I usually love tempests – as long as I’m in a spot where I can observe the wind, rain, and lightning in relative safety. However, there is one form of precipitation that ferociously attacks, trying to kill me even when I’m huddled in fear inside my house or car. I tell you, it has it in for me! It’s…HAIL!
I thought that perhaps I could get to know hail better and smooth the tensions between us, so I did some research. I Googled the meaning of the word “hail” and the first response told me it was a “friendly greeting” from Old Norse, meaning “health, prosperity, or good luck.” I narrowed my eyes at that – because it surely didn’t sound like the hail I knew! Then I noticed that this “hail” was a verb – not a noun (and I remember from watching Schoolhouse Rock when I was a kid that a noun is a “person, place or thing” – and “my” hail is definitely a thing – an evil, evil, dangerous, damaging thing!) So, I Googled the noun “hail” and found it was from Old English, meaning pebble, “thus, taken literally, the word ‘hailstone’ means ‘pebble-stone.’”
My first experience with hail was when I was living in New Orleans, Louisiana several years ago. The thunderstorms there were always exciting, ending up with trees knocked over, sidewalks torn up, and streets flooded – but on this particular day, it also began to hail. At first, the hailstones were tiny, probably the size of a shotgun pellet and my kids and I stood under the carport to watch (and yes, it WAS a metal carport, in the middle of a THUNDERSTORM! I will probably never win an award for mother of the year.)
Soon, the hailstones became larger – first the size of peas, then marbles. It was at that point that I started to get a bit alarmed. Not only was my brand new car not very protected under the carport, but our second car was parked in the open, out on the street – and, oh yeah, I also had to get my kids into the house without them getting a concussion or killed. We ran for the house with a minimum of damage – and it was as if that just pissed off the hail even more! The hailstones grew to the size of golf balls – and then even larger! I watched from the window as they pummeled my cars and bounced up from the ground as if they were hitting a trampoline. When it was over and we ventured back outside to survey the damage – the front and back ends of my new car were covered in dimples, and the car that was parked on the street did not have an inch of smooth metal remaining. The kids excitedly grabbed hailstones the size of billiard balls to put in the freezer while I cried a little inside as I mentally tallied the cost of our insurance deductibles.
Years went by – and just when I was lulled into a false sense of security, hail struck again just the other day! My daughter and I went to the grocery store for a few things and as we were shopping, she got a text message. “Dad wants us to come home right away,” she informed me. “He says it is starting to hail.” That’s all I needed to hear! We headed for the checkout – but as we waited in line, a horrendous din started! It sounded as if tens of thousands of tiny carpenters were hammering on the roof of the market. By the time we made it to the door, we could not see our car in the parking lot – just 30 feet away. The wind was ferocious and the hail and rain were literally coming in sideways! We joined the growing group of shoppers and store employees in the vestibule – waiting to see if the storm would calm.
After several minutes, I told my daughter that I wasn’t going to lose another car to hail and that we could certainly make a run for it (yes, yes – we’ve already determined I’m not mom of the year!). We took two steps out into the squall…and immediately darted back to shelter. With 75 mph winds behind them, the hailstones were incredibly painful! My daughter pointed out several areas on her chest and arms where she was bruised and even bleeding – and the crowd of shoppers and employees all gave me THAT look (you know the one).
After another five or ten minutes, the hail abated – although the wind and rain were still as fierce. I told my daughter to wait under cover and I would get the car and pick her up. In the 30 seconds it took me to run to the car and open it up, I got as drenched as if I had jumped fully clothed into a swimming pool (and it wasn’t nearly as pleasant!) I pulled the car under the portico (and damned if those people were not STILL giving me the look! I was not even letting my kid get wet – so what was their problem NOW??) We drove home at less than 10 mph, as we could only see about three yards ahead – but we made it there alive and relatively in one piece. I did have to dash into the yard to retrieve a metal cover than had been torn from our roof, and then I began the interior inspection with my husband. One roof leak, four broken windows, water streaming down the wall in the living room and under patio doors and windows. We sopped up the water the best we could – trying to stay ahead of the storm and prevent further damage.
When the sun came out again, we found more damage outside – my garden looked as if someone had taken a machine gun to it – and that metal cover I had retrieved? Well, it had hit my second car on the way down, putting a huge dent in the trunk and the hail had chipped the windshield in several places. Again, I cried a little inside as I tallied up the cost – but I was grateful that we had insurance.
I’ve decided that Google was wrong about the origins of the word “hail” – because it clearly is not a friendly greeting, nor even an innocent “pebble-stone.” I don’t think it is coincidence that “hail” sounds so very similar to “hell” – do you?