Like the buildup to a Mohammed Ali/Joe Frazier fight, the buildup to Hurricane Sandy’s most bruising hours is filled with anticipation. School is canceled; stores are closed; trash collection postponed; many are ready to stay put for a long time. As we listen to the doleful TV weather reporters, we wait for the storm’s first jabs to turn into a steady pummeling.
At 11 a.m. I’m watching the treetops begin to stir more vigorously and listening to the first winds tapping gently against the windows. By 1 p.m. the towering elms surrounding backyard begin to do the limbo, like crazed summer party guests after too much tequila.
We’ve stocked up on AA batteries, bottled water and food that doesn’t need refrigeration. We’ve gassed up the car, filled our bathtub with emergency water and filled our wallets with fresh 20s from the ATM. We’ve brainstormed about what to do if our 10-pound dog has to go to the bathroom when Sandy is hitting her hardest, haunted by visions of Toto being carried off to Oz.
While I have plenty of chores I could be doing, this it the perfect time to remember storms from my past. We were lucky that we escaped their most destructive effects, and the passage of time has romanticized them somewhat. A hurricane’s landfall always meant a windfall of time, which could be spent with loved ones. Here are some of them:
1. Hurricane Hazel, 1954 – I was an infant but my mom still talks about this destructive storm. Like Sandy, it was an
“extratropical” storm that picked up juice from a second front rather than from being over water. It was so bad that they never used “Hazel” for a hurricane name again.
2. Christmas snowstorm from mid-60s. The roads in my eastern Pennsylvania town were impassable but we put on our knee-high snow boots and trudged to church. We felt like we were in a Currier and Ives print.
3. Blizzard of 1978 – A snow plow driver in our New England town told me that his plow broke during this blizzard, so wet and heavy was the snow.
4. Hurricane Bob, 1991. Went to Martha’s Vineyard shortly afterwards. In early September all the leaves had been stripped from the trees because of the salt water sprays. Bees looked frantically for something sweet because all the flowers had died; two found their way into my son’s orange soda and eventually to his arm.
5. Huge snowstorm, January 1996. My children and their friends dug tunnels on our front lawn; our good friend broke his snowplow trying to clear our driveway. My son Ryan, then 7, offered to clean off my car. As I chatted on my phone with a friend, still in my bathrobe, I looked out the window and saw Ryan using a metal shovel to clean the snow off my old Toyota, which afterwards had more nicks than a Greek picnic.
6. April Fool’s Day Snowstorm, 1997 – My fiancé/now husband worked for days in the dark, without power, and slept in front of the fireplace. I talked to him many times from my home 300 miles away and wished I could have been with him.
7. Hurricane Katrina, 2005 – The scenes of destruction from New Orleans are still haunting, seven years later.
8. Early 2011 snowstorms. This blizzard seemed to last the entire month of January. Fresh snowfalls always arrived
on Tuesdays, the one day of the week when I could not work from home. By late March New England was covered with a dirty gray permafrost that we thought would never go away. The last patch of icy crud finally disappeared in April.
9. Hurricane Irene, August, 2011. The wedding of our friends’ daughter – in a tent – took place the night before, as sheets of rain began to fall. While everybody was a soggy and frizzy mess, we will never forget being in a candlelit tent, battened down enough to keep out the wind and rain, and listening to wonderful talks about love and commitment as the storm raged outside. We were lucky that we did not lose our power for long…one of our neighbors was without power for five days; others in Massachusetts for much longer.
What is your most vivid memory of a past storm? I am sure there are many that I am forgetting! Better post this before my power goes out.