Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Irene reminds me of 1944

I was five years old and we spent the summer, as usual, at the Atlantic City, New Jersey shore. This was the last year we could stay after Labor Day because I would start first grade the next year.
My father commuted. He came to the shore on Friday night, returned to Philadelphia on Monday morning, came back to the shore on Wednesday night, returned to Philadelphia on Thursday morning, and so forth. That way, my father did not see us just one day a week.
September 14, 1944 dawned with rain. The large floor model radio in the rented house did not work during the rain. The only sound was static. And, because it was raining, there was no newspaper delivered. The paper boy never left the newspaper in the rain.
In mid-morning, the phone rang. Aunt Naomi was calling from Philadelphia. Remember, this was 1944. Nobody made long distance calls unless it was an emergency. "Why are you still there?" she asked my mother. "A hurricane is coming and bearing down on Atlantic City." My mother said that she would investigate and call her back. Then, she called Aunt Rose. Aunt Rose and Uncle Sam lived in Atlantic City. "A hurricane? Don't be silly," said Aunt Rose. "They always talk
about hurricanes. It's just a Nor'easter. We get them every year at this time."
So, my mother called Aunt Naomi back, gave her the report from Aunt Rose, and then said that we would probably head back to Philadelphia and would call her when we got there.
We packed; called a taxi; went to the train station; bought tickets to Philadelphia; and waited in the beautiful, huge, mobbed train station. Finally, we boarded our homeward bound train and, after a brief wait at the station, started moving through the pouring rain. I was sitting next to the window, and the rain and wind were so strong that water was seeping into the train car. We had not gotten very far, to Pleasantville, I think, when the train stopped. And we waited, and waited, and then the train reversed, back to the station. The bridge had been washed out.
We all got off the train, and tried to find a seat in the crowded station. I remember sitting on the suitcase because there was no room on any of the benches for my mother and me. After a while, somebody (I don't remember who) got up and gave my mother a seat. Since this was 1944, the train station was filled with military. Some were there because of R and R from WWII, and some were there to keep order. I remember being very thirsty and being told not to drink from the water fountain.
Eventually, the rain and wind stopped. The streets were still flooded but we went outside to look. I don't remember ever seeing the sky so full of stars, before or since. I now know that because there was no electricity, there were no interfering lights but, as a kid, I couldn't take my eyes off the sky. My mother hailed a taxi but he said the water was over the hubcaps and he couldn't drive. The military was patrolling. I stopped one. "I'm hungry and thirsty," I said. My mother was embarrassed. The soldier directed us to a shelter where they served us cheese sandwiches and milk. Then the shelter people took us to an old wooden Y. There was still no power, so we were led to our room by a woman who took the candle away with her when she left. She told us that she was afraid of fire.
Meanwhile, we did not know that my father was frantic. Aunt Naomi told him that, the last she heard, we were on our way to Philadelphia. The phone lines to Atlantic City were down and my father could not get through to anybody. He called the Atlantic City police and they told him that no one matching our descriptions had turned up. The police also told him to stay home. That the roads were closed and he could not get to Atlantic City. He called the Three A's and received the same message. In the morning, he called the police again, frantic, and they told him to come on down and they would see that he got through - and my father believed them -
and they were true to their word. In fact, they even gave him a police escort through the "do not enter" barricades.
We went to Aunt Rose and Uncle Sam's place. I was standing outside and my father appeared around the corner, ran over to me, scooped me up and carried me in.
Later that day, we drove back to our rental. The only damage to the house was an outside light that had been twisted.
The 1944 hurricane had no name. Hurricanes were not named until 1950.

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