Keep the Lines Open

In a general sense, I know life is better and easier when the lines of communication remain open and flow freely in both directions. Recent notes from friends and family who have been visited by disasters—natural or otherwise—remind me of how spectacularly crucial the communication becomes in moments of crisis. The mere words “it’s okay” have virtual magic powers in those instances when we know that something big is happening and we can’t be there to offer help or consolation. I have mostly been incredibly fortunate in this regard, rarely hearing of terrible goings-on in progress without being able to get regular reports from my connexions in their midst, but like everyone, I have had enough moments of that intense fear and anxiety arising out of ‘dead air‘ to know what high value is in keeping the flow of information steady.

The latest round of wind- and snowstorms in various parts of my loved ones’ worlds is an instant review of those times when, amid a winter howler or while driving through flooded terrain or hunkered down in a good-sized earthquake, I had no easy access to a telephone or (if they were yet a household item) computer. A perfect example from my own memory is one clear winter Saturday when I was working around the house and the winds began picking up significantly. I hadn’t watched the weather forecast and was unaware that any storm was incoming, only realizing over a matter of a couple of hours that the gusts had grown to a point where I was hearing the towering evergreens and maples close to the house creak and branches snap, and could look out the back windows and see Douglas-firs dancing like hula dancers. But nothing major had broken when I looked outside. I was so preoccupied with the impressive action and the whistling and moaning noises of the trees that it startled me into an electric jump when the phone rang.Photo: Storm Clouds

I trotted into the back bedroom to grab the phone where I could sit at bedside and watch the wind’s power at play through the window while reassuring my sister, who had called from a bit farther north to see if everything down our way was safe since the reports of the storm had in fact preceded it northward. I was cheerily reporting on the show and the snug and intact condition of house and inhabitants when I saw a six-by-four-foot section of the back fence uproot twenty feet behind the house and sail like a kite right through the plate glass window. Thankfully, the shards of flying glass went in the direction of the fence, which in turn was not aimed directly at me, so as soon as the crash and shatter quieted I could speak into the receiver that was still gripped in my hand and assure my sister that I was quite all right, tell her what had happened, and promise to call back after the window was closed off again. Because, of course, with that wind, the rain was close behind.

The instance was fortuitous in many ways, not least of which was that my mother arrived on the scene mere moments later, and that we had pieces of plywood in the garage large enough to cover the whole big window with just two hunks. We dutifully covered the new opening with plastic sheeting, screwed plywood panels over it to close, and put up a bit more sealed plastic to hold off the remaining elements, and managed, if I remember right, to beat all but the first sprinkles of the downpour. A good seal was, we knew, important, since in our region there were not only vast swaths of evergreens to knock over or prune limb by limb onto roofs and through windows but many of them were Douglas-firs, a shallow rooted variety that is not hard to fell full length if the wind catches it just right. And in such windstorms in the area, many do go down. Growing up in a family of carpenters, I knew full well that even if we could reach one of the relatives and set up repairs earlier than other folk, their calendars would be jammed for days or weeks after a storm like this one.Photo: Kicking up a Storm

The first order of business was, of course, to call my sister back and tell her that not only were we all safe but the house was closed up tightly again, the bedroom carpet vacuumed about six times over to get all of the glass out of it, the fence section dismantled and relocated outdoors, a temporary barrier put up where it had been so that the neighbors’ horses couldn’t just walk over for an unsupervised visit, and that the wind was already abating, leaving mostly rain in its wake. She, in turn, called the other sisters to pass along the news. No one else was ‘visited’ by anything untoward in that storm, and we all lived happily ever after. And though it was a challenge to reach my uncle’s construction company and get a repair appointment, we even managed that before the day was done. Of course, having closed up the broken window sufficiently, we did have to get in line behind people without roofs, with trees lying lengthwise through their bedrooms, and the like, as was only fair. For them, I could only hope that they hadn’t also been harmed themselves—and could still call their loved ones to report on their safety.

