How do you write a column when a bad hurricane is on its way . . . and your power is likely to go off before deadline time? You could try to write about something else, something light and humorous. (For instance, I’ve been planning to get a column out of my husband’s odd fascination with casseroles, and how he made one of his own creation that was so massive we had to freeze quarts of leftovers.) But with the tension in the air, and the gravity of what could possibly happen, such thoughts get blown away with the wind.
And so I decided to write about hurricanes past.
I remember my first. The year was 1960, and the hurricane was named Donna. I’m sure we must have driven out to have a look at what was happening on the ocean beaches as the storm approached, but what has stuck with me all these years is the sense of excitement, the adrenaline rush, as we stood at the head of Three Mile Harbor being battered by the wind.
I remember Gloria, in 1985, when we were without power for 13 days, and had to read by oil-lamp light. Being without power was — as I remember it, anyway — actually a lot of fun, like traveling back in time.
I also remember the only hurricane — before Sandy — that scared us enough that the family evacuated from the house on Gardiner’s Bay. The year was 1976, and it was Hurricane Belle. Ev and I, our three kids, and our dog were invited, along with other friends, to join the Morrises in the big house at the corner of Buell Lane and Main Street in the village. Like this week, we were concerned about the projected storm surge and flooding.
In those years, the 1970s, our house on Gardiner’s Bay was many yards farther from the shore, behind the protection of more dunes, and higher dunes, than remain as we go to press. Part of the reason we thought it safe to put the house there was that old-timers had told us the area had not flooded in 1938. (Unlike much of Napeague, just to the east, which went underwater.)
Fortunately, Hurricane Belle weakened by the time it hit Long Island, passing over Jones Beach. The kids roasted marshmallows in the fireplace and a swell time was had by all. Still, the winds were strong enough to bring a large limb down onto the roof of the house we’d evacuated to; it fell on top of the room where we had gone to sleep. We all thought it was pretty funny that, as it turned out — because of all the trees in town, and the lack of trees in Promised Land — we had inadvertently put ourselves in harm’s way.
In those days I drove a big Cadillac with a white hard top and an odd, beige-ish body color. (It was never my style, but I chose it because I thought it might afford a measure of safety for the weekly trips I used to make in and out of the city.) In the midst of Hurricane Belle, my Caddie, which a friend called the Brown Cloud, was elected to drive to East Hampton Town Hall on some errand or other. I don’t remember any feeling of exhilaration that time.
Now, we wait for Sandy. The generations who live now in the house on Gardiner’s Bay have gone for the duration to a house in the woods. Here on Edwards Lane, in the village, I hope I am benefiting from experience, having stocked up and heeded all the tips about how to survive without power. My son Dan and I waited patiently on line at the supermarket, hardware store, gas station, and bank. In fact, it was almost as if civility — so obviously lacking in our day-to-day rush, push, and hustle, in recent decades — had returned to town.
The mood of those on line at the ATM I went to was actually jolly. “Mayor Bloomberg said to get cash,” a man said, adding a crack about Mayor Bloomberg being de facto mayor of East Hampton, too.
“But there’s nothing to worry about,” he assured those of us behind him in the line. “My mother’s down on the beach right now giving the storm a hex.”