Mrs. Flannery’s Flowers
Each in different ways, having been brought together by the Ring of Fire, people from the twentieth and seventeenth centuries try to adapt to their new situations. Some handle it very well, others not so well—and some don’t seem able to adjust at all.
Big things are happening in Grantville since the whole town was sent through time and space to war-torn seventeenth-century Germany, and up-timer nursing student Krystal Reed isn’t handling it very well. She never wanted to live in Grantville and being sent back to the seventeenth century just makes it worse. Working with doctors who think bleeding is a legitimate medical practice and that women have no business in medicine is exasperating, to say the least—but their prejudices are no match for the new medical programs in Grantville and Jena. Now if only she can recover from losing her parents, her friends, her home, her college, and her future.
Nils Jorgensen and his family are just a few of the thousands of down-timers looking for a new future in Grantville. They arrive with little more than their skills. Through hard work, the Jorgensens start a fashion empire.
For people like elderly Irene Flannery, life is more about smaller, personal issues. With no family left up-time, her biggest worry now that’s she’s in the seventeenth century is having a married curate at the Catholic church. (The scandal!) But she has kept a secret since FDR was President and she’ll defend her rose bushes to the death because of it.
Krystal was lost in the simple pleasure of an ice-cold soda and porch swing a warm spring day when the sky lit up with fire. Confused, she slammed her feet down while she worked out what was wrong. The neighborhood was abruptly quiet. No music playing. No bathroom fan growling, porch fan swirling, or window fan buzzing. And no machines washing and drying her clothing. Everything was silent. The only sounds left were nature and cars in the distance.
She was still on the porch, talking about what might have caused the power outage and flare of light with her Little cousins and the neighbors when their mutual cousin Sam Reed (Donovan’s son who lived with his mom down in Beckley) drove up. Sam’s face was paler than usual, downright pasty, and serious as he walked toward them. “Someone shot Chief Frost! I drove around a bit after I finished mowing Mrs. Flannery’s lawn for Donny, then I stopped at the high school because a ton of people were there for the wedding. I thought maybe they would know what was happening. Mr. Hobbs brought Chief Frost in and he looked pretty bad. At least everyone said it was Chief Frost. I’m not here often enough to be sure. People were almost carrying him. His shoulder was messed up. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Sam had to repeat the story about Chief Frost after more neighbors walked over, then everyone started talking and asking questions. He just shrugged a lot in reply, looking as uncertain as everyone else. “I’m just saying what I saw, that’s all. But, uh, carrying a weapon is probably a good choice right now. They said other people were shot at, and they had to kill some really bad guys outside of town. If, uh, you’re old enough to be allowed. Even the Principal sounded awful nervous.” That quieted them down. No one would call Ed Piazza a Nervous Nellie.
“Boy, this is West Virginia. If you’re old enough to shoot straight, you’re old enough to carry. Everyone knows your daddy is a useless, lazy, good-for-nothing so-and-so but your great-Grandpa Eli certainly taught you that much. Might not be old enough to let the law know you’re carrying, but you’re old enough to do it.” No one disagreed, but the whole situation left them with a lot to think on.
Sam kept answering questions, like where else the power was out (everywhere) and whether the phones lines were working (they weren’t, including cell phones). Finally, everyone seemed to accept that he didn’t know anything more.
Bethel the Younger (daughter of Bethel Reed Little and Raymond Little) looked worried. “Aunt Sonia and Uncle Donnie Joe were supposed to come here this afternoon and we haven’t seen them yet. Krystal, have you heard from them? Will you be able to get home okay?”
Krystal hadn’t thought through the situation that far. “Uh, can I stay here? I’ll sleep on the sofa. Some of my laundry was mid-cycle and it’s soaking wet. Unless the electricity comes back on soon, there’s no way it’ll be dry tonight, even if I hang it outside to dry. And no, I haven’t heard from my parents.”
Everyone in the family knew Krystal had been born a world-class worrier, just like her mom, so Bethel and Sam tried to distract her. “We all know the no-power drill: no needlessly opening the refrigerator and freezer and close them fast. Eat or cook fridge food within a day. Don’t flush if you can avoid it; keep a can of water handy to refill the toilet tank until we get power to the water pump again.”
Sam picked up where Bethel left off, in a perfect imitation of their great-grandmother Grannie B. “Use food in the freezer within two days. Empty the pipes to the tub and sinks into pitchers for drinking water. Check the flashlight batteries and keep one with you. Cook outside on the grill. Not inside–outside! Heathens.” Grannie B always muttered the last comment under her breath, after someone threatened to start a cooking fire in the kitchen. “Check the dryer. Move anything in there onto the clothesline. And hope you don’t have laundry in mid-rinse.” The neighbors laughed at his spot-on imitation, but it reminded them of chores they needed to do, so everyone headed home, and Krystal started hanging up her clothing from the dryer on the drying rack in the back yard, ignoring everything in the washer for now.
Just as the family was finishing dinner on the front porch, a pair of horses pulling a not-quite-wagon turned onto their street, headed toward the high school. After the initial shock, Krystal grabbed her newish birthday camera out of her not-so-new car. Her parents would never believe it if she told them a horse and wagon randomly went down the street in Grantville.
“Barbara Reed,” barked Irene Flannery as she charged into Barbara and Eli’s room at the Bowers Assisted Living Residence the next day. “Control your great-grandchildren.” Barbara waited calmly for the other half of Irene’s complaint-of-the-moment. “Donny Higgins was supposed to mow my grass and that lazy Tom Sawyer wannabe got his cousin Sam to do it. And that boy cut it too high. He probably didn’t think I’d notice before he went back home to his momma in Beckley, but I noticed all right.”
