Lightning can be your friend

My father and his wife of fourteen years moved into their new house in September of 1997. They spent the previous two years building it exactly to their upscale specifications.

Almost three years later, in June of 2000, the house was struck by lightning for the first time. In the following three months, it was struck three times.

Insurance adjusters and experts told him that lightning typically strikes the highest object in any given area and his house, being on top of the only, yet substantial, hill in his neighborhood, certainly qualified. They couldn’t explain why nothing had happened the three prior years, but they advised him to arm his house appropriately.

He grounded the yard with lightning rods, bought lightning arrestors for his electrical, cable and telephone systems, and accumulated a wide array of surge protectors for every piece of equipment inside the house.

But nothing helped. For the next three years, my father’s house was hit by lightning more times than he could admittedly count. Then, as curiously and abruptly as it began, it stopped in January 2004 and, according to relatives’ reports, hasn’t occurred since.

My last communication of any kind with my father was Christmastime, 2003. This synchronicity is insignificant to everyone but me.

The Best Strikes

June 2000:

My father typically has three computers in the house: one in the kitchen, one in his office, and one in her office. The newest one, purchased for his wife just a few months before, smoked, caught fire and literally exploded the day after my son and I left his house after a week-long summer visit.

I was two weeks away from graduating college and declared my pending accomplishment (because nobody had asked) during the visit. His wife’s response was “Oh, we thought you were done with all that school stuff.” My father said, “Yea, we thought you were already done.”

I should mention that my father stopped paying for my college education when I was a sophomore at the University of Georgia’s Journalism School in 1983. That summer, he married his new wife after my mother’s death two years earlier. He and his new wife had worked together at the same company for twenty years and “dated” for nobody knows how long prior to my mother’s death. I only mention this because I was fairly proud of the fact that I had finished my college degree (granted, 20 years later at age 39 and as a single parent) with no help from him. I felt that it was an accomplishment of which any parent would be proud. Or at least not ignore. And definitely not belittle.

July 2000:

My father’s other two computers and his intricate home intercom/security system snapped, fizzled, and died the day I informed him that I was sending him some money I owed to him.

I paid my father $800 that I had borrowed (actually, I had begged because he wasn’t pleased with this request at all and I was desperate for the money) for my first class. My company would reimburse steadily after that, but I needed the first payment upfront. My father is a firm believer that children should automatically become financially independent from their parents exactly at age 18, with the possible exception of college tuition and only tuition. His parents forced this belief on him when he was 18 as well, so I assume he felt compelled to carry on the tradition.

I should mention that they bought a $38,000 Chrysler Town & Country Limited van just a few weeks prior with money that my father’s wife’s 90-year-old mother had given them from a stock sale. She regularly showered her daughter with monetary gifts, which was just wonderful for my father, because, inexplicably, he didn’t view this as a compromise to his belief system.

September 2000:

A tree in my father’s yard was struck and fell through the guest bedroom roof of his house a few days after I sent an e-mail informing him that I was moving to Indianapolis.

After being unemployed for five months, I was offered a position in Indianapolis and moved in ten days. My father sent one congratulatory reply email and then didn’t contact me again until March of the following year. I’m not sure, but I believe he thought I would have asked for money.

November 2000:

He has a complicated telephone system. Phones popped and fizzled and died fiery deaths (actually creating a fire in the kitchen cabinets) two days after his wife refused to donate money for my son’s airline ticket to visit Indianapolis for Thanksgiving.

With only one day off work, I could not drive back and forth between Memphis and Indianapolis to be with my son for the Thanksgiving holiday. I couldn’t afford a plane ticket at the time, so I was sad and worried that he wouldn’t see his new house until he moved up officially at the end of the first semester of school in January. Unbeknownst to me, a friend of mine sent email to four people (including my father’s wife) asking to chip in ($40) for a plane ticket for my son. The only person who refused was my father’s wife. But not only did she refuse, she sent a lengthy embarrassing email to all my friends about how offended she was by being asked in the first place.

I never heard from my father during this time. I’m not sure what he thought we did for the holidays. I guess, if I were honest with myself, he didn’t think about it at all.

March 2001:

With this storm, he lost his phone system again. Nothing caught on fire, but the kitchen wall phone flew off the wall and made a decent dent in the hardwood floor.

I don’t know what this was for. Perhaps this was just a reminder that he should check on us.

November/December 2001:

This series of strikes actually did damage to the roof. Something (wiring) caught fire in the attic and they were told by the familiar firemen that they were lucky the whole house didn’t burn to the ground.

Again, my father never asked what we were doing for Thanksgiving or Christmas. He didn’t call to find out.

However, his wife did email to ask me what my son was doing for Thanksgiving. I told her that I would be driving to Nashville, Tennessee to meet my son’s father so they could drive to Atlanta and spend the holidays with his parents. I would be staying in Indianapolis.

She told my father (I later found out) that we were going to Memphis for Thanksgiving. Obviously, my father gave this no actual thought, because I know not one person with whom I would spend a holiday in Memphis.

My son and I went to Chicago for Christmas because we received no family invitations. It was actually a wonderful trip and I know he enjoyed it. We did drive to Atlanta the day after Christmas – I spent a few days visiting friends and my son spent a few days with his father’s family. My father called my cell phone a few days after Christmas to ask how our holidays were and, unfortunately, found out we were in Atlanta.

We spent two hours at a Red Lobster on New Year’s Day with my father and his wife.

July 2002:

Another computer. This time, my father’s.

My father is, and has been for years, on the Board of Directors at Rome’s First United Methodist Church. He considers himself among the godliest of all the godly businessmen in the church. It is the wealthiest church in the town and requires a lot of money to run. It also requires a lot of money to keep and attract the proper minister. Only ministers who are capable of hobnobbing with the wealthy church members would be acceptable. Therefore, the minister needed to have access to and afford all the things his flock could. This summer, my father donated $20,000 for his minister’s annual country club membership. It was just what Board members do in the name of Christianity.

December 2002:

This time, the television in their sitting room was struck. It popped and blew, but did not catch on fire. Typically, they unplug appliances now at the first sign of rain, but they forgot this TV.

My son visited in Atlanta for Christmas. He and my father made arrangements to meet for lunch while he was in town. Immediately after ordering, my father’s wife got a phone call from her son whom she talks to on a daily basis. She left to talk on the phone outside the restaurant. She sat in their van for over 45 minutes. By the time she came back, they had eaten their food and my father had paid the check. I guess the two hour visit the year before hadn’t worn off yet for her.

December 2003:

A laundry room fire.

My father actually invited us to visit for Christmas. He hadn’t done this in years, and I had expressed to him how shitty I thought our visits had become, so I honestly thought it was something like a peace offering. I accepted and made plans for the whole week.

I emailed that we’d come Christmas Eve day and spend two days and then go on to visit other family and friends. My father’s wife saw the email and replied. “We have plans for Christmas Day. I guess your father forgot.”

So my father called and asked, “Can you come the day after Christmas?”


“Well, you can come Christmas Eve but we have to spend Christmas Day with family. Maybe there’s someone you could visit while we do that?”

I don’t even remember what I said. I do remember crying for months. I also remember forgiving him (only in my heart – he has never acknowledged doing anything hurtful) about a year later. But I haven’t talked to him since. I let the machine pick up his quarterly phone calls.

I guess he hasn’t given much thought to the fact that I haven’t called him back. He’s probably just glad that lightning hasn’t struck his house again.

-- Karen Rutherford, March 2005
-- ~ 1,700 words