Great Water

 

My ancestors came to Michigan as victims of a con artist who sold them “rich Michigan farmland” that turned out to be little more than pine trees and beach sand.  Despite that shaky start, I am proud to be a true Michigander, born and raised in this fabulous place, and I want to share a few lesser-known facts about our state with all of you.

First, the word Michigan means “great water.” That’s sort of a given, considering the fact that we are surrounded by lakes. Every child in this state learns around third grade how to remember the names of all five Great Lakes: HOMES. Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior.  Lake Champlain was a Great Lake for brief time in 1998, but we Michiganders were quick to stifle that. I’m sure Lake Champlain is a great lake, but it’s not a Great Lake. 

I’d also like to point out that Michigan truly is shaped like a mitten. Some folks argue that Wisconsin is the mitten-shaped state, but those folks are just wrong. Plain and simple. Unless your mittened hand has been mangled in a random wood-chipper incident, that is.

Any questions?

Those of us from Michigan never need a map to show anyone what part of the state we live in. We simply hold up a hand and point.

hand

Okay, sure, we’ve got that whole mutant-shark-dolphin thing going on up there in the U.P. but that’s a different subject.

And that brings me to another point. Here in Michigan, we don’t waste our time saying “Upper Peninsula.” We call it the U.P. Actually, those who live up there tend to call it “da U.P.” but I digress. Those hardy souls who live up there are called “Yoopers.” Not to be confused with the game they play called Euchre, which I believe was something our ancestors had to learn as a requirement for statehood.

Because the two parts of our state are joined by the Mackinac Bridge, Yoopers have been known to refer to those of us who live south of the bridge as “Trolls.” You know, as in “living under a bridge.”

By the way, tourists who visit Mackinac Island are known as “Fudgies” because Mackinac Island Fudge is a treat that should never be missed. Ever. Doesn’t matter if you buy it from Ryba’s or Murdick’s; just buy it. Buy a lot of it. And eat it quickly.

It’s that good.

And speaking of all things Mackinac, please don’t ever come to our fine state and pronounce it MackinACK. Oh, heavens no! It is pronounced MackinAW. MackinAW Island, MackinAW Bridge, MackinAW City.

(Just an aside here: What is wrong with people who pronounce our neighboring state as IlliNOIZE OR IlliNOICE? It’s IlliNOY, people. Hearing it pronounced that way grates on my nerves as much as hearing people saying they get books at the liBERRY.)

Another thing you should know before visiting our fine state is that we treat almost every minor illness with copious amounts of Vernor’s Ginger Ale.  Upset tummy? Vernor’s will fix it. Fever? Vernor’s will make it go away. Bad day at work? Vernor’s with a shot of whiskey will give you a whole new perspective. For a serious attitude adjustment, one can always try a delightful Vernor’s concoction known as a Naughty Gnome, but I wouldn’t recommend drinking more than one of these unless you are a 300-lb fullback with the constitution of a freight train.

We don’t drink soda here in Michigan. It’s called pop. And we often buy it at a “party store,” which is basically what everyone else in the world refers to as a “convenience store.”

When we drive, we have to learn to avoid deer, potholes, and the dreaded Michigan Left. Nearly everyone I know has managed to hit at least one deer in their lifetime. And the potholes are often the size of a small Volkswagon. There’s a pothole on my street right now that’s bigger than the kitchen in my apartment. As far as the Michigan Left is concerned, well, it’s sort of a convoluted go-straight-then-left-to-go-right kind of thing that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

And now that some genius city planners have tried to add those ridiculous roundabout things in the middle of roads for no apparent reason, I’m scared to death that I’m going to segue from a Michigan Left into a roundabout and end up spending eternity on some endless Moebius Strip circling the same series of potholes for all time.

That’s a big part of why I don’t drive much any more.

Michiganders also like to add a random “s” to end of words, making them possessive when it makes no sense to do so. Out of state visitors shop at Meijer and Kroger, but we go to Meijer’s and Kroger’s.

