Thursday, May 24, 2007


In Which I Count to 43 (you do the math)...

I meant to write something yesterday, on my birthday--when I turned 39, for those of you keeping score. But for some reason I just didn't have it in me. This is my first full week back at work and I'm completely overwhelmed. Not because my staff let things go in my absence, just the opposite. It's just...the business of getting back to my life, finding my groove. Heavens, but it's exhausting.

At work, anyway. At home, most everything is a balm to my soul, even the daily and nightly annoyances, in their way. I left work last night to go to Thomas' baseball game--his team is in first place, and they would be defending their title against a really tough team of hitters. But then majestic purple clouds blew in from the West and an electrical storm, fierce and beautiful, drove us to our cars. Thomas hates storms and cried a little, so while we waited for the storm to abate, I soothed him with the tale of the time a tornado touched down on the roof of the house we rented in Kansas. You'd think this would be like putting out the fire with a can of gasoline, but Thomas is easily distracted by tales of disaster, and the Time the Tornado Landed on the House was a good one to tell him last night.

For one thing, it also happened in late May, quite probably May 24, my parents' wedding anniversary, which is the day after my birthday (at least, it has been for as long as I've been around). I do know I had just turned 10 because the downstairs was still littered with wrapping paper and the rent boxes of new toys. I also know that none of us had the slightest idea what was going on at the very height of our danger.

So for our purposes, let's just say it was the dead of night on my parents' 14th anniversary when the storm came. But even if it had been broad daylight, we wouldn't have heard much of the storm. We lived in one of the oldest houses in town, a huge place, with 10 rooms, 12-foot-high ceilings, and walls of more than a foot thick, seeing as they were made almost exclusively of plaster and field stone. This made the house bone cold in the winter, but deliciously cool in the summer. The walls also tended to deaden most any sound from the outside.

(And if you don't believe me, you can go there yourself and spend a night. The place is a bed-and-breakfast now. My old room, if you want it, is the one directly over the old kitchen, where the stovepipe used to come through the floor from below.)

So at first we heard only the distant patter of rain, but then the rain stopped and we thought the storm had moved on. A few moments later, we heard the muted roar of a freight train, but again we thought nothing of it. The Santa Fe railroad went right through our back yard, in a ditch less than 40 feet from the end of the house. In the 1970s, they often sent freight through in the dead of night and we'd long become inured to the noise of the cars as they rumbled past.

Then the house shook and we heard an ungodly racket on the roof and watched through the front windows as a deadly rain of slate shingles slid off the top of the house and embedded shards to a depth of two feet in our front yard.

Dramatists that we were, my Big Brother and I were sure a tornado had struck us a glancing blow (we did live in Kansas after all. Surely it was only a matter of time before a tornado swept us away). My dad, however, sagely announced that a bolt of lightning must have hit one of the corners, and in the morning, when he climbed up to the roof to survey the damage, it certainly seemed that way. A large, long gouge wended its way from the northwest corner of the house, along the peak, and then disappeared about midway along the length of the roof, where one of the lightning rods that had been up there for more than a century was simply gone. Blown to smithereens, we thought. That settled it for my dad. He assured us that had a tornado touched down on the house, it would have been like the finger of God, and would surely have wrought more destruction than tearing off a few shingles.

But then a week later, my mom was upstairs vacuuming one of the little-used rooms at the back of the house--in the northwest corner--and noticed that everything seemed dustier in this room. Brighter too. It took her a moment, but it finally registered that light seemed to be coming from the far corner of the room.

Through a four-inch wide crack in the stone wall of the house.

"It was a heavenly light," my mom recalled later. "So pretty, filtering in from outside. It gave the room a glow." But a second after that, she began screaming her brains out and made us evacuate the house, so fearful was she that now the whole place would collapse.

She needn't have worried--if the house was going to cave, it would have done so long before. That didn't make the damage less impressive, though. The crack ran all the way up the northwest corner of the house where, apparently, a tornado had indeed touched down for the briefest of moments. Think about that: No more than a second or two, and yet it had sufficient force to make a four-inch crack that ran 24 feet down the length of a 16-inch-thick stone wall.

It made us quite the celebrities in town. Tornado experts from all over, and even the Channel 13 news van from Topeka, paid a visit to survey the damage. My favorite looky-loos, though, were the old codgers in town who'd seen houses blown away by tornadoes past. They came to look, and to tell their tales of death and weird destruction--trucks swept up in cyclones and deposited safely back on the road, but with their occupants gone; blades of grass driven with unnatural velocity through phone poles and statues and even cows. And now we were another story in their repertoires: the funnel that cracked the house open, walnut-style, but spared the family inside, who didn't even realize what happened. For a week.

Thomas became so absorbed in the story, he failed to notice the hail that briefly pounded us as we splashed home, which was of course the point. And by the time we got in the house, and the hail had reverted to an ungodly pounding rain, it didn't matter anyway, because a homemade cake was waiting for me, made special by Her Lovely Self and the Brownie (with the Éclair supervising).

As I blew out the candles in one puff and the kids yelled, the poor Éclair jumped and squealed in her seat, startled. Thomas comforted her briefly. "It's okay, baby Elizabeth," he said. "It's not like a tornado hit us."

