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Life is what happens when you're making other plans

So-o-o-o, I had a completely different blog written for this week, but it will have to wait until another time. It turns out, I have a little chapter from my own story to share. After all, art imitates life, right? Apologies for not posting this on Monday as usual. I do have a pretty good excuse though…

On Monday morning, 2020 threw another doozy into the mix for us.

A derecho is a hurricane-like storm with extensive straight-line winds, unlike the abrupt and twisting nature of a tornado.

When we woke up, we had no idea it was coming. I took the dogs for an early walk before it got too hot, then took my eldest to the dentist for a checkup. All in all, a pretty normal start to the day.

When we arrived home, a storm watch alert pinged on our phones, but I was unconcerned. In Iowa, thunderstorms are a regular occurrence in summer. Most bad weather passes north of our home and just misses us by a few miles. My teenager had planned to see a friend in the afternoon when the so-called “storm” had passed, and I started making my grocery list for late-morning shopping.

Just as I grabbed my keys to go, the tornado sirens went off, but they do that for any dangerously strong winds, not specifically tornadoes only. There was no tornado warning on my phone, and the radar suggested the storm was moving north, as usual, so I kept going, thinking I could absolutely handle some wind and rain on the outer edge of the storm. Hubby told me he was taking the boys and pets down to the tornado shelter, and I jokingly said I would take a photo of the non-existent tornado for him! (Keep in mind, two years ago — almost to the day — my husband experienced a level three tornado first-hand, hence his very real concern.)

Outside, the sky was black, and I actually felt excited that something was happening to lift the monotony of those Corona months at home. I parked at the grocery store and then stood outside to watch the clouds roll over. It was a bit like that scene in Neverending Story when "The Nothing" consumes Fantasia... Except those clouds were moving really fast, like film that had been sped up. Then swirling dust began to sting my eyes and it started raining. I went inside to avoid getting wet. And the storm hit.

This particular store has a policy where the packing clerks take the cart to your car and help you pack. Two customers chose this moment to leave, which I thought rather foolish, going straight into that storm! Couldn't they wait it out 20 minutes? And those poor packers, trailing after them obediently…!

A packer I am friendly with, who must be close to 70 years old, came back from providing this cart service, saying he had been unable to steer the now-empty cart properly because it had become airborne! While the storm raced across the Midwest, wind gusts locally reached speeds of more than 80 mph...

With the last two shoppers hurrying off, it was just me and all the store employees in the eerily empty business. Insipid elevator-type music played in jarring contrast to the storm tearing at trees outside. It was surreal.

Well, I figured, 'might as well buy those groceries now while there was still a roof on the building!

Hubby phoned to check that I was safe. They were snug in the tornado shelter in the basement, with the lights going on and off as the power was failing.

Suddenly, I regretted seeking adventure in town. But not for the reasons you might think. You see, here I was, listening to muzak and buying toilet rolls, when my family was having real thrills at home! Together! With my eldest leaving for college in a week, it would have been quite special to sit snuggly with him and the rest of the family and our pets in the little safe house in the basement with the pending power failure creating disco lights!

I sulked. And finished shopping. And went home to pack away the groceries.

That's when I discovered that our two maple trees in the front yard had lost massive branches, each as big as a small tree. It broke my heart. I do so love trees. And these particular specimens had grown significantly this summer -- always an encouraging sight.

I dragged the fallen remains of my arboreal friends off the grass and onto the driveway, mourning the loss of their luxurious growth and how the integrity of the remaining trees would now suffer in future storms, being weakened by the damage to their trunks. I was still standing in this stricken way, when my neighbor spontaneously came over with his hand-saw, ready to help me process the thicker branches and stack them out of the way. Iowans make truly lovely neighbors!

But there was far-reaching damage that a kind-hearted neighbor could not lessen. Across Iowa, grain silos were crushed, corn fields flattened, all just a few weeks before harvest was due.

Now, twelve hours after the storm hit the Midwest, more than a hundred thousand homes are without power in Iowa alone, our household among them. It will take many days to restore power to everyone, and we have no idea where our turn will be in that process.

However, being South African, we are well acquainted with power failures, so we are not easily discouraged. I have simply gone around the house, placing torches in strategic points, ready for sundown, while my husband has dug out all our various batteries and charger packs from their hiding places in drawers throughout the house.

Fortunately, being summer, we don't mind cold sandwiches and salad for supper. (And I made some tea using candle power…) There is just the concern about all our food spoiling. After all, I have just bought groceries....

Still, there is always a silver lining: with no electricity and very limited internet through data, my family have put down their devices, and sat on the deck in the calm of the evening, chatting, and watching a hummingbird sip from our nectar feeder.

Maybe in the middle of the night, the house will come weirdly alive, as forgotten lights and appliances come back on. Maybe the morning will bring new challenges, such as whether to invest in a small portable generator or waste just as much money on spoiled food. Either way, it is strangely comforting to know that even this new curve ball does not rob us of joy and contentment unless we let it. To quote the well-known phrase from Galaxy Quest: “Never give up! Never surrender!”

Although, being able to do the laundry again will be nice. :-)

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