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    Bill W
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The Castaway Hotel - 8 - 8. Chapter 8 - Stormy Times

Not everything was going as well or as smoothly as the farm renovations and March brought with it one final winter storm. This turned out to be a very bad ice storm and, unfortunately, it created some very hazardous conditions around the area. Everything came to a standstill. Not only were the schools closed, but businesses were shut down too, until the situation improved.

The ice coated the ground and roads, which made driving, and even walking, very treacherous. It also weighed heavily on the telephone and power lines, as well as on the trees. Not only did the weight of the ice bring down many wires and cause numerous branches to snap off, but it also caused a few of the trees to completely topple over. Throughout the day, you could actually hear the limbs cracking and breaking off, in the woods behind our house. Even as bad as that was, we were in for one more unpleasant surprise.

It all started while we were eating dinner, which we had to prepare on our outdoor grill after the power went off. You see, when the storm started and I saw what was happening, I had the boys grab all the camping gear from storage and Jake and I brought the grill inside. I suspected the electricity might eventually go out, so I wanted to be prepared. When it happened, we were ready and the items we had rounded up came in very handy.

First, I set the lanterns out to give us some light and then we wheeled our gas grill into the kitchen, so we could use it to cook on. I then had the boys take the sleeping bags and place them in the rec room, so we could sleep around the kerosene heater, in case the power didn’t come back on right away. I was glad we had all of these items to use in such an emergency and hoped others in the community were faring as well.

Anyway, as we were sitting and eating our meal, we heard a very loud noise, which almost sounded as if an enormous weapon had been fired. Immediately after that, we heard a tremendous crash and felt the house shake and shudder. Everyone jumped up from the table, but I spoke very loudly and told them to stay where they were, until we knew for certain what had happened. It would also give me time to investigate and figure out what our options were.

After making sure the boys were doing as they were told, I suggested to Jake that we should look around and determine what had happened. We told the boys that once we were able to discover the cause of the commotion, we’d come back and let them know what had occurred. Even though I felt something terrible had befallen us, I was not prepared for what we found.

The large, old maple tree, which used to stand next to the driveway and off to the side of the house, had succumbed to the weight of the ice and toppled over. The noise we first heard must have been the sound of its trunk snapping, after the ice caused it to bend precariously to one side. Eventually, it reached a point where it could no longer support the additional weight, so it gave way and came crashing down.

As our later investigations revealed, the tree was diseased and much of the center of the trunk had either rotted or been eaten away by whatever malady or vermin had affected it. This made it vulnerable to any number of phenomena and was what ultimately allowed this catastrophe to happen. The worse part was not THAT it fell, but WHERE it fell.

When the tree toppled over, it landed on the roof of the family room and smashed it in. It totally demolished that area, but it wasn’t all. The branches had also broken through the outer wall of Little Ricky’s bedroom and one of the second-floor bathrooms. Not only that, but it had also poked holes through the walls of Vinnie and Kevin’s first-floor bedroom and damaged their adjoining bathroom.

Besides those two floors being damaged, some of the roof of the main house had also been smashed in when some of the larger branches struck it. This left a large, gaping hole above two of the attic bedrooms as well. Needless to say, our home was a mess and we were all greatly rattled.

After Jake and I felt it was safe enough, we took the boys on a tour, so they could see what had happened for themselves. We were all very grateful we had been on the other side of the house eating at the time, so no one had been in any of those rooms when this happened. Quite frankly, if any of us had been in one of those areas when this occurred, we might have been seriously injured or even killed. The house can be rebuilt, but I can’t replace my boys. That’s why, after looking at the damage, we took a minute to thank God for keeping us safe during this disaster.

After we finished our prayer, we took out whatever we felt we needed to save or protect from each room and then I pulled the doors to the affected area shut. We then stuffed towels and blankets against the cracks under the doors, to seal them off from the rest of the house. We were totally cut off from the outside world, because not only were the regular phone lines down, but the cell phones also weren’t working. I suspected the cell towers were covered in ice, so the signals weren’t getting through.

