Hi there, Dear Reader. It’s mid- to late morning here on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, and the skies over New Hometown, Florida are dark, gloomy, and occasionally stormy. Presently, the temperature is 73˚F (23˚C) under light rain. With the wind blowing from the south-southeast at 6 MPH (9 KM/H) and humidity at 98%, the feels-like factor is 73˚F (23˚C). The forecast for today calls for thunderstorms to move through our area and the high will be 78˚F (25˚C). Rain will continue throughout the evening hours, apparently, since we can expect scattered rain showers and a low of 65˚F (18˚C).
I woke up shortly before 6 AM, and the first thing I heard as I made my way to the bathroom was the dull “BOOM” of thunder in the distance, so I already knew that this was going to be one of those rainy, stormy Florida days. As I waited for my usual morning repast of café con leche, I heard a few more peals of thunder, but thankfully they were not loud or frequent, and I didn’t see any bright flashes of lightning through either the Florida room sliding glass doors or the kitchenette’ window. I’m guessing the main activity was off in another direction and relatively far away.
I have never been terribly fond of stormy days. I am, of course, a native Floridian and I’m accustomed to the rainy season/dry season paradigm, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I still remember some dreary incidents when, as a child and young adult, I got soaked while waiting for a school bus at the stop near my former home or for a Metrobus at the bus stop on West Flagler Street and just off NW 97th Avenue. That, Dear Reader, wasn’t fun at all.
And since I lost a TV set and a personal computer to lightning strikes in two separate occasions when I lived in Miami, I am not fond of that natural phenomenon either. I try to avoid that by unplugging electronic devices in my room, especially my computer. I have two laptops that I can use as backups, but I’m fond of the computer I am using now and don’t feel like replacing it any time soon, so if I hear thunder any time soon, I’ll unplug it.
Another reason for my dislike of stormy days is that I’m often reminded of the arguments I had with my older half-sister Vicky over this very topic – lightning safety and proper use of electronics during a thunderstorm – during the five years that we cared for our mother when she was confined to a room in my former home.
Experience, I have been told, is the harshest but best teacher. I learned the “don’t use TVs or computers during a thunderstorm” lesson the hard way – twice. The first black-and-white TV I owned in Miami was fried in 1974 by a bolt that landed close to our house in Westchester, along with the color TV Vicky was watching in Mom’s room.
30 years later, I lost an e-Machines PC – stupidly – because I was too engrossed with a chat I was having on the now-vanished Yahoo Messenger app and I didn’t unplug the computer from the power strip even though I had already heard thunder in he distance. When a bolt of lightning hit a tree in my neighbor’s yard my PC’s monitor froze, flickered, then died.
That. Was. Not. Fun.
From then on, no matter how much flak I got from other people, and even if I have a decent surge protector (which I do not currently own), I unplug my TV and other electronics at the first sign of a thunderstorm.
Vicky, on the other hand, doesn’t take lightning safety seriously. Not one bit. My mom did; she even clipped a Lightning Safety Tips article from the Miami Herald and placed it on our Kenmore refrigerator’s door with magnets so that visitors would understand why they could not watch TV in our house when lightning was around.
Most people understood this. Vicky did not. Even though she had seen what lightning does to an electronic device first-hand back in ’74, she stubbornly refused to accept the fact that the high voltage of a lightning strike burns out the delicate inner workings of a TV, radio, or, indeed, anything connected to a wall power outlet that doesn’t have the proper resistance to an electrical discharge.
“Oh, Alex,” she said on more than one occasion, “I watch television during storms all the time in my apartment and nothing has ever happened to me because of lightning.” She even bragged about having long conversations over a landline phone in the middle of a summer thunderstorm even though the clipping from the Miami Herald warned that people have been injured and even killed by lightning while using a land-line (or “old-school”) phone in stormy weather.
Naturally, this refusal to believe science resulted in a series of clashes between the summer of 2010 and the summer of 2015, which is when we shared the duties of caring for our ill mother, who was bed-ridden, depressed, and suffering from various ailments, including issues with her kidneys and dementia.
While my mom was still of sound mind after her back surgery in the late spring of 2010, she made me the acting head of the house. Her reasoning was sound: Vicky was still working at the now-closed Miami Metropolitan Hospital as a geriatric department nurse, so it would be unfair to have her running two households and oversee our mother’s medical care. So Mom decreed that Vicky would deal with the medical side of things while I took charge of the house.
