Don’t worry, hurricane season in Florida is finally over, and no major storms came to our neck of the woods this year. But that wasn’t the case in 2004. If you lived in the South at the time, you might remember hurricanes Charlie, Francis and Jean. But Charlie is the one that changed our county forever.
We live in central Florida, so hurricanes aren’t a major issue around our parts. It’s something that mostly affects the folks on the coast. Or so we thought in August of 2004. Hurricane Charlie was heading towards Tampa, and my husband’s cousin and his wife actually drove here to seek shelter in our house. Unexpectedly, the storm made a turn and suddenly we found ourselves literally in the eye of a powerful Category 4 hurricane.
Our house was constructed with concrete block and so were the houses of my in-laws and my husband’s uncle. You see, we all live in a small cul-de-sack, one big happy (if slightly dysfunctional) family. There wasn’t much time left to seek shelter and we figured our houses would stand up to hurricane winds. Wrong.
The next couple of hours were something I will never forget. If you’ve never been in an eye of a hurricane, let me try to describe it to you. Imagine a train passing just a few feet away and the noise that’s associated with it. That’s what it was like when we were sitting in a hallway of our home. We could hear and feel the trees falling on the house and were just hoping it would be over soon. Thankfully, we didn’t have kids at the time, otherwise it would have been even scarier.
Finally it was over. Of course, we lost electricity, the water was coming down into our bedroom. But we were safe at last. I looked outside to see what kind of damage was done to our street. To my horror, the uncle’s home didn’t have a roof. I ran to my in-laws and was relieved to see that they were all alive and safe. The hurricane winds lifted the roof while they were sitting in the living room, and they had to run to my in-laws’ house for safety, with the trees falling all over the place. Thankfully, the distance was short and they all made it.
Of course, as soon as winds have subsided, the reality sat in and the clean-up process began. Needless to say, there wasn’t much to salvage in their house. Here is the photo:
Understandably, my husband’s aunt was in shock and didn’t even know where to begin to pick up the pieces. My mother-in-law quickly said: “Let’s look for important documents and family photo albums.” There wasn’t much time because the weather was getting worse and the winds started picking up again. I could tell, as distraught as my husband’s aunt was, holding family albums gave her a measure of comfort. Those were old photos that were not stored in a file, photos of special moments and family trips. The important stuff.
Several years prior, they lost their oldest son ( my husband’s first cousin) in a freak accident at the mines. He left two small children behind. Things would never be the same afterwards. But here in her hands, there were photos of him and things they did together as a family.
The events of 2004 now seem like a distant memory. Everyone has moved on, roof holes were patched up and new (better) houses were built. And yet, this hurricane has taught me many lessons. Namely, how unimportant material possessions really are, how quickly they can vanish into oblivion. It’s not the walls that make up a home, it’s the people who live in it, the memories we create. It also made me realize yet again the importance of family. We all need people we can run to for shelter literally and figuratively.