you say tornado, i say get thee to the basement

It’s 1am and I’m hunkered down in the basement of my home. A few minutes ago, our mobile phone alarms sounded off before blasting out the news of a tornado warning in our area. This was quickly followed by another round of alarms and news of a flash flood warning in effect for our area.

This seems like a tricky situation, right? A catch-22. A cosmic joke, really. The basement is the first place we go to take cover for a tornado but the last place we’d go for a flood.

tornado on body of water during golden hour
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Nevertheless, here I am in the basement, waiting it out, writing my daily post.

Prior to this, the closest brush I had with a tornado was when I was a pre-teen. I lived with my parents in an upstairs flat. There was no basement to go to so we watched the skies turn green from the bedroom window. That’s all I remembered other than the aftermath of upended trees throughout the neighborhood.

While waiting in the basement this morning, my sister revealed that I had blocked out a crucial memory of the childhood event. Apparently, the tornado caused the massive tree in the front yard to topple onto the building we were living in. The tree blocked the stairwell, trapping us in the apartment. Dad had to climb over the downed tree to find help removing the obstacle.

Strangely enough, the knowledge of this lost memory disturbs me more than the threat of a tornado outside.

*    *    *

I’ve left the basement now that the storm has passed. All is safe here. I feel especially lucky but curious to know what else I might have forgotten.

the jampot

I’ve been thinking a lot about the region where I went to school. My husband and his longtime friend have been there for the past few days. It’s in the Keweenaw Peninsula in the northern part of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The region juts into Lake Superior. It’s hilly, wild, loaded with waterfalls, and has a beautiful old growth forest that I found haunting (in the best of ways). It’s one of the best places in the country to see the trees change color in the fall. I could go on and on with this list but you get the idea. It’s paradise.

clear glass mason jar with red jelly
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One of my favorite activities was driving along roads US 41 and M26 between Hancock and Copper Harbor. Aside from the breathtaking views, one of the unusual must-stop spots is a place called The Jampot, outside of Eagle Harbor. It’s a small shop on the side of the road that sells baked goods, confections, and jams all made and sold by Byzantine monks. (Their rum-soaked Jamaican black cake is one of my favorite things on planet Earth.)

I’ve been trying to get a better handle on what it is that draws me to the place and why I wanted to write about it. It’s snugged into a swath of trees and situated close to a waterfall. (Nature girl satisfied.) Their products are divine. (We’ve all gotta eat.) I love seeing the monks with their long beards and black robes quietly, serenely working. (Robin Hood fantasy fulfilled. Mostly.) It’s unexpected. (Byzantine monks selling fruitcake next to a waterfall in the middle of nowhere? Come on!)

Mostly, I miss the entire region so writing about it allows me to imagine I’m there again.

Another thing that’s wonderful about The Jampot and associated monastery is something I never knew until recently. While I assumed that proceeds from the store supported the monastery, I only recently learned that a big part of their mission is to promote the arts. (Honey, bring home TWO Jamaican black cakes!)

They describe beauty, whether in nature or through the creative works of humans, as a path to the divine. I completely buy into that. Knowing their attitude toward the arts will make their cake taste all the better.

i hated people when the world was nice

A few decades ago, whenever I found myself feeling frustrated about something someone did or said, I tended to declare that “I hate people!” Mainly, I declared this to friends: friends who continued being friends despite my many declarations of hate. (I was a ball of frustration at that time.)

I’d forgotten about that hate-spoutin’ phase until recently when I saw a few social media friends write that they hated people. Seeing those comments served as a time machine into my psyche.

adult art caution cold
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What a strange contradiction: to hate people even as I loved, or at least tolerated, them.

I didn’t believe I literally hated people. And I don’t believe my friends hate people now; Most of the folks I know are generous and loving. So, what was this ‘hate’ thing really about and how did I come to stop slinging it around?

It all comes down to my use of the word, ‘nice’. Bear with me on this…

I recognized a disconnect between describing a former boss as a ‘nice’ guy, and his shady business practices. This helped me see what the word ‘nice’ was for me: a meaningless, lazy, go-to descriptor that I bandied about without thinking.

alphabets communication conceptual description
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Seeing that, I vowed to eradicate ‘nice’ from my vocabulary. This forced me to thoughtfully consider the people, places, and things I wanted to more accurately describe. My boss, for example, became charming, polite, soft-spoken, gentle-mannered, and crooked as the day is long.

The new practice made previously anemic compliments impactful. I would no longer quickly say, “He’s a nice guy.” Instead, I’d take a moment to think about the person. If I liked them, what was it about them that I liked? “He’s a nice guy” became something more to the tune of “He’s thoughtful, caring, intelligent, and funny. He’s the kind of guy who’s worth letting your guard down for.”

Likewise, insults became more accurate and complete. “What a jerk” doesn’t say nearly as much as “He wouldn’t know manners if they pissed on him.”

When I got away from lazy thinking and language, I more carefully considered the world I experienced. My perception of the world changed as a result. It became a richer, more vibrant, and more nuanced world. It was no longer the two-dimensional, black and white, lifeless place that ‘nice’ and words like it made it out to be. My new world popped and hummed. It danced in technicolor. My perceptions and feelings finally grew up.

money and memories in a small town

My dad’s family reunion meets every year at my uncle’s place on the weekend closest to Independence Day. We’ve been doing that since he purchased the property over 25 years ago. He has an old tobacco farm on the outskirts of a town of 47 people. The town has an antiques store, a post office, and a combination three-pump gas station and general store. There used to be a bank but it shut down a few years ago. That building now serves as the county’s repository for genealogical and historical society records. Money replaced by memories.

Any supplies beyond the basics and any hope for income has to be had in a larger town, the closest being 20 miles away (about 11 miles as the crow flies), through white-knuckle, 2-lane twisting, hilly roads the locals treat like a speedway. It takes more than half an hour of nervous-breakdown driving to get into the larger town of 2,500 people. Of course the scenery is gorgeous but hard to enjoy while experiencing a driving-induced psychic break.

(I might be exaggerating.)

road to busters

Like most of eastern Kentucky, the town is economically depressed. It boomed when oil drilling took place but flopped after discovering that the drilling polluted the water supply. Almost 80 percent of the town’s population left when the oil company left. I don’t know what people who still live there do to make a buck. My uncle is a retired truck driver but what about the other folks?

There is talk of a Dollar General coming into town which would be a huge source of goods for people in the area and would create a few jobs. The trade-off is that it would likely put the gas station/general store out of business.

That would be a shame because even though it’s overpriced, it has personality and tries to cater to the community with canning supplies, farm equipment parts and tools, and products you might expect in a country store. I doubt the Dollar General will carry anything like moonshine jelly or old-fashioned chow chow. I don’t think they’ll sell cast iron cookware or huge sauerkraut crocks.

It’ll be the same old tired things you can get at almost any of the dollar stores across the country. I worry that it will bring in cheap goods that people can afford but aid in losing the memory of how people lived here for more than a century.