Sunday, September 4, 2011

Goodnight Irene, an American Standard & New England Blues

By Laura Spinella

I should have listened to Mother. She’s waited 40 plus years for those words, so I’m guessing this is a banner day for her. My mother is 80 plus, sharper than most people half her age, and spends a lot of time keeping vigil over the weather. Mother is particularly tuned into areas of the country where her children and grandchildren live. She can give you up to the minute forecasts on expected spikes in humidity, as well as the wind shears you might experience at your local airport.
Last Saturday, she warned me. She said Irene was headed north with a projected path that would, in fact, encompass my stretch of Massachusetts. She was not alone in this prediction with any Boston weather person and state-of-the-art computer models backing her up. But living in New England, a place where the last hint of snow departed the Stop & Shop parking lot around Memorial Day, I was not impressed. Hurricanes, when they arrived this far north, wreaked havoc on Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod, maybe the South Shore. Past experience said the big story would be four inches of Tom Nevers private beachfront lost, a place I will never visit. Of course, there’d be a human interest piece centering on some idiot who thought it would be fun to outwit Mother Nature and ride the wave. He’d wash ashore a few days after the storm, and that would be the brunt of Irene’s wrath. While I didn’t plan on taking a swim, I also couldn’t be bothered. I was knee deep in revisions for THE IT FACTOR, and I had Red Sox tickets for Saturday’s game—an entire day before Irene was set to arrive. I didn’t take it as a hint, but more of an inconvenience when they cancelled Sunday’s game, squishing mine into a doubleheader. Mother was not pleased, positive that I should be making preparations, stocking up on batteries, if not powdered milk.
“It will be a little wind and rain, Mother, here and gone five or ten years before I am desperate enough to drink powdered milk.”
“Fine,” she replied. “Have a nice time at your baseball game.”
Mother never did care much for sports.
Everything was fine. We were amused by the band on Yawkey Way, replacing Sweet Caroline with a one-time rendition of Goodnight Irene. We had seats under the grandstand, so when 7th inning sprinkles began to fall we were content and dry. Come the 8th inning, they called a rain delay. The score being nine to three, we decided to head home. Somewhere along Boylston Street, the sprinkle turned into a downpour, and I did mention to my husband that I had no idea the left lane of the Mass Pike could flood so quickly. But it was just rain, a lot of rain far into Sunday morning. I was actually pleased when I got up, glad to see a pesky kitchen ceiling leak was finally conquered. “Would you look at that!” I said to Matt. “Not even Irene could infiltrate your patch job!” Satisfied, I retreated to the bedroom, laptop in hand. It was raining harder and the wind took on the look of a real Nor’easter, which was fine with me. Writing in bad weather is my zone. I had just settled into that elusive place, the one where words morph into some sort of original and cohesive order, when cohesiveness became a problem. From the corner of my eye, a wall of black flapped against the window and disappeared. While the Grim Reaper jumped to mind, I dismissed it. Surely that would include searing pain or the telltale life flashing before your eyes. Neither was present. The wind gusted again, this time in less of a Nor’easter fashion and more like pre Oz. The rising wall of black was the flat roof that topped our sunroom, visible from the bedroom window. Still, I wasn’t particularly disturbed. It’s an old house—vintage—it’s a vintage house if you’re looking buy. Anyway, a few minutes later, Matt was on the roof with a cement block, pinning down the corner. It was fine.
With all decent concentration lost, I headed downstairs. Passing by a window, I did stop to marvel at the flexibility of oak trees; I’d no idea they could bend at a forty-degree angle. For another twenty minutes we went about our business while Irene went about hers. Pissed off bitch, that was my conclusion as a violent swish shuddered through the house. Everybody looked in different directions, thinking downed tree or flying porch furniture. It could have been anything, but it turned out to be the sunroom roof, now a projectile, landing on the front patio. And what did I hear next? I heard the one thing any dismissive daughter would. I heard Mother. “I told you so!” We spent the next hour communing with Irene via our sunroom roof, or what was left of it. A fast layer of tarpaper was no match, eventually dragging the pool cover to the roof and securing it with cement blocks. Human flagpoles, that’s what we were, standing twenty feet off the ground in seventy mile an hour winds. Forget the rain, I now have an inkling of what it is to be lost at sea, water slapping from every direction, so much so that you couldn’t see a rescue chopper if it hovered overhead. As it was, I expected our giant pine tree to impale us with one of its many jagged branches. Eventually, we secured the roof and congratulated each other on how we braved Irene and won—or at least managed. What we didn’t consider was that, by then, Irene had made her way into the sunroom. Aptly renamed the rain-room, we proceeded to gather towels and buckets, sopping up the mess. An hour into that, just as we sliced the last hole in blistered ceiling paint, like draining an abscess, the lights went out. Okay, not totally unexpected at this point. My sister, on Long Island, also lost power and we played cell tag, betting who might get theirs back first. I thought it would be a slam dunk win for me. It was not to be. On Monday she phoned to gloat, standing in her well lit kitchen, cooking at her stove, making use of the cold items in her refrigerator. Power here only came by way of prayer, the National Grid variety unavailable for another four days. So what was the lesson in the wake of Irene? Well, as people like say after mid-grade car accidents and weather like this, “Just be glad everyone was okay.” I suppose that’s true, but I think my message was more personal: If you’re not going to listen to your weather person, at least listen to your mother.


  1. Laura, I'm sorry you were hit so badly by the storm, but I have to say, I LOVE this post!! You are so funny and truly one of the greatest story-tellers!

  2. Sounds like a nightmare. At least you didn't have to drink powdered milk. Ick!

  3. Living outside of New Orleans, and having experienced Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav, I found myself head-nodding my way through your post.

    Though, I would have felt as doubtful as you about Irene had someone warned me an earthquake would happen in Louisiana.

    Loved the line about the flexibility of oak trees. On one hand, a hurricane is an amazing performance by Mother Nature. Until you realize you're on stage with her.

    Relieved to read that the pine tree didn't impale you because it surely is capable of such. Sorry to read about your new rain room, which I hope by now isn't a moldy mess.

    This hurricane season, I might be tuning in to your mother myself instead of the Weather Channel.

  4. Thanks, Jill!! I guess the post was one of those make lemonade situations! Karin, I believe Mother keeps a supply of powdered milk on hand, always prepared! Christa, sounds like you know your hurricanes! Well, if we could take one for the team and save you folks another hurricane hit, that would be great! However, I don't think Mother Nature's on board with that plan!

  5. Laura, I have to say it...I'm glad y'all are okay!!! Natural disasters are no fun (in fact, they're downright scary!). Sorry about your sunroom...uh, your rainroom. I hope everything's getting fixed and back to normal. I'd be fine if there were no more tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, whatever, for a long, long while. I think everyone's had enough of all of that lately. Hugs!

  6. Oh, Laura!!
    So glad you and the family are all right... That must have been a frightening storm. Thinking of you all out on the East coast.

  7. Sorry you were hit so hard. But I'm glad you are okay. Lived down South for a stint, and do NOT miss hurricanes. Hang in there, and great post.

  8. Laura, we too had a week without power and a lot of damage in our town. So could you please put me on your mother's list? I'd like her to warn me next time too:). xo Lucy

  9. Susan, sure seems like your neck of the woods gets it worse than we do,guess it was our turn. Marilyn, Thanks for the good wishes, all is fine. Hi, Sandra, thanks for checking in! And, yes, my daughter down South just had a tornado warning today! Lucy, no problem. Mother is always happy to take names (-;