Still like that old time radio
Unusual hobbies do come in handy. When my husband first expressed an interest in amateur radio, I’ll admit I was skeptical (sorry, Bob and friends). I guess I saw it as an “old” hobby: unnecessary, obsolete. I mean, don’t we all have smartphones? Cable television? Wi-Fi? Who needs to communicate by ham radio?
Many people, it turns out. Especially in challenging circumstances.
My iPhone buzzed ominously on Monday night: a tornado warning for our corner of Charles County. I was fumbling with ingredients for Spencer’s birthday dinner when we heard the telltale beeping of the Emergency Alert System. Like any weather fanatic, I’d been following the storm threat all day — but thought we were in the clear.
It’s funny how quickly we can shift from dinner mode to shelter-in-place — but severe weather threats have to be taken seriously. The conditions in Southern Maryland run the gamut: heat and cold, humidity and ice, thunderstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes — heck, even earthquakes. Many of us have sought shelter through storms . . . and whether you experienced the F4 La Plata tornado in 2002 or have only heard stories, it’s wise to respect nature. Why take chances?
And so, reluctantly, I turned off the burner keeping the mashed plantains warm. Meat was abandoned on the cutting board. I plucked Oliver from his highchair as Spencer found flashlights, and we descended into the cluttered basement.
Since becoming a parent, I’ve gained a new appreciation for what it takes to stay calm under pressure. Not wanting to scare our 1-year-old, I grabbed a familiar toy on our way downstairs. Its tinny music and flashing lights were oddly comforting as we sat surrounded by boxes and home decor. All the things I haven’t made time to organize.
Spencer flew into ham operator mode. Retrieving a handheld radio, the small room soon filled with weather updates and warnings. I tried to stay calm with Oliver in my lap. He studied my face, maybe sensing something was up . . . but for once, Mr. Independent didn’t fight out of my arms. He barely made a peep, actually — almost worrisome in itself.
I’d been through this rodeo before, of course. Growing up, my parents were quick to take cover at the first crack of thunder. My sister and I were hustled into a bathroom, though not before grabbing some treasured possessions: our stuffed animals. I remember watching the sky blacken from a window and hurrying to find my sock monkeys.
As a kid with only a vague understanding of Mother Nature’s wrath, it was like a terrible game: if you were in danger of losing everything, what would you take?
Well, our sweet old dog, of course. Roxie was always ushered in the bathroom first, followed by Katie and me. Mom and Dad would assemble candles — for the inevitable power outage — and pass out flashlights, standing “guard” in the hall.
Everyone was too antsy to sit. Dad often stepped onto the porch to watch the wind and rain, taking in the scene before Mom nervously asked him to come back in. Roxie would be jittery — pacing, pacing — as Katie and I whispered back and forth. And we would wait. That impulse to gather, hunker down and protect still courses through me. Decades later, I sat with my own son in a windowless room. Hail pelted the patio as my husband offered updates from the back door.
“Is the sky green?” I bellowed, making Oliver jump.
Spencer stuck his head in. “What do you mean?” “The sky. Is it green?” No, he said — just gray. A stormy color. A “normal” color. An immediate relief.
Who could forget that otherworldly light accompanying the La Plata tornado? When severe weather threatens, that’s the creepy indicator I’m always looking for. Finally, it went dark. The worst of the storm had blown by, thankfully, but we still lost power. Only Oliver’s flashing toy cracked through the basement gloom.
“It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK,” I chanted, fumbling for my son. I’m 99 percent sure I was more afraid than he was — and if I was scared before, the perfect blackness didn’t help.
Spencer, however, was cool and collected: listening and prepared with his radio. A friend (and fellow ham) called soon after the storms blew through, checking on us and gauging conditions. Bob was ready, too.
We might not always consider and thank the folks standing guard in tough situations. First responders, police, firefighters, EMTs — and, as on Monday night, linemen and crews braving the elements to keep the lights on and roads safe for all of us.
I had no cell phone signal in the basement. Our internet connection was lost with the power. But the ham radio was clear as a bell, keeping us informed — our temporary connection to life beyond the basement.