When a hurricane comes a-calling

My grandmother, my father’s mother, was diagnosed with cancer when I was only a child. She was told she had only months to live. She wrote a note to the family and toured the world, I assume saying her last goodbyes to friends, before settling into a house on an island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea known as St. Martin or Sint Maarten depending on which side you were on.

ST-Martin-026-Edit (8575653057)

By Chris Favero from USA (ST-Martin-026-Edit.jpg), via Wikimedia Commons

I visited her there once with my father, months, if not years, after her original prognosis. I guess the climate suited her more than the cancer. I remember her out on the porch under a brilliant blue sky in light summer clothes, though it was mid-January. She sipped her coffee, looked out onto the horizon, and said, “it’s just another G-D day in paradise.” Except she used the full phrase. My grandmother was not one to adjust her style for children.

And so it was – paradise, that is. So much so, that my aunt lived there at the time as well along with two of my cousins, both near my age. They invited me to visit their school so they could introduce their American cousin to their friends, but I couldn’t fit it in. There was simply too much else to do, like dodging incoming airplanes or sitting on the beach.

Maho Beach, near Princess Juliana Airport, Caribbean island of Saint Martin-8Feb2008 (3)

Not exactly the image of relaxing on the beach that immediately comes to mind (By alljengi from Edinburgh via Wikimedia Commons)

My dad rented a catamaran which my aunt helped crew. It was the most gorgeous boat (excuse me, yacht) I’d ever been on with window in each of the hulls allowing you to see beneath the turquoise waves and a mesh net over the top where you could enjoy the ocean’s spray as well as the journey.

We let the wind take us to another nearby island where engines and bits of WWII fighter planes still dot the landscape. To both my amusement and embarrassment, we also learned that particular island also happened to be a stop for a nude cruise, giving a whole new meaning to the term, history buff.

We spent the rest of my visit scuba diving where I was given the nickname ‘she who sings with the fishes,’ as I had come up with the brilliant (and I now know completely ridiculous) idea I could extend the oxygen in my tank by humming. That’s also how I learned sound travels farther in water.

I have beautiful memories of that trip and always intended to go back and share it with the family. Maybe we could go one year when our work isn’t so crazy or the next when the kids aren’t quite so young. One cousin still lives there. We had plenty of time to visit.

But a category five hurricane with 185 mph winds decided to beat us to it.

Wednesday, September 6th, I spend a good portion of the day stalking the social media feeds of my extended family. Hurricane Irma had made landfall. My aunt had lost contact with her son, my island cousin, around six am. His brother, now stateside, forwarded links to island webcams showing a vaguely tree-like shadow shaking in an otherwise gray nothingness. The image wasn’t exactly comforting.

I clicked on another link. This one had a slightly clearer picture and I was relieved to an extent until I saw a notice posted above the video. It was only a loop of earlier footage, taken prior to complete loss of power and connectivity.

Nearly the entire day passed before we got the news – my island cousin had checked in from the other side of the storm. He’d lost his roof but helped rescue another person stuck in what was left of their home. Looters roamed, but he was making his way across the island with a chainsaw and a 4×4. He was okay, though the same couldn’t be said of the island I’d once known.

In the US mainland, we waited as the hurricane hit Antigua and Barbuda, Saint Barthelemy, Anguilla, Saint Kitts and Nevis, the US Virgin Islands of St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John, the British Virgin Islands as well. Then Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, which never seems to be able catch a break, the Bahamas, Turks, Caicos, and Cuba too, resulting in the deaths of 68 thus far [82 as of September 15th] and rendering thousands homeless. (Source: Don’t forget about us: Irma’s desperate Caribbean survivors, CNN & Irma’s Staggering Toll: At Least 68 Dead, Billions In Damage From the Caribbean to the U.S., The Weather Channel)

When the storm finally arrived on the mainland, no longer a category five, some people said they were unimpressed. However, I say, when a hurricane comes a-calling but decides at the last minute to turn away, the word you are looking for is grateful. Because as the last few days proved, when a storm like this comes to your door, it is anything but another day in paradise.

