Over the weekend, Hurricane Irma tore through Florida. I'm a lifelong Floridian, so I'm well-versed in just how frightening hurricanes can be. When I was eight years old, Hurricane Andrew forced us to evacuate our home on the water on Miami Beach. I remember taking one last swim in the pool with my Dad before we left the house. The air was warm and heavy; the yard was oddly still.
"Dad, where did the lizards go? What happened to the birds?"
He smiled when he answered, telling me something about how animals know when a big storm is coming, how they fold in on themselves in the underbrush and hope they survive. He looked up at our house.
"They're predicting an 18-foot storm surge. By Tuesday, this could all be gone."
We were fortunate then. Andrew turned south at the last minute, and while my sister and I lost our favorite tree - a glorious Shady Lady black olive tree with a tire swing hanging from a rope - this was hardly the tragedy it seemed to us at the time. Three years later, we moved away from that house - our first home - and we really did lose it forever. The new owners tore the whole thing down: the old orange kitchen where we ate Cheerios for breakfast every morning; the big master bedroom where I'd watch the news with Dad while he did his morning exercises; the butterfly garden in the backyard; the laundry room where our cat gave birth to a litter of kittens; the dock where I fished for snapper with my mother whenever it rained.
I didn't feel the loss of those rooms, those places, when we moved away from them. I was excited to make new friends at a new school in a safer neighborhood in a smaller town. But a few years later it occurred to me that whenever I dreamed, I was in the home on Miami Beach. Sometimes when I can't sleep, I walk the halls of that old home in my mind, trying to remember the smallest details: the stones on the walkway to the herb garden, the skylight over the stairs, the fabric of the family room sofa.
I can't imagine the devastation of losing a home in a terrible storm, with only a few days' notice to prepare. We were fortunate again this week. Hurricane Irma skirted to the west of us, and again my home and all the memories attached to these tangible bits of our life were spared.
* Portions of this blog post were taken from a letter I wrote to my daughter in her Heirloom Letterbook. Many people this hurricane season were not as lucky as we were, in Houston, Florida, and throughout the Caribbean. Through the end of September, Thread Paper Goods will donate 20% of sales to hurricane relief efforts.