"It's Mine! And You Can't Have It!" is the title of Race Grimstead's latest book, our topic today."
Mike listened to a talk radio station while driving home from work and chuckled. Thinking, wow, what an idiot this guy is. But he listened anyway. He started to consider what the 'idiot' was saying about possible grid failures, social unrest, blizzards in the north, and hurricanes in the south.' He reached home before the program ended, stepped out of his car, was grateful for his happy, everyday life, and gave the ideas no more thought.
"Are you going to wherever it is you go?" Lucy asked her husband.
"Yep." He held up a camera and his sack lunch and walked toward the door.
"Well, Mike, if you weren't dressed in hunting gear, I'd suspect you have another wife or woman, whatever."
Mike returned and wrapped his arms around her tiny frame. "You know you're the only woman for me, sweetheart."
"I know, that camera is the other woman," she teased.
He kissed her cheek and said, "I'll see you tonight. Do you want me to bring takeout for dinner?"
"That would be nice. I'll phone the order in at Pestos. Eggplant Parm, please."
"Got it. See ya later." He climbed into his Land Rover, then drove away.
Mike stepped on the crunchy brown oak leaves, the last to compost into soil. Acorns littered the ground, and he admired the enormous oak trees. He thought about how Lucy would love the scents of the damp mossy forest floor, pine and cedar branches and delight in the wild trillium, violets, and roses. One day, he would tell her about this place, but not yet,
The land was once known as Matthews Farm, covering thirty-thousand acres, where apple, pear, cherry, and peach trees provide fruit and extra income. Now, after decades, the trees still flourished. A few acres produced corn, wheat, and sunflowers. Cows provided milk, butter, and cheese. To Leroy Matthews and his wife, their home was paradise. Leroy didn't mind the body-crushing work, and he often enjoyed it. Such was his passion. He and Ida, his wife, were never able to have children; their one great shared sorrow. Death took Ida when she was sixty, and Leroy's will to work and live went with her. He sold most of the land to the State of Michigan for a wildlife and hunting area but held a hundred acres surrounding the house and barn, deep in the forest's heart.
Mike loved the outdoors, especially forests. One day, while hoping to get a photo of the area's unique Kirtland's Warbler, he lost his way and happened upon Leroy's house. The elderly Leroy sat in one of two rockers on the porch. Mike apologized for the intrusion, but Leroy invited him to share a lemonade.
He told Mike many stories about his and his wife's adventures, "Right here on this farm! We didn't go to town much and were so happy." Leroy wiped a tear from his eye, took a breath, and continued, "I helped cows with breach births while Ida held the flashlight late into the night. We saved chickens from every critter in the forest, foxes mostly, but sometimes an eagle. I'd wrestled the goat from getting stuck in the garden fence nearly every week, they'll eat anything, but she gave good milk. Ida and I picked fruit from the trees and sold it at a little stand near the main road. The wild mushrooms on the north side of that slope over there, Morels, were a large part of our income."
Mike visited Leroy once or twice a month and brought groceries and sometimes a six-pack of Heineken they shared on hot summer days. Mike shared his experiences overseas and his love for Lucy.
During one visit, Leroy told Mike, "I've always had a bum ticker, but I feel it now. I have no one to leave this place to, and I have no family left, and I wonder what will become of it when I'm gone."
Mike sighed and asked, "Leroy, what do you think this place would sell for?"
"Well, Mike, little because it's pretty run down, and who would want to come way out here after a hard day's work? There's no electricity anymore since I never paid the bill after Ida died. I get water from a well, but it takes electricity to pump it through the house. I get buckets from the stream over there in the forest. There's a hand pump by the barn, but it hurts my shoulder. Damned arthritis. Why do you ask, son?"
"I'll buy it, and you can stay here as long as you want. Have you paid the taxes?"
Leroy hung his head and said, "Off and on. Ida took care of all of that."
They agreed upon a price, and Mike borrowed against his IRA, never telling Lucy. That the place was his, and he was the only person who knew about it, except maybe a forest ranger.
