Inherit the Wind
I learned to boil water somewhere between my first steps and the multiplication tables. The reason being, I grew up in Tampa, which naturally makes me an authority on hurricanes and proper emergency protocol. Florida is, of course, a peninsula and according to my third grade teacher who liked visual aids, a hand, if you will. Thus, Tampa becomes the thumb and my little neighborhood of Ballast Point was, for lack of a better anatomical example and no reflection on its good citizenry, the wart on the thumb.
In essence, I lived on a peninsula on a peninsula on a peninsula. Water, water everywhere. And during hurricane times, “not a drop to drink”, unless you liked your water on the robust side, infected with E-coli, churning with camo-clad, Uzi-toting microorganisms, gearing up for a junta regime. As a toddler, I never had to be scolded for drinking my own bath water. Florida children seem to have an innate sense of what is and what is not potable.
During my childhood and young adult years, I rode out more than my share of full-blown hurricanes not to mention a goodly number of tropical depressions, though my community was always the vanguard of the evacuation route. With so much water on three sides, whichever way the storm came in, we were the first to be flooded out. As soon as the power died on our old black and white Philco, we tuned into WFLA on my pink, plastic transistor radio for the latest reports. “The Ballast Point area is strongly advised to evacuate and seek higher ground.” That was us.
Yet we merely boarded up our windows with plywood and enough duct tape to encircle the globe, then watched our neighbors as they packed up their panel wagons and headed for motels in the center of the state or to the National Guard armory for a couple nights of relative safety on rickety army cots.
My family never budged. Why such a foolhardy lot, you ask? In a word, Doozy. A frizzle-haired mixed breed of a dog with a predilection for the thigh portion of anyone in a uniform. She, like all other pets, was not allowed in the emergency shelters. And on my father’s meager G.I. salary, we couldn’t have afforded a motel in the eye of the storm let alone safe in the middle of the state. Doozy was an outstanding swimmer, even so, turning her out to fend for herself in a hurricane was simply unacceptable to one very hysterical ten-year-old girl, me.
This was one of those epiphany moments in my life. When I realized I had within my tears the power to get my father to do anything I wanted. Even ride out a level 4 hurricane for the sake of a mongrel dog.
Fortunately, for the civilized universe, I rarely used this power for evil. Unless you consider causing my entire family and our reclusive neighbor, plus her yappy little dog to be blown to smithereens by 120mph winds and washed away in snake-infested waters, and end up floating somewhere along the coast of Belize a bad thing.
Fast forward about ten years. In 1972, during Hurricane Agnes, I was vacationing with my parents on Madeira Beach, a tiny strip of land attached to Florida by bridges on either end. After surviving the many previous hurricanes, safe in our own home even when strongly encouraged to evacuate, we felt a certain smug sense of immortality, something akin to the Clinton administration just prior to the Monica debacle. We refused to have our holiday interrupted. After all, once the baby was born, who knew how long it would be before I would get another vacation? Oh, did I forget to mention I was nine months pregnant at the time?
Our rented cottage, in good weather, was a quick one hundred yards from the briny gulf. When the first advisories hit the airwaves, the water had run the ball up to the fifty-yard line and the emergency broadcast people (you know, the ones with the loud, annoying test that always comes on during the last 30 seconds of a good movie) were telling everyone on Madeira Beach to make their way to one of the bridges, ASAP.
My mother, who hated doctors anyway, began to prepare for a home delivery, just in case. She started talking about what an adventure this would be to tell my children someday. My father began scouring the island for a two-story building.
The EBS folks came on with an update.
“Anyone still on Madeira (that would be us), seek higher ground. The bridges are out, we repeat, the bridges are out.”
I could hear in his voice that he wanted to add, “and may God have mercy upon your idiot souls.” Mother cheerfully began to tear the bed sheets into strips.
The shoreline was now about to meet up with the goal line. Our cottage, built like most beach houses, stood high on wooden pilings. Still we watched as the waves rose to the level of the windowsills. Debris of every kind crashed around under the cottage. I was practicing my hoo-hoo, hee-hee breathing and trying to envision this technique somehow working together with treading water.
In the meantime my mother was boiling water, when my father came in looking like a cross between the Gorton fisherman and Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments scene where he parts the Red Sea. “ I’ve got good news—I found a doctor. The local veterinarian has agreed to stay on the island!”
However, as if to carry on the family tradition of stubbornness, my unborn daughter didn’t budge either, but remained in her cozy, prenatal world for another three weeks. The waves subsided just as the waters began to spill over our window ledges, and the tide receded leaving the shell-littered shoreline a beach combers paradise.
Once again, my family had dodged the bullet—gone against the better judgement of those who know best and lived to tell the tale. Mom and I packed our vacation gear and readied to go home. Dad thanked the vet profusely and promised to bring our aged Doozy in for rabies shots.
All that was left to do, now, was explain to the cottage owner why every set of sheets was in shreds.
© G.Slater 2006