When the ice finally melts and our phone service is restored, I will call my insurance agent to report the damage and see if it’s covered. Then, I’ll arrange for various contractors to make the repairs and, hopefully, this will take place within the next few days. I’m not sure how long this cold snap is going to last, but I pray it ends soon, so we can get everything fixed up.

Of course, a state of emergency was declared, so for the time being we’ll just have to settle in and wait the storm out. Although Jake and I have experienced hardships like this before, this was definitely something new for the boys. They hardly knew what to do, since all of their usual forms of entertainment, such as watching television, using computers, playing electronic games and such, were all out of the question now.

Other than a few battery operated devices they had, they were totally lost for something to do. Realizing this, I sent some of them around to dig out the old board games we had stashed in various closets and I dug up several decks of cards, including an Uno deck. Once we had all of these items in the dining room, Jake and I quickly organized some low-tech activities to entertain and occupy our troops.

At first, the boys claimed these types of activities were lame and boring, but they soon got caught up in the competitiveness of the games and forgot about their simplicity. The Uno game became an immediate favorite, since the boys loved being able to dump on each other with the ‘Draw Four’ and ‘Skip’ cards. Soon we were referring to the game as ‘You Asshole,’ because that’s what various boys would call the person who used one of those cards against him. This was mostly just good-natured kidding, but not entirely, as certain boys began to feel the boys on either side of them were unmercifully singling them out. We did manage to keep tempers under control, by constantly reminding them it was just a game, and overall we had a good time playing.

After that, the boys wanted Jake and I to teach them how to play poker and Black Jack, which some of them referred to as Twenty-One. Even though they had some basic knowledge of these games, they wanted us to help them increase their understanding and skills in this area, so we played a few practice hands. We explained the various types of winning combinations and let the boys know which ones beat what other hands. Shortly after we had done that, the boys wanted to start gambling.

Since none of them currently had much money in their possession, they decided to play strip poker instead. It wasn’t to see the others’ bodies, as that was a common occurrence around our house, but mostly to get someone else naked in the ‘cooler’ room. They thought it would be fun to watch him shiver and see the goose bumps form on his flesh. Somehow, these masochists thought doing this to their brothers would transform them into Smurfs (that’s a blue-skinned cartoon character for the uninformed) and be quite hilarious. The only thing was, they didn’t take into account that it could also happen to them. Jake and I saw no harm in this, so we let them proceed.

Although Jake and I had planned to just sit back and watch the boys play, they weren’t about to let that happen. I think our warped sons were eager to watch us suffer, more than they wanted to see their brothers in pain. What they didn’t count on was that Jake and I had played a lot of poker in our time and not only could calculate HOW to play the various hands, but we were also quite good at bluffing. Needless to say, we weren’t the ones who ended up bare-assed and shivering when the game concluded.

When we decided it was time to go to sleep, I had the boys go to the rooms that weren’t damaged and grab a bunch of quilts and blankets. Then, I had various pairs zip their sleeping bags together, to utilize their combined body heat as well. For the couples this was an easy decision, but we matched up the others too.

Everyone knew that Trey and Dion would be together, but we had an odd number of boys at home now, with Nick still being away. The boys solved that problem on their own, when Sammy and Andrew decided to team up with Graham. They felt the three of them could fit into the double-sleeping bags more easily than any of the others, so that took care of the odd man. Vinnie and Cole paired up too, which left Peter and Little Ricky together. I was surprised when Frankie and Mark decided to team up as well, even though I wondered if those two might choose to try to go it alone. Of course, Jake and I shared our sleeping bags too, so everyone was set.

After crawling into their improvised bedding, Jake and I placed some extra blankets and quilts over them, to help keep them warm. I think everyone was quite comfortable that evening and got a decent night’s sleep. It was tough getting out to go use the toilet during the night or getting up the next morning. Once you left the comfort of the sleeping bags, the house seemed quite cold. Although it wasn’t easy and we all regretted having to brave the severe weather, we survived. After eating a quick and hasty breakfast, mostly cold cereals, we settled in for another long day stranded at home.

Today, Jake and I suggested we play some of the board games we had dug out the previous day, to help pass the time. We played Monopoly, Sorry, Rack-O, Life and Clue. Most of these games were leftovers from when my biological children were young, but that didn’t seem to matter. Again, we had a great deal of fun, but as the day wore on, the temperatures began to rise and soon the ice began to melt.

