by Donna Andrews
Today was curiously peaceful. I've been spending a lot of time over the last few days glued to the Weather Channel, watching the evolution of Frankenstorm. Maybe too much time--it was a relief to get up early today and head out to the ballpark to watch my nephews' Little League playoff game at 9 a.m. Alas, they lost--though only by one run--but it's a double elimination tournament, so they get another chance . . . sometime. Supposed to be Monday, but unless the forecasters are seriously off base, I don't think anyone's going to be playing baseball Monday evening. But you never know. Our plans are on hold until we find out.
On the way back from the game, I dropped by the garden store, and bought some plants. Pansies, to refresh the planters. Some Allegheny spurge and sweet woodruff for areas in the yard where I need more ground cover. But should I plant them tomorrow? Even if I finish my pre-Frankenstorm preparations, maybe I should wait until I see the state of my yard before I plant anything. Just my luck to plant my plants and have a tree land on top of them. No, I think I'll wait till after the storm. Tomorrow, I'll just concentrate on battening down the deck and yard. My gardening plans are on hold.
A lot of people's plans are on hold until after the storm arrives. I hope people are taking the need for preparations seriously. I hope the storm falls short of being the catastrophe we've been warned about--but not so far short that people become complacent about storm preparations.
And I find myself wondering if people were happier back in the days when we didn't know for a week or more than a storm was heading our way.
My mother grew up in Seaford, an unincorporated community in York County, Virginia. Seaford was originally Crab Neck, until the U.S. Post Office decided the name was too inelegant and told the local postmaster--one of my great-uncles--to find something more suitable. And as you can guess by both names, Seaford is a waterside community. Most of the industry was, and still is, based on seafood. And it's flat--pretty much at sea level.
Mom still recalls living through a record-making hurricane on August 23, 1933, when she was eight years old. The custom of naming hurricanes didn't begin until 1950, and at first the weather service used the old World War II phonetic alphabet--Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog, Easy, etc. (Alpha/Bravo/Charlie/Delta/Echo didn't come along until 1957). In 1953, they started using women's names, and in 1971, the current system of women's and men's names. But back in 1933, there wasn't a system. The history books tend to call that year's whopper The Chesapeake and Potomac Hurricane. Our family preferred The Great Storm of '33, or just "The August Storm."
Mom doesn't so much recall the power outages, although I'm sure they had them--but electricity was far from universal back then, and probably a lot more unreliable. Most people probably considered it a luxury, not the necessity we find it today. Mom recalls the flooding that covered so much of the flat, level peninsula Seaford was built on. Fishing boats were stranded far inland, and the Civilian Conservation Corps had to be called in dig trenches and haul them back to the river. Outhouses were washed away, and while Mom hasn't mentioned it, I wonder if her uncle, the local general practitioner, wasn't kept busy with a few nasty post-flood diseases.
(You can see one of those stranded boats in a rare photo from 1933 at the Daily Press website.)
And nobody in Seaford knew a week or more in advance that a monster storm was headed their way. They were country folk, or water folk. They could probably see the signs, a day or two ahead of time--how the sky looked, and the river, and what the birds and animals were doing. They knew something was up. They made what preparations they could. But the fact that it was something far more than an ordinary hurricane--that they found out the hard way.
I wonder if they were calmer about it than we are.
I hear from Femme Fatale Elaine that Sandy has been pounding Fort Lauderdale for several days now. In Annapolis, Marcia has already voted and is battening down for the wind and rain that could start any time now. Toni, Dana, and Hank, in New England, are bracing for snow on top of the wind. I think the rest of the Femmes (and our Frere Fatale) are probably safe from this particular storm, but they're worrying from afar.
I still have a lot of final preparations. Hunt down the cooler--during the derecho, I filled it with the contents of my freezer and took it all to Mom's place--the assisted living has a generator, and my frozen goods stayed fine in her freezer. I need to finish moving inside all the small yard things that the wind might turn into projectiles. Get some cash, in case the ATMs are out. And stock up on those comfort foods Marcia was talking about--at least the ones that don't require cooking. The car's already gassed, and I know where my first aid kit is, and the bottles of water are in a row in the basement. I have my little LED headlamps, and plenty of the AA batteries they take. I should make sure I've stashed one in everyplace I might be when the power goes. I picked up a new battery operated radio to replace the one that didn't do so well during its last outing--need to set it up and test it. Should I move the gas grill inside? What about the concrete planters--inside, or just flat to the ground outside? I should make sure I know where my can opener is. And position the car at the mouth of the driveway, to minimize the possibility of it getting trapped behind a fallen tree--after the derecho, phone service was so lousy that the only way I could confirm that family and friends were okay was to drive over to see them. And there's the laundry, so I won't run out of clean clothes. And charge up the laptop, and for heaven's sake, save the writing works in progress on a flash drive--two flash drives. And upload them. And--
We have a lot more information about the coming Frankenstorm than Mom and her family had about the August Storm. But the one critical bit of information we all want to know--will we be all right, my family and friends and I?--that we don't know any more than they knew back in 1933. So we fret and scurry through our preparations and watch the maps on the Weather Channel. I wonder if, when we hear the first gust of wind, or see the first flicker in the power, some of us won't feel a curious sense of relief, because now, at least the waiting is over.
Stay safe, everyone.