Sunday, April 17, 2011

we have hail

when the Princess Pea was young, her favorite movie was Twister. there is a scene in the movie, when the storm chasers say: we have hail! we have hail! seconds later, a category five tornado touches down in the field around them and lays havoc on the land. the princess so wanted to chase those storms, but i knew better.

when I was a child, a tornado blew through my town, felling a 200-year-old oak tree on my house. i remember watching branches blow by the window, how it sounded like a giant freight train screeching on brakes, the crashing glass, how we couldn't find my sister, who had just ridden through the back yard on her banana bike.

years later, a second old oak was felled in my parents' yard, not long after we drove into the driveway on our way to the beach. though nothing hit our house, we later walked down the streets of my childhood, marveling at the holes the fallen trees had left in the sky. Add in another tornado on a may night in 1989 the felled trees in our yard in winston-salem, a hurricane 1996 when we lost more than a dozen, and let's just say i have great respect for wind, and the randomness of its ways.

yesterday, when my husband brought to me in his palm a chunk of ice the size of a golf ball and said: we have hail, i paid attention. crystallized, an iced jewel, cold and melting against the heat of his hand, it was a harbinger, to be sure.

we were attending a wedding reception — the bride having just dance with her father, the groom just about to take over the floor with his mom — when the lights went out, silencing the dj. minutes before, the lights had been flickering off and on as kids checked their smart phones for news... it was coming our way.  and then, all was dark, silent — all except the wind and rain, that hail... my friend grace, who survived a twister in 1988 that blew her dining room table into her neighbor's yard and her daughter's crib into the living room, hid in the hallway.

And then my husband brought the hail.

We watched, as whitecaps filled the club swimming pool, as sheets of wind blew through and through and through, and then, as always happens, the sun just came on out. the reception went on, though in the dark, still. we wondered what was out there, what had happened from all that wind.

our dog was alone, and so we left earlier than planned. on our way home, i checked my phone and had texts from friends who had seen the news. were we ok? we checked with our son, living near the reception site, and he was fine, had called about the dog. i wondered what we would find at home. he was safe, our yard scattered with scraps of insulation, from we knew not where.

once home, we checked the weather — bad news — a home improvement warehouse in a town some 40 miles south, destroyed, customers safely huddled in the back. houses all around destroyed, people missing. power poles down, but lines nowhere to be found. we watched the radar, called my parents, told them to get to the hall, the closet, because it was headed their way.

an hour later, they had been spared, their dog annoyed at the interruption of her day. 30 miles away, 11 people were killed. many in the same family. three little children died a few miles from here when a tree fell on their trailer. one friend told me this morning that her neighborhood streets were scattered with mail from Sanford, where the lowe's warehouse was destroyed.

today people all around us are sorting through, picking up, grieving. the rest of us are praying, trying to figure out how to help. i've been watching news accounts and youtube videos made by storm chasers and others, marveling at the beauty and violence swirled together in the clouds.

the wind has its ways, and no one knows the strength of them. pay attention. help wherever you can.