Texans are naturally friendly. We can be relied on to wave, smile and say hello. (We don’t actually say howdy.) In small towns, particularly, being neighborly is a way of life. We loan things to our neighbors. We help them gladly.
Usually. Except once.
In Texas we say that if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute. Our climate is, to say the least, unpredictable. A day may start out hot and sunny and end up with hail and snow. Rain often becomes a gullywasher without notice.
One of the largest downpours in memory was accompanied by dramatic thunder and lightning. Eight inches of rain fell in the space of an hour and a half, during which lightning struck near our next door neighbor’s house, setting off his burglar alarm.
The neighbor, Abe, was a divorced doctor who lived by himself and worked long hours at the local hospital. As the alarm noise from his house went on and on, it became clear he wasn’t there to turn it off.
I was at home and not working at the animal shelter that day so I called the hospital and asked to speak to him. They said, predictably, that he was “busy” and couldn’t come to the telephone.
“Then would you give him a message, please? This is his next-door neighbor. Tell him lightning has struck his house and his alarm is going off.”
The voice said, “Just a minute.”
He was instantly on the other end of the line. “I can’t leave here. Would you please go next door and see if there’s any damage or fire and turn off the alarm? I’ll give you the alarm code.”
“Abe, I don’t think the lightning actually hit your house. I believe it just set off your alarm. Besides, if there were fire, wouldn’t it be better to call the fire department?”
“I’m really busy here. Would you just go next door and check?”
I slowly said, “Uh, Abe, have you looked outside?”
“Yeah, it’s raining.”
“Raining??? It’s coming down in sheets. In our driveway, rushing water is over my ankles. Besides, I don’t have a key to your house.”
Silence. “Oh, then would you come out here to the hospital to get a key then go back and check my house? I can’t leave here.”
Pause. “Okay, Abe. I’ll try.”
I don’t know to this day why I agreed.
I backed my Suburban out carefully, parting the waters just to get out of my own driveway, leaving a wake behind. Then, slowly down the street to the main road that leads to the hospital. Twice in low areas, water was over the bottom of my car doors. Finally, my sturdy vehicle pulled up to the emergency room entrance where Abe said he would be waiting.
After some time, he came out, ducked down and dashed through the pouring rain to my open car window. He handed me the key, quickly said, “Thank you, the key is for the door in the garage,” told me the alarm code then rushed back into the building.
I rolled up the window and again slowly drove through the lake that had once been a paved road. I turned onto our street then into Abe’s driveway. The garage door was closed. Rats!! I got out into the rain and splashed to the back patio door and tried the key, all the while listening to the constant whoo-ee of the alarm. The key worked. Whew.
Inside the dark house, the noise of the alarm was deafening. There were no lights on. Now, where was the alarm box? By the back door? No. By the front door? No, not in either natural place. I wished I had asked him.
I was fumbling through the dark unfamiliar house trying to locate a light switch, Finally, I found one in the hallway. Now where was the alarm box? The alarm noise was driving me crazy. I at last found the box, inside a closet.
I punched in the code. Silence at last. Wait. His house phone was insistently ringing. I picked it up thinking it might be the alarm company. No. It was Abe.
“Did you find the alarm box?”
“No, Abe, the alarm is still going off. Can’t you hear it?” I was in no mood to avoid sarcasm.
“Did you find Lester?”
Huh? “Lester? Your cat, Lester? My God, is he outside in the rain?”
“No, but he’s probably afraid. I’ll hold on while you look for him.”
I stood there not looking for the cat but instead looking at the phone receiver.
Cats rarely come when called. Correct that. Cats NEVER come when frightened.
It took a few wrong guesses before I finally found Lester under a bed. I saw two eyes, got up from the bedroom floor and returned to the phone.
“Okay, Abe. Lester’s under the bed.”
“Is he scared?”
“Well……yeah. I’ve got to go now, Abe.”
I splashed back to my car and drove next door to my house. When I came in the kitchen, my own phone was ringing. An emergency at the animal shelter. Flooded kennels. I needed to get there.
It took me twice as long as usual. When I arrived, one of the employees said, “There’s a phone call for you. It’s a doctor. He says it’s an emergency.”
I went in my office and picked up the line. It was Abe.
“Did you check the roof for leaks when you were there?”
(note: Names have been changed.)