Red sky at morning: sailors' warning;
Red sky at night: sