Stormy Sunday—A Day in the Life

January 23, 2017

by Jane

Sunday, January 22

Steve wakes up, as usual, before I do. He goes into the main area of the motorhome, closes the sliding pocket door to the bedroom, and does whatever it is he does in the early morning. After a while I hear the sound of the coffee grinder and switch from mostly asleep to getting-ready-to-get-up-as-soon-as-the-coffee-is-ready. I know; I lead a charmed life. Please don't hate me.

I went through menopause so long ago that I can't even remember when it was, but I still get night sweats, and since this is Sunday and the church we've chosen to attend worships at 10 a.m., I break with my normal routine of no-woman-left-uncaffeinated and instead shower first. Being uncaffeinated, I forget to turn on the bathroom fan, but fortunately Steve notices and turns it on for me while I'm in the shower. In Florida humidity, we don't really need to add any moisture to our interior. We've already learned that water condenses on the ceiling if we don't leave a vent open.

I shower, get dressed (one of my four dresses today, since it's Sunday and currently hot), grab some coffee, then ask Steve whether we're online. We are, so I check e-mail and Facebook. Larry Bommelje has another dryly witty post that makes me laugh—a much-needed diversion from all the political commentary. It would be easy to fritter away an hour online, but we have limited time (church is at 10 and—still don't hate me—I sleep late now that I'm retired) and limited data, so I log off in time to make breakfast, brush teeth, and head to church.

Another Sunday, another new church. This is one of the worst parts of the nomadic lifestyle that we've chosen. (The other is being away from friends and family.) We are surprised this morning to discover that we are attending a congregational meeting to vote on the pastor's compensation package. We check the bulletin, and yes, we are in the right place at the right time for worship; it just happens that a congregational meeting is scheduled for the same time.

It's not the kind of congregational meeting we are used to, for which budget information is distributed weeks in advance for members to review and details are projected on a screen during the meeting. Here, a member of the session says, "The session is recommending that the pastor's compensation be exactly the same as it was in 2015 and 2016, Any comments or questions?" Someone asks whether the details are available; nothing is available in writing, but the session member reads the main categories and the amounts: salary, housing allowance, required benefits. Another member stands to say that it would be helpful to have this information before the meeting; a member in the far back stands to say that in the ten years she has been part of the church, this is the way they have always done it. No more discussion ensues, and the proposal passes by a voice vote, with only two "nays" (neither of them from the man who suggested improving the process).

The more churches we attend, the more we appreciate the preaching we've received at our home church in Wheaton. This Sunday, though, we are blessed with both an insightful, biblical sermon and good congregational singing. The pastor is extremely heavy, and he preaches while sitting in a chair (and shakes hands after the service from a chair placed at the exit); he is decidedly not the young, cute, and athletic stereotype of a youth pastor, but he seems to have a good rapport with the young people of the church: several high-school aged kids go up along with the little kids for what in many churches is called the "children's message" but here is listed in the bulletin as the "Time with Younger Members of the Church." We have been in too many churches where teenagers have been conspicuously absent; I'm happy to see a multi-generational congregation today.

We stop at a Winn-Dixie on the way home. In our "old life," we generally wouldn't be shopping on Sunday—while I don't think it's wrong to do so, I grew up in a tradition in which we didn't do things that would require people with limited career choices to work on Sunday, and it's a discipline that sticks with me—but we're new in the area (as we almost always are) and had found only a Sav-a-Lot yesterday, which didn't have everything we needed. (Oddly, almost no fresh vegetables. Fortunately, we stumbled across a farmstand later on Saturday; fresh, local produce in January continues to amaze me.) Among our "grocery" needs today is cheap cooking oil that we can use to lubricate the rubber ring in the toilet, which lately hasn't been sealing well.

Lunch is salad—another way our life on the road differs from our life in suburbia. Sunday dinner was always the noon meal; Steve always cooked; and it was (as anyone who ever ate Sunday dinner with us more than once knows) always the same: roast; baked potatoes; and either broccoli, green beans, or Brussels sprouts. Occasionally we still have our main Sunday meal at noon, and once or twice it's been a roast, but just as often, Sunday is like any other day, meal-wise. So much for "we've always done it this way."

