Growing up on the coast of Georgia, I’m no stranger to hurricanes. And after three years in Minnesota, I’ve become acquainted with snow as well. But a hurricane with snow? That I’ve never seen.
Last night, as I lay in bed listening to the roaring wind, worried like I was during this summer’s derecho that the trees around here are too big and inflexible for a tempest like this, I couldn’t help but compare the wind through these noble giants with one of my most stirring memories, of palm trees in a hurricane. You see, my birthday is in early September – smack dab in the peak of hurricane season – and it seems that almost every year, around my birthday, we were all glued to the radio or TV, either watching a hurricane that, thankfully, wasn’t tracking towards us, or on pins and needles for the next trajectory update, wondering if we would need to evacuate. I remember Hugo in 1989 barreling towards my parents home on Tybee Island, and me trying to help my dad hammer plywood over their plate glass windows that faced the sea. I was 15 that year.
But my most vivid, and strangely, fondest birthday-hurricane memory is of Hurricane David. 1979. My fifth birthday. When we actually did evacuate. We lived on St. Simon’s Island at the time, and I don’t remember any of the preparations, any of the worry, any of the stress that my parents must have felt, watching a category 5 hurricane make its way directly towards their island home. They had an eight-year-old and a four-year-old, and their four-year-old was supposed to be having a birthday. I don’t remember the fleeing, or even where we went (maybe two hours north to Savannah, which I think bore more of the brunt of David than St. Simon’s did). What I do remember, though, besides not having a birthday cake, is watching out the window of the motel room we finally settled in when the driving became too dangerous. The storm didn’t scare me then – I had none of the grown-up worries that a hurricane brings – and I was fascinated by the palm trees out the window, and how far they could bend. The room was dark, and rain slashed in diagonal sheets outside that rectangle of a picture window, and the palm trees bowed like yogis in a back bend, their mops of hair whipping in the wind.
It’s that image – of being in a dark motel room, with forest green and burgundy bed spreads, our source of light being the rectangle of window framing the slate gray stormscape, and me being entranced by the slashing rain and crescent palm trees – that has imprinted itself indelibly in my memory, and that I forever associate with hurricanes.
What’s funny to me is that our kids’ hurricane memories are going to be so polar opposite of mine. Instead of a tropical storm with palm trees, their earliest hurricane memory is going to be in the mountains, from an Appalachian Halloween Frankenstorm with freezing temperatures, and that they played in the wind and snow of. From Hurricane Sandy, who swooped in after a marathon weekend of raking leaves from 80 foot tall deciduous trees. After three years and multiple blizzards in Minnesota, where they never once had a snow day, with Sandy they got a day off of school for a hurricane that made landfall in the northeast, hundreds of miles from home.
But what might be most memorable to them is that since it was only October and I hadn’t yet stocked up on hot cocoa mix (I thought we left October snow behind when we moved away from Minnesota!), they got a taste for real, homemade, from scratch hot chocolate that, thanks to a barrage of helpful tips on Facebook, I was able to make with the cocoa and sugar and milk that I did have. When they came in from the snow, rosy cheeked and panting, and I offered them hot chocolate, their bright eyes and smiles could have lit up New York City. I hope their earliest hurricane memories will be as fond, and exciting, and unforgettable as mine.
I have had the good fortune of never being directly hit by a hurricane, and so I have the luxury of having fond and exciting, and safe, memories. My heart goes out to all of the Hurricane victims, past and present who do not have that luxury. My prayers are with you.