Saturday, August 27, 2011

And, Gaston, too.

Camille, Agnes, Hazel, Isabel... now Irene.

My love affair with hurricanes began before I even remember it.  My earliest summer memories include lying in Grandmother's sleigh-bed listening to the wind howl off the ocean,  beating the pines against the window, the crash of the waves sounding like a thousand trains roaring up the beach.  Lucky enough to summer at Virginia Beach,  we were experienced in riding out hurricanes.  It's in our blood.

Mother's family moved to the beach in 1929 - real estate developers didn't do well in that year, and my grandfather had lost the "big house" in Norfolk.  They were one of three homes in the glittering new development he was building.... and which would not be finished in his lifetime.  Perched on a hill overlooking the golf course of his dreams, his home would bear the brunt of storms year after year - enough force to move the house nearly six inches on its foundations. 

Dad's family moved to the beach on the day of the '33 Hurricane (no names in those days).  The builder rushed to get the last touches done and turn over the keys at noon, so that he would not be responsible for damage.  Located only three lots from the beach, it withstood that storm and many more, but often had water in the first floor.

The house I summered in was two blocks from the oceanfront - a sturdy four-square, two story house that was well built to the standards of the late 1940's.  It never suffered in any storm and I predict it will survive Irene as well.  Over the years storms came and went, but never a direct hit and we learned to gear up for the damage, enjoy a hurricane party (more interesting for the adults than for the kids), and then clean up the following day when the skies would clear and it would be the prettiest day of the summer.

The most exciting one I ever experienced was Fran, who trapped us in a church daycare center on Bimini.  We were sailing and scuba diving in the Bahamas when she interrupted our week.  I would never sign on for the "hurricane cruise", but it was one of the most fun weeks of my life.  Until you have been adopted by the local church and camped on their floor with 30 strangers... you may not have lived!!

There's something wild, wonderful and terrible in the winds and waters moving together with that awesome force.  Water flung up on the shore while the heavens dump water as if from an enormous fire hose.  It's a bit like the "bad boy" in high school, or that gorgeous professor one lusts after in college.  Way too scary, but appealing in some core-deep way.  Like a moth, you want to touch the flame, even if you know you might get burned.

So today I find myself doing the things that need to be done - charging all electronic devices and doing the laundry while we still have electricity, downloading ebooks to read (wonder if I will need a real one?), filling the tub with water in case we need it, refilling the propane tank so that I can cook and watching the TV 24/7 for the next update.  While pines are built to sway with the wind, deciduous trees are not.  Our biggest danger is downed power lines causing a significant outage for several days. 

The rain started before dawn, but has not yet gotten heavy.  The winds are gusty now, but not really strong.  The worst part is not due here for six more hours.  A part of me is relieved that it will not be worse, but a part of me longs for the excitement that would come from being at the beach today, closer to the eye wall, closer to the action.  Closer to that bad boy.


  1. You do write beautifully Webb, a interesting insight of living with hurricanes, something I just can't comprehend x

  2. Reminds me of my childhood when my Mom would take us outside to watch tornados. She said we would be fine we lived in the valley. Sounds like you are experienced. I am sure you will be fine. I like that you filled the bathtub. Would have never thought of that. Talk to you tomorrow.

  3. 5:30 am . New England waits, and I'm feeling fortunate it will be during the daylight hours. Hope things went well for you. Thanks for sharing the memories.