Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hurricane Mom

My siblings and I only feel true comfort, while watching hurricane coverage on The Weather Channel. As children living on a small peninsula on the Alabama, Florida border, a good hurricane somehow provided relief from the anxiety of our daily routine. It was one of the only things that could truly bring us together as a family. Maybe it’s because of all the emotional, financial and physical disasters our family endured, a good old-fashioned hurricane was one we truly couldn’t control.

We spent our childhood in a run-down house in Gulf Breeze, FL; part of an area now aptly tagged,  Redneck Riviera. We used to watch the weather reports anxiously from June 1 to November 30 hoping that a churning tropical storm would turn into a full blown hurricane. For my family a hurricane provided an odd hope. My dad said that if a hurricane destroyed our house we could get insurance money, and we could start over.

In 1985 our fixation of Hurricane season paid off when Hurricane Kate came to Thanksgiving dinner. I was in high school, but unable to flee my moms physical and emotional abuse because I was under 18, which my mother reminded me of every chance she had. She said that if I ever ran away the police would come find me and if I thought I had it bad before, when I got back, it would be worse. Makes one only imagine what she may have gone through herself as a child. But as Kate churned up into the gulf the alpha-female battle between my mom and I started to fade and we started making plans. Nothing brings people together like a common enemy, and that enemy was Kate.

Here we were, less than two weeks from Thanksgiving and a Hurricane threatened everything we owned.  And although we really didn’t have that much, the excitement felt good. We were now all a dither with taping up windows, making plans for our evacuation and trying to figure out what we would do with our three very large, and very unkempt standard poodles. An eccentric breed for a poor family, but what we lacked in money, we made up for in taste; or at least that's what my mother said.

Hurricane Kate got so powerful that we ended up having to evacuate to a hotel in Mobile, Alabama. We knew my dad couldn’t afford a hotel, but the police came and enforced a mandatory evacuation. I felt bad for my dad, but was eccstatic. Going to a hotel meant a pool, clean sheets and hot food. We loaded up the three dogs, five kids and two parents into our wood paneled station wagon and made the ninety minute drive over the bridge in Pensacola Bay in heavy traffic and driving rain. No family could have been happier than we were in that moment.

We drove and drove until we finally found a hotel with a vacancy. Score, a Holidome! We checked in, snuck the dogs into the room, got our swimsuits on and swam in the indoor pool. We felt rich; I had never been in an indoor pool before. I thought I was in Heaven. I made a mental note that if I ever got rich, I would have a pool in my house. I am still working on that one.

After dinner, which we ate in a real dining room with nice silverware and cloth napkins, we played with the other kids in the hotel. For the first time in a long time, we weren’t the poor kids; we were just kids and had a whole bunch of new hotel friends. Nothing levels the small town feudal system like a mandatory evacuation. We ran rampant through the halls with our new friends, assuredly annoying the adults who just wanted quiet in their rooms.

Mom sat in the lobby telling stories of the past to anyone who would listen and to the kids who would take a break to catch their breath. On normal days mom was agoraphobic, but she somehow managed this new found freedom by taking up residency in the lobby with a “what the h-e-double hockey sticks, my home may be destroyed tonight” attitude and held her Johnny Walker Red on the rocks high as she slurred each and every word.

Worn out with joy we stayed up all night watching the hotel TV, eating vending machine snacks and secretly hoping that the hurricane would barrel down on our little town destroying everything in its path. We fell asleep at some point in the middle of the night, all crammed into two queen beds with just the glow from the turning hurricane graphic on the news as our nightlight.

As morning light hit my eyes, I heard the low sound of the television anchorman talking about the devastation. As I came to I heard the words Panama City. Panama City! My stomach sank. Kate had missed us, Panama City was so lucky, they always get hit. There would be no hurricane devastation in our little town of Gulf Breeze, Florida; or at my home at 111 Norwich Drive.

Slowly, the sickening realization came that we would have to go back to reality today. And that our house would be there, waiting; waiting with its smell, its mice and its despair. There would be no more tropical depression, just the run of the mill, standard depression that hung over our house like the cloud in a Paxil commercial. There would be no starting over; no insurance money. Our problems would be there waiting for us, tapping their feet anxiously as we pulled into the drive. And with the liquor wearing off, we were in for a hellacious morning with the folks.

Oh well I sighed hopefully, there’s always next Hurricane season.

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