By late afternoon we could hear the plows and other emergency vehicles going by or see various crews driving up to begin work on restoring power or reconnect the phone service. By nightfall, the electricity was back on, so Jake and I went down and restarted the furnace. That evening we had a normal meal, but the boys still chose to sleep together in the family room again, although Jake and I opted for our own bed.

The schools were still closed the following day, as not all areas had their power restored as quickly as we had. Some of the more rural roads still had shady sections that were ice covered and others that were blocked by fallen trees or limbs. We used this time to our advantage though, and I contacted my insurance agent and reported the damage. I also asked him to send an adjuster out to take the appropriate photos, so we could settle this claim as quickly as possible. I also called a tree removal company and several contractors, to get estimates on repairing the damaged areas, which included totally rebuilding the family room addition.

To my surprise, the adjuster came out that very afternoon. I later discovered my agent had pushed him into greater haste, because of all the various policies I had with him. He even managed to get results back to me a few hours later. Due to his quick work, I scheduled to have the tree cut up the next day and planned on donating most of the wood to the farm-homes. Both places had wood stoves as a secondary heat source and would benefit from our misfortune. After they found out what I was going to do, the boys offered to help cut the wood up into usable sizes and split it, which took care of another problem. I’d then rent a small truck to load it in, so we could take it out to them personally. It would be a good experience and great exercise for all.

The contractors gave me their estimates fairly quickly too, since they really wanted the work, but Jake and I took a little time to decide whom we would give each job to. Once we doled out the contracts and signed the appropriate paperwork, various groups began to work on the house before the end of the week. First we started with the clean up and removal of the debris and damaged furnishings. These items were tossed into a large trash container, which had been delivered and left in our driveway.

I also worked with an architect to redesign various sections of the house and we added a secondary exit from the back of the attic and second floors, in case of another emergency. We also added some improvements to the damaged sections, which included building another bedroom on the first floor, off the family room. This was done so there’d be a bedroom that could be used by guests, but also in the event we took in another disabled person, who might have trouble getting to the bedrooms on the upper floors. Both damaged bathrooms also were improved, by adding a larger shower stall in each of them. We felt that was appropriate, since the boys were getting bigger and never seemed to shower alone any more.

In the interim, we shifted the boys and their belongings around, so the construction could take place. We moved the boys from the damaged rooms into the rooms now sitting empty, because their occupants were away at college. This worked out well, since the work should be done before any of the others returned home for any length of time.

This event also made me alter some of our other plans, as well. Since Frankie would be leaving soon, I had planned to have a big going away party for him the following weekend. Now, his party would provide us with an opportunity to show our guests the damage done during the storm. It would also allow us to inform them of the changes we opted for during the rebuilding and give us a chance to catch everyone up on what had been taking place on the farms.

On Saturday, all of our friends and family attended and seemed to enjoy themselves, but no one more than Frankie. He was thrilled that everyone came to say good-bye to him and wish him luck, because he continued to think of himself as an outsider and the least deserving member of the family. I had tried many times to dispel this notion, because he had proven himself over and over again since those rough early days. The problem was, no matter how much we tried to convince him that he was a valued family member, a concept he seemed to accept for short periods of time, he still acted surprised, yet pleased, by such simple acceptance. I hoped this would change when he returned home, after his enlistment was up.

I had a special cake made for him, which read, ‘Best wishes and good luck, Private Currie.’ Frankie thought that was funny, but I told him he better get used to answering to the terms ‘private’ or ‘trainee,’ because that’s about all he’d hear during basic training, except during his off hours. Even though he kind of understood it beforehand, thinking about it now had more of an impact, so it appeared he was beginning to realize how much his life was going to change over the next few weeks.

“Are you having second-thoughts or regretting your decision?” I asked him.

“No, not at all,” he responded, quickly. “It won’t be easy, but I’m sure it will be more than worth it, especially if it helps me get a job later.”

“I’m glad you still feel that way,” I told him, “and I’m sure you’ll do your best. I’m willing to bet the son I’ve grown to know and love so much would do no less.” He smiled at me, after my words sank in. I had added that because I felt he could probably use a little boost before leaving.

