Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hurricanes and Heartache

       Hurricane Hermine visited in September.  She nibbled on our roof, spit it out and moved on after snapping a few branches.  Last week marked the one year point from our “1,000 year flood” experience. Friday night, Hermine’s big brother, Hurricane Matthew, stopped by…

…and broke my heart.

Hurricane Matthew arrived Friday night with lots of rain and some wind.  As the wind increased, the ability to sleep decreased.  I kept getting up, looking out the window to check on the 200 year old pecan tree out front.  I joke that we bought the tree and it came with a house.  I’ve always called her “The Old Gal”.            
 “Hang in there girl,” I’d whisper, knowing Hubby would laugh if he heard me.  “You can do it.  You survived Hurricane Hugo.  You’ve survived ice storms and Hermine.  One more time. Just hang in there.”

Saturday morning arrived with the smell of garlic bread at 6 a.m..  Weird. It’d been days since I’d cooked that.  I fumbled to the bathroom, but when I stepped into the hall, the smell intensified.  It’s pollen season.  My nose works on a part-time basis.  I walked up and down the hall, trying to locate the source.  Then I recognized it.  Burning electrical wire.   I spun around and made a beeline for the guest bathroom, where the breaker box is located.  Entering the room, my foot landed in a puddle.  Half asleep, I thought it might be the toilet, only inches away.   Flipping on the light switch, there was a sizzle.  I looked up to find water dripping down through the light fixture onto the floor as bulbs popped.  Turning off the light, I jumped back and yelled for Hubby.  It’s amazing how fast you can go from asleep to wide awake disaster mode.  I tossed a towel on the puddle and got a bucket for the drip while he checked the breaker box.  Something was humming.  Our house is 136 years old.  The electrical wiring has been updated more than once.  Unfortunately, the newest breaker box, housing the Main switch, was outside, keeping company with torrential rain and a 35 mph wind. 

Hubby was cautiously looking for additional leaks as he flipped off the breakers, one by one.  We mused the ceiling leak was probably from Hermine’s previous roof nibbling.  We’d already signed a contract with a local roofer, but we were number nine in line.  As Hubby got to the last three breakers, water suddenly dripped down, causing a spark, then a small flame which he mercifully put out before it could cause a fire.  After all the breakers were off, we’d later discover a mouse had chewed the insulation off a wire, causing a raw spot and potential fire hazard. Oh the irony…that breaker is for the dryer. 

So, disaster one averted. 

A half hour later, as the wind roared, we heard an odd thumping on the roof.  Hubby’s hip has been hurting, so I went upstairs to the unfinished attic rooms to check.  It sounded as if someone was beating on the roof with a baseball bat.  Glancing out the window, I saw a shingle fly by.  Here we go again, I thought.  I shifted my gaze to the Old Gal quivering in the wind. “Hang in there girl,” I muttered.  “You can do it.”      
From downstairs Hubby yelled, “How many shingles can you see on the ground?”   As I came downstairs to answer, the power went off.  We live in the country.  No power means no water.  Then the phone went dead…something it had never done, even during Hurricane Hugo which had been a Category 3-4 storm.

Powerful storms not only make you feel small, they make you feel helpless.  We could only watch as shingles sailed by and the Dogwood tree near the house beat against the porch as if trying to get inside the house.  Sitting in the living room across from each other, Hubby and I were mirror images of pain as shingles beat against the roof before taking flight.  In frustration, I even yelled at the storm to leave my trees alone and move on!  We’re situated on a hill so the estimated 8-9 inches of rain at least wasn’t encroaching the house.  As the rain began to slack off,  I heard the oddest sound.  I told Hubby it sounded like someone had a baseball bat and was beating against the side of the house, in the room behind me.  The wind was blowing so hard, he asked me to repeat my comment.

We got up and headed toward it. It didn’t sound like shingles, which slapped overhead.  It sounded…odd.   Hubby glanced out our bedroom window and said in dismay, “We lost the pecan tree on the side of the house”.  I stood next to him, amazed to see the 75 year old tree uprooted.  Being short, I had another view. 

