My parents live between 480 and 520 miles away from me, depending on the route you take if you drive there, as I often do. They live in Massachusetts, in a magical place called Cape Cod.
However, during the recent blizzard, aka Winter Storm Juno, Cape Cod became the equivalent of a million miles away, as, one-by-one on CNN, I watched the governors and mayors of New Jersey, Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts announce they were closing the roads.
I watched the clock as the window of driving opportunity to Cape Cod got smaller and smaller until it was as small as a tiny pointillist dot on an electronic screen and then—poof—even the blip vanished as if it was never there.
I conferred with my husband. I conferred with my three siblings in Florida, Georgia and Colorado. It was too late to go.
“Go and do what anyway?” I wondered.
My parents may be in their 80s but they are capable of caring for themselves, I reasoned.
I told myself, they have a generator in case they lose power (which everyone on CNN has confidently predicted would happen).
“Oh well,” I thought. “They’ll be OK.”
I knew that in addition to their landline telephone, they had a prepaid cell phone—but I was a bit concerned because talking to them on it has always involved a lot of yelling.
“Are you there?”
“Can you hear me now?”
That sort of thing.
But they would be OK.
Snow had begun falling heavily on Cape Cod on Monday night when my brother, Kevin, called to say he had not been able to reach them by phone.
“The house phone goes directly to voicemail, and it appears the cell phone is not turned on.”
We decided to keep trying to reach them. I visualized my stepdad and mom in their family room easy chairs, watching television oblivious to the fact that their phone wasn’t working and seeing no reason to activate the cell phone, just in case.
I visualized my stepfather with his iPad. I willed him to check his email and see the three—yes, three—emails I had sent asking him to turn on his cell phone.
Then I visualized disaster.
Something wrong with the generator; a wind-heightened flood at high tide … one of my parents ill. In fact, my mother had been hospitalized twice in the first 10 days of January.
My mind moved as though in a snowy tunnel behind tiny headlights—up 95 North, through Delaware, onto the New Jersey Turnpike, into New York …
All I could visualize was screaming wind and driving snow from behind shuddering windshield wipers.
I pictured their house on the water. The neighbors to the right would not be there—like nearly all the homeowners in the neighborhood, they are summer people. The neighbors to the left are relative newcomers, and although I had jotted down their phone number when I met them on the beach during the summer, I could not find the number. I did not know their names.
I imagined talking to the local police, asking if someone could drive over and check on my folks during a blizzard. I looked at the police department website and saw pictures of a tractor-trailer accident they were currently working.
There was one other idea. A quarter mile away, on the same street, we had a couple of friends—two brothers. My family had owned a summer cottage next door to their family home before my parents built their year-round home.
We’d been next-door neighbors during the summers of the late 1960s and the 1970s. I knew they were in the home improvement and roofing business today. Several years earlier they had replaced my parent’s roof.
The two brothers who still lived in the house were always nice to me, but I didn’t think I had spoken to them more than twice in 30 years.
And when we were kids, they were friends with my siblings more than with me. Because they were all younger than me, I hardly knew them.
I realized that during those Cape Cod summers, as I grew up, we tended to hang with other kids who were exactly the same age and grade. The Martin boys—now men in their 50s—were always nice to me, but I wasn’t even sure which one was Paul and which one was Bobby, and so on.
Nevertheless, earlier that day, when I was wondering what I would do if something happened and I could not contact my parents, I had located their business phone number and tried it. I got a recording, announcing they were probably on a roof somewhere but I could leave a message ….
I was pretty sure at the time, even though the storm had not officially arrived, that the Martins were not on anybody’s roof. I had hung up.
Now, I looked at the clock. It had been two hours since my brother called to say our folks could not be contacted.
I called the business number again, hoping that even though it was 9 p.m., that the Martin’s business phone might ring in their house after hours.
It did. I had a nice conversation with Paul Martin, who remembered me very well. I asked him about the weather and he told me the snow was falling, the wind was blowing and the worst part of the storm was still ahead. I told him I was a little concerned about my parents, but I did not ask him to check on them.
I couldn’t. It was a blizzard. He encouraged me to call again if I needed anything.
I gave the Martin’s phone numbers (I now had Paul’s cell number as well) to Kevin. He wasted no time calling Paul back and asking him to walk down the street to my parents’ house.
“Pound on the door, and ask them to turn on their cell phone.”
As you probably figured, my parents were just fine watching television, blissfully unaware the telephone was out.
Nonetheless, it takes an awesome person with an awesome heart to put on his boots, hat, coat, scarf and gloves and stagger a quarter-mile through a blizzard to pound on the door of two people who are not expecting a knock on the door, because 500 miles away, 1800 miles away, 1250 miles away and 1100 miles away four people you knew when everyone was a kid are worried about their parents.
Paul Martin. My hero.
Well, readers, thank you for reading. After nearly 13 years, this is my last O’Keefe’s Journal.
I have decided to try my hand and brain at writing a book. I will miss The Town Courier, and I will miss all of you. Thanks especially to everyone who has ever told me that one of these columns touched them—or annoyed them—or made them laugh or cry. You all have made it so worthwhile.
See you around,