“Irene, you may be old, but you aren’t half as deaf as you pretend, and you certainly aren’t blind. The whole town lost power yesterday and something happened to the phones, and no one is going anywhere right now, including Beckley. With the Chief of Police being shot and armed strangers wandering around town, your lawn is nobody’s biggest problem. Not even yours. Don’t start in on your rose bushes, either. Donny never did anything to them on purpose.”
Irene sniffed. “Any foolishness Danny Frost has gotten into is none of my concern. Unlike my yard. You tell that Sam Reed to fix my grass if he expects to get paid, and not to get lazy when he mulches my roses like Donny does. Kids these days just don’t take good care of other people’s things.”
“Why are you yelling at me instead of their parents, Irene?”
“You know there is no point in talking to Donovan Reed as well as anybody does. I told you letting him marry that woman from out of town was trouble.”
“Huntington is hardly a far-off crazy-town like Hollywood, a place I recall you wanting to live once upon a time, and Michelle is a better woman than anyone expected him to end up with, even for a few years. Lord knows Sam was better off living with her in Beckley than he would’ve been living with Donovan here. Besides, you are from out of town yourself.”
“As you like to remind me, you were there when I came to Grantville from my grandparents’ home. I was an innocent wee bairn barely a week old and you hit me over the head with your doll. It’s no wonder those children are uncontrollable, Barbara Ann.”
“You pulled my hair and even your own mother never denied it. My only regret is that I didn’t have a china doll to hit you with instead of a rag doll. Maybe you would’ve learned something that way!”
Now Irene looked smug. “I went to college, unlike you, so I know plenty. Like that the people who rented your old place are not there and the house is empty, with all these criminals running around. Krystal and Sam are both in town and staying with Bethel and Raymond Little, as if their house is big enough for all those people. But I am happy to take you and Eli over to see for yourself that I am right.”
Eli slowed his walk as soon as he saw Irene Flannery heading toward their room, arriving just in time to hear her offer to take them over. “Ladies, I would purely enjoy seeing my great-grandchildren, so I, for one, will take up Miss Irene on her kindly offer. Barbara, will you join us?” After a gentlemanly bow, Eli Reed offered one elbow to his wife and the other to Irene Flannery, who was now obliged to drive them to visit their old home. “Miss Irene, you are still lovely enough to be in pictures.”
Hearing that bit of flattery, Irene perked up, a bit of her youthful flirtiness shining through for a moment. “You know, a motion picture talent scout offered me a contract back in the Great Depression, but I didn’t really want to move the whole way to Hollywood.” Grannie B rolled her eyes, safely out of Irene’s sight. “I’m not sorry I stayed here. I never would’ve married my Patrick if I had gone swanning off to star in the motion pictures. But then again, I wouldn’t be acting as a taxi service for you.” Irene just didn’t have it in her to end anything on a happy note.
“Grannie B and Grandpa Eli!” Krystal was relieved when they arrived at the Little’s house. “My parents never got here with Nana yesterday. They were bringing her over for the afternoon. Everyone is saying there’s some kind of ring around the town and we can’t get out to go home. All I have is the stuff that was in my car. Sam has a little bit he left here when he stayed before, but that’s just some odds and ends like toothpaste and a few pairs of underwear that he didn’t notice under the bed when he packed up and went back to his mom.”
Hearing Krystal greet their great-grandparents’, Sam came in from the kitchen with a big Dagwood sandwich he’d made himself. Seeing Mrs. Flannery, he stiffened up and almost left the room. He didn’t live in Grantville, but she had yelled at him a lot over the years when he visited. Cautiously, “Hello, Mrs. Flannery.” With much more enthusiasm and hugs, “Grannie B and Grandpa Eli! Why are you all here? Did you hear that Aunt Sonia and Uncle Donnie Joe haven’t come back and the roads don’t seem to go anywhere anymore?”
“Mrs. Flannery told us you and Krystal were staying here with your Aunt Bethel and Uncle Raymond. We wanted to see if it was true. Folks at our place are saying no one has seen anyone who was out of town when that big flash of light happened yesterday, but folks at our place don’t exactly have reliable memories, or hearing, so we wanted to check on you ourselves. Mrs. Flannery was kind enough to volunteer to drive us here.” Seeing their skepticism, Grandpa Eli laughed. “There is something in it for her. Sam, Mrs. Flannery wants you to go cut her lawn again. She says you cut it too high.”
Sam looked angry but it didn’t stop Grandpa Eli. “Just cut it again, Sam, it’s not like you have to do it every week. You’ll probably be home before it needs cut again. As for you, Irene, next time you can check the mower height or live with it. Be glad Sam didn’t butcher your precious rose bushes like you always complain about. He helps his mom with her garden in Beckley and he’s in the 4-H, so he knows how to take good care of them. He’s even won prizes for his own roses, but he doesn’t like to talk about it.”
Unsatisfied but knowing it was the best she would get, Mrs. Flannery gave an abrupt nod and headed for her car, letting the screen door slam behind her as she stomped down the steps.
“Have you checked on your dad, Sam?” asked Grannie B.
“Yeah, I checked. Bad news, there. Donovan Reed is still in town, and still the miserable SOB he always has been. Don’t give me that look. That’s the nicest description I’ve ever heard of him, including from you. I guess Mom’s still at home in Beckley, so I’m pretty much an orphan if things don’t get fixed.” Sam’s eyes widened and he started to panic. If he really was an orphan, someone might force him to move and live with his father, and he did not want that. “If I’m stuck here without Mom, don’t make me go live with him again! Aunt Bethel and Uncle Raymond can be my guardians. Or Bethel or Krystal–they’re my cousins and both are over eighteen and I think that’s old enough. Donovan Reed doesn’t want me. You know he doesn’t!”
