Friday, June 23, 2006

there's storms, and then there's storms.

When you live anywhere a certain length of time (or maybe this is just me because I'm phobic about tornadoes) you tend to notice which direction the thunderstorms come from. Here the storms invariably travel from the west. So when the skies are darker in the west, I'm paying attention.

I learned something yesterday. Winds can come from other directions, and when they do, it's trouble.

This storm blew in from the north. Kids were outside swinging on the porch, kicking their legs and singing. Skies growing more ominous and a sharp breeze picking up, so I stuck my head out the door and called: Come on in here, now.

Aw, c'mon. It's not raining yet.

I don't care. Get on in the house. When I tell you to do something I mean do it.
In they come, in a tangle of discarded shoes and baseball caps. You're no fun. We weren't hurting anything. Sheesh.

As if on cue, the rain and the wind picked up. My youngest started screeching; he went supersonic.

The tent, the tent. The tent's flying away. Do something.

I looked out the window and sure enough, the play tent we bought them at the end of the school year is nearly aloft, whipping upright from the porch, where we left it, like a wind socket. Darts of white light are dashing this way and that and thunder is rumbling with terrific force, but given the choice between suffering the kid's meltdown or death by electrocution I'll pick electrocution any day.

So I'm out on the porch wrestling this semi-foldable tent around in a typhoon. Uneasily aware of the storm's increasing tempo and the rapidity of lightning flashes sparking around me. I must be crazy, I thought, out here in a storm just to bring in a tent for a four-year-old.

Even the dog looked at me quizzically when I finally dragged the whole thing in: like -- and you think it's funny when I chase my tail? C'mon, woman.

So. Here we are, playing with a kid's tent in the middle of the living room while the storm rages on around us. Then there's this terrific bang and I say, "Wow, that was close." And the teenager runs downstairs with his GameBoy in hand and exclaims, "This just shorted out and restarted while I was playing it upstairs! What's that mean?"

I'm turning this information over in my mind and it's slowly, darkly equating to something not very good. Actually I'm thinking of a passage of text I read once about how you can tell if a lightning bolt is about to strike: if you start to tingle all over and electrical appliances start behaving oddly, kneel down to the ground and pray for mercy, because the jolt, it's a-comin'.

"Go to the basement, go, go, go," I said. And all of them, en masse, actually did it without any backtalk whatsoever. They even took the dog on the way (though the dog scritched his nails and splayed all fours in protest). Then they immediately formed a semicircle chanting, "We're doomed, we're doomed, we're doomed."

This is my idea of being a comforting, reassuring parent: "Shut up, we're nothing like. Now let's sing something."

As hail pounds down outside, hail as big as ice cubes falling with a very audible thunk-thunk-thunk.

It was after the storm ended that we learned the roof got blown off the house. The tin roof looked like a hastily opened Christmas present. The roof is sort of like a bad wig at this point.

The fire department had to come. They didn't have a tarp to cover the roof with but they thought they knew a few people who might and people kept stopping as they drove by and checking to make sure everything was all right and sooner or later it came to pass someone knew somebody who had a tarp and that person came over and other people showed up out of nowhere to help put it on.

One of those people who showed up out of nowhere to help quietly admitted to me (while my husband went inside the house to hunt up some tinsnips) that he's terrified of heights. ("Someone better be ready to catch me when I fall," he joked.) Yet not an hour later I came out of the house and saw that same person standing on the apex of the roof, hammer in hand, looking jaunty and unconcerned like it was no never mind to him.

That's a kindness, I realized. To get up on top of a roof like that even though you hate heights, just to help another human being who needs it. Not everyone would; certainly not everyone did. (Lots of people just kept on driving.)

I stood there with my mother-in-law and the kids watching the next storm come up*, the clouds scudding very, very swiftly toward us in ugly gray and greenish white colors and all these people parked around the house, climbing up on the roof, everyone working so busily to shelter us from the rain and instead of feeling scared or upset or stressed out (at least, for that split second in time) all I felt was this overwhelming gratitude. I just loved everything and everybody and felt so glad to be here, to live in a town where people take care of each other like this.

In the middle of something horrible people can be so incredibly nice. Makes you think the world's not really such a bad place to live in, after all.

*we're still in the red zone and more storms are predicted for the next day or so, especially tonight. So we may not be through it yet, but we're holding up well.