This, of course, caused much tension between Vicky and me. She was of the opinion that since she is my senior by almost 13 years, the running of the house and its finances should have been left to her.
My position was totally opposite. Though in theory Vicky should have been able to be the “responsible” one and become the de facto head of household, her bad credit history, her refusal to use online banking or automatic bill payments, and her habit of going to “pay bills in person” outlets in Miami-area pharmacies or at Sears made Vicky, in my view, a highly unreliable person.
I had no experience at running a house, but I had watched how Mom did things, so I figured that with only a few tweaks – such as adopting online banking – I could do the job our mother gave me.
I had, of course, to assert myself as the man of the house whenever possible, which is not something I’m comfortable with or really good at, to be honest. I had been content to let Mom handle mostly everything – including my finances – so I could focus on school and writing gigs, and I was fine with my mother being the final arbiter between Vicky and me whenever we disagreed about, well, anything and couldn’t amicably settle an argument.
I was not thrilled at being the decisionmaker, but once Mom said, “Okay, Alex, you’re in charge of the house now,” I took it to heart and did the best I could to make sure the bills were paid on time, the chores – including laundry and cooking – were done, and that our belongings were handled properly and safely.
Vicky, for her part, was bitter and angry about this, and she argued with me about everything, including the unplug-Mom’s-TV-when-it-storms edict I imposed on the home health aides, the Easter Seals volunteer respite workers who cycled in and out of our house from 2010 to 2013, and, of course, Vicky herself.
Every time we had thunderstorms overhead, or when I checked on the Weather Channel or my smartphone’s Weather app to see if there were going to be storms around, and Vicky was watching TV with Mom, we would squabble over the issue of unplugging TVs and other electronics.
Invariably, the conversation would go something like this, especially when it was already raining:
Me: Vicky, por fa, unplug the TV in Mom’s room. You know the rules about watching TV during a storm.
Vicky: Why? It’s only rain. And the thunder sounds like it’s far away.
Me: Doesn’t matter. Please unplug Mom’s TV.
(TV in Mom’s room is not turned off)
Me: (exasperated)Vicky, unplug the TV now.
Vicky: Oh, don’t be an ass. I watch TV all the time in my apartment during thunderstorms and I have not lost a TV yet.
Me: How lucky for you. We have lost two TVs and a computer to lightning, and I really don’t want Mom to lose hers because you are being childish.
(TV in Mom’s room is still running)
Me: Okay, if you won’t unplug the damn television set, I will.
And I would go into Mom’s room and unplug it, even if Vicky argued and yelled.
I am not sure if Vicky is a Trump supporter, but she was as anti-science about lightning safety as the Make America Great Again crowd was and still is about the COVID-19 pandemic. In the early years of Mom’s decline, when our parent was still capable of weighing in and soundly admonished my half-sister, Vicky would back off and read the newspaper or a magazine to keep herself entertained.
Later, though, when Mom retreated more inside herself and became passive and pliant, Vicky would be more defiant and argue more stridently about the unplugged TV. She would even plug it back in whenever she thought I wasn’t able to hear the sound from the white Samsung LCD HDTV that we had bought for Mom a few years earlier in a rare joint effort to surprise our mother with a present.
In a last bid for defying both the lightning and me, Vicky ended up buying a portable flat screen analog TV that needed both an antenna (she got one of those that you tape to a wall) and an analog-to-digital converter and placing them on Mom’s writing desk, which by then was utterly cluttered with framed photographs, porcelain sculptures, and other knick-knacks. Vicky would then turn that TV on when I unplugged Mom’s TV during a storm, often shooting me a look that said, “See, little brother? I can do what I want because this is my TV!”
Vicky was lucky. In the year or so that she defied the odds with her Sony TV and that weird antenna of hers on my mom’s writing desk, lightning strikes never hit close enough to fry it while she and Mom watched Judge Judy or whatever else they liked during a thunderstorm. I stuck to my guns and unplugged my stuff, upstairs and downstairs, and read books to pass the time in stormy weather.
