Saturday, March 19, 2011

Get Me My Formica Hat

The news wasn't good on NPR. We were driving home in a hailstorm listening to speculation about radiation clouds emanating from Japan. The planet had made a little adjustment in its outerwear, as it must do--it doesn't mean anything by it--but the human consequences were devastating, and still unfolding. Finally Terry Gross's show came on, the hail let up, and we were just settling in to hear a very old man sing his own composition, "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," even though he had just died, when the Emergency Broadcast System began bleating away. It was not preceded by "this is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System." It just busted right in. My first reaction was to want to pull over to the right side of the road, but that was inappropriate, and we waited for the bleating to stop and tried to figure out which direction Japan was.

Then a man came on and said there was a severe thunderstorm warning for central Multnomah county and that everyone should take shelter inside a building and stay away from windows.

This still sounds pretty silly to a girl who grew up near Washington, D.C., where we had a severe thunderstorm every afternoon between 4pm and 4:30pm during the months of July and August. I always loved thunderstorms and never was afraid of them. They were so refreshing, and I would stand at the front door looking out and smelling the ozone and sticking my tongue against the wire screen in the door. I liked the taste of of wet screen door. "The littlest Brewster kid is licking the screen door again," I imagine our neighbors used to tell each other, but they're probably dead now. I don't know what sort of metals might have been in the screen that appealed to me so, but I don't think they were harmful. Shoot, in those days, our mothers used to scrub behind our ears with asbestos pads to get the lead paint off. We were made of stouter stuff and it didn't bother us a bit. We were made of stouter stuff and it didn't bother us a bit.

The storms were plenty loud, but I liked to go out in them. For a blessed half hour we could be drenched in seventy-degree water and begin to remember the point of living again. Then the sun would come back out and the steam would hover in the air and the thunder would rumble away in the distance like Satan cackling and our sweat would revert to an inert slime that nothing but a trip to Gifford's Ice Cream could compensate for.

Anyway, here in Portland we have thunder so infrequently that a little bout of it that sounds  like celestial indigestion will cause people to remark on it all the next day. A severe thunderstorm warning hardly seemed worth jumping up and down about. What the Emergency Broadcast System was really designed for, as we kids who grew up in the shadow of the Capitol well knew, was to warn us of an imminent nuclear strike. We practiced diving under our desks with our hands over our heads, utilizing our nation's primary defense, Formica.

But the last time we had a severe thunderstorm warning here, it knocked the scoff right out of me. It screamed down the valley bending trees parallel to the ground, which is especially impressive in Douglas fir country. Unanchored Chihuahuas vanished. Comb-overs were revealed. Bits of minced weatherman and other debris rocketed by. It was an emphatic sucker, and I was impressed. So this time we took shelter and stayed away from windows.

No matter what Dave might tell you, it's not my fault that the nearest shelter happened to be a fabric store, or that he was the only one with a wallet.

40 comments:

  1. Thank you for my morning laugh. As a prairie boy, born and bred, I loved thunderstorms, too. Had a couple near misses with lightning but close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and slow dancing. I did read that the reason lightning never strikes twice in the same place is that the same place ain't there the second time. A fabric store is a better place than a hardware store. all that metal would draw lightning, you know.

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  2. Yes, I also thank you for my morning chuckles. I love that picture of the two of you in a very wet compromised position. Ha! And worst of all, you are both smiling! :-)

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  3. I used to love those first fat raindrops that splatted on the hot pavement, I'd watch them land seperately, then join together and yield that fabulous steamy smell. Even better if we were down at the Shore and it mixed with the salty air.

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  4. Besides making me laugh, your post reminds me of the difference between the way we were raised and the way kids now are raised. We watched the first two episodes of Mad Men last night and I can see I'll enjoy watching it from the POV of a kid raised by those people. Big (but subtle) laughs at the kid standing there with the dry cleaning bag over her head, sucking it into her mouth, and being chastised by her mother about throwing the dry cleaning on the floor! I love being taken by surprise.

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  5. Beautiful picture of the clouds!

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  6. A friend's two kids wondered what would happen if they stood in a violent storm and smiled broadly. They both had massive orthodontic braces. Their mother had conniptions.

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  7. I love the picture of you on the bicycle! And the thought of the neighbors saying that. Ah, the things that define us.

    I live in the midwest so thunderstorms are a dime a dozen but I still adore them. I still remember how great they were when we'd come to Illinois to vist my grandmother and sleep in the upstairs bedroom with all the huge old windows open and the fan blowing on us. Thunderstorms were a treat because they cooled the air (briefly) and produced a light and sound show that held us captivated as it shook the house.

