Weathering the Storm

When I was growing up, there was little excitement in Folkston, Georgia, a small rural town near Jacksonville, Florida. (Amazingly, some people still had outdoor toilets in 1965!) In Folkston, my six-year-old brother Kent and I, a nine-year-old girl , lived with our thirty-six-year old, divorced mother in an A-frame, shotgun wooden house with a shiny tin roof. Next door within calling distance lived my seventy-two-year-old Grandpa Harvey, a janitor at school, and Grandma Mimy, a petite, energetic, s ixty-eight-year old. She loved to can fruit, cook, kill and dress her own chickens. She even made lye soap in her round boil pot. Since our parents and grandparents lived so close to each other, we kids lived both at home and at our grandparents'.

During the summer of 1965, life in rural Folkston was rather dull. No real entertainment existed. There was not boy scout or girl scout troop for blacks. No skating rink nor public swimming pools were available. Only the old store-front movie the ater on Main Street offered any hope of entertainment. Forget a mall and a Fun Factory. What was a child to do for enjoyment?

Much of our "entertainment" got my brother Kent and me into trouble, though. Whenever Kent got hurt, I was in trouble, since I was older and expected to protect my baby brother.

"Joyce did it," Kent would whine. Then I knew I was in trouble. As a result, Kent and I would argue often. For example, he yelled with glee, "Push faster, Joyce!" as his red Western Flyer wagon sailed over the exposed roots of the sweet gum tree an d sent Kent flying into the air.

"Boy, do you have a shiner on your noggin' and scrapes on your arms and knees," I yelled.

Mother asked, "What happened to you, Kent?"

"Joyce made me fall," he whined.

Then later in June he was playing with matches inside Grandma's house. The green plastic radio melted and fire raced up the white sheers lining the windows. Quickly throwing pitchers of water on the fire, I extinguished the blaze. Around 3:00 p .m. when Grandma Mimy came home, she asked, "Why did you let Kent do this, Joyce?"

As usual, Kent caused the trouble, but I was blamed. That is why we barely tolerated each other. However, around 4:00 p.m. one Friday afternoon in late August, our relationship would change.

We listened to the weather report on Channel 6, WJXT, Jacksonville. A hurricane warning was given. The storm would touch down in Folkston around 5:00 p.m. Everyone was warned to evacuate. Although schools and gyms were made available, Grandpa came over to our house to "sit out the storm." On the other hand, Grandma Mimy--his wife--was visiting relatives in Olympia, Washington.

Both Kent and I had witnessed strong thunderstorms, but we had never seen a hurricane. We were excited. Mother and Grandpa Harvey nervously taped and boarded windows. Then they started gathering provisions from the smokehouse to weather the sto rm.

Suddenly around 4:45 p.m., Kent and I witnessed a commotion outside. Cluck, cluck, cluck, cluck. Ruff, ruff, ruff. Meow, meow. Pitter patter, pitter patter. Swoo-o-o-o-sh. Boom a loom loom loom. Feathers and sand flying, hair blowing , clothes flapping, and wind whistling, how could I forget the summer afternoon when Hurricane Dora raged violently and tore her way through Folkston, sending hysterical animals and people to shelter?

Suddenly the lofty cotton candy in the sky became an angry gray mass of racing smoke, pounding with thunder and striking aimlessly with peals of sizzling deadly bolts. Kent and I jumped at the claps of thunder and ducked when the lightening flashed .

Torrents of howling wind held my brother Kent and me captive as we frantically tried to escape the storm's clutches in hopes of reaching Grandpa, whose arms flailed desperately as he tried in vain to defy nature in his quest to reach out and whisk us into the semblance of safety inside the house.

Around 4:55 p.m. when the winds subsided momentarily, Grandpa Harvey swept us inside the house where the windows were taped and boarded, the wicks in the smoky kerosene lamps flickered, canned goods, a battery-powered radio, a first-aid kit, candl es, matches, and bottled water along with pillows and blankets lay ready for the inevitable when the storm's eye would touch down and snap power lines, causing power outages and general misery. The fierce winds almost lifted the frame house from its supp orting blocks.

Hurricane Dora summoned her deluge of rain and her 130-miles-per-hour winds. Her unwelcome arrival seemed like the beginning of the end of the word to Kent and me, both elementary-school students.

Even though Kent and I could barely allow one day to pass without our bickering, we now miraculously huddled in a loving embrace of fear, trying to comfort each other. Neither of us could conceal our flood of tears and throbbing hearts. Instead, we tried to be as brave as our age would allow, since we did not want to upset mom and Grandpa any more than necessary.

Meanwhile, rain slammed against the panes, tin flew from the roof, trees swayed and snapped with branches hurling against the sides of the house. Rain flooded the bedroom where the tin was ripped. Surely, we thought, Mom and Grandpa would not al low anything to happen to us, but upon close observation, we could see fear and dismay as they constantly walked the floor, praying for safety and reassuring us that we were safe.

We then realized that adults, too, sensed fear. For example, Mom wrung her hands and paced the floor like a trapped fox in a cage. Her eyes danced with panic. Likewise, Grandpa wrung his hands and prayed louder as the storm became more violent. At times, even they had no control of certain events. Before, we had thought that Mom and Grandpa had an almost supernatural power, being able to do almost anything, but while weathering the storm, we realized that they, too, had limits and fears. We realized that although they loved us dearly, they could not diminish the terror, so they could not guarantee us total protection from something they had no control over. Their love was limited as to what they could and could not do.

Outside, Dora dominated as the trees bowed, bent, and danced under the direction of her fierce wind. Then, boom a loom loom and the lightning split a towering pine while the wind extracted the roots of a massive old oak near the woodpile.

Dora raged throughout most of the long, frightening night as she twisted roofs, snapped power lines, and devastated most of Folkston.

When morning came, Grandpa gingerly opened the door to assess the damage. The yard looked as if sanitation workers had deliberately littered Gramp's lawn. Snapped pine limbs and branches were strewn all across the yard. Dangling black, sparking live wires hung near the house. Pieces of tin were lining the yard where the garbage cans had emptied their contents.

After the storm, Kent and I bickered as to who would pick up the remaining bits of trash. We could bicker now, for we had safely sat through a storm.

Joyce E. Lewis