The Storms We’ve Known and Loved and Lived Through, and the One that’s Breathing Down Our Necks
How To Build Up Old Yankee Coastal Cred in Rough Weather
As I put pen to paper – I mean fingertips to keyboard – sweet punkin pine! This change in our ozone is making me write odd things (even odder than usual) – it’s Sunday morning, October 28, and some kinda monster storm is gustily, wetly and determinedly barreling down on us.
The hurricane’s nome de blow is Sandy, but the media has re-labeled her Frankenstorm, evoking a correlation to, of course, Frankenstein, and the Perfect Storm of late October, 1991, when a minor hurricane spinning up from the tropics got yanked into a nor’easter whooshing down from Canada. Some other, I don’t know, conversion layer or El Nino got sucked in from LA (I'm just hoofing it here), causing the weather to bunch up and go all hormonal on us, and to drag itself out for days (blame the nor’easter) instead of a hurricane’s wham! bam! thank you, mam’n, few hours. (The LA part is not such a big stretch, considering that Hollywood came calling to make Sebastian Junger’s book about this gale, The Perfect Storm, into a movie starring George Clooney.)
But back to our current impending doom:
We know not to trust the media’s scare tactics because: 1) The media knows squat and 2) Meteorologists know squat, and that’s all due to the fact that 3) Nobody knows which way the wind is blowing.
By the time you read this, you will indeed know which way the wind is blowing as in, did it lift your house and sail it way the hell out to the Bay of Fundy?
One thing I always notice before a hurricane clamps down on us, and as our adrenaline spikes, thanks to the change of ionization in the air, and to the Frankenmedia, is that as we cluster together in our last sprints to the supermarket to pick up items to make us feel safe -- candles, cans of soup, Oreo cookies, bottled water, flashlight batteries and Lee Childs thrillers (oh snap! I wonder if the New York Sunday Times made it over this morning on the Patriot? . . . excuse me for two clicks while I toddle down to Conroy’s to pick up my copy) . . .
It was there! Still $6!
…Where was I when I left that sentence dangling?... so, pre-storm, we gather together and swap hurricane whoppers. Obviously this is one of those rare areas in life where older age comes in handy.
“You were here for last year’s Irene? That was nothing! That was Johnny Hoy blowing out his birthday candles! I moved to the Island just before Hurricane Bob demolished thousands of acres of trees and killed every last shrub and flower in every last garden!”
“Aw, yer just a baby!” an old codger will now interject. “I was here back in ’54 for two hurricanes in one week --- Carol … Carol and, was it Phyllis? [It was actually Edna], I helped ‘em haul drowned sailors to the old marine hospital!”
Hard to compete with anyone who can scratch his bald-spot and roll memories back to Carol and …Carol and … but I fondly recall one lovely summer day in the early 1980s, seated with the “lunch bunch” invited by the late Betty and Brad Smith on their East Chop Beach dock. Betty reminisced with her elderly cousin, Dorothy, ‘I remember the afternoon just before the storm of ’38 blew in. You handed us a tin of ginger cookies you had baked, before you caught the last ferry to the mainland. All through the gale, the kitchen held the fragrance of ginger.’”
Good golly, Miss Betty! It’s details like those that rival Marcel Proust’s madeleine moment.
BTW, that ferocious wallop of ’38 was the last bad boy of a storm, AKA a big blow, a weather-up, a gale, a line storm, a sou’wester, before the term hurricane was pulled into service.
Hurricane derives from the West Indian word huracane meaning "big winds." There, that wasn't too hard now, was it? That's because there's no Latin in it.
One of the last of the Yankee Old Codgers & Keepers of the Stories (hereinafter known as YOCKS), Island-born and raised author, Joseph Chase Allen (1892 - 1981) wrote a long time ago in Yankee Magazine about this game-and-name change to hurricanes: “ . . . the only real tough weather we have experienced in a long lifetime at least, is an imported brand of weather which we never had at all until the cussed Democrats took over Washington.”
But please don’t let this YOCKS’s comment effect your vote on November 6, one way or the other.
What can Mr. Allen, Yankee’s Oracle, who never claimed to know everything, but who people from all over the country queried as if he did – what tips can he pass along about encounters with heavy weather? Here are some samples of old New England wisdom as handed down by our own top YOCKS-ster:
“Keep a pig. When he digs a hole in the ground, it’s going to be hot. When he chews straw it’s going to rain. As an alternative, you can do as folks do on Cape Cod, Mass.: let her storm and be blowed!”
And when asked his opinion regarding weather predicted by stripes on a wooly bear caterpillar, he responded, “We never believed that a caterpillar had any sense to begin with, and be blowed if we would call it fur anyhow! But the saying is that a broad brown middle band with narrow black end stripes forecasts a mild winter.”
Well, that doesn’t help us with guestimating Hurricane Sandy. Is she rolling up her sleeves and heading our way, and will she be agitated into a hissy-fit by other blowhards in our area?
But, listen, if you’re reading this, bro, that means your electronic gear’s working, which could in turn signal that you can still melt marshmallows over cups of hot chocolate! So all’s well on our patch of New England.
To end on a Joe Allen-ism, when loved ones call to ask how you fared through the past two days’ sturm und drang, and just how bad was it, respond like Mr. Allen: “Perfectly cussed! In fact it was a darned sight worse than we expected, and we expected it would be!”