December 25, 2014: Bad Blood for Christmas
All I wanted for Christmas was a nice peaceful day. Apparently, that is not a part of the new normal.
Most of the last week was fairly “normal”.
I sat down with Heather to talk to her about what she heard me say about Jake over the radio. I explained the entire situation to her. In short, Jake’s brother, Luke, and I were about fifteen at the time. I remember that we didn’t yet have our driver’s licenses. We were doing the kinds of things that fifteen year-olds do – drinking our first beers, smoking our first cigarettes, getting into fights – nothing too serious. Well, one night we decided to get back at some guys we’d gotten into a fight with a few days before. They were a little older than we were and one of them had a pretty nice car. I happened to spot his car parked near the high school as Luke and I were cruising around on our bikes. My devious mind went to work and we decided to steal the wheels and tires off of his car and leave it sitting up on blocks.
My house was only a couple blocks from the high school so Luke and I went back to my house, grabbed a jack and lug wrench and headed back to the school. Along the way, we spotted some cement blocks stacked up next to the school. I went ahead with the jack and wrench while Luke hauled the cement blocks from the stack to the guy’s car. By the time Luke had carried the four blocks to the car, I had all the lug nuts loose and was jacking up the rear axle.
We put a cement block under each end of the axle and removed the rear tires. We did the same thing with the front end and then rolled the tires down the high school hill toward the town’s library.
The tires ended up bouncing up the steps of the library, rebounding off of the doors and then back down the steps. The four tires came to rest in various places in the front yard of the library. We figured it would be too easy for the guy to find the tires there so we went down the hill to the library and rolled the tires into the alley behind the building.
Luke grew up without a dad. His brother, Jake, kind of took it upon himself to act as Luke’s dad. When we got back to Luke’s place, Jake was there. He noticed that our hands were all black from messing with the tires and started questioning us. I pretty much told him it was none of his business and left not too long afterward.
Jake must have questioned Luke long and hard because eventually Luke told him what we did. Rather than simply saying something to my parents, Jake hauled Luke down to the police station and made him confess. Jake made sure to tell the police that I was the instigator. Luke got off with a stern warning from the night cop on duty but they sent a patrol car out to pick me up at my parents and then tossed me in jail for the night. I’m sure Jake told them of all kinds of other “crimes” that I’d committed. He probably made me sound like a member of the Dillinger gang.
Anyway … the guy whose car we messed with decided to press charges. Technically, I guess, we had stolen his tires and wheels so I was charged with theft by unlawful taking. After going to court and pleading guilty, I went through a diversion program and had the charge removed from my record but I had to report in to the diversion officer once a month for eighteen months.
I don’t think the experience had quite the effect that Jake thought it would. Rather than being “scared straight”, I pretty much went the other direction.
After I told Heather all of this, she nodded her head.
“I can see how you would be pretty upset with Jake,” she said. “Although, it was 35 years ago.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said, “I don’t really hold that specific incident against him, but I doubt he’s changed his spots, so to speak – even after 35 years.”
“Meaning …?” Heather looked at me quizzically.
“Meaning … I trust him about as far as I can throw him,” I replied.
Heather chuckled, “Well, he’s pretty thin and you’re in great shape. You might be able to throw him a little ways.”
“Maybe ….” I laughed along with her.
We also got Jake’s family set up in the Hanson house, across the road from us, this past week. They didn’t have much more than the clothes on their backs, their guns and a few supplies. I guess things were pretty rough in town.
Jake, his wife and his two daughters had lived in Norfolk, a town about twenty-five miles from our farm. Norfolk was pretty much the commercial hub for a good 50 miles around. The population, prior to the crash, was a little over 20,000. Most of the small towns in the area – like the one near our farm – were just bedroom communities for Norfolk. Unless you were a farmer, or owned one of the five or six businesses in town, there really weren’t any jobs in these small towns – especially after the economy really started to slide.
I wasn’t directly involved in getting Jake’s family settled in, but I got Laura’s version of their survival story.
In June, when things started to get really bad in the larger cities, there was also a bit of unrest in Norfolk. Much like the federal government, the city and county governments ran out of funding. Police and emergency services stopped responding. The local National Guard unit disbanded and took the equipment, weapons and supplies with them. Transportation came to a halt. Stores ran out of food and supplies.
There were a few folks who had prepared themselves, but many others who had not. It quickly became evident who was and who wasn’t prepared. Those who were unprepared became more and more desperate as what little they had ran out.
Apparently, Jake and his family typically bought a lot of things in bulk. Jake was also a hunter. That meant that they had quite a bit of meat in their deep freeze. Of course, once the grid power went down, the deep freeze went down with it. From what Laura said, one of Jake’s daughters suggested that they dry the meat to preserve it longer. Smart girl. Must take after her mother.
