Still like that old time ra­dio

Maryland Independent - - Southern Maryland Classified - Twit­ter: @right­meg

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.

Ob­so­lete, in­deed.

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