You move to Arizona to get away from hurricanes, but it turns out massive tropical storms care not at all about geography.
So begins a summertime ritual for you and so many others with loved ones who live along our country’s Atlantic coast. A swirling mass appears in the ocean.
Like clockwork, you pick up the phone.
Two thousand miles away, in south Florida, my father answers on the sixth ring. His knees ache at age 73 and Parkinson’s disease has slowed him to a halting shuffle, but my dad is never one to let a call go unanswered.
Even now, 20 months after the death of my mother, his greeting on the phone startles me a bit. For the 52 years of their marriage, spokesperson was my mom’s role.
Yes, he is watching the coverage of Hurricane Dorian – there’s nothing else on.
Yes, he has bottled water, batteries and candles and everything Publix will run out of in the next 48 hours. Yes, the clock is ticking on boarding up the house. No, he doesn’t need me to come help.
“What’s the point of flying all that way, Dave?” he says, while I examine his tone for clues. “This thing will probably miss us. They usually miss us. They always miss us.”
It’s our annual summertime dance, me offering hurricane help and my father turning me down.
The truth is, he doesn’t much need me to mount plywood to the windows of the house where I grew up, because my father lives with my brother and my 20-something nephew, who will do the heavy lifting in a pinch.
But it seems to make my father feel good to have things under control, to flex his independence, so I offer and let him say no.
We hang up and the ritual commences in earnest. I monitor hurricane models all through Labor Day weekend with the usual monologue running through my head — hopes that the storm lands nowhere at all, prayers to spare one city, one house, one family and prayers don't turn into some other place winning the worst possible lottery.
Dorian, meanwhile, appears to take dead aim at my father’s house in Miramar, while destroying the Bahamas with Category 5 fury.
For two days, the storm slows and treads water off the Florida Coast, apparently making up its mind. Then it makes a slow right turn, like a snowbird meandering toward a highway exit, and heads north up the coast.
“These things always miss us,” my father says on the phone, sounding vindicated.
I don’t bother reminding him of the hurricanes that didn’t miss, the long list of names, David and Andrew and Charley and Irma and Michael. Selective memory can be a healthy thing for all concerned.
So, he goes back to the recliner in front of the television, back to watching the old Westerns he favors — “Bonanza” and “Gunsmoke,” “The Rifleman” and “Have Gun, Will Travel.”
Me, I sit deep in the West, scanning a list of hurricane names, deciding which ones sound fierce.
Following behind Dorian, Erin, Fernand and Gabrielle all have been duds, never more than polite tropical storms.
Humberto is next, but conjures little fear, given that it’s the name of a pretty good Mexican restaurant out in El Mirage.
Imelda? Sounds like a Filipino dictator’s wife, famous for her shoe fetish. Jerry and Karen come after that and they sound like that couple up the street.
You will keep up the storm watch all summer long, deep into October, standing sentinel from afar, watching the man while he watches his Westerns.
Hurricanes, it turns out, bring out the child in all of us.