Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What Were They Thinking – Part 2

In light of the most recent hurricane, I thought that now might be a good time to share another highlight of my childhood. In 1976, New Jersey was hit with a category one hurricane; Hurricane Belle. Hurricane? Highlight? You are now thinking, this woman is nuts. 

When I was a child, I spent my summers with my grandparents in a house on a barrier island, a couple of blocks from the beach.  Interestingly enough, this house was also a couple of blocks away from the bay.  Skinny little barrier island.  
Thank you, Google Maps

My grandparents’ home was small.  Because of space issues, my aunt’s family spent the summer near this island in a campground.  In tents.  (which is where I got the idea to spend my summer at the shore in a campground – in an RV)

It was an idyllic experience.  I woke up, ate breakfast, and went to the beach.  I came home for lunch and then went right back to the beach.  I knew it was time to come home for dinner when the lifeguards left for the day.  Many times after dinner we went back to the beach. Almost my entire summer existence was reserved for time at the beach.

There was a TV, but only a few stations.  There was nothing on during the day, anyhow.  And it just wasn’t normal for a kid to be inside during the day, especially in the summertime. At night, my grandparents were in charge of what we watched.  They loved Lawrence Welk. (This is a sample of my nightly horror  Needless to say, I didn’t watch a lot of television. We played cards and board games instead.  To sum things up, as a child I was disconnected from the reality of the world.

The day before the hurricane hit, my father was down the shore with us.  (I looked it up – it was a Monday so he must have stayed over after a weekend.) As he left to go back home to the city, he told my Aunt that there was a hurricane coming and asked her to look after the kids. And then LEFT.  To go back to back home.  On the mainland.  As I look at this with my adult perspective, I am at a loss to understand just how that made any sense.  As a child at the time, I barely understood what a hurricane was.  Just a day I couldn’t go to the beach.

My Aunt’s family were sailors. They would come over from the campground every day and go sailing.  On this particular day, they came over and informed my grandparents of the impending storm.  My Aunt suggested they get off the island.  My grandparents said they were staying put. My Grandfather let us know (again) that the house was on the high point of the island. My Aunt told my grandparents they were going to go deal with the boats, eat lunch and then come back and collect her brother’s children, because she’d promised to look after us.

My brothers, sister, grandparents and I all ate lunch at the house.  Before my Aunt returned, a police car came past to tell everyone they needed to evacuate.

My grandparents decided to leave the island.

We evacuated. There were four of us kids. I was the oldest at 13.  My brother was 12, my little brother was 6 and my little sister was 5. There were 2 elderly grandparent people.  There were 3 in my Aunt’s family.  Where did we go?  Home to the city?  Where everybody had either a house or space for company? Nope.

We evacuated. To. The. CAMPGROUND.

So we could ride out the hurricane in safety.
Not the actual tents, or campground.  But close! 
(image from

In tents.  Really. I am not making this up. 

I was a kid so this made sense.  Get off the island.  Check.  Go stay in tents. Yay! I get to camp! (By the way, this is an example of why you don’t let children make adult decisions.) What were the adults thinking?

Wind. Downed tree limbs.  Flooding rains. 

Apparently none of these crossed their minds. 

There were 3 sleeping tents in the campground. My 17 year old cousin, both my brothers, and I stayed in one tent.  My Aunt, Uncle, and little sister stayed in my other cousin’s tent (he was at home in the city).  My grandparents stayed in my Aunt and Uncle’s tent.  The kind people in the RV next door (again, what were they thinking?) said that my grandparents could use their bathroom so they didn’t have to trek through the campground, in the wind and rain, to use the public campground bathroom.

I remember my Uncle battening down the hatches.  Each sleeping tent got a second layer of plastic sheeting on top.  The screen house (where the food and picnic table were) had its sides put down to keep the rain out. There was no floor on this tent, though. So, hmmm.  
What I remember is what fun and adventure it was.  We told ghost stories.  We played cards.  I got to hang out with my older cousin. Every 15 minutes or so, we had to push the collected rain off the sagging roof of the tent.  

One time, my Uncle was walking past and we were pushing water out of the sagging roof.  My Uncle got the equivalent of a bucket of water dumped on him.  I remember that being very funny. The tent leaked.  That was okay, too because it was over my little brother’s cot.  He was asleep and didn’t know it was dripping on him.

The campground flooded.  To get to the bathroom you had to walk through hip deep water.  My cousin wanted to drive over to the island at the height of the storm.  That scared me a little.  My Aunt put the kibosh on that dumb teenage idea.

The next morning we all went back over to the island.  The ocean had met the bay.  The island had been under water.  There were big power boats sitting in the middle of the streets.  There was seaweed and reeds all over everything.  It was a mess. Everywhere. 

Except the high point of the island.  My Grandfather’s lawn.