This week we're in Rainbow Springs State Park, an area without a whole lot of stuff to do. We arrived on Thursday; kayaked all day Friday on the crystal-clear river; swam, visited gardens, and went into town to buy groceries on Saturday. Today is extremely windy—we've already had to pack up our big outdoor mat so it won't blow away—with rain predicted, so we're not planning any outdoor activities. I picked up three books from the park office book-swap shelf (one of which I've already read and can recommend: An Unfinished Life by Mark Spragg) and I have a craft project in mind, so I'm happy to spend the day hanging around home. Besides, I injured my foot a few days ago (I think by running on the beach in my water shoes; I've discovered that running barefoot in the sand blisters my toes, and wearing running shoes means I have to stay out of reach of the waves; water shoes were my latest and apparently unsuccessful experiment) and it hurts quite a bit today. Steve has an entire library on the Kindle, and no doubt there's a ball game of some kind on TV, so even though he normally gets restless if we're not up and doing, he'll be happy enough to stay home this afternoon.

I've challenged myself to see what I can make using only a ball of twine, a knife, and beach findings. There are some people you can put in a craft store, and their creativity knows no bounds. Turn me lose in a craft store, and I'm overwhelmed by all the possibilities. I find that my creativity is stimulated by limitations. I love figuring out what I can do with the things I already have on hand. And, of course, it's cheaper.

Normally I work outdoors at the picnic table, but it's too windy today, so I open up our dining table and spread out my beach gleanings. Steve, I am pretty sure, stifles a sigh. He'd like to lie on the couch to watch the ball game, but the only place the table fits is in front of the couch. This is one of the (surprisingly few) times we feel the pinch of tiny-home living. But he's a good man and an understanding husband, so he settles into the recliner/driver's seat (turned to face the living space, not the windshield) and cedes the couch to me.

I want to make a necklace with a cast-away vibe, so I sort through my shells for some that already have holes in them. (I have drilled holes in shells for other projects, but I'm trying to avoid attempting to pierce shells with only a knife.) Then I experiment with different ways of stringing them into a necklace—most of which look good while lying on the table and lousy when hung around the neck. I could probably find tips and tutorials online, but I like the process of figuring it out for myself. Most of my pleasure is in the making, not in the finished product. Eventually I settle on a much simpler necklace than I had envisioned. I still want to make the one I had in mind, but I'll need a few more sophisticated supplies to accomplish it, I think. I hang today's necklace around my neck (I particularly like the way I found to fasten it: a string loop and a shell) and slip a couple of shells over some earring wires just because I happen to have them. Looking at the necklace in the mirror, I decide it's a good thing that I was more invested in the experimentation than in the outcome! Still, I'll wear it for the rest of the day.

As I'm packing up my shells, the weather radio alarm goes off. Tornado watches in the counties north and south of us; a severe thunderstorm warning for our county. A few minutes later, it goes off again: tornado watches upgraded to warnings in the neighboring counties; our county is now under a tornado watch. We grew up in tornado country, so we know that a watch means that conditions are right for a tornado; a warning means that a tornado has been sighted. So, yeah—if tornadoes have been sighted in the counties on either side of us, conditions are probably pretty good for a tornado in our county.

We ask each other, "Did you check with the ranger about where the emergency shelter is?" Neither of us did, but we figure the campground bathroom is the likeliest place. I ask (again) whether all our computer data is backed up on the cloud so that we don't need to take the computer with us if we seek shelter. Steve tells me (again) that it is. We watch the TV and the weather app on Steve's phone as alarms for neighboring counties keep coming over the weather radio. They are very loud and, frankly, alarming. Eventually the notice we've been hoping not to hear: "Tornado warning for Marion County. A tornado has been spotted. Take shelter immediately." We grab our wallets, rain gear, phones, and keys, and I grab my glass of wine, too. Technically, no alcohol is permitted off the campsite, but I have a feeling no one is going to be checking.

As we hurry to the bathroom building, we encounter a man walking toward us. We tell him about the warning, and he turns and falls in step with us. We gather under the overhang and introduce ourselves. His name is Lenny. He's wearing a fedora and a white Panama shirt, and he has a distinctive face—he reminds me of Jim Carey in The Mask. Maybe it's the hat.

