When a storm blows up in the daytime, our Shih-tzu, Murphy heads for Grandma and Grandpa next door. If neither one hears her coming, she barks at the apartment door until somebody lets her in.
Grandpa greets her with, “Here comes Poodle Hound.” She gets as close to Grandpa as she can, and then he usually picks her up and holds her to his chest until her heart calms down.
If the thunder rolls at night, Murphy sleeps with Dave.
We had a big one this week. Mom was to see Dr. Dibble on Monday at 1 p.m. for a nasty-looking arthritic finger. We knew a storm was on the way but we figured we could endure. She needed this appointment. She has been in big arthritis trouble for several weeks now and her right index finger seemed to be the settling spot, if there is such a thing as a settling spot.
I called her at 11:00 o’clock, just after I cleaned up from some work outside. Spring is finally here.
“Mom, I know we’re getting some weather but I think we better try to keep that appointment.”
“Yeah. I just told your dad this morning that I’m actually looking forward to going to the doctor. This thing has hurt long enough.”
I didn’t tell her that I didn’t know if Dr. Dibble could do anything to help that finger. Maybe he could give her something for pain. He could increase her anti-inflammatory. Or, I guessed, he could send her to a specialist of some sort. Geez, what if they wanted to do surgery on it?
“Okay, we’ll leave at 12:30. That should be plenty of time. Your appointment is actually 1:10.”
After I’d thrown Dolly, the red Rollator walker, into the back of the van, I said, “You’re holding that finger. Is it hurting right now?”
“Yes, it’s throbbing.”
“How’s Dad doing this morning?” I asked.
“Not good. He’s having those spells again,” she said.
“When did that start?” I asked.
“Oh, last night,” she said.
“Did he eat breakfast?” I asked.
“I think he might have had a bowl of cereal.”
“Well, I better call Dave,” I said as I pulled out of the drive.
“Dave,” I said, “You’re going to have to look out for Dad. He’s having those spells.”
“Okay, I will. I’ll take Murphy and go over there right now,” Dave said. “She’s all antsy about this weather.”
“Those spells” are unexplained fainting episodes and Dad has been having them for years. With most episodes, he weathers the inconvenience at home. But there have been times that he overlooked the signs of an impending spell and fell off a lawnmower, went down while weed-eating, or slid off a tall stool. Each of those occurrences precipitated either a trip to the emergency room, a brief hospitalization, or both.
The emergency room doctors always think it’s his heart. The cardiologist never thinks so. The neurologist always thinks it could be some sort of seizure but they’re never sure so they prescribe one of the new anti-seizure medications. Dad takes three days of those and declares, “I can’t function taking this stuff.” The ink—or laser print—is barely dry on the prescription before he quits it.
He took Dilantin for a few years before he developed Raynaud’s Syndrome. The diagnosing rheumatologist said, “You have to get off that stuff.” Dad was thrilled. He said he never thought it prevented much of the fainting problem anyway.
“You know,” Mom said, “I’m getting hungry. I’m going to be starving by the time this is over.”
“Mom, I don’t think we can go to lunch today.” Mom is always prepared to go to Golden Thai or J. Alexander’s or Sonobana after a doctor’s appointment. Those times are some of our best together.
We got to the fourth floor of the St. Thomas physicians’ building in time to witness some monstrous lightning through the plate glass windows just to the right of the check-in desks. The clerk beckoned us to approach from the rope-designated queue.
“If I get up and run,” she said, “It’s because the lightening scares me.”
“I’ll be right behind you,” Mom said.
You couldn’t run right now if Satan was closing in, I thought.
She must have read my mind.
“Hey, I’m pretty fast with Dolly,” she said in my direction. She gripped the Rollator’s handles and rolled back and forth a few inches. Prepared, she was.
Our visit with Dr. Dibble was uneventful. Change anti-inflammatory. Apply ice. Make an appointment two weeks out with the rheumatologist next door.
By the time we drove out of the patient parking garage, Nashville was, quite obviously, in the center of the storm. The weather woman on the radio said as much, too.
“Oooooo, I don’t like this,” Mom said.
“Yeah, I think I’ll just pull into this other garage right here and we can wait it out,” I said. I turned in, looped around the first level of vehicles, and parked facing the street in a space marked “Maintenance.”
“We’ll just sit here until it blows over,” I said. I turned the radio up a little.
“I’m really, really hungry,” Mom said.
“Well, I think I have a piece of string cheese in my purse,” I said. “You want that?”
“Yes. Let me have it.” She never asked why I might have a piece of string cheese in my purse.
I clicked on the map light and started the search through my crowded-but-well-organized purse.
