Sunday, April 12, 2009

Suburban Renewal

We have a "recession garden" this year. We used to just call it a garden, but this year it has a formal name. My beans have sprouted and my peas are pushing through the earth. It is coming along nicely. We had wanted to wait until next year to dig and plant our little patch of peace, but the plants came without our consent. I compost my vegetable table scraps. In the rich compost we placed around our flowers other plants began to grow. Grape tomatoes and sweet red peppers showed up quite uninvited in our front flower beds. The compost had kept them toasty warm and they were trying so hard to add to the landscape. Not being ones to waste anything, we decided it was a sign to put the garden in this year. So we dug our little hearts out for 3 days.

Last September I was bustling around the house, collecting water in every available container, buying bottled water and storing extra water in old milk jugs. Water was one of my many themes for the day. I took in every outside piece of furniture I could. I pulled out lanterns and got camping gear ready. Awnings came down, plants were tied and plywood was screwed over our large plate glass windows making the house dark and eery.
We had only a few days to alter our very existence. We were told to hunker down. Must be a southern thing, but even this Yankee knew what it meant. Hurricane Ike was bearing down hard out in the Gulf and we had to get ready for another devastating storm. Living here in Houston for only 5 years we had already lived through Rita. We had seen all the folks who came from New Orleans, shell shocked and homeless from Katrina. Like it or not, my family members were becoming veterans of hurricane season. Southerners brace themselves or evacuate long before the storm hits. The lucky few who have second homes can migrate for protection from the next blowing beast.
I cursed the weather and the Gulf and myself for moving into harms way. I gathered things at the grocery store I knew we would have to be starving, before we ate. We had a Coleman stove to help me cook. We had an air mattress for the living room floor for all of us to sleep, behind plywood protection from flying debris. During hurricanes we all gather our belongings that feel the most precious and huddle together to wait for the onslaught of the constant wind.
It sounds first like a train, then it howls in a higher pitched way and makes the trees groan. The trees become humanized by their awful sounds of creaking, cracking, and crying. They sound like tortured souls. We jump when we hear the gut wrenching break of a tree and it's limbs. It sounds like a state of the art horror movie. The sounds are unique to the individual storm. When the trees really begin to cry out the fear is something you can taste in the dark and isolated room. Trees that fall can kill the families that are hiding inside. With windows blocked, they never even see it coming.
Ike was a vicious bastard of a storm. He was the size of Texas itself and had the strength to take down the oldest trees without a fight. It seems to me these storms always come at night. At least the two I have lived through did as well as Katrina. As if nature has to make it any scarier than it already is. The storm hit and the TV cut out at 12:17 AM. We sat silent waiting for the sounds of tragedy to kick in. And they did. We all dozed off and on trying to block out the sounds just as we had blocked out the sight. I had fallen asleep late in the night. For reasons unknown to me I sat bolt upright. I didn't just wake up, I jumped up. The air was still and things were quiet. One actually gets used to the loud raging storm as it rips through the landscape. To hear nothing was the most ominous sound I had heard all night. I ran to the radio. All the electric had gone the way of the storm when the TV quit. The eye was directly over us.
I quickly got the dogs and ran them outside screaming, "Pee, damnit, we don't have much time!"
Unphased by the limited access to the outside world we truly had, they stretched and trotted around the still dark yard. I ran around to assess any major damage I could see. It looked so far like we would once again escape any real loss. My son and I stayed outside as long as we could, because we knew we were facing the other side of the storm soon. We would have to go back to our small space and wait for another 8 or so hours before we could emerge from the house that had become our prison. Soon the wind was picking up fast. We headed for the kitchen door and nearly got sucked back into the yard. Slamming the door hard behind us, we went back to wait for the end to come. We listened to the radio as it went in and out with stories of tragic and terrifying sights. We decided maybe it was better not to know and went back to the howling of the wind and crying trees. We waited hour after hour for the storm to move on and away from us. Finally later in the day it stopped.
With great trepidation we peerd outside for signs of the all clear. The rain had subsided after bands of thunder and lightening storms lit up the sky proclaiming the end to Ike. We walked around staring in disbelief at the amount of debris laying around our once pristine neighborhood.
One neighbor had a tree in his garage. All the fences were down. Large monstrous trees laid on their sides as if picked by a giant and tossed aside. I would not go past my neighbors' houses. We all checked on each other and our safety. We gathered together with chainsaws and rakes and shovels to begin the work of digging our way out.
Cell phones were dead. Roads were blocked. Electrical transformers had exploded during the night. There were no sounds except that of the people, neighbors helping neighbors.
Days later we continued to camp in our house with no electric, living on staples we had gathered.
Stories were coming in about the devastation and the rising death toll. Still,I would not venture out past my street.
Days past and it was time to see what stores were open. My land line still worked so my family knew we were safe. I couldn't drive too much because my husband might have needed the gas to get to work. The gas lines were hours and miles long. Kroger's was running on generator power. The store looked as if a bomb had hit it directly in it's belly. We left nearly empty handed because there were no supplies.
Days past and we were still listening to the terror of the deadly storm on the radio. Tom and I ventured back to the store to see if a truck had gotten through. A man stood working in the bread isle unloading loaves of bread. Tom and I ran to the case and grabbed a loaf as if we were thieves. We ran to the milk case and found fresh milk. We had run out days before and celebrated the white, liquid gold. The meat case remained empty and the freezers stood barren, a sign of the patience we still needed.
Days past and our large ice stores had melted and the remainder of our food was about to go bad. Mike and I went in search of a generator. It had been a week since we had electricity and things were getting hard and a little scary. We found one at a tractor supply store. We then searched for gas. Most stations were empty and deserted. The few that were open had armed police stationed at the front and the lines were longer than the amount of gas they had to sell.
We had a generator and no gas.
A day past and Mike had been going to work downtown. Gas stations were back up and running and he would take and fill up a gas can for the generator everyday. We would only run the generator for a few hours due to it's expense. Gas was $4.00 a gallon.
Days past and we were all so exhausted from the stress. We rationed food and gas and batteries. We tried to keep each other entertained and were extra kind to each other. The stories of death, destruction and hopelessness filled the radio airwaves. Stories of hope, help, and kindness filled the opposite hours.
Days past and we had heard rumors that the electric might be turned on. We prayed we might be next on the never ending list of folks getting their power on. That night we went to bed disappointed that the house remained dark.
A day past and we waited for the sign we could cook, and wash our clothes and turn on a light. It was 6:30 PM and there was no sign of power.
An hour and five minutes past and the lights came on. Such a simple thing of a small bulb lighting up the darkness and allowing us the benefit of it's illumination.The kids and I grabbed each other and hugged and danced and laughed until we fell out. Tom screamed from his window "We have lights!" We hadn't had electricity in 12 days.
A month past and we remained reverent about Ike. We were lucky; So many who suffered and died were not.
Spring came and the buds began to open as the memories of Ike began to fade. The time for joy and growth and renewal had come. After months of fixing and rebuilding we were due for signs of new life.
A week passed and my dear friend called me on the phone from Beaumont, Texas a place that was devastated by Rita and hit again by Ike. "Did you hear about the Farmer's Almanac?" he asked. "No what did it have to say?" I asked hopeful this would be a good weather year.
"It said this is the year of the big storm. Should show up in July or August."
"Maybe not", I tried to dismiss the source. "They aren't always right", I added.
"They predicted Ike to the day."My friend stated in a flat, informative and unemotional way."Well, what are you up to today?"he asked.
"I'm going to start buying supplies" was all I could say.

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