We knew it was going to be a rough night. There were pictures of red mornings all over Facebook, and besides, Bree Smith on Channel 5 said so. The rain started in the early evening, we went to bed, and then the weather sirens blew, all the phones sounded the alarms, and we turned on the TV where Meteorologist Kikki Dee was saying “Go to your safe place…”
I swapped my pajama bottoms for a dirty pair of cargoes and headed over to wake up Mama. See, we all gather downstairs in The Cellar, the efficiency apartment where I used to write and cook and sew. Now Neil lives there. We knew he’d be upstairs shortly to herd us down, and he was. Dave told him we were headed down.
Mama used to go down the stairs from our den to The Cellar. She can’t do that anymore, so I knew we had to get her down the lift. When I got to her bedroom, she was ready to go–except for having any clothes on. Actually, she did. She was wearing her red metallic Easy Spirits. I dressed her in a clean gown, grabbed her robe, and got her to her walker, and she began a slow trek to the lift. God bless that lift!
Dave took Dixie and headed to our safe place. Neil was at the ready.
I turned on the lights in the elevator and edged Mom in. She sat on her walker, and I pushed the button.
I said, “I didn’t get my bra on, but I’ve got it tucked into my pants.”
She looked up at me. “I didn’t even have time to get my dentures.”
“Yeah,” I said, “we’re a sight.”
We were about a foot from the floor in The Study when the electricity went out.
“Uh, oh,” she said.
“Hmmm,” I said, “I wonder how the battery kicks in.”
I felt around the outside. Nothing there. “I better call Dave.”
The storm raged.
“We’re stuck,” I told him.
“We’re stuck in the lift. How does the battery kick in?”
“I think it should come on automatically when the electricity goes off.”
I could hear Neil in the background. “I’m headed that way.”
Here he came with a flashlight. I guess he had to prove to himself that we were, indeed, hold up in the lift. He looked around for access to the battery.
“Don’t worry about Dave and Dixie. They’re socked in over there. Dave said he was going to take Dixie out. I said, ‘No, you’re not. You stay right here.'”
“Oh, my goodness,” Mom said.
The storm raged harder.
He tried to open the door. No, there is a safety on that door to keep it from opening to spill its contents onto the concrete floor in my study. Probably a good idea.
“I’m going to get some wrenches and try to get the door off.” He ran out the door to my dad’s old tool bench in the garage, the garage containing my study.
My mother asked, “Are we about half up or half down?” Her inflection asked me to choose between the two.
I peered at her through the dark. “We’re about a foot from the ground.”
“Oh.” She seemed satisfied–and she didn’t seem to hear the storm as it came closer and closer.
Neil loosened screws, dropped them, pried, pulled, all with no success in loosening the door.
“Maybe you should just throw us some cushions from the couch,” I told him.
“Maybe I should just call the fire department,” he said.
“Yeah, I guess so,” I told him.
He walked back to the garage and I heard both him and the dispatcher talking.
After getting the correct address, she asked him, “Is this a house or apartment?”
“It’s a house,” he said.
I yelled, “It’s the APARTMENT!”
She asked him the nature of the emergency.
“I’ve got two elderly ladies stuck in an elevator.” (I made a mental note to speak to him about his definition of elderly.)
I yelled, “Wheelchair lift!”
“Are they cognizant and breathing?”
“Oh, yes, they’re breathing,” he said.
“Are they having any difficulty?”
“Well, yeah, I guess they might be having a little trouble breathing. I mean, they’re stuck in an elevator.”
I yelled, “It’s a wheelchair lift!”
“Do we need to send the paramedics?” she asked.
“Noooooo!” I yelled.
He kept talking. “They need to come through a garage door, so I’ll have it open for them. How long you think this will take?”
The storm whirred overhead and I heard crackling and something falling, it seemed like on Nolensville Road, about a quarter-mile away.
Neil called from the garage, “You hear that tree crack?”
