Written Sunday, August 15, 2004
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Such is Life in Paradise!
The Second Hurricane to affect Florida came through the week before Charlie. Her name was Bonnie, but she did little more than pour on us for days. There was no real wind damage that I know of.
But from afar, Charlie roared his warning. Even the local trees repeated his roar, “Danger! Danger!” as their leaves filled the swimming pool and tapped on the roof in the night.
And we heeded this warning. Horace and I began early to tie down loose things and bring what we could into the house and garage, thankful that we had time to spare. Charlie was two days out.
As is our custom, we rebuke ill winds and raging weather in Jesus’ name, for that is the only power that can be applied against such enemies! Friends and neighbors may think we’re nuts, but this is our choice and it always works for us. And we pray for others who must face the storm, often with less knowledge of prayerful powers.
We watched the news, at first placidly. We saw the local throughways, packed bumper to bumper, moving at ten miles an hour and less, as locals and tourists fled the coming fury. We knew the facts that we faced: Charlie was due to arrive in our areas high tide, and thrust his storm surge on top of it. That would turn a normal category three hurricane into the flood stage of a category four storm, and perhaps have the storm surge reach our inland location, though we are supposed to be out of the flood zone. As we pulled together the final stages of readiness I found myself praying continually, and I found my apprehension growing.
I had been through the eye of Hurricane Donna in 1960, holed up in a solid concrete house with three other families who lived in trailers nearby. I’d sat squished in an inner hallway with the others listening to the wind scream, and to the forest trees crash around us. I’d seen the windows burst with a spray of shards big enough to sever limbs from a human being, and watched as a neighbor’s car tumbled by like a tinker toy in a dust devil! If I never saw that again in this life, it would still be too soon to see it again.
Somewhere around eleven o’clock p.m. I told Horace, “I want to get out of here! That storm is too much for this little frame house full of windows! It won’t withstand those winds!”
“You’ve got to be kidding! Where will we go?”
“Anywhere but here!”
“Well, where will we go?”
“We can make it to New York in thirty-two hours! Someone there will put us up.”
“Are you nuts?” He said angrily.
“Absolutely! I’m terrified to stay here!”
Inside, I knew it was true. My blood pressure was up and my heart was having palpitations. I’d already taken two NitroQuick sublingual pills to still the pain in my chest. If I needed a third I’d been going to the ER. If I stayed, I knew for certain I would not survive the stress of being in this hurricane.
“Where’s your faith, lately?” Horace asked, somewhat irritated.
“Right now, it’s listening to Wisdom and taking notes!” I grouched, more under my breath than in conversation.
“Laura invited us to come to her place. It’s concrete and on high ground.”
“Well, It’s there or New York! Your choice.”
“We’ll go to Laura’s!” He didn’t say another word. He just turned and went into the garage to find the screwdriver and screws to fasten the awnings down over the windows, and I turned to pack as much as I thought we needed to take.
About one o’clock we went into the pool to cool off and relax a bit before packing the car. Neither of us thought we could take another step! But we both knew we must.
“Are we leaving anything here?” Horace asked
“The big appliances, of course!” I exaggerated.
“Where do you think I’m going to put all that stuff?”
For the life of me, all I could think of at that moment was Dean’s Elephant Jokes from when he was a kid. ‘How many elephants can you get in a Volkswagon Bug?’ one had asked. ‘Five’ was the answer: ‘one in each seat and one in the glove box!’
‘Just stuff what you can’t get in the trunk in the glove box!’ I said. His head snapped around as he looked at me. I hoped he knew I was joking! I do that when I'm antsy.
Forget cloths. They’re replaceable. A couple changes would do: But shoes we need to keep us from stepping on glass and nails in the aftermath of a hurricane. In getting down on the floor by the dresser to find shoes I rarely wear anymore, I think I ruptured the surgical sights on my right knee. It began to swell and throb, but I dismissed it in my panic to prepare to leave. The important thing now was making haste. I’d pay attention to it later. And it would remind me of that slight: no doubt!
The photo albums had to be wrapped in two layers of plastic and duct tape was needed on each layer to water-proof it in case we had to leave the car to the storm. I put my backup CD's of all my books, movie scripts and short stories into a zip-lock bag and then into a waterproof overnight bag. If I lost everything else, I could start over from them.
