Sunday, August 26, 2012

Isaac? Is That You?

I began this blog a year ago with a harsh criticism of the month of August for having no holidays.  I suggested a few new observances we could add to our August calendars, but I guess none of them were good suggestions.  The folks at Hallmark never called me, nor do I know of anyone who placed flowers on the altar in honor of St. Bartholomew.  (See my blog for August 2011?  Yes, scroll down.  Waaaaay down.)  Twelve months and twelve blogs later, I have a few followers and a handful of positive comments from family and friends.  Thanks!  I am having fun with this.  Or I was . . .

This week we got an unexpected August cool-down, and the mid-eighties temperatures along with kids' return to school gave the month a bit of a fallish feeling.  The hint of autumn just around the corner and football season cranking up makes my fellow Alabamians almost forget we are still in "dog days."  Do you feel a "however" coming?  You should . . .

There is a storm on the horizon.  Late last week the message came down my newsfeed on that chatty, junk-mail website of a social network where we all hang out.  Isaac?  Who's he?  The next thing I knew, a couple of my friends were posting projections of Isaac's journey through the Gulf of Mexico and advising us what kinds of things we might want to pick up on the next Wal-Mart run:  ice, nonperishable foods, gasoline for the generator, batteries.  TS became CAT 2.  Even the Republicans shifted their party plans a bit.  Isaac meanders in the Caribbean tonight, and we watch him.  In the midst of the early-phase hurricane watch, I receive a call from a distressed family member.  There is another storm on the horizon.  Like Isaac, this storm, too, is out of my reach.

This late-August evening finds me comparing the projected paths that Isaac might take.  Some have him crunching poor New Orleans by throwing his weight onto the Mississippi coast.  Other computers track him a bit further east, and it looks like Mobile will once again be swamped.  I also gaze accusingly at my phone, as if by being the messenger, it could bring me news of resolved problems for my loved one.

Waiting and watching, you remember.  October, 1995:  We were living in the Dalraida area of Montgomery, Alabama, a neighborhood where I grew up and where our newborn boys both came home for the first time.  I was part of a private counseling practice at the time, and my partner made the unexpected decision to cancel all appointments and shut the office when Hurricane Opal made her way through the still-warm Gulf waters.  "I don't think we'd better stay open," he advised me.  "There are supposed to be 65-mile-per hour winds." Is that bad?  I didn't know. I had no direct experience with hurricanes.  I toured Mississippi after Camille hit and saw the dreamscape of steeples on the beach, sailboats on rooftops, and huge oaks uprooted, but I had no concept of what she might have looked like trekking through Biloxi.  My boys, ages  7 and 3, sat with me on a daybed in our front bedroom all night long, staring out the front window at a curtain of rain the like of which we'd never even imagined and listening to wind that sounded like the crowd cheering a touchdown.  But the rain never ceased and the crowd never settled down, and we fell asleep at dawn.  We woke up to houses without porches and streets blocked by big, heavy limbs.  The sky was still dark gray, but the rain was sporadic, and we cleaned the debris from our yard.  The power came back on.  We suffered very little.  I learned later on that this compact, fast-moving storm killed 2 Alabamians.  The name Opal has been retired as a storm name.

A terse message appears on the Messenger app on my iPad.  Same kin, same unhappy situation, same helpless response from me.  Our personal storm is still a way off, but we see it coming, and no matter its landfall outcome, there will be damage.  I try to offer reassurance, even a bit of unwelcome advice, but nothing changes the advance of  the inevitable.  Change will come.  We cannot fight it; we will see what it brings to us, and we will adapt.  The next day passes with no news.

September 2004:  Montgomery is just a memory.  Mr. Powers and I have become Elmorons by moving to Slapout, Alabama, and taking our boys and animals with us.  The children are 16 and 12, and we've been joined temporarily by my stepson, Chris, who is in his 20's.  He's from Tennessee and knows less about hurricanes than we do.  He tells us one afternoon that he's heard there's "some kind of storm coming."  "Just a hurricane," I drily reply, since I remember Opal and I have already bought bottled water and batteries.  I am not sure what everyone else did the night Ivan hit, but I moved into the basement where we had a den/bedroom and positioned my futon so I could see out into the backyard.  The winds came in early, I would say 8 p.m.  We lost power around 11.  Whereas Opal blew in and back out again, a 0 to 60 personality, Ivan dug in, and the rain and wind went on and on and on.  The next morning never dawned; rather, the outside grew gradually lighter as the storm screamed.  There was little to see through that river pouring from the sky.  You dared not go out even for a second, because you knew the wind would flatten you.  We ventured into our yard at maybe 4 p.m. between squalls of rain.  The wind pushed and shoved us, and it felt wrong to be outside our four walls.  Chris went to the store, which had opened back up, for another Mountain Dew.  The rest of us went back inside.  We missed 3 days of school that week due to lost power.  After two weeks, I could still hear generators running throughout Slapout at the homes of neighbors who still did not have power.  In Montgomery, philanthropist Ida Belle Young died when her generator caused carbon-monoxide poisoning in her home.

We were not touched directly by Katrina.  Oh, it rained, all right, but mostly we watched in horror as one of our favorite cities drowned, and we hung our heads in sorrow at the city's needless waste of human life.  The reality of Katrina affected us more when displaced families enrolled their children in Elmore County schools.  They didn't bring records, and we were told not to ask for any.  We wouldn't have anyway.  One young lady wound up in foster care because her mother fled back to New Orleans, leaving her daughter behind in the shelter provided by a local church.

The phone isn't ringing.  I see no new messages.  My heart aches, and I despise my inability to help.  I pray and doubt the efficacy of my prayer.  I watch the hurricane projections with great interest.  Best case:  Isaac brings us a bunch of rain and even a day off.  No one gets hurt.  Worst case:  New Orleans and/or Mobile get shaken to their foundations.  Again.  People wish they had been more prepared.  Again.  Finger-pointing and blaming ensues.  We try to remember what we've learned from past experience, but the destruction is too recent and the disappointments too sharp to bear.

I live in Alabama.  This is all I know of storms.