Growing up on the Texas Gulf Coast, hurricanes were a part of my childhood.
In that primitive media age, we’d follow a storm by plotting its course on the hurricane map we’d clip from the local paper, marking longitudes and latitudes we’d hear on radio and TV broadcasts.
And the hurricanes always disappointed me.
I wanted to be in the middle of a raging storm, seeing rain blow sideways, feeling wind that could knock you down, and witnessing the destruction nature could wreak.
But year after year, the storms would miss us in Corpus Christi, meandering out into the Gulf, or making landfall just far enough way to give us a hearty but harmless breeze.
A couple of weeks before I was supposed to begin my senior year of high school, Hurricane Celia was headed toward Brownsville, 100 miles south of Corpus Christi. Then, on the last day before it was to make landfall, it suddenly changed course and intensified, coming directly at us.
At last, I thought. Bring it on.
Hurricane force winds surging through power lines makes a distinctive sound, a dark, harmonious roar that rises and falls with the gusts and tells you something ominous is in the air.
I was standing on my back porch on the leeward side of the house, watching the three citrus trees we had bend completely over and spring back with the gusts. And I noticed that the corner of the roof on the house directly behind us was flapping up and down, like a plastic dumpster lid that doesn’t fit quite right.
Then suddenly, with a crashing sound loud enough to penetrate roar of the power lines, I saw half the roof come off in a piece, rise into the air and splinter apart, blowing away and out of sight.
I was still coming to terms with that chilling sight when I heard a crash followed by screams coming from within my own house. A ran into my room, and saw my father and my seven-year old sister Gail sprawled on the floor, which was covered with broken glass, lumber, and water.A piece of someone else’s roof had slammed into the window, shattering glass and bringing the full fury of the storm into our house. My dad got off with a bad bruise on his leg. My sister had several cuts on her arms and legs.
One cut on her wrist should have had stitches, but that just wasn’t going to happen. There was no electricity or phone, and travelling was out of the question.
We stopped Gail’s bleeding, and by nine o’clock in the evening, the fast-moving storm had left a dark, eerie calm over the city. Back then my dad managed a Glidden paint store a few miles away, and he and I got into our ’65 Mercury Comet to drive over and check it out.
I remember the surreal feeling of making our way through dark streets, cluttered with debris that would appear only when our headlights found it – tree limbs, store signs, and lumber with roofing paper flapping from its edges.
Amazingly, the store was undamaged. We returned home and I slept in blankets on the floor that night, moving constantly to avoid the spreading water that had come in through our broken window.
I learned a couple of days later that during the storm a neighbor across the street had been watching the corner of the roof on my house flapping, just like that one I’d seen blow away.
Hurricane Celia killed 15 people in South Texas, and according Wikipedia, damaged 80 percent of the structures in Corpus Christi. My family recovered and the city rebuilt, and it was wonderful to see people forget petty differences and pull together in the days following a disaster.
But the experience cured me of my zeal to experience a hurricane firsthand.
When Irene arrived last night, I hoped the region would be spared tragedy, and was grateful that my biggest battle was keeping rainwater out of my basement.
When I want a thrill nowadays, I ride a roller coaster.