Most of all, we talk fast. Really fast. We like to cram as many words as we can into as few syllables as possible. In high school debate class, I once gave a twelve-minute speech in three minutes and twenty-two seconds. No one even blinked.

Probably because they didn’t have time.

We’re pretty tough here in Michigan. We have to be. We’ve got mosquitoes and deer flies and these horrible little biting things that no one has ever really seen. Hence their name: Noseeums. Original settlers in the area even had to worry about Malaria. We have bats and snakes and all sorts of slimy, nasty things to worry about. It’s not unusual to see a five foot long blue racer, and unfortunately even less unusual to see me wet myself when one slithers across my foot.

In this part of the state, we’ve got storms that gather strength as they roar across Lake Michigan. In the winter, they can dump snow on us by the foot, and in the summer, the thunderstorms can be pretty impressive. I grew up with a “tornado bag” packed and ready to grab on my way to the basement, just in case.

When I was married and lived in a house with a Michigan half-cellar, I refused to go into the basement when the tornado sirens went off. Those places are half-cellar, half-evil, and 100% horrific. I told my ex-husband and children that I’d rather go up with the house and hang out with Dorothy and Toto than go down there.

To give you an idea of just how powerful a Michigan storm can get, let me tell you about my niece, who lived in Seoul, South Korea, for three years. One morning, she woke up to discover that a storm had knocked out the power. She battled the raging wind and rain to get to work, only to find her stunned co-workers gaping at her in astonishment. “We can’t believe you made it to work in a typhoon!” they said.

“That was nothing,” my niece told them. “I grew up with Michigan thunderstorms.”

So if I haven’t scared you away, and if you’re feeling adventurous, please come visit my lovely state sometime. We’ve got Hell and Paradise, Iron Mountain and Motown, water as far as the eye can see. If you can’t find something to like in Michigan, it can only be because you’re not looking hard enough.

 

 

 

History Nerd

My son recently had to study for his first really big test at school. It was all about Michigan history, and I’ll admit that helping him study was a lot more fun for me than it was for him.

He’s eight years old, so it’s all pretty boring to him. I am fifty and a certifiable nerd, so I enjoyed it. The experience reminded me of just why I minored in history in college for about two weeks in my Sophomore year, somewhere in the middle of minoring in Journalism, Theater, and Communications.

Okay, I’m an indecisive nerd.

I love history. Oh, not all the exact dates and numbers of famous battles in history or stuff like that. I’m more interested in how people lived ‘way back when. What they wore. What they ate. Who they married. What was it like to travel by covered wagon? And what did it take to make a journey like that, especially knowing that you might never come home to see your family ever again?

I want to read stories about people who lived during exciting times in history. I was amazed to learn that many of the women who traveled with their men on those wagon trains actually walked alongside the wagons for most of the journey. Walked. I could never have done that! Heck, I don’t even like walking to the convenience store.

When I made the decision to trying writing a historical romance, I put a lot of thought into choosing what era to write about and what part of the country to use as a setting. Michigan was a pretty easy choice because I’ve lived here all my life and I know the area. It wasn’t exactly the “Wild West” but it was definitely a frontier in its own right, complete with drama, adventure, and hardship.

And history.

One story that always fascinated me as a kid was the one about Old Lady Leary’s cow kicking over the lantern and starting the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Now, in reality, the fire had nothing to do with a cow, but it was a huge turning point in Michigan’s history. The lumber industry revved up into high gear to produce wood for rebuilding after the fire, which led to decimation of much of our forests here in the lower peninsula. There were boom towns that grew up around the increased need for lumber; towns that were left in ruins when the trees were gone. One such town was Singapore, which is now buried somewhere beneath the sand not far from modern-day Saugatuck.

Everyone knows about the Great Fire. But what most people don’t know is that Chicago wasn’t the only town that burned from October 8 – 10, 1871. Fires in Peshtigo, Wisconsin claimed anywhere from 1,200 to 2,400 lives. And in Michigan, towns like Holland, Port Huron, and Manistee suffered near-total devastation, while smaller towns were also damaged as well. There is no way of knowing just exactly how many lives were lost during the disaster.

