What to Take to the Basement?

I’m lucky to live in a house with a basement and I know it. I can stash my Christmas decorations down there when the holidays are over. There’s plenty of room for the ping-pong table. And it serves as a nifty slumber party room when my grandkids come to visit.

Best of all, the basement is where I hunker down when storms threaten.

If you live in middle Tennessee, you know what happened on May 7. Lightning, thunder and torrential rains moved in, along with conditions perfect for tornadoes. “Go to your safe place,” forecasters warned. “Things are likely to get nasty.”

Because I got out of the slow-moving line of cars back in March when NOAA weather radios were being given away at the fairgrounds, I don’t have a dedicated way to learn that bad weather is approaching. In addition to looking up at the sky, I rely on social media and TV news, which are fine if I’m awake and the electricity is working, but not so good in the middle of the night when the power’s off. So I decided that the first thing to do that stormy Tuesday night was download a weather alert app to my phone.

Then I set about carrying everything I might need down to the basement.

First, a helmet in case the winds got wild. Back when I was a biker chick, and I’m not talking bicycle here, I owned a serious motorcycle helmet, complete with lacing chin strap and full face shield. But when I gave up the motorcycle, I saw no need to keep that helmet. Bad move, right? I also don’t own a ski helmet. On the rare occasions when I snow ski, I rent a helmet. But I do have a super-duper equestrian riding helmet, which I store—along with some beat-up saddlebags–on a hard-to-reach closet shelf because I no longer have a horse. Nope again to head protection when the weather’s coming at me fast.

The good news is I’m still a bicycle rider. And I keep my bike helmet in the garage, hanging from the bicycle handlebars. On the night of the storm, I grabbed that helmet and buckled it on. Then I started gathering supplies. An oil lantern. A flashlight. My cell phone, which I’d put on the charger as soon as I heard the weather forecast. My purse, so that if winds destroyed everything above ground I’d still have my sunglasses and keys and driver’s license and debit card and a little bit of cash.  Also my library card and Medicare card and voter registration card.

I hurried downstairs and piled those things on the bed in the corner of the basement. Now all I had to do was hunker down.

But wait. Maybe I ought to grab my laptop computer. I sure wouldn’t want it to blow away. And if I was stuck underground for hours I just might want to write something. A newspaper column, for instance. Also, I should definitely grab a couple of engrossing books. What about snacks and drinks? Sure, I could drink out of the bathroom faucet but a glass would definitely make it easier. And though I’d just had supper and wasn’t the least bit hungry, what if the storms didn’t move out for hours? It wouldn’t hurt to have a pack or two of peanut butter crackers handy just in case.

After countless trips up and down the stairs, I finally settled in with the dog to wait out the storm. Though it was thundering mightily, I’d received no tornado warnings so I wasn’t particularly nervous. I cleared a spot on the bed amidst all my stuff and, with the lights still burning bright, fell fast asleep without meaning to. When I woke up, it was morning. The storm had dropped five inches of rain on my part of town but my house, thank goodness, was still standing.

And my column practically wrote itself.

(May 18, 2024)