I’m Turning into my Grandmother.

21 02 2009

As early as I can remember I have been interested in sustainability and preparing for TEOTWAWKI, although I don’t think it had an acronym back then.

I was a teenager during the booming 1980s and although there was that lingering fear of nuclear annihilation it was the farthest thing from my hormone addled mind. However, I had frequent dreams on a recurring theme. These dreams have continued to resurface throughout my adult life. They would usually start with a mushroom cloud going off in the distance. I would briefly look on in horror and amazement before calculating where my loved ones were in relation to the blast zone and which ones I thought would survive. Depending upon whether or not I was in a relationship at the time, I would desperately attempt to locate that person. Next I would go about the business of leading people to safety and teaching them how to survive in a Post Apocalyptic world. Sometimes the dreams would take a violent turn and I would find myself in firefights with warriors who were trying to take over the country.

I’m not sure whether these dreams are a result of my survivalist mentality or if they are partially responsible. Regardless I find myself looking to the future in horror as an economic mushroom cloud balloons into the sky on the horizon. The horror comes not so much from knowing what’s about to happen as it is from the realization that so many people in my life is oblivious or in blatant denial. I have harped as much as I care to harp. My warnings fall on deaf ears. Fortunately (and I write this on the date of our fifth wedding anniversary), my husband is of like mind. I will have to dedicate a future post to his incredible skills and abilities. I’m very fortunate to have found him when I did. Together I know we will survive what the future throws at us and will be the tribe leaders of this park and our families.

I have an ongoing TEOTWAWKI supply list, but there is no way I can afford to buy most of what is on it. Today I started another list called “Pre-Collapse Preparation”. This is a list of the immediate projects I need to take on in order to deal with the possibility of power outages, fuel shortages and the store shelves being wiped clean. As hard as it is for most to imagine, this can happen in a single day. During the Hurricane Season of ’04 people waited to the last minute and panicked in the face of the approaching storms. Overnight the shelves were depleted of water, generators, ice and canned goods. After the storm supply lines were cut off, and with no power people became desperate for food. Grocery stores were closed for weeks and although the gas stations had fuel there was no way to pump it. Those who prepared as instructed by purchasing two weeks worth of supplies (which I don’t believe is nearly enough) found themselves running short as they helped out those who did not prepare.

And so (finally), I come to the topic of my post. I am turning into my grandmother and assorted other elderly women who have factored into my life. After my mom’s father passed on her mother sold the farm and moved into town. Suffering from severe depression she had difficulty coping. My stepfather was a truck driver and gone for weeks at a time. My mother was overwhelmed with me, my little brother and another on the way; so it made sense to the adults involved to send me to my grandma’s house for a week or so at a time. Grandma Merritt lived less than a mile away, so it was convenient for everyone involved. I enjoyed it because I got to be the center of attention again and she had all kinds of fun stuff like a piano and a table with animal feet, both of which I found absolutely fascinating. Ever thrifty, she spent much of the day sewing and tending to her tomatoes and geraniums. She fed me orange sherbet and Cheerios, although the sherbet was often freezerburned and the cereal sometimes had bugs in it. Little did I know what she had lurking in her freezer…

At night she would tuck me into bed next to her and proceed to start talking about how much she missed Grandpa and how she wished she could die soon in order to be back with him. This monologue would always progress into a fit of sobbing which would last for what seemed like an hour. I would try to comfort her, but it was pointless as she was in another state of mind and hardly seemed to acknowledge that I was there. I learned to dissociate by replaying entire episodes of The Pink Panther cartoons in my imagination, starting with the theme song. Eventually, I was able to drown out the crying completely and fall asleep.

My grandmother eventually moved away to live near her son and his wife. I suspect that my mother was hurt because she knew that her brother was favored; but also glad because after a lifetime of rejection and verbal abuse she had little love for her mother. I never got to see anything like the abuse my mother described, but I don’t doubt it, based upon my mother’s reaction.

My grandmother lingered in her depression and prescription drug abuse until I was in college. She had wrecked her car one too many times and was forced into rehab where her system was cleared of the toxic chemical cocktail she was getting from multiple, unwitting doctors. While she was being detoxed my aunt and uncle  scoured her house and removed all of the pills.

Shortly afterward, I got a call from my mother. Somehow, a bottle of sleeping pills had been overlooked. Unfortunately, it was a fifteen year old bottle that my grandmother had stockpiled from when she still lived on the farm. Although she only took a regular dose the aged pills sent her into a coma. She was brain dead and lingered on life support until the family finally agreed to pull the plug.

As her belongings were divided up we learned the extent of her hoarding tendencies. “From the Farm” became the phrase used to describe the 15+ years that she had hung onto certain items. The next time I talk to my mother I will get more detail; but for now I will give you an idea of some of the things they found. Over the years since Grandpa Merritt had passed, she had crammed every corner of her trailer (including the spare bedroom from ceiling to floor), with certain items in duplicate.