For those wishing to do more, I would encourage you to check out the facebook group SXMabroad which is a group whose goal is to A) provide a consolidated list of reputable organization to for the purpose of financial donations B) organize groups of people who have the time and ability go and help re-build and C) do whatever this group can to encourage tourism to rebound as quickly as appropriate.

When a hurricane comes a-calling www.alliepottswrites.com

Infrared storm image by NASA, via Wikimedia Commons

 

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30 thoughts on “When a hurricane comes a-calling

  1. I’ve never been anywhere in the Caribbean so the damage seems more dreamy than real to me. I appreciate how personal this disaster is for you, and wish that I could have visited these islands before all of this. I agree with you about how when the hurricane hit the mainland, the word people were looking for was “grateful.” How could they not know this?

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  2. “‘it’s just another G-D day in paradise.’ Except she used the full phrase. My grandmother was not one to adjust her style for children.”–Lol . . . your grandmother sounds like my dad 🙂

    “However, I say, when a hurricane comes a-calling but decides at the last minute to turn away, the word you are looking for is grateful.”–Yes! So well said!

    Your description of your visit as a child is so perfect . . . and the contrast of the storm. I love your writing, Allie. You say things so well. And I’m really glad your family is okay.

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    • Thank you! It was one of those trips that stick with you your entire life. Thank you for the well wishes as well. My aunt is traveling there soon to help with the rebuilding efforts and see my cousin first hand, but hurricane season is not yet over, so now I can worry about two.

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  3. You had me with your first words and I read each sentence about your grandmother with awe. The first lesson – why do we wait for a death sentence to do the things we really want to do? YAY for her, touring the world and then settling on a gorgeous island. YAY for her for continuing to live! Then that lesson moved on to the next. We wait to visit family/friends/places we think will always be there. “When I’m not so busy,” “When the job calms down,” “When the kids get older,” etc. From the photos/news I’ve seen of St. Martin/Sint Maarten, there’s not much left down there now. Beyond sad and disheartening. I pray that they can build again to the gorgeous island it once was.

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    • That’s exactly how I feel. There are still expenses to consider but I am trying not to waste quite as much time waiting for the perfect time as it rarely comes. Thanks for the encouragement.

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    • I’d love to visit South Africa one day. A category 1 or 2 typically are troublesome but not terrifying as long as you prepare properly but a 4 or 5 is nothing to dismiss, especially when the storm is wider than whole states. One of the projections originally had it coming to NC where I live, but then it shifted and after Florida hit Georgia instead. We still felt the rain and heard the thunder and we were six hours away from the storm’s center.

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  4. I love your grandmother’s attitude (not to mention her no-holds-barred approach to life). How long did she end up living?

    Also, I agree with you. A hurricane is one of nature’s most impressive and awe-inspiring events. How can you NOT be impressed with it?!

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    • She lived to age 77 and at her funeral my uncle read her letter to the family. It was sad and full of goodbyes. There were no dry eyes at the end. Then he pulled out another letter, written at least a year later which talked about her gratitude for being given extra time as well as words of encouragement. We cried some more. He opened a third letter dated at least another year later if not longer which began, “Well, I’m still here…” and continued in a tone I’d come to recognize as pure Grandma Mac. We didn’t exactly smile, but it was comforting in the way the others weren’t.

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  5. Nice piece, Allie. I have only experienced the peripheral effects of a hurricane (most notably, I recall riding out Hurricane Diane in 1955 at the suburban NEW JERSEY home of my aunt and uncle). I cannot imagine the fear of those caught up in the full force winds and flooding. My heart goes out to those who have suffered so much, and I urge everyone to contribute whatever they can to the relief efforts. Stay tuned, unfortunately there is more of the hurricane season to come.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Joe, hope you are doing well and thank you for your support. As you said, another category 5 is set to barrel through the Caribbean, preventing recovery efforts and leaving those who have already experienced catastrophic loss without many options. This continues to be one difficult season.

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