I've never liked this house. It is old, squat and faces North. The windows and kitchen are too small and need upgrading. We bought it several years ago, when Joe was a toddler and Grace a bump. We had Grand Plans to extend and upgrade it; make it like a house we had seen and loved, which had happened to be in the wrong town. So rather than purchase the house we loved in the wrong town, we chose the wrong house in the right town. School districts are important, right? And we both had great jobs, so the idea of buying a fixer-upper with a view to an almost total remodel wasn't an outlandish one. Then.
And of course, Life happened. And Life laughed at our plans. "You want a new kitchen? Hahahaha ...NO. Here, have some Autism instead" (and the school district became suddenly Very Important Indeed). "...A basement remodel? Heh! Why don't I just disable one of your earners instead? Howdoya like them apples?"
Didn't like the apples much at all, actually.
But the decisions we made back then; to buy a house we could afford on one salary -just in case, and not to get snowed under in debt in order to remodel, were suddenly very sound ones and we were glad of them. Our little house isn't ideal and I may hate the small kitchen with no counter space, little storage and its avocado green sink and stovetop. But the house is sound and everything (mostly) works.
Then last month, a hurricane 600 miles across, dumping lakefuls of water as it went, meandered up the East coast straight towards us.
Funny how a threat like that tends to focus one's thoughts.
Hurricanes have impacted us before, but usually they are far offshore and the edge just clips some towns several miles away. I have never been right in the path before. It is scary. I was thinking -not of Katrina, which was an impossible scenario here, but of all that footage I have seen of hurricanes and great storms: Shingles and siding ripped off of homes, stop signs uprooted and embedded in bedrooms, humongous trees collapsed on houses.
That last one is the scariest to me. There was a tree in my backyard that wasn't looking too healthy. I had recieved a couple of estimates for removing it earlier in the summer, but Life had intervened again in the form of a car accident (everyone is fine), and the tree removal money had gone towards a new car. We had planned to get the tree removed in early September. So when we heard about Irene, I was kicking myself pretty hard. I figured we'd likely be dealing with a scenario something like this.
...only the house and the weather wouldn't be so nice.
Himself and I kind of automatically fell into the preparations for the storm without much discussion at all. I shopped and made sure food, water and Inside Stuff was taken care of. Himself did heavy lifting and Outside Stuff. The kids helped where they could.
The cooking and cleaning jag started for practical reasons. I wanted to use up food and make sure laundy and vaccumming were done before we lost power. Then it became a way to distract myself and pass the time as Irene loomed ever closer. The radio was doing an '80s thing and I was mopping away to Pat Benetar.
...which was a big fat helping of surreal.
Himself was amused. 'Why are you cleaning today? There's no point! If the house falls down, the only person to appreciate it will be the claims adjuster. He will be telling us "what nice clean rubble you have, Mr & Mrs Sickmother. Not like that dirty rubble in Number 3". Black humor has featured large in our relationship, in case you haven't guessed.
Funny how, when you think you might be losing your little house, you realise that you DO actually appreciate it. I think that's another reason why I was cleaning. A sort of "sorry house. I do actually need and appreciate you after all" gesture.
...and then, when as the storm progressed and lives could potentially be at risk, you realise that the house isn't really very important at all. Except in a "keeping people safe" capacity. That part is very important.
There were some conversations With Himself that I never wanted to have and never THOUGHT I would have. The walkthrough of the house, with a frank and detached discussion of the placement of I-beams, possible wind direction and the potential trajectory of the tree through the house was the most surreal. We calmly discussed what we would do when it fell, or if the big window in the living room was smashed in: Who would take responsiblily for which child or pet, what Stuff we would grab and where we would go. We didn't care about the house or contents. Our singular commitment was to protect every life here; ten in all: two adults, two kids, a dog, three cats, a guinea pig and a fish (Well OK, we didn't have a plan for the fish. But we did for the piggypig!). Everything else was just "stuff". It didn't matter if it was all lost once the lives were safe. We packed a bag, like they tell you on the telly.
We slept (badly) in a downstairs room that Saturday night, away from the tree and the pictture window, all of us crowded in, including the dog (who was miffed that Joe was sleeping in his spot), with our emergency bag to hand. We had closed all the doors upstairs and quietly said our goodbyes to it -just in case. Joe and I both fell asleep late, tossed and turned, then woke early; while Himself and Grace -both of whom seem to share a 'sound sleeper' gene- seemed to sleep through the whole thing. Windows rattled. The wind howled. The rain pounded on the roof, walls and windows. Some water sneaked into the basement.
The tree held.
One branch fell into the empty back yard. I think the fact that it is half-dead worked in its favor. There were very few leaves to catch the wind. Bullet dodged. We were very, very lucky. At least 44 other people weren't so lucky. Read their stories here, and you will realise how thin the line between life and death can be during a large and heavy storm.
So after Irene, I have a new appreciation for my house and my family. I have a renewed respect for storms and the power of nature. I gave up my major addiction: Mafia Wars, and have resolved to spend my time more productively. Like cleaning.