Kevin Winter – What The Storm Did
It was early when we got there. The sun was no more than a gray vagueness laying low against what remained of the treetops. A drizzle hung in the air, swirling into a fine mist when it came to the old rooster wind-chime, the corners of the house, the bill of my cap. Although my T-shirt was soon thickened by its moisture, it was but an anticlimax compared to the downpour of the night before. In the backyard, our boots sucked and sloshed in the mud and we skated more than walked down the hill. We nodded to those already there but the only sounds were the slaps and patters of drips into the flat hands of leaves and we left it that a-way.
At the bottom of the hill lay a bare patch of Earth, almost a perfect square. Cement blocks stacked in the corners, three high. The tin shed that had been stilted on those blocks for decades had been tossed onto its roof twenty yards away. Looking at it, I remembered fetching a countless number of cartons of peas or beans or creamed corn on nights long-lost. A child’s errand for his grandmother. It had seemed so indefinite, that shed, so permanently a part of the landscape. Like the clay-wash on the other side of the road or the three strands of barbed wire pulled tight along the north line of the orchard. Now it was a mangle of scrap metal in a place it didn’t belong.
A couple of us wormed our way inside. Glass shards from broken pickle jars lay in clusters here and there. A bent pair of crutches. Opaque garbage bags full of the rattle of aluminum cans. A plastic bucket ran through with a rake handle. And boxes and boxes and boxes. We counted one, two, THREE and flipped the deep-freezer back right-side up. An electrical cord was passed in through the broken window, the generator was fired up, and the vegetables were salvaged.
Someone from town had brought coffee and breakfast and we took a minute’s break to eat and look at the damage to the house. Vinyl siding hung from its walls like the flaking skin of an onion. The front porch overhang sagged askew as its support beams dangled without level purchase to the ground. Shingles were peeled back, some were littered about the lawn. And the whole house was plastered with flecks of green, brown, orange, yellow, the Indian-rainbow; wind-driven leaves and blades of grass.
Someone made a half-hearted joke about tearing the house down and building a new one but no one laughed, not even the one that said it.
By the time we finished with our biscuit-and-tenderloins, the drizzle was gone and the sun was out. We used a car jack and long pieces of lumber to lift the front porch overhang enough to reset the support beams. As we stepped back to appreciate our work, the aunt that had run off to the city finally arrived with more coffee and more breakfast. We all got a laugh in at her expense, partly because of her lateness and partly because of how funny she looked in her brand new polka-dotted galoshes.
The tractor shed had the better part of a tree laid atop it, the tractor itself the only thing keeping it from being pancake flat. We wrapped a stout chain around a corner post and winched the shed up long enough to back the tractor out, its big-tread tires mashing diagonal lines into the soft mud. Then we let it tumble to the ground and we stared down at its mossy shingle roof, wiped the sweat from our foreheads.
Downed trees were everywhere, twisted and splintered and snapped. The blazing ball of the sun was full up as we gassed up the chainsaws, everyone sharing in a laugh at how small mine was. But no matter the size, it made fine work of the cutting and we had at it for hours amongst the octopus arms of the fallen trees. Then we stopped for a bite of Grandmother’s homemade sandwiches and sweet iced tea.
A man came from the local paper to take pictures. He said he typically covered sports but this was all-hands-on-deck. He smiled an underbite, motioned toward my Cubs hat, and asked me how I felt. I told him I’d feel a lot better with some middle relief in the pen and we both shook our heads the way only true Cub-fans can. Then I laid out the damage in as clear language as I could and he jotted down shorthand notes on a pocket pad.
Once he left, we went back to the chainsaws and the task of hauling away the endless branches. The sun was beginning to lessen but we worked on. By and by, all the other saws began to dysfunction. The crank cord was sheared on my father’s, the chain had slipped from its track on my brother’s. But mine kept on keeping on and in the relative silence of its idling engine, I reminded them all of how they’d laughed and we laughed some more.
At last, the setting sun splashed its purple paint across the western horizon and we put the saws away. An assembly line formed, trailing from the capsized metal shed to the house and boxes of all colors and sizes were passed from person to person up the hill. Christmas boxes mainly, but also boxes of jars, old newspapers, old magazines, old keepsakes. Lawn chairs were unfolded and we plopped down exhausted into them and began to sift through the boxes. Someone found a crystal punch bowl set that was hardly chipped and we served cold coffee from it, toasting the passersby that came sightseeing along the road.
One by one we got up and stretched and knuckled our sore backs. We leaned down and hugged Grandmother. Someone said that it sure was one more whopper of a storm and although everyone else nodded, we all knew the truth. It hadn’t been a whopper, this storm. A whopper would have slung the house like this storm had slung the shed. A whopper would have drawn more than the sports columnist from the county paper. A whopper would have broken what we couldn’t fix, taken more than we were willing to give. And I think we knew it, all of us.
But no one said it, and that was okay, too.
Then we left, our headlights cutting cones into the night.