In the 1980’s I lived in Houston, Texas. Having lived through glacial cold and snow throughout Midwest winters, Houston’s sunshine and great blue skies seduced me. The ravaged palm trees from last year’s hurricane may have looked paltry to the natives, but to me the trees were exotic.
My Houston euphoria continued, until the humidity of late April hit me like the heat out from Tennessee Williams’ play, The Night of the Iguana. I sensed a summer of humid discontent when, after stepping out of my morning shower, I began to perspire. Houstonians had managed to air-condition much of the city. However, this became a moot point as I sat in stalled traffic on Houston’s labyrinth of freeways. Exhaust fumes only added to the oppressive heat.
Nothing, though, prepared me for Hurricane Alicia that summer. In Indiana I hunkered down in safe places during tornadoes, but hurricanes were a different sort of animal. Friends clamored for me to weather the hurricane in their home. My cat Bruno was a concern; he despised car rides. “Brunsie” liked new places even less. Friends counseled me about taping large X’s across my apartment windows. I dutifully filled up the bathtub with water to flush the toilet in the event of a power outage. I raided supermarket shelves, filling my cart with cans of tuna, sardines, peanut butter, bread, crackers, anything I could open with can openers. Since my particular brick building was on higher ground, with my car parked under a carport nearby, I stood a good chance of riding out the hurricane barreling towards the Gulf coast.
Three days later, Holy Hell broke loose. My first clue was Bruno’s pacing like a non-stop vigilant sentinel throughout the apartment. He was impervious to comfort, treats, and toys. Terrifying winds gained momentum. I was sure B-52’s were landing when these winds tore off the carport metal tops. The sounds were deafening, like a locomotive coming through our domicile. For hours the hurricane raged. Bruno’s pads were moist, a further sign of terror for us both.
At some point, I fell asleep. The telephone rang. My first thought was we hadn’t lost power. Groggily I picked up the receiver. I realized an eerie calm had settled over my neighborhood.
“Honey! Do you know that your side of Houston is in the eye of the hurricane?” my frantic mother announced.
“It’s alright, Mama. This is the first quiet in hours. I love you.”
“I love you too. Call me every couple of hours to let me know you are fine.”
The aftermath of the hurricane was equally unpleasant. Flooding, erratic power, downed live power lines prevented leaving home. Houston is below sea level; the houses lack basements. This means that flooding shakes vermin and snakes from their underground lairs.
Hurricanes terrified me. Eventually, I packed up my cat and moved back to Indiana where we retreat to the basement during tornado warnings – no vermin in sight.
Ciao for now.