Grandpa Eli pulled Sam in for a comforting hug to stop the building panic. “Son, we won’t let that happen to you. Everyone around here knows enough about Donovan that they wouldn’t saddle any kid with him. If that happens, we’ll find someone you can live with. In fact, Mrs. Flannery told us that our tenants are out of town. You and Krystal can go ahead and stay in our house for now because you’re right, it’s no secret that Donovan doesn’t want any kids living with him. If things don’t get fixed soon, we’ll figure out the guardian thing so you don’t have to worry about Donovan at all.” Sam looked very relieved at that. “But right now, you need to go cut Mrs. Flannery’s grass because if you don’t, even if you leave tomorrow, Grannie B and I will have to hear about it until either we die, or Mrs. Flannery does.” With that, Grandpa Eli shooed Sam out the door.
Two days later, everyone in town went to the big meeting in the high school gym, hoping for answers. Everyone had someone they hadn’t heard from since the flash of light on top of not having power or phone service. Krystal still hadn’t heard from her parents, and she was scared sick about what had happened to them. A born worrier, she had barely eaten since dinner the first day. Grannie B, Grandpa Eli, and Sam were worried that Krystal’s parents might have been in an accident but didn’t want to mention it to her. Maybe the meeting would tell them something that made sense, like a rockslide had taken out the phone lines and blocked the passes so no one could get back home, something like that.
Krystal’s mind wandered when people got long-winded, but she tuned in again to hear, “You heard what Ed Piazza and his teachers told us. Somehow—nobody knows how—we’ve been planted somewhere in Germany almost four hundred years ago. With no way to get back.” Her face set in a hard line at that, but she stayed silent and kept listening. She wasn’t giving up on getting her parents, her Nana, and her life back that easily, no matter what anyone said.
She and her cousin Bethel had both gone away to college for a reason: they had no intention of spending their lives in a backwater, hillbilly town in Appalachia. Krystal’s life, her future, was still out there, and she would find it. No one knew what had happened or why, but that meant that they couldn’t be sure it wouldn’t happen again. She was going to hang on to her hope that life would return to normal for as long as it took to get there, no matter what anyone told her.
Mayor Dreeson finally ended all the speechifying with a call to vote for Chairman of the Emergency Committee. “Under the circumstances—running unopposed and all—I think we can handle this with a voice vote. All in favor?” Of course Mike Stearns won, running unopposed and with the only one speaking out against him being a big-money, big-city CEO. Krystal thought the pictures she took for her parents captured the moment nicely.
He didn’t live in town, but Sam had spent more than a few weeks of vacation there, and every day of his vacay for years had focused on not being with his paternal unit, so he was friends with quite a few guys around his age, and their parents knew him too, from sleepovers. Since it didn’t look like he was going home soon, his great-grandparent’s house wasn’t his home, and Krystal was a moody stick-in-the-mud, he started arranging sleepovers with any friendly families he saw in the gym or around town. Krystal waved off the few friends she had in town when they tried to talk to her, completely uninterested in socializing until she could see her parents again. This nightmare had to have a reasonable scientific explanation.
When they caught up to her, Grannie B and Irene Flannery were having a ‘discussion’ while Grandpa Eli looked on serenely, hearing aids turned off. He was fond of that old joke, “Why do men go deaf before women…Because they want to.” It got him a swat every time he told it, but according to Grannie B, some husbands are just hard to train.
Mrs. Flannery was on a rant. “Barbara Ann, you know I have never liked Mike Stearns. That boy’s mama coddled him. I don’t care what she says, being three is not an excuse for peeing on another person’s prize rose bushes. And Mikey Stearns is a Presbyterian, whenever he bothers to go to church at all.” Sniff, sniff. “Mr. Simpson looks like the kind of person who never peed on a rose bush in his life, and an Episcopalian like him is closer to being a good Catholic than the Stearns boy is. Why would a good Catholic like you vote for someone like Mikey Stearns?”
Grannie B gave as good as she got. “Irene, first, you know good and well that my Eli and half my own children are Methodist, so I won’t hold that against anyone. Second, Mike Stearns is no boy, and you know it. He’s been a UMWA organizer for decades. He could even outmaneuver that bastard Quentin Underwood, and I know you don’t like Underwood. This Mr. Simpson is trouble. You’ve seen it enough in your life to know it’s nothing but trouble when big city types come through here trying to throw their weight around. Next thing you know, he’ll be trying to get us to do some fool thing like building a navy up in our hills and hollers. Mike Stearns was with the group who helped rescue that poor farmer while Mr. Pittsburgh, over there, stayed safe in town. It’s what the fat cats always do: have the little people take the risks and do the work while they watch somewhere safe.”
Irene sniffed again and turned to leave. “At least Mr. Simpson and his wife look respectable and sound respectable, which is more than Mikey Stearns can say.”
Krystal almost slipped as she raced down the steps, through the living room, and around the corner into the kitchen the next morning. “Sam! Where are the car keys? I have to get to work. Sam!”
“I hid them.”
“I hid them. It was too depressing to look at them, so I put my car and your car around back and hid the keys for all our vehicles. Even the mower.”
“We can’t drive anymore. They said ‘only for emergencies’ because there isn’t any more gas ’cause we’re in medieval times now. So, I put the keys where we can’t see ’em. I just got my license last month and now I can’t drive! I don’t want to see the keys, or my car, and I put them in there.” He gestured toward the kitchen junk drawer. “I pumped up the tires on an old bike for myself and left the pump out so you can do one for yourself.”
