Hey y’all! Most of you know that we evacuated and perhaps followed the updates on my Facebook page. I found myself in the position of living my “What If” post. Ironically, at the time we loaded the car and made a mad dash out of our state, I was strangely calm, or maybe in a state of denial. It was before the storm that anxiety and stress were off the charts, and a bit later…. after the “mad dash”that it hit again. And boy! Did it ever!!
Hurricanes at least give enough time to prepare…..but that also means lots of time to build up anxiety. We spent the week prior to Irma’s projected landfall getting ready. Draining the pool, removing anything that could become a projectile in high winds, packing mementos as best we could. Mr B worked tirelessly moving patio furniture, pots and plants, and odds and ends of outdoor miscellaneous (think dozens of wind chimes) to the side of the house or into the garage. He didn’t grumble or make snide comments about all the stuff that had to be moved, he just did it. The anxiety building, did we do enough? Would we be safe? Waiting for the storm to hit was the worst part. The unknown is always the hardest part.
Our house is “open concept,” kitchen, breakfast nook and family room are one big space. There are no rooms without windows, and the windows we have are each larger than a standard 4 x 8 sheet of plywood. They are great for letting light in, but due to some ill designed sills that stick out on the exterior, and the fact that the family room windows are not separate windows, they are “mulled together with aluminum,” there is no way to secure the plywood sheets to the house. Plus they aren’t “hurricane windows,” they’re flimsy builder grade. That bank of 3 in the back of the house were the biggest concern. They rattle and vibrate during normal thunderstorms and I was afraid that hurricane force winds would blow them out. We’d given all our plywood away quite awhile ago and it quickly disappeared at all the big box stores.
People were taking this storm seriously. And it didn’t help my stress level to have the Governor on the TV once every hour saying, “This is a monster storm, GET OUT.” If the Governor was freaking out, what chance did we have? Floridians in our area are usually blase about hurricanes. We’ve had a few. But this storm? Irma? She scared the bejesus out of hardcore hurricane partiers and people were boarding up, buying all the water that was available and gassing up the cars.
Bread, water and gasoline ran out. Gas stations closed. People drove miles from their homes hoping to find a jar of peanut butter or a bottle of water. I was lucky to be in Walmart when a few pallets of bottled water became available. I was surprised at the orderly line, the lack of complaints as we snaked through the store to the back and each shopping cart was loaded with a case of water. There was no bread, no peanut butter, no canned tuna (I snagged the last two cans), and paper towels and toilet paper were in very short supply.
We knew we had enough ice to last a couple of days and food in the freezer to cook on the gas grill when the power went out. We had batteries, water and toilet paper, candles and oil lamps. We had a generator that had just been serviced and it was supposed to power 6 outlets in the house. I hoped one of them was for a fan. I bought an extra case of Oscar’s kidney diet food, stocked up on Lily’s and picked up vaccination records at the vet’s. We found a couple of small pieces of plywood in the garage and Mr B was able to board up the french door in the pool bath. So that was our “safe room.” I planned to make a bed on the floor with some of my bazillion quilts and throws and the 4 of us would huddle in there during the storm. So we were good.
I put photos and scrapbooks in the few plastic bins I had, but quickly ran out so made a quick run to Big Lots and fortunately it still had a few. I grabbed a couple and was able to get most of the family photos and my precious tintypes wrapped and in the bins. Some I wrapped in plastic and placed in the washer and dryer and even the dishwasher. We aren’t in a flood zone so I wasn’t worried about the water lines backing up. Turns out that wasn’t a great idea. I’ll have to do some research to find out what…if anything, can be done to make those a safe place to put precious things.
My Grandmother’s cedar chest was put into the bathtub, my toy box was left in my office with the hope that it would remain safe. Some bins were additionally wrapped in garbage bags, taped and placed in our closets. We closed all the interior doors. Mr B made a pee station for the dogs with some sod and I was able to get Oscar some tranquilizers to help with his storm anxiety. We were as prepared as we could be. We were ready to hunker down.
As Irma got closer, the warnings became more dire. When the winds hit 50 mph first responders would no longer respond. The Governor told people in south Florida if they didn’t evacuate, they’d be on their own. Don’t call if you have a heart attack. We aren’t coming. No way was he going to risk the lives of those crews to save someone dumb enough to stay and then have the temerity to have a heart attack. My anxiety was through the roof. We went about the business of shutting down our computers, making sure our medications and personal papers were in the water resistant lock box. Both dogs were anxious and followed in our footsteps, routinely getting stepped on, then hugged with a quick apology. Their innocent eyes looking up at us, plainly confused and anxious, looking to us for reassurance and comfort. I felt bad that I had none to give, for I was just as anxious.
And then we waited…. I managed to watch a couple of sitcoms but couldn’t tell you which ones. I tried to read but couldn’t concentrate. As Irma got closer the television was on our local 24 hour news channel. (Thank you Bay News 9 for your coverage, it helped make our decisions.) I couldn’t sleep for worry.
Mr B wasn’t concerned. I was frightened and nervous. The waiting was nerve wracking, just get here already! We were prepared. And then…. Tampa was in the bulls eye….. Irma turned….. Just a bit, but now the eye was going to pass closer to us. And we would get the full force of the winds on those flimsy windows at the back of the house. Mr B looked at me late Saturday night and said, “We need to leave.” WHAT???? I wanted to leave days ago, but was convinced by him we would be OK. So all of a sudden we aren’t???? Holy heart beat! He said, “I’ll wait for the 11:00 o’clock update, if Irma has made the turn they are forecasting…..those windows…. ” When Mr B became concerned I knew it was about to get real. To say I was frightened would be the “under” understatement.
