Community//

My Houston Hurricane Memories Are Just Snapshots

Stories in the path of the storms

It felt like a train rumbling right above us, like we were in an underground subway. Only hours before, I had been sitting in the tire swing in our front yard, watching my father board up the windows.

*


“C’mon, come play,” my sister said, grabbing my hand to pull me off the tire. She was only 3, she didn’t understand. I was 7 and understood that something was going on.

My mom said under her breath, “flashlights, batteries, flashlights, batteries,” like saying a rosary. She quickly gave us a bath, then refilled it afterwards to the brim.

I noticed the windows slightly cracked open, even with the boards in front of them. My dad got out the small lock-box where I knew he kept the gold coins that our grandparents had given us.

Other adults in the neighborhood were hammering as well. Their kids were in their yards aimlessly kicking balls and half-heartedly playing hop-scotch in their driveways. The sky was darkening, Much darker than a normal August afternoon.

*


We lay on the bed, the banging of the branches of the tree against the house had settled down. The eye was coming near, we felt the air shift, like an air-lock releasing. I was 11, my sister, 7, and we were aware there was danger. We had helped find the flashlights, gotten the portable radio out from the pantry. I filled up the tub myself.

Suddenly, there was a crash, we felt the house shudder, seemingly bending in response. It wasn’t safe to go out and check, we didn’t even dare get out of bed. My mom, dad, sister and I, sweaty bodies pressed together under the covers, like cotton could protect us. “What was that?” my sister whispered.

*


My dad always told the story of him, my sister and me laying on the linoleum floor, feeling the house sway with the winds. My sister was a newborn, I was 4. My mom was still in the hospital, healing from complications from my sister’s birth.

I’m not sure why we were on the floor, maybe it was the coolest place in the humid heat that was not quite breaking during the storm. I remember the sticky sound the floor made with every turn when I tried to get comfortable on the inflatable mattress. Plastic against plastic.

*


My dad finally could get out in the eye of the storm and saw the tree crashed into the back of our house. My mom noticed the damage in our back bathroom, the ceiling falling in from the tree. The streets were flooded, we were going to have to ride out the storm with wind rushing through the hole. There’s nothing more vulnerable than a house not whole.

The storm passed, and my mom and dad decided the heat was too much to bear. We had carpets, not linoleum. They drove us through the receding waters, our powder blue Buick almost a boat rolling down the street, me holding our cat in my arms in the back seat. The hotel would save us from another black night.

*


I’m an adult, no longer in the path of the storm. My sister is still there with her husband and children, with a newly installed generator bought as a present from my dad. He gave my husband and me a check for the same amount, which we used to fund our bathroom remodel.

Despite being land-locked, we are not immune. A few years before an inland hurricane plowed down the highway next to our house. I huddled with my cat and dog in the bathroom while my husband was hours away working. We got a new porch out of insurance from that damage.

I watched the news fervently as the storm barreled towards the Texas coast; when I was younger, in the 1980s, there wasn’t 24 hour weather porn. Now my sister and her friends checked in on Facebook letting whoever might care that they are safe.

Since my sister has a cell-phone and a generator to use to keep it charged, we could stay in touch through the whole storm. Their cable still worked, so they could monitor the storm in real-time as well. I think my nephews are missing out. They don’t feel the complete isolation, like they are alone in the world, like my family felt during the storms of my youth. It felt like the end of the world.

They will never know the total silence, immense darkness, surrounding them as a train seems to be screeching to a stop above them.

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