Monday, August 16, 2004

A Tree Falls In Someone Else's Forest

Though few of us are good people, most of us are adequate people. We may do no more than sympathize with distant catastrophes but at least we sympathize -- though having made this modest claim I recall my fundamentalist youth when distant catastrophes were pretty much evidence of sinners who didn't speak English, or at least our kind of English, in the hands of an angry God who almost certainly did: Y'all are damned to Hell.

Of course, the closer the bad news got, the more likely we were to blame weather patterns and lax fire codes -- in my house we feared clear thinking the way that the demented TV lady feared ring around the collar. But if something bad happened a time zone or two away, much less on the other side of the world, we thought folks were getting what they deserved, and we slept better as a result.

That was a long time and a 179-degree change in personal philosophy ago. (You never do get that last degree, do you?) I'm talking about Californians, now. We are adequate people. We sympathize and occasionally donate canned goods and used clothing. We are depressed by hurricanes and things, in part because we know that sooner or later the earth will shake and we will get ours.

This Florida hurricane, though, touched us more closely. My wife's mother lives near Orlando in a little place called Winter Haven, where the Cleveland Indians currently hold spring training, and Hurricane Charley rolled right over her. The good news was that Winter Haven is in the middle of the state and the winds were merely fierce, just a little under murderous. We can all laugh about it now. A wind-blown grapefruit punched out a window. The house has sprung some new leaks, but maybe the insurance will cover it.

My mother-in-law is brave to the point of foolishness or mulish to the point of bravado -- I've known her for 40 years and I haven't quite figured out the math. My wife's sister Esther, who is visiting her mom, couldn't beg or plead her out of sitting in her sun room where she was able to inspect the storm personally. Finally, my sister-in-law lured her into the core of the house by promising to play cards with her. They had no idea what was going on because the electricity was off and my mother-in-law has apparently sold or given away the succession of portable radios sent to her by her various daughters. She is 93. No one bosses Henrietta Landrith, and no one ever will unless there is a God, in which case it's 6-5, you take your pick.

They still don't have electricity and are cooking the contents of my mother-in-law's freezer on her gas grill. Since they aren't likely to get power restored for another four or five days, apparently life is now one big candlelit all-you-can-eat orgy, with the neighbors going from house to house noshing. In the case of my mother-in-law, they are also sloshing around in the bathtub since she is the only one in the neighborhood with natural gas and thus with hot water.

We have another connection with the hurricane. Oh, 25 years ago, my mother-in-law and my late father-in-law gave us a Florida lot. The value has fluctuated wildly, but it has never seemed worth our while to sell it, since it has potential because it's not, well, it wasn't, underwater .... (You see where this is going.) Our lot is in Port Charlotte, where the hurricane came ashore, its winds somewhere around 150 mph. You can't knock a lot down. We think the lot might have had a tree or two.

Last week.

In the last year or so, we have been getting cards, letters and phone calls offering to buy the lot. Apparently, the area has finally started to develop, and it seemed my inlaws investment might at last pay off. But not for a while longer, not now. Common sense tells you that the destruction Port Charlotte and Charlotte County have suffered will probably whack the value of our little investment property. People will be rebuilding for the next few years, and those too traumatized to do that will be putting some fine new lots on the market: All you have to do is remove the debris! BYOB: Bring your own bulldozer.

I really don't mind that an investment we never thought was going to pay off has had that payoff pushed into the indefinite future. I can take this degree of inconvenience. I almost welcome it, filled as I am with sympathy. But actual pain and loss? I'm not that religious anymore, or even that philosophical.

2 comments:

edith said...

I laughed outloud several times and hope I didn't disturb my co-workers. I needed a break in my dull day. I needed to smile, enough of serious things! You tell the truth, but make truth fun and easier than it might otherwise be. How can your fingers type such joy?
pleasure?

edith said...

I laughed outloud several times and hope I didn't disturb my co-workers. I needed a break in my dull day. I needed to smile, enough of serious things! You tell the truth, but make truth fun and easier than it might otherwise be. How can your fingers type such joy?
pleasure?