Monday, October 12, 2009

Andrew and Katrina: Hurricane Talk

This Friday we're leaving for Mississsippi. Martin, Dr. Motes, is speaking to the Gulf Port Orchid Society on Sunday afternoon, New Orleans on Tuesday night and in between we've been invited to spend a night in a lovely home in Biloxi. Those three names immediately conjure up a fourth, Katrina. Here, just north of Homestead, it was Andrew. For the longest time "Andrew" bore no relationship to the naming of male children and over half the sentences in South Dade began with either: "Before Andrew" or "After Andrew." And many times they still do: "Wasn't Turkish Ambassador hit on the road before Andrew?" (one of our dogs) or "Didn't Carlos start just after Andrew?" Or "Hasn't this mango chutney, old shirt, been around since before Andrew?

Andrew came through on August 22, 1992. Martin, that old South Florida hand, (together with all the other experts,) said it would never hit: "Too early, too fast, too straight. They always slow, they always turn." But it didn't. The big new houses round us popped open, the old ones crumbled like sand castles and you could see to US 1 and for miles around; any tree left standing was stripped bare, a broken stick. We were in our old house that hunkered down like an old turtle behind the trees Martin had planted to the north-a wind break, indeed. Those big gumbo limbos were torn in two and lay like fallen soldiers alongside the walls. They did, in fact, die protecting the house: seeing them lying there made me cry.

So, my children, trees are GOOD. Don't ever let anyone convince you otherwise! Don't listen to your parents, the cops, the insurance peddlers or FP and L. You are more likely to die from a falling beer bottle in a bar than a falling tree! (That is, when you get older.) Remember: Trees Are Your Friends!

This is what can start when you just say "Andrew" to a long term South Dader- I resolve not to mention hurricanes in New Orleans, Gulf Port or poor Biloxi- (Like Fawlty Towers- "Don't mention the war!') They've all had enough. We will resist trading war stories or, heaven forbid, give into hurricane-envy. Because our hurricane, until Katrina, was the biggest and the best.

But this will be difficult because we are going to be staying with orchid people who sound absolutely delightful but I know that even in non-hurricane areas, orchid people, however delightful, have a tendency to stand around contemplating trees and bushes in their yards, often until it is almost too dark to see. And this is even if there are no orchids on them, even if no devastating storm has come through in the last year or two or there is no Dr. Motes standing there to be asked where would be a perfect spot for a vanda or an ailing cattleya.

If there is a yard, there will be new trees to discuss and bare spaces to mourn where once a great family tree stood and it will be hard not to trade so many great stories about trees. Our old mulberry tree got such a shock to its system after Andrew that it fruited the very next month, in September. Our big beautiful sapodilla finally keeled over in Andrew- I watched it go, watching the storm through the gap between the planks we'd put up over the french doors in the kitchen. It fell slowly against the bamboo and the bamboo fell against the kitchen wall on the north side and the two of them we are sure helped hold the roof down. And, with great difficulty, (it was a big tree,) soon after, we propped it up again. It survived Katrina (minimal) and Rita (nothing at all) but when Wilma arrived the old sapodilla had had enough. I saw it once again from my spot, as I looked through the gap in the planks- (Martin, the old hurricane hand, asleep- saving his energy for the next morning.) It swayed to and fro while I called out "No! Hold on!" and it keeled over gently down towards the kitchen again, like an elephant sinking to its knees.
-(Note: We've, trimmed it back, propped it up again and it's fine. Children! Never give up on a tree! Especially in Florida!)
Probably no-one in Mississippi even remembers Andrew, the hurricane that made Homestead famous: the hurricane that destroyed the little town. For several years we enjoyed instant recognition and respect when showing our driver's licenses.( "From...? Isn't that where....? And how are you doing?") We were on the national news every night for a month or so but of course no-one had power and few had generators back then, so we never saw our brief moment in the spotlight. But if Andrew made Homestead famous, with Katrina it's the other way around. It is New Orleans that has made Katrina famous and infamous forever, the hurricane that destroyed so much and almost destroyed the fabled city of New Orleans.

-Of course we'll be talking about Katrina -who am I kidding?


  1. I hope you had a good trip to New Orleans and wondered if you'd report back to us on how things are going there. Enjoyed your blog, having lived in both New Orleans and Homestead. Thanks.

  2. Yeah, I almost expect all people to at least have some idea of what Andrew was. The aftermath was such a defining era in my elementary school days.

  3. Jan and Naeem- You can see I set myself up for a big hurricane story but Im glad in a way it's a litle oblique. Everyone was a class act on the trip-no-one dwelling on disasters. M