animated beanie head

My First Hurricane

LEE: "Back then, people were praying for rain. They forget that God backorders this stuff and delivers it in bulk."

We lived two years in Florida without threat of a hurricane but the cold winters drove us to Georgia. In 1940, we moved into the small house my parents owned in Savannah, and within weeks, a hurricane hit us.

There weren't any weather satellites or radars or high tech methods of hurricane tracking then. News of storms at sea came from the ships that encountered them. Warnings to the public went out by radio. People were asked to each let three friends know, and tell them to pass the word along. My mother heard the radio warning. We had a phone so she called those of her friends and relatives who had phones.

My brother was almost eighteen. When the winds and rains arrived, he put on his raincoat and disappeared into them. My mother didn't like it, but she didn't try to stop him. She said there was no keeping him in when there was a storm.

My father got out his camera and went up into the "half-story" attic to watch from the dormer windows.

My mother and I went onto the front porch and stood in the wind and blown rain, watching until the storm got fierce enough to drive us back inside. Then my mother got busy putting out pots, pans and whatever other containers she could find to catch the water dripping through the ceiling.

From the porch I had been particularly impressed by terrific flashes of green in the distance. For years, I thought green lightning was a characteristic of hurricanes. Eventually I learned what I'd been seeing was the flare of burning copper as electrical transmission wires shorted.

My brother came home after the storm was over. I never learned where he'd gone or whether he'd taken shelter during the worst of it. Fortunately, it was not a major hurricane. Top winds recorded in the heart of town only reached 105 mph. But that was enough. Huge trees that had been standing before the Civil War were down and various structural damage was reported all around town.

There was a large pecan tree in front of the house across the street from ours. My father got snapshots of it twisting in the storm until the trunk snapped and the whole top was flung into the street.

Our house was on a corner. We had a large pecan tree in the side yard and a larger one in the backyard. The bigger one was between the house and the driveway to the garage. The used box truck my father had bought to move us to Savannah was parked in the driveway. The storm uprooted the tree and laid it down neatly between the house and the truck without damaging either. However it did take down our electric service.

We only lost a large chunk of the top out of the pecan tree in the side yard. The tree lived, put on new growth, and the next season it gave us a small crop of pecans.

A city work crew cleaned up the part of our big pecan tree that was in the street, but cut it off even at the property line, and left it to us to dispose of the trunk and root. My father and brother spent a lot of time tackling it with handsaws. My father gave me a small saw "just my size" and let me work at it to my heart's content. The only heating we had for the house then was a fireplace in the living room. That winter we had a good supply of pecan logs to keep our home fire burning.

It took at least a week for our electrical service to be restored. We were lucky to have a gas range so we had hot meals. But not cold ones. The fridge was electric.

My Dad rigged up a small radio and an electric light to operate off a car battery. We could run one or the other, but not both at the same time. Twilight came early and my favorite radio programs came late in the afternoon, so my parents had to do without light for a half hour while I listened to The Green Hornet or The Lone Ranger

The Great Depression was still on when that hurricane hit. The Red Cross offered help with repairs. Our roof had been reduced to little more than bare wood so my father applied. The Red Cross came through with rolls of tarpaper, cans of tar and bags of roofing nails. But my father had been so humiliated by the process they put him through to get them that he wanted never to have anything to do with the Red Cross again.

© 2021 Gary Ross Hoffman

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