I pulled out the bills and insurance files and put them in a separate overnight valise. The family address book needed to go in there and the printout of the computer address book. I tried not to forget the insurance we have through the credit unions as I worked with the other things!
Then, I pulled all the candles together to take. Making an emergency medical box out of my sewing tin was next, and I included some ace bandages, needles and thread in case the unthinkable happens. I kept trying to think ahead so I wouldn’t forget something important: lots of alcohol and betadine: Four rubber gloves wouldn’t hurt and don’t forget scissors.
Pictures! Oh, My God, I’d forgotten to collect the pictures that were in frames. Those that I could get the photos out of, I did. But I ended up taking several in their frames and stuffing them into the big suitcase between towels. Now, I wish I’d spent some of my spare time last year scanning all the important family photos. I kept thinking ‘that is a good job for the rest of this year. One album at a time!’
By the time Horace had the awnings down I had the suitcases packed and by the door. Mini Pearl’s dog’s bed and pillows were next to them and the lovebird was in its medium travel cage, with full feeders and water vile.
I’d put two sets of sheets and a couple blankets into Space Bags and vacuumed them into thin, hard packages that could easily be stuffed into the trunk safely.
The hard drives had to be disconnected and put behind the front seats of the car. Horace did that while I gathered all the cooked food into baggies and put them in an ice chest to eat during the storm.
Even Mini Pearl knew something out of the ordinary was happening. She never so much as closed her eye-lids all that night.
As I finished getting the food into the cooler, Horace went through the house meticulously filming our meager possessions with his camcorder. It’s funny how we never do those things until disaster is imminent.
By three-ten a.m. the car was packed, the electric cords were unplugged throughout the house to reduce the chance of a fire, our two new twenty inch computer monitors were stored in an inside closet, the one fairly safe place in the house, and we were wasting no time getting in the car. After Horace secured the outside of the garage door with a 6”x6”x8’ railroad tie to keep it closed, we sat in the car and prayed:
“Father, we thank You for Your mercy. We set guardian angels round about our property, in Jesus name, to keep it safe from all harm. We ask you to protect our interests and keep us safe. We let Your Perfect Will be done in our lives. We ask you to keep us safe as we travel the highways. Protect us from accidents, careless drivers, and ourselves. Keep our children, and our children’s children safe, Lord. We thank you for hearing our prayers. Amen.”
It was three-fifteen when we left the driveway and I was feeling better already. The roads were wet but it wasn’t raining. The streets were abandoned but for an occasional police cruiser as we drove toward I-275. I thought there would have been more traffic. When we got to I-275 and headed north to Temple Terrace, just east of Tampa, there was a little more traffic, but still, not much.
“We don’t have to go home again!” I said, breaking a long silence. “Everything we need is right here with us.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It just means that everything I really care about is right here.” I said, reaching for his hand. His eyes were on the road, but his hand clasped mine and I knew he knew what I meant.
We pulled up in front of Laura’s house at four-O-eight a.m. and tried to sleep there until she came out about six thirty. Besides Mini Pearl being a tyrant toward the big, sweet resident dog, we had a nice visit. The house was filed with peace and safety, though Hurricane Charlie never really got to test it. He decided to catch others unaware by turning inland unexpectedly farther down the state, and crossing to the Atlantic Ocean through Orlando. Who can outguess a storm? Especially one that size!
Saturday afternoon, after Horace and Laura decided that her place would be our “Designated Hurricane Shelter,” we returned home, along with about a quarter of Pinellas County. Things looked the same as when we left. And that afternoon the sun occasionally showed it’s self brightly through the rain clouds.
Yes, we’re home, and most everything’s back to normal. But the tell-tale signs of our impromptu midnight foray lay open and unpacked on the guestroom bed, reminders of yesterday’s storm threat, and sentinels of yet another harbinger of doom that is currently following closely in Charlies footsteps: a hurricane named Earl. And after that there’s: Danielle, Frances, Gaston, Hermine, Ivan, Jeanne, Karl, Lisa, Matthew, Nicole, Otto, Paula, Richard, Shary, Tomas, Virginie, and Walter!
Such is life in paradise!