Do you ever wonder how in the world you survived your childhood? Long-time friends and I often share stories about the things we did when we were kids and shake our heads in amazement. Maybe that’s because we’re older now and somewhat mature. Or maybe it’s because many of us are raising kids of our own and, quite frankly, we would never let them do the things we did when we were kids!
Take Hurricane Irene, for example. My husband and I took precautions before the storm. We paid attention to the weather forecast and loaded up on jugs of water (which are now lined up in our garage awaiting the next impending storm). We made sure to purchase plenty of canned goods. We talked to our son about safety and the best place in the house to be hanging out if the storm actually hit. We had it all covered.
Now, when I was a kid in ’72 and Agnes came through, it was quite a different story. To tell you the truth, I don’t recall any real precautions. I had never experienced a hurricane before that time, and I don’t think my parents had either. My father was away on business and, in looking back, I’m not sure anyone expected the storm to be that big of a deal. Little did we know…
The day that Agnes hit, our good friend Dudley was traveling with her two kids from her house in Madison to our home in Barboursville to spend the day with us. She made it as far as a half-mile from our driveway on old Route 33 but had to stop on the road because the creek had become a river, and she couldn’t get across the bridge. With her 9 year old daughter and 10 year old son in tow, she got out of her little Datsun, left it on the side of the road and walked the rest of the way to our house.
Immediately upon hearing the news that the stream had flooded, my siblings and I put on T-shirts and shorts and, along with Dudley’s daughter, Alexandra, went running up the road through the storm to investigate the high water. Dudley’s son Nico, obviously the more pensive child in the group, chose a chair in the corner of the living room and a James Bond novel over the real-life experience of a potential flood.
The rest of us didn’t think twice about heading out into the rain. In fact, we were ecstatic. We laughed and skipped and chased one another all the way to the spot where Dudley had left her car. Like many kids in the country, we were restless and rather fearless -- not exactly the best combination for clear thinking. As for our mothers -- they thought we were just going to get a little more rain than usual.
I remember the smell of the storm -- how you could taste the excitement on your tongue in the form of hard rain drops. Something was different, for sure, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Whatever it was, it was fantastic – euphoric!
In reality, it was danger, but being not-quite-ten and very naïve, I hadn’t made that connection yet. Mother Nature’s resolve was intoxicating.
When we reached the bridge, sure enough, the creek had become a full-fledged river rushing onto and across the road. It was amazing! Our little stream had become a force. We were thrilled! Thrilled, that is, until we realized that Dudley’s car was nowhere to be seen. It had vanished! Just as quickly, we heard a scream and turned to watch my younger brother, who had immediately headed for the water, being suddenly swept away by the current.
He managed to grab hold of a stretch of fallen barbed-wire and was hanging on for dear life. In a moment, our exploration had taken a very bad turn, and I was beginning to feel that “maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all” knot in the pit of my stomach. I was a natural-born worry wart, and I surely should have known better.
My older brother, Scott, on the other hand, initially thought David’s predicament was quite funny. He stood there -- caught up in the wildness of the weather --laughing as David hung on to the felled wire. Perhaps it wasn’t real to him. Perhaps the idea that David would wash away into the woods was just too impossible to believe. This was our first hurricane, but hardly our first adventure.
After multiple shouts of “Save him, Scott, save him,” he snapped out of it and began making his way through the thigh-high water toward David. The current was strong and though Scott pretended it wasn’t a big deal, he had to struggle to keep his footing. Pulling David to safety was difficult and, for a moment or two, we thought they might both be whisked away.
The euphoria was gone, completely and totally replaced by fear. Once David and Scott were safely out of the current and back onto the pavement, we all knew it was time to go home. We didn’t need to talk about it. We just ran.
The next day Dudley’s car was found downstream lodged between two trees 10 feet up in the air. Unlike us, it had not survived the adventure. Unlike us, it was not going to get a second chance.
Speaking of second chances, did I tell you about the time David and I climbed 50 feet up in the air and hung a hammock between two trees in our backyard?