Storms With Names

Here's a million-dollar idea I'll give you for free: when the Welcome Wagon comes to say howdy, they should tell you how to prepare for whatever type of natural disaster is indigenous to your new area.

In the Midwest, they'd tell you about tornadoes and blizzards. Here in SE Georgia they should tell you how to prepare for hurricanes and tropical storms.

These are important events - life-changing events! - and should not be glossed over or left to chance. We should not have to hear on the street how to do it. They should have a safe-storm education course.

Having lived nearly all my life in Minnesota, I can tell you how to prepare for a blizzard. I can't tell you how to prepare for a hurricane. I don't know if you CAN prepare fully for a hurricane, judging from the devastation caused by Hurricane Charley when it came ashore.

From what we have been able to glean from the Internet, some of the preparations for a blizzard are the same as for a hurricane. You stock up on water, canned goods, batteries, and such; you get the things you need to survive without power for a while. But make no mistake: these are not the same kinds of storms.

With a blizzard you can hunker down under a blanket, make some hot chocolate, pull out the Parcheesi board and throw another log on the fire while the storm does its thing outside. As long as you have enough supplies, you can wait until spring comes to help you dig out. If the power stays on and you have enough videos, the kids won't even know anything is going on.

Hurricanes don't want to stay outside. They want to see what they're missing inside your house, so they open it up to see. Between hurricanes and their cousins, the tornadoes, your house is like a Christmas present on December 26th - ripe to be opened.

We kept watching our neighbors and waiting to see if they started boarding up windows or battening down hatches or anything, but they all just went about life as usual.

We prepared, though, following our good Midwestern heritage. We knew we had no basement to retreat to in the event of a tornado or hurricane-force winds, so we did the next best thing and bought clear plastic sheeting and duct tape. My wife said if a window blew out we could tape it up with the plastic sheets and tape.

I have also seen people making X's on their windows with tape to limit shattering, but you have to understand it's NOT going to stop a tree limb flying through the air at 140 m.p.h. (I thought it might be handy to seal around the doors and windows to keep spiders and snakes from seeking refuge in the house.)

And we bought batteries in all sizes, even if we didn't have things that fit some of the batteries. We figured if Walmart was destroyed we could make a killing selling batteries to people in need. (OK, we didn't really, but we could have, if we were unscrupulous.)

Do you have any idea how much water they say you should have on hand? For the two of us, it was something like 84 gallons of drinking water! And the cat would have had to beg us for her share. We have no basement, so I guess it would all have had to go in the spare bedroom.

We didn't put up any plywood (we're only renting, after all). But it raises a very good question: Why aren't there more functional shutters down here? Everyone has decorative shutters, so why not get functional ones you can close when a storm comes? It would make sense to me, and I guarantee you we will look into having real shutters on our house when we buy next year.

We were lucky with Charley. It apparently got distracted by the opening ceremonies for the Olympics in Greece and veered east for a short time before refocusing on its original task of destruction, mayhem and plywood sales. It cruised by us 65-miles to the east, leaving us with only 3-tenths of an inch of rain and one gust of wind that my wife says rattled the windows in the middle of the night. I heard nothing. We dodged a bullet.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people in southwest Florida who lost life and property in the storm. Next time it could be us. The same day Charley detoured towards New England, I saw there were two new hurricanes that had just formed and were being tracked.

We're learning, but it would sure be easier if they gave out hurricane handbooks with your new driver's license.


Copyright ©2004 Mike Zimmerli All Rights Reserved

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Between The Eyes

My wife called from Minneapolis to check on how Frances and I were getting along. While she was tending to some important family business I was here, living that glamorous bachelor life, glued to the Weather Channel on the TV and the National Hurricane Forecast Center on the Internet, and taking care of our ancient cat.

She was staying with her sister; the one who likes her life to be uncomplicated so has very little furniture and no cable. (Note: I applaud her sister for her ability to not be married to things. I can't help it if I am so weak!)

Her sister did finally get a small TV a couple years ago to watch the blizzard forecasts, but since she doesn't have cable she doesn't have the Weather Channel and with all those local signals bouncing around all over the Wicked Twin Cities, she really doesn't need cable.

My wife, on the other hand, wanted to know if the house was still here, or if it had evacuated to Oz ala Dorothy and Toto. So she called.

At that point, it looked like Frances would be another non-storm in this area like Bonnie and Charley. It was slowing down, tracking west, and not looking like much of a threat to northeastern Florida or Georgia.

What we have learned from our short hurricane experience is: it is always too early to tell anything for sure, so that is what I told her.

She asked if I had filled the cars with gas, boarded up the windows, brought in the patio furniture, made plans for where to bug out to, and other details you need to attend to when living in the path of 36-percent of all hurricanes since 1900.

I told her I had vacuumed (I really had, by the way). I told her I knew she likes the house to look neat and clean if company is coming. Company?

Honey, she said, Frances is a hurricane, not company. She won't care if the house is vacuumed. If she comes to visit, she'll redecorate in her own inimitable style.