I find it amazing that anything so huge has been basically forgotten in the 145 years since then. So I wanted to build my series around that event, featuring women who come to the town of Serenity for their own reasons– although each one comes because of a promise made in letters she has received. Letters to Caroline tells the story of the days leading up to the fire, while Victoria’s Lessons and Love, Charlotte are all set during the aftermath and rebuilding.

I know not everyone gets as excited about history as I do, but I hope some of you get excited about an adventure and love (of course!) set against a background of American history.

To find out more about my Brides of Serenity series, please sign up to receive my newsletter with information on release dates and maybe a sneak peek or two. I’ll even send you a free short story that takes place a few months before the series starts.

 

Weekend Coffee Share: “Wick”

coffee2

If we were having coffee this morning, we could giggle and chatter about the joys of spring here in Michigan. The crocuses, the daffodils, and the potholes that have bloomed everywhere. The end of my self-imposed winter hibernation. The beginning of my state’s most extended and well-known season: Construction.

For me, the surest sign of spring is the return of the robin, our state bird. When I was a kid, my aunt Marian taught us to “stamp” robins. She would lick her right thumb, press it into her left palm, and then turn her right hand over and pound her fist into her left palm, shouting out a number.

robin

In theory, she was counting the robins because counting and stamping one hundred robins each spring was supposed to guarantee good luck for the upcoming year. In reality, we all suspected that Marian cheated. We didn’t mind, though, because we all cheated too. It was just too hard to keep accurate running totals in our minds.  After hitting one hundred, most of us kept on stamping a few surplus robins just to make sure we really hit a hundred.

The best part of stamping robins with Aunt Marian was calling her every spring to tell her when we saw our first robin. She’s been gone seven years now, but I still reach for the phone when I see the first one, only to remind myself that she’s in heaven, probably lying to the angels about how many robins she’s stamping at that very moment.

My kids have never gotten into the whole business of stamping and counting, but they’ve caught my enthusiasm for spotting the first robin each year. One morning a few weeks ago, as my boys and I were leaving for school, my youngest started bouncing around in the back seat and squealing “Robin! Robin!”

“Where?” I demanded.

“Never mind. It was a cardinal,” he said sheepishly.

For the record, it was a mourning dove.

What he lacks in in knowledge of birds, he makes up for in enthusiasm. Of course, his older brother now feels the need to tease him by randomly shouting out the names of other birds. “Ostrich!” he’ll bellow.  “Emu! Pelican! Never mind,” he’ll say, pointing at the nearest mourning dove.  “It was a cardinal.”

The robin is more than just part of my family’s weird traditions. He is also a symbol of hope, of new beginnings. A sign of better things to come.  His red breast is thought by some to represent the rising of the sun, the dawning of a new day.

I like that.

In one of my favorite books, The Secret Garden, little Mary befriends a helpful robin who leads her to the garden door and the hidden key that unlocks its secrets. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the book, the garden appears to be cold and abandoned, just like Mary; but a little bit of hope and attention bring both the child and the plants to full, vibrant life.

Dickon, the boy who learns her secrets and guides her along the way, shows her how a seemingly dead plant can still have a little life deep inside. He says they are “wick”– alive, or lively.

Every spring, when I see my first robin, I think of that moment in The Secret Garden, when lonely little Mary follows the robin and finds the key to her own inner springtime. I think of Mary, and I think of Marian, and I know that somewhere, even on the very worst days, there is a part of me that is  “wick.”

Take a moment this week to look for the signs of spring that mean the most to you. Count your robins, pick a daffodil or too, have a picnic. Whatever it takes, get out there and welcome spring with open arms and remember that you, too, are “wick” inside, no matter how dark the winter has been.