Leroy collapsed and died while walking toward town. Due to his long hair, unkempt beard, and filthy old clothes, the apathetic sheriff assumed he was a vagrant. No one claimed his body, and they buried him in a plot near the cemetery's edge.
Then came the Gulf War, and Mike served in the air force, was away from home and the forest for four years then returned to Lucy. He was an excellent civil engineer and earned a very comfortable living. He and Lucy did not buy into the lust for a McMansion on a Cul-de-sac or expensive cars or furniture. They lived in the same house where Lucy was born at the edge of the small town, and Lucy inherited it.
A few months after Mike returned from the Middle East, he drove three hours north to visit Leroy.
It took Mike a while to find a single dirt lane in the house. Invasive Russian Olive, wild raspberry bushes, tangles of Virginia Creeper, and poison ivy had swallowed it. . A blanket of wisteria and wild roses wove a green, prickly blanket over the porch and house. The two cedar rockers remained covered in Ivy.
Mike hacked and cut his way to the front door and unlocked it, then he had to shove it open as chrome and red Formica table were jammed against it.
He stepped inside, and the air was musty and unpleasant, but he was relieved to detect no odor of the rotting flesh of squirrels or raccoons. He used a flashlight in the dark kitchen. Dirty dishes of food-encrusted saucepans filled the sink, and empty soup, spam, and pork and bean cans covered every inch of the counter. A newspaper dated September 11, 2001, lay on the sagging twin bed against one wall. Yellow linoleum cracked and crumbled beneath Mike's boots. A small bathroom with a leaning toilet and rusty sink stood in a small bathroom off the kitchen.
A table and one chair sat like mourners in the dining room. Mike was startled by a large gilt wall mirror. For a second didn't recognize himself in his camo, wide-brimmed hat, and dirty face.
Boards of all shapes, sizes and wood types were pounded into the heavy lathe with heavy spike nails on every window on the ground floor. Leroy ended up living in one room, his kitchen, as many old people do when they live alone and grow too weak and weary.
Mike climbed the sturdy stairs and found two bedrooms and one bathroom. One room held a bed and dresser. There was an empty silver locket in a small jewelry box. Mike was tempted to take it to Lucy but did not. this was an almost sacred house and land, and he respected it.
There was no sign of water damage, which spells death to abandoned houses. They built this house to last, with the best materials of its era.
As he stepped outside from the kitchen, he reached in, pulled the old chrome table back against the door, and locked it. The autumn air smelled of the sweet decay of plants, and birds chirped from the bushes, and Mike shed a tear for Leroy, a true friend.
He noticed a pair of cellar doors that had once opened for coal deliveries. A chain lay like a rusted snake across the ground in front of them. He pulled one open and descended three steps into a dark, dank basement. He switched on his flashlight, finding the basement empty. Then the beam revealed a door, and he opened it to discover shelves of jars like clove-studded oranges in brandy that his grandmother made for holiday dinners. Jars of tomatoes, beans, pickles, and pickled beats filled the shelves. Yellowing paper labels written in beautiful cursive named their contents. He couldn't resist and a "Brandied Cherries. The familiar, fragrant scent lifted his mood as he tipped the glass to his lips and sipped the sweet, tangy liquid. Some things to get better over time, he thought.
He realized that this was Leroy's entry and exit. The poor old guy must have descended the stairs off the kitchen and then gone out through the cellar doors. Mike shook his head, thinking about what such an elderly man enduring just, so his house looked abandoned
Then one day, Rust Grimshaw spoke on the radio again and wondered if that's what happened to Leroy? Did he run out of food and have to walk to town as a last resort? Mike chided himself for not leaving more supplies before he went overseas. It nagged at him, and he thought about how awful it would be to starve to death, die of thirst, or freeze in a home without power.
Mike could not stop thinking about being prepared.
Over dinner one night, Mike asked, "Lucy, do you keep any extra supplies in case of a disaster?"
"Well, we have a box of candles from Christmas. And I buy extra if it's on sale. That's why we have the freezer in the basement. Why?"