    Thanks for the giggle and the memory.
    ♥Spot

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  8. Bring me my formica hat,
    Bring me my arrows of desire....
    ,

    as William Blake sang. Or something like that. Yes, the lone doug firs are pretty scary when we do get a windstorm. The things are only designed to stand up to wind when they're in a nice thick forest. I'm all for leaving trees standing, when you can, but a single doug fir always makes me lick a finger to check the wind direction and do a little quick visualization of which houses will be crushed if it falls in that direction

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  9. It's good that you can find the humour in all this. It takes the edge off the reality of possible doom :) Nice photos.

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  10. "Unanchored Chihuahuas vanished. Comb-overs were revealed. Bits of minced weatherman and other debris rocketed by." Tom Robbins couldn't have described it better, Murr...well done!

    I don't mind thunderstorms, but I'm scared to death of wind (I spent my early years in Ohio - Tornado Alley!).

    Be safe!

    Wendy

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  11. I wonder what was in that wet screen door? My cooking is quite tasty and nutritious if I do say so myself but my kid used to sneak into the doggy kibble. ...

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  12. We get good thunderstorms in Ontario too, especially in lake country here, where they rumble and growl around the lakes like large angry bears. Sheet lightning is nothing but forked lightning - especially when it slams down in the woods across the road, shaking all the dishes - demands a certain respect. But wind is a whole different matter. I don't know what or why but in the last few years we've had some horrific winds accompanying the storms and they are deadly. We even get tornadoes now, unheard of years ago. As you say, Murr, these things knock the scoff right out of you.

    I'll never stop loving the smell of the pine woods after a rain, though. Freshest, cleanest fragrance in the world.

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  13. A good storm refreshes the air and the soul and gets the allergy count down so you can stop popping pills for a day or so. I grieve for the flying Chihuahuas.

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  14. Love the post. Thank you. And love the smell of the air after rain. Not big on thunderstorms. The largest cat and I are wimps. He velcroes his self to the carpet under the bed and I pretend to be brave. Probably only fooling him.

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  15. Does your formica hat go with your brown pants?

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  16. I remember those "duck and cover" drills.

    Nowadays, when there's a thunderstorm I duck and cover under my electric blanket which I have turned up to "mother."

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  17. We had that "major storm" in San Francisco last night, too. For about 15 minutes, like fame.

    I used to sneak outside during hurricanes on Long Island as a child, watching trees uproot themselves and fly into houses. Now those were real storms. There is nothing as clean and refreshing as the smell of ozone after rain.

    But how fortunate that there was a fabric store right in the path of danger, to save your lives.

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  18. Thunderstorms are super cool but Now Husband Dan is the ultimate fan. He runs outside, then runs in and gives me minute-by-minute bulletins.

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  19. Did Dave go inside? My husband would have lashed himself to a pole outside somewhere. Fabric stores give him "library disease"--claims we have to get out of there because he has to go to the bathroom.

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  20. I think a fabric store is a genius place to wile away the thunder!

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  21. Memories of thunderstorms in the central Indiana of my childhood. No one loved thunderstorms like my mother, and she especially longed to see a tornado, though she never did. I can still see her standing at our front door holding onto the open screen door while the muddy black clouds billowed overhead and the wind whipped her head band from her hair off into the storm. All the more impressive since she walked on crutches due to polio at an early age. I always thought she might go flying off like Dorothy and Toto. "If I say,'Go to the basement!' just DO IT!! Don't wait for me," she'd always tell us. though I never knew how I'd manage that one, fearing she really would be flown away like that helpless bando.

    Fearless she was. And with a model like that, how could I ever have been afraid of thunderstorms? Wasn't. I loved them and still do. She always said it was just the old man spilling his potatoes on the bridge. And it does sound that way if you listen.

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  22. Emergencies are the perfect time to discover something new -- or that you covet -- from a store. Lucky somebody had a wallet to shield you with!

    P.S. I used to lick the screen too. I still remember that metallic weirdness.

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  23. "We practiced diving under our desks with our hands over our heads, utilizing our nation's primary defense, Formica." Ahhahahha! Priceless! While I wouldn't say I "used" to lick the screen, I must have touched to my tongue to it at least once, but I do remember what it tastes like! I grew up in Syracuse, NY and used to love thunderstorms...until we moved to Ohio where they sounded the practice alarm for tornadoes the first monday of the month...Scared the love of thunderstorms right out of me! Then...imagine my surprise when we moved to PA and I heard the tornado drill alarm on the first Wednesday of the month!!! I started running around my apartment freaking out--looking out the window to see if the neighbors were panicking. Was that guy out back chopping wood deaf? Or was there no reason to panic? Turns out that's when they test the alrm for the nearby nuclear power plant. Whew!

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  24. Uh oh. Screen-lickers grow up to be Murrmurrs readers. It's more evidence.

