Saturday, August 3, 2013

my first hurricane


In October of 1954, a hurricane called Hazel hit Southern Ontario pretty hard. By that time my mother and father both had jobs in Toronto, 25 miles away from our tiny lakeside cottage and, as a determinedly solitary child (one who hadn't taken well to being babysat), I was a latchkey kid. Every morning at 6:30 they'd get in the car for the long drive to the city and would return at 6:30 in the evening. That was the routine.

As I recall it was late afternoon on a Friday that the storm began. Truth to tell I didn't pay much attention when the rain first started pelting the windows, nor did I notice the winds doing anything unusual. I'd done my few chores - dish washing, making my bed and peeling potatoes for dinner -  before looking at the clock to see it was almost 6:30. It was already too late in the year for seeing much outside the windows by that time of the evening but I squinted into the darkness anyway hoping to see the lights of the little Ford Prefect coming up the road. Nothing. Well, not quite nothing since wet leaves had already glued themselves to the glass at the front of the house.

An hour or more went by with me alternately looking at the clock and going back to the windows, more and more nervous with each passing minute. So I did what any normal almost eight year old would do and turned on the television to watch Topper - a family favorite show. If you remember that program it was about an elderly gentleman (Leo G. Carroll) who was visited by the amusing and sophisticated ghosts of the couple who had originally owned his house. Since they'd died in an avalanche, an alcoholic St. Bernard who'd expired trying to rescue the Kirby's also provided some fun by lapping up any martinis he found. As it was only Topper who could see these characters he was always left to explain the strange happenings. Maybe you had to be there.

Anyway, five minutes into the show the lights went out in the house. Not only had the storm not blown over as they usually did, but it had got worse. While I was still waiting for my eyes to adjust to the dark I heard very loud banging at the kitchen door followed by the entrance of Patricia, a twelve year old neighbor who said I had to come to her house. I really didn't want to leave but she said she'd drag me if I refused. The back door that slammed into the outside wall when we went outside took both of us to close. Then it turned out I couldn't stand up in the wind so had to crawl the hundred feet or so to her house while branches and everything else that wasn't nailed down blasted past us. After Pat tripped over a rolling log she stayed down and crawled the rest of the way with me.

At least there were candles lit at the neighbor's house but I couldn't eat what was offered. A pair of clean pyjamas exchanged for my wet clothes made me more comfortable, but I refused a shared spot in bed with the girls and instead, went to sit by the kitchen window to watch for car lights. By then I was badly frightened that I'd never see my parents again and wondered what would become of me. England and the aunts, uncles and grandparents who lived there were very far away and not well remembered. A few miles away was the Loyal True Blue and Orange Home, an orphanage for children whose parents had been killed in the war, or so I'd been told. I didn't think I'd like it there.

So passed a long and lonely night. Although I didn't cry because I didn't want anyone to hug me, I did feel sick and bereft. I must have fallen asleep on the chair because when I looked outside again it was a clear, calm morning. Before anyone else awoke I was out the door running home. Even now remembering the joy and relief I felt seeing that little black car parked next to my house brings a lump to my throat.


It had been a terrible storm that saw bridges washed out, trees falling to block roads and rivers overflowing their banks, but my father drove the high riding Ford Prefect through farmer's fields and along graveled back roads to make it home by dawn. We had breakfast together, Mam, Dad and me, and then I went out to play with my friends in the lake that had crested at the bottom of our road. I think my parents went to sleep.

30 comments:

  1. Wow, that was quite a scary experience for a little girl! You write that it was your 'first' hurricane - how many more have you experienced? It's all wonderful material for your drawings and stories, dear Susan.

    It just dawned on me... we haven't seen Crow for a while! Hope he's OK and wandering the world as ever.

