Ryan Slabaugh: When Ike interrupted, a family appeared | SierraSun.com

Ryan Slabaugh: When Ike interrupted, a family appeared

RYAN SLABAUGH
Executive Editor

By RYAN SLABAUGH

My grandmother and I spent the day putting a puzzle together, which is No. 187 on the list of things to do during a hurricane, or something like that. In fact, we had combined it with No. 119, which is to watch college football, and No. 1, which is to witness the hurricane toss boat-sized limbs across the backyard.

When I visited Texas last week, I sat through my second hurricane in three years. The other, Katrina, needs no introduction. This year’s hit Houston, which was a few hours to the south, and then angled up through east Texas, where I joined my father for our annual bonding moment, an amateur fishing tournament.

When the storm hit, the family was watching through the spattered windows as a few drenched anglers cast into a nearby cove ” No. 388 on the list. For the most part, we were happy to avoid any contact with Ike, other than the occasional step out into the storm to look at the clouds shifting direction ” thing to do No. 4 ” and when we did, we found a spiraling sky, an ominous ceiling indeed. Back indoors we went.

No. 19, playing cards, came later, and No. 147, eating junk food all day, seemed a natural fit to the day’s relative nonchalance, which came to a dramatic peak when my father loudly proclaimed, “This is boring!” He won the card game.

Outside, a few martins capitalized on the weather, playfully swooping in the gusts like fighter pilots. Meanwhile, the puzzle remained a constant, a 400-piece quandary. The goal, a topographical map of the nearby lake, would appear once we got it finished.

When we did, it seemed like an M.C. Escher moment, that if you could zoom into the map, you’d see a little house with a few miniature humans huddled by the window, alternating gazes between a puzzle and the weather.

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But this is about family, a whole different puzzle indeed. If you can find positives in natural disasters “-millions were still powerless when I left Monday ” they constantly remind us of our humility, of the occasional need for help to survive, some of which comes from friends, some of which comes from blood.

So my grandmother, 87 years old and still one of the funniest ladies I’ve ever met, entertained me. She stood and peered at the puzzle, craning her neck one time, leaning over the back of the chair the other, not focused on the task at hand, really, but just nabbing a chance to hang out with her grandson ” when we did find a piece, we hooted. She is quite tiny, with a cute smile and glasses, and dates a man she met in high school. (They reunited at a reunion after her husband of 53 years passed away; her new boy bought her an indoor parking spot so she’d stay over during the winter).

Rain. Wind. They stripped all the blossoms off a spindly little bush. Grandma told me stories about an uncle, a Wyoming man who hunts game and refuses beef, and she told me stories about living through a tornado, about it raining so hard water squeezed like a ghost through the wood siding. My mother took turns telling about dating a man in high school who accidentally set off the horn of her car, and it stuck ” we were just talking, she said dubiously.

My father, a much better fisherman than I, complemented his mother’s tales of life on a farm. These stories of back then made it seem more than a little simpler time, before the days of e-mail and cell phones (my grandmother has one), and stories shared the old-fashioned way made me long for simpler times. The football game buzzed and cracked in the background. It rained there too. Predictably, I went online (No. 44) to look at boat blogs.

Then, it was over. Family, with the same clinical odds as everything else, fade and change and evolve, which meant saying a tearful goodbye at the airport, and in the long run, saying goodbye forever. I remember my grandfather, the one whom my grandmother will be buried next to, a thought too sad to let it linger. In retirement, my grandfather used to carve little wooden men as garden centerpieces that moved when the wind blew ” to saw a little log or to stand and give a wave.

Two decades later, with Ike locking us in, the 75 mph wind would have tested my grandfather’s craftsmanship, but those garden creatures, like my grandfather, are part of the past. In the present, my grandmother and I took the time to get to know each other a little better. In the future, I’ll never regret it.

” Ryan Slabaugh needs to update his mugshot, which was not on the list of things to do during a hurricane. Contact him by e-mailing rslabaugh@sierrasun.com, calling (530) 550-2650, or by commenting on his column at http://www.sierrasun.com.