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June 2014

How I Spent My Friday the 13th -- A Short Story

          The last message on my cell before it died was "Tornado Warning, Seek Shelter." I wondered: Does that mean ‘go inside’ or ‘get in the bathtub’? And there I was, alone with my one- and three-year-old sleeping grandchildren, in my daughter and son-in-law’s home on two acres of cedar-filled, deer-munching, Texas landscape. A lightning show was underway while thunder, hard winds, and rain blasted three sides of the house. Water came in under French doors in the master bedroom; then, the electricity died leaving us without running water, appliances, air conditioning, or most importantly, television. Their two dogs were panicking, so I put them in their "bed-time" in the laundry room. After placing blankets and pillows in the hallway between the babies' rooms and closing their bathroom door and the pocket door to the rest of the house, I made a little, confined area away from external walls and without glass (I never realized how many floor-to-ceiling  windows were in the house until I had to avoid them.) I spent two hours crouched in the hall, ready to grab them out of their cribs at the first sign of an exterior breach (my Army daddy would've liked that!). All I can say is: Thank goodness for my Kindle Paperwhite—I read a few chapters from Dominick Dunne's A Season in Purgatory.  
            I found my emergency cell charger and with a couple minutes on my phone was able to see that the storm rating went from a warning to a watch; I actually slept a bit.  Around 3am, I heard the doggies crying and thought--oh, they should go out. With one of the three flashlights I found along with a pink canister of mace, I unbolted the dining room door so they could run right out. (Well, I didn't want to face a panicked deer or other wild creature without some kind of weapon.)  It was so doggie came back quickly, but the runner, Archer, was nowhere to be found. I started calling him and prayed that at least one of the many dogs I suddenly heard barking was ours. (Is it possible that a coyote would answer to “ARCHER!”) At some point, I saw a dog-like shadow running along the OUTSIDE of the fence. What the…? A Chevy Chase movie came to mind. I checked the gate and found that half the length of the wire and post fence had blown  down! Luckily, about twenty minutes later, Archer was at the back door.


            At 5am and still no electricity, the time came to create an exit strategy. My emergency charger was dead and babies would be waking up soon. I decided to just pack them up and drive up north to my house. Then I remembered the garage doors—run on electricity. I know my husband mentioned something about a release for an emergency just like this.  With my tiny flashlight, I try looking for that release; surely it would be a giant red handle with a sign that says, “Pull this to open manually!” Silly me, I actually pulled down one of the hanging outlet strips for my son-in-law’s woodshop equipment. Now, eight hours into this tornado adventure, I was beginning to panic.
            I needed Peter, my husband who can fix anything, my rock, my rescuer, the man who told me eight hours ago when I had a phone and a television and a tray full of warm, chocolate-chip cookies:   “Don’t worry, it’s just a storm; it’ll pass; get some sleep.”  Bright idea: I decided I could surely start my car, plug in my cell, and have one minute to talk very fast and explain my situation before passing out from fumes or blowing anything up.  Unfortunately, Peter wasn’t the best choice for anything fast; he needs a lot of 'processing' time. I’d have to wake up my daughter who, along with her husband and baby, was living with us for another few weeks until moving into her new house.  I said something like:
     Asha, I’m so sorry to wake you up but I have only a minute to talk because the garage is filling up with fumes since my cell is dead and I had to plug it into the car; the electricity is off, the fence is blown over, there is no AC and it’s getting hot; the refrigerator is starting to melt, the babies will be up in an hour, I can’t get the garage door open to drive them to my house, and I don’t know what to do. I’ll call back in ten minutes.
At least I think that’s what I said—it all sounded like Charlie-Brown-Teacher-Talk.  But bless her, she responded, “I’ll tell Daddy.”  I do love my honey, but if I’d had to explain it to him, the police would have found me on my cell in the garage, unconscious; I couldn’t chance it.  When I checked back, he was on the way. I also saw the door to the back yard from the garage right there, big as life, behind my car. There was no need to have risked our lives.
        It turned out to be quite a scene; when Peter arrived, he said he’d helped several people clear tree limbs from the road to even reach me.  When we looked at the back yard in daylight, chairs and toys had been tossed around, a window screen was found thrown across the yard, and the large gas grill, now uncovered, had been blown sideways and left about one inch from crashing into the living room window. We were fortunate that only a part of one of their trees had been split and blown down. Across the road from us, electrical lines were lying across the neighbor’s front yard.  It was eerie, and I felt badly about those anywhere who had gone through such a storm with far greater loss than I.
            After a little trip to McDonald’s to give the kids a quick breakfast and a stop at Home Depot for wire to mend the fence, all seemed right with the world.
            Peter and my grands, after all, were the only things that mattered.


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