Irene's attack on the east coast last week conjured up remembrances of another New England hurricane that roared into our lives. I think the storm that interrupted that summer's vacation might have been named Gerda, but then again, the tropical storm section of my memory has gone out to sea.
It was the end of August, 1969, when we rented Cousin Millie's cottage in Falmouth on Cape Cod. Our friends, John and Ginger from New York City, were joining us for seven days of summer fun that included beaches, barbeques and boiled lobster our plans were for total relaxation.
My memories of that long ago week are of Jarts games on the lawn, watching the boats come up the inlet right beside the house, and the after-dinner Monopoly games one of which continued until 5:00 AM. There might have been wine involved, but then again . . . oh, who can remember?
As often happens on vacation, we were a bit out of touch with the real world. So it was the morning after that Monopoly all-nighter when we first heard the radio announcement that a hurricane was barreling up the Atlantic coast, luckily offshore. It was traveling fast over the open ocean but the storm was scheduled to finally make landfall . . . at Cape Cod . . . late that afternoon! Holy barometer! Looking down the inlet to the pier confirmed that the red and black hurricane flags were flapping in a gentle, lilting breeze. It was a beautiful, sunny day.
It didn't take long for us to realize that the forecast was not only going to ruin the last few days of vacation, but potential damage and blocked roads could ruin our friends' chance of getting home to New York for work on Monday. The prospect of round-the-clock Monopoly, by candlelight, with a raging storm pounding on the cottage didn't sound like the way to end a holiday week.
I also was looking around the little house, realizing how much equipment and furniture was outside and yikes look at all those pine trees! Scrub pines of all sizes cover the Cape Cod landscape. And because their roots grow in sand they are particularly storm vulnerable. It was sinking in that we should be responsible for Cousin Millie's cottage, and we had work to do. Suddenly that sleepy morning became frantic . . . get John and Ginger to an airport, and get this little house prepared for the storm. It never occurred to us to evacuate.
After a hurried departure of quick packing, gulped Cheerios, and the morning's coffee in travel mugs, we sped our friends to the Hyannis airport, and hugged sad goodbyes ending our shortened vacation.
Since we were in Hyannis, the largest town on the Cape, we decided to shop there for survival supplies before driving the 20+ miles back to Falmouth. We knew we were fighting the clock. The car radio was reporting the intended path of the storm passing outside Long Island and Block Island and turning inland towards Martha's Vineyard and Falmouth, Mass. We were in line for a direct hit. We began to wonder about staying but knew we couldn't consider leaving until we'd battened down the hatches at Millie's.
Shopping for supplies, we operated on instinct. Everything we knew about riding out a hurricane we had learned from reading . . . we had no previous Category 4 experience.
We bought candles and matches, a flashlight with extra batteries, masking tape for the windows, gallons of water, and sandwich makings to add to our dwindling food supplies. After hearing that the storm surge would arrive during high tide, all I could picture was one of the boats at the end of the inlet cutting loose and coming through the picture window. So we bought a sheet of plywood, a hammer and some nails, and convinced the nice man to tie the plywood onto the roof of our Beetle.
We raced back to the house, somewhere just south of panic, the car radio describing the winds and waves at Montauk. The storm was staying on course past Rhode Island, aiming for the Vineyard and yes, still, Falmouth.
We hurriedly stacked all the outside furniture in one bedroom, including the grill. We put up the plywood, X-taped all the windows, filled every pot and pan with water, and parked the car on the leeward side of the house. Finally finished, with nothing left to do but wait, we headed to the front lawn with beach towels, books and cold drinks. The sun still shone, the breeze was still soft, and the sky to the southwest was still blue. And so we waited. And waited.
At the time the hurricane was scheduled to devastate Martha's Vineyard, the last stop before us, Gerda changed her mind, turned a sharp right, and headed due east for Portugal! The storm recorded winds above 125 mph over the Nantucket Lightship 75 miles at sea, but barely brushed Nantucket. And she never came near Falmouth. The radio meteorologists were blown away!
By dinnertime we had all the furniture back outside, the tape off the windows and the plywood down. Dog-tired, we called Millie to tell her that everything was okay. Incredibly, her only reaction was that we'd driven nail holes into her house.
Our non-event hurricane, with its non-winds and non-damage, managed to produce only a few high waves over the next few days. At the end of the sunny weekend, we took our emergency supplies home all except the plywood and lived another year in a fourth floor walkup, city apartment, totally prepared for a hurricane.
And I've never again played Monopoly until sunrise . . . well, not yet, anyway.
Marcy O'Brien can be reached at Moby.firstname.lastname@example.org