This is the Life: Hail, hail, the dents are here

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We were nicely settled into our lawn chairs at the Calgary International Blues Festival on Friday evening when clouds darkened the sky. I hoped the storm would bypass us because two of the festival’s main performers, Janiva Magness and the legendary John Mayall, were yet to play. No such luck.

As the occasional raindrop hit us, we picked up our backpack and headed over to take refuge under the beer garden tents. We managed to find a corner about five feet from the outer edge and within minutes the skies opened up and a serious downpour of rain began. Winds ensured that we got soaked as we stood and watched festival volunteers scramble to cover sound equipment with tarps and almost all of the couple of thousand attendees find cover.

Only minutes earlier, my entertainment, aside from the music itself, had been largely created by watching “burnouts”, my word for guys my age and older who refuse to acknowledge the passing of time, continuing to act and dress like they are still teenagers. (Is there a funnier sight than a bald guy with a ponytail?) Soon, though, my thoughts were derailed by the hail that began to pelt down in ever-increasing sizes. For perhaps 10 minutes, the hail continued, thundering down on the tents and eliciting cheers from the beer-fueled throngs. After another 10 minutes of torrential rain the hail resumed, turning the grass and concrete into a white field.

With nothing to do but watch and wonder about the force of nature, my mind took me back to the early 1960s. On a Saturday afternoon, about half a dozen kids from our neighbourhood struck out for the Bowness movie theatre to catch a Jerry Lewis matinee. We preferred to walk instead of taking the bus because it left us with more money for treats. After the movie we headed homeward — the oldest in our group might have been 12 or so — and were about to cross the Bowness bridge when a huge hailstorm hit. My memories are dim but I do know that I and another kid were directed into a car by a man who turned out to be a plainclothes police officer. He called out to others to get under trees or bushes to avoid being hurt. When the storm eased, he drove my friend and I home to our relieved parents.

Less than a decade later, when I was still living with my parents in Montgomery, we watched from our home as another epic hailstorm turned a hot August day into what looked like a winter wonderland within minutes. Even more entertaining was witnessing, shortly after the storm ended, our decidedly eccentric neighbour go into his backyard and begin to rake the hailstones into piles. We never did understand his reasoning but somewhere in my personal archives is the Polaroid photo I took of him in action.

Before Friday night’s storm eased it occurred to me that our car was parked on a city street and that it might be damaged. More of a concern, though, was that my daughter-in-law was on nursing duty at Peter Lougheed Hospital and I hoped her new Toyota Matrix, purchased only a few weeks ago, was parked underground. They took a beating on the trade-in of their Toyota Yaris because its roof had hail dents.

Once the storm subsided we ventured out onto the grass, which had become an ice-cold puddle, and retrieved our lawn chairs from about six inches of ice water. Cold and wet, we abandoned our hopes of seeing Magness and Mayall and headed back to Montgomery, where our son and daughter-in-law now live. There we learned that the Matrix had been parked under cover. Our Prius didn’t fare so well, and now bears the bruises of hailstones that were as large as an inch in diameter. Sadly, we later heard that a man had died when he was caught in a flash flood during the storm. We later learned that his daughter was the best friend of one of our young friends, and that he has family in Creston. With that knowledge, dents in our car roof suddenly seemed trivial.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.