And if that fails, you can always try counting one hundred robins for good luck.

garaden

 

Be sure to visit Diana over at Part-Time Monster to link up and see what some other bloggers have had to say with their weekly coffee share.  Thanks to Diana for hosting the #coffeeshare posts!

Falling For You

Each fall, I remember why I live in Michigan.

At the risk of sounding like a travel brochure, I have to say that Michigan is a beautiful place in all seasons.  Sure, we’ve got some of the worst roads in the nation, and there’s a public perception out there that we’re all a bunch of lumberjacks, hunters, and hillbillies. Our winters are brutal; in fact, the weather is unpredictable and often violent all year ‘round. And the wildlife? I’m not even going to talk about the random bear and cougar sightings around here, or the fact that the mosquito is close to edging out the robin as our state bird.  But not even the mosquito is as annoying or irritating as its friends: the gnats, black flies, deer flies, and that most mysterious of all insects known as the No-see-um.

Wait. Where was I going with this?  Ah, yes. Michigan in the fall.

It’s all about change. Driving down the road one day, I’ll suddenly notice an orange leaf here, a red one there, and somehow, it always manages to surprise me. I know it’s coming every year, but there’s always that one day when I say, “Is it that time already?”

Right about then, the smiling weather reporters on the nightly news shows start talking about “Peak Color.” They point at pretty charts and start running all the facts and figures to tell us all where to be and when to be there in order to see the brightest display of Michigan’s best fall colors.

Folks, we don’t need the weatherman on WWMT to tell us when the colors are pretty. Just look out the damn window or head north.  Red, orange, yellow and brown, in more hues and tones than can ever be recreated in a Crayola box of 64 colors. Bright, vivid, riotous shades that stand out against a clear blue sky, or sometimes against thick gray storm clouds that swirl and poke at each other like teenagers looking for a fight.

The trails around Tahquamenon Falls, already orange from the tannic acid in the water, become almost ethereal in their autumn beauty. The Mighty Mac – the Mackinac Bridge – becomes a road to a land of such indescribable beauty that it must be seen to be believed. And Mackinac Island itself becomes Heaven on Earth, and that’s all there is to it. The Island is pretty darn amazing in the spring when the lilacs are in bloom, but even that doesn’t compete with its October beauty.

Colors always reach their peak earlier in the U.P. Or as you non-Michiganders refer to it, the Upper Peninsula. Here in Lower Michigan, we tend to think of those folks up there as sort of a different tribe, distant relatives of our family. We call them “Yoopers” and they call us “Trolls” because we live under the bridge.

That’s okay, though, because at least we go out at night.

The stereotypical Yooper wears flannel, plays Euchre, and says “eh” at the end of every sentence. They even have their own local celebrities – a very funny, very talented band called Da Yoopers, who have songs like “It’s The Second Week of Deer Camp” and “Da Couch Dat Burps” among other treasures.   Da Yoopers also have their own store and outhouse museum in Ishpeming.  My ex-husband and I went there as part of our honeymoon tour of the U.P., right after a stop at the Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point.

In retrospect, I think it says an awful lot about us that our marriage began with a trip to look at shipwrecks and toilets.

Back down here in the Lower Peninsula, fall brings football season and bonfires, and an almost frantic rush to get in as much fun as possible before the snow hits. It’s not quite time for hot cocoa yet; we demand hot cider stirred with a cinnamon stick or sprinkled with tiny red-hots.

We have corn mazes here in Michigan, like many other Midwestern states. I used to take my kids to the one at Crane’s Orchards in Fennville, but it got embarrassing when the owners had to send in a rescue party for my kids and me year after year. The one year my ex-husband joined us, his perfect sense of direction whisked us through the entire maze in ten minutes flat.

Good man to have around in an emergency, not so fun in a corn maze.

After the maze, we hurry over to Crane’s Pie Pantry, where they serve the world’s best homemade apple pie ala mode. Since I don’t really like apple pie, however, I am usually content with the heaping platter of tiny apple cider doughnuts they plunk down on every table. Add a bottomless mug of icy apple cider, and I’m in absolute bliss, especially since Crane’s idea of a “bottomless mug” is a Mason jar.

