Those unsettling grinding sounds were the roof's heavy barrel tiles moving

My life is at a point where I don't readily ascend a ladder and clamber onto my barrel-tile roof. Gravity stands up there with its steel-toed boots on and its arms crossed. It's just waiting for me to try.

My reticence, though, led to a startling revelation about the top of my house a few weeks ago.

Before I get ahead of myself, let's rewind this story back to when Hurricane Wilma intruded into our lives in October.

The storm's reality first hit me when, right after daybreak, I heard that grinding sound for the first time.

What my family and I were listening to were the weighty barrel tiles covering the top of the house beginning to move.

Like giant fingers dragging across a blackboard, the curved concrete pieces, souped up by wind and gravitational pull, lurched downward in a disconcerting cacophony.

Occasionally one would fall and thump heavily onto the ground.

After the wind died down, I ventured out. I slowly opened one eye. Then the second. Then I pulled out Nos. 3 and 4 out of my eyeglasses case.

I counted about 50 tiles that were gone from the roof or left in a clearly unnatural position to my naked eye.

Most obvious damage came along the eaves at the front and back of the house, and along the roof's apex.

If the tiles weren't missing, they were flipped up, like big scales on a fish as you run a knife along its sides from the tail to the head, against the grain. But, it seemed pretty localized and minor. No blue tarp for me.

For a while afterward, I went through don't-you-dare-make-a-minor-insurance-claim paranoia. What if I put in for 50 tiles, and they dropped my coverage?

But a call was made to an insurance adjuster, and a settlement was calculated over the phone. After the deductible was taken out, we received a check for almost $1,200, and I got connected with a roofer referred by friends.

As he parked his pickup in my driveway, we shook hands.

The moment reminded me of a priceless scene in the film Jaws, when Robert Shaw's salty shark hunter, Quint, grabs the hands of Richard Dreyfuss' patrician marine biologist, Hooper, and looks at his palms. He disgustedly lets them go, snarling "You got city hands, Mr. Hooper. You've been counting money all your life."

This guy most assuredly had roofer's hands. Big and rugged. As sure as a vise grip. Been working shingles and barrel tiles all his life, I imagine.

As he got to the business of checking out my roof, I stood at the base of his ladder.

The first thing I noticed was the "loose" sound of the tiles beneath his shoes. Mind you, this was when he was walking on what my wife and I figured was the unaffected portion of the roof.

Then, he knelt down and worked his hand beneath one of the burnt-orange, curved plates of concrete. He lifted upward.

To my shock, the tile came up with no resistance. And, as if he were looking under a sheet on a bed, the adjoining tiles in the row came up with it.

"You need your roof replaced."

Our estimation of the damage had been woefully inaccurate.

Along with noting the areas of broken and loose tiles, he said there were tiles on our roof that were barely reaching over the top of the one below, among other things. Once that overlap ceases to exist, water can easily get beneath the tiles. Makes me queasy even typing that.

So, a couple weeks ago, we called our insurance company about the late revelation, and, though I don't know what two eyes popping out of a head sounds like, I think that's what I may have heard.

I'm still waiting for the adjuster to come out, get on the roof and formulate his or her diagnosis, bracing myself and hoping that I don't have to pay a huge chunk out of my pocket.

I'm hoping this doesn't get even more complicated.

Meanwhile, a crew came out last week and removed all the tiles from a roof four houses away from mine.

From the ground level, that roof had appeared to have sustained minor damage.

Where had I seen that before?