After Mom died in July of 2015 Vicky left her TV and the various bits of equipment it required to run at the house. Why she did not take it when she started removing items from the house after our mom was gone I have no idea. I only allowed her two visits after July 19; once to go to Mom’s Mass at Our Lady of the Divine Providence, and one more a week or so later to pick up the French china set she had lusted after for many decades before Mom got sick and frail. She didn’t ask for the TV or a doggie gate I made her buy for the dachshund puppy – Sabrina – that Vicky acquired in early 2015, ostensibly to make Mom happy, on that last visit. Maybe it was an oversight on Vicky’s part, or maybe she was using that as an excuse to keep visiting the house and removing items even before the probate court had ruled on our mother’s last will and testament.
(Vicky is mostly a cat person, and she got the dog for herself only after she tried to convince me that I needed a dog and that having a puppy would be good for Mom and me. I refused, but by then she had already acquired Sabrina and decided to keep her anyway.)
Vicky got her TV back, of course. I shipped it to her apartment via UPS in one of the many occasions when The Caregiver and I boxed up things from Mom’s closets and dresser and sent them to Vicky’s apartment at my expense.
I still have bad dreams about the thunderstorms, though, and today’s stormy weather triggered this rather long flashback.
Well, it’s now almost 1 PM Eastern and it is still raining lightly. No thunderstorms are about, though, so I can post this before the weather deteriorates and lightning starts to fall around here. Take care, Dear Reader, and I’ll catch you on the sunny side of things.
Indoor Lightning Safety
- Stay off corded phones, computers and other electrical equipment that put you in direct contact with electricity.
- Avoid plumbing, including sinks, baths and faucets.
- Stay away from windows and doors, and stay off porches.
- Do not lie on concrete floors, and do not lean against concrete walls. – (Weather.gov)
 This incident occurred not long before Vicky involuntarily left Mom’s house after a failed attempt on my mother’s part to try to integrate my half-sister into the fabric of our small family unit.
 Another reason why Mom chose me and not Vicky to manage the finances of the house was this: even though my sister had lived on her own for many years by 2010 and I had not, she was – and probably still is – unreliable as far as paying her bills is concerned. I can’t tell you how many times I heard Vicky tell my mother and others that BellSouth had temporarily disconnected her phone or that Florida Power & Light (FPL) had cut her power because she had sent her payments past the due date. I can’t and won’t try to even guess, but enough that it made an impression on me even before Mom got sick and I was handed the hot potato of making sure the bills got paid.
Even though I am the younger of Mom’s two children, Vicky’s attitudes about home economics mortified me then. It still mortifies me now. I mean, she always complained about bills and that she never had enough cash on hand, yet she made at least $67,000 a year as a professional caregiver, while Mom and I lived on less than half of that (combined) and paid our bills on time. (According to a 2011 report by the American Nurses’ Association titled Employment and Earnings of Registered Nurses in 2010, Vicky made good money. “In 2010 there were an estimated 2,655,020 RNs working in RN jobs. This is an increase of nearly 3% in estimated employment or 71,250 more jobs. The estimated average wage for RNs in 2010 was $67,720, an increase of $1,190 over 2009. That increase was 1.8% over the prior year.”) Vicky was always secretive about her finances, but unless Metropolitan Hospital was paying its medical professionals below the guidelines, she made good money.
The bitter truth is this: Vicky is, by her own description, a botarata, which is a slang term used in Colombia, Peru. and Venezuela to describe someone who spends money in a hurry, without measure. (I heard her admit to this during a conversation between Vicky, one of the home health aides, and me in my mom’s living room. The aide asked Vicky why she was having so many financial issues that her cell phone with AT&T had been cut for non-payment yet again, and my sister, in español, said without a sign of remorse or shame, “Bueno, a mi me gusta vivir bien y comer en buenos restaurantes, y yo sé que soy una botaratas.” Loosely translated into English, she said, “I like the good life and to eat in fine restaurants, and I know that I am a botaratas.” I was so stunned by this admission that my jaw dropped.)
 It’s no exaggeration on my part that even this didn’t go the way my mother intended. While it is definitely true that my half-sister was the one who talked to my mother’s primary care physician at Leon Medical Center and went to most of Mom’s appointments with her, I was the one who called the pharmacists at the HMO and asked for the refills or – on rare occasions – to tell them that a medication had not been delivered. Vicky worked the day shift, so it was nearly impossible for her to call Leon to deal with these matters. Plus, since home health aides cannot dispense medications and I was Johnny-on-the-spot, I was the one who gave my mother her pills when Vicky was not at the townhouse.
 Which, sadly, was a frequent element of our relationship, given that we have different worldviews and temperaments that rarely mesh well together.