Eventually, it got to the point where it was nearly impossible for those who still had supplies to defend themselves from those who didn’t. Several of the members of my parents’ church decided to band together at the church to combine resources and make their stand against the looters. People were being burned out of their homes or shot for their supplies. The church members hoped that the brick church building would be more defensible than their mostly wood-frame homes.
It worked for a while. Most of the church members were hunters. They had hunting rifles and ammunition for the rifles. They held the looters at bay until the ammunition started to run low. Facing the reality that they wouldn’t be able to hold out much longer, they came up with a plan. Those with families would try to escape. Those without families would try to hold off the looters long enough to give them a chance to escape.
Jake, his wife, his two daughters and his daughters’ boyfriends made their escape. They dressed as warmly as possible, packed some canned goods and some of their dried venison and headed out on foot. They made it to one of the church member’s farms on the east edge of town that night. The farm was small – only a few acres. The farmer kept a few horses and not much else.
The Gunters stayed at the farm for a few days, eating one of the horses to avoid starving. They never left the house in the light of day and never lit a candle or match at night. The farm was far enough away from town that it took the looters several days to find it.
At the first sign of looters, the Gunters decided to bug out. They saddled up six of the remaining horses, packed up what supplies they had left and headed in the direction of our farm. Along the way, a couple other farmers took them in. They worked to earn their keep but six adults eat a lot of food and after a while each of the farmers let them know that they had over-stayed their welcome.
After Laura told me the Gunters’ story, I was even more thankful for our farm and the sanctuary it provided.
My biggest concern, now that I’ve heard about the looters, is how long the sanctuary will last.
If we get more snow, it should help impede the looters from leaving nearby towns until spring. If we have a dry winter … they’ll be here sooner. Where did I put my Farmer’s Almanac? Colder and wetter than average, right? Let’s hope.
Oh, one other little surprise … while giving the Gunter family their physicals, Laura discovered that one of the Gunter girls – Jamie, I think her name is – is pregnant. She isn’t far along – at least not far enough along to show on her emaciated frame – so it must have happened on the trip here. I think Jamie’s seventeen. The younger girl, Janelle, is fourteen or fifteen. Jake has to be throwing a fit over his unmarried daughter knocking boots with her boyfriend … and getting pregnant.
I’m going to try not to take too much pleasure in that.
So, the Gunters are set up in the Hanson house. It’s actually a pretty nice place. I haven’t been in it for a couple years – since the Hansons moved into town to be with their kids – but it was built only about eight or ten years ago. The exterior has kind of a rustic cabin style that’s carried into the interior. There’s a huge main room with a big rock fireplace. I think there are four bedrooms. Everything is laid out on one floor. I sort of remember that the bedrooms each had their own fireplace or wood stove. With all the wood around, it would have been foolish to build a house that couldn’t stay warm with wood heat.
We had some Army cots and sleeping bags that we loaned the Gunters. Other than that, the house was stripped of furniture. The kitchen still has the wood cook stove, though, so food prep is still possible.
OK, I know you’ve been waiting for it. Here’s the “bad blood” story from today.
Someone invited the Gunters to come to our Christmas meal today at our cabin. I suppose it was the polite thing to do. Turns out that it may not have been the wisest thing to do.
Everything went well for a while until Jake started running his mouth. After a whole week here, he had a lot of opinions on how things should be run. He thought there were some pretty major changes that needed to be made. Everyone else pretty much just listened and let it go. Given our history, though, and the fact that I had led most of the planning for our preparations, Jake was really starting to get under my skin.
I couldn’t resist.
“You sure have a lot of ideas, Jake,” I said. “Exactly what did you do to prepare for you own family?”
I interrupted Jake in mid-pontification. His mouth was still open from taking a breath to move on to his next point. He turned toward me and glared; I could see the anger in his eyes.
“Did you set anything aside? Did you plan any defenses? Did you think about the relative safety of Norfolk compared to a more rural location? Do you have any experience that might lend any credibility at all to what you’ve been saying for the last half hour?” I pretty much let him have it, rapid-fire.
Jake always used to love to hear himself talk – even if he didn’t really have anything to say or any knowledge of the topic at hand. Apparently, that part of his personality hadn’t changed in thirty-five years.
Jake always had a temper too.
After I finished my rapid-fire questioning, Jake turned toward me and walked menacingly across the living room to where I stood.
Jake used to be something of an imposing character. Like I said, he was built like a linebacker. He played football in high school – his glory days. In times past, his physical presence probably bought him a lot of other people’s patience … or tolerance. He was probably 6′ 3” in high school.
Now, he was stooped and emaciated – weak from poor nutrition. I don’t think that entered his mind as he crossed the room. In his head, he was still big, bad Jake. Very few people would mess with him because of his intimidating size. That was a big, bad mistake, Jake.
