So there I was, sitting at home on my computer, minding my own business, when I got a terse email from my brother-in-law. It said, “Don’t worry. We’re all right, but look at this,” and it provided a link to a Los Angeles television newscast.
I thought, while the video uploaded, “What can it be?” Was Fred arrested on a tennis court for lobbing a ball through the open window of a Mercedes and thwonking a movie producer on the head? Was Selma receiving a medal of honor for taking the unpopular stance as a museum director that artwork stolen by Nazis from their murdered victims should be returned to the rightful heirs?
Whatever it was, I knew it couldn’t be all that bad (“Don’t worry”), or all that good (“We’re all right, but ...”)
Finally ... finally, the newscast finished loading, and I hit, “Play.”
To quote my sister, Linda, after she watched the video, “Oh, my God!” To quote myself after I viewed it, “Good grief!”
Now I’ll tell you what happened.
At a little before 10 o’clock on Sunday night, Selma and Fred were driving home from a dinner party on Figaroa, a tree-lined side street that they had taken uneventfully many times in the past. Suddenly, Selma heard a noise loud enough to signify that the doomsayers were right, and the world really was ending, and she felt a sensation “like a tornado coming.”
Then, everything stopped, and it was deadly still. At first, she didn’t realize that her airbag had inflated, and that the car wasn’t moving. But her instincts took over, and fearing that her car would explode, she said to Fred, “We have to get out of here.”
Not knowing what had happened, they rapidly moved as far away from the car as they could. Selma said, “And people weren’t at all the way they are portrayed in disaster movies. Everybody stopped to see if we were okay, called 911, and wouldn’t leave until they were sure that we’d gotten help.”
But help with what?
Selma and Fred still had no clue. Had they survived an attempted abduction by a UFO? A collision with a low-flying blimp? A disastrous encounter with a sinkhole from Hell? What had happened? What had hit them?
By the time the TV cameras arrived, they knew. Boy, did they ever know!
A tree branch – branch, mind you – about forty feet long, with a circumference as wide as the trunk of a large tree, had crashed into their cute little car, and crushed the engine compartment as completely as an anvil falling on a cantaloupe. Another branch, as gargantuan as the first, crashed to earth directly behind the courageous Little Car That Could, miraculously leaving the passenger and trunk compartments intact.
The video that Fred sent me was an episode out of the never-made-for-TV-movie, “The Revenge of the Trees.” It could be a template for character building or a syllabus for a much-needed college course on esprit de corps.
As the invisible cameraman asked my sister and brother-in-law question after question, Fred replied with poise and humor (he looked so dapper and stood up so straight).
“What kind of a car was it?” The interviewer asked.
“It was a Honda Fit. F.I.T.” Fred said, spelling it out.
“Which is no longer fit,” Selma interjected.
“And it’s now called a ‘Misfit’,” Fred finished her sentence.
Selma, her eyes big and gorgeous, looked from side to side, a slight, bewildered smile on her face, her perfectly polished red fingernails dancing, as if to emphasize a thought. “If we had been ahead of ourselves by one more second,” she said, “the tree would have fallen on the roof of the car, killed us, and that would be the end.”
Fred, still calm, his tone ironic, directed a comment to his wife. “Aren’t you glad now that we got travel insurance for our trip to Paris?”
Selma, her eyes lighting up, laughed, “That’s true.”
Throughout the interview, as Fred cavalierly answered questions, he was unconsciously petting my sister’s shoulder. His responses to the TV world were sure of himself and confident of the future. His hand, though, told a different story. It was saying to his wife, “It’s okay. We’re okay. I’m here. You’re here. I love you, and we’re alive.”
That undercurrent of joy lent an almost comedic air to the sentences that they were articulating only seconds after surviving a near-lethal encounter with nature at its worst.
“Well, I have to admit,” Fred announced glibly. “That I’m not a tree hugger. We do not like trees.”
“I like trees!” Selma protested. Another dazzling smile. Another flash of perfectly manicured nails.
The cameraman, like so many who would later view the story on TV, surrendered to their charm. “You’re both so cute!” He said.
And they were.
Selma later told me that she’d gotten red nail polish because our mother wanted her to “Add a little color” to her life. Which made me think about the countless mothers out there who have admonished their children to wear clean underwear, “in case you’re hit by a car.”
Nail polish? Underwear? Hit by a car? Hit by a tree? Same difference.
And that makes me think even more kindly about Selma’s and Fred’s response to the renewal of their lease on the Land of the Living.
I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase, “In vino veritas.” The literal translation for this is, “In wine there is truth,” which means that despite our inhibitions, drink a little vino, and our friends (boss, mother-in-law, spouse) will find out what we really think of them.
After watching Selma’s and Fred’s ebullient interview on TV, I have formulated a new Latin truism: “In calamitas veritas,” meaning “In calamity, there is truth,” because of what was revealed about their character and nature after reality slung some really outrageous fortune their way. What had this revealed about my sister and her husband?
Well … they were stunned, sweet, and funny. They were loving, witty, and cute. And they were happy, happy, happy to be alive.
Selma’s nails were pretty, Selma was enchanting, and Mom would have been proud of her. I am proud of her, too.
Live a hundred years, Good Guys. You are giving humanity a good name.
Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. She is an author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com.
Copyright © 2011, Shelly Reuben