As a practical joker myself, I know revenge can be sweet. Several names of friends, the usual suspects, crossed my mind when I opened our mailbox recently and found a book by Marcus Tullis Cicero titled, “How to Grow Old: Ancient Wisdom for the Second Half of Life.”
Ironically, Cicero suggests how a good old age begins in youth. He says moderation, wisdom, and enjoying all that life has to offer are habits we should learn while we are young, since they will sustain us as we grow older.
As I eased into retirement at the beginning of this year, many have advised how important it is to stay busy, and to not sit around.
Last week I decided to clean, rearrange, and re-vamp our detached garage. It was hot, humid and rainy when I began to reorganize the tools, pictures, mowers, electronics, and ‘stuff’ that has managed to accumulate over the years.
A summer shower unexpectedly arrived with the rain striking the window in the garage and intensified as the wind began to blow harder. Within seconds, Brenda texted me to ask if I thought it was safe to be out in the garage during the storm.
Of all the many pleasures in this world, one of my favorite things to do is to sit inside the garage in one of our reclining lawn chairs with the garage door open, watching the rain fall soothingly on the driveway.
That is exactly what I was doing when out of nowhere, a flash of lightning landed just at the top of the hill, and the resulting thunder clap was deafening, shaking the garage door.
The lightning reminded me of an incident back in the early 1980s when a similar summer storm hit an area near Route 73 West and Hale Road.
That storm brought with it hail, wind, and severe lightning. I was Clinton County Sheriff at the time, driving in my cruiser when the first call of an alarm drop at a residence on Hale Road came across the police radio.
Alarm drops are fairly common during storms, since the wind is likely to shake a door or window just enough to cause an alarm system to malfunction.
I was about thirty-four years old at the time, with a head full of hair. As soon as the alarm sounded, I headed toward the alarm drop.
As I passed the Max Dennis farm, I radioed the dispatcher and requested a back-up unit from the Wilmington Police Department if one was available. Although I knew it was outside their jurisdiction, they were always good about providing support for officer safety.
It just so happened that my late brother, Jack, was an officer on-duty for the Wilmington Police Department that day, and he responded to our dispatcher’s call. Jack said he would be glad to back me up.
The rain was coming down in torrents, making it hard to see the road. The wind was blowing hard enough to rock the cruiser. Just as I approached a small grade near Hale Road, I heard a deafening boom and a flash so bright inside the cruiser I felt my eyes burn.
The emergency lights stopped rotating, the siren went quiet, and I began to feel tingling flowing throughout my body.
Jack pulled into the farm within just a few minutes. “What’s wrong? Your head looks like it is smoking. Are you OK?” he asked, concern showing across his face.
I told him I thought lightning had struck the radio antenna on the top of the cruiser, and the charge must have conducted down to the steering wheel.
We proceeded to check the residence to make sure everything was okay, and then we headed back to our respective cruisers to return to Wilmington. “Are you sure you are OK?” Jack asked again. “Your hair and eyebrows looked singed and your hair is sticking out sideways.”
By that time, I noticed the tingling sensations had increased, and I felt like Oliver Hardy on a difficult day with Mr. Laurel.
Jack suggested we go to the emergency room at Clinton Memorial Hospital, which we did.
Once there, I explained to the doctor what had happened. “Son, you have been struck by lightning and lived to tell about it!” the doctor said. “You should be fine. Just don’t stand outside in the rain anymore,” he laughed.
“Nobody sits us down and tells us to collect objects when we’re young,” writes Rolf Potts, “it’s just something we do, as a way of familiarizing ourselves with the world, its possibilities, and our place in it.”
When I returned home later that evening, I remember cutting off some of my singed hair and eyebrows and placing them in a small jar.
Last week after the storm, I opened that same bottle and looked at my singed hair from 25 years ago.
On second thought, maybe I do need more things to do in retirement.
Pat Haley is former Clinton County Commissioner and former Clinton County Sheriff.