Probably like many of you, you are thinking and praying for the people in the path of Irene. I have family in her path. I have friends, new and old, in her path. I’m praying too.
I’ve been through a few hurricanes in my life; in relative terms, nothing too serious or intense. Just lots of wind and rain – I’ve been through worse storms with impending tornadoes – although fortunately, never been in the full path of a tornado either.
I remember Gloria. She came up the East Coast slamming Connecticut in 1985. We’d move to CT the year before. We had our first little house. The cracker box two bedroom cape I’ve written about here. We boarded windows. We waited. A neighbor came over to keep us company. I never understood why. My husband was not happy about this intruder. I took it in my stride. I remember we played board games. Another thing my husband doesn’t care for – he’s not a fun and games sort of guy.
The electricity went out – it stayed out for about five days. By some strange phenomena, the grocery store and the McDonald’s near us were the only ones in the state who had power. It took a lot longer for other parts of Connecticut to recover. In 1991, Gloria’s younger brother, Bob came through – he wasn’t as tough as his sister in Connecticut but he was a killer elsewhere.
My first recollection of a hurricane came when I was in the first grade. I’ve tried to find the name of that storm. I haven’t. I’ve considered that maybe my memory is faulty – it’s possible. But the memory is so strong, I rather doubt that it is…
It was the year I had Mrs. Harris at PS94 in Brooklyn. I was fresh out of Kindergarten and school had just resumed. First grade was a challenge. It meant learning to read with Dick and Jane and all day in school. At lunchtime, my mother would walk the two short blocks, and one and a half long blocks to the school to meet pick me up. My mother took that trek eight times a day. She walked me to school in the morning, then went home. She picked me up for lunch and we walked home together. Then she walked me back to school after lunch. I think the afternoon meant some shopping at the A&P or the butcher. Rarely was it pleasure shopping as money was very tight. Then as the bell rang at 3:00 p.m. she’d be waiting by the door to walk me home. No wonder she stayed so slim in those days.
I think they had school lunch. I know they had a kitchen. I wouldn’t think of eating in school. They served gross food. My mother often complained that I didn’t like soup. She’d say “Other children will eat a bowl of soup and a sandwich, but NO, not YOU.” I didn’t understand what the big deal was – I was happy with PB&J, tuna salad, egg salad, or just plain bologna.
I thought Mrs. Harris was mean. She was not as young and sweet as my pregnant kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Pelligrino. I remember one time Mrs. Harris tapping me on the arm for not paying attention. I went home and told my mother she hit me. My mom just shrugged. At least I hadn’t gone to the principal’s office where the dreaded spanking machine was found.
I wonder now why we were in class during a hurricane. I remember I was sitting on the opposite side of the room from the windows. They were large school windows that your teachers often painted and decorated. In the spring and fall, they were opened allowing fresh air to blow in the room. As we sat with the wind and rain raging outside, a window broke. It was just one pane but it scared us all. Probably Mrs. Harris was scared too. She made us form a line and took us to the basement. The whole school was in the basement. It was lunchtime. Parents who had cars were coming to pick up their children. I looked for my mother. She didn’t come.
Soon trays of food appeared from the kitchen. I can clearly see the two halves of canned peaches swimming in the syrup accompanied by the two pieces of white buttered bread. It was all they had enough of in the kitchen. I think that was the only time I ever ate a school lunch. I never outgrew up detest for institutional food.
Finally she came. I cried, “Where were you Mommy?” She still let me call her Mommy then… another story… She was drenched from head to toe. She scolded me and said: “I had to walk. It was dangerous out there. This is the first time I could come.”
Soon we were safely home in our little haven at 434-53rd street – the storm had passed. We were safe. My prayer as Brooklyn and the rest of the Northeast braces for Irene is that they will sing in safety, Good Night Irene… as she wanders out to sea. And those dreams of Irene? May they bring memories of family and closeness and not of loss and devastation.
What natural disasters have you been through? What was the worse? What was the earliest?