Whenever there is a major disaster people begin to wonder about their own safety. Are they prepared? Everyone checks flashlight batteries. As if having fresh batteries averts disaster.

I have experienced most natural disasters to some degree; Nor’easters, blizzards, hurricanes. Each of these is a polite sort of event, giving days of warning… Flashlight? check. Batteries? check. Bottled water? check. Charcoal (for cooking)? check. Canned food? check. Cooler (ice source?)? check (check). Hurricane lamp? check. Board games, playing cards, and books? check, check, and check. Cell phones (and if you didn’t know this, a text message has a better chance of making it through overwhelmed phone systems than a call, it uses a lower bandwidth—so if you don’t know how to text, learn.) and laptops charged? check. Car chargers? check. Full gas tank? check. Cash.

Fill up the bath tub for extra water, hunker down, and wait it out.

That’s what we did during Hurricane Isabel in ’03. Eight days later, when I still had no electricity (which, because I have a well, means I have no running water), I called the power company. The frazzled sounding woman said, “I’m sorry, we didn’t know that grid was out.”

K. I learned that there are 9 homes on my “grid.” Each of us had done what the newscaster had told us to, be patient, there are lots of folks without power. Note to self: add electric company phone number to checklist; call as soon as the house goes dark…

We were lucky. We lost 5 trees and half of our Scrabble letters. Saiga, my horse, came up to see what we were doing at the picnic table at dusk (It was too dark to play in the house). He reached over Ian and took 4 words off the board and happily munched the wooden tiles.

And there are those insidious sorts of events, that don’t happen here often, and give little or no warning:

Flash flooding; Gaston: Me (on cell phone from car):  I am driving in low. Water’s coming in through the doors. I can’t see well. Maybe we should just seek shelter.

JL: I don’t know what you’re talking about, it’s not even raining, just come on.

Me: A car was swept away by water in the east bound lane.

JL: You’re over-reacting, it isn’t that bad. The weather channel said we’re going to get a little rain.

Me: Yeah, I’ll bet that’s what they told Noah.

As I crossed the county line from Chesterfield into Powhatan the rains dissipated. Not even raining. Later, watching the news, we learned the extent of damage, roads washed out, creeks swollen into raging torrents…

Me (feet still soggy): I told you so!

Tornadoes: Me: I don’t like the look of those clouds. That’s more than a thunderstorm.

Kristie (Jamie’s then-roommate): Don’t be silly. What else could it be?

Me: A tornado. Get Ian and Ryan into the bathtub.

Jamie, Ian, and Kristie: you’re kidding, right?

Saiga (my horse) screams and begins to run…

Me: Now!

Ian: you are so over reacting.

Me: Have you ever seen a tornado? No? Well, I have.

The sky blackens. Parrots silent. Freight train rumbling sounds.

Roof partially ripped from house up the road—within walking distance.

And, of course, there was the earthquake. I’ve felt the earth move in California. It’s the sort of thing one doesn’t forget. Ever. We’ve only had one here, that I’m aware of. Although, there is only one state in an earthquake free zone –North Dakota. Sadly, that’s about all they’ve got going for them there…

Anyway, we’ve had one “big” earthquake here, a 4.5. I was teaching a homebound student. An angsty high school boy, whose name I can no longer remember.

The house shook once. My Riverside Shakespeare vibrated on the table.

Me: Come on, come on! We have to get out of the house.

Student: Geez! Let me get my shoes. It’s just a helicopter or airplane, or something. Chill.

Me (second rumble from deep down in the ground): No, that’s an earthquake, now!

Shakespeare shook across the wooden table.

Student: You don’t have to be bitchy! It’s a plane, you’re gonna feel silly. I gotta get shoes. We don’t have earthquakes.

Me: Planes don’t move books of that size unless they’re landing on the house. Have you ever felt an earthquake? No? Well, I have. And don’t swear at me–I’m your teacher.

With the third tremor, Shakespeare rattles to the floor, falling open. Et tu, Brute.  Exposed.

My student and his neighbors were looking for the offending aircraft. I called home.

Me: Everything ok?

JL: Yeah, how’d you know something happened?

Me: That was an earthquake. Where’s Ian? Is he ok?

JL: We don’t have earthquakes. I thought the water heater was blowing up.

Me: You thought the water heater was blowing up? What did you do? Did you go outside?

JL: Nothing. It stopped. No.

Me: Put Ian on the phone. … Ian, if the house begins to shake, get out of the house. If the house shakes, leave. This is a rule.

Ian: Dad said it was the water heater.

Me: Yes, well it wasn’t, it was an earthquake. But even if it was the water heater – if the water heater blows up, you probably don’t want stay in your room playing video games…

Note to self, teach family earthquake (and water heater explosion) preparedness.

Chris felt cheated he was in a car and didn’t feel it.

Yeah. This is my life, even in disaster, there are ironic moments.

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