“The one behind it is gone too!” I told him, backing up so he could see.  Then that baseball bat landed in the pit of my stomach.  Racing across the room, I threw up the blinds to look at the Old Gal.

It’s odd, but I can still hear my own voice scream, as if it wasn’t even coming from me, “Nooooo!!  She’s gone!  Our girl is gone!”  And, being an adult, I promptly burst into tears.  Not just tears.  Gut wrenching sobs, as if I’d just lost my best friend.  All Hubby could do was hug me, a pained expression on his face.  I finally mumbled, “I know.  It’s just a tree.”

To which he replied, “No, she was part of our family.”

When it finally stopped, we went outside to survey the damage.  All the pre-storm prep had been smart: everything we’d carefully taken down, like bird feeders, the porch swing and rocking chairs, were safe.  We sent text messages to check on family members, who were all okay.  Ironically they all live in the next county.  They experienced the equivalent of a bad thunderstorm.  Our place looked like WWII after a bombing run.  We got in the truck and went towards the end of our dead end road.  We only made it halfway.  There were huge trees across the road, some laying on power lines.  Two popped lines twisted down from the poles to sway in the air.  From past storms, we know we’ll be one of the “last” places to get power because only two families live on our road.  We returned to the house and loaded all the food from the fridge/freezer into coolers.  Every time I looked out the front window at the Old Gal, I teared up.

Sunday morning we went into recovery mode.  Another round of texting family and friends, all of whom were safe, if without power.  Hubby checked to see if anyone had a contact for a generator.  Living in the country, no power also means no water.  Sure, I’d gone into “disaster mode” on Friday, filling the bathtub with water in order to flush toilets. I always keep 6-8 gallons of bottled water in the pantry. A friend 3 hours away found a generator and offered to purchase it, then meet Hubby on the road.  Hubby and his friend David, who was also out of power, went to get our generator.  By the time they returned almost 7 hours later, David’s power was back on.  We were still in the dark.

While the guys were on the road, I needed to feel less helpless.   I went outside and picked up the shingles, filling up two garbage cans (like you city folks roll to the curb) plus another container.  When the roofer arrives, he can take them away.   Taking a deep breath, I began picking up pecans.  I reasoned this was the Old Gal’s last gift to us and it wasn’t going to go to waste.  After a while, I marveled at the strength (and size!) of her roots.  I was awed by the power at which she’d struck the ground, driving into it so hard she raised mounds of dirt.  As I stood there, trying to fathom her sheer size, I heard myself whisper, “You tried, Old Gal.  I know you tried.” 

I wasn’t the only one disoriented by her passing.  A Flicker (looks like a red headed woodpecker) which lived in that tree flew in and out of it, as if trying to find the door to its home.  A Wren finally peeked out of the shrubs out front.  Seeing the Flicker encouraged her to perch on my car mirror and timidly glance about.  After the roar of the wind it had become deadly silent.  Now the birds began to call to one another, as if checking to see who had survived.   Suddenly I remembered I’d taken down the bird feeder.  Ten minutes after I put it back up, it was surrounded by happily chirping finches.   

The generator arrived, meaning we could power the fridge, freezer, pump and television.  That’s the weird part of disasters; they hit you hard, people all over the world see it, shake their heads “Oh my”…then get on with their lives.  You get left behind as the world races on.  Ironically, when we finally got a chance to see the news and find out what was going on in the world, all they were showing was this political nightmare of a Presidential campaign.  Hubby didn’t say a word, merely turned off the news and found an old “Star Trek” rerun to watch.  A touch of childhood…a reminder of “normal”.

Monday we worked in the yard: Hubby mowing and me gathering pecans like a squirrel preparing for winter.  At one point, I sat on one of the Old Gal’s limbs.  And the tears came.  Hubby saw me and rode the lawnmower over to see if I was okay.

