Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Lightning, And This Time I Mean It

Two weekends ago, on the 26th, we dragged Bella to an outdoor rock concert. We decided to leave when we did in part because I could sense the internal meltdown slowly brewing, but also because the sky looked a wee tad ominous. On the drive home we had a view of the coming storm through our windshield, and at one point, a dagger of lightning sliced across the sky sideways. It was beautiful, blue, veined. "I've never seen like lightning like that," Bella cooed.


Wednesday, the big day, at around 5 p.m., we had what is a typically normal but this summer is a bit unusual afternoon thundershower. There was thunder, and lightning, and a tree across the street got hit dropping a branch onto the electric wire. Poof went the electric, in came the fire department, the electric guys, and finally, the bastard tree butcherers. It was an "event" as no one got hurt, and everyone gathered on our corner to gape and chat and talk about their crude 19th century evenings.

Ours went like this: we have a gas range, which was already lit since daddy made his little girl homemade tomato sauce for her birthday. We simply slid the pot off the flame, and popped on our pasta, and ate a lovely dinner by candlelight. Afterwards, we invited a neighbor family over for champagne and s'mores, outside, next to the grill. Rough, right out of Little House on the Prairie. Well, everything minus an outfit Bella received from a far-flung relative that had her father and I gaping and struggling for words when she came out to model it. (Seriously, this is from a major kid's clothing chain -- one I never shop at, incidentally, and now I remember why -- and in size 6 they make a rhinestone encrusted tightly fitted cotton halter top with matching skirt. "Your job to keep her off the pole," I whispered to Mr. ABF and then turned to Bella, told her she was absolutely stunning, but she did know this was a dress up box outfit, yes? Dress up for what exactly remains to be seen. Please no one send her the matching thigh-high white leather boots.)

We had planned Bella's school-chum party for Friday evening; I invited a gaggle figuring it was summer and only 10 would show up, but, gak, 18 accepted the invitation to drop their children off for dinner, cake, and a moon bounce. Whatever, how hard can that be?

Thursday I watched the weather report go from 20 to 40 to 70% chance of showers on Friday. And Friday evening, three minutes before the scheduled start of the outdoor party and hot dog grillathon, the heavens opened. In my house were 18 amped kids who blew through my "rain back up plan B" activities in about 4 minutes. Over was the draw a picture of yourself guest list; whatever-d were the foam doorhandles, cool but quickly completed was the scavenger hunt. When there appeared the slightest glimmer of light through the drops I hissed at Mr. ABF, "Go blow up that thing, NOW." All 18 hustled into the moon bounce. Skies clear, kids eat, kids pinata, kids bounce again. Party saved, barely.

Saturday was the get-together for the neighborhood (sunny, of course), which featured "Adult Bounce" on the hour ("Man Bounce" was especially entertaining), followed by dinner for about 16.

I woke up Sunday, groggy, tired, and facing rain. We packed up the soggy moon bounce, and Mr. ABF went to return it, and I stepped in the shower.

Just as I turned off the water, there was a huge crack of thunder coming at the same time as the flash. Moments later, while toweling my hair, I heard the fire engine go by our house, and stop nearby. I traipsed out the front door in bare feet, and admittedly a small smirk on my face, completely expecting to see a live wire dancing down through the neighbor's yard.

I was met by clouds of black smoke.

My neighbor's house was on fire. In fact, two of my neighbors' houses were on fire: lightning hit one side of the twin, and the fire jumped the roof to the other. I ran down in driving rain to . . . . I don't know. What compels people to run to certain things and not others? Just the day before as I was grocery shopping there was a police take-down of some guy near the fish counter. No idea what happened (Out of Easy-Peel shrimp? That always pisses me) , and I honestly just tried to mind my biz and not gape. And yet here I was going to the mouth of the disaster. I met my one neighbor standing on the sidewalk looking as if she personally had been struck by lightning -- if she were a cartoon, I'd put swirls in her eyes. "Is everyone out?" "Yes," she responded, clearly a million miles away. "Let me take the dogs," I said and she robotically stuck out her hands with the leashes and off I went to add two more canines to my brood at home.

Everyone got out, including three cats and three dogs between two houses. One side was two-thirds damaged, but the other side -- only just recently renovated -- was totaled. It's a gut. Again.

My awesome neighborhood absorbed both families and their children, clothes were found, toys were pulled out of yard-sale bins, pizzas were ordered, wine was poured, dogs were walked, tv's were housed, suitcases were loaned in order to dump clothes into them. We've all been walking around bewildered, stunned, that one minute you can be minding your business on a Sunday morning, and the next, your life is up in flames.

I guess a lot of us understand that metaphorically, but it's really grim to see it happen literally.

The family came late in the afternoon to collect their dogs -- they needed to be with them, and I understood that completely. When I asked what she needed, she looked like a zombie with the eye swirls returning, and I said, hey -- I'll come by in a few days and ask again. You'll know more then. In the meantime, just ring the bell and ask. We went for a walk after dinner this evening, in the beautiful breeze of a sunny summer evening, as if the perfect day had just occurred. Past the charred remains of two homes, emiting smoke fumes. Contractors already at work with tarp and plywood. Past the littered front porches of the adjoining houses, which now contain the saved remains of two families lives.


I've always had a secret fascination with thunder storms. Since a child, I've loved counting in between the flash and the boom (a trick I've used often this summer while trying to grill, standing safely on my porch figuring how much time I have to go flip things over), feeling the bass run through my legs, watching the lightning dance and weave. I've never been afraid of being struck -- maybe before because I was naive, and afterwards because . . . . I don't know. Naivite again? Won't get struck twice? Figure I can live through it, so run and enjoy?