“I told you, no driving. It’s not that complicated, Miss Krystal Marie Reed, high and mighty college nursing student. After the meeting yesterday, that’s one of the things the new committee decided. Mrs. Flannery came over this morning, special, and told me, ‘Just because that committee says we can’t use anything with a gasoline engine except for genuine emergencies doesn’t mean you can stop cutting my grass, young man. I still have my Patrick’s old push mower, and I still have standards, even if no one else in this town does.’ I tried to get out of it. I mean, it was Donny’s job, not mine! But she just kept talking. ‘You’ll have to clean it up some and sharpen the blade, but I expect my lawn cut and my roses taken care of every week. Donny used to do it but since you know how to take care of roses and he never did, it’s your job now.’ Figures that stupid lawn would be her first thought, that, and her rose bushes. Again. Why does she care so much? Anyhow, no more cars, or trucks, or…” He trailed off, overcome by grief as only a sixteen-year-old boy with a new driver’s license can be at not being able to drive anymore.
“Sam, I don’t care what that cranky old biddy says. I’m driving my car to work today. I’ll be late for my shift if I try to bike. Maybe she exaggerated. She loves making everyone around her miserable.”
Krystal was in an extra big hurry because she needed to pick up some things for herself and Sam before she started her shift as a clerk at the drug store. Uncle Raymond said they could have some basic toiletries on the house since Krystal didn’t have any toiletries with her and Sam only had enough for a weekend trip, but there were some other things she wanted, like some make-up. When she got inside, she saw a new sign on the community bulletin board near the front door.
The Emergency Committee chaired by Mike Stearns has declared the remaining motor vehicle fuel to be a vital military resource. That means that the fuel in your tanks is all the fuel you’ve got, unless you donate that too. A bus service is being organized and there will be help for the elderly and disabled to get where they need to go, including shops as they reopen. Please contact the hospital operator, police office, or assisted living home operator if you need assistance with transportation.
That answered that. Bicycles, scooters, skates, etc. were about to become all the rage. Krystal spent most of her shift ringing up other practical people who were stocking up on basic toiletries and over the counter medications. Then there was Mrs. Flannery. Never one to let practicalities intrude overly much, she bought several bottles of her favorite bluing hair rinse, hair pins, hair spray, cold cream, baby powder, and bunion pads.
“Krystal, your Uncle Raymond, Sam, and I are all worried about you. What have you done other than your shifts at the pharmacy and sleeping since the big meeting at the high school? Anything?” Bethel was the kind of person who brought stray birds into the house to heal. Seeing her niece in such clear pain hurt her to the core. If Krystal hadn’t stopped in to do laundry after her shift at the pharmacy, she would be up-time with her parents right now. But she had, so she lost her university, her (new and seemingly not serious) boyfriend, her parents, her best friend, Julie Marie, her home… In short, everything except her car, a few bags of laundry, and her Grantville relatives. At least she had a few CDs in her car, so she had a little bit of her own favorite music.
“Nothing. What should I do? No one knows why we are here or for how long. I’m just waiting to go home. I hate living in someone else’s house, and this is definitely someone else’s house. When I go to the fridge, they have Pepsi instead of Dr. Pepper. Pepsi! What kind of person drinks Pepsi when they could have Coke?” Krystal’s strong anti-Pepsi feelings (and rants) had amused her extended family for years, but her current distress was no cause for amusement, so Bethel bit back the smile that came unbidden. “The family pictures, the books, the magazines, everything is wrong.” She looked ready to either cry or hit something.
Bethel hugged her close and let her simply be young and hurting. “Krys, I know you don’t want to hear this, but we may not go back. This may be permanent. If it is, you know Grannie B and Grandpa Eli will let you keep living here, in their home.”
“I won’t accept that! We are going to go home. I will see my parents again, and Julie Marie, and my college, and my whole life! Medieval Germany is not my future!”
Bethel considered the situation while Krystal sulked. “How about this, Krys. If we are still here in July, we will pack up some of the Clevenger family’ things. They will have rented a new house by then. When they moved to assisted living, Grannie B and Grandpa Eli packed their things into the attic. You can pick through their stuff and put what you like best back out in the house, including family pictures. I have the family Christmas card your mom sent out last year. Frame that. Try trading books with other families for things of more interest to you. If things return to normal, you can always trade back.” Krystal still looked unconvinced, but she agreed, certain things would be back to normal by next month.
“Mrs. Reed, the Refugee Center asked me to talk to you. They never expected this many families, or orphans, when it started. Almost everyone except Jimmy Dick and Mrs. Flannery has agreed to have people live with them. Do you think you could talk to Mrs. Flannery and get her to agree to have a family live with her? In her garage, if nowhere else? Everyone says no-one but you could convince her to wear a raincoat in a hurricane but that she listens to you sometimes. They would really appreciate it.”
Grannie B laughed. “No one else was willing to beard the lioness in her den, eh? Fair enough. I’ll take her on, but you have to drive us there and back. I’m not going into town without my Eli.”
The next morning, the Reeds were dropped off at St. Vincent’s where Irene would be cleaning, just as she had for decades. “Irene McClanahan Flannery, what is this I hear about you not letting any of these poor refugees live in your house?” Grannie B cornered her in the choir loft.
“It’s my house, Barbara Ann Reed, and I don’t have to let anyone live in it. This is still America and I have my rights.”
“Is it, really, Irene? Your house, just Irene’s house? And all these years you’ve said it’s yours–and Patrick’s.” Hearing Grannie B’s subtle emphasis on her dead husband’s name, Irene Flannery stiffened, sensing she wouldn’t like what was coming next. “What would Patrick think about you making women and children live in tents while you have those empty rooms in your house?” Barbara and Irene knew exactly what buttons to push on each other.
