The Year of Hurricanes

Nothing was as memorable to me as the hurricane seasons of 1954-1955, which we waited out in the basement of our little house on Sand Pond Rd. The sounds of the raging winds, and debris hitting our home, will be forever etched in the corners of my mind. I will never forget hurricanes Carol, Edna, Hazel, Connie, and Diane. They wreaked havoc on our little house in Norwood, RI (As it was known then) I had Rheumatic Fever at the time, but I hardly remember that. Traumatic events leave vivid memories even at that tender age of four.

On August 31, 1954, hurricane Carol hit the shores of New England. We watched the winds pick up blowing the trees in one direction and now and then they would sway back and forth in the winds; but it wasn’t long before our mother herded the five of us into the basement where she thought we would be safe from the debris.

The basement was dark and we had no lights now. As we listened silently with our childlike excitement, we were left to what our imagination would conjure up. I wondered what was happening upstairs and my thoughts were mixed with fear and each of us imagining what was happening outside. The walls themselves seemed to shudder as if they felt chilled to the bone each time the wind gusts would reach their peak of 130 mph.

Time dragged on as the winds kept increasing. I felt safe until the winds screamed at the height of their fury. It was so loud, that our small human voices could barely be heard over them even sitting right next to each other. Then a loud crash and the walls of the house shuddered. The walls would shake as each piece hit the kitchen wall and suddenly, the excitement that I was feeling turned to fear. I felt my eyes widening with each deafening slam of that wood. To my four-year-old ears, and imagination, it was the big bad wolf trying to blow our house down, and he was winning. This wasn’t fun anymore, it was terrifying.

We kept calling to our mom to ask her what that horrible noise was and why the walls kept shaking but she couldn’t hear us. So, my older sister went upstairs and got her attention. She came back downstairs with mom on her heels. Mom told us that each gust of wind was picking up a piece of plywood from our neighbors’ yard and it was being slammed against our house. She told us that there were only eight more pieces of plywood left so there would be eight more loud crashes, and it was okay we were safe in the basement.

Terror turned to dread as the sound of shattering glass and wood being torn apart drained the blood from my face. Along with that, the winds were now blowing louder and with a penetrating, shrill to it. We didn’t even know that the porch was in pieces, and there was a hole in the wall that a large limb of the acorn tree had come down on top of the porch also breaking the window in the other room. Suddenly our ears began hurting. The winds were deafening now as they blew through the house upstairs. I shook until the storm was over. It was hours before the storm passed over and out of the area.

Edna came on September 11th, which we waited out in the basement also. This time, the storm raged without any serious incident. Hazel followed on the 15th of October. Since this storm was not as severe as Carol, and nothing happened during Edna, we were allowed upstairs on the main floor for a period of time. Even though the general winds were not as strong as Carol’s were, the wind gusts were well over 100 mph. Somehow the winds sounded louder on the main floor than the basement. I couldn’t quite understand the concept of that. We knew when the kerosene lamps came out, we went to the basement

We had been playing in my bedroom, which was next to the kitchen, and on the same side that the wind was blowing. My mother decided to move us to the other side of the house, out of harm’s way. As she closed the two doors between the rooms, that horrible sound of shattering glass and deafening winds again filled the house once more. Glass blew everywhere, even blowing under the door of the room we were in. This time it was worse, my fright turned to horror, because I knew that my father was in that room when the glass broke. The wind was howling so loudly that nothing else could be heard above it. My screams of concern for my father were drowned out by the powerful winds that were now whipping through the rooms shaking the walls, and rattling the doors with a terrifying insistence.

I know my parents were screaming just to be heard by the other, but their voices were still lost in the wind. I remember feeling that familiar panic setting in and the wait seemed like an eternity. A child’s imagination can run wild and mine was impeccable. I could see my parents being sucked out the window, cut to shreds by the broken glass, and helplessly bleeding to death. There was indescribable relief when my mother came in after they got the hole boarded up, and announced that my father had only received a small cut on his finger, and only needed a band aid.

Again, the winds had ripped off another large part of the very old, and very large, acorn tree that stood in the neighbor’s yard. For the rest of the storm, we sat downstairs. There were two more hurricanes in August of 1955. Connie came first and Diane came a week later. Their winds weren’t too bad, but the rains were, and the ground became rain soaked and the puddles were getting bigger, bigger than I’ve ever seen them. When the eye of the hurricane was overhead the air was perfectly still, not a single leaf that was left on the trees was moving. The water was up to the porch steps but still we were allowed to sit on the front porch. That’s when I saw how much water was in our yard and street. Mom decided we needed to move upstairs to the main floor. Our father called us in just before the rain and the winds came again, and we played games in my parents’ bedroom while we waited out the storm and the flooding. It always felt like an eternity waiting for the storms to go past us. Hurricanes last for hours upon hours which is a lifetime in kid’s eyes.

I used to remember that year with fond memories, but as I read my own story, a small girl inside shivers at the thought of hurricanes. Why shouldn’t she? That whole year felt as if her world was going to end with each hurricane.

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