Churning up the Atlantic, Hurricane Henri is barreling towards us on the southern shore of Long Island. It’s on time, expected, even, because we are at the height of the North Atlantic hurricane season.
I’ve been here before. Thirty years ago, almost to the day, Hurricane Bob smashed, blew down, swept away or submerged anything with the audacity to stand in its way.
Yesterday, while I was securing outdoor furniture and flowerpots too large to bring indoors, my mind kept returning to a Monday morning in August a lifetime ago. Gathering flowers soon to be destroyed and collecting a few almost ripe apples, I reflected on the contrasts between my memories of Bob and the realities of 2021.
It was our first summer in a new house then, and the “garden” was not much more than the potato field it had vanquished the year before. The orchard, the hydrangeas, and the towering trees belonged to a hazy future. The advancing storm would find slim pickings at our house.
The sun had hardly risen when the shrill ringing of the phone rudely roused me. I wondered who could possibly be calling at that hour. I didn’t expect my next-door neighbor whom I barely knew.
“Have you brought everything in?” she demanded.
“Why would I do that?” I replied obliviously.
“Don’t you know there’s a hurricane on the way? I’m coming over.”
It was already drizzling. There were no cell phone alerts in those days and few people had mobiles anyway. Our husbands were gone, on their way to work the city. We were on our own.
I was only half-dressed when Lena appeared at the door in her wellies, ready for action. Together we heaved and toted whatever we could into the garage.
Hours later, her mission accomplished, Lena returned home. I filled the tub and big pots with water. We kept in touch— our landlines never abandoned us— as the tempest raged with increasing violence. I felt like the little pig quivering as the wolf did his best to blow the house down.
The rain didn’t come down. It battered us horizontally, gushing over the threshold. It was all I could do, mopping and wringing ceaselessly with huge towels, to keep up with the tide of water. When the water slowed, that was the signal not to relax, but to move to another side of the house where the storm was bursting in under a different door. The hurricane wound round the house, buffeting it from every direction successively. The only respite we had was when the eye passed over before the storm resumed.
Later that afternoon, Bob moved on and bright sun followed. Despite our exhaustion, we had to see how the world outside had fared, so we jumped into Lena’s Jeep and zigged around downed trees and power lines.
For four days we supported each other, living without power and feasting on the contents of our incapacitated freezers. But the barbecue worked, and we grilled Lena’s tomatoes and my mozzarella for breakfast. Our well water depends on an electric pump to reach our faucets, so we had to haul buckets of the water stashed in the tub for the toilets. We bought batteries, burned candles and went early to bed.
On the second day, we saw truckloads of men climbing poles. They came from faraway places like Canada, helping to restore power. Surrounding towns came back online, but our small village stayed dark.
The August heat was oppressive, yet on the third day we reached what then seemed the height of luxury: a friend in one of those towns offered us warm showers. By the fourth day, however, our sense of adventure was waning. Late that afternoon, we cheered when the power finally came back on.
Today we have a generator. Food will stay cold in the freezer and water will run freely. We will watch television and read books at night. As powerful as it is, though, the generator cannot help the garden. The zelkova gives us welcome shade and shelter, but if pushed to the limit, it is close enough to crash through the roof. While we will be far more comfortable with Henri, we also will be much more vulnerable.
Despite the havoc it wreaked, Hurricane Bob left me an invaluable gift. The unique adventure we experienced together forged an enduring bond between Lena and me.