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Hellish storm coming? Well, let's clean the fridge

A scene in a George Burns movie titled Going In Style came to mind recently while all of us were waiting for Hurricane Ivan to arrive in the Tampa Bay area.

In that scene, Burns finishes washing some dishes and then neatly puts them in the dish rack to dry _ before he goes to turn himself in to serve a prison sentence.

I could identify with the character in that scene. It seems sometimes the only way to maintain one's sanity in a basically insane situation such as waiting for "the big one" to hit is to pay attention to the routine little details of life. What is it they say from the Homeland Security Office _ something like, "Go on with your life but be alert"?

So while Ivan was supposedly bearing down on the Tampa Bay area, we spent time cleaning the house. Everything was going to be in place, by God, if our house was going to be blown away.

Of course, this all sounds pretty stupid, but by putting our house in array, we were kept from thinking of it in disarray.

And this was not the end of our attempt at normalcy. I kept writing and pursuing other things that I enjoyed. My wife continued reading a novel she was enjoying and tended the garden outside as if everything would be in place a week later.

We tried to ignore as best we could the huge pile of limbs we had dragged to the easement in front of our home after Frances came to visit. We rode that one out in our home, including a stint of 33 hours without electricity. We were especially grateful that we live on a corner which has a very long easement area, because the huge branches we put there filled nearly every square inch of that carefully tended patch of green. We tended to concentrate on looking at the rest of our yard, which has been complimented by several neighbors, mainly because of my wife's constant efforts to make it look beautiful.

But there were some things we could not ignore, despite our attempts at business as usual.

Behind our couch in the sun room were several bags which we would use in the event we had to go to a nearby shelter when the storm arrived. There were also some briefcases full of important documents. Finally, in the garage were two recently purchased lawn lounge chairs that would serve as our beds in the shelter.

We had read all of the literature and noted all of the things we had to do to get ready to serve as host for a hurricane like Ivan, and despite our reluctance to have him at our doorstep we were prepared to follow instructions from wiser (and probably calmer) counsel found in all those tipster booklets.

The schizophrenia involved in preparing for the worst while at the same time trying to go along with everyday life is pretty wearing. Sometimes, despite trying to busy ourselves with the mundane, we fretted about what our home might look like after we came back from the shelter.

At the same time, we were fortunate, it seemed to me, to have stayed in our home during Frances, because we realized our home was probably no place to be during a much stronger storm.

With all of this schizophrenia, would we consider quitting the state, as some have at least said they will do?

Well, we have lived in "tornado alley" in the Southwest and we saw whole small towns flattened there. We have had the terror of living in California when some really big earthquakes hit. We lived in the Midwest, which had many tornadoes, where we weathered one of the most horrible snowstorms we had ever seen, and that was just one of many we had endured there.

In short, we have seen it all before, and despite the fact that hurricanes give you more time to worry, we prefer plenty of warning over sudden events, such as tornadoes or earthquakes.

As for getting out of here, let me relate this story: During that huge snowstorm in Indiana, we managed to walk through the waist-deep snow to a grocery store. The woman at the courtesy counter seemed to be really angry. She said that she and her husband were going to get out of the Midwest because they could not stand the weather there anymore.

One month later, she was gone. Their refuge from the hazards of the Midwest? Florida.

Douglas Spangler is a freelance writer and retired university administrator who lives in Palm Harbor.

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