Thursday, June 9, 2011

The passports, but not the TV: What to grab in a tornado watch

When the news broadcasts started mentioning tornado watches last week, I told the kids we might need to go into the basement. “Can I bring the TV?” Tim asked.

I eyed the respective sizes of Tim, the TV and the staircase and pointed out that bringing the TV into the basement would require a special visit from Gentle Giant Movers, and my guess was that they weren’t available to pay a house call in the two or three hours left before the estimated arrival of the high winds. “Bring a book,” I told Tim.

But thinking about it afterwards, I wondered whether his wish was to save the TV from a tornado or to be assured of use of the TV while we hunkered down in the basement. He doesn’t watch TV shows; he uses the TV to play online video games with his friends, which other than baseball (the old-fashioned kind, not the video game) is pretty much his favorite thing to do.

As we listened to the recurrent broadcasts about potential tornadoes – which, to our enormous good fortune never materialized in our part of the state – I thought about what we should in fact bring with us if we had to retreat to the basement. It was something I’d thought about lots of times before. Always that popular question: If your house was burning down, what would you grab?

I remember first being posed that question in a school writing group when I was in second or third grade. As an adult, it became more of a practical matter, something to which I knew I’d better actually have a viable answer. Last year I was reminded again of the importance of thinking about emergency preparedness on a lesser scale when my husband found out his grandfather was in the hospital and probably didn’t have much longer to live. Despite the fact that Rick knew there was a snowstorm in the forecast, as he raced out of the house to drive the hour south to the hospital before dawn on that February morning, he neglected to bring along a change of clothes, his phone charger or his daily medications. He ended up staying at the hospital for 48 hours; all three of those things would have been mighty useful to have on hand. I made a mental note to review the concept of emergency preparedness with him as soon as possible.

Nonetheless, I never have a great answer for that question myself. Over the winter, we packed up and moved our entire household, and the more I packed, the more indifference I felt toward many of our belongings. It’s true that I’d miss my wedding album if I could never look at it again…but I’d be okay. The kids’ writing projects and art creations from grade school are fun to collect….but those too I could manage without. All of my own work – books and articles written, articles and research currently under way – exists these days in the cyber-cloud, as do the past five years’ worth of family photos: if they burned up, I could literally download them again.

We have one file of papers that would be a hassle to replace, such as passports and birth certificates and marriage certificate, so I’d like to grab that file. I have a couple of pieces of heirloom jewelry I’d like to take along. And I’d also want my three favorite electronics: my laptop, iPod and Kindle. But the electronics, really, are like Tim and his video games; it’s not that they’re irreplaceable. They’re not even that expensive. It’s just that I really like them and use them every day, and would want them even the day after a tornado or fire.

Needless to say, this isn’t a question anyone wants to have to answer for real. Had the tornado watch in our region turned into a warning, we probably would have descended into the basement, and I’m certain I would have had the Important Papers file, my wallet, and the aforementioned electronics, plus my family members and pet, of course. I suppose the cookbook my mother wrote would be something I’d want to save as well; other copies of it exist but are not easy to come by. Basic toiletries – toothbrush, glasses, contact lens case – would be useful.

And then I think I’d be okay. There might be books and photos and memorabilia I’d miss, but for the most part, I’d have what I needed. At least I think I would. But maybe I’ll add our wedding album to the list, just in case.

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