SEPTEMBER 5th, 8:03 A.M.—Hurricane Irma approaches. It’s morning. The first thing I hear is the blaring Weather Channel.
My mother-in-law likes her television at volumes robust enough to rattle her artificial hip. Especially when the world is ending, like today.
On the screen: a lady-meteorologist is having a nervous breakdown. She points to a red-colored cyclone that’s roughly the size of Greenland, and says, “THIS IS A HURRICANE!”
She traces the map with a digital pointer, making colorful and scientific designs. She says, “ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-FIVE MILE AN HOUR WINDS, FOLKS!”
My mother-in-law turns the volume up.
The weather-woman looks like a sophomore in high school, and she’s about to faint. She adds, “It’s ESSENTIAL to make sure you have bottled water, triple-A batteries, and a BIKE HELMET…”
The first thing I’d like to mention, is that the weather forecasting business has changed. For most of my life, weather-people wore polyester suits and looked like your father’s dentist. They pointed to maps, and told forecasts in easy voices.
This weather-woman is shouting, and her mascara is running.
“Do we have bike helmets?” my mother-in-law asks.
I go to the garage to check for helmets. All I find are four AAA batteries, and my old catcher’s mask.
“We need bottled water,” my mother-in-law goes on. “Is my car gassed up? Get more batteries. I’m out of bread-and-butter pickles.”
I drive into town to fill her tank. The gas station has a ten-mile line of cars. So, I go into Walmart instead. There are families jogging through aisles with panicked faces, pushing carts. One woman has eighteen bottled-water crates in her cart. Her child is riding on top, like George Washington crossing the Delaware.
Of course, we live in the Wiregrass area. This is not our first big hurricane. In fact, we’ve seen so many storms, nearly every year the Weather-Channel vans come to town.
Half of my immediate family has been featured on the television, discussing major disturbances.
There was the famous interview my uncle gave during Hurricane Opal, at a hardware store:
“Good afternoon, sir,” said the weather-person with a microphone. “Any thoughts on the storm which could slaughter thousands, potentially destroying millions of non-profit pet shelters, nursing homes, children’s advocacy centers, and monasteries?”
My uncle spit out his wad of Skoal tobacco before he even answered. It was Weather-Channel gold.
That same evening, my uncle got thirty-five phone calls, two marriage proposals, and one invitation to speak at the annual policemen’s banquet.
It should be said, I take storms seriously. Storms like Irma are no joke. This one is strong enough to suck the blood out of a deer tick. It will probably require evacuation.
And, if you’ve never evacuated from a hurricane, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s a lot like going on vacation during a historical reenactment of Iwo Jima.
You’re in a traffic jam, stretching from Orange Beach, Alabama, to Beaverton, Oregon. Your vehicle is loaded with boxes of family photos, fine china, shrink-wrapped wedding dresses, your mother-in-law’s walker, and every pair of shoes your wife has ever bought.
Your wife is driving. You’re listening to radio updates. Your mother-in-law has to pee.
You stop at a gas station. There are six-hundred cars who do the same. Mostly, minivans with screaming children and dogs stuck in kennels.
You escort your mother-in-law inside, hoping her roller-walker will earn you a good spot in the long restroom line. It doesn’t.
Your mother-in-law explains that her bladder is reaching the critical zone.
The important thing here is to remain calm. You explain to her that you were once a Boy Scout, and that going to the bathroom outdoors is all part of God’s natural plan for salvation.
You guide her to the dumpster behind the service station. Then, you stand nearby, eyes closed, singing “Amazing Grace” loud enough to drown the sounds of her doing her buisiness.
“Toilet paper,” she says. “I need paper.”
But anyway, the good news here is that there is no talk of evacuation. At least not yet. And I am grateful for it.
Also, I want to add: I thank God for the Weather Channel, and for that frantic weather-woman. Without her, I would have never thought to watch my dwindling supply of AAA batteries and bike helmets.
Speaking of helmets, you really ought to see my mother-in-law in her catcher’s mask. She is just adorable. Adorable.
We are all going to die.