Amidst the scarifying tone of the current reporting on Hurricane Irene’s approach, my nether regions clutch uncomfortably and dredge unpleasant memories from the 2004 hurricane season. In one three week span hurricanes Frances and Jeanne walloped our area; both came ashore at Sewall’s Point, their official landing spots located only three miles apart. Hunkered inside our “safe space,” protected by storm shutters and a well-built house, the dissonant symphony of destruction magnified our fear. As if Velcro-ed to my hip, Heidi and Toto, our two normally vocal terriers, snuggled against me in terrified silence. They ate and drank nothing and appeared grateful for the diapers I provided as a precaution. At least they cooperated as I struggled to adjust the Pampers. (Think about it; it isn’t easy to accommodate a fluffy tail without defeating the purpose of the diaper in the first place.)
What Frances left unscathed, Jeanne finished off. Our screen enclosure was peeled apart accompanied by eerie, screeching complaints as the wind disassembled it as easily as a tot knocks apart wooden blocks. Heavy cement tiles popped off our roof like corn in a hot air popper.Along with thousands of others, we became the proud owners of a blue plastic tarp and sported this architectural eyesore for many months. The first contractor we hired absconded with a large deposit; before we could hire a replacement, litigation had to be settled. Eventually, we did get our refund and a competent, reliable company installed an attractive Key West-style metal roof. Far more important than the esthetic impression, is the hurricane survivability that they guaranteed. If the storm does pass through, our roof will be put to the test and we’ll learn whether the storm-worthiness promise is worth the paper on which it is written.
We’ve lived in Florida for 24 hurricane seasons and have coped pretty well. The 2004 season is the only one in which we had catastrophic damage. In other years we lost trees and sweated without electricity for a couple of weeks. Toilets could be flushed with water hauled from our pool and we used solar shower bags to create “hot” water for bathing. Gas grills are wonderful for cooking and we were able to become acquainted with stars that under normal circumstances are impossible to see due to ambient urban light.
Some good did follow the storm. Neighbors checked on one another and shared supplies. Families spent lots of “quality” time together. Okay, so maybe not all of it was “quality” or fun, but it was endurable and we learned to pull together. In the aftermath of the storm, my 84 year-old mother commented drily that “She had never wanted to go camping and was less than thrilled with this “baptism by fire.” We discovered things about ourselves and our possessions. Valuable had an entirely new definition. While stuff is enjoyable and can ease day to day living, all of it is replaceable, family and friends are not. They are the treasures of our lives.