“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven; we were all going the other way.”
As we face the threat of a global economic depression, I am reminded that we exist in a field of infinite possibilities. Wars, weather, disease, economic disruption, geological upheaval, or even technological advances take their turns at disrupting human lives and societies. Through each of these, there has always been those who have survived and adapted to life on this dynamic planet. So far!
My fourth grade teacher, Miss Gallagher, instructed the class to prepare the classroom for the onslaught of hurricane Hilda. After a near miss, Miss Gallagher taught us that it was better to be safe than sorry. Brunings restaurant was not spared. The outside porch where we regularly enjoyed our Sunday meal was destroyed by the fury of the storm that missed us. The following September 9th, after the first day of fifth grade, we experienced Betsy. This was the first major hurricane to hit New Orleans in a generation. The school building was damaged this time. We were allowed to continue our summer vacation for an additional month! Four years later, Camille devastated Plaquemine Parish and the Gulf Coast. These were the memories of my generation.
Three decades later, with an approaching storm, I sent my youngest son out to purchase lifejackets for his young sisters. Would it be possible to teach him as Miss Gallagher had me? Probably not. I recall a lecture I gave him in the shop parking lot. With the approach of Y2K I warned him that all the calamities that befall society repeat themselves and that no generation was immune. I told him that sometimes things happen and sometimes they don’t and it is better to be safe than sorry. My speech must have been effective because I believe that he bought a bag of rice. Six years later, Katrina wreaked widespread havoc and Brunings was completely washed away. Now my children’s generation knows, as Forrest Gump put it best, “stuff happens”.
Unlike today, in the 1970’s, on early computers, memory was at a premium. Shortcuts had to be taken. I still adhere to one of these; that is, I still use reverse polish notation calculators in lieu of algebraic entry. The shortcut that had possible dire consequences was the practice of abbreviating year dates to two places, i.e. 1999 was just 99. This code was burned into early computer chips and was probably grandfathered into successive generations. This glitch could be in every device controlled by a microprocessor. When the calendar turned to the year 2000, counting errors could bring our world to a standstill.
This Y2K bug had the potential to bring “The end of the world as we know it”. Your car wouldn’t start, accounting softwares would crash and even the simplest devices would fail to run. Government and business spent years and billions of dollars searching for the elusive gremlin. After extensive tests, we were told that there was probably no problem. Gee, that’s exactly what we would be told if there was a problem! Only the tick of the clock past midnight would tell for sure. Listening to the words of Miss Gallagher, I knew it was better to be safe than sorry.
Nineteen ninety-nine brought a fun-filled year of preparing for this possible new world order. As I pondered the project at hand, I sought the ultimate solution. Visualizing a world in chaos, I proceeded to create my suburban fortress. It was an intellectual pursuit, backed by shopping sprees to support all contingencies.
First, I would have to remain concealed at home while the masses were shipped to FEMA camps. This would require self-sufficiency and stealth.
Note: FEMA’s job is to control masses. They just practice on natural disasters. I was appalled and almost shocked when shortly before Katrina, I heard an interview. Michael Brown, director of FEMA, stated that after Katrina, all those that didn’t evacuate would be forced to go where he dictated. Not surprisingly, he was fired shortly thereafter. He didn’t know how to keep his mouth shut.
Next on the list was defense against the marauding hordes. My purchases were:
Ammo, plenty of ammo for all of my firearms, binoculars to spot the hordes at a distance (I didn’t get around to buying a night vision scope), and finally my Mossberg military shotgun. The shotgun was a deadly marvel with ghost ring sight, 9 rounds in the tube, 4 in the speed loader stock, 10 in the sling bandoleer, and topped off with a bayonet. With cases of buckshot, this gave me plenty of firepower for close in confrontation.
Non perishable food was essential. We would go to Wal-Mart and fill two baskets of whatever occurred to us. We would purchase canned goods of every description, particularly tuna. Dried beans of every variety, rice, milk powder, sugar, salt, spices, and flour increased our larder. Always, after admiring our stash, we realized it was not enough and back to the store we would go.
Fuel would be unavailable, so we got lots of propane and had two propane stoves. Large quantities of batteries were acquired for flashlights and radios.
Just think of household supplies: toilet paper, soap, first aid, and cleaning products. Whatever you imagine, there is never enough.
Next, we needed sustainable food resources. First, we purchased a large selection of heirloom variety vegetable seeds. Next, for eggs and meat, we acquired two dozen chickens to be hidden away in the coop I built for the garage. We drove to a fish hatchery in Mississippi and bought two hundred, six-inch catfish fingerlings for our swimming pool. With feed for the livestock, we were now prepared for the end of the world as we knew it.
New Year’s 2000 came and the world didn’t end. It did bring a wonderful sense of accomplishment. We were better off safe than sorry. As it turned out, 2000 brought with it our own little economic downturn. We were truly fortunate to have the stockpiles to weather a difficult time. It is always good to be prepared.
Epilogue: After the crisis passed, we released our flock of chickens deep into the woods. After two weeks, we returned to check on them. As in Fowl Feast, they didn’t fare well. All that remained were a couple dozen piles of feathers. All seemed bad until we heard clucking in the forest. Emerging from the undergrowth was the lone survivor of this holocaust. She followed us closely for safety. Under the circumstances, we could do no less than to bring her home. Chicky provided us with eggs for three years until one morning she disappeared.
With an ironic twist, the catfish experiment also ended in tragedy. Shortly after their introduction to our swimming pool, they all expired, or so we thought. Nine months later, and without feeding, a school of twelve, foot long catfish appeared swimming near the surface. I now started feeding them, but oxygen depletion from an algae bloom did them in. Some time later, I decided to clean the pool. After shocking the pool with chlorine, two large catfish corpses floated to the surface. Who’d a thunk it?
Editor’s Note: We still have some batteries and heirloom seeds.