“Don’t you talk about my Patrick like that,” Mrs. Flannery hissed, furious because it was true. Her Patrick would have been one of the first to open their home to refugees, especially orphans. “I’ll have you know I was going to go over this afternoon to see if they have any good Catholic widows or children who need a room. None of those whore camp-followers are welcome in my home, but my Patrick would’ve agreed with helping good Catholics and that’s what I’m going to do.” With that, she turned her back on Grannie B and went back to cleaning.
“Glad to know I heard wrong, Irene. If I can help you with the new family, just let me know.” Satisfied she had done her good deed for the week, Grannie B left for a stroll with Grandpa Eli.
“I’ve never seen the streets this quiet. Do you remember when you were courting me? There were hardly any cars back then but there were plenty of horse-drawn vehicles and just plain horses. This quiet is nice. It feels safe.” They spent a few minutes lost in thought as their feet carried them toward their old home and up onto the porch. Since Grannie B and Grandpa Eli lived in assisted living, Krystal and Sam’s Uncle Raymond and Aunt Bethel were helping around the house, including getting the new refugee family settled in. As a result, Grannie B and Grandpa Eli hadn’t met the new family living in their old house yet, so they sat down on the swing and had a nice, if slightly uncomfortable, nap, while they waited. It wasn’t much, but the income from the refugees living there helped make up for their tenants being left behind, especially with Krystal and Sam there to keep an eye on things. Assisted living isn’t cheap in any century.
As they started waking up, Krystal turned into the driveway on her bicycle. “You were supposed to call for a ride home! They were so worried about you that someone called me at work and asked me to come see if you were here. Now I’m supposed to take you back unless you want to spend the night here? I’ll call them if you do.”
“Where would we sleep? We aren’t going to put anyone out of their bed.”
Krystal was torn up inside. She missed her parents but didn’t want to be a big baby. Other people had lost more. But Grantville wasn’t her home, and this house wasn’t her home. Even Mr. Bigshot from Pittsburgh still had his wife and son with him. “You can sleep in your old bedroom. I don’t want other people sleeping there when my parents show up and need a room. You’ll only be here for one night, so that’s okay.”
Grannie B and Grandpa Eli both gave her small, sad looks, then conferred in hushed tones. “We will spend a night here so we can get to know this fine family you have living with you, but we have to go back first thing in the morning so we can get our medicine. They still have a few things we need to take, you know.”
After everyone else was in bed, Grannie B went into Krystal’s room and sat down on her bed for a chat. “Little one, we need to talk. It’s not good, you insisting that the people we lost will come back or that we’ll return to them. We all want to believe we will get everyone back; we all miss the people we lost, but we have to live the life in front of us, not the one behind us.”
Krystal looked mulish. “It’s only been two months. We don’t know what happened or why. We don’t know if it will happen again. It could. Before the Ring of Fire, no one would have believed that could happen. Now everyone says it can’t happen a second time and it can’t be reversed, but I don’t believe them. It could happen again, and I just know we’ll see them before school starts again. I’m not giving up on seeing my parents again, or on going back to college. I can’t give up on Mom and Dad!” Grannie B hugged her close, letting the tears soak into her nightie as the sobs gradually turned into hiccoughing and Krystal finally released her. “I know you don’t agree, Grannie B–it seems like no one does and I don’t understand why–but I’m not giving up on them.”
Grannie B brushed Krystal’s hair back, looking into her eyes as she held her chin. “I see that. You miss them too much to even start to let go yet. I guess you lost too much. I will let you be on what you believe. For now, as long as you enroll at the vo-tech to continue your nursing studies there, just in case. But if they do not come back, you will have to let go someday, just like we have to let go when people die. We all hurt for the ones we lost, not just you, but we still have to live our lives. Since we still own this house, Grandpa Eli and I want you to make sure all the rooms are being used, including our old bedroom.” Grannie B gave Krystal a long hug and a quick kiss on the top of her head before going back to her old bedroom for the night.
“Are you sure Krystal won’t get mad, Aunt Bethel? She’s awful insistent everything will just snap back.” Nearly two months of living with his cousin had convinced Sam that she wouldn’t see reason on the subject of life returning to normal. She had never wanted to live in West Virginia, much less Grantville, and the reality of being stuck in a century that, in her opinion, made the most backwoods area of the USA in 2000 look like something from a sci-fi movie had hit her harder than most.
Bethel snapped at him, out of patience with Krystal. “She agreed last month. She probably thought we would be back in 2000 by now, but she did agree, and she can live with it. We are only boxing some of this stuff and storing it in the back of the bathroom, not getting rid of anything. If things ever go back to how they were before, everything is still here for the old tenants to claim. If not, it’s still here for you two to use. Right now, that girl could use some familiar things to help her. And part of that is packing up Linda Abernathy’s ivy-covered Corelle dishes and putting out your great-grandparents’ Fiestaware dishes and kitchenware. So will packing up all their toiletries. No one needs to be looking at another person’s toothbrush every morning!”
“What about the family pictures? They have a ton of them lining the steps upstairs. Having strangers staring at me walking around in my robe is kind of creepy.”
“Let’s leave those for another day. Krystal will be home soon and we’ll enlist her help. I’d rather keep to small steps for now, like the dishes and toiletries they will clearly take with them to their new home. We may swap out the photos in the picture frames in the stairwell. If we change them slowly, she may not notice. They have a bunch of photo albums. If we can’t find scenic pics there, we can cut them out from magazines. If she asks, Linda and her kids can take the frames as is, but their family won’t be staring you down anymore.”