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    1. It was pretty scary for everyone especially since hurricanes in Ontario were very unusual. I would probably never have experienced another except for the fact we lived in RI for 17 years where there were 4 that I remember. The worst one was Gloria in 1985 when we refused to evacuate to a shelter away from our Victorian 'farmhouse' that overlooked a marina. We didn't go because we couldn't take our cat and dog with us. The place shook like crazy for hours but I best remember watching stuff blow past the upstairs bathroom window when I could no longer wait to use the toilet.

      Crow is just fine - currently traveling in the Middle East researching a post about desert air conditioning :)

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  2. Wow is right. You remembered quite a bit about how you felt. (I felt your fear for your Mom and Dad's safety), I can't say I remembered any storms except the famous 1967 January snowstorm in Chicago, I remember scenes of traffic stopped on expressway ramps and buses stopped, covered with snow, in the middle of an intersection near my home. I can't imagine going through it alone at such a young age. I think of my now 6 year old Grand daughter and how she seems to rely on us for comfort and how she might react to being placed in a spot such as your were. Thanks for sharing this with us. You had us with you, holding your hand, waiting for the folks to get home.


    Peace

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    1. It's one of those events that seared itself into my memory for sure. The storm you mention witnessing in Chicago reminds me of the Blizzard of '78 we went through in Providence. The whole state was closed down for a week and food was air-lifted in. Nowadays I think they'd reclassify it as a winter hurricane.

      Thanks so much for holding the hand of an almost eight year old as she waited for her parents to come home.

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  3. A beautifully written-up experience. It held my concentration to the very last full stop. It's all so much worse at night. You had very brave and caring parents.

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    1. Thanks, Tom. You're right that anything even mildly bad is always so much worse at night. My parents were brave but also very resourceful.

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  4. I don't wish to be repetitive, but I feel drawn again and again to your wonderfully expressive drawing of that event. And when I said your parents were brave and caring (to risk travelling over fields to get back to look after you), I was also mindful of how well you dealt with a frightening experience.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the story and the pictures it evoked. What I've noticed about illustrating memories of situations so far back in my life is that the drawing process takes me back with much more intensity than I might otherwise feel. I don't recall ever feeling brave about what I did that night but it's certainly true that my abandonment issues were well earned. Waiting for people I love has always been very stressful for me.

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  5. Great story and evocative sketches too Susan. All the best from 4 hours west...

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    1. Nice to see you've been by, Gary. I hope all is well there.

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  6. Out of a hurricane of thoughts just this tiny tessera:
    Sometimes there is a story of its own "hidden" in a subordinate clause: "Although I didn't cry because I didn't want anyone to hug me, [...]".





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    1. Life as a mosaic.. As a child I didn't like to be touched by adult strangers.

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  7. That's a beautifully told story.

    Hurricanes used to be a bigger deal, I guess. Partly because in the first world at least we've built up more defenses against them. Of course when you're a kid things like that naturally seem bigger.

    I wonder how many people can identify with not crying because you don't want anyone to hug you? Because I do get it. Depends on the circumstance I suppose, but I can relate.

    Glad the story had a heppy ending, even if I knew it would. :)

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    1. I'm glad you came by to read it.

      Hurricanes are still a pretty big deal if a big enough one is heading your way. Back then they weren't being tracked well and were also practically unknown in Ontario.

      I think I was born with a certain sense of reserve; perhaps you were too. :)

      I know you know. ♡

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  8. Your parents must have known you were at the neighbors house when they finally got back home or were just on their way to check on you I bet.

    I remember the blizzard of '78. We got to skip school for at least a week. As kids, we made snow forts, snow tunnels, and played for many hours out in the cold white stuff. It was fun for us kids then but I bet the adults didn't find it so much fun.

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    1. Oh, they definitely would have found me if I hadn't found them first :)

      Were you in New England then too? That was one heck of a wild storm. Jimmy Carter came to Providence a week later and he waved to my son and me as we stood on a snowbank on our way home.

