BY MADONNA HAMEL
Sitting around the tables in the Senior’s Centre we unburden ourselves of the near-escapes and the shock and awe of a hailstorm that hurled baseball stones at 100 mph at our village only to follow it up by a dark deluge in the late afternoon. Someone got a call from a relative who lived on a vantage point where they could see both coming, one behind the other.
“How you doing?” he asked.
“I’m making for the basement!” she yelled over the din of of the battering and banging. “I just saw my windshield explode and the branches are coming down!”
“Well hang tight! There’s another one on it’s way”.
So it is with these storms – folks lost buildings they are still looking for down by the border, others got hail stones the size of dimes, while others, like us in Val Marie, stood watching in awe and fear. Carmen’s horses raced back and forth, back and forth in a frenzy in the field across from me while the noise of on the roof and snapping branches and shattering glass sounded like a war zone. I saw a nighthawk’s wing get clipped but it managed to dart under a bush and offending stone bounced and left a hole among a hundred other holes making the ground look like a putting green. I was too thrilled by it all to be afraid. The adrenaline was pumping as the lights flickered on and off and finally died.
I was trying to rehearse for the performance, and I realized the stories I was telling of settler women trying to “raise their voices over the demands of weather and men” were being re-enacted right in front of me!
“ There were tornado warnings on all the stations and I got them on my phone. Didn’t you see them?”
“No. I don’t have a tv and my phone was in the other room. I just got back from the store. My phone was at home!”
“It’s a good thing you weren’t out on one of your walks!”
“My niece was just driving in from Swift and a hailstone went right through her sunroof! Her kids were in the back!”
“Did you see this?” One of us pulled out his phone and there was a picture of giant hailstone covered in spikes. It looked like some kind of medieval torture device. We all pulled up pictures and showed them around. Hands holding perfectly spherical ice balls looked dwarfed and tiny. “Ervin ran out to get one and got beaned in the head. He said he’d call after the swelling came down.” Freezers across town are well-stocked-holding evidence of the mythological baseballs. Layers of ice covered in layers more- like killer onions.
I could not recall a storm so biblical – except for a tornado in Memphis once. And that ice storm in Quebec.
“The sky went green. It did not look good. But still, we’ve been having this crazy wind and heat all month and it was so sudden. I just didn’t expect it.”
We still haven’t assessed all the damage. But so many of us have newly air-conditioned vehicles that the adjuster is coming to see us. With the windshield glass repair man coming in a week.
“You’ll get a ticket if you try and drive that into Swift for repairs.”
“Yeah well, me and the hundred other guys behind me!”
I listen to people talk about the cost of it all and their insurance packages and think: what package? I have the basic plan and I have no wiggle room. This is what comes of living an artist’s life. You’re fine as long as stones don’t hail from the sky sky. Then there’s a hard reckoning. There’s no wiggle room for this hobby-lady-artiste. I’ll have to do some fancy shifting of dollars around. Eat noodles for a month. I’ll have to take it step by step. Staring up at the night sky after the crazy day and I marvel at the stars in this pitch black village. It’s as mesmerizing as the storms.
By morning I was filing my claim, calling for estimates and vacuuming glass. I was doing my best to keep the tears at bay but finally I was crying like a baby. I knew I had to go talk to someone to stop the pity party from kicking in and staying the day. As it turned out it was more of a pity-happy-hour because somehow the gathering at the centre had as all laughing, the way prairie people laugh when the absurdly unfair vagaries of weather reduce us to specks. Try and remember there are ways of turning these things into hidden gifts, I tell myself, while counting the dozens of dents in my hood and roof. Try and stay focussed on the task at hand. You have to rehearse for your performance. I went back home and went over my songs and it’s then I recalled a song I’d written about a bull rider friend who lost his home in Oklahoma when he was a boy.
“You came from Skytook, Oklahoma”, it begins. “The sky took it last October. That’s how life goes in Tornado Alley. God’s making molehills out of river valleys. You see a man with no foundation. My roof’s my hat. My home’s my truck. To make a home in this great nation takes more than loans takes more than luck.” My friend lost everything in that tornado. I have my home. And my friends and neighbours and family, despite their own losses – with holes in rooftops, and their own written off trucks, are making sure I get to Swift Current to perform “Mother’s Apron’, with it’s tales of new arrivals with no cells, no tvs, no emails, no emergency vehicles, no neighbours for miles and miles and miles. Ervin offers me use of his car. Page offers to drive me up. My sister says we’ll find you a new car if we have to.
Tonight I fish the newly dyed 1800s dress I started stirring in a pot outside when the storm began. I hang it to dry and hear an owl outs my window. Otherwise it’s perfectly still out here. Where the stars shine like we were always just a tiny speck in a great big sea of of a wild and thrilling world.