“Do you have any family recipes? She keeps complaining that the Clevengers’ cookbooks suck. Whatever kind of cookbook she is looking for definitely isn’t here.”
Bethel gave the Clevengers’ cookbook collection a quick once-over. “Hmmm. I’ll look, Grannie B gave most of her cookbooks to different family members when she moved into assisted living, but I think she still has a few. Pack these away and we’ll find cookbooks with more biscuits and gravy, less Zone Diet and food fads. I have an old Good Housekeeping cookbook, and a new one. I’ll choose one and bring the other over here. That’s a safe one to start with.”
Krystal was out of sorts. Nothing had gone back to normal yet and everyone else seemed convinced things never would. Instead of heading back to her friends, her boyfriend, and her college life, she was stuck in Grantville going to their so-called nursing program, which really just trained LPNs and nurse’s aides, not RNs. Grantville didn’t have a hospital before the Ring of Fire, even if they were building one now, and it certainly didn’t have a nursing school, so the whole thing struck her as pointless.
It isn’t fair! Uncle Raymond made me register for this stupid, so-called nursing school in Grantville, as if I’ll learn anything there. When I am back in real college, I’ll be so far behind! Krystal’s bad case of self-pity was getting on everyone’s nerves. Everyone had lost loved ones, and most had lost children, spouses, parents, and other close family, plus jobs, saving accounts, and retirement income. I want to leave West Virginia, not spend more years here, making up for the time wasted in this LPN program at the vo-tech instead of a real nursing school, even if Grantville is technically Germany now.
“Are you ready to start classes in a few weeks, Krys?” She had no idea how Uncle Raymond could be so upbeat when everyone knew the pharmacy had run out of life-saving medications for a lot of people, including asthma inhalers for people like Grannie B. Seeing her grumpy nod annoyed him. “You are lucky, Krystal. Nursing down-time is different than nursing up-time, but at least you can still study and have the career you wanted. A lot of people can’t. Look at Bitty Matowski! Ballet is completely gone. You studied ballet with her. Do you remember how much she loves it? Well, ballet was her life’s passion, and now it’s gone. And you’re going to be handling more gunshots and trauma care than an inner-city ER. If you are right and things do somehow go back, you will be way ahead of everyone else in basic trauma care and triage.
“You’ll also learn a lot about old-school ways to do things, which can be helpful sometimes, especially when the power goes out or in an emergency. I’m starting to learn a lot about herbal remedies, which I’m sure you will too, if we stay here for a while.” As a pharmacist, Raymond deeply missed regular shipments of manufactured drugs, but he had never opposed herbal remedies. His issue was the difficulty regulating their potency to ensure patients took consistent dosages, not effectiveness.
“The school might give me some kind of eco-award for washing and reusing my disposable gloves and masks.” A weak attempt at a joke, that was still the best Krystal had done in months. “I didn’t stay in dance long, so I don’t remember much about it. I am sick of hearing about people who are worse off than I am, who lost more, who were left with less, whatever way you want to spin it. This sucks! I hate it. And I hate what freaking Pollyannas everyone is being about the whole thing!” She stomped out of the pharmacy and went for a walk to calm down before saying something she couldn’t take back.
When she got back, Uncle Raymond handed her a book. “This isn’t the first time you have accused me of being a Pollyanna, as if I’m in some kind of denial about what is happening around us and, frankly, you are getting on my last nerve about it. Pollyanna was one of Grannie B’s favorite books as a girl, which means all her children, and grandchildren, were read the story. When I asked her, she still had her copy, the one I just gave you. Read it. Once you are done, I don’t ever want to hear you use ‘Pollyanna’ as a pejorative again. Clear?” Krystal nodded. “Good. It shouldn’t take long for you to finish that. Bring it back to me when you are done so I can return it to Grannie B. She loves that silly book.”
This was far from the first “first day of school” for Sam or Krystal, but none of the others had been anything like this. For starters, the high school now required German, and Latin was highly recommended. The vo-tech wasn’t requiring either yet, but that was only because of the teacher shortage. Most importantly, their moms weren’t here to see them off. Sam even missed the teary hug that had gotten embarrassing the last few years. At college, Krystal had seen herself off to her first day of classes, and her mom had been working and unable to see her off the last few years, so that part was easier for her, but she still had a first day of school picture at some point in the day and she missed her parents.
While their down-time classmates were amazed by the books, desks, and all that went with an up-time school, Sam and the other up-time students missed a backpack filled with new pencils, notebooks, erasers, and other school supplies. And, of course, a new back-to-school wardrobe. Even if part (or most) of it was hand-me-down, at least a few items would have been brand new. Socks and underwear, if nothing else. This year, everyone had leftovers from previous years, things from around the house, and nothing but hand-me-downs.
Krystal snapped a quick first-day-of-school pic of Sam, then shrugged into her backpack, looking at him a bit enviously. “Thanks for making breakfast. Have a good first day at school. I’m glad one of the bikes fits me since I, unlike some pampered youngsters, don’t have a bus to drive me to school.”
“Why not? Your classes are in the vo-tech space near the high school. Just catch the bus with me if you don’t want to ride the bike.”
Krystal had told him several times that here classes were half-days with half-days working with patients, so she rolled her eyes in reply, then pedaled as hard and fast as she could, taking a few short cuts across grassy areas, hoping to be first to class so she could be settled and reading when the others arrived. Once things went back to the way they were before, she expected all the down-timers to be gone. Since either they would be gone, left down-time, or she would be gone, back to her real life soon, making friends would be a waste of time. Uncle Raymond’s argument that learning some herbal remedies and old-school techniques could be useful was the only reason she was here at all. Well, that and boredom. It was definitely a chance to treat injuries and illnesses that those left behind would never see.
