Here Comes Charley
In 2004, we moved to Orlando, right before all the hurricanes! I had just spent more than a decade living in LA proclaiming I would take a hurricane over an earthquake any day of the week. (Let’s just file that under “be careful what you wish for”) In August and September of that year, a bevy of hurricanes swept through Central Florida. If you were to plot them out on the map, where the lines intersect, is pretty much where we live. We had purchased a house and we were in escrow during three of the storms and moved in on the day the fourth one arrived
This is NOT something I recommend!
We literally moved to a neighborhood across the street from the one where we had been renting a house. When you move locally, transferring your services is usually no big deal; change the address in the computer, move the service and you’re all set. But, when you move or transfer your services within 24 hours of a named storm, suddenly it falls under “new business” which falls in line after restoration. Since there had been four significant storms pretty much one after the other, there was a ton of folks in line for restoration. It was six weeks before we had phone or internet in the house. So, while we were lucky enough to have power, drinkable water and a roof that seemed to be intact, I did spend a considerable amount of that time working either from Starbucks or from my car in the driveway where I could bridge my cell phone to my computer for internet, make calls, return emails and still run back in to the house for products to fill Mary Kay orders.
When we first moved to Orlando, my father was already working here part-time. When needed, he would come up on Mondays, work the day, stay in a hotel and head home to South Florida, after work on Friday. So, when we got here, he pretty much just moved in with us from the start.
My sister and I had continued working on our friendship and, since there seemed to be better opportunities for a marine biologist in Central Florida than in Las Vegas, and since my sister who swore up, down and sideways, she’d never have a baby, was now expecting a baby boy, my sister and brother-in-law moved to Orlando a few months after we did.
And… after initially lamenting over the floor plan of our new home, declaring more than once that we should not make such a purchase, my parents ultimately moved up to Orlando as well, purchasing a house with the exact same floorplan. You seriously cannot make this stuff up!
So now, for the first time since the 80s, we were all living in the same city. I’m pretty sure I’m never allowed to move again!! But, I will say I love how often we can all get together for holidays and Sunday dinners. It is wonderful to have the boys all growing up together and with so much connection to their grandparents as well. Truthfully, my dad is usually the ringleader of that gang of boys but, that’s a story for another day. Because, while of course I hope all of this is somewhat interesting (and it IS all leading back to how I reconnected with my spiritual gifts), the real story here is the first storm; Hurricane Charley.
My kids were both born in LA. It is very dry in LA. They had barely EVER even seen rain let alone thunder or lightening and now, not only had we moved them to the lightening capital of the world but, we were talking Hurricanes! Charley was not supposed to hit Orlando. He was expected to be a west coast storm but, as he was small and tightly organized, everyone was still watching pretty closely. It still seemed unlikely that he was going to be an issue for Central Florida so, I headed off to Cleveland for my dear friend Celeste’s wedding. I was there to do her make-up and help with whatever else she needed in the last few days leading up to the big day. I am not unfamiliar with working with brides or helping at weddings. Nor am I unfamiliar with being the lone white girl in a racially diverse group but, I was unfamiliar with the tradition of the bride not walking down the aisle at the rehearsal. So there I was, the Jewish white chic, walking down the aisle in my hot pink strappy party shoes, in the big Baptist church, to stand before a minister, next to Cel’s fiancé, who was a minister himself and whom I had met just moments before. But hey, I was there for Celeste so, whatever she needed, she got!
Since my dad had pretty much been living with us, rather than going home every weekend, sometimes my mom would come up for the weekend and hang out with the boys. As I was going to be out of town, and we weren’t going to have a hurricane, it seemed like a good weekend for her to come up. And then, Charley took a sudden turn to the right and was heading straight for Orlando, fast. Shit! NOW, we were having a hurricane. You must understand, my mom’s house closes up like a fortress during a storm, with shutters all the way around but, in Orlando, we were still living in a rental house with no protection! I had left my husband, who had never been through a hurricane, my two young children, who were barely able to identify rain let alone a hurricane, in a house that wasn’t mine, with my parents… My mother was less than thrilled with the cardboard boxes and tape on the windows but it was truly the best they could do.
I was in Cleveland, in a church filled with ministers and preachers, all of whom were praying (loudly) for my family. Each time I would get off the phone with a storm update they would stop to ask what was going on, announce it to the gathering, send up prayers for the wellbeing of my family and then return to whatever had been going on. At one point the largest mad I had ever met, came over and put his arm around my shoulder hollering, “Can I get an Amen?!” which was answered with a resounding A-MEN! Celeste and I had been friends since college, she sang at my wedding, we were not strangers to each other’s families. But most of the people in the church that night had no idea who I was, yet the constant flow of love and prayers they offered truly helped to calm my fears and the tremendous guilt I felt in having abandoned my family during their first real storm. In the midst of my fear, there was peace and love and I was grateful. In every fiber of myself, I knew my family would be ok.
I felt horrible not be there but really, during a hurricane, there is not much to do but wait it out. My dad and Rob were drinking, because… that’s what you do. But my mom and the kids were understandably scared. Charley was loud and strong. It sounded like someone was hitting the entire house with a firehose and this wasn’t the fortress she was used to. The kids, being still just 6 and 3, were having trouble understanding all that was going on but, by the fourth storm they were pro’s, even dancing on the patio in their underwear with umbrellas, giving weather reports using flashlights as microphones. But, Charley was different. There hadn’t been a named storm in Central Florida in close to 100 years and, it did not go well. After so many years, the trees and the building codes were not prepared for Hurricane Charley. The town looked like a tornado had come through.
Celeste’s wedding was wonderful and her make-up looked perfect, if I do say so myself. And I loved having that time to be there for my friend but, I returned home to a city in blackness. Not dark; black. With so many theme parks and attractions here, Orlando is never dark. There is ambient light everywhere and the sky is never black. But Charley downed trees all over town, large and small, and there was just debris everywhere. Power was out all over the area but thankfully the airport was open and I was able to get home. I live just miles from the airport yet the drive home was one of the scariest times I’ve ever had behind the wheel. It was late and there was simply no light anywhere beyond the car’s headlights. No ambient light, no blinking traffic lights, no street lights, only blackness. I have been out West, I have been blessed to see the Milky Way with my naked eyes but even that was not this kind of darkness. It wasn’t as bad on the highway but, on the surface streets, you truly could not see the intersections and cars would just sail through not even realizing what they’d done.
We were lucky. The top of Dylan’s beloved tree in the front yard had fallen into the driveway, narrowly missing my mom’s car and another huge tree had fallen on the front of the house. From my office window, it looked like I lived in a tree fort but, we had power and it was still a rental house. So really, all we had to do was wait for the management company to come deal with the trees. Unfortunately, that took several weeks because there were just so many trees to be dealt with and, so many were not as lucky. Houses had been destroyed and there were blue tarps on roofs all over town. Debris removal was taking so long the county started asking everyone to bring their tree limbs and downed branches, out to the main streets so they could be collected more quickly because another storm was already on the way. There would be four in all and, as we were in escrow on our current home during that time, after each storm, the house needed to be re-inspected and re-appraised. Thankfully, the house was unharmed and finished unloading and returning the U-Haul truck just as Hurricane Jean was arriving. We were excited to once again have a home of our own after all of that and, with the whole mispacha (family) now living in the same place, I couldn’t imagine moving again, ever.
Or being allowed to anyway…