As Jake stormed across the room to get in my face, I stood my ground. Unlike Jake, I had been eating like a king. My nutrition had been second-to-none for the last eighteen months – since we’d moved to the farm. I was also in perhaps some of the best physical condition of my life. Every day I milked cows, split wood, shoveled snow, hauled hay bales, drug deer and any number of other very physical tasks. I hadn’t been running in quite a while so my cardio wasn’t quite up to snuff but it wasn’t bad either.
Jake towered over me. I’m only about 5′ 10”. He was breathing heavily. I could smell his rotting gums and teeth. It was obvious that his dental hygiene had not been good for quite some time.
“What did you say?” Jake was livid.
“I merely asked what preparations you made yourself,” I replied calmly. “You seem to think you’re enough of an expert to critique what we’ve done here so I was curious what you did to prepare and protect your family.”
Jake was nearly apoplectic. He always had hated to have his “authority” challenged. Throwing his family into it only fueled the fire. I could see him trembling with rage. His left eye started to twitch. I suppose I should have let it go and walked away but we were in my house. He and his family were benefiting from my supposedly inadequate preparations.
I’ve always had a bit of a mean streak – especially when it came to bullies. You might say I liked to “poke the bear”. It wasn’t just bullies, either. Know-it-all’s have always brought out my baser instincts. You can add lazy people to the list too. Normally, I was a pretty mellow guy, but throw a lazy, know-it-all bully at me, like Jake, and it was like throwing crack at an addict. I just couldn’t resist.
“What did you do to keep your family from starving?” I asked. “To keep them from being attacked? To keep your seventeen year-old daughter from getting pregnant?”
That was it. That was the button. Jake almost literally exploded. He went from trembling to violently shaking to throwing a punch in just over a millisecond.
I knew something was coming when I started pushing the buttons harder and harder so I was prepared for him to do something physical. I figured he’d try to tackle me – the old football player coming out in him. The punch was a little bit of a surprise. It caught me slightly off guard. Jake hit me with a glancing blow to the mouth – almost a backhand.
I rolled my head with the punch. It drew blood but really didn’t do any damage. Jake punched with his right. I rolled to my right and slightly downward and then struck upward with my open hand quickly, driving with my legs and twisting my torso into Jake. The open web of my right hand caught him square on the Adam’s apple. Jake let out a gurgling breath and began to stumble backward.
I kicked his legs out from under him and launched myself. It was like I let loose a spring that had been coiled up tight for thirty-five years. All the hatred that I felt for Jake when I was fifteen boiled back to the surface in a split second.
Jake was about halfway to the ground when I hit him in the chest with my left shoulder. I thought I felt his ribs crack but I wasn’t sure. As we fell to the floor, I drew my Glock. Never leave home – or go to Christmas dinner – without it.
Jake landed on his back pretty hard, smacking his head on the ceramic tile floor in the process. I landed straddling his chest. Normally, I would have avoided engaging a bigger man like this but I wasn’t thinking too clearly and I wasn’t too worried about Jake’s ability to grapple with me in his current condition.
As we settled to the ground, I continued my drawing motion and shoved the barrel of the Glock up against Jake’s forehead. Again, not something I would do under more calculating circumstances.
Jake’s eyes were wide and a little glassy. His head hit the tile pretty hard when we went to the ground. I suspect he was starting to go into shock.
I stood up and re-holstered the Glock.
“Get out of my house,” I said, shaking a little bit myself. “Don’t ever darken my door again. We take you and your family in and all you can do is come here, eat our food and insult us? Get out. Now!”
It didn’t appear as if Jake could get up on his own.
There was silence for a few moments. No one moved. Finally, to her credit, Jake’s wife went to his side and helped him up. I swear, that woman must be a saint. She got Jake up to a sitting position. I could see blood on the tile floor where his head had been. Jake’s girls came over, then, and helped him the rest of the way up.
“I’m sorry,” Jake’s wife whispered.
No one else said a word.
Jake’s two girls helped him walk across the living room while his wife got the door. The boyfriends shuffled along a few feet behind. The girls looked downcast and ashamed. I’m guessing it wasn’t the first time they’d been ashamed of Jake. The boys just gave me wide-eyed looks like I had horns growing out of my head. Maybe I did at that point.
Christmas dinner was pretty much ruined. Everyone just kind of gathered up whatever they brought and went back to their place. My in-laws kind of milled around for a bit and then went back to their room.
I took a walk around the section and then came back here to write this. I’m still not sure if what I did was right or wrong. Most likely, it was somewhere in between. Jake had taken advantage of our hospitality. As far as I know, he hadn’t so much as said thank you since they arrived. On the other hand, he probably didn’t deserve to have his larynx crushed, skull fractured and a pistol pulled on him for not saying thank you. That’s probably not a part of the new normal.