Of course, a tornado has hit us, more than a glancing blow, and it will take us more than a week, more than a year, to realize how hard we've truly been hit.

Sitting with my family last night, eating cake and opening presents and telling stories loud enough to drown out the storm outside, I prayed for strength and grace in the time to come. Strength to face that damage when I would finally grasp the fullness of it.

And grace to stare into those ugly cracks and to see the light beyond.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

It's no surprise Thomas is so swept away by stories. His pa has a vast reservoir of doozies.

Nice ending to this one, by the way.
Hey MM!

Sorry to try and contact you this way but I didn't see an email address anywhere.

First of all, let me just say that I'm so sorry to read about the loss of your parents.

Back in November of 2005, I founded and launched a collaborative blog for dads called, appropriately, DadBloggers. We currently have a diverse team of 29 writers who submit at least one article each month and give the male perspective on parenting.

I happened across your blog and, after reading through some of it, feel that you would make a great addition to our group of contributors.

Please visit us at and let me know if you would be interested.

Doug Henderson
You already have the strength and grace to make it through; you have demonstrated that so many times in the last few weeks.

You also have the wisdom to know that what surrounds you at home is what matters most in all the world. Take your strength from that, and remember that your children are watching and learning from you during this sad, terrible time how to handle this kind of adversity. How to behave when your world falls down around you.

As always, you are teaching them well. I couldn't be prouder of you if you were my real little brother.

Happy (belated) birthday!


Big Sis Thim :)
Happy Birthday MM.
Happy Birthday! IO should have remembered, cause min eis the 20th, but I didn't.

I turned 50(eek) and had a party with 50 cupcakes, each with a candle. My friends helped blow them out, an Mr Gator thougthfully go the fire extinguisher just in case.

I too noticed that you email adddress is no longer on the page.

I do so hope she's Elizabeth Clair. That would be perfect.
You've got more strength than you know, my dear MM. You have a wonderful and beautiful family around you to help you through these storms.

Happy Birthday (very belated) and, thanks for the tornado story. I was just as enthralled as Thomas!!
This comment has been removed by the author.
What do you know? My email address IS gone.

Or was. I just put it back in the profile page, for them as wants to find it.

Right. Back to what you were doing...

Also wishing you a very happy Birthday-and many more to come.
I had all these sage words and thoughtful insights to type.

But I think I will just stick with Happy Birthday MM. Thank you for sharing yet another slice of your life with us.
Happy belated birthday MM.

As a teacher, I encounter so many children who have much more difficult lives than I could ever have imagined. You part of the rare group of people who are doing the job exactly right. (it's pretty clear you take after your parents)linkvag
Happy birthday, MM!

I love the way you told this story. You are such an incredible writer.
happy birthday MM--- thinking of you..
PS, my father always joked on his birthday that we was turning 16. Every year. Heh. And of course, as I child, I always thought that was so old.

Anyway, your 39/43 thing reminded me of that.
Happy Birthday Mag Man! Wish the circumstances of today could be better, but it's part of the process. You've shown a whole, to quote Joe Speaker, a metric-ass ton of grace under pressure during this past month, and you're setting a fine example for those of us who are battling our own issues. Maybe not quite as all-encompassingly horiffic as what you've been thru, but ugly nonetheless. Anyway, happy birthday and may you find peace and relaxation this weekend.

Happy birthday. I wish you some peace and hope that the happy memories and stories overpower the grief and pain that seems so insurmountable.
Happy Birthday, and thank you for sharing another story with us.
Happy birthday and thanks for another beautiful story. :)
Happy Belated Birthday MM!
My dad passed away a month ago and my first week back at work was tough. I kept wanting to get up from my desk and walk out. Or, sometimes, run out of the office screaming. I was very impatient and my attention span was nearly non-existant. It's gotten better. Give yourself a little time, and spend as much time with your family as you can. Life will return to normal, more or less.
You are so amazing. Fantastic story, MM... love the way you - as usual - tied everything together. You're such an inspiration.
Happy belated birthday MM. Thank you for sharing another story.
Happy Birthday MM!
"Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There's a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
by Leonard Cohen
Happy birthday -- and many more to come. Your parents would be so proud that you continue to live such a good life.
My birthday without my mother was miserable. I never appreciated when she was alive how my birthday was really OUR day. The day I went from being carried in her womb to being carried in her arms.

And she's no longer here. That person who would have given her life for mine. That person that loved me so much.

Birthdays without the people who gave you that life are sadly lacking. I'm sorry for your loss.

It's about life though. And you have a beatiful family there.
Happy belated birthday my dear MM. I've had you and your family in my thoughts and I will continue to pray for you all.
Happy Birthday. Your children are blessed to have a parent so much a part of their lives. Your parents live on through your example. May it get easier/softer as the days pass. Lizardmom
Happy belated b-day to you, MM!

I know it must be tough, but I'm so glad to see you out here, telling stories. Looking forward, as always, to the next.

Be well.
MM, happy belated (publically) acknowedged birthday.

Whew, that was hard to type.

Hope that each day is better than the next but that you give yourself the time you need to miss your parents and feel how you need to feel.

We will all be here for you if you need us.
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