Mr B does not get alarmed easily. I knew all hell was about to break loose. I asked what time we would leave, he said, 6:00 a.m. “OK, get me up at 5:00.”
“Can I take anything?” “You can take what will fit.” He didn’t have to wake me up for I slept…..not at all! My “What If” scenario was coming true. I’d given myself an hour before we left to load what I could in the back of the car. Posting that “What If” post probably saved my sanity. I was able to quickly grab the things most dear to me because I’d already determined what those things were.
The doggies and their things went in first, crates, bowls, food and medication. Plus two dog beds that would be used in whatever motel we could find. A gas can with 10 gallons of gas. Mr B said he was confident we could make Georgia on one tank, but took the extra gas as a precaution. Surely there would be gas in Georgia…right??? A small cooler with water and ice, a bag of snacks. Our two small roller bags stuffed with necessities. The rest of the car was mine.
I knew the cedar chest wouldn’t fit in the space left, so in went the toy box, I dumped its contents on my floor and quickly pulled a few things out of the washer; my Grandmother’s statue, the shaving mug belonging to my Gramps, my Mom’s clock, some of MR B’s family photographs and his baby shoes and placed those in the toy box. I asked him, “What do you want me to pack for you?” “Nothing.” There is nothing here I care about except you.” I grabbed a ziplock bag and at the last minute put some pieces of jewelry in. I took a last look at my breakfast nook and thought wistfully, geez, I just painted the church pew, it was 5:55 when we pulled out.
If you followed the FB page, you’ve already seen the ghostly images of the interstate. The decision to leave the morning of the day the storm would hit was, in hind sight OK. We could get out without sitting for hours on a clogged interstate. It was clear sailing. We were confident we could outrun the storm. Irma wasn’t going to hit full force until later in the evening. Even so, there were some gusty winds and bands of rain coming in. But it was a surreal trip. Gas stations and fast food restaurants were shuttered and empty. Closed rest stops were an eerie sight as we sped along, Mr B making sure that he kept the car at at even 55 mph to conserve gas. When it was my turn, I admit I white knuckled the steering wheel.
Along the way our daughter-in-law called motels for us…… Savananah, no vacancies, a pet friendly motel in Charleston had rooms, but when the price of $689.00 was quoted we decided to go to our nephew’s home outside of Greenville, SC. He’d invited us to stay, but they have a toddler and I didn’t want to inflict our two rowdy doggies on them. Turns out we didn’t have a choice. It was going to family or living in our car. Family won.
Our dogs were amazingly well behaved after they learned what they could and couldn’t do. The baby was terrified of them so it became a matter of juggling when the dogs could be out of their crates and not terrify sweet baby Avery. It actually worked out well. The dogs were with us while Avery was in day care and in the evening after her early bedtime. Concessions were made and our nephew and niece were gracious and loving. There was a fenced yard and my nephew immediately made it dog safe by screwing is some slats of fencing to make sure there was no wiggle room to get out. The nephew had even recorded Outlander for me! (He’s my favorite nephew) We ended up really enjoying our stay with them, but only after we learned our house had survived with no real damage. I can’t tell you how my thoughts wandered and how worried I was until I got that news.
Monday, after the storm had passed, one of our neighbors texted and shared a photo of our home. We were OK. But then another worry surfaced, a small one, but one that needed to be addressed. The power was out, so we asked that our food be taken out of the freezer and refrigerator. I didn’t want to return to that. I’ve been through a flood and the stench from a refrigerator filled with food without power for several days never really leaves…no matter how much it’s cleaned. So neighbors to the rescue again.
The first days in SC were filled with anxiety, the TV tuned almost constantly to CNN to get a glimpse of our area. There was no power and no phone service in many places and I was filled with worry about our friends in other areas of Florida. Did they make it? I
wanted needed to be home, I needed wanted to leave immediately. But there was no gasoline in Florida. The port was closed, tankers couldn’t get through, and the interstates had to be cleaned, then bridges and overpasses checked for structural safety. So we waited. And watched amazing video of utility workers responding from every state, and Canada. People were donating to the recovery, including donating their time. Neighbor helping neighbor. Human helping human. For a brief moment in time we were all just human. Not Democrat. Not Republican. Not Gay or Straight, Black or White. It was beautiful to see. Americans are at our best during times of crisis. It shouldn’t take a crisis.
I’m so thankful that all our friends made it through the storm, I’m thankful I still have those few things most precious to me. I’m thankful for the love and support of family in a time of overwhelming fear and anxiety. I’m thankful for those doggies, who are now romping through the house again, already forgetting just a few days ago they were afraid and anxious. They have the gift of a short memory. Most of all I’m thankful Mr B is still with me, annoying the hell out of me, with his comments and eye rolls. I don’t know what my life would be without him.
We came home to a lot of debris and fallen limbs in the yard, a downed tree in the “back 40.” Small annoyances. My heart still hurts for those who lost everything. I cannot imagine. I hope I never find out what that’s like. After we clean the house inside and out, get the debris picked up, and trees trimmed, we’ll be getting estimates for hurricane windows and maybe shutters. There will be another hurricane. This is Florida. Thank you all for your messages of concern and hope. They truly meant a lot.