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LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: Gwenyfar prepares for Hurricane Florence, reflects on privilege

Gwenyfar talks preparation for Hurricane Florence and realizes, despite the stress of boarding up a business and three residences, the luxury of having somewhere to go is of itself a blessing.

“Well, it is basically the only topic of conversation for the next few days,” Jock noted.  We were checking the updates on Hurricane Florence and trying to figure out a time line. Would we stay or would we go? If we left, where would we go? How would we get there? With two dogs to consider, that became more complicated quite quickly.


QUIET BEFORE THE STORM: Skies were blue in downtown ILM on Sept. 12 as Hurricane Florence rolled in and began making her presence known. Photo taken by Bryan Moss from 421, across from the river of downtown ILM.

Ahead of that, we had to get ready to face the storm. The bookstore, Full Belly shop, bed-and-breakfast project, and our own home all needed attention. Our first order of priority: Stock up on dog food.

“We can go to a soup kitchen, if it comes to it,” Jock observed. “But the dogs can’t.”

Horace and Hilda, our canines, supervised the unloading of dog food very carefully.

“What’s the worst storm you’ve lived through?” our neighbor asked.

“Fran—we were without power for 10 days!” Jock responded.

Fran was a Category 3 storm that made landfall at the Cape Fear River on September 5, 1996. I was in high school and, of course, my parents really wanted school to resume as quickly as possible. An unoccupied teenager in a city recovering from a storm had too many opportunities to find mischief.

“Yeah, but we’d just had a storm a month before that, so there was nowhere for the water to go,” I reminded him.

“I don’t know. Maybe, Fran? I remember Diana, but I remember Diana the way a 4-year-old remembers it,” I explained. “I remember Dad was out of town and that upset Mom even more. I remember the power was out and listening to the radio with her in the dark and how upset she was.”

Shabbos candles on the kitchen counter, batteries and counting matches—things I wasn’t normally allowed to touch—surrounded us. But I don’t remember the real preparations or the aftermath.

That’s not what 4-year-olds concentrate upon.

If you look up the Wikipedia page for Hurricane Diana there is a picture of the radar for September 11, 1984—34 years ago last week. I was interested to learn Diana was expected to make landfall as a category 4 and was to be the worst to hit our area since Hazel in 1954. Through unexpected hands of the gods, it looped off shore and calmed down to a cat 2 by the time it landed.

Hurricane Hugo was scary in the lead-up: Preparation was intense and I was old enough to pay attention. Our area had the surprise of a lifetime as Hugo veered off unexpectedly and most of the damage was inland. One friend’s mother was in Charlotte for a business meeting that week. I still remember her describing to me the experience of having the roof of the hotel she was staying in peeled off like it was the top of a can of sardines.

For most of my life, it has been “a (fill in the blank: house, church steeple, tree, statue, etc.) that has withstood every hurricane since Hazel.” Hazel is the demarcation point. When Fran took out the steeple at First Baptist Church on Market, it was the phrase used: It withstood every hurricane since Hazel.

Hazel came through in 1954 and actually got up into Canada. By the time it hit Toronto, it was a tropical storm; but to have maintained that power across land, from where it made landfall at Calabash, is pretty tough to fathom. Toronto was unprepared for the flooding and damage so much that rather than rebuild, several impacted areas were made into parks—specifically Raymore Park.

“Yeah, people walk around Toronto and say, ’Wow! Toronto has so much green space! Great parks!’ Well, it came from Hurricane Hazel,” Jock always tells with a chuckle—the rueful, sad one he does when discussing something he’s not proud of.

The rebuilding of Myrtle Beach following Hazel is credited with the current look: changing from cute, Southern beach town to, shall we say, rows of chain business and large, neon advertisements that  light it up like Vegas by the beach.

I admit, though I have been taking this storm very seriously—I mean, at the onset of reports, 140-mile-an-hour winds coming our way are terrifying! And if I had to pick anybody to face a crisis with, Jock is the guy to pick. He actually anchored the roof of our house to the ground with an aircraft cable like a circus tent. Yep, it’s true! I got to swing the sledge hammer to drive some of the stakes into the ground.

“Just call me John Henry,” I grinned.

“You’re a steel-drivin’ woman,” Jock responded with a laugh.

In reality, he almost rebuilt our house in two days, with additional strengthening of roof beams, the porch, windows … it is impressive to say the least. We decided not to evacuate. Jock and our next-door neighbor plywooded the windows of the book store and I was frantic trying to get the B&B ready for the onslaught.

Probably, like a lot of people, we had the, ‘OK, if this happens, what do we do?’ discussions. At what point would we go to the B&B on higher ground? Jock argued he had been charging batteries with solar panels at the house for a week. That’s where our bed and dogs were; we would get minimal electricity from batteries (cell phones, maybe the fridge and a fan).

“OK, but if a tree comes through the roof, then we and the dogs should go up to the B&B. If, gods forbid, we had to deal with flooding from below, more opportunities to escape water exist there—opportunities for the dogs, too, because they can’t climb ladders.”

We had to discuss worst-case scenarios.

Then Glenn broke my heart that morning before the storm hit. If you have heard beautiful sounds of saxophone music on our downtown streets over the last few years, well, you’ve heard Glenn. He’s an older gentleman who busks as his main form of income. When we were downtown putting wood the bookstore windows, I noticed the area devoid of most of the hustle and bustle of life—most of the pan handlers were gone. I guessed the homeless were encouraged toward shelters. Most people weren’t coming to work as offices closed and store fronts were getting barricaded. But Glenn came shuffling down the street with his saxophone case, like it was any other Wednesday morning.

“Glenn!” I shouted. “Glenn!”

He wandered to me and asked me my name again, like he does every time we meet.

“Gwen, I own the bookstore,” I reminded him.

“Yeah, That’s right. Gwen. I should remember that. Gwen it’s like Glenn.”

“Glenn, where are you planning to spend the storm?”

“I don’t know, that parking deck maybe?”

And I stared at him in horror. The shelters were filling up and it was a drive to get to them. With no phone to get information, no transportation and no family, how exactly do you convince someone on a day as beautiful as September 12, 2018, a Wednesday morning, that in 36 hours, it would look like the of hell had opened?

“Glenn, they are talking about 140-mile-an-hour winds. You cannot be out in that!”

“Yeah, well if the post office will come through I can get a check and get an apartment,” he trailed off.

None of that was going to happen in two days.

“When did you say it was going to rain?”

“It starts tomorrow,” I said. “This is serious.”

Everything I worried about for the last three days stopped in front of me. All my problems were of privilege. I had options—resources.  Here I was, worried about moving my car to the parking deck—the very parking deck Glenn was planning to sit in during  a potential Cat 4 hurricane.

“OK, well, I don’t know…” Glenn trailed off and waved a hand at me.

I couldn’t force him to go somewhere he didn’t want to go or be. Free will is exactly that. I wanted so much, at that moment, to scoop him up and bring him home. But he had to go play some music and make some money because it was a working day.

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