Betchyer Bottom Dollar


When I was a young thirty-something, my then-husband and I had a summer share with friends on Fire Island; and as most do, ours began on Memorial Day. Every Friday of that long weekend during those five or six thirty-something years, it rained on the ferry ride to Fair Harbor; it rained while we sat with our morning coffees at the kitchen table instead of out on the deck; it rained as we sat around that same table playing cards instead of Frisbee. It got to the point, during those five or six thirty-something years, that come Memorial Day, we came to expect the rain, even when the forecast said sun.

My grandmother used to say, “If you want to know the weather, stick your head out the window.” When I lived in New York City, one of the local stations – and if memory serves, it was NBC Channel 4 with their Live Doppler Radar – scrolled tickers at the bottom of the screen with moment-by-moment updates as to when a storm would hit your neighborhood – even your very street! Fort Tryon – 7:05………..…Broadway and 125th St. – 7:09……………309 East 89th St., 1B (the apartment in the back with the garden) – 7:11. To check, I would stick my head out the window.

Weather forecasting used to be like furniture delivery: Customers would get an idea of when the truck might show up, but no one really expected them to be on time. I recall the Blizzard of ’96, which dumped an average of two feet of snow in and around Manhattan. One of the local tabloids did a tale-of-the-tape on the city’s top TV celebrity forecasters. Below their glamorous and debonair headshots the paper had printed their way-into-the-six-figure salaries, followed by their percentages of accuracy so far that season. Not so good.

To be fair, that was a generation ago, and there’ve been lots of technological advances when it comes to predicting the weather. A good friend of mine is a storm-chaser (really!) and now I understand that meteorologists have all these variables to contend with, like wind shifts and temperature changes and air pressure disturbances, that affect storm tracks and precipitation totals. This past winter, the forecasters were pretty accurate as the Polar Vortex expressed its way down from Canada and across the eastern seaboard. So they may have been off by a few degrees or inches, like instead of being 5 it was -2. Or instead of 12 inches of snow we got 16. Cold is cold. Must-shovel snow is must-shovel snow. No matter.  

Back to Fire Island. During the decades that have passed, we have weathered many lousy days we’d hoped would be sunny. And as Annie promised, that big yellow orb did come out tomorrow. We worried about our children, who did just fine and are now worrying about their children. Industries failed; jobs were lost. Marriages failed. We reinvented ourselves; we moved for new careers. We moved for new love.

Four years ago, after moving for new love, my husband and I put an addition onto the house, and at the point where the two roofs met, the ceiling leaked. Our contractor ate all the expenses as twice the roofers tore and hammered away and as twice we put up drywall and painted. We thought it was a done deal…until Sandy. Thankfully, she only trickled in. But this time, after our contractor had the roof fixed, we decided to leave the ceiling open…to make sure. We waited through what was a cold but mostly snowless winter. April showers were gentle. By summer’s end, eager to have overhead lighting once again, we closed up the ceiling just before this season’s frigid temps came.

Now, here’s how the conversation went on a mid-February Sunday night – four days after that last, biggest snow of the season – as we sat in the darkened living room, watching “Downton Abbey.”

Me: Is that a pucker in the ceiling or the way the firelight is hitting it?

My Husband [pause]: That’s a pucker.

Me: Aren’t you upset?

My Husband [eyes sweeping the entire ceiling]: Not really. I’m more upset about the drops already falling over there. [pointing to another spot on the ceiling]

Within a half hour, we had saucepans and Tupperware strategically placed around the living room, and the lobster pot under our overhead lighting – yikes! Two words: Ice dam. Two more words: Insurance adjuster.

So as spring weather (finally) arrives, remember if a storm unexpectedly rips open a hole in your life, you can fix it. When it’s the right time, even if it’s for the fourth time. And if you’re reading this as Memorial Day approaches, Happy Unofficial Start to Summer – no matter what the sky does.