The text reads, “D got a tornado warning on his phone, said to get to the lowest level. Can we come down there with masks?” My older sister is the sender and is staying with her husband and three kids on the upper half of the vacation duplex we’ve been renting as a family (of origin) for the last ten years or so. We’ve been coming to this beach-side town for the last 25 or so. But, a tornado warning at the Jersey Shore? This is a first for us.
My sister and her family have come from Minnesota where tornados are not entirely unheard of and where most buildings have basements or a designated tornado shelter. As kids on the east coast, we used to spend a week or two at a small beach in Virginia where many of the houses were raised up on stilts, in anticipation of floods and hurricanes. At night, lying in bed, when the wind kicked up a bit, I could sometimes feel a slight sway in those houses. It was a comforting, not threatening, sort of a rocking. Later, I would learn that this type of slight give or flexibility under the pressure from the wind made these houses more likely to survive through a storm. It’s the stubborn, immoveable ones that get knocked over.
In New Jersey, my sister and her kids don their masks and troop downstairs, which is on the first floor, which feels, at this time, neither high enough to be safe from flooding nor low enough to offer protection from tornados. Plus, there’s this virus going around. We’re in a weird place.
I am staying downstairs with Eric, the kids, and my parents. My brothers and sister in law are staying in another cottage a couple blocks away. Armed with information from Eric, the virologist, and my sister who is a health care provider, we have been meticulously planning this trip over zoom and email and regular phone for months now. Our primary concern has been keeping my elderly parents, the most vulnerable in the group, safe from COVID-19 while still being able to enjoy the mental health benefits of socializing with kids and grandkids. Meals and hugs and hand washing have all been considered and discussed. Many in the group have gotten tested in the week before or isolated themselves to a greater degree. We’ve brought extra hand sanitizer alongside regular load of sunscreen. Eric has set up porch-sized mesh tent to allow for more bug-free socializing outdoors. We’ve stocked the fridges and freezers (including a few different homemade freezable doughs for fresh baked goods) and planned out meals in the three kitchens to cut down on trips out and to limit time socializing indoors. Like every year, we anticipated that we might have a rainy afternoon or day or two. But, given that trips to the movie theater or local library would be out, we planned for this too: bringing video game consoles and tablets and plenty of chargers. And, well, the first few days have gone more or less according to plan and we are, generally, feeling pretty good: grateful to have this time together in a beautiful setting by the sea. Even the early-in-the-season hurricane to the south of us seems to have resulted in not much more than the anticipated rainy day.
And so it was that we were in the downstairs half of the duplex, wondering whether the tornado warning was a mistake, given that only one of our phones received it when the electricity went out.
(To be continued.)