Living on the Florida Emerald Coast, one comes to view hurricane season as a common occurrence. It is not unusual for a family to have several full gas cans and an economy-size pack of bottled water stored in their garage all summer. Many people could find the hurricane evacuation route in their sleep, since they often choose to follow it several times a year. However, those people are only the first kind of seasoned hurricane veteran. The second kind is the risk-taker, the person who chooses to stick around when a storm rolls through. Like so many others, my family is one that has never evacuated for a hurricane; however, my mom and I had our doubts when category four Ivan was predicted to hit right on our doorstep. On September 15, 2004 we left our home in the mandatory evacuation zone for my grandfather’s house just a few miles away. It was where we had stayed during every other hurricane without a hitch, but that was the night that our luck finally ran out. A tornado seriously damaged the house. My grandfather was upset to say the least. In any case, I was determined to help him cope with the potential loss of his house by preserving the memories within it.
The three of us spent the early part of that evening watching the hurricane draw closer on the Weather Channel, and once the power went out we listened to the radio’s storm reports. Around nine o’clock I considered going to bed; the rain had stopped earlier and the wind had died down. The big, bad hurricane seemed to have blown itself out. A few moments later I was cowering in the hallway, sure that the walls were about to come down on top of me. A deafening roar shook the house. The tornado had ripped away the roof and carried it off. Slowly, a few spots on the ceiling began to drip, and over the course of an hour those few spots multiplied until it seemed like the entire living contained an indoor rainstorm.
As he realized the extent of the damage, my grandfather began to panic. The storm had picked up again, but he still ran out into the blistering rain and wind to see how much of the roof was left. Once we got him back inside, I thought that he was going to have a heart attack. I had never seen him so scared, and it was certainly not doing my own emotional state any good. Mom finally convinced him to lie down in his room, though we were not sure it would be dry for much longer. The leaks had progressed from the living room to the dining room and the hallway. Water began to run down the walls. It soon became a race against time to protect what was salvageable. Some people may view taking the time to save material possessions as shallow, but I hoped to preserve those items with sentimental value, such as the decades of photos, the souvenirs from foreign lands, and the belongings that attest to my grandparents’ 49 years together. Just the idea of losing those things was obviously overwhelming for my grandfather. If the house could not be saved and he had to move, I wanted his new house to at least feel like home. I still feared the storm, but more than anything I feared the aftermath.
The next morning dawned bright and cool. Thankfully, my family weathered the storm, though the same could not be said for the house. Nails and wooden beams were all that remained of the roof; not one shingle was left. Inside, the furniture and carpets were all saturated with foul black water. The plaster ceiling was cracked and heavy with water. The structure my grandfather’s house was in shambles, but inside many of his possessions were safe and dry. My mom and I had worked tirelessly through the night, and, in the end, we had saved that which could not be replaced: cherished memories from my grandparents’ life together. The preservation of my family’s past, present and future is what ultimately dulled the heartbreak of this tragedy.