Just outside the Pie Pantry, there stands a tiny log cabin made out of railroad ties.  It is over a hundred years old; the Crane family bought it and hauled it here from the little town of Dunningville, where my grandfather and his half-brother Jim built it.  Just inside the door, there are two pictures on the wall. One is a picture of Grandpa, Jim, and their dog Bowzer – who, according to family legend, simply lay down and died a few days after Jim died from a ruptured appendix.  The other is a picture of my four aunts in their heyday.

DSC_0768_crop.jpg

If the Pie Pantry isn’t too busy the day we visit, I’ll tell the Cranes that I’m Mr. Hyde’s granddaughter, and they’ll let us go inside the old cabin instead of just peering through the windows with everyone else. My sister and I once held hands in the center and easily reached out to touch the walls, marveling that two grown men once shared that tiny space.

I never met my Grandfather, of course. He died when Dad was just a little boy, somewhere in the 1940’s. From everything I’ve heard, he wasn’t a very nice man, and there are many, many stories about him that I probably shouldn’t have been told. But I love to go to his cabin in the fall because it makes me feel connected.

You see, they’re all gone now. Grandpa, Jim, the aunts, even poor old Bowzer. Mom and Dad, who aren’t in any pictures at the log cabin, but still connected in their own way. It’s been too many years since I held hands with my sister in the cabin or anywhere else, for that matter.  Sometimes, even with my kids and my friends and those few family members who are still here . . .sometimes, I am so alone in this world that I don’t know how I’m ever going to manage to draw the next breath.

But each fall, I go to Grandpa’s cabin and I find that connection again. I hear the leaves crunching beneath my feet, and I try to whistle through acorn caps the way Aunt Marian used to do, and I’m not alone any more.

Each fall, I am reminded that everything ends. There is always a sense of wrapping up, of tying off loose ends, of saying farewell. It’s a last burst of color before we’re all buried in snow. In a sense, fall is a preparation for death. But it’s also a promise, because fall’s beauty reminds us that spring is just around the corner and things are going to be bright and colorful again someday.

It’s all about hope.

This is a Finish The Sentence Friday post: “Each fall, I . . . ” hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Julie Martinka Severson from Carvings on a Desk and Danielle Dion from https://wayoffscript.wordpress.com/. Please take a few minutes to check out what some of the other bloggers did with this sentence!

Sink or Swim

This one time, at Bible camp . . .

No, I just can’t keep going with the whole “American Pie” take-off. My experience wasn’t really “Camp” and I wasn’t exactly a kid. I was in my late twenties, single, and floundering a bit in life.  I had recently joined a singles Bible study group at my church, not so much because I held out hope of meeting Mr. Right, but because I was tired of being that weird single person in my group of married friends.  I wanted to be around other single people, and I wanted to learn more about God, so it seemed like a perfect combination.

It was a good thing I wasn’t looking for Mr. Right. Don’t get me wrong; there were plenty of attractive men in the group. Unfortunately, there were about three times as many attractive women as there were men, and I was not anywhere near being able to compete with any of them. Nothing even remotely romantic ever happened, but I made friends and had fun, so I count it as a good experience.

We all packed up and went on a weekend-long retreat at a camp in the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.  It was early May, so it was really too cold for tent-camping.  Instead, we stayed in a dormitory-style building with the men in one wing and the women in another, with the kitchen and meeting areas somewhere in the middle.  I don’t remember what the men studied that weekend, but we women focused on the book Becoming a Woman of Excellence, by Cynthia Heald.

To be completely honest, I don’t remember much about the book or the study.  I remember the fun.  Someone brought along a Frisbee fitted with lights so we could play with it in the dark the first night.  Unfortunately, none of us stopped to think that being able to see a Frisbee in the dark didn’t mean we could see the uneven ground or each other while chasing the Frisbee. Several high-speed collisions and twisted ankles later, we gave up and retreated back inside.

