Growing up in a farming family, I learned early on about the impact of weather. Too much or too little rain at crucial points in a crop cycle led to success or failure. Late cold snaps in the spring or baking heat during summer also could be destructive. Hail meant damage or disaster to crops, especially tobacco. Dependence upon nature’s quirky ways with weather began before planting time and lasted until the end of harvest.
If all crops failed in a year, a farmer could lose everything from farm itself to livestock. Interest rates on loans were high and often farms served as collateral. Farmers were high-stakes gamblers every year.
Then, as now, hurricanes brought special apprehension. They did not retain peak force that far inland, but gale-force winds far from their centers could demolish corn and cotton heavy with yield and almost ready for harvest.
My most memorable experience with a hurricane came in September 1944, just a month before my 10th birthday. We lived in a 70-plus-years-old house that had grown through the years around a central log room. My folks had bought and moved onto the farm at the start of the year and planned to have a new house built if their crops did well. There was no electricity and would be none for several years. We had no radio or telephone. Anyway, the National Weather Service did not keep close track on hurricanes and issue constant updates and warnings. We went to bed unaware that a monster was bearing down on us.
At some point, the storm ripped the gable end off of the house and deposited it in the cotton patch 20-30 yards away. The rain and wind were now in the house with us. We retreated to the car, hoping to make it to the house of my paternal grandmother. It was less than a mile away, but reachable only by a two-track road. The wind was whipping pine trees around like bushes.
At one point, one was down across the road, but Daddy found a way around it and delivered us to Grandmother’s house. There I remained until damages to the house were repaired. That trip through a storm-tossed forest remains a definer of personal vulnerability.
You would think that this experience and others less dramatic would have made me avoid exposure to hurricane-related storm systems. Not so. Sept. 21, 1989, found me, along with Annette and football-crazy cousins, in the stands of Paulson Stadium in blinding rain driven by gale-force plus winds from Hurricane Hugo. Georgia Southern was undefeated, taking on a good Middle Tennessee State University team in its first night game. We, the faithful, just had to be there. Permanent lighting had not yet been installed at the stadium, but tall banks of lights were brought in and anchored into the earth with cables.
Hugo was a much “warned” hurricane. Cousins of both Annette’s and mine had fled the Savannah area to shelter at our home in Statesboro. They looked at us rather strangely when we invited them to help themselves to anything they wanted and then departed into the rain to go to a football game.
It was an experience like no other. The wet field forced the Eagles to limit their triple-option to runs between the tackles by the H-back and quarterback, but they won. We did not actually see that much of the game because of rain coming at us at 55 miles an hour. Our woven nylon rain suits were not up to the challenge. We got soaked. Now and then, I glanced at those temporary lights to reassure myself that they were still holding firm. Afterwards we claimed the distinction of having attended the Hugo Bowl.
That was decades ago and I have never again been that foolish, at least about hurricanes. I hunkered down for Idalia. (Where did they get that name?!) I can’t be very adventurous in my wheelchair anyway. I watched TV in my den and slept through the night in bed with my bi-pap performing well.
About mid-morning the next day, the lights went out. A tree fell across the street and power line in a wooded area nearby. Rain had loosened its roots from the soil. Although winds had not taken it down during the night, they had started the process and it could not recover. Working together, crews from the city and Georgia Power solved the problem and power was restored after four hours. I was troubled at how little I can do without electricity and am better aware of the plight of those who must endure days without it.
Barring some unpredictable necessity, I will not take on the tempest of a tropical storm, no, not ever again. Whether hemmed in by disability or finally convinced by experience, I will act as if I am wise.