I notice a man sitting at the picnic table on the next site, so I go over and tell him about the tornado warning, interrupting before I realize that he's talking on his phone. He puts his hand over the phone and says to me, "I know. Batten down the hatches," then goes back to his conversation. I think that maybe he will come to the shelter once he's off the phone, but he never does.

A couple with a dog join us at the bathroom building. The dog's name is Radar, and she is immediately drawn to Lenny. We speculate about whether the building is made of cinder block. We can't tell—it's sided on the outside and tiled on the inside—but we hope so. We watch the sky and discuss which room we should go in if things start looking bad. Lenny tests the wind and tells that the women's bathroom is the safest place; it's on the windward side, so if the building falls, it won't fall on us. At least, most of it won't. In a few minutes, things do start looking bad, and we all file into the women's bathroom—Radar, too, despite the "no pets allowed" sign.

I'm started to feel a little frightened, and it seems like the others are, too. Lenny pulls a harmonica out his pocket. "Did you know that the best acoustics for a harmonica are in a church?" he asks. "The second best is the s*** house. Mind if I play?" We say, please do, and he warns us that Radar may start yodel.

He plays, "You Are My Sunshine," and sure enough, Radar joins in. When the song is over, I ask what else he knows. I think he has appointed himself to keep our spirits up, and I appreciate his effort. He says, "Well, I'm going to New Orleans after this," and plays "Oh, Susanna," with Radar's accompaniment. Steve is roaming the bathroom looking for a spot where he can get reception to check his weather app, and Denny (the other man) is watching him. I think that maybe the building is cinder block, after all; that would explain the lack of reception. Lenny pulls out his phone and tries, I think, to distract us by showing us pictures and even a video of his daughter's dog, who also loves to "yodel" with the harmonica. In the video, the dog is wearing Lenny's hat and a sports coat and "singing" along to Lenny's harmonica. Lenny explains that it was for a contest sponsored by a dog food brand that has blue in the name, so the dog is supposed to be singing blues. Later I realize that maybe the costume is supposed to make the dog look like one of the Blues Brothers.

When we've seen all the dog photos, Lenny asks whether he may tell us his favorite joke. He's from Ohio, but he has the kind of manners that I associate with Southern courtesy, even calling Steve and Denny "Sir" every now and then, despite the fact that Lenny seems to be their senior in years. He tells us a joke about heaven, and just as I'm wondering whether there's a non-pushy way to make sure my companions know how to be part of the real kingdom of heaven, Steve opens the door, looks at the sky, and says it looks like the worst has blown over. We all troop out of the bathroom, and Denny lets Radar onto the grass in case he needs to do his business.

Steve checks his weather app—he can get reception out here—and the radar shows that the storm has passed. We hang around for a few minutes, saying things like, "Good to meet you," "Safe travels," and then Lenny asks whether he can recite something for us. It starts, "I have a friend," and Lenny pauses there to shake first Denny's hand and then Steve's, "who has a friend"—and he nods at the two of us women. It's a love poem, all about how the man has given his whole heart to his wife, "till death do us part." When he finishes, we clap, and Lenny says, "Some people say I'm a wordsmith." I ask whether he wrote the poem, but someone else is talking at the same time, and Lenny doesn't hear me.

Another round of handshakes, and we all head back to our campsites. It's still windy and squally, but this is ordinary wind and squalls, and we go about life as usual, making supper, washing dishes, checking the PBS schedule to see what time episode 2 of Victoria is on.

Just a day in the life.

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  1. You are such a gifted storyteller! I was riveted. :-)

  2. Thank you, Stephanie! You're no slouch yourself. :)

  3. You can't believe how my heart skipped a beat when I saw the Swiss Army Knife. Wish I'd been armed w/ one at some congregational mtgs I attended when folks were deciding what I'd get (not earn, really) or, one time, not get. Glad I'm done w/ that and gladder still that cong mtgs got lots better the last 15 years or so of pastoring. Gladdest yet that you're all safe.


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