Mike looked at her sweet face and said, "I listened to Rust Grimstead talk about his book and how we should have enough food, water, and stuff in case of an emergency" "
"Okay, I'll get more candles, extra matches, and whatever is on sale at Krogers when I go.
"Oh, speaking of Kroger's, I met our new neighbors there yesterday. Can you believe she's pregnant again? All those little tow-heads running around the front yard. I think this is her fifth, and she said it's twins."
Mike continued eating, thinking about how he was glad they didn't have kids.
He purchased a dozen thirty-gallon galvanized garbage cans, two at a time, from different towns and stores, preferring those smaller and family-owned without surveillance cameras, and paid with cash, so no paper trail. He built a wall in the basement with stacks of bottled water. Sugar, flour, sugar Salt, and packets of yeast were in the large galvanized trash cans that he sealed with duct tape. Shopped in Cost-co, adding cases of soup, canned meat, tuna, pork, and beans. Then came the fire pit, cast iron skillet, soup pot, and packages of Dura Logs for the small fireplace in the kitchen. He checked podcasts and articles on various library computers for more ways to prepare.
He bought two generators, the largest he could move and install by himself. Whenever he filled his car with gas, or even when he didn't, he'd buy a gas can, fill it, store it in the barn, and lock it.
Lucy noticed the change in him. He became secretive and snapped at her if she questioned his whereabouts or the increasing length of his absences. Mike spent more and more time away. She noticed that he was losing weight and tossed and turned in his sleep. He was nothing like the man she'd loved.
After he felt he'd stored enough food and other supplies, he bought wool clothing for warmth and durability; socks, shirts, and vests. Protective footwear; muck boots, insulated snow boots, rain boots, high-topped hiking shoes, snow shoes, and whatever else he thought he might need for survival. He also purchased these items for Lucy.
Mike now entered the property from different places, leaving temporary trails that would not be seen on the road. He never went to the house after a snowfall to avoid leaving tracks. During these times, he paced and fretted, fearing someone would find his hoard and steal it. He wanted to be ready when the time came and would not share it. Only he and Lucy would survive!
Then Lucy fell ill. At first, the doctor said it was stress, prescribed Valium, and increased the dosages, then Xanax. She also lost weight she could not afford to lose. She caught a cold, then pneumonia, and died. Heartbroken, Mike took early retirement and a cash payout of his retirement funds and moved into his forest house. He guarded his secret stash and abandoned the home he and Lucy had shared. No one missed him, assuming he'd moved away from the places and people reminding him of Lucy.
He brought trash bags and cleaning supplies; soon, the old kitchen resembled a vintage showroom. He slept in Leroy's bed near the kitchen fireplace. Mike spent hours reading books and magazines about survival. Occasionally, he drove to the city sixty miles away and purchased more bullets, a crossbow, and arrows. The basement became so full that he could barely walk through it, but he never ran out of ideas for survival supplies, such as vegetable seeds, fertilizer, and garden tools.
Strings of empty food cans surrounded his house to alert him to anyone getting too close. Mike wanted to get a guard dog or two but feared the dog would lead someone to his home, and he'd also need to stock up on dog food.
He filled the dining room with canned goods, matches, lighters, fire starters, and oil for the antique oil lamps he found in the attic. Mike bought water filtration straws and hauled water from the stream, filling containers, including the bathtub! This way, he didn't have to touch his many cases of bottled water. He ran the generator sparingly to save gasoline and well water.
Mike ate cold beans, soup, and chili from cans, then quickly replaced them, sometimes adding more. He never used the sugar, flour, or other dried goods he'd bought for Lucy, who loved to bake, but he did consume the jars of delicious fruits and vegetables from Ida's root cellar.
As his paranoia grew, he repaired the roof, then spent days covering it with cedar boughs to make it harder to spot from above and allowed foliage to swallow the house. Mike slept fitfully, ruminating and worrying that someone would find him and take his supplies.
He became a wizened, hermetic shell, lamenting that he'd never shared this place with Lucy, and worried more and more that he'd have enough supplies to last forever.
A hunter discovered Mike's skeleton in the forest, the bones of his hand still clutched a berry basket filled with dust.