  • Frozen meat “From the Farm”. Yikes!
  • Hundreds of rolls of toilet paper.
  • Over 200 pairs of unopened pantyhose, disintegrated with age.
  • 15 Electric chocolate pots.
  • Multiples of every personal care item you could possibly need.

Grandma had lived through The Great Depression and had always been thrifty, but the entire family was astonished to discover the extent of her hoarding.

Over the years I have come to live with three other elderly women of the same generation. All were much the same: strong proud and obsessively thrifty. Mrs. Miller had so much expired food in her refrigerator and pantry that it took me a full week to clean it all out. She also shocked me with her insistence upon washing and reusing plastic food storage bags. Now I have excessive guilt each time I throw out plastic of any sort. She and her late husband were avid outdoorspeople and had a nice library of old books. On her shelf I found and read “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” by Eull Gibbons. This book opened my eyes to the natural and abundant pantry hiding in plain sight once you step outside your door.

My stepfather’s mother wasn’t quite so excessive, but she did keep almost every margarine container and coffee can that passed through her door. She also had a basement with shelves full of dubious looking food in jars. Two memorable experiences were the time I spent an hour sorting out her plastic containers and throwing out the individual lids and and bowls that had no match, and the time she taught me how to can plum preserves. This was great because she was a natural food enthusiast and would take us on excursions where we would trespass on someones abandoned homestead and harvest the feral plums from the old orchards. I guess that’s an even more memorable moment.

An elderly woman I stayed with, and cared for, in 2001 was a Depression survivor with some great stories to tell. Mrs. Bowen grew up in Vilano Beach, Florida and her parents owned a huge tract of land, which they sub-divided and sold off. She lived in the original house her family built in 1916. Although she didn’t hoard like my mother’s mom she did have a drawer full of string, wire-ties etc. and a cabinet full of recycled plastic containers. The behavior I found most interesting was how she conserved water as though it would run out at any moment. She insisted that I use two dish tubs, one for washing and one for rinsing. When the washing water got too dirty I was to pour it onto the plants. Then I had to promote the used rinse water to wash water by adding soap. Needless to say, her dishes were never very clean. I took to pretending to use her system while I secretly washed everything for real. I will devote an entire post to this lady and her interesting life once I dredge up her historical pictures that I scanned.

I did live with another elderly woman (my stepmother’s mother) for brief time, so I guess that really makes five. She grew up on a farm in Kentucky, married a Coast Guard Captain and became an successful interior designer. She lived a prosperous and comfortable life until her later years when her drug addicted son and his multiple children destroyed her house and her finances. Now she lingers, bedridden, in a nursing home with only my stepmother, her son’s first wife and me to visit her. Since I live three hour’s drive away I make it to see her rarely. The last time I was there I asked her how she did during The Depression. She said that they did fine because they had a good-sized farm and raised everything they needed. Her mother made all of their clothes and canned food to store in the cellar. Her father butchered the meat and smoked it in their smokehouse. I asked her if they had trouble with transients and thieves. Because of their remote location and the fact that the neighbors were also self-sufficient they had no trouble. Occasionally a transient would come through looking for work or a place to sleep and they would put them up. Since they had extra, her mother would put out food by the road for those in need.

“Turning into my Grandmother” is really a compilation phrase to describe how all of these women have affected my survival philosophy. I am fortunate to have studied so many of these strong, resilient women and to see how easily the threat of scarcity can push one over the edge. As I promote the ideas of conservation instead of conspicuous consumption and as I beg my loved ones to educate themselves about the economic precipice upon which we stand, I realize that I could be perceived as having lost touch with reality. Other than my husband and a couple of friends and neighbors, no one else seems to believe that everything could change drastically in their lifetime. So, for now I will be the kooky “Conspiracy Theorist” and begin planning for my own survival and that of as many people as I can help when the shit hits the fan. I would rather be wrong and the butt of a few jokes than be hungry and lost if the worst happens.

Here is my Pre-Collapse Preparation list:

  • Order heirloom seeds and plant as much as possible.
  • Locate a polyethylene barrel and set up water collection and drip irrigation system.
  • Collect plastic buckets indefinitely. Get lids whenever possible.
  • Get handgun, shotgun and find BB gun. Stockpile ammo.
  • Apply for concealed weapons permits.
  • Help AJ finish wind generator. Still need a mast and blades.
  • Put together a community permaculture program.
  • Download and store survival info from internet.
  • Stockpile useful goods.
  • Stockpile biodiesel for the car we are buying today (Stand by for another post about that).

Later today I hope to have time to make those recordings I mentioned yesterday. I need something to lighten up the dour mood that has permeated my recent life and this blog post.

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One response

3 05 2009
Clark H Smith

Great post! We’re on the same wavelength… only a few are. You might enjoy reading some of my thoughts, start w/ http://www.chsplanb.com/2009/02/magnum-opus-part-1a.html. I have several articles on TEOTWAWKI scenarios and how to plan for a whole new way of living.

I’ll keep an eye on your blog. Good work.

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