BAM! KABLAM! KABLOOY!
The sounds of the fireworks split the night. The people in the stands and on chairs and on picnic blankets throughout the fairgrounds admired the display, few of them realizing it would be the last 4th of July many of them would celebrate.
I remember standing there thinking as far as birthdays went my 13th totally rocked and that it beat the stuffing out of Charlene McNeel's silly co-ed party … not that I had been invited to the mayor's daughter's house for the occasion. But even the McNeel family was noticeably downsizing their normally extravagant lifestyle. Her brother had a huge party at the country club for his 13th birthday just three years earlier and it was months before Charlene would let her parents forget the disparity.
My life never approached the upper echelon of the small town royalty that I went to school with. But when you are a kid you don't really miss what you've never had, especially if your parents make sure you feel rich in other ways. But that July even my parents struggled to provide the simple and free joys that wound up being some of my most precious memories.
Things had been getting progressively bad over the preceding years but as a kid I only knew what my parents made a point of my knowing. Kids have an innate survival skill to ignore the really bad stuff and I was no different. It was only because my parents deemed it prudent to see that I was aware of what was going on in the world outside of my home, school, and church.
The way my dad explained things it started with an extremely wet growing season after an historic hemispheric drought. At the end of the rainy cycle people who monitor such things recorded a new plant disease. It affected less than half of a half percent of the harvest of one particular variety of GMO wheat so it wasn't a particular big or noticeable issue. What was "interesting" to the scientists was that everything but the kitchen sink was thrown at it but it was found totally resistant to all known chemicals. In response they took care of it the old-fashioned way and burnt it off.
At the time what the scientists didn't realize was that because they didn't quarantine the field, the spores that had been released by the fire had spread on the wind and deposited into a much larger area and began to multiply even in the off-season.
The following year the disease affect 5% of the entire wheat crop in Russia but had also spread to other wheat varieties and most surprisingly had spread to other types of grain crops. At first the scientists characterized the disease as a new form of "rust" similar to the one that had affected rice crops a few years earlier. Upon closer inspection however they soon had to admit the description wasn't accurate and they were still trying to determine exactly what it was. Treating it wasn't even possible yet. It wasn't exactly a bacterial infection but it wasn't fungal in origin either; nor was it a viral infection like a mosaic disease. The traditional plant DNA could be found but it was all fouled up with animal proteins, and even had strands of genetic material from e. coli. Different crops exhibited different symptoms … scab, smut, rust, mildew, foot rot, bloom rot, nematode like cysts, stunted growth, sterility, etc.
Again they burnt the infected fields not realizing that they were spreading the disease rather than containing it. They hadn't yet discovered that while the spores of the disease could propagate by apomixes, when stimulated by smoke or fire the spores propagated even better using genetic recombination. Also unfortunately for everyone, scientists were only testing plants that showed symptoms of infection. They failed to ascertain that spores were incubating in export crops, in luggage that traveled through customs, and even on the soles of tourists and that the disease was spreading worldwide nearly as fast as a human pandemic could.
The following growing season registered crop contaminations exploded as the disease appeared not only in Russia but all over Asia, Africa and in the island nations of New Zealand and Australia, destroying a lot of the agriculture and finally forcing it into the mainstream media as it began to affect commodity futures on the world's stock exchanges.
North America had so far avoided the disease by imposing very strict import and customs laws. By the following year things were so bad that US debt had been cut in half as China forgave most of our debt they held in exchange for receiving virtually exclusive access to all of the US's excess agricultural production.
For as long as I could remember really taking notice the disease had been around and causing more and more hunger in the world – human to domestic and wild animals - just not in my own backyard; however, just because there was no contamination in the US didn't mean we weren't affected in many ways. Prices at the grocery stores were at historic highs. Crops like tea, coffee, and other previously imported products had disappeared from all shelves everywhere and even though some substitutes had been found, the prices for those items were prohibitive. There was also a lot of pressure by the UN for Canada, the United States, and Mexico to "feed the world" as a good will gesture. Forget accepting a sale for at cost pricing or even making a slim profit, no, everyone seemed to think they were entitled without cost to what North America had.
All of this was made worse as the Administration, coerced by well-meaning scientists, environmentalists, and even some agricultural economists, pushed through draconian laws that tried to prevent inadvertent contamination by discouraging home gardens and dooryard orchards. If you wanted to do something as simple as grow a few potted herbs or have a bucket with a tomato plant in it you had to purchase an expensive federal permit and submit to regular inspections of your premises. Existing orchards and fruiting trees/plants had to be licensed or destroyed. It was as Momma said "monstrously intrusive," but smart people paid for the permits, grew all the food they could, wasted nothing, and preserved the excess. The not smart thing to do was to do nothing and sit around complaining about it.
As tough as things were the complaints were fairly mild because all you had to do was turn on the radio or television to see how bad it was in other countries. Our school district got into some real hot water with parents when they started playing infomercials of starving children during lunch period. It had originally been meant to deal with student complaints about the lowered quantity and quality of cafeteria meals but it was morphed by some federal and state pundits into part of their agenda to globalize US power and influence.
Thousands upon thousands of people were dying of starvation from Europe to Asia to Africa. Add to that the Administration was constantly harping on the good things that were coming out of our return to worldwide dominance:
*the dramatic fall in national debt due to export demand and subsequent price increases (including additional and new taxes on profits of those increased prices);
*the drop in availability of heroine as the poppy crops failed (the disease had begun to affect some ornamental plants by then);
*the strict control of other organic pharmaceuticals (big profits that could be further taxed);
*more people quitting smoking as the cost of tobacco skyrocketed (local, state and federal taxes on stateside production sent most tobacco overseas as people picked up the habit of smoking – including children - to curb their hunger);
*decrease in liquor production which increased price which lowered access and use for some populations as fields were converted away from non-necessity grain production to exportable food production (which increased taxes on profits);
*a sharp fall in the unemployment rosters as federal mandates moved many of unemployed into agricultural jobs on federally subsidized corporate farms (in turn pushing a lot of the migrants – both legal and illegal – to return to their countries of origin both with and without their anchor babies).
Yep, my thirteenth birthday seems like a real gift … fun, food, and family in a happy atmosphere. It seemed like the whole country was celebrating my birthday even though intellectually I knew that couldn't be true. My thirteenth birthday also marked the beginning of the end of my innocence.
A month after that Independence Day the disease was found in Venezuela, Cuba, Guatemala and southern Mexico. How it entered those countries was never proven but the most likely scenario had it coming from Russian contacts and then transferred further by migrants searching for food and work.
Surprisingly, or not surprisingly if you had been reading between the lines like my father and a few of his contacts had, Chinese troops suddenly appeared on the US side of our southern border to "help" protect what appeared to be the last uninfected soil in the world. Canada got her fair share of "help" from some of her over enthusiastic allies as well. Mexico was ignored and allowed to burn. Life on this continent got very interesting very quickly.