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  25. From D.C. to Portland. And I went from Salt Lake to Harrisonburg, Virginia. (I have relatives in Portland, on my father's side; cousins.) You commented on my blog several days ago. Sorry I'm slow coming over to meet you. My brother passed away and that slowed me down. You commented on my Twitter post. I don't much like it. I'm not doing much with it, just flip in and out occasionally. I can't see the point, unless you want to look for links to follow, or find some new followers. Yes, I'm going to try to read bloggers books, and I would love to do the same for you--whenever!!

    We haven't had many thunderstorms in the past few years out here near D.C. I've always loved them, though.

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  26. The sound and smell of a rainstorm--gosh I want it to be summer here. Even if it gets violent.

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  27. Don't worry Murr. The thunderstorms are still a regular feature of DC summers. But thanks to climate change they happen daily starting in mid-May through mid-September. We actually just had a nice storm early this morning around 6:30. Thought my outside light was flickering. Stepped out on my porch and KA-BOOM!! (Thunder, that is...not the sound of me being zapped by lightening)

    My cats' attitudes during storms range from hyperventilating to shivering to minor ear twitching in the direction of thunder while they continue to groom themselves.

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  28. Oh my gosh. I was once a screen licker too and now I am a murrmurrs reader. How cool is that?

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  29. Our North Carolina summer storms were pants-wetters. Our house was surrounded by gigantic oak trees, any one of which would have driven our house into the ground like a pole driver.

    Every Saturday at noon, the Greensboro air raid siren would go through a full minute of practice drill all over the city. Those were pants-wetters, too.

    I turn sixty-three this week; I've got wet pants on the brain.

    And this post? You guessed it.

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  30. Happy birthday, Nance! If you've got wet pants on the brain, I think that makes you officially a Whiz Kid.

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  31. Ah, minced weatherman -- breakfast of champions, and afternoon tea highlight of Brit-wanna-be slackers. If your old neighbors had licked a screen door or two, they'd still be kickin', or at least, be only recently dead.

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  32. "celestial indigestion" -- I LOVE this phrase!It fits, oh-so-perfectly!

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  33. You had to find shelter, maybe next time you'll be closer to something he likes!

    My house got hit by lightning 13 times when I was growing up. I was scared to death of thunder storms. Thankfully, I now live in a place with working electrical connections that don't attract lightning (knock on wood). Sometimes I still hide under the covers!

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  34. Why are the local weather news segments on TV always called "Storm Tracker" or other such inflammatory term?

    If we had weather her like they do in Minnesota, our schools would only be open during the two week window on either side of Summer Vacation.

    (True note: having grown up in California, our grade school used to close and send kids home early IT IT RAINED! No kidding, "rainy day session" is what they used to call it.

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  35. From D.C. to Portland. And I went from Salt Lake to Harrisonburg, Virginia. (I have relatives in Portland, on my father's side; cousins.) You commented on my blog several days ago. Sorry I'm slow coming over to meet you. My brother passed away and that slowed me down. You commented on my Twitter post. I don't much like it. I'm not doing much with it, just flip in and out occasionally. I can't see the point, unless you want to look for links to follow, or find some new followers. Yes, I'm going to try to read bloggers books, and I would love to do the same for you--whenever!!

    We haven't had many thunderstorms in the past few years out here near D.C. I've always loved them, though.

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  36. Memories of thunderstorms in the central Indiana of my childhood. No one loved thunderstorms like my mother, and she especially longed to see a tornado, though she never did. I can still see her standing at our front door holding onto the open screen door while the muddy black clouds billowed overhead and the wind whipped her head band from her hair off into the storm. All the more impressive since she walked on crutches due to polio at an early age. I always thought she might go flying off like Dorothy and Toto. "If I say,'Go to the basement!' just DO IT!! Don't wait for me," she'd always tell us. though I never knew how I'd manage that one, fearing she really would be flown away like that helpless bando.

    Fearless she was. And with a model like that, how could I ever have been afraid of thunderstorms? Wasn't. I loved them and still do. She always said it was just the old man spilling his potatoes on the bridge. And it does sound that way if you listen.

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  37. We had that "major storm" in San Francisco last night, too. For about 15 minutes, like fame.

    I used to sneak outside during hurricanes on Long Island as a child, watching trees uproot themselves and fly into houses. Now those were real storms. There is nothing as clean and refreshing as the smell of ozone after rain.

    But how fortunate that there was a fabric store right in the path of danger, to save your lives.

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  38. Beautiful picture of the clouds!

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  39. Besides making me laugh, your post reminds me of the difference between the way we were raised and the way kids now are raised. We watched the first two episodes of Mad Men last night and I can see I'll enjoy watching it from the POV of a kid raised by those people. Big (but subtle) laughs at the kid standing there with the dry cleaning bag over her head, sucking it into her mouth, and being chastised by her mother about throwing the dry cleaning on the floor! I love being taken by surprise.

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