Monday, August 29, 2011

The Prettiest Day of Summer....

… is the day after a hurricane.  Gone the rain and wind; gone the gray skies; gone the fear – all replaced by a high pressure ridge that brings sun and puffy clouds, the buzz of chainsaws and the chucka-chucka of home generators.  Yes, today is a “glorious day in the Commonwealth”.

Our damage is so minor as to be laughable.  This is the sum total.  Well, I did have to prop up a buddleia and may lose it, but nothing else.  We are without power – along with 400,000 others – so camping on the deck has become the game.  ‘Fridge emptied into coolers and chest freezer packed with newspaper to hold for a couple of days.  We’ll be cooking all the food in the kitchen freezer today – on the grill, of course.

So, that’s my hurricane report.  Since I have so little to tell you – and it’s potentially so much worse elsewhere – I’m including a memoir Mother wrote a few years ago when she was working on her “family memoir”.  It’s a more interesting story.
Trees and Daddy Refused to Bow to Hurricanes
The pine trees along the edges of the golf course fairway were breaking like wooden kitchen matches.  From my place behind the French doors I could look through the screened porch to see and hear them clearly.  With each sharp crack, as the tree trunks whipped by the gale winds weakened and broke, I would jump and look quickly to see the top of the tree either fall to the ground or hang upside down from a stubborn splinter of pinewood.  Tree after tree met its fate that way.  I was ten years old and experiencing my first hurricane, both scared and excited. 

               The first we heard of the approaching storm was when my father came home early from his Norfolk office to tell us to get ready for a `big blow` that seemed to be coming our way.  It had been the talk of Granby Street that day.  There were no early forecasts, as we have today, no probable courses of the storm, no hurricane hunters, no weeks- ahead predictions, just a father coming home early to tell us to get ready for a hurricane.  It was the only alarm we needed.
               Mother went first to her emergency shelf in the pantry.  Here she kept the supplies needed for the fairly frequent power outages to be expected in the one-power-line town, Virginia Beach in the 1930`s, where a northeaster or an accident to the line could make the town dark.  Our house lights dimmed when the trolley passed the block.

               Mother was prepared with her prized Sterno camp stove, kitchen matches, extra candles, and kerosene  lamps.  She checked to see if a new can of Sterno was needed before dispatching Daddy off with a canned goods list to go to the store and to the ice house on Norfolk Avenue for a large block of ice to put in a galvanized tub, for extra food storage.  All hands turned out to bring in lawn furniture, bicycles, and anything that might blow around in high wind; a routine preparation then, as it is now.
But this time there was an urgency to my parents` directions.   We were told to get a pair of shoes with socks, bundle them in a sweater and place them next to the wall in the dining-room on the floor, where we could get them easily, if we had to “get out”.    I did not realize the full meaning of “get out”, but it had an ominous ring and I made my bundle.  Mother was very aware of the huge pine tree about six feet from the north wall of the house which, if it fell, would fall on the house.

               Our house was three blocks back from the ocean front at the beginning of the Princess Anne Country Club golf course, surrounded by a heavy pine forest beside the first fairway.   Only the immediate area around the house had been cleared, at my Mother`s request because she treasured her pine trees.  We had no worries about a flood that far back from the ocean, but the trees were another question.

               Before the wind and rain began, there was a strange yellow color to the atmosphere, and a calm before the winds began to increase and the rain came in torrents.  We had our last hot meal, glued to the radio before the power failed.  When the lights were replaced with lanterns and candles and the radio silent, my father announced that he was going to bed.                                              

               I don`t recall when the eye of the storm passed over us, but I do remember how strange the sudden calm felt.  It lasted a while before the winds came back full force but from a different direction.   Now the rain attacked the windows on another side of the house.  It was back to the rolled towel dams again.

               Finally, when it all stopped, we ventured out to assess the damage.  There were nine trees down and across the power line from corner to corner of the block beside our house.  Not one of them came from our yard.  We had not lost a single tree.  Mother`s fondness for those tall pines had paid off in an unexpected way.           
They grew so thick and close together that they protected each other from whipping in the extreme gale, and did not break.  Even the large one beside the house was still intact, minus a few branches and a lot of needles; still standing guardian over the house.

Later, my father discovered that the house had been skewed off its foundation by about 6 inches on one corner.  We children found that we could place a marble on the floor of an upstairs corner bedroom and it would roll unaided to the opposite one, downhill all the way.  We tested it many times.

Walking down to the oceanfront, stepping carefully around the downed power lines, we found a devastation we could hardly believe.  The beach sand had washed inland, covering Atlantic Avenue and washing as far as Pacific Avenue and the railroad tracks.  It covered the private yards in between, including the fragrant bed of petunias Mrs. Parker planted each year that usually scented our walk to the ocean.

In place of the last line of dunes before the beach, there was a bank of clay to the breaker line.  Walking on the clay was a slippery adventure to reach the Cavalier Beach Club two blocks away.  There we saw a destroyed dance floor, sand in piles everywhere, and a new sand dune where the bandstand had been.  On top was the piano tilted at a precarious angle.  The houses on the oceanfront had suffered some damage and all had sand covering the first floor.  The waves had been breaking against their front doors.

The next month there was a second, less severe hurricane that followed the path of the first one.  My family again followed the same routine of preparation, and once again, we lost no trees.  Mother said it was because she lived right.  Daddy said it was because he slept through that one, too.

                                                                                          Nell Webb Midgett

No comments:

Post a Comment