or homeschool them, but they can lose this privilege if they get so many behavioral demerits, make a mess or don’t clean their plates every meal, or are absent from school more than one or two days during the year without a doctor’s note. People are screaming that the children are being used and abused for political purposes but it’s not getting them as many miles as it used to because there are too many families that have been scratching to feed their kids telling them to shut up with the whining already. But no matter how hard you push there are just some people that are going to chose to make it as easy on themselves as they can by taking from other people whether they want to give or not. At least I can say that isn’t true of the field hands that work for Dino.
I overheard Chester talking to Dino one morning asking, “I don’t want to lose my job Mr. Pappas … I cain’t lose this job, it’d be the end of my family for sure.”
“Relax Chester … and when did you go back to calling me Mr. Pappas? I thought we agreed that it was Dino.”
“Well … Dino. I’m pleasured you feel that way. But I just wanted to let you know that I’ll do whatever it takes to keep my job even if that means getting less at the end of the season or taking more in product than pay.”
“No, I signed a contract with you men and I mean to stick to it though I appreciate you being willing to be flexible. I’ve already had three of my buyers out here to make sure I was still going to come through for them and they are real happy that we’re running on time. The California wineries have had to drastically downsize now that they can’t get the water that they need from across state lines. The big New York wineries are doing better but taking California down has meant the big sellers are looking to the small, private labels like ours to make up the difference. It hasn’t gotten to the point yet that they are buying wine by the barrel to bottle at their own plants under their own label but I suspect that is what some will eventually turn to. As it is Alec and I are getting more orders for our specialty wines than we can possibly fill.”
I could see that Chester wanted to ask something but was having to screw up his courage to do it. “Well … then … is it OK if I bring my … my boys to work more often? They’ll work, make no mistake, or they’ll stay home.”
To save the man’s pride Dino and Chester dickered a little bit on the details but in the end, though it cost Dino a little more it would also help him. One, a man that is constantly worried isn’t the best worker in the world and harvesting grapes takes a man with focus. Two, Dino would have the satisfaction of knowing that he’d helped relieve some of that worry and that Chester would be even more loyal if things should be harder next season. And three, Dino wouldn’t have to put two work days into one by trying to work the vineyards and the rest of the farm at the same time which would save his health in the long run.
Dino was telling me about it that night and I said, “Well, I don’t care how bad times get my granddaddy said one of the last thing a man will give up is the thing that helps him forget how bad his life is … and in this case it means liquor.”
Dino rolled his eyes at me for calling wine liquor again but what he really objected to was that he thought I had some prejudice against the family business. “The wine is what keeps a roof over our heads Damaris. There is nothing inherently bad with people being fond of a glass after a long day or with a good meal.”
“I never said there was did I? There’s nothing inherently wrong with money either, it’s the love of money that’s the root of all evil. I’ve come to see that wine of yours in the same way. Being fond of a nip isn’t inherently wrong … it’s when the lack of it starts to ruin your day or becomes necessary for you to get through the day that there’s a problem.”
Not sure whether he should still be taking offense he said, “I can’t control the fact that a minority of wine consumers are drunks or on their way to becoming drunks.”
“Nope,” I agreed. “But it is no good hiding from the fact that some of them are and that some people will pinch and pull and blame other folks because of their own lack of self control or for the situation a loved one has gotten themselves into due to their lack of self control.”
Frustrated he said, “How did we get off on this subject anyway?”
I shrugged. “I heard on the radio that Russia has started a program for poor people that can’t afford their quota of vodka. That they are doing this as a form of mental health service and to quell the riots over falling supplies.”
He put his arm behind me on the settee. We were out on the porch because it was too hot to set in the kitchen while I was finishing up the day’s canning. “Riss, I wouldn’t take any part in something like that. I won’t even sell direct to the government.”
“I’m not saying you would but it still makes me think.”
“Well think on something different … like what all do you need for the baby.”
I shook my head. “I don’t need …” At his out-of-patience look I told him, “You are some kind of fierce pushy when you are in a certain mood, you know that?”
“You’re not the first person to mention it,” he admitted, his lips twitching to keep from smiling at getting his way. “Now I mean it Riss, Ajax and I are going to tool around to some of the towns on the other side of Cherry Gap and see what there is to see and pick up. I already learned the hard way babies need more stuff than something that size should, now pony up that list.”
Drawing my notepad and pencil from the pocket of my apron I still insisted on asking, “Why aren’t you going to Newton? Isn’t that closer and easier on the horses?”
“The Feed and Seed has changed hands and a couple of other stores are trying to save money by keeping less in stock. It just makes me uncomfortable to have all my eggs in one basket. Now stop procrastinating … write.”
I sighed at his bought of domineering insistence. As I wrote I asked, “But what if the men run into trouble or something comes up? Will Alec be around … or one of the boys so I can send for him?”
“Alec says we need to give the last grapes more time to concentrate and sweeten up before we harvest them. The men are taking a couple of days off to take care of things around their own places. This will give you a break from cooking and cleaning up after them too.”
I shrugged, “I don’t mind doing for them, especially some of them like Chester and his boys. Besides there isn’t that much cleaning up except for dishes since y’all eat outside at the trestle tables.”
Well with that the arm he had on the back of the settee went to work doing other things and we were quiet for a while until it was time we both went inside and got some rest.
“It’s almost the end of harvest,” he whispered huskily.
“Uh huh,” I agreed.
He didn’t say anything else but his eyes near about glowed in the dark and I shivered despite the heat that still clung to everything even after the sun having gone down some time back.
The next morning, the wagon loaded down with a reasonable amount of barter goods, I sent him and Ajax off with a good sized food basket to keep them from having to spend on anything they didn’t have to. In return I was admonished, “I know you keep that pistol of yours loaded and on you but put your rifle by the door too. If I hadn’t already agreed to do this I’d be having second thoughts leaving you home alone with only Kerry for company.”
I grinned up at him on the wagon seat and asked, “What do you take me for? One of them city girls you seem so partial to? The 12-guage is there too if I need it. Just stay safe; we’ll wait supper for you.” As they pulled out I teased him a bit by calling after him, “And don’t let any of them fast talking hucksters trim your wallet.”
Ajax laughed but Dino just shook his head at what he perceived to be my silliness. How was I to know that it would be three days and a whole lot of worry before I clapped eyes on him again?