         “I know it’s just a tree,” I croaked out.  “But when we first looked at this place, I remember arriving here from work before you and the realtor.  I drove up under this tree and in my head I heard a voice sigh contentedly, ‘I’m home’.  You told me later you felt the same way.”  He nodded in understanding, then calmly asked why I was sitting on a lower limb. 

         For the first time in days, I laughed.  “Well, I always wanted to climb this tree.  Now I’m sitting here trying to figure out how high up I would’ve been.”  Hubby shook his head with a smile.  Reassured I was okay, he cranked the mower and went back to work as a power line crew pulled up.                
       When Hubby explained only two families lived on the dead end road, they were surprised.  After leaving to do a survey, they came back and advised it would take another week to get all the downed wiring replaced.  But since our wiring was intact, the driver said there was no reason for us to wait.  I thanked him and he eyed me oddly.  I smiled and said, “I’m guessing you’re being met with a lot of grumpy, frustrated people taking it out on you.  We’re grateful for what you do. So, thanks.”  He smiled, agreeing that we were the first people to use those words.  (Hubby had already thanked him before I walked up).  The crew went to the end of the road, rewired and an hour later, we had power.

         As we finished up the last of the yard work we could do that day, a grey and white blur flew past my head and took up residence in one of the other downed pecan trees, chattering in my direction.  It was Walter, our resident Mocking Bird.  Walter’s favorite perch is the top right corner of the roof, where he calls to me when I leave for work and sings when I get home.  If Walter survived out in this storm, we’d be fine.  I wonder how he’s going to like the new metal roof? 

The photos below tell the tale.

Two 75 year old Pecan trees on side of house.  Those black things are shingles.

Everywhere you looked...shingles.

The Old Gal...down for the count.
Those aren't landscape timbers...they're railroad ties.
The were tossed around like sticks. 

 The Old Gal

The Old perch during lawn clean up.

The Old Gal...power of nature. 
Where she fell drove into the ground so hard, it lifted a mound of earth next to it. 

A final gift.

Mother Nature's sense of humor...
that Hydrangea was on the other side of the house and landed at the Old Gal.

At the end of our driveway...even the sign is leaning.


savannah said...

I just sent this link to the MITM. I am so sorry there's so much damage at your place, sister Hope. *hugs* I can not even imagine how it must have been to go though Matthew the way you did. xoxoxo

Ponita in Real Life said...

Oh my. I am so sorry you took such a hard hit. Matthew was just downright nasty to everyone. Perhaps you could have the Old Gal harvested for her wood and get something made so that a part of her will still be with you? A couple of benches and a table for the porch perhaps? I'm sure she has lovely grain. My thoughts are with you and Hubby as you put things back together again. I'm just glad the two of you are okay. xoxoxo

hope said...

Sav, I'm just glad y'all were spared some of this. Listening to the radio on the way home, it sounds like N.C. is drowning from the flooding. In the middle of this we saw "Nicole" was the next storm. I was cranky. I looked at Hubby and said, "That Bitch better be headed back out to sea." Life goes on...and memories can't be stolen or ripped up. Thanks for means a lot.

Ponita: I said to Hubby this morning, "Can't we just take the upper branches off, push her upright and let her just stand there...naked?" He shook his head, but he was grinning. I did mention that with her girth, she'd make a cool table. Time will tell. At least the roofers are overhead fixing stuff. Thanks to you too for checking in. Ironically, we did all the calling to check on family...not one of them called us. And yet my "Blog Family" checked in frequently. You are a cool group of people.

Z said...

I'm so sorry you've lost your beloved tree and for all your other troubles in the hurricane. You're okay, at any rate. And you prevented a fire.

Kim Ayres said...

So glad you're safe, but so sorry for your losses.

hope said...

Thanks Z and Kim. At the moment, some of our "farmer" neighbors are trying to help us prune and upright the Old Gal. Time will tell.