2011-03-31 / News

There’s nothing like a good hailstorm

Flotsam and Jetsam
By Donna Drago

The last time I was caught in a hailstorm was about 1968.

I had just returned from a shopping trip to the A&P with my grandparents. We were driving in his plain white Plymouth with the red vinyl interior and had just pulled into the driveway. No sooner had grandpa turned off the engine, it happened. As if the clouds were having a “terrible twos” tantrum – the ground became alive as millions of hailstones were flung out of the sky. Like ping-pong balls they hit the summer grass and bounced up and down a time or two. There were so many it was hard to watch just one at a time. Instead my eyes darted right, left, up and down trying to follow the paths of so many missiles, which, at the time, seemed to be heading right for us.

We were stuck in the car. The clattering on the roof prevented normal conversation. All I can remember hearing was the clack, clack, bang, bing-ety, bing on the roof of the Plymouth and my grandparents yelling “What?” “What?” at each other.

This went on for what seemed like an eternity until some minutes went by and it stopped. Just stopped. Nothing. Quiet. Not only that, the sun came out too and turned each of the hailstones into golden glowing embers on the lawn. Armageddon to Shangri-La in a split second.

If you weren’t there to witness the cacophony, the mineral smells, the fear that the windshield of the Plymouth was just one ping shy of bursting into a million pieces – if you didn’t see it yourself you would be stupefied and caught without the words to describe it to someone else.

When it was over, I spent some minutes picking up the cold, unbelievably round, perfect stones and tossing them up in the sky as if the sky needed them back. It was fun to hold them, to feel its perfect form. It was fun to imagine that they were from heaven or from Neptune, or some other place I would never see.

This week, some 43 years since the last time I was caught in a hailstorm, we had another.

Again, it came without warning. My husband and I were sitting on the back porch down south. We had just grilled some hot dogs for lunch and were putting sauerkraut and mustard on them when a black band appeared in the sky. Some mild thunder and lightning followed and then the front passed over the house. When the dark band crested the roof – and the sky lightened up a bit – the stones started clattering on the porch and the street. They pinged off the windows and clanged in the gutters. Some neighbors left their cars in the driveway, where the stones were fast enough and big enough to cause damage. My husband ran out and put the car in the garage and we took out the cameras. After 43 years without a hailstorm, I wasn’t going to let this one get away from me.

It only lasted about seven or eight minutes, but when it was over there was an inch of hail in some places, none in others. On what was a beautiful sunny day, the sidewalks were now slick with ice.

When it was nearly over and not quite so frightening, folks started coming out of their homes to marvel at what just happened. I didn’t interview anyone, but I imagine that they were all remembering back to their childhoods – the last time they saw the spectacle of a hailstorm.

It was over; I had taken several photos and even some video of the final moments of the storm. I felt sad. I wanted it to last longer, to ensure that it would etch into my memory in a way I would never forget it because I won’t be around in 43 years.

I looked around at the ground covered in perfect round ice balls and the first thing that popped into my head was “Mojitos!”

The way that I saved the memory of the hailstorm was to make cocktails with the heavenly ice cubes. I proposed this idea to my husband who shook his head the way he does when he thinks I have a lame-brained idea – think Desi and Lucy – and he said that the hailstones were likely “tainted by Japanese radiation.” But I didn’t care. I gathered a bowl of ice balls mixed with blades of grass and rinsed them off in the sink. To each glass I added a little rum, a slice of lime, and sprigs of mint, which is growing in a pot on the front porch. I topped the mixture with some lime seltzer and then finished the cocktail with my heavenly ice cubes.

They may have been irradiated, polluted, poisoned, but they were ice orbs sent by the gods for only the second time in my life and this time, instead of throwing them back to the sky, I ate them and toasted the wonderment of hailstorms.

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