I can vividly recall in my youth the phone ringing off the hook early in the morning during late August and early September. It’d be my grandparents, from Hollywood, Fla.
Their call would have absolutely nothing to do with the school year just about to start. It was Hurricane Season!
“My friend Eddie said it’s heading straight for the Keys, and then after that it’s coming right at us!” Pop would sputter theatrically, well aware that all four of his grandchildren knew there was no “Eddie,” even if there sure did seem to be this thing called “Hurricane Season.” (We’re talking the early ‘80s here, long before the 24/7 news cycle, with a glut of weather channels to consult, hour by hour, minute by minute.)
I always emerged from this annual comedy act courtesy of my mother’s father thinking the same thing: “Who in their right mind would move to a place that had such a thing as a hurricane season? An actual season!”
I’d visited my grandparents there, of course; after all, we are talking about Florida here. Everyone my age had at least one set of grandparents either living in Florida year-round during our childhood or half of the year. And as they’d sing the song of the “snowbird” we’d wait the beat for our own parents to start talking about the day they were going to move to the Sunshine State themselves.
And since I did visit them there, and often (even once spending an entire summer there), I knew of all the beauty the state had to offer. Heck, just what my grandparents’ home had to offer. Their swimming pool alone was screened-in and glorious, with the sliding glass doors leading out to them appearing as if they belong at the front of some very expensive resort.
But, annually in the path of not one, but several hurricane? I’ll pass.
Despite my staunch view, that one year all four of their kids spent with them (which doubled as the same year that Disney World opened, I might add) found me at the tail-end sweating out a hurricane. It was terrifying. They were calm and cool as can be, snickering at their grandkids’ palpable fear, sipping on their bourbon and watching game shows. My grandmother even shooed me away with some tape and told me to go and make huge crisscrosses with it on the sliding glass doors I loved so much. This was in case the glass shattered, she explained, due to the storm.
Why had our parents sent us here!? What had we done wrong??
Then something even crazier began happening. It was the first half of the 1980s. Suddenly this hurricane season was something we here in Connecticut had to worry about. Yes, there had been a “Hurricane Agnes” in 1972, when I was only five, but the early ‘80s is when I personally became aware of the possibility that they could reach our fair state.
Local meteorologists began talking up the “reach” of storms, with words like “impact” and “out to sea” starting to roll off everyone’s tongues. The first time it was mentioned that a storm that had just hammered Florida was on its way towards us I remember exactly where I was, on my bicycle, on the corner one block over from my house, looking up at the sky as nightfall slowly moved in. I was in a state of disbelief.
My father packed us up and got us safely to the room atop the restaurant he owned at the time. Well, it was safer anyway; after all, we lived directly across the street from the water, in Morris Cove. Rain fell. A little, and then a little more.
Then it stopped. Nothing.
The next few years it was always the same story: This storm was definitely going to make its way to Connecticut, that one was a “near miss,” the “next time we won’t be so lucky.” But we always were. Until we weren’t.
Hurricane Gloria hit us and hit us hard in 1985, the very year I graduated high school. We’d even done the ceremonial taping of the windows! What’s more, for the first time in my life - including the famed “Blizzard of ‘78” - we lost power. We were out for a good stretch of time, but it being such a surreal first rendered the period of time we went without power somewhat magical. I’m sure my parents did not feel the same, but I can recall turning the corner onto my street, my bicycle crunching branches beneath its unforgiving rubber, and seeing candles lighting up my childhood home. It was spectacular.
For hot showers we had to venture to my cousin’s house, some six blocks or so over, where power had already been restored. Fact is, maybe they never even lost it; I don’t recall.
Generators? We didn’t need no stinking generators!
The crashing waves caused major beach erosion, drastically altering what little there already was at “The Seawall” and even doing a number on Lighthouse Park. Gloria hit at low tide, resulting in low to moderate storm surges of 5 feet in Groton. The highest sustained winds were reports of 83 mph in Waterbury, but gusts hit 92 mph in Bridgeport and also Westerly, R.I., which most of us around here basically refer to as Misquamicut.
From that point on hurricanes making it to Connecticut every few years simply became a part of my life, and we sure have had our fair share of them in the past decade. Power outages have become something to expect, and not the rarity they were in my childhood. Hence, the aforementioned generators that so many hope are included in the house that they buy on the shoreline.
As for hurricane season, it sure isn’t over yet. In fact, my friend Eddie said a huge one is on its way here from the Keys any day now.