“You can’t find it,” she said.
“Yes, I can,” I said. “See, here it is. It was hiding on the side.”
I handed it over.
“Do you want half?” she asked.
“No, I had some this morning,” I said. Mom didn’t ask why I was eating string cheese for breakfast.
She finished the little white stick in four bites and lifted my water bottle out of the cup holder to wash it down.
Why won’t you bring your own water? I thought. Just then, I remembered that I had tucked a protein bar into one of my purse pockets the day before. I started foraging for food a second time.
The radio said the storm was passing right over downtown Nashville, headed east. We were on the southwest fringe of downtown. I tried to get my directions straight in my mind.
“What are you looking for now?” Mom asked.
“I have a protein bar in here somewhere. I remember putting it in here yesterday.”
“Oh, good. I’m still hungry,” she said.
“Here it is! Okay,” I said, holding the four-inch bar in the air, “This is a peanut-caramel bar.”
She took the bar from my hand and opened one end.
The radio reported that a tornado had touched down in Cool Springs, about fifteen miles south. I guessed that had happened on its way to downtown.
As Mom raised the last of our food supply to her mouth, I stopped her.
“Mom, you have to give me half.”
“Oh. Well, okay.” She sounded surprised but she broke off almost half and handed it to me.
“This is good,” she said. “It’s like… it’s like a Baby Ruth.”
“There’s no chocolate in it. It’s just peanuts and caramel. It reminds me of those pecan logs we used to get at Stuckey’s,” I said.
The radio said that the storm was especially violent east of Nashville in Hermitage and Mt. Juliet. Son Jade and his new wife, Anjie, live in Mt. Juliet. But, I thought, he’s in Lebanon in his office and she’s in Smyrna in hers. I ran through the rest of the kids in my mind. John, Vicky, Jameson, Carly, Darrin, Dana… I said a silent prayer and then let go of them.
“It’s not pecans,” Mom said.
“Right. Okay, well, then maybe it’s more like a Payday,” I said.
“That’s it! It’s like a Payday!” she said. “I’m going to get me a Payday next time I go to Wal-Mart.”
She turned to face me. “Do they still make Paydays?” she asked.
“I think so,” I said. “I think I’ve seen them, like, in the checkout aisle.”
“I’m getting me a Payday,” she promised.
I’m sure you will, I thought, but I said, “Looks like the storm has pretty much passed by.”
“Are you sure? Because we can sit here however long it takes,” Mom said. “I wish you had another Payday.”
“Hey, did you know that if you eat that corn candy and popcorn together, it tastes like a Payday?” I asked.
“No, how did you happen upon that?” she asked.
“I think Matt Williams told us that one weekend when he and Kristy were visiting at John and Vicky’s,” I answered. “Must have been Halloween. Vicky always buys corn candy at Halloween.”
“I’ll have to try that. I always buy that corn candy,” she said.
“Alrighty then!” I said as I wheeled the van out onto West End. “Let’s go home!”
The radio reported 60,000 homes without electricity all around us. Does that mean Nashville, or does it mean Middle Tennessee? I wondered.
The first downed tree we encountered was just a couple of blocks on Woodmont Boulevard after our first turn. By taking turns, the traffic was moving around it in one lane.
The second was just another two blocks and it lay across the entire street. Cars were driving around the big root system onto one of the residential lawns.
“I’m not going to do that,” I said. “Look at the ruts already in their yard. Now it would make me mad if somebody drove through my yard like that.”
I turned right on the street adjacent to the corner lot, home to the fallen elm. And so began the navigation of a newly assembled maze. Trees were down all over the place. We dodged limbs, avoided dead-end cul-de-sacs, and backed into driveways to backtrack.
“Well, this is such a pretty area of town,” Mom said.
It is a pretty area of town, but it would have looked a lot better with all the trees rooted in the ground.
“I best call Dave,” I said. “There’s no telling when we’re going to get home.”
“So are you and Dad making it okay?” I asked when he picked up the phone.
“Oh, yeah, we’re in The Cellar. We brought Murphy down here when all the tornado sirens started going off.”
“I guess she’s okay?” I asked.
“As long as I’m holding her,” he said.
Then he added, “The power is out. We’re in the dark.”
“We’ll be home as soon as we figure out the path,” I said. “We are dodging all these trees that are down. Surely we’ll make it home in less than half an hour.”
“Do you have a battery operated radio down here anywhere?” he asked. “The power is out.”
“I know. I heard you. I don’t think I do. At least, right now I can’t think of where it would be,” I said.