I said there was no reason to get snippy. Besides, if nothing happens, the house will stay a little cleaner until she gets home. I didn't mention that I had also done the laundry and mowed the lawn, too. No sense in pushing my luck. Besides, we only have a learner's permit for dealing with hurricanes.

Since we have only lived here since June this is our first hurricane season. Like perpetual tourists, we think everything is interesting and exciting. One time, anyway.

So far all the storms have gone around us, only dumping rain on us and blowing a few leaves off the trees at our house. As I write this we're waiting to see what Ivan does to the west of us and Jeanne does to the east of us! The excitement of all these new experiences just never ends.

Black widow and brown widow spiders were exciting in a bad sort of way. Now she names them and then kills them. Geckos looking in the windows of the house were exciting for the first week or so. Frogs that sound like sheep still amuse us, though.

A large cottonmouth snake dozing on the sidewalk where I walk was pretty exciting for me, let me tell you. The snake seem to think the sidewalk was put there for its sunbathing needs and I was the interloper.

But we are learning and adapting. After a lifetime of blizzards and temperatures as cold as 40 below without the wind-chill, we're getting used to the new challenges coastal Georgia is offering, i.e. daily temps around 90-degrees from May through September, almost daily showers and storms with names.

Speaking of names, one night on the way home from church choir practice, I heard my wife mumble something, but I couldn't quite catch it. I asked what she said. She told me she was practicing saying my name the way the locals do: Mah-kil. She said it again, rolling it around in her mouth and in her ears. Mah-kil.

It sounded warm and friendly. Like our new hometown. I can live with that.


Copyright ©2004 Mike Zimmerli All Rights Reserved

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What's in A Name?

Some people find it humorous when grown men go by the names they were called when they were young. Timmy. Billy. Wendy. Bubba. I don't find it demeaning at all. (Except for Stinky Johnson, but that's another story.)

Since moving from the extremely reserved, don't-ask-don't-tell-about-ANYTHING-personal Scandinavian-flavored Midwest to the Deep South we have encountered many cultural differences. Most have been comfortable to slip on.

One thing we have noticed is that we don't hear the "F-word" out in public nearly as much. What a welcome relief, too. "F-in' this" and "F-in' that" and "F-in'-ay!" How many times did I want to say "And you eat with that mouth, too?" Of course, when pointing out this blessing to some friends the other night during one of our regular trips to WalMart, they reminded us that if we miss that language too much, they could probably arrange a trip out to the Naval Submarine Base here for us.

But all in all, we don't hear nearly as much cursing as we did in the Midwest. And when you do hear someone showing off his upbringing, he or she invariably ducks their head and looks around. You know what they're looking for: their mama! It doesn't matter if she's been in the ground for twenty years and they are fifty-years-old. They still remember the thumps on their heads they received for lesser infractions (or the switch on the bottom or the taste of soap). It is a Pavlovian response.

Something that took a little getting used to was being called Mr. and Miss. "Mr. Mike and Miss May-ree." That's us. I'm a mister and she's my missus, but missus takes too much effort to say, so she's just Miss May-ree. Miss Linda. Miss Leila Brown. Miss Barbara. And the young girls in the church directory are listed as Miss, too. Their brothers are not misters, but the girls are misses.

The janitor at the church where I work is Mr. Harvey. He is in his seventies. He calls me brother; I call him Mister. His wife is not Mrs. Dixon (ok, she IS, but that's not what we call her), she's Miss Betty. It's a first-name basis, but with respect.

There's a lot more Sir's and Ma'am's heard in these parts, too. The delightful thing is, it's coming out of the mouths of teenagers. Don't get me wrong: they're still angry at the world; they still think their parents are idiots only fit to pay their children's bills; they still haven't got a clue about the real world. But at least they're a little more polite than some we've known through the years. They can still look you in the eye and lie to you, but they'll call you sir while doing it.

Timmy and Wendy are brothers. They're not 4- and 5-years old. They're middle-aged (he said politely and respectfully). They go by names which carry affection, names which imply closeness and a sense of family. There is nothing childish about it. These are names which carry history with them. They're Mr. Wendall's sons, Wendy and Timmy, a definition which carries another level of respect, too.

These are names which mean you are part of a group: the people you grew up with and have always known; the people you have loved and fought with and made up with and laughed with and cried with. There is a bond which runs very deep between these men with what many of us would call boyish names. That's a bond which holds churches and towns together. It's a bond based on trust. It doesn't just happen overnight, either.

I still overhear the occasional, "He's a Yankee. He just doesn't get it." But as my walk and talk slow down, and my own pronounciation becomes (slightly) less precise, my ears become more tuned to the local dialect, and I hear the other layers of respect and warmth wrapped around the Sirs, Brothers and Misters. And someday, it'll be my turn to say, "He's a Yankee. He just doesn't get it."


Copyright ©2005 Mike Zimmerli All Rights Reserved

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