Sean Dietrich

Tonight as my mother-in-law lies in her hospice bed, still holding to life, my wife suggested that I share my mother-in-law’s all-time favorite column from several years ago in honor of her life. This one remained stuck to her refrigerator for years.

Without further ado:

Well, the hurricane is approaching. It’s morning, and the first thing I hear in my mother-in-law’s house is the blaring Weather Channel.

My mother-in-law likes her television at volumes robust enough to rattle her artificial hip. Especially when the world is ending. Like today.

On the screen, a lady-meteorologist is having a nervous breakdown. On the map, she points to a red-colored cyclone that’s roughly the size of Greenland, and says, “THIS IS A HURRICANE!”

This is the kind of insider information you get watching the Weather Channel.

She then traces the map with a digital pointer, making colorful and scientific designs. She says, “ONE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-FIVE MILE AN HOUR WINDS, FOLKS!”

My mother-in-law turns the volume up.

The weather-woman looks like she’s about to faint from anxiety. She adds, “It’s ESSENTIAL to make sure you have bottled water, triple-A batteries, and a BIKE HELMET…”

“Do we have any bike helmets?” says my mother-in-law.

“Helmets? You don’t even own a bike.”

“They said I need a helmet.”

“You? What about me?”

She shrugs.

The first thing I’d like to mention is that the weather forecasting business has changed. For most of my life weather-people wore polyester suits and looked like your father’s dentist. They pointed to maps and told forecasts in radio-DJ voices. They never talked about bike helmets, and they never lost their cool on the air.

This weather-woman’s mascara is running.

So I go to the garage to check on the helmet situation. All I find is my old catcher’s mask.

“We need bottled water, too,” my mother-in-law calls out. “Is my car gassed up? Buy some batteries while you’re at it. Oh, and be sure you get some toilet paper.”

Of course, we live on the Gulf Coast, so this is not our first big hurricane. In fact, we’ve seen so many storms that nearly every year the Weather-Channel vans come to town and get ticker-tape parades. We love these guys.

Half of my immediate family has been featured on the television discussing major tropical disturbances.

There was the famous interview my uncle gave during Hurricane Opal at a hardware store:

“Good afternoon, sir,” said the weather-person with a microphone. “Any thoughts on the storm which could slaughter thousands, potentially destroying millions of non-profit pet shelters, nursing homes, children’s advocacy centers, and monasteries?”

My uncle spit out his wad of Skoal and for his big national TV debut, he said, “Heck of a thing.”

Weather Channel gold.

That same evening, my uncle got thirty-five phone calls, two marriage proposals, and one invitation to speak at the annual policemen’s banquet.

It should be said, I take storms seriously. Storms like this are no joke. This one is strong enough to suck the blood out of a deer tick and leave me with a lot of yard work. But the worst part, if you ask me, is that this storm will probably require evacuation.

And, if you’ve never evacuated from a hurricane, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s a lot like going on vacation with your mother-in-law during a historical reenactment of the American Revolution.

Imagine you’re in a traffic jam, stretching from Orange Beach, Alabama, to Beaverton, Oregon. Your vehicle is loaded with boxes of family photos, fine china, shrink-wrapped wedding dresses, your mother-in-law’s walker, and every pair of shoes your wife has ever bought.

Your wife is driving. You’re listening to radio updates. And of course, your mother-in-law announces that she has to pee.

So you stop at a gas station. There are six hundred cars who do the same. Mostly, these are minivans with screaming children and dogs stuck in kennels.

You escort your mother-in-law inside to the bathrooms, hoping her roller-walker will earn you a good spot in the long restroom line. It doesn’t. You’re running out of time. In line, your mother-in-law explains that her bladder is reaching the critical zone. Something must be done.

The important thing here is to remain calm. Which you do. You explain to her that you were once a Boy Scout and that going to the bathroom outdoors is all part of God’s natural plan.

Next, you guide your family’s matriarch to the dumpster behind the service station. You stand nearby, eyes closed, ears plugged, singing “Amazing Grace” loud enough to drown out all ambient sound.

And it is this precise moment when you realize that you forgot to bring toilet paper.

But anyway, the good news here is that there is no talk of evacuation with this hurricane. At least not yet. Furthermore, I am grateful for the Weather Channel and for that frantic weather-woman. Without her I would have never thought about things like bike helmets.

Speaking of helmets, you really ought to see my mother-in-law in her catcher’s mask. She is adorable.

And I will add that we are all going to miss her dearly.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South and has authored seven books.

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