Storm Riding

Last night’s storm earned its place in the books. I don’t know what the wind speed stats were, but they were high enough to ban trucks on I-80, some 20 miles south of me, for a good portion of the overnight hours. We had some rain, a few knocked-over trees, but nothing really serious like the snow in Kansas and the tornados in Iowa.

I laid in bed, listening to the roar of the wind and the creaking of the rafters in response. When we built, Hubby used hurricane clips to attach the rafters and decking to the house and each other even though builders he’d spoken with had said that they weren’t needed.  At the time they cost 50 cents a piece. They’ve proven to be one of the best investments against the winds that we get out here.

It’s just part of life in an open space. It is November, the month of unstable weather and days covered in rainy sheets. As with storms at any other time of the year, an eye is on the sky and an ear is on the radio for developments and warnings.

The day before this front came through was the 40th anniversary of the Edmund Fitzgerald’s fateful run down Lake Superior from Duluth to Detroit. The Fitz didn’t even make the Soo Locks where she would have entered Lake Huron and sank near Whitefish Point not too far to their west. There were no survivors.

This storm’s barometric pressure was supposed to have similar numbers, and one of the local weather forecasters who had worked the night of the Fitz’s sinking was practically breathing into a paper bag. Any storm or one like it that could produce waves of a size that could take out a 700+ foot long ship is to be respected.

When the numbers started to play into the news a few days ago, I fought the urge to go get a big bag of potato chips and Coke. The standard storm routine in my very young days involved waiting for the tornado sirens to sing their songs of warning, then one of us would take the chips, another the bottles of Coke, another the the flashlight, and Mom would take one last look to make sure that everything that needed to be turned off was before we proceeded to the basement. Once down there, the radio would go on so we could monitor the weather, and in between reports, dance or roller skate or sit and read the boxes of vintage magazines from the ’40’s and ’50’s. When the watch was lifted, we returned to our regular daily schedules, perhaps a little disappointed because our fun was interrupted.

Sometimes we didn’t quite get downstairs, but that was OK. I have no conscious memory of this, but according to my dad, Mom and I would take afternoon naps in the big blue rocking chair. Our neighbors across the street had a huge maple tree that danced in the wind. One afternoon while my siblings were at school, Mom and I watched the tree as we sank into our nap. And sank so deeply that we didn’t know that the sirens had gone off until Dad called to check up on us and ask how our basement stay had been.

These days, much to the cardiac-arrest inducing chagrin of some of my friends, I stand in the field to read the sky. I watch until the lightning gets uncomfortably close, and I go inside. Even when our local siren emits its eerie wail I watch out the windows.

Not last night, though. The wind picked up through the day, and tossed the relatively small amount of rain around, making it sound as if more fell than actually did.  When the rain subsided, I took Oakley out for his last run of the day. We went to bed, listening to the creaks of the roof and the snores of the canine intersperse the Renaissance music that filled the darkness.

A Tuesday State of Mind

Yes, Gentle Friends, it’s Tuesday. And I am grateful for it.

Unless something catastrophic happens in the next couple of days, I will be celebrating one birthday more than my mother had when she was on this side. I feel as if I have broken an unintended curse laid on me by well meaning but ignorant relatives who expected me to be her all over again and fill the deep shadow left by her departure. Yes, I look like her. Yes, I inherited her spiritual streak, her love for animals, and when all is said and done, I hope that I will be remembered for being as compassionate and tolerant as she was, even just a fraction of such.

Over and over again, the relatives on her side chanted, “You’re just like your mother.” At the least, irritating and a factor in why I went away to school. At the most, wondering if I had value beyond being a shrine to her while struggling with the great fear in my soul of dying unexpectedly as she had in what are supposed to be the best years of my life. For many years, part of me wondered if I would make it to that magic day that marked a year beyond what she had in this life.

Mom was one of the estimated thirty percent of people with cardiovascular disease who didn’t know they had it until they have a fatal heart attack. The smoking, the stress of dealing with my dad’s four heart attacks in nine months, and the high-estrogen birth control pills to hold menopausal symptoms at bay conspired against her.

I did learn from her, though. I smoked one experimental cigarette, and that was it. I went off The Pill to another form of contraception. I meditate and exercise to control stress, and do acupuncture to control the midlife lady issues. In addition, I’m on track to get back to a healthy weight.

So some hours out from the start of the next trip around the sun, I feel pretty confident that I will be here for many years to come.

The Fine Art of Passive-Aggresive Cuisine

Thought for the day: many recipes involving Jell-o came from the thirties through the postwar era.

During that time, especially during the ’50’s, women were (and still are, but not as strictly) expected to conform to restrictive standards of behavior or risk losing everything. The frustration and angst were drowned by cocktails or stilled with pills.

All that unhappiness had to go somewhere. Could it be that the creation of some of these recipes and and inflicting them on the family could have been a desperate unconscious cry for help clothed in socially acceptable terms? 

Or could it have been a way to express one’s creativity stifled by the suffocating expectations? 

My mom had been on track to become a concert pianist until World War II broke out. Being that kind of a woman, she changed her concentration from performance to music education so she could help returning soldiers and differently-abled children after that. Which she did, and her work at a rehab hospital introduced her to my dad who worked there as an orderly. That part wasn’t so bad. 

The bad came as the post-war vacuum drew her into the hyper-domesticated world of the ’50’s. She could make Jell-o salads with the best of them. Not a great cook otherwise, but give her a box of Jell-o and she could rule the world, a trail of shredded carrots in her wake. But it was not the world where she belonged. 

Mom belonged on a stage where she could share her gift and getting loving support so she didn’t have to deal with the mundane world. She played organ and piano for our church or school events, and taught sometimes, but it never really soothed the ache in the places emptied by doing what she thought was the right thing at the time. 

Eventually, the collective heartbreaks conspired with her cigarettes and estrogen pills to end her life too soon.

Perhaps when faced at family dinners with some Jell-o creation like this over the holidays, the polite thing to do would be to eat a couple of mouthfuls, and then encourage some art or writing classes so their legacy of creativity lasts longer and gives more joy than a salad course.