At first, it didn’t seem like much. A few things weren’t being restocked at the stores, more gaps in the shelves. If we couldn’t replace something in our pantry, we went without, assuming it’d be back soon.
Really, no big deal.
The news would announce a store or local restaurant closing down. There were reports, but life-altering news was ignored. The latest celebrity or political accusation took center stage distracting us from any real problems needing our attention.
That is how it went. People lived off what they had in their pantry, going without the occasional luxury item or even the occasional staple. What is a staple anyway? We had two jars of peanut butter and a handful of avocados at all time in our house. Was all that necessary? There was a time I would argue the peanut butter was vital for survival, but those days are gone.
Our “affluent” town got by a good bit longer than many places. We had little disruption for a while. We lived off the stuff that got pushed to the back. The back of the freezer, the back of the pantry. The stuff you’d pull out when there was a canned food drive at the preschool.
We saw the riots on TV. The larger cities or poorer communities got hit the hardest first. “Hangry” to an extreme. We would sit safely and comfortably in our homes as cities just a few hours away erupted into violence. We sat there and thought nothing like this would happen to us. The problem–whatever it was–would be fixed before it got that bad here. We weren’t a big city, we weren’t a suburb either, we were sheltered from most of the evils of the world.
I was wrong.
The chaos radiated out from the cities to the suburbs, then to the smaller towns and out to the farming communities. Everyone assumed the farms would be in a decent place to feed themselves, but they relied on our modern system as everyone else.
It didn’t become a problem for us until we couldn’t feed our daughter enough to satisfy her small stomach. My wife and I were hungry and feeling the discomfort, but willing and able to sacrifice to keep our little girl fed. No discussion, just something that had to happen.
“It’s OK, baby girl. I’ll go find you something else to eat,” I said to our daughter who hadn’t stopped crying for over an hour.
“What are we going to do?” my wife asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe I can try Mrs. Levey’s house and see if she as anything to offer or trade,” I said.
“Mrs. Levey? Really? She’s the coldest woman on our street.”
“I know but she always dotes on her when we take our morning walks. And she has no family, maybe she has something extra. Plus, I don’t think there are many other options around. It’s beginning to look like a ghost town here,” I said. Not knowing where our neighbors had tried to escape to. From what we could tell the shortages were everywhere.
Mrs. Levey was our neighbor. She was mean but not as cold as my wife thought. I often saw her early in the morning while walking our dog and pushing the stroller. Our little girl was an early riser like myself, and I’d get her out of the house so my wife could sleep a few more hours in the mornings. Mrs. Levey always waved me down to stop, not saying a word to me, scowling at our 14-year-old beagle and cooed at our daughter.
She may not care much for me or my wife, but she loved to give little treats to our baby. I assumed she would still feel the same in our time of need.
I knocked on her thick solid oak door, it could keep a SWAT team with a battering ram busy for a good while. There was no response, so I used the heavy iron knocker a few times. The sound reverberated through the door and into the house.
I could hear some shuffling behind the door and said: “Mrs. Levey, it’s me your neighbor, I was wondering–”
“I don’t have anything for you! I don’t want anything from you! Leave or I’ll call the police!” she said through the door.
“Mrs. Levy, it’s my little girl,” I said. “We’ve run out of food, and she’s hungry. I was hoping you had a little something to spare. It would just be for her. My wife and I are going without.”
The lock on the door echoed through the wood as she opened it. She stood in front of me, the door cracked enough to easily see each other. She didn’t weigh more than 80 pounds soaking wet and hunched over, making her less than five feet tall. But she moved around as nimbly as someone 30 years her junior.
“Your little girl? She’s hungry?” she asked.
“Yes, ma’am. We’ve been rationing, but we don’t have enough now. Do you have anything? You know the stores ran–” I said.
“I know about the stores. It won’t be for that mangy mutt of yours?” She said.
“No, ma’am,” I said.
My wife had the foresight to stock up on dog food when things started to look bad. We had enough to feed a dozen dogs. If things got bad enough, we’d start in on that. I wasn’t prepared to give it to my daughter yet.
“What does she like?” Mrs. Levey asked.
“Anything right now. Is there anything with some pro–”
“Bring her over. I’ll cook her a meal, whatever she wants. For you and your wife too. Y’all come over and eat a meal.”
“We couldn’t take that much of your food. There are shortages you know,” I said.
“I’m not senile. I know what is going on in the world. Bring your family over, and I will prepare a meal for you,” she said. “But leave your dog at home.”
“Yes, ma’am. Thank you.”
I ran home, relieved my daughter would be fed and I could delay eating the overpriced premium dog food I’d set aside for my wife and me.
I ran into the house and scooped up our crying daughter.
“She’s going to cook us a meal for all of us,” I said. “Let’s hurry over before she changes her mind. Maybe we can lend a hand, and she’ll be more open to it again.”
“Seriously? You got her to help us?” my wife said. “Did you offer her anything?”
“No, nothing. Now come on. I’d rather eat real food tonight than a handful of dog food.”
We stepped out of our side door, the closest to Mrs. Levey’s yard and heard the sound of several trucks rolling down the road.
“What’s that?” my wife asked.
“I don’t know but it doesn’t sound good. Hurry.”
A caravan of trucks rounded the corner as we headed up the stone path to her front door. We could hear people yelling, some at us to stop.
“Hurry, get inside. I don’t know what they want, and I don’t want to find out,” I said.
As we topped the last step the heavy solid oak door swung open. She stepped on the porch holding a shotgun nearly as long as she was tall.
“Get your baby inside,” she said stepping past us and hefting the barrel towards the lead truck. “I think it best you folks move on from here. We don’t want any trouble and if you come around my house you’re going to get it!”
I handed our daughter to my wife as we stepped into the foyer of the house, and I turned to call for Mrs. Levey.
“Go, get somewhere inside,” I said to my wife. “Mrs. Levey let’s get inside. No need to provoke them.”
But I was too late.
“What are you gonna do with that gun. It’s bigger than you, old lady,” one of the men said as he stepped onto the stone walk.
“I will put a hole through your gut so big–”
“I don’t think you could hit the side of a barn,” the man said as he took a step forward.
Mrs. Levey fired a shot so loud it stopped every person in the neighborhood. The paving stone at the man’s feet exploded, leaving a crater in the walkway.
“Like I said, I think it’s time for you folks to move on. We don’t want any trouble, and that’s all you’re going to get if you come a single step closer to my house.”
“OK, OK, OK,” the man said with his hands over his head. “We’re moving on. We were only looking for any food scraps. We’ll get out of your hair.”
He looked shocked the old lady could aim the gun so well and not fall over from the kick. I was shocked she was still standing.
The man got in his truck and the caravan left. Mrs. Levey stood watch until she could no longer hear the engines.
“Damn, I forgot how hard this one kicks. That’s going to leave a bruise. Let’s get inside and feed that baby of yours.”
“Mrs. Levey, are you OK?” I asked.
“Yes, yes. I’m fine. I don’t get out to the range as often as I used to and these guns have gotten heavy. This one always beat me up, but it makes one heck of a statement, doesn’t it?”
“Uh, yes ma’am,” I said. “You’re not the person I thought you were.”
“Nobody is,” she said.
“Do you think they will come back?”
“Let them. It will take an army to get into this house, and there is enough ammo to take on a small country. I like my security, and this house might as well be Fort Knox. We’ll be safe here for a while.”
“Don’t thank me yet. I am a terrible cook, and I invited you over for dinner.”