A perfect storm came to George’s party

A perfect storm came to George’s party

When I was in kindergarten, I was terrified of storms. Mr. Mast’s voice would come over the loudspeaker, and our small bodies would assemble to take part in a tornado drill. We’d line up in the thick, solid hallways of Berlin Elementary and sit with our backs against the wall, heads tucked between our knees, hands over our heads. I would tremble and shake, sure the winds would pick up and rip the roof off the school, whisking me away like Dorothy inside that raging funnel.

Somewhere in my formative years, that fear dropped away and was replaced with an urgent need to see the darkest clouds roll in. Most often you’ll find me on the porch until the rain forces me inside. Even then, I am not a role model to follow when it comes to following weather rules. “Take shelter immediately” to me means wait for the train sound and make a beeline for your dank basement. Don’t be like me.

June 13 was George’s birthday. I wanted to celebrate his life because it meant even more this year. I called it the “George is alive and 55” party to convince him it was necessary. Come 10 p.m. last Monday, we were still sitting on our patio talking and catching up with the family. George blew out his candles on the fresh peach pie I’d made, and my stomach was full from delicious salads, salsas and an old-fashioned Nilla Wafer banana pudding. My yard had been mowed and weeded, and the lights twinkled over my patio as the conversation gently flowed.

But all parties end, and we said our goodbyes, and even though there was mention of a storm possibility later, there was no urgency. I rolled down my patio umbrella, set a few container plantings on the ground and flipped down the cushions on the chairs. After cleaning up the kitchen, we lay our heads down around 11:45 p.m. to go to sleep. Several minutes later a tornado warning buzzing on my phone made me sit bolt upright in bed. George was already snoring, so I went out to the living room and turned on the TV.

I could see the line of storms pushing through. The weatherman became very animated as he did his live broadcast, using terms like “bow echo” and others I didn’t recognize. I watched for a good 20 minutes as the storm crept closer to our location, and suddenly our tiny spot on the map was right in the path. I shouted for George to wake up.

“I think we need to go to the basement!” I yelled, not even recognizing those terms. And yet we waited, checking the dark sky, the shape and heft of the wind. I scrambled to bring my cats inside, and as the wind shifted completely sideways, we dipped into the basement for cover.

George lit an oil lamp, and we sat on 5-gallon paint buckets as the winds lashed the house. The lights flickered and went out, leaving our phones to glow eerily in the dark. I was thankful my portable charger was fully charged.

I’ve never been inside a hurricane, but I’m here to tell you I’ve never heard winds like were whipping outside like I did that June 13 night. It sounded like the house was breaking apart, and we looked at each other in the cocoon-like glow of the oil lamp, until it too died in the dark.

If you live in any tornado-prone area, you’re taught to listen for that freight train sound. That means the tornado is upon you. I remembered the weatherman saying he had seen rotation in some places, but not enough. He kept talking about the bow echo and the force of the winds.

Later, after we ascended from the damp cellar, the word “derecho” was tossed around in terms of the storm. Derecho means “straight” in Spanish, and if the wind was any indication, straight-line winds were what had driven down deep into the heart of Holmes County. The devil had come looking for a few souls to steal.

I walked outside after the storm had passed, and I can’t really describe the debris that was simply everywhere. It was ghostly calm, and I could see one of my trees hanging at an odd angle. What had just hours before been a serene summer party was now chaos. My cats were poking through the new landscape that had been wrought, sniffing downed branches and a thousand shingles from someone’s roof.

I looked up at the sky and remembered the fear from my youth. I was no longer afraid, but Mother Nature had once again shown me who was boss — and it wasn’t me. I hadn’t taken shelter in a basement for 20 years until the night George turned 55.

I knew cleanup would come in the morning. I would find three houses down from us, our niece’s property had major devastation. They were fine, but the work back to normal would be long.

But for that night, just for that moment, I felt the humidity in the air on my face and took it all in. When I went back inside, George was nearly asleep again. He mumbled, “I told you June 13 is always crazy. That’s because I was born on it.”

As I write this, we are 30 hours without power. Our neighbor’s power lines were ripped off their house, causing something to blow. We are all an intricate tangle, interconnected because of progress, so we wait for the lights to come back on. The huge cooler of water I filled up Monday for the party is a resource for water. We’ve boiled water in a kettle on the grill for coffee three times.

But George is alive and 55, and I am once again reminded life is a delicacy to be savored at every turn. It’s a surprise and a joy to feel alive in the deepest velvet of night, tossed and windswept and shaken a bit, kind of like a good cocktail at a birthday party on a summer evening.

Melissa Herrera is a columnist, published author and drinker of too many coffees based in Holmes County. You can find her book, “TOÑO LIVES,” at www.tinyurl.com/Tonolives or buy one from her in person (because all authors have boxes of their own novel). For inquiries or to purchase, email her at junkbabe68@gmail.com.

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