Gaston. Floyd. Isabel. Irene.
Seasoned Richmonders realize we’re far from pondering possible identities for a second set of twins. Residents who’ve lived here within the past twenty years or so recognize those names— integrally connected with arrivals and upheavals of a far less welcome variety.
Did you ever wonder what it’s like to live in one of those dramatically storm-affected homes featured on WWBT-12 in the days/weeks/months following a major storm?
A little over a year ago, on August 27, 2011, Hurricane Irene was heading our way. On that rainy early Saturday evening, the kids were watching Nick, Jr. in the living room. In the dining room, I was posting images of unimpressive fallen branches in our neighbor’s yard and posting symphonic versions of the Scorpions’ “Rock You Like a Hurricane” on Facebook. My husband, Scott, was in the kitchen preparing to cook dinner.
Thank God we were all downstairs. Within minutes of tweeting an offer of respite to family friends who’d lost power, the unimaginable happened. The enormous city pin oak in front of our home, formerly, lovingly referred to as “Smiley Tree,” with Irene’s zealous encouragement, invited herself into our home.
He-Twin remembers the sound as “crackling, loud, like a truck or train.” I simply remember looking through the window beyond his silhouette and seeing the tree descending towards us….and yelling (far more emphatically than my norm for misbehavior) to get away from the front of the house. She-Twin, who in the surprise earthquake a mere four days earlier learned to seek shelter under a table, bolted into position.
Within minutes, a beloved neighbor from across the street sprinted over to ensure we were all okay. We were all fine: Father, Mother, Sister, Brother, Dog…and as we discovered the next day, even Betta Fish.
With the disturbing sound of the tree’s continued creaking and settling into our home, I grabbed a hard drive of family photos and we all evacuated to across the street. Once kids and dog were safely squared away with our neighbor’s family, Daddy and I returned to our compromised house to retrieve whatever valuables we could. In the torrential rain and hurricane force winds, residents nearby—known and unknown—poured from their homes offering storage for any and everything we could pull from the house. Photo albums. Framed pictures. My husband’s guitars. We pulled and rescued until the sounds of gravity’s effects on the tree were too precipitous to continue.
Our neighbors consoled and lovingly supported us that shocking first night, and set us up in a cozy, reassuring full-family sleeping space. With the wind and rain still howling, He-Twin erupted, “I don’t want to be famous for a tragedy!” My man insightfully shared with the kids that this night—the very night of the hurricane—would be as bad as the whole experience would get—there were so many “unknowns.” The next day, with daylight in our favor, we’d move forward.
Sure enough, the sunshine illuminated the magnitude of the destruction, but what truly shone in the days, weeks, and months to come was the amazing caliber of our friends, our Northside neighbors, our church, our co-workers, our elementary school family, local restauranteurs, basically, Richmond.
Our annual trek to Virginia Beach originally planned for that week would need to be postponed. Instead, that week would need to be spent in extensive conversation with our incomparable contractor, finding access to a highly in-demand 70-ton crane to extract the tree, securing a place to live in the short term, and subsequently, for the next year. Not only that, but within ten days, our twins would turn ten and start fourth grade.
An extended, full-family sleep-over with dear friends on the Southside (we all cried upon parting) was followed by a ten month stay in a cozy rental home walking distance from the kids’ elementary. The Tooth Fairy, Santa, Easter Bunny and delightful new neighbors all found us. Life went on. Happily.
Now, thirteen months later, we’re still dealing with—God willing, wrapping up—utilities conflicts, insurance issues, receipts, reimbursements, deliveries and assessments of our possessions—both salvageable and non—and replacements, but you know what? We’re HOME. Our REAL home.
When asked the greatest lesson learned from his fourth grade “adventure,” He-Twin replies with conviction, “Never underestimate the power of nature.”
She-Twin responds sincerely, “I’m really fortunate to have a great house and great things. Sometimes you don’t realize what you have until it’s gone.”
Not unlike Frank L. Baum’s Dorothy, our whole family had what we needed to get back home all along:
Support. Perspective. Resilience. Flexibility. Gratitude.
Gifts our children are now blessed to know they possess…ones that will benefit them for a lifetime.
Thank you, Smiley Tree.