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    2. We had recently moved to Indiana. It got hit pretty badly too. :)

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    3. I knew it was big, but I hadn't realized it stretched so far. Glad we never lost you under a snowbank :)

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  9. I have experienced several tornados. One in 74 ripped the city up pretty good. I saw forty foot treees pulled from the ground and lifted over ten feet in the air. One house, though appearing basically undamaged, was moved three feet off it's foundation.. the other that was most memorable was the when I was hurled through the air and when I landed I meet a girl named Dorothy. I kind of miss her, and Toto, too.

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    1. I've been on and through the plains states often enough to have experienced some storms, enough to know I'm not going back to catch tornado season - even if I do miss meeting Dorothy and Toto.

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  10. I remember that storm, and being outside with my mom. We took shelter together in our garage, but left the door open so we could see the show. (The rain was coming from out backs.) Holland Mash drowned out. Rivers overflowing. A death or two. That was one huge storm.

    You tell the story so well. But your forgot to mention where Crow was during the ordeal. (But perhaps he had not arrived on the scene back then.)

    Blessings and Bear hugs!
    desert.epiphanies@sasktel.net
    Bears Noting
    Life in the Urban Forest (poetry)

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    1. Yes, it was huge and unexpected both. I'm glad you and your mom were both okay. As for Crow, we met a little later..

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  11. I was certain I'd commented here ages ago. What a story! And your pictures are so evocative. My heart breaks for Little Susan, too frightened and bereft even to cry. The rescuing neighbors must have thought you quite stoic. Blogger and IPad not friends so must be brief. Hope the rest of your summer is filled,with lovely things that make up for the earlier noise and grunge.

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  12. I'm glad you made it by and were able to leave a comment. Looks like I have another reason not to get an IPad :)

    I'm glad the story affected you in the same way it did me as I remembered through drawing it out.

    Stay well, my friend.

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  13. me too...seconding gfid on both the thinking i'd been here and the lump in my throat for the sad little girl who must have been heart-broken ,so afraid never to see her beloveds again. i think you were a very plucky little almost 8 yr old!! i hate storms with lots of wind so would have been terrified. thunder scares me half to death. maybe it's living here with only the earth quaking occasionally that makes me the wimp i must be.

    ah well, i thought i'd say good morning. i'm too tired to sleep i guess since i'm still awake with very blurry eyes. apologies that life has taken me away from this box for awhile. still not time for a rest and this is probably why i am awake....quiet house with a little time to myself without interrupts...tho i do love them, i am also used to my free time and quiet house. well, soon it shall be that way again and i will be mourning my loss! is there no pleasing us humans? at least not this one...

    much love, i am preparing for you a treat if only i could get enough collected. that's all i shall tell you now without giving it away. each time i think of you and .... well, you will see soon enough. much love to you, sweet susan. xxxx

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    1. It's always so nice to see you've been here, my friend. The storm was just a storm to me so I can't be praised for bravery at that age; what was bad was having the idea dawn for the first time that my parents might not be invincible. The time for that understanding comes to all, but I think for me it was a bit sooner than usual.

      I'm sorry you weren't sleeping when you should have been even as I'm glad you spent some of that time here. I know what you mean about enjoying the company and at the same time relishing a little privacy. Having everything in perfect balance never works for long, does it?

      A treat? for me? You've made me smile and that is good enough :)
      xoxoxo

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  14. Oh, how I love your stories and perfect drawings accompanying them. It makes me wish that you still lived within driving distance, as I'd love to sit and listen to you tell more. This line really got me: "I didn't think I'd like it there." It says so much about your ponderings that night, and the memory of seeing the car the next morning brought a lump to my throat too!

    This is very special, Susan.

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  15. I'm so glad to know you enjoyed it, Lydia. I agree it's a shame we never got more time to spend together trading stories as I'm sure you have some equally worth sharing. The Loyal True Blue and Orange Home was a huge old brick building set on a wide grassy area behind an iron fence. It always looked like a prison to me.

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