It took an hour and a half to get from the hospital campus to home, a trip that usually takes twenty-five minutes. I dropped Mom off upstairs so that she could roll Dolly up the ramp into our den and walk across the sky bridge to the apartment. The lift would not be working if the power was off. I drove on down the hill to park the van outside—couldn’t open the garage door.
Dave met me inside The Cellar.
“Well, that sure took a while,” Dave said.
“I’m worn out,” I said. “That was like a jigsaw puzzle.”
“You hate puzzles,” he said. “Say, where is the flashlight that’s usually here on your desk?”
“It’s in that canvas bag on the floor, right beside the desk,” I answered.
“We needed that flashlight,” he said. “Could we just leave it on the desk?”
“Yes, except for when I need it for a Sunday school lesson,” I said.
“Huh?” he asked.
“Never mind,” I said. “Where’s Dad?”
“He went home with your mother,” he said. “Do you want to go over to visit?”
“Dave, I have been with Mom since noon. It’s after four o’clock. I am worn out. I just want to sit down.”
“Well,” he said, “I think we better go over there. Now I don’t want you to get upset and I don’t think you should tell your mother, but your dad had one of those spells and he fell off the stool.”
“What? Fell off the stool?” I asked. “Were you watching him?”
“Yes, I was watching him. He got tired of sitting on the couch and he got up and sat down on one of those stools at your work table. I guess he got that dizzy thing because the next thing I knew he was on the floor.”
“Did he hit his head or anything?”
“No, but it took forever for him to get up. I couldn’t get him up. I tried.”
“Then how did he get up?” I asked.
“He finally got up by himself. Just sort of rolled around in the floor and pushed and then pulled himself up on one of the chairs and the table.”
“Oh, good Lord,” I said. “Come on, let’s get over there. Where’s Murphy?”
“Oh, she went home with Grandpa,” he said.
We walked in the apartment sitting room to see Dad in his chair with a washcloth on his head, his preferred treatment of his spells. A lone candle burned in the middle of the coffee table. Murphy was curled up on the floor, close enough to Dad’s feet to rest her chin on his foot.
“So you fell off the stool, huh?” I said. It didn’t bother me to spill some kind of beans. “Did you hurt anything?”
“No, and your mom already knew,” he said. “I’m okay.”
“He told me,” Mom said.
“You’ll need to light some of these other candles,” Dave said. “You have a lighter?”
“No, I don’t think we do,” Mom answered.
“Matches?” I asked.
“I don’t know where any matches are,” she said.
“I’ll run next door and get you a lighter,” I said. “We have several.”
“We could turn on the gas on the stove and carry a flame from that,” Dad said. “You can cook on that gas stove, but now, you have to light it by hand.”
“So the starter is electric,” I said, and then I thought out loud, “so you still have to have either a lighter or some matches to light the stove.”
“Well, yeah,” Dad said.
I didn’t think to ask how they lit that one candle and it didn’t occur to me that we could have “carried a flame” from that candle to another. I trotted across the sky bridge, retrieved a Bic torch lighter from the kitchen and a book of matches from the bathroom, and returned to show Mom how to use the torch. She already knew, and she didn’t even have to use her sore index finger to start it up.
“I wonder if we should ice down some of the stuff in the refrigerator,” Dave said. “I’m thinking the electricity could be down for a while.”
“Yep. Good thinking. We need to check all three refrigerators,” I said. I forgot about the fourth one in Mom and Dad’s basement but then it rarely holds anything but big vats of pickles, dormant flower bulbs, and the occasional soft drink or beer.
“Mom, aren’t you supposed to put some ice on your finger?” I asked.
“I do, but I’m too tired to think about it right now. I’ll get up in a minute and get some ice,” she said.
“Think Wal-Mart is open?” Dave asked me. “Because we need to make a run. We have one bag of ice in the freezer and that’s not going to be enough for three coolers.”
“Anything you want from Wal-Mart, Ethel?” he asked Mom.
“Nope,” she said, “We’re good. I just want to rest.”
“You got your flashlights handy?” I asked her.
“I have this one,” she said, pointing to a red plastic flashlight on the table between her chair and Dad’s. “And I have one beside my bed and Dad has one beside his bed.”
“C’mon, Di. Let’s get out of their hair,” Dave said. “Let’s go to Wal-Mart.”
I got up off the couch and turned to Mom. “I’m sure that sorry dog will stay with you,” I said.
Dad took the washcloth off his head. “Don’t call Poodle Hound ‘sorry.’”
He looked down at our dog by his feet. “You just stay right here by Grandpa, Honey. Grandpa won’t let anything hurt you.”
She might have opened one eye.