The Rockport Miracles - Part 4: Episode 16: "The Ballad of Derecho Dan" Continues
The Rockport Miracles-Part 4: Episode 16: “The Ballad of Derecho Dan” Continues
Upon discovering that Little Dan had escaped the hospital, Police Chief Tom Graber ordered his patrolmen to search the building. They soon found Little Dan’s gurney in the parking lot, along with 20-five gallon buckets filled to their brims with freshly made pasta fazool from the kitchens of Little Italy.
Chief Graber screamed "Jesus, Mary and Jim-Bob!" and told his men to freeze. Quickly, his keen mind adjusted to the changing situation and he ordered his men to deliver two of the buckets to the Rockport police station, leave three buckets for the doctors and nurses in the ER, and send 15 buckets to the bingo hall at St. Swithens Church that had been converted into a Red Cross Shelter. “Our work here is done, boys,” he concluded.
As for the whereabouts of Little Dan, Chief Graber wasn’t worried. The Chief had known Little Dan all his life and was confident he’d never venture any further than nearby River City. He'd considered for a moment that the three Joes may have taken him to Cleveland’s east side but, after all, it was 1976. In those days, the west suburbs like Rockport were provincial and exclusive. It would’ve been unthinkable for any self respecting west shore man or woman to be found east of the Cuyahoga River unless it was for a ball game or a St. Patrick’s Day parade. One didn’t go to the east side unless it was absolutely necessary.
Unbeknownst to everyone, Little Dan’s Aunt Rowena Gridley was still at the hospital. She'd been able to escape the chaos in the ER and made it up to the top floor of the hospital. There, her sister, Wilmena, (Little Dan’s mother) was slowly recovering from injuries sustained during Storm 5.4. Wilmena, was awake and aware, but no one had yet told her the bad, the worse, or the worser news about Little Dan, the Gas & Lube or the death of her nephew, Maynard Gridley. Sadly, that task fell to grief stricken Rowena.
On another front, Cleveland’s only remaining meteorologist had fled town. Bick Baxterly, Cleveland’s own “Wizard of Weather”, had tried with all his might to make sense of the phenomena that plagued Rockport. He blamed everything from the lack of advanced satellite technology to his messy divorce for failing to predict the disasters. Then, on the day after Storm 5.5, he went on the air for the last time crying and screaming that it was “all God’s fault”. That comment resulted in massive viewer outcry and motivated an evangelical anarchist from Akron to blow up the gazebo in Baxterly's backyard. Channel 7 quickly replaced him with the weekend weather girl, Babs Emily. Babs had been a former Miss Ohio and amateur ventriloquist who did her weather show with a dummy named Captain LaddyBuck.
Bick Baxterly wasn’t wrong about the weather technology available to him. In 1976, civilian radar and weather satellites were mere toys compared to what the military had at its disposal. In fact, on the night of Storm 5.5, a NORAD satellite had detected a mysterious anomaly in the atmosphere over the upper Great Lakes region. Unfortunately, both the anomaly and the top secret technology that detected it were classified and would not be revealed to civilian authorities for several years. Until then, Rockport was on its own.
Meanwhile, the three Joes made it to the east side with Little Dan in the back of their van. When they arrived at one of the Joe’s mother’s house in Little Italy, they pulled him out the van, still mumbling incoherently, and carried him into the house. (In those days, yanking unconscious people in and out of vans was a fairly common sight in Little Italy.) “Wassa matta wit ‘im?!” screamed a little Italian lady who was stirring a giant pot full of pasta sauce on the stove. “Mama, this is Little Dan”, said the Joe huffing and puffing under the strain. “He’s had a terrible shock! He’s lost his papa, his mama, his gas station, and even his teeny-tiny, ugly dog!”
The eyes of the little Italian lady grew as big as saucers. “WHAAAA?” she blapped, sounding like a crow. “Accch! He jus’ need to eat somethin’!! Take him to da cellar-I fix’im a plate!” The Joes carried Little Dan down the narrow staircase into the basement and laid him on a table next to a wine press. After a few minutes, the little Italian lady came downstairs with a steaming bowl of pasta. ‘Eat dis’!!” she screamed, “C’mon snap out o’ it and eat! It good fo’ you!”
Little Dan accept the food. He just kept mumbling, “I lost my dad, my mom, my dog, and the Gas & Lube...” The little Italian lady barked, “Wassa matter you?-you crazy?” and began smacking Little Dan in the forehead with a big wooden spoon that splattered pasta sauce all over his face. The three Joes pulled her away and shooed her back up the stairs. Insulted, she yelled, “Acch! Lunatica! Throw’im in da lake! Get uncle Joe to help you!”
The little Italian mother had a point. Food was THE pathway into Little Dan’s psyche. After all, it had been the taste of Wilmena’s famous tuna salad that brought Little Dan out of a similar funk right after his father had died. Fortunately, his aunt Rowena was already on the case. While Little Dan was being spoon whipped in Little Italy, a tense conversation had been taking place by Wilmena’s bedside at Rockport Hospital. “Listen, Wilmena”, said Rowena, “my boy is dead, your boy is in big trouble! For the love o’ Pete, you must give me the secret recipe for your tuna salad!”