Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Misbehaving Chimney

I am taking a break from mopping up the basement. It has been a busy morning here at Dark Corners, beginning with a big CRACK at around 7 a.m. What could that be? Hmmm...

We live on a county road, so a guy was here early inspecting the damage. The tree completely blocked passage, so if you were an ambulance or a firetruck and you wanted to zoom along toward the hospital, or either other end of town, you'd have to carve a less direct route along other streets. You'd be slowed down, maybe disastrously. This is a SNOW route! Serious county business. Not a problem to be ignored for long.

It is the kind of problem, too, that requires everyone to come out of their houses and stand around and discuss, and ponder, even your basement is filled with water--or, let me testify, especially then. One neighbor lost power because of the fallen tree. The lines were wrapped all around it, as if the wind had taken its best advantage of the moment of tiiimmmbbbeeerrrrr......Whipping and twisting a hairstyle. 

Someone made the powerless person coffee. Neighbors neighbored.

(Me too! It was still during the pouring hours when I got to help saw up some big branches off another neighbor's car. They couldn't, because of health problems. It wasn't heroic but it did feel like that old America where people built barns together. Oh, that reminds me...time to watch Cold Mountain again.)

Now we are moving stuff we moved yesterday to get at all the water on the basement floor. Amazing finds! All my Beatle records, my summer clothes (September is hot, right?), a pair of boots someone had left here and has longed for for years, a beautiful pair of Agnes B. suit pants, and the Christmas Rudolph action figure and tree lights. Also--a dumpster's worth of stuff that needs to go away forever.

I thought, as I always do, of Cape May, and all the hurricanes, tropicaal storms, and Noreasters I lived through there. The Coast Guard would come along New Jersey Ave with a bull horn telling everyone to evacuate. Sometimes they were in a truck, and sometimes, if the ocean had already poured over the sea wall, they came in a little motor boat. Grandad stood on the porch, drink in hand, and suggested they come join him instead. His posture of going down with the ship was mimicked along our row of houses, and all around the town. The Coast Guard seemed to respect this stalwart attitude. I think. Now it is very different, since Katrina. I also think I didn't know enough to be scared. I wasn't being given scared cues. I was a child, watching something new happen.

So we'd sit on the porch in the wind and watch the waves crash against the sea wall, counting how many flew up higher than the electric wires. I loved the wind, and being stung by the rain. (I always identified in English novels with the women who walked out into the driving rain...if you have a taste for it, there is nothing like it. It's a thrill of weather--all the water inside the body finding a kinship in the thundering water outside.)

During the Noreaster of 1962, a house near ours washed away.
The house that washed away. Our old house is behind it on the far right.














 


My grandmother would come to the door every few minutes. "Come inside!" She'd jerk her hand back toward the interior, and looked vexed and perplexed. Why would anyone want to be outside at such a time? Grandad and I said "Soon." Not meaning it.

Once lightning hit our house and our chimney blew to pieces. This turned out to be horrible--because, aside from storms, Grandad was very anxious. The hurricane ended and the day was blue and rinsed, the air charged with ions, the ocean requesting to be walked along, and then, even calmer, visited for a swim. We were not allowed out! What if one of the bricks slid off the roof and bopped us on the head? We could die on the spot!

He went out though, unfairly. I glared at him from the porch as he visored his eyes and looked up at the damage. "Hey, why do you get to be on the lawn?" 

"Wait for Ashton," he said--his friend, the fireman. "When he says it's safe, you can go out."

It took three days. Pure torment. 

What did I do at noon today? Called my boy and told him not to wade in deep street water, there could be electric currents from downed wires. I was out in the rain, though. Now I'm the adult.

These old photos are from the CMHS.

Postscript: It seemed as though it was over. The rain stopped; the sun shone. Then more wind, fantastical tree bending wind. A big branch took all our wires down. So much for the romance of a storm. Four days in the dark, until today when the manly men of PSEG came and hooked me up. I am lucky, but I feel very concerned for those who still have no power, or are flooded out of their houses--and as always, the animals. What happened to all my chipmunks and moles? What happens? Why am I still not convinced to turn against storms?



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