Steve Mullen: Water, and lots of it

September 23, 2009 9:38:00 AM

Steve Mullen - [email protected]


I''m starting to understand how people in Seattle must feel. 


The rain is here, and it won''t go away. When is the last time we had a clear day, sunup to sunup? At this point, it seems days like that never existed. Somewhere, children are gathered around a rocking chair as Grandpa spins a tall tale about how he once left his car sunroof open overnight, and nothing happened. 


Columbus has had more than 9 1/2 inches of rain just this month -- a month that refuses to end. More than five of those inches came in just the past week, according to the weather service.  


Still, we try to carry on. The in-laws were in town last Friday to take the kids back to Oxford with them for the weekend; we drove to West Point to eat dinner for a little send-off.  


Driving across the prairie, we had a scenic view of what Noah probably saw coming. Pitch black sky, lightning, an electric sense of foreboding in the air -- in other words, a typical day. 


By the time we finished dinner, the deluge was upon us. What looked like a white-water rafting course was flowing along the curb in front of Anthony''s. We scrambled to our cars. 


Those with short legs are the most at risk in these situations. The 7-year-old wasn''t so lucky. Too little to jump over the river running between the sidewalk and the parking lot, she stepped right in, and lost both her flip-flops. Those size 1 black-and-pink Roxys are somewhere in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico right now. 


Why flip-flops? Agreed, they are not proper footwear for a cataclysmic weather event. But we''re flip-flop people, and those habits die hard. 


We moved here from a place where flip-flops are worn year-round, with an average rainfall of less than five inches a year. (Columbus, on average, gets more than 40 inches a year.)  


In other words, we''ve seen two years worth of rain in the past couple weeks. 


In Bakersfield, Calif., rain is different. Trace amounts will send the populace into a frenzy; the smallest showers flood the streets. People drive 30 in a 55 mph zone through what we consider sprinkles. We never carried umbrellas or raincoats. 


But that was a mere eight-year intermission in our Mississippi lives. Back we are, and we''re used to this.  


The kids, however, aren''t.  


For two children whose idea of normal is 4 inches of rain a year, a thunderstorm is a novelty, and not a welcome one. The 9-year-old is constantly scanning the horizon for tornadoes. In between, she sounds like Al Roker. "Is that a super cell?" Or, if we''re out of town: "This weather won''t be in Columbus, unless there is another front moving in headed north, right?" Or, eyeballing a fluffy white cloud: "Dad, look over there, does that look normal?" She peers outside as if Katrina were barreling back down on us. 


We were away during Katrina, and thank goodness for that. If a 100-foot pine tree came crashing through our roof, like one did into my brother''s house in Jackson, the 9-year-old would probably end up in a mental hospital. 


This is all trivial, though, compared to what other people are getting farther east. If we were in Atlanta right now, we''d have some real problems. People are losing much more than flip-flops, in water a bit more raging than a gutter in downtown West Point. 


The kids will settle down, the more storms they get through -- and eventually, they''ll be able to handle something that''s actually serious. (And that''s something we dare not hit the 9-year-old with, at least not right now: It''s inevitable; something serious will indeed come, someday.) 


For now, we keep telling them: It''s only water. Just how much is anyone''s guess. 


Steve Mullen is Managing Editor of The Dispatch.