Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 6:17 PM on Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hurricanes with Mom: It's sort of a late-summer tradition




Last month I took a two-week vacation to New England to visit family in Boston and New Hampshire. I looked for a quiet, relaxing time away, seeing my 82-year-old mother, my older sisters Marcia and Janet, and their families. I would bask in the late-summer sun, take walks in the woods and visit the scenic countryside.

Instead I got a hurricane.

Growing up in Florida, I learned that late summer and early fall brought the threat of hurricanes. The newspapers always had features on how to prepare for hurricanes. Our local paper, the Tampa Tribune, even had a tear-out map to track hurricanes. Nowadays they have an app for that.

I got my childhood paranoia for natural disasters from Dad. Born in Miami in 1923, Dad survived a nasty stretch of hurricanes that hammered South Florida in the 1920s and 1930s, including one that destroyed Dad's home. Mom also went through hurricanes and was almost blown away by a 1938 hurricane walking home from school in Westport, Conn.

Apparently, if I go back East to visit Mom, hurricanes find me. This has happened before. In 1976 before my third year of college, I spent the summer at my mom's home in Westport, painting her big salt-box house a new shade of barn red. I was just about to return to Florida when danged if in mid August a hurricane didn't roll in. I helped Mom and her second husband Vin get ready for Hurricane Belle as it came straight on toward Long Island, N.Y., and us. Belle wimped out over Long Island, but it hit hard enough to tear up the local marina and toss a sailboat up on the beach.

Thus it happened that after a few days touring New England late last month, that little hurricane lurking out there in the south Atlantic Ocean turned north and got bigger. I did enjoy days of basking in the sun, walking in the woods and visiting the scenic countryside.

We had lunch at Simon Pearce, a glassblowing studio in Quechee, Vt., where I took a photo of Mom and my sisters standing on a terrace overlooking the Ottauquechee River about 20 feet below and a quaint covered bridge downstream. We drove through Bennington, Vt., to Clinton Park, N.Y., to see my niece Alana and her child in utero. Passing through Wilmington, Vt., I snapped a photo of the Wilmington Congregational Church where my great-grandfather Henry Hughes had once preached.

By Friday night, Aug. 26, the cable channels had become All Hurricane News All the Time. When a category 3 hurricane threatens the East Coast and 60 million Americans, the national news media gets in a conniption.

I'd spent the first week of vacation at my sister Janet's and brother-in-law Woody's home in Westmoreland, N.H., but that Saturday went to stay with Mom in Keene, N.H. It only seemed right. In 1960 she'd taken care of my sisters and me when Hurricane Donna hit Tampa. Fifty-one years later, I could return the favor for Hurricane Irene.

The day before Irene arrived I helped Mom bring in all the bird feeders and plants. That's Hurricane Preparedness 101: bring in anything that could become a lethal flying object. We filled up the bath tub and extra water jugs. Mom even made a big thermos of coffee in case the power went out on Sunday.

We hunkered down before the TV. Newscasters stood in driving rain admonishing morons running around on the streets to get inside. Mayors and governors warned citizens to evacuate now — not later, right now. I loaded up my Weather Channel app on my iPad and tracked Irene's path. Earlier predictions suggested the eye of Irene would pass right over Keene, and that held true.

When Irene hit the New York coast, it had been downgraded to a tropical storm with winds less than 60 mph. By the time Irene hit Keene it turned into a big windy rainstorm. We got about 4 inches of rain. Even though the wind rattled windows and shook tree branches, it hardly got above 30 mph, which by Alaska fall storm standards we call "a stiff breeze." By late Monday the sun had come out, the storm had passed and yet again I'd dodged a serious hurricane.

Poor Vermont got flooded up the wazoo, though. That terrace by the Ottauquechee River I stood on? The river had roared over it, flooding the glass studio and wiping out the road to the covered bridge. Roads we'd driven on days before in Bennington, Wilmington and other parts of Vermont were washed out. They make them tough in the Green Mountain State, though, and they'll rebuild.

When I came home, a friend posted on her Facebook page a satellite photo of the tail end of that typhoon that hit Alaska over the Labor Day weekend. I recognized that familiar great spiral of clouds and realized that I didn't have to go east to find hurricanes. Hurricanes find me here in Alaska, too. By the time they hit the North Pacific, typhoons collapse into sloppy wet messes. We still get big winds and waves, destructive enough if you're caught in the wrong place. I now understand that as long as I live — or visit — near huge oceans, I should expect fall storms.

And if I want to go through another hurricane, I know what to do — just visit Mom.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael. armstrong@homernews.com.

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