I heard him open the garage door manually.
“Yes. Neil, you need to get out there to meet them so they know where to go.” (I mean, we still get lost from each other in The Compound, and I wasn’t sure these would be firemen who had been here before, even though we’ve had the full assortment from the stations on the South side of Nashville.)
Neil came back in The Study and said, “They should be here pretty soon. I think we just heard the worst of it pass.”
“Yeah,” I said, “I believe so. Sounds like something hit a couple streets over.”
He paused to take a picture of Mom and me in the lift. We all laughed.
“Oh, good grief, Neil,” I said.
“Don’t worry, Grandma, I only got the back of your head. Oh, I think I hear them.”
He called out from the driveway, “Yeah, right here!”
The fire truck moved a bit. Surely they didn’t drive into the driveway with that monstrosity. I still don’t know if they did.
“Right through here. I’ve got one ninety-year-old in there. The other is a young seventy-two.”
Yeah, he knows, I thought to myself. He’s trying to redeem himself.
“Are they okay?”
A good-looking fireman with a big white moustache (We’ll call him Sam Elliott) stuck his head in and then out again.
“Oh, no,” Mom said, “He got a look at us and he’s leaving.”
He came back in with two buddies. I recognized Sam Elliott and a young one with almost the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen (Leonard DiCaprio with short hair.) Leonardo spoke first. “Oh, man, I was fearing a lot worse than this,” he said.
“Yeah, you thought it was an enclosed elevator, didn’t you?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s what would be a lot worse.”
Leonardo said, “The worst of the storm has passed. We came from Antioch and had to dodge trees down across Old Hickory Boulevard and then trees down on side streets, and Nolensville Road has some power poles down.”
“Yeah, we heard it,” I said.
Sam Elliott and Neil talked. “What we have to do is get this door loose.”
“I tried,” Neil said. “I think I’ve loosened everything that can be loosened. It must be the magnetic lock assembly.”
Fireman #2 (I never got a good look at him) relayed that message to the others. I think he suggested a crowbar.
Nooooooo, I thought. Thousands of dollars ran through my mind. Nooooooooo.
Sam Elliott spoke to Mom. “What’s your name, Ma’am? Your last name.”
“Blair. Ethel Blair,” she said.
“Mrs. Blair, don’t worry. We’re going to get you out of there.”
“I’m not worried,” she said.
Neil asked if we needed water or anything.
Much discussion continued, and many wrenches changed hands. Neil ran back and forth, here and yon, and found exactly what they needed. Sam and #2 were able to get to the “inside screws.”
“Almost,” #2 promised.
And then they all cheered.
Neil had already set up a ladder in case they had to get in the lift to get Mom out. He took that down and set up a step-stool. Sam Elliott said, “What we need is a little stool.”
Neil came running with a Rubbermaid kitchen stool, the perfect thing.
Leonardo hadn’t been too active in the rescue, but he was fine to look at. He helped #2 open the lift door. He invited me to step out and down. First, I had to get by Mom, and that took a little bit.
Both took Mom under her arms. Sam Elliott told Leonardo, “We’re going to have to lift her down. She can’t step down that far.”
“Mrs. Blair,” Sam said, “We’re going to lift you down to the stool. Can you stand on it?”
“Yes,” she said.
“No,” I said.
Her feet barely touched the stool as they got her feet on the floor and guided her to the wheelchair that Neil had provided.
“Is everybody okay?” Sam asked. “Can you handle it from here?”
“I’ll take care of them,” Neil said.
The three of us gave our gratitude.
One of them said, “It was our pleasure.”
Thank God for first responders. Thank God the lift made it almost to the floor. Thank God for Neil.
Just as they got through the garage door, Mom said, “They can come get me any time. Whew.”
Neil and I both laughed. “Grandma!” he said.
“I can still look!” she said.
Thank God for first responders. Thank God the lift made it almost to the floor. Thank God for Neil. (Neil is handsome, too.)