As she locked her bike and looked up at the vo-tech center where the LPN, EMT, nurse’s aide, and combat medic classes were being held, the term “gird your loins” randomly popped into her head. After a deep breath, she took her first step through the door and into her future. Then she turned around, ran outside, and threw up in the bushes. When the teacher arrived ten minutes later, Krystal was still sitting on the steps while a small gaggle of other students stood around, quietly watching her and talking behind their hands.
“Why are we outside…” Krystal dry heaved at just this moment. “Well, I guess that explains it. You look to be one of my students. LPN students, please help your classmate into the room. Later, you will be explaining any efforts you made to help and why you were standing there, not helping, when I arrived. For now, one of you must carry her things. Instead of our planned lesson, we have our very first patient to diagnose and help!”
As they all settled into their seats, Alice Sims started talking. “Mikki, welcome and please find a seat, we are just starting. I am Nurse Sims. My husband, Doctor Sims, and I retired from nursing six years before the Ring of Fire. He is a medical doctor and not a dental doctor like our esteemed son. We run a well-baby clinic at the Refugee Center two afternoons a week. You will all work there, learning about infant and post-natal care, which is the only time most of you will see us. Even by up-time standards, we are old!” Alice said this last with a grin and a wink. “The requirement for fluent written and spoken English means we have no Germans in our course this year, but the medical staff hopes apothecaries, barber-surgeons, and herbalists will join within the next year or two.”
“As you should know, our shortage of teaching staff means many of you will be teaching lessons based on your personal skillsets. Someone will take notes and videotape your lessons to create lesson plans for next year.”
“Now, let’s see what you know! Who would like to lead the examination of Miss Reed?” Alice’s palpable enthusiasm infected her students. The final diagnosis was that Krystal ate some greasy, slightly “off” sausage for breakfast. Add in a bumpy, fast bike ride to dumping the grease on an otherwise empty stomach and too much general stress and anxiety, tummy troubles were inevitable. The recommended treatments were mostly up-time medications that were either gone entirely or being kept for more serious health problems. Krystal refused to eat or drink anything with ginger since it had become rare and expensive, totally unrelated to her intense dislike of its taste. A down-timer woman assisting Nurse Sims for the first day of class suggested lavender tea, which worked quite nicely.
“I hope that is a good lesson for you class. You can, and should, learn from everyone, not just doctors and nurses. There are a lot of good home remedies. Chicken soup really is good for colds. Honey is a good antibacterial. Lavender tea helps with upset tummies. Don’t dismiss something just because it didn’t come from a textbook!”
Englishman, tool, and the only down-timer in the class, Justin Marbury interrupted. “Clearly, up-timers are not the only ones with medical knowledge. You depend too much on things others made. You can’t even treat a simply upset stomach without medicines that are gone now!”
Alice glared at him before continuing as if he had never spoken. “But do test down-time and home remedies first. Lots of home remedies are so much bupkis. Use your common sense. Much like blood-letting, filling a cavity with crow dung will not make anything better!” Justin turned red and his eyes narrowed at the mention of bloodletting.
“Seriously? People put poop in their mouth on purpose?” Mikki asked.
“Yes, that is something some people, dentists, technically, actually do here and now. Doctor Sims and I have been collecting some of the more…questionable medical practices. We plan to add explanations of why they aren’t the best course of treatment and give alternatives, then have copies printed to send anywhere and everywhere we can.”
Alice Sims looked tired as she smiled at the nursing students. “You young people have been doing a fabulous job in the well-baby clinic. The first down-timers who came were nervous but it’s a hit! However, the refugees feel overwhelmed by all our staff. Director Szymanski agreed that starting this week, you will be split into two groups. You will alternate weeks at the Refugee Center, helping with triage and other basic care in addition to the well-baby clinic, and the Bowers Assisted Living Center, where you will treat some long-term illnesses and help with rehab exercise.”
Krystal spoke up. “At the Bowers, will any of the residents be teaching us?”
Justin sneered. “What can a bunch of old people teach us? Most of them can’t even feed themselves anymore.”
Krystal and Alice glared in unison, but Krystal answered, voice as cold and clear as ice. “My Grandpa Eli was in WWII. Many of the men out there were, and some of their wives served, too. They saw things. Many can’t remember what they said thirty seconds ago, but most can remember fifty or seventy years ago like yesterday. Grandpa remembers holding pressure on a leg wound so a soldier he never saw before, or since, didn’t bleed out. He remembers when and how they put a tourniquet on it. He can tell you exactly what the stretcher looked like. Ask him. He’ll tell you about the tan canvas and the straps used to hold people in. Without straps, some patients fell out, especially in ambulances. Others didn’t believe they were really hurt and got up when they shouldn’t, if they weren’t strapped in. There was a metal rod underneath. It locked in place across the width of the stretcher when it was open and folded for storage. But Grandpa’s shirt got caught when one locked open, so he had to stay with the stretcher until they got to hospital and the patient was removed. Another old guy mentioned some kind of wheeled ‘litter carrier’ to help remove wounded from the battlefield or move them around at the hospital with only one orderly carrying the stretcher.” Krystal finished with a withering look. “They remember plenty, Justin, even if they won’t remember you a minute after they meet you.”
After a pointed pause, she continued more warmly. “So, Frau Sims, will the old folks be teaching us anything?”
Alice took a moment to compose her answer. “We honestly hadn’t thought of that. All we were thinking about was how to help the staff, stretched thin as they are. Some of what they know or remember is probably dangerously out of date. In 2000, tourniquets were out of favor, for example, although military medics here brought them back this summer for battlefield injuries, especially amputations. That’s not as bad as trying to bring back bloodletting, but we’ll still need to be careful. I’ll talk to Beulah, Director MacDonald, that is, Doctor Adams, and the other hospital staff to see what they think. In the meantime, your next instructor has arrived, so I will take your leave.”
