Amanda Hopper Writes

A writer's tale of living and working in the country.

Month: April 2011

Breaking In the Storm Room

Growing up in Ohio, I knew storms as all day, slow and steady, events. Clouds bursting with rain moved at a leisurely pace, and sirens usually meant playing in the basement for a few hours.
Then I moved to Texas.
Everything is bigger and fiercer in Texas, including her terrifying storms. Clear blue skies streaching as far as the eye can see can be quickly overtaken by angry swirling clouds. Movie-worthy lightning sprints through the sky, tipping over mighty oaks as if they were no more than matchsticks. Hail as big as softballs, yes softballs, slam into the earth and anything left upon it.
Then it’s over.
The rages of the Texas skies come and go without warning. A clear radar can suddenly errupt with bombardments reminding one of a war map upon a general’s desk.
Insurance companies hate Texas.
Roofers love Texas.
After months of dry and near misses with grass fires, the storms have begun to grace us with their presence. While wildfires are a thing of the past for our area, we have reunited with the storm radio and have given the tornado room a good cleaning for those thirty minute sessions of visitation.
One of the boys said it best as we hunkered down in the concrete cell, “if it ain’t somethin’, it’s another.”

Home Fires Burning

Where do you consider your home to be?
Is it a place…a feeling?
What would you take with if you had only moments to leave?
Turns out, I would take my three boys, my purse and keys.
It’s grass fire season in Texas. So yesterday, when I smelled the smoke (even with the windows closed) I knew.
I raced around to each window, looking for smoke. When I found it, I couldn’t find enough air to catch my breath. The bedroom window perfectly framed the thick black smoke billowing from behind our trees by the road. I immediately dialed 911 and told the operator what I could see.
“It’s right across the street” came her hollow voice.
“What do I do?”
Leave.
I called for the boys to get their shoes on, and get in the car. We made sure they dogs were loose and peeled out of the garage. Fires were burning the pastures as we drove. Trees were consumed.
As we drove further down the road, we saw a mountain of fire where an old farmhouse used to be. Images of waving at the inhabitants as I drove by played in my mind as sickness and sadness mingled for their loss.
Nothing could be done.
The curve in the road brought the firefighters into sight. There was nothing they could do. The house was gone, and the 60 mph winds were blowing the flames into the parched grass beyond.
What does dry earth do with a flame?
It burns.
Everything.
We left the house at 4pm and passed the water trucks as they were flying down the country road. We checked back every hour, but every hour seems like 4 when no one knows if your house is still standing. An 18 wheeler stood at the intersection of our road and the main road that runs past as two smaller water trucks took turns refilling and running back to protect the houses in the path of the inferno. The fields were left to burn, while the firefighters fought to prevent life and property from burning with them.
When we were finally allowed back home, around 9:30pm, the devastation was apparent even in the dark. I could see fires burning farther north than I should have been able to see. Our mailbox lay on the ground and looked like someone tried to cook s’mores on it.
We cautiously took in everything knowing, from a conversation with a firefighter, that the fire had jumped the road and burned a front yard, up the gutters, and onto the eves of a house…though he couldn’t recall which one.
When we rounded the driveway on our land, everything was standing. The dogs were waiting for us on the porch. The gutters were free of scorch marks. Our patchy yard was still green. But our sprinklers were in a completely different configuration than we left them. And the chairs were sitting in the flower beds.
They had used our sprinklers to water our foundation and porches…just in case.
That act of kindness almost sent me over the edge.
As if they weren’t busy enough, risking their lives, they thought to protect my home. The kids bikes were pulled away from the house, but not in a way that suggested rashness. A way that suggested they understood that this was a child’s home.
And they saved it.
It did not go unnoticed by the boys. They understood, without explanation, what those brave firefighters did for them. More than was required. Above and beyond.
The morning light brought relief and overwhelming thankfulness. The fire had licked at our land, a three square foot area had burned next to our gate. Our neighbors’ front yard had burned well away from their house.
The once green pastures are now black wastelands. The once tall trees are kindling. Smoldering fires can be seen in the distance, and heat from the ashes can still be felt in the air.
Today is a new day. A day without wind to fan the flames. In a short time, the earth will heal and life will replace the death. Our sadness now is aimed completely at the family that lost everything. Our prayers are for their restoration and may God’s blessing be fully realized on them.

View from our driveway. We didn’t used to be able to see the pasture.

 Our Mailbox.

Looking northwest from our house. This is where the smoldering fires are still taking place.

 Our small burn spot by the front gate.

View looking northeast.

Conversations with a Four-Year-Old

No one will ever tell new parents the truth.
The sticky, messy truth that kids make you (and others) question your sanity.
A perfect example is the times when your young child says something painfully honest or just plain weird and everyone looks to you for translation. You have absolutely no idea what the kid is talking about, but people think you’re a bad parent if you can’t understand the erratic musings of a midget who will eat cold macaroni and cheese for breakfast. You frantically ask questions of the half-pint trying to decipher something you can give the curious onlookers, then usually have to make something up.
Sadly it gets worse.
The true questioning of one’s sanity really comes when you begin to actually understand the strange conversations from the perspective of the mini-you.
Here are some examples of recent conversations with Ian.
Example number one:
Sam is unloading the dishwasher while I am helping Grant with a math question and the front door slams. A huffing and puffing Ian yells, “The swamps are trying to kill me!”
Grant and Sam both look at me and say, “what?”
Without looking up from Grant’s homework, I reply, “Wasps are trying to sting him.”
Example number two:
“How was your field trip today”? I ask Ian.
“Good.”
“What did you see at the Youth Fair?” I prompt.
“Woosters, horses, stinkers, cows like ours, and goats.” He replies.
“What is a stinker?”
I can see him looking bored in the rear view mirror as he answers, “Pigs, but they stink.”
“What were the horses doing?” I ask
“Standing.” He sighs.
“What were the roosters doing?”
“Screaming.” He offers.
“What were the pigs doing?” I really should know better than to ask.
“Stinkin’.” He says with an implied duh in the tone.
Yet another conversation:
As I am finishing up my shower, I hear Ian on the other side of the door.
“Look at my fingers momma.” he says.
I immediately look at the floor where it meets the door and see little fingers poking under.
He asks how many fingers I see until I finally see all ten. Next comes the toes, where I have to keep saying that I see five or ten toes.
Suddenly a wail comes from the other side of the door as he laments, “Oh no! God forgot to unstick my toes!”
This makes perfect sense to me. He can’t put only one toe under the door like he can with his fingers.
Then it hits me.
I can sing the intro song to Dinosaur Train. I have several Franklin books memorized. I instantly understand that Ian is referring to Cat in the Hat when he quotes “cat”. I know almost all the names of the Justice League action figures, I quote Yoda when offering life advice, and I am the standing champion of Battleship in our house.
I have become a part of it.
The club that you swear you will be too cool to be invited to join.
The minivan majority.
Those poor souls who live out of their vehicles, carry the big bag filled with wipes and extra band-aids, and who can speak gibberish.
None of us dreamed of having calendars filled with color-explosions of activities, or to spend our evenings studying 5th grade math. To walk, drive, and cook while spontaneously shouting out this week’s spelling test words to kids who shout back the answers while walking away.
We did not ask for it!
But we certainly wouldn’t trade it.

Ian falls asleep in the strangest places…