Florence

Although it starts soggy, by mid-afternoon the day turns bright and crisp. The kind of day you can pick out individual leaves on the willow oak across the street. Hurricane Florence was already inhaling humidity from 600 miles away.

I take advantage of the pre-storm calm, washing and hanging the bed sheets and shower curtain. If Florence stays her course, we’ll get our moisture back with interest in feet, not inches, and her throaty winds will test trees and roofs. We could be without electricity for up to a week. So I vacuum, bake, and launder everything I can think of, including the shower curtain and the shear white curtains over the kitchen sink.

Earlier this week I hauled our recycling and trash to town and searched for a gas station that wasn’t already out of fuel. There are six filling stations in town, and only one did not have bags over the pump handles. I changed my mind about fueling up in town when I saw the line of anxious motorists bleeding out into the courthouse circle.

I ran into a lot of people I knew at the grocery store. Nearly everyone had a few moments to exchange hugs and chat about the coming storm. The atmosphere was celebratory with a tinge of urgency. It felt a lot like the hours before a Super Bowl. I bought tomatoes and lettuce because Bob and I are in the middle of an epic BLT jag and helped myself to a bag of kettle chips.

Among strangers there was an edgy undercurrent. The gas station line was spooky, reminiscent of fuel shortage altercations of the 70’s and I’d had an unsavory interaction at the trash collection center. A friend pulled up to the trash hopper and she and I were getting caught up as the guy in the truck behind her walked by with his trash bags. He barked at us – something about holding up the line.

We continued talking as my friend emptied her car, and he came by with another round of bags and a menacing look. This time he loudly pointed out that there was a whole parking lot right over there if we wanted to chit chat. The attendants were shaking their heads, and they told me this wasn’t the first time that man had behaved uncharitably. “He’s a preacher, you know,” one of them confided. I’m pretty sure a lot of people around here carry hand guns.

Nineteen years ago Bob and I lived on Guam, thirteen degrees north of the equator, where hurricanes are known as typhoons. We lived in an air conditioned cinder block apartment, a chilled box as long as the electricity is on, but a suffocating hell when it fails.

During one of many short power outages, our neighbor confided that he liked typhoon season because the power stayed off for a long time. He chuckled at our surprise and explained how people gather at the old style houses, the ones that look like screen porches on stilts. Everyone pulls food from their deep freezer and takes it over to grill under the shade of the house and they drink and eat and party until the power comes back on. “It’s like the old days,” he says.

Bob and I have had a good time battening down the hatches. We’ve mined our deep freezer for casseroles and replaced them with buckets of water which have frozen into ice blocks. We have a gas range for cooking hamburgers and warming up soup, but when the power is out our oven won’t light. So we dine on Eggplant Parmesan and Macaroni and Cheez confident those ice blocks will hold food for a couple days, maybe three.

We filled two 5-gallon buckets with water for cooking and drinking because when the electric goes out, so does our well pump. We can flush with water from the big blue rain barrel. I drove Christine to the front yard where she is less likely to get smashed by a falling tree, and Bob is considering using a tie down on the back porch roof.

Home from my hurricane preparedness shopping trip, I begin receiving calls, texts, and emails from family and friends near and far. They send good wishes, tips, and invites should the shit really hit the fan. The next day Florence appears to be backing off, but I’m still savoring the sense of camaraderie, hoping under my breath she really does force us to hunker down amid friends. Thank you Florence for giving us a taste of the old days, and fingers crossed we don’t lose an automobile or a roof.

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