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Joe's Neighborhood

After the storm

11/13/2013

The storm was forecast to come out of the west. Strong winds were to hit England first in the morning, then scoot across the channel and slam northern Europe by the afternoon — 80-90 mph winds, maybe higher. Flights were cancelled. Trains were shutting down. British television was warning that the next morning’s commute wasn’t going to happen. It was time to batten down the hatches.

Sitting comfortably in The Hague, 194 miles across the North Sea from London, this Iowa boy began to wonder what it would be like to see an ocean storm. You know, curious in an academic, sophisticated way. OK, maybe curious in a weird, storm-chasing way. But I’ve been around. I lived through the 1993 floods in Des Moines, where, just like you, I carried drinking water from an Iowa National Guard water truck home to the family. And, believe it or not, I was folding sheets at the Holiday Inn in Estes Park the summer of 1976 when the Big Thompson roared down the canyon causing death and devastation. So, I’ve seen a bit of water. But never an ocean in a storm. I wondered what that looked like.

So, wisely waiting until my wife left for work, I went to take a look.

We live several blocks from the North Sea. As I leaned into the wind and rain heading for the shore, I started to get a little nervous. I saw trees down. Big trees. Uprooted. Yikes. I forgot that we are living in a city built on a beach. Roots are shallow. It looked like a giant toddler had come and gently pushed the trees over on the way to the toy room. And if trees were pushed over, what about all those clay roof tiles? What if the toddler started throwing those? “Brained by a roof tile in Holland.” If I wasn’t killed outright, my wife would finish the task.

Bent over, leaning into the wind, I made it to the harbor. Of course, the harbor was jammed with boats and ships looking for protection from the storm. But I didn’t expect the noise. Their wires and ropes screamed unrelentingly in the wind. A little unsettling for my already jangled nerves.

Ah, one last sand berm to get to my destination — the beach.

OUCH! The wind was sweeping across the beach so hard that my eyes were blinded by the hard-hitting sand. And soon I realized from licking my lips that it wasn’t rain drenching me, but salty ocean water. OUCH again, as more sand pummeled my face. Even when I turned my back to the wind, I was getting soaked to the bone. With sand and salt in every nook of my body, freezing, partially blinded, scared stiff, I looked at the crashing roaring waves through my sand-encrusted eyes and raced home. Terrified of nature, as I should have been while sitting in my armchair. Stupid.

But you already knew that. I really wanted to tell you about another storm.

Mickey was 130 pounds in his prime, a big lab from almost day one. He would leap and buck with joy whenever anyone paid him any mind, which we all did. He asked to be loved. A simple demand. So, without much thought, we complied.

My youngest wrote a 10-point manifesto as to why we needed another dog for our three cats and “lonely” female lab, and taped it across our bedroom door. I resisted at first, but before long, I’m meeting Mickey’s grandfather, a gentle giant. The deal was done. To be fair, Mickey’s arrival did result in chewed-up shoes, gnawed-on chairs and a couch eaten through to the wood frame. But then he would put his large wet nose on my thigh, and his huge lab eyes would look up with joy and mischief. What are you going to do? So much for anger. He was a balm for the soul.

Where he thrived was in the country. The sight of a big dog running in the tall grass makes my heart sing, although he did terrorize the deer, rabbit and raccoon population — and, a skunk or two. But with his gentle mouth he would bring the terrified animal to our feet, leaving to us the task of what to do next. And he’d sit wagging his tail. He didn’t care what we did. He did his part.

joes1Mickey lived long for a big dog. His liver had problems, but he miraculously survived. Then, his hips started going. He didn’t care. He just circled a little more slowly in the tall grass. But now he can’t rise anymore. Food is no longer a thought. So, today, the vets from Starch Pet Hospital will appear at our house for the third time over the many years they have lovingly cared for our animals. Each time, I say I will never do it again. But, “again” is here. And my two sons remain at home as witnesses. One moment, Mickey will be alive. The next moment, dead. It is unthinkable.

And so go the storms of life.

joes2Stunningly bright-blue clear skies followed this storm in the North Sea. The winds were soft and warm. The waves were gentle. The sun was shining. So, what to do after a storm? How do you put yourself back together? Perhaps you shake your fist at the heavens. Perhaps you pull the covers over your head. Or, perhaps… you just put on your wet suit, hop on your bike, grab your surf board and head to the beach.                  

There, you will hook up with your buddies and run into the ice cold water to frolic as we were meant to do.

And play in the North Sea all afternoon until your mom calls you home for supper.

joes3There you go. Perhaps that’s what you do after a storm hits your life.

And, for those who aren’t here to weather another storm, including my beloved Mickey, may they rest in peace in the tall grass. CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, his wife is assisting in the prosecution of war criminals in the Netherlands for several months. He’s along for the ride and writes about being an Iowan in Europe on his blog at www.joesneighborhood.com.

Barmuda