Storms To Remember

This is the cottage after the 1938 hurricane. It has survived since.
This is the cottage after the 1938 hurricane. It has survived since.

Based on Larry’s description of watching tornadoes swirl around an Air Force Base in Kansas, I asked the veterans’ workshop to write about a weather event that stayed with them and to explain why.

Here’s my contribution.

I don’t remember the name of the storm, but I was about five years old. The weather forecasters (in our house heard only radio) predicted the Connecticut shoreline would have downpours, gale-force winds, and flooding.

My parents invited the Wilkinsons, the family that rented my grandparents’ beach cottage, because the road into town flooded even in mild storms.

The wind rose, the sky grew twilight dark, and the rain sluiced down at a forty-five degree angle. Pretty soon the power went out. We had been accustomed to outages, but they only lasted a few minutes, at most an hour. This one seemed permanent, at least for the duration of the storm. We had the only gas stove in the neighborhood, so we not only hosted a family, we reheated and cooked food for our neighbors. That was a lesson to me: never own an electric stove.

One image that stays with me is of the lady next door, who had a four-month-old. She was running across the lawn, her poodle skirt billowing in the wind, clutching a bottle for us to reheat.

I grew tired of hanging out with the adults and went upstairs to my room. The Wilkinsons’ daughter, a ballerina in training, joined me, and we watched the storm. All of a sudden, she grabbed me from behind, propelled me into the hall and yelled, “Look out!”

I heard an enormous crack, followed by leaves and a huge branch roaring past the window. It seemed an eternity, but eventually there was a smaller crash and the tinkle of broken glass.

The silver maple in our side yard had split in two. The section that fell took out part of the hedge, a gate, and a window in the living room. The image of leaves draped over my mother’s favorite settee will last forever.

When the eye of the storm passed over, we all trooped outside to inspect the damage. Daddy pointed out that the entire center of the tree was black, a clear sign of terminal rot.

Within a day or two, tree surgeons had chopped down the other half. My parents agreed it was crucial, their decision confirmed by the arrival of another hurricane a week later.

I came away from those storms with a healthy respect for wild weather and have been known to scream, ‘You idiot!” at the reporters getting pummeled on the beach.

Note: I checked online. The year was 1955. The hurricane was Connie, a Cat 4 (maximum winds 150 mph); the next one was Diane, a Cat 2.

2 thoughts on “Storms To Remember”

  1. What a delightful story, brought back special memories of very special times and people in my life. My family would summer at the cottage next door, Paddocks cottage. We loved watching Raven practicing her ballet on the sandbars and followed her career in ballet. My Mom took me to see her perform in Hartford, Ct in Swan Lake. My very first crush was Frost, he was the cutest. His Mom was a beautiful woman, so poised and lovely and his Dad always had a smile, another gentle soul. These memories are some of the best of my life, Old Saybrook was the best. Thankfully through fb I’ve been able to reconnect with Frost thus seeing this delightful story. Thanks for the memories. I must add the wonderful evening trips to James Pharmacy for ice cream, what a wonderful place I always loved the smell entering the shoppe, and sweet Ms James, oh to go back in time.

    1. Thank you, Lorrie, for a beautiful tribute. I would love to be in touch with you as my cousin Ashley James and I develop our documentary about the family.

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