I just kept thinking, Here we go again.
I was looking out our bathroom window for what could have been the last time at the scrawny pine tree that survived Matthew, and next to it a proud palmetto, our state tree, growing in our backyard. My mind kept circling back to “What if …?”
After seeing some of the devastation in Charleston after Hurricane Hugo in 1989, I have a particular appreciation for the damage a mighty storm can do.
In my mind’s eye, I still see the shell of a little home in McClellanville, the small fishing village northeast of Charleston, where Hugo smashed ashore and left a water line visible near the roof of the one-story dwelling.
The family members told us that they had ripped a hole in the ceiling and stood on furniture as the water rose, to keep the baby’s head above water.
In a nearby waterfront neighborhood of what looked to have been about 30 to 40 homes, only two were still standing. One was serving as a drop-off point and distribution center for donations of supplies, food, water and diapers.
The majority of homes had been flattened. Kids’ toys, picnic tables, appliances, pet crates and other belongings were strewn across the entire neighborhood, along with pieces of lumber, roofing shingles and window frames.
Shreds of fabric that I presume was once clothing and bed linens were caught on branches and blowing in the wind atop the trees that were still there.
Those visuals stayed with me as we started to pack for evacuation from what was first reported to be a Category 4 or 5 Hurricane Irma heading straight for us.
We’ve done this several times in the 30-plus years we’ve lived on the coast, but what should we take this time – with the thought looming that we truly might never see our house again?
I consulted a neighbor whose home had been heavily damaged by Matthew. He suggested we take everything we would need for the next nine months, as well as anything that was irreplaceable.
There was no way to do that, even with three cars, I thought. Clothing for three seasons would take the majority of space. What about bed linens and towels? What about art, my smoothie maker, the hula girl lamp?
Our new handcrafted dining room table was doomed, as was my sweet old piano, a gift on my 10th Christmas.
As the scope of “necessity” raged out of control in my mind, I wandered from room to room, picking up random objects and moving them to random boxes set up in the living room. I was getting overwhelmed.
Finally, I had to just sit down and think. I made a three-part list: What was important to take? What could we leave behind, knowing we might never see it again? What items would make life in a new place a little easier, should our home be destroyed?
It occurred to me that we own very little that is irreplacable. I was wearing my only important jewelry – my wedding rings. We have no heirlooms, no priceless art. We have only “stuff.”
So we packed very little. I took coloring books and markers. My husband took blank canvases and paint. Our son took his favorite plants.
Thankfully, the storm turned away from our shores shortly after we left, and we came home to a dry house. All that anxiety had been unnecessary.
But then, there’s always next time. And then, I’ll be better prepared.