Monday, June 12, 2006

Hurricane preparedness, my family's way...

My life among the pack rats

"...Last-minute scrambles to Winn-Dixie for steaks, beer and ice...",

Was not criminal levity on my part in my previous post. Nobody should, without proper emergency supplies stocked, buy up only the above listed items in the runup to a hurricane. I only mention them as they are among the first things to fly off the shelves, even among families and people who are NOT prepared to weather such a storm. THEY are always the sad sacks who whine and moan about "What's FEMA going to do for ME???" instead of taking care of themselves. If social order ever truly and completely fails, Natural Selection is going to be a real bitch to them.

In my family's case, scrambling to stock up was a pointless exercise. I come from a long line of pack rats. Excusable in my grandparents, children of the Depression and its attendant privations, raised making do with little; less so in my father, but his parents' penurious habits rubbed off on him. He was an inveterate pack-rat; a bad thing when time came to clean out the shed or the carport, but good when hurricane season came around.

We had cupboards with shelves groaning under the strain of stacks of canned food, almost year-round; gallon milk jugs, rinsed, piled in a corner in the shed, ready to be rinsed again and filled with water at a moment's notice; A crate-load of batteries, the same of lamp oil, and flashlights of every size and shape. We never had to buy much, as the previous year's supplies built up and we found ourselves only needing to replace the perishables.

For several years our backyard also served as an informal laying-yard for items essential to roadside electrical construction, a hard line of manual work, but one my father enjoyed more than polishing a desk in the Navy and in the first few years after he left it. This meant that at any given time there were, in our yard, pallets of sandbags, disorderly stacks of rebar, the occasional generators and air compressors, sonotube for pouring light- and signpost foundations, and massive quantities of plywood and 2X4s; all kinds of unaccounted-for spare goodies that could have been used for personal purposes in "small" (so said the boss) quantities with a wink and a nod in a crisis. A god-awful, cluttery mess, not exactly concealed, yet reassuring.

The only bit of this stockpile that I ended up having anything to do with was filling sandbags. By the frickin' truckload. Dad would drive the half-ton work pickup to the Escatawpa River, some fifteen miles away; he would sit on a lawn chair and heckle me as I shoveled heavy, damp sand into the bags and hefted them into the truck until the bed rested firmly on the axle. He was always, at times like those, babbling about character-building. I can't tell anyone how many times during those days I wanted to express my character by giving him a mouthful of shovel.

Those sandbags would not be used by us, living on relatively high ground, but at various friends' and relatives' houses to shore them up against water sluicing down the streets, into yards and up to doorsteps.

As for everything else, we'd load up on meat, charcoal, and ice, with an effort to get to the stores before the very last minute rushes to the store (not always successfully). At the time, beer wasn't part of the equation, as I was in my mid-teens and Dad had not had a drink in years. These days, I indulge myself and buy enough to keep me going for a few days (less than many would suspect).

As my father's health failed through years of cancer and treatment, I found myself stepping to the fore whenever I was home on leave or on humanitarian duty at home looking out for the old man. Getting the ducks in a row. Ensuring that my grandparents and various other aging relatives were prepared and safe to look out for themselves if need be.

I have all this to look forward to when I get home. Being the glue that keeps the whole family mess in one piece through all these difficulties. There's always one in every family whose disposition invites them to be the caretaker, and in this case I seem to have been raised into it.

1 comment:

Addie Lawson said...

Yo. Sonny Boy. You left off the time your dad went out during the eye of a hurricane in his trusty "Bug Car" and got hit by a flying shithouse on the way home.
(portapotty). I don't think I ever laughed that hard in my life.

Love ya! Mum