By Eve W. Engle

The dogs rule in our house. They are fed first, allowed in our bed, have their own bed in the guest room and sneak up onto the sofas when we aren't looking. Maxie, short for Maximus, is a Golden Retriever/Great Pyrenes mix, Sammy is a Black Lab/Border Collie mix. His full name is Samuel L. Jackson after one of my favorite actors. Both were abused and rescued from their former owners. They get cookies every morning.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sanctuary from the Storm

Last Saturday my middle son and I dared to cross the great divide to reach T-Town. For anyone who is not a native Alabamian that means we left War Eagle Country for Bama Country and Tuscaloosa, the location of The University of Alabama. If you are still confused it means you aren't a football fan and the references don't matter. The point is, I was returning my son to graduate school after his holiday break.

The weather was nasty. The air was full of rainy drizzle and the sky was a depressingly monochromatic shade of gloomy befitting our moods. The end of the holiday break is always a bit depressing anyway, add a little gloom and you have a the perfect mix for a post-holiday funk. Then add a poor lunch stop decision and a standing still interstate (with no idea of how long a delay due to a wreck) and a girl just wants to throw a hissy fit, the only redeeming factor being the company which you are keeping.

After three and a half hours I dropped the kid (he's 28, hardly a 'kid') at his apartment in T-Town and headed out to our home in the country. Windy Hill is a nonworking farm with a mysterious looking house half hidden by overgrown azaleas, rambling roses on a chain link fence, and a giant magnolia tree. Even if you are lucky enough to know the owner there is still a protocol you must endure in order to acquire admittance. But once inside, the house is a refuge of esthetic overload, fine food, drink, reading material, and conversation. On Saturday there was none of the above. I was only there long enough to drop off my bags, and the kid's laundry, pet the two doggies on the head, race to the bathroom, and head right back out.

My mother wanted to brave the elements and drive back to town to purchase a new mattress. When my mother has a single minded purpose you either go along or you get out of the way. She knew what she wanted, just not exactly where to find it. After reviewing two newspaper flyers we chose one and headed back into town. We were on a mission.

The original plan was to look the mattresses over and compare, but time and the elements influenced our decision to go to the first place we came to, which was probably the better choice anyway. Their flyer was nicer. We stepped inside and were a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of giant marshmallow white mattresses and boxed springs confronting us. The saleswoman was jovial and immediately called my mother "sweetheart". Usually not a good sign. My mother does not care for false affection. But this young woman seemed to be all heart. She was very informative. My mother lay down on several mattresses and encouraged me to do the same. She was a bit overwhelmed. I was entertained.

Memory foam is fascinating. I found myself poking, prodding, sitting and jumping up quickly to see how fast the mattress would recover. I giggled. I dug my hand as deep as possible into the 'example'. "This stuff is awesome!" I burst out. The young man behind the desk found that statement (and probably the fact that I am too old for such juvenile exclamations) amusing. He grinned. After all the poking and bouncing and sitting, my mother made a decision and the transaction was finalized.

Good grief.

Even the sale price was atrocious. But the guarantee should see her through at least 10 years. And she got one that raises and lowers both the head of the bed and the foot. She was happy. I was envious. My mattress is a 20 year old nightmare hosting a love nest of dust mites. We said our 'ta-tas' and headed out into the dark to go get the kid for dinner and to head back out to Windy Hill. Then, my mother turned the key of her new car.

There was a funny sound. "RrrrrrAhhhhRrrr".

"What was that?", she asked cutting off the ignition.

"I don't know."

"This is a new car, and it shouldn't be making that sound."

"I don't see any indicators on the dash that you have trouble. Try it again.", I said.

She turned the ignition again. "RrrrrrAhhhhRrrr". We rolled down the windows to better hear the engine.

"That's a siren." we both said at the same time. The timing with the ignition had been spot on.

"What do we do?", she asked.

"Go back into the store and find out what's going on.", I answered.

Just what we needed. A tornado warning in Tuscaloosa. And we were in the precise location of the 'big one' that hit in 2011. Just lovely. My thoughts went to my son on the second floor of his apartment building. I called him. "Tornado warning.", he answered calmly. He was watching The Weather Channel.

"We're still at the mattress store. You're on the second floor," I stated the obvious, "do what you have to do. We'll be there as soon as we figure out what's happening."

Inside the store both clerks were on their phones. Our saleswoman was talking to her mother. The young man next to her informed us all that the T-Mobile next door was closing. That explained why a family with young children were frantically running out from the T-Mobile store and jumping into an SUV as we had been sitting in our own vehicle. We approached the service desk. "It's a tornado warning for the southwest corner of Tuscaloosa County," our saleswoman said a she disconnected from her mom, "and we aren't closing."

The young man promptly disappeared through the 'employees only' door. Our saleswoman handed us her phone so we could see the squall line ourselves. "You're welcome to come into the back of the store with us."

Hmmmm. Memories of the devastated area four years ago flooded my head. My mother refused for the same reason. I looked up to hand back the phone but the woman had also disappeared. My eyes went back to the squall line on the tiny screen.

"Let's go get the kid and go home.", I said, heading for the back to return the phone. We could avoid the worst if we went north and then west toward home. And so we did.

The drive back to Windy Hill was long, through torrential rain, lightning, and thunder . We were passed by multiple emergency vehicles along the way. Something had happened on the highway, and for a while we weren't sure if it would block our exit. Whatever it was turned out to be on the opposite side so we were able to make our way through the county down our old road, and eventually to the house and sanctuary. It poured and thundered around us but we were safe and warm.

Outside on the back porch two orange tabby cats huddled, obviously miserable. My mother tried to feed them, but instead a beautiful young opossum appeared. The cats looked on with disgust as the little fellow with a very pink nose and little pink feet knocked over the bowl and devoured their food. We watched through the window in awe.

"It's a baby. I've never seen him before. The opossum that usually eats the cat's food is bigger." my mother said. Living in the country guarantees wild encounters but I found her statement amusing. The cats never tried to defend their food. They watched too.

The next morning was still. Pools of water lay across the grounds behind the house. Looking up I noticed a kettle of vultures (or 'buzzards' as we call them) circling over the northeast field. Not good, I thought. I went for my 'wellies' knowing I would need them to get around the swampy ground. My son came with me. Fearing a downed coyote or deer we trekked around the fencing to reach the area. By the time we made our way around the birds were down. We couldn't see them, or what it was they were turning into their breakfast. Thankfully it was on the other side of the tree line. On the way back to the house we discussed planting an orchard on the hill where we were walking. The storm was over and it was time to think about planting and harvesting. All was right with our world.


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