Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricane Irene is Just Another Memory--Which Conjures A Lot More

The latest storm has come and gone, just like the other ones in my life, but the memories will be with me until the end. Having grown up on the Bronx waterfront, high water and high winds were something we dealt with all the time--as a family.

The storms that did the most damage were the ones we never expected--two of them were winter Noreasters with tidal surges augmented as the water flowed down the streets over the snow. But two hurricanes in particular, come to mind every time one takes aim at New York and I immediately go into prep mode.

In 1976,  I was the only one home while the rest of the family vacationed in Cape May, New Jersey. I got up for work at 6:00 a.m. and heard the first warning that Hurricane Belle was on the way later that afternoon (weather forecasting was not as advanced as it is today). I called in 'sick' and got to work securing my Dad's Larsen Lapline, anchored behind the house in Long Island Sound, and 'evacuating' his pigeons from their waterside abode a block away to my cousin Dennis' coop. 

Dennis helped me with that, as well as moving all the patio furniture and my Dad's ten thousand houseplants summering outside to safer haven. Then there was the matter of the shed-moving the lawnmower and other electrical equipment, all the bicycles and loose flower pots. And the cars, which needed to be moved about a half mile away, to higher ground. I had to walk back, twice. God, I wish I still had that picture my high school sweetheart (soon to be first husband)  took of me, sitting in the dining room facing the sound, surrounded by the contents of the backyard and shed, holding an umbrella.

The family arrived home after a harrowing drive home from Cape May in evacuation traffic to find it all done, and honestly, I don't remember anything about the storm except that we came through it with minimal damage from the storm surge, even though the boat had dragged its anchors quite a distance and was beached about 50 feet from the bulkhead in our backyard.

In 1985, I was living a block away when Hurricane Gloria threatened, separated from but trying to reconcile with my first husband. Due to the strength of the storm, the shoreline, including my childhood home was under mandatory evacuation. My parents and younger sister went to stay with my grandmother--the first time they'd ever left for a storm--but I was not under the same advisory and stayed behind. The storm blew by in what seemed like a few minutes, and I waded around the corner through thigh high water to find water lapping at the back door of the house, but no major damage.

My ex stayed with me to help that time, and we celebrated with friends by going out for Mexican food with our good friends Jerry and Liz, at Don Emilio's in Larchmont. I'll never forget the plate glass window in the shop next door, still boarded up and spray painted in red "Gloria, Be Gentle."

I'd called in 'sick' that day too, and unfortunately the reconciliation with my ex was as short lived as Hurricane Gloria.

I was not scheduled on duty in either of my jobs for Hurricane Irene, but after my house was secured and I'd assured that my Mom, spending her first hurricane without my Dad, was tucked away and riding it out with a friend, contemplated calling to see if they needed me.

Nothing illustrates the schism between my professional and family life better.  I learned, by being part of a family that stayed together and played together, that nothing else matters. But then again, the pull to help with disaster services both in the streets and in the hospitals is very strong.  I feel guilty, for just a little while, that I'm not doing my part.

Maybe when the next hurricane threatens New York, things will be different and I'll ride it out with co-workers instead of cooking dinner, playing Zhu-Zhu pets with my daughter, and helping my (second) husband mop the basement and clean up the downed tree limbs.  And I don't even feel guilty about it.