People in Alabama remember hurricanes by name. Katrina (2005) spread devastation from New Orleans to Mississippi leaving Gulf Shores looking like a war zone. Ivan (2004) dropped 4 inches of rain on Mobile Bay going one way, then circled back and dropped 8 more. Neighbors always ask newcomers if you were here and remember the last one. Ivan was our first. Category 5. (wind from 130 – 156)
It takes place in slow motion it seems, It takes forever for them to arrive. The wind whips, roars, rains sideways, trees dance beyond what I had thought capable. Roofs throw shingles across streets, wind howls, followed by eerie quiet. Reporters on transistor radios tell wind speeds. It also takes an eternity for them to leave.
You feel relieved, Forever you had been all worry, then suddenly it’s over. You remember how it feels when it’s over not the pain itself. You forget the nerves, the anxiety, waiting to listen if a branch fell. We marked the storm’s eye with only a little catch of breath.
Stepping out after a storm seems like watching a slow-rising curtain. Branches, leaves, and piles of Spanish moss have turned lawns into yards filled with tree tops. A mess of miscellaneous vegetation.
Inevitably after the storm there dawns a clear blue sky. I remember a graceful time of having survived Ivan without huge loss, now worrying that the golden light will soon enough fade to night.
It had been reported we’d be without power for a long time, and we decided to gather in a back yard around a table, and begin to share food we didn’t want to waste. Yvonne brought fruit salad, Charley brought beer, the Robinson’s fish and their 5 kids, Terry brought melon, etc, etc. We’d had an improvised shared dinner. We all ate too much. I remember Jay Higgenbothem.
He was one of those of Southern gentlemen I’d known only in the movies. He was like Truman Capote come back from the world. He’d invited and had poet Yvetshenko come to Mobile, knew Jimmy Buffet and Winston Grooms (author of Forest Gump). His voice had the same slow drawl that Forest’s had. He was full of tales, and was amusing if you weren’t in a hurry.
The whole night was spent lit by candles and lanterns, magical light. We were in no hurry, and it felt like we were adolescents who’d gotten away with something. Jay in particular seemed that way. (He was impish anyway.) When we were saying good night beneath a clear moon, Jay looked over at the big house down the street which was all ablaze. (Wealthy people had a generator.) They had just fired it up and left on all the lights. The rest of us had “hunkered down.” Jay said, “let’s pick up stones and break all their windows.” They had lots of windows. It was a joke. It was ours to share. Like neighbors in the North who’ve outlasted another monster storm, we didn’t really remember the anxieties. People often ask why we stay in Maine. The snow storms are terrible, aren’t they? Why do people live next to the Gulf of Mexico? Hurricanes? I really only remember my neighbors and what comes after.