Sunday, I sat in my family room, holding a shaking, soggy dog (not my own), listening to yet another wave of thunder and lightning go through (1, 2, it's getting closer). The rain was torrential (we got 4" on Sunday, alone), the multi-alarm fire had trucks planted outside our house tapping the two hydrants and running them down the middle of the street and through neighbors' back yards. Mr. ABF came in with an update: a few of the trucks were getting peeled off to go fight another lightning-inspired fire a few blocks away.

(That one didn't turn out so well.)

And I sat watching the fireman run like ants from my window, and willed that storm away. No more. No more lightning. No more heartache, no more work and danger for these guys, no more acrid smoke. Please no more.

A front is supposed to move through this afternoon. I will sit through it, undoubtedly, jaw firmly clenched with my fingers hovering around 9-1-1, counting. Always counting.


holly said...

Wow! We didn't get all that in Eastwick! I am willing to bet someone gets arrested at the grocery store in South Philly all time, though.

I need to send you proper thank you for everything over the past few months. I'll get to it in time. I promise.

Anonymous said...

Thank goodness everyone was OK. What an incredible story - we don't get storms like that in my neck of the woods very often!

Anonymous said...

You are awesome. Your neighborhood is incredible.

Just, wow.

sweetsalty kate said...

Oh my goodness, what a shock. I'm so glad everyone's okay, although I know it'll take a very long time for life to feel normal again for them.

How lucky they are to live where they do. Your neighbourhood sounds wonderful.

c. said...

Holy crap, Tash. I followed the link to the other house that didn't fare so well. That's awful. And your poor neighbors. How devastating.

Funny thing, we had a huge lightning/rain storm the other night. I thought of you as the lightning flashed across the sky, over and over and over again. I thought about it hitting your house that time and I thought to myself: why don't we have lightning poles here?

And, I do that counting thing too.

c. said...

PS As for 18 kids at a HOME birthday're a trooper, woman. Seriously!

erica said...

Glad everyone was okay, but what a hard thing. Wishing you milder weather.

Michele said...

Since the hospital is on the border of Philly, I got a front row seat to these and the paper showed the severe flooding. This has been one hell of a summer.

I'm so glad that you guys are okay and that, although homes were damaged, everyone got out okay.

Suzanne said...

It's been said before but holy crap! What an intense weekend in your enviably close neighborhood. We get a lot of lightening where I live and I too have been rather casual about grilling, getting out of the pool, etc. As with many things we haven't experienced personally, it is hard to keep the destructive power in the forefront.

angie said...

Taking on 18 kids, in your home, you are my hero. Damn.

The lightning and fires. I know what you mean about the swirls and the hundred yard stare. It is almost too much to absorb--the random chaos of life. We can only hope to be surrounded by the kindness and compassion of our neighbors, ready with a glass of wine, and roof for our dog. XO

Aunt Becky said...

I have no words, Tash. My mouth is hanging open and I have nothing to say.

loribeth said...

Yikes!! So glad your own home & family were safe!

I'm at home this week & we had some mild thunderstorms & rain yesterday here in suburbia. But dh called me to say it was absolutely torrential downtown. Some of the train tracks were flooded & commuter trains cancelled. Fortunately (for us), it was in the opposite direction from where we travel.

Betty M said...

How very scary. I'm glad everyone got out fine. Impressed with the community spirit you all showed too.

Mommy (You can call me OM) said...

Oh my goodness. I wish I lived in your neighborhood for if something like that were to happen, I'd want you there. Especially a few days later when my zombie eyes had left residence.


Hope's Mama said...

Yikes, Tash. So glad you're all ok.

Lisa b said...

holy hell Tash. How terrifying.
You all sound like good neighbours to have.

Dayna said...

Holy crap, Tash!

The storm was positively terrifying -- I was envious of the cat and her ability to crawl under the bed -- but I never made the connection when I read the paper that everything that went down was in your neighborhood.

Off-topic, but can you recommend a good area eye doctor?

Tash said...

Danya, sadly, no. And I need one too.

Dayna said...

Thank you anyway. If I find a decent one, I'll let you know.

charmedgirl said...

elle is also a fashionista. i am trying to teach her that there's a time and place for any outfit. she tells everyone that i'm going to show her how to sew and make shirts and dresses...cause, you know, moms know how to do EVERYTHING, right?

your neighborhood sounds like a great one...a person can live through almost anything with the right peeps around.

k@lakly said...

WOW! I too love storms, often wishing for some while on vacation(which is why I am late responding here) and I always gloss over the really bad shit they can bring, thinking it won't happen to me...but, yeah, we all know that ain't the truth is it??
I always tell the kids to respect nature but need to be more clear as to not just respecting her beauty but also the awesomeness of her might.

Glad the neighbors are safe and hope they are tucked away back in thier crib in rapid time.

And, btw, 18 kids...Jesus. I need a drink.

CLC said...

Wow, I got chills, from so many things, just reading this. Glad everyone is ok, but I am so sorry they lost their houses. It's funny how we all know from our experiences that life can change in an instant, yet as time goes by, I find myself being more and more amazed when it does for other people, almost as if I didn't know about this firsthand anymore.

We had basically a river running through our yard from that storm and all I could think about was that someone, like Denis, could drown in that water. It's not a fun way to view the world.

Parenthood For Me said...

I am very afraid of thunder storms. I don't tend to admit it. This is so scary and so real. What an awful ordeal.

luna said...

wow, holy crap, what a story! and what a neighborhood. I wish you were my neighbor.

Anonymous said...

That must have been the day they decided to sign V.ick.

*Somebody* went Old Testament-style on Philly.

-Shamela ;-)