A New Middle Age
I was ten years old and not able to comprehend the situation. During the day I would play with the other children. At night we would have to return to the safety within the city walls. Gunfire and explosions were the soundtrack of my childhood. They were nothing more than fading noises barely heard by someone who was used to them. Like a person who has lived near train tracks for years barely registers the sounds of a passing locomotive.
We lived on the outskirts of Chicago. The useless skyscrapers were the backdrop of many days spent roaming the fields and exploring abandoned towns. Many of the buildings were torn down; the materials used to build the wall that separated us from our enemies beyond.
Prisoners of war would be brought into the city on occasion. I asked my father what would become of them and he would reply that they would be interrogated then hung. I asked him why and he said that ammunition was too valuable to waste on executions. No, I said, why must he die? Because he is starving just like us, he would reply.
I didn’t understand until I grew into manhood but it soon became clear. Food and water was gold. Cities were fighting other cities for crops and fertile land. I grew up knowing nothing else but my father told me tales of cars and planes and concrete highways stretching from coast to coast. It was all because the oil ran out he would say. We thought it would last forever but when it ran out we were like children without their mothers. We were lost and confused without our Sport Utility Vehicles.
I asked him what a Sport Utility Vehicle was but he said it didn’t matter. What mattered was that we learn to live without luxury. He said if we could survive with what we had inside a five mile radius we would be just fine. I didn’t understand at the time but I do now.
My family was one of the lucky ones. My father was a farmer. We were treated like kings. I never went hungry and wanted for nothing in my younger years. Other children would ask me why my face and clothes were clean and why I didn’t have to work. I shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t know.
Other families were starving. Children of six and seven years old had to work in the fields all day harvesting or planting crops. Their pay was a meager meal at the end of their work day, almost always at dusk. To them it was a feast; to me it would have been a snack.
The winters were harsh but my family was warm and fed well to keep us safe for the next growing season. My father taught me the trade as I grew. He taught me how to spot a good field, how to rotate crops for the best return, how to spot disease and insect damage. He showed me the ways of cultivation, plowing and growing until it was time for the harvest. He said this knowledge would ensure my children’s survival. He was right.