Of Hurricanes and Halloween

With Sandy barely tickling these parts where I live, most of my energy has been spent worrying about the folks back east, the ones I know and everyone else.

I’ve become acquainted with a couple of hurricanes in my time — one of them intimately. In September of 1989, my husband and I rented a quaint, shingled cottage perched precariously by the side of a slow and lazy river in Maryland. (Here’s a renter’s tip: Never agree to anything after only seeing it at night. Works for dating, too.)

As we waited for word on where a certain hurricane named Hugo would choose to party, I began to pack some belongings for a stay in town at my husband’s office, which happened to be inside a college gymnasium.

Truth be told, we didn’t particularly look forward to a night spent in what used to be a ticket office, with a sticky vinyl couch, a dog, a cat and my unfinished Master’s thesis that was due in two days. Therefore, I was thrilled when I heard that the big boy would miss us.

So we stayed put, feeling smugly prepared as we battened down the leaky storm panels, and stowed away the furniture on a deck already sliding off the riverbank from erosion, confident that an extra bag of Fritos and a flashlight or two was enough. What can I say, we were young and immortal.

It was high tide, of course. As Hugo’s outer tendrils began to wander up the Chesapeake Bay, the full ramifications of our decision to remain began to slam into the house after gaining steam across a mile of open water. Even in his weakened state, our angry visitor began to pry at our windows and pound on the doors, pushing into our psyche with his howls.

As we cowered in the living room with our pets, electricity long since snuffed out, we could hear the boulders placed to prevent more erosion being moved like pebbles along the shoreline. I still remember looking out the window (this house’s foundation was less than a yard from the sandy bank) to glimpse the once flatline river now a roiling oceanic monster, chewing away at what little was left of the earth below us.

Suddenly mortal, we spent the long periods of rising winds debating what to do: remain on the first floor until the storm surge started to rush in, or head for high ground upstairs so that the large cedar tree next to our house could crush us?

Exhausted from waiting for windows to blow in, or water to pull our house down the river like Huckleberry Finn’s version of an amusement ride, unbelievably, we fell asleep.

In the morning, we awoke like Dorothy, inside a still house, lying upon the raft of our futon. A new sun sparkled in the beautiful blue of sky scrubbed clean by nature’s fury. The birds sang their good fortune in finding themselves alive, and all along the river lay miles of debris stacked up on the shoreline. Anything you have ever thrown away could be found there.

Despite the fact that the house was all but falling into the river, with a deck now cantilevered ten feet over the beach, we considered ourselves lucky and beat a hasty retreat well inland.

In the dark of night we returned to find the cedar tree that survived Hugo’s advances had fallen for a freak cyclone late to the party, missing our upstairs bedroom by inches.

That’s it, I announced to what was left of our peace of mind.

We’re moving into town.

A month later, we were caught unprepared by the hoards of trick-or-treaters knocking at the door of our safe house in town, tucked into a quiet street well away from Neptune’s reign.

After what we’d been through, facing the angry ghouls and ghosties of dry land just wasn’t as scary.

*My heart goes out to all those who have suffered terrible loss in this hurricane. This experience was but a fraction of what the victims of Sandy have endured.

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