4 thoughts on “Keep the Lines Open

  1. I’ve never personally experienced a tornado or hurricane. My only point of reference is when we were caught in a severe and dangerous blizzard in Ohio (1978) where we received 40 inches of snow in two days, with winds gusting to over 100 mph. Lawn furniture broke through our kitchen door, but thankfully, our brother was able to quickly make temporary repairs, and we hunkered down to ride out the storm. The news media referred to the event as the White Hurricane, so even though it was not technically a hurricane, it certainly was frightening, and it kept us trapped indoors for several days with no power and no way of communicating with the outside world (long before the internet and satellite Wi-Fi providers).

    I’m glad to hear that in your instance, no one was hurt, and that you were able to apply a temporary solution to keep things secure until proper repairs could be made. I was heartened to hear your reasonable response about having to wait in line behind other folks who had more distressing and pressing repair issues. With two brothers in the construction industry, I’ve heard many stories of people trying to push their way to the front of the line by throwing cash at them or jostling their weight around, in one way or another, when the reasonable thing to do is to allow those that need the help the most to be served first. My brother was once physically threatened with a firearm because he refused to provide cosmetic repairs for someone who tried to jump ahead in line. He was already scheduled to rebuild a broken wall for someone else whose home was exposed to the elements, and my brother felt that repairing a gazebo could wait, no matter how much the man was willing to pay, or how wildly he waved a loaded weapon around. When he refused (promising to return after the most pressing cases were handled) the man became irate and let loose with several shots through my brother’s windshield. People can be unreasonable and dangerous at times, but my brother stood his ground, and it turns out he never did get around to patching up that gazebo. He did, however, find time to file a police report.

    One of my sisters lived in Florida, and she has had more than her fair share of experience with hurricanes, having lost not one, and not two, but three different homes to hurricanes. She has since retired to Tennessee, leaving the hurricanes behind, and is slowly beginning to become accustomed to living with winter weather again. As recently as yesterday they had a deep snow overnight, and she awoke to find her bird feeders buried in the white stuff. She takes very good care of her feathered neighbors, and was out there in the wee hours of the morning, brushing away the ice and snow, and filling up the feeders. If she is late at filling the feeders, the birds have a way of communicating their displeasure, gathering on the deck railing and assaulting her ears with a cacophony of complaints. Most days, she manages to get the feeders filled before the unhappy choir serenades her with a sad song. In turn, she spends a few hours each morning allowing her feathered friends to entertain her while she sips her morning coffee. It’s a prid quo pro arrangement, as both sides end up quite happy and content, when all is said is done. Happy birds; happy sister. 🙂

    • I’d say your sister made a *very* smart tradeoff, and the Tennessee birds, even if they get a little snippy with her when the food doesn’t arrive promptly on their desired schedule, get a dedicated caregiver in the bargain.

      As for those cretins threatening your brothers, what an appalling sense of entitlement and lack of civility and humanity!!! Not to mention the age-old question that comes to my mind whenever I hear of such things: do people who bully and threaten others *really* think they’re going to get more willing, swift, or skillful responses by such means??? Yes, purely rhetorical: we know that *thinking* is not involved at all. Way to *NOT* ‘win hearts and minds’ to one’s cause! Breathtakingly stupid, arrogant, and brutish. Phooey. I’m glad your brothers have survived them. And Hallelujah for police reports; even when they can’t solve the problem outright, they can at least serve as a warning to others and a paper trail of ‘patterns of behavior’ for jerks who almost invariably end up doing more criminal stuff, eventually.

      Now if your sister can train her friendly little birds to fly over those miscreants’ heads and strafe them with a barrage or ten of…justice…! 😉

      • I actually worked for a man that was a bully, (for almost eight years), and the one thing that was consistent about him was that he believed he was entitled to everyone bending to his will, in whatever way he deemed appropriate. Let’s just say that he was not enamored of strong women, and it was even worse if the woman also happened to have brains. Thankfully, when the time was right, I was able to walk away, and I’ve since made a practice of speaking up, not only for myself, but those that typically don’t have a voice. Sometimes, all it takes is one person to say NO, and the tide begins to change. Sometimes.

        • There are few times when I’ve pulled up my socks and been anything like Brave, but when I *have* summoned the nerve to stand up to a bully, it was generally in defense of someone else and I have never regretted it. I have done a few pretty dumb things in my time when acting in self- or others’-defense, true, but I’m still not sorry, since I’m still here to tell the tale. It’s the only way, as you say, to effect any change, if there’s any hope of it. So glad you pitch in, too. 😀

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