The second night, a group of us sat on the end of the pier that jutted out into Lake Michigan, and stayed there to watch the sunset. It was so cold that members of the group gave up, one by one, to watch from their cars.  One other woman and I were the last holdouts, and I was numb in some really uncomfortable places by the time we gave up.

Later that night, we stood outside and watched the Northern Lights. I had never seen them before and have never seen them since, but that image is burned into my soul. The greens and yellows danced across the sky like parts of a living thing, peaceful and electrifying at the same time.  I stood outside in the frigid air and clutched the hands of the people on either side of me, and I felt my tears freezing to my cheeks; I still don’t know exactly why I was crying.  It was just such pure and unexpected beauty that I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t control my own emotions.

But it was on my last day there that I learned my harshest lesson. During a break in the middle of our study, some of us decided to take a quick ride in the pedal boats that were tied to the docks.  I ended up paired with a woman named Harriet.

Harriet was tall.  I mean really tall.  She reminded of me Olive Oyl, Popeye’s girlfriend.  She had less curves than most broomsticks.  I think she weighed slightly less than my right breast.

olive

I, on the other hand, have never been a small person.  I like to say that I came out of the womb in a Misses’ size 16 and just kept growing from there.  I stopped growing taller when I was ten, and have proceeded to grow wider in the years since then. Suffice it to say that I outweighed Harriet by a substantial amount.

Those of you who have ever been out in a pedal boat can probably already see where this is going.

By the time Harriet and I reached the docks, all of the pedal boats were in use. There was one leaning against a nearby tree, and it never occurred to either one of us that there might have been a very good reason for it to be out of the water. We dragged it to the nearest dock, dropped it in the water, and climbed in.

pedal

We were about halfway out to the others when we began to realize there was a problem.

The boat was leaking.

It was just a small leak, but the water started to pool around our feet.  More accurately, it started to pool around my feet. Because I weighed so much more than Harriet, my side of the boat was already lower in the water than hers, and the incoming water all trickled over my way. Which, in turn, made my side of the boat sink even faster.

We looked at each other in horror.

“Pedal harder!” Harriet gasped.

Right.  Because I’ve always been so athletic.  Seriously, I wonder if it occurred to her at about that time that my weight probably had a little something to do with my complete lack of athleticism.

We turned the boat toward shore and pedaled just as fast as our legs could go.  Our friends soon caught up and passed us, trying very hard not to laugh at our plight.  To their credit, I think they all assumed that the boat’s position in the water was due to my weight rather than a leak in the boat, and they were all just too kind to say anything.  They didn’t want to be mean by commenting about the fat chick sinking the pedal boat.

“I can’t swim!” Harriet wailed when we were alone again.

“You don’t think you should have mentioned that before you got in the boat?”

By this point, the others were out of their boats and heading for the dormitory for Sunday dinner. They weren’t paying much attention to us.  My side of the boat was almost swamped, and Harriet’s was beginning to lift out of the water. It was only a matter of time before the boat capsized and flipped her through the air.  I had mental images of her skinny little body skipping across the surface like a stone.

We were about twenty feet from shore by that point, and there was really only one thing to do.

I went overboard.

Lake Michigan in early May is cold.  Damn cold.  As in Holy shit, I should have let Olive Oyl drown!

In retrospect, it’s highly possible that I voiced that particular opinion out loud. Several times. I grabbed the rope and started swimming, hauling the boat behind me, while Harriet pedaled her little heart out and I kept a running commentary about skinny people, boats with holes in them, and Christians in general.  I may have even offered my soul to Satan in exchange for warmer water, but I’m not sure if I said that part out loud.

It was a long, miserable walk back to the dormitory, made even worse by the fact that the others had started eating without us. I’ll admit; it hurt just a little to realize that we could have both drowned that day and gone missing for hours before anyone noticed we were gone. I felt pretty miffed about the whole thing until I heard the rumor circulating about why they all thought I was wet and Harriet was dry.

