Friday, February 26, 2010

Bailey, I Have a Feeling We're Not in Maine Anymore

Wow. The winds shook my antique home in the village last night and it was scary. Very. Not since I moved back east from the edge of the prairie where tornadoes dropped out of the sky routinely have I been as frightened. Winds whipped through the aging walnut, pine and spruce trees planted precariously close to the house over a century ago. Branches and limbs groaned from the weight of the wind tearing at its joints. Cracking. Splintering. My heart beating as loud inside my head. Noisy.

A power surge popped through my television just as Kim Yu-Na from South Korea in her own power struggle with the favored skater from arch-rival Japan landed her triple lutz combo perfectly, eerily dimming the nightlight in the hall bathroom. Then *poof* ... a flash more brilliant than its four watts. Fade to black. Utter darkness. The only sound, a buzz from the streetlights outside zapped black.

A nano-instant later a circular rainbow magically appeared dead center in the fifteen inch screen of my analog TV. Crackle crackle. Not dead after all. No brand new ultra modern flat screen courtesy of Allstate in my future. Damn. And voilà. There she was floating gracefully across the white ice toward the kiss-and-cry area for her scores. The lovely soon-to-be Olympic gold medalist in blue satin and silvery sparkles smiling humbly and waving as the crowd cheered on their feet and petals dropped from the stands like the pine boughs now littering my backyard.

Sirens blared. Too close for comfort. My heart pounded. Memories of swirling black funnel clouds ripping utility wires and cutting a several mile path of destruction. 200 year old trees in Cherokee Park torn from their roots like a razor blade shaving a beard. Cars and houses tossed like beanbags into the bruised sky. Louisville April 3, 1974. Mom and Jason (of the golden fleece ... yet another Labrador Retriever in a long line of adored family pets) hunched in the front seat of the Gran Torino parked hastily under the portico of the fancy, new Glenview East as far under the dashboard as humanly (and canine-ly) possible. Mimi still eating fried chicken from the Colonel in her coat closet on the 12th floor. Me squeezed tightly between maids who had poured out of condos for the bus back to the West End belting out a rousing rendition of 'Sweet Low, Sweet Chariot' as we crouched by the elevators and the freight train whirled overhead. Awaiting their maker. Maker's Mark on the rocks for me.

Segué to flashes of countless violent twister-producing storms two decades later randomly taunting our Oklahoma days. Springs spewing purple-black funnel clouds across the treeless horizon, anvil-shaped with swirling tails dropping to the barren earth from February through summer. Humid heat from the Gulf of Mexico colliding dangerously with frigid arctic air masses sweeping down from Canada. Right over our heads. Tornado alley. Tornado Allie, I met my demons head on. Mother Nature's menacing rage forcing Charlie and me to tuck clumsily into the laundry room of a cellar-less house on the plains. Auntie Em screeching to get inside. The Dorothy in me racing against time to make it to safety. Cocooned in Charlie's bike helmet and my down ski parka, he in his football gear wrapped in the white duvet from my bed we hovered in the teensy space next to the garage too many times. Toby (that's short for Toblerone my favorite candy bar) our alpha-male chocolate Lab shaking like a sissy underfoot. Where's the fraidy hole when you need it? Good god.

With whistling dervishes and dust devils spinning my thumping heart into a frenzy last night, I ran barefoot down my winding staircase crafted lovingly by out of work ship carpenters in the mid-1800s when tall ships sprang up like mushrooms along the Kennebunk River winding to the sea just west of the village. Grabbed my car keys on the sea glass and beads fringe, my shiny yellow slicker from millions of years ago, one of those flashlights that use one gigantic battery and my LV purse and placed them on the floor by the front door ... just in case.

Quickly checked the two sump pumps working overtime in my very damp basement as rivulets bubbled up from cracks in the granite foundation and cement floor. Definitely rivaling the white water scene in River Runs Through It as waters from the Mousam River a block away overflowed their banks and seeped through the neighborhood creating a pond behind my house.

What a mess. Me robeless in my long white nightgown hiked up to my knees, knotted at the waist, my LL Bean rubber duck shoes squishing noisily, my hair in a scrunchy, my flashlight at the ready. And Bailey was loving it. Racing around the backyard as February lightening flashed and boughs of pine fell into the pooling water. Barking at the Mallard family making themselves at home. She was in heaven. Wouldn't come in. My timid rescue dog bedazzled by the thrill. Yelling at the top of my voice above the din scaring myself but not her. Slicker be damned (it was in the front foyer) I raced down the back steps, grabbed her collar and yanked her up the porch steps into the house dripping wet. Both of us. Of course she wanted a treat. She got none.

Upstairs my century old windows rattled in their crumbling casements. The walls shook for hours. My bed, too. Oz at my door. 60 MPH gusts pounding us from the ocean currents five miles away. Petrified I popped two Tylenol PMs then another for good measure and pulled the covers over my head. I would either get smacked in the head by a falling walnut tree crashing through the roof and awaken in The Emerald City. Or not. Butterflies churned in my tummy next to a pit the size of Kansas born from unsettled plans and dwindling coffers. Where are those poppies anyway?

I awoke to a gorgeous almost-spring morning awash in sunlight. Mother Nature's fury dissolved. My muscles relaxed. Only a few fallen branches, a receding waterline in my back yard still boasting ducks swimming and splashing ... and a sopping wet basement. Not too bad. No vortex sucked the life out of me while I slumbered fitfully. My demons at bay. Safe. For now.

Cheers to those of you still with me. Or, tomorrow for those still without electricity. M&Ms all around!


  1. We had several acres of land and an old, not antique old, but rambling old home a few miles outside of Jeffersontown, KY where we lived for many years. I have a weather radio that sounds an obnoxious "deedle, deedle, deedle" whenever the National Weather Service broadcasts a watch or warning....thunderstorm or tornado. I am not the least bit afraid of storms of any type, in fact I love to go outside and watch the greys, blacks, blues, purples, pinks and puffy whites combine into beatiful "skyscapes" as they form into their angry manifestations of wind, rain, hail, thunder and lightning. God at his finest you might say, even knowing that damage will be wrought and lives will be affected. My wife and children are terrified of the "deedle, deedle, deedle" and the iminent threat it represents. I have a picture somewhere of my wife, all five kids, 2 black labs, an English Mastiff (175lbs), an English Pointer, 2 cats and a bird that never uttered a sound all huddled in a hallway (we were sans basement) defending themselves from the impending inclement weather with pillows and blankets. They are all staring at me with a look that said, "What the hell are you doing, get in here with us." I remember taking the picture and then going outside to take pictures of the sky, the straining trees and to watch the storm pass. The calm after the stom magical to me. I am glad that you, your faithful comapnion and your house survived unscathed and that those sump pumps kept on keeping on. What is a sump anyway?

  2. LOL ... A sump is a low space that collects any often-undesirable liquids such as water or chemicals. That would be my basement. Really need a 3rd one as the floor is cracked, uneven and multi-leveled.

  3. More on this later! But alternatively in medieval cosmology, the sump was the center of the cosmos, where the dregs and filth descended, with the celestial sphere far exalted above the world of fallen man. Again, my basement more than qualifies!