“Thanks, Dad. That means a lot to me, especially coming from you. I’ll do my best, so I don’t disappoint you,” he added.

“There’s no way you will ever disappoint me,” I told him, “as long as you don’t change from the person you are now.” He smiled again.

“That’s a really nice thing for you to say,” he responded, touched by the sentiment, “and I promise I won’t do that.”

“Somehow, I knew you wouldn’t,” I added.

Throughout the party, Frankie stopped to chat with various people and accept their good wishes and words of encouragement. His brothers, however, seemed to have something special planned for him – something to bring him back to earth. Before long, they were marching around the house dressed in various camouflage outfits, with one clearly labeled ‘Private Flunky.’ We all caught on to the fact this person was supposed to represent Frankie, and while Drill Sergeant Dion shouted out commands, Private Flunky seemed to manage to mess every one of them up.

Frankie really got a kick out of this and I think he was impressed that his brothers had gone to such an elaborate effort on his behalf, even if it was just to make fun of him. Our guests also thought the boys’ routine was quite amusing and laughed heartily at their antics. They also made sure to compliment them when it was over.

Even though I feigned distress over their compliments and jokingly tried to keep our friends from encouraging the boys into doing future demonstrations of this sort, I was still impressed by what the boys had done. What would any of us do without the good-natured ribbing the boys were so prone to resort to, especially when they thought someone needed a little lesson in humility?

The rest of the month of March was spent fixing up the house, finishing the changes on the farms and seeing Frankie off to active duty. There were just the two of us on that trip, since I wanted to spend some time alone with him. I actually shed a few tears that day, when I dropped him off at the airport to catch his flight to Missouri, and Frankie noticed that fact.

“Dad, I’m only going away for a little while, not for good,” he playfully joked. “You won’t be able to get rid of me this easily.” Hearing him say this, I immediately gave him a hug.

“And I wouldn’t want to,” I assured him.

“I’ll keep in touch, so don’t worry about that,” he added.

“That’s good,” I advised him. “I don’t know what the service allows you to do any more, but they used to encourage you to write home, using ‘old fashion’ paper, envelopes and stamps.” I teased. “Do you think you can figure out how to do that?”

He grinned. “Oh, I think I’ll be able to figure it out somehow, even if I have to ask my Drill Sergeant or an ‘older’ trainee to help me out.” He winked, to emphasize his point.

“Okay. I’ll check the mail every day, and will write back, just as soon as I get each letter. If they let you have access to computers, then I’ll do the same with your emails, and I’ll post your messages for everyone to read, if you don’t mind.”

“If there’s anything personal that I don’t want shared, I’ll put that in a separate letter and mark it accordingly. Okay?’

“Yes, I think that will work just fine. Let me know if you need anything too,” I advised him. “You did remember to bring the traveler’s checks, didn’t you?”

“Yes, I did. I am smarter than that,” he added, with a twinkle in his eye.”

“I know, but this way you’ll have money and I won’t have to worry about it getting stolen. Here’s a little something else for you,” I told him, as I handed him a gift I pulled from behind my back. He unwrapped it immediately, to discover a stationery kit, complete with carrying case. It contained a very nice set of paper, matching envelopes, two pens and I had also included four books of self-adhesive stamps.

“Guess you thought of everything,” he joked.

“I tried, but there’s one more thing.” I took the carrying case from him and pointed out an interior pocket, originally designed to keep his incoming mail in. “Keep your traveler’s checks in here, along with the letters you receive. If anyone breaks into your footlocker and goes through your belongings, I doubt they would go through that and discover them there.”

“Great idea, Dad, and thanks.” Frankie hugged me again, before he left to go to his departure gate.

I waved when he stopped to look back, just before he disappeared from sight. I also sat in the parking lot and watched several planes depart. I was pretty sure Frankie had been on one of them, so I finally felt I could leave.

As I made my way home, it became a very long and lonely trip. No matter how many times I say good-bye to another one of my boys, whether it’s to go off to college or on another life-changing experience, it never gets any easier. Realizing that, it made me begin to wonder if maybe I was getting a little too old to continue doing this for much longer.

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