Everyone assumed that I had said something to her that was so offensive, so horrific, so insulting that she threw me out of the boat and left me to swim to shore.  That spoke volumes to me about my reputation within the singles Bible study group.

It also explains why I didn’t meet my future husband as part of the singles Bible study group.

And why you’ll never see my butt in a pedal boat ever again.

***

This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday, in which writers and bloggers finish a sentence and “link up” their posts. This week’s sentence was “This one time . . . ”  

For information on Finish the Sentence Friday, Join our Facebook page! 

Seconds

It’s coming.

The sun came up an hour ago, and I went outside in the watery morning light to open up the chicken coop and let the chickens out.  It looked and felt like rain; even the morning weather girl on WWMT News seemed decidedly un-chipper when she warned of big storms with “potentially damaging winds”.

It’s coming.

It’s 7:30 a.m. and it’s as dark as it was at 5:30.  Through a crack in the living room curtains, I can see the trees swaying as those “potentially damaging winds” get closer.   The breeze coming through the window is surprisingly cool, and it brings with it a smell of wet grass, of dirt, of outside.

I just heard the first crack of thunder.  Looking out the back door, I can see dark, swirling clouds in a sky that has taken on a greenish-yellow tinge.

It’s here.

It’s perfectly normal to be a little bit afraid of some of the powerful storms here in Michigan.  I still crawled in bed with my mother during storms until I was in middle school.   I have childhood memories of watching storms come in off the Lake that were so strong that rain was driven through the walls of our cottage, around the window frames and under the door.  I was fourteen years old when an F4 tornado ripped through the downtown area, killing five people and leaving a trail of devastation that the town is still recovering from.

I will never forget the sight of the mannequins from Gilmore’s Department Store, strewn throughout the wreckage.

We thought they were bodies.

It’s perfectly normal to feel apprehensive when these storms move in.   I have children sleeping upstairs, a husband on his way to work, loved ones out driving to and from work in this weather.  I have a dog and three cats who are currently freaking out, trying to hide under my couch and cuddle with me while simultaneously trying to avoid each other.  Any person would feel that little flicker of concern for their safety in threatening weather.

But what I am feeling is not normal.

It’s not fear or apprehension.

It’s stark, unreasoning terror.  It is the certain knowledge that I will die in this storm.   That these are the last moments of my life.  My heart is pounding; I can’t catch my breath.  I am ice-cold and boiling hot at the same time.  Menopausal hot flashes are nothing compared to the heat radiating from my body at this moment, while icy waves of numbing chills keep washing over me. My eyes burn with tears that I am too scared to shed.

It is not a matter of wondering if the storm will turn deadly.  I just know it will. Period.

Logic says otherwise.  After all, I have survived hundreds –no, thousands– of thunderstorms in my lifetime.  And really, what are the odds?   They say that lightning never strikes the same place twice.  By that reasoning, I should be the safest person on Earth.  Think about it:  how likely was it that one lonely tree on that stretch of road was going to fall over at the precise moment when I happened to be driving under it, at just the right speed, at just the right second?  One or two seconds earlier or later, to the right or to the left, and it could have missed me completely.

Or it could have killed me instantly.

So many random factors, all adding up to that one unpredictable, unstoppable instant.  That split second of “are you freaking kidding me?!”  when I heard it and saw it and knew it was going to crush me.  That infinitesimal moment that lasted forever but happened so fast that there was no time to do anything but watch.

Watch and know, beyond a doubt, that it was going to hit and it was going to hurt and that I couldn’t do a damn thing about it.

It’s not what people think.  When storms hit, I am not re-living the entrapment, the extrication, the pain.  I’m not seeing what came after.  No, I am back in my van, in that one second.  Over and over.  Seeing the tree, knowing I had nowhere to go, no way to escape.  Smelling the rain, feeling the wind gusts rock my van, and not being able to do anything.

That’s the part I can’t move past.

That’s why I hate thunderstorms.   It’s not the storms themselves.  It’s that one tree, in that one second, that just won’t stop falling on me.