“Guten morgen, class. I am Frau Zimmerman. The doctors of Leahy asked me to teach you about herbal remedies. This I cannot do, not entirely. To learn herbal remedies takes many years. You will start by learning some of the simplest remedies, such as for heartburn, fevers, and aching heads, and I see you have already learned one for upset stomach. The doctors at Leahy will be telling me what important up-time medicines they no longer have. Together, we will find the best herbal cures, and I will teach these to you. Some herbal remedies do not work and may even be dangerous. I have done this for many years, and my mother and grandmother before me. Problems happen when inexperienced herbalists, or those with no training at all, try to make remedies, or with new patients, when unexpected reactions can occur. You will learn about some remedies that do not work as well, so you know what to look for.
“We will start with tincture to reduce fever. Before you finish the course, you will learn how to make a potion with sage, dandelion roots, and a flower you call lily of the valley. This can help problems of the heart, but can also kill, if the dosage is wrong or the heart muscle is not the problem. Normally, I would not teach it to anyone who has been studying herbalism for such a short time, but the doctors at Leahy are most adamant this medicine is needed very much.
“What questions do you have for me?”
“What can a person like you possibly teach me that is worth my time? When I return to England, I will study under a real medical doctor. Someone who has forgotten more than you ever will know.” Justin’s sneer was epic. He was almost thrown out of the program that day, but the need for trained people saved him.
“Such as bloodletting? And the humors? Will this ‘real medical doctor’ teach you how much weaker women are, and that they can’t handle anything? Pah! Up-timers have shown how foolish these things are. Some herbal remedies, like willow bark tea, were still used in 2000, in a different form. If you aren’t too stupid to listen, you will learn more cures from me than that ‘doctor’ is ever likely to teach.” Frau Zimmerman had heard this line of attack many times before.
“Aren’t you afraid to teach us this? What if we get it wrong?” Krystal asked, but other arms went down, their owners nodding in agreement.
“No. I am working with an up-timer on ‘curriculum development’. You will have the needed skills before you make anything. It will build on other things you learn during the year. Making it will be your final test for herbalism, at the end of the year. The up-timers will make sure you have the knowledge of when to use it. We will both discuss dosing. If it ends up being too much, we will not do this. So, no, I am not afraid. A little worried with so little time, yes. Afraid, no.” Her smile set most of the class at ease.
Two weeks later, Krystal’s stress level hadn’t improved and Frau Zimmerman announced they were going to start studying uses of Belladonna.
“Frau Zimmerman, are we seriously studying deadly nightshade?” Krystal’s stomach was constantly knotted up and she felt sick to her stomach more often than not. Being told they would make potentially deadly herbal remedies was the last straw.
“Please do not use that name again. It is Belladonna and this plant has many good uses in medicine. You must to know them. If it makes your stomach better, you will not prepare any remedies using Belladonna. It is too dangerous with so little knowledge.” Frau Zimmerman didn’t look pleased.
“Why bother studying it at all then? It seems pointless.”
“Because when you know what it can do, you can find a good herbalist to make what your patient needs, if it’s complicated, or make it yourself, if it isn’t. Did you ever make the medicine yourself up-time, or did you always buy it from someone else? As much as you fuss about medicines you no longer have, it seems that you must not have made any medicines at all yourself.” The tart answer didn’t make Krystal feel any better. The idea of making medicines herself, even uncomplicated ones, made the knots in her stomach curl a titch tighter.
“May I be excused? I am not feeling well.” Krystal went directly from the classroom to find Garnet.
“Director Szymanski, I need a few minutes of your time, please.”
“Wait outside my office. When I finish here, I’ll come find you.”
By the time Garnet was finished and came back, Krystal felt calmer. “Please come in. Something must be quite wrong for you to be here before class is over for the day. What is it?”
Krystal saw no point in prolonging the pain. “I need to quit. I’m too stressed. I feel sick every day. I don’t sleep well and I’m not retaining enough. I wish I could stay, but I just can’t. I’m sorry. I know I’m disappointing everyone.”
“Krystal, no! You just lost both your parents, all your grandparents, your friends, and so much more. You need some time. That’s okay. Do you think you will want to come back? Or perhaps do the nurse’s aide program first?”
“Not the nurse’s aide, no. I hope to come back next year, but we’ll have to see. I’m going to ask my Uncle Raymond for more hours at the pharmacy and maybe I can work at the Bowers a few hours a week. I already volunteer there.”
“Would you like to stay on staff for the well-baby clinic? Nurse Sims and Doc Sims have both said you are a natural. It won’t pay much, but you will keep getting experience.”
Krystal lit up, just a little. “Yes! I really enjoy that. Helping mothers and babies is so much better than helping the old people out at the Bowers, or even the families at the Refugee Center. Some things like weighing them and actually delivering the babies is almost exactly the same down-time as up-time.”
“Consider yourself on staff for the clinic, then. I’ll let the Sims know and you can start next week, both days every week. If you want to do any work for the Sanitation Commission, they can use help too. Just let me know and I’ll put a word in for you. For now, I’ll make sure your teachers know you won’t be coming back for the rest of this year, and we will double your pay at the clinic. Fingers crossed for next year!”
“Wait a minute! I’m a volunteer! You said I would be paid for the clinic work?”
“You caught me! Yes, we will pay you, but it won’t be a whole lot more than double your rate of ‘free’, so don’t expect much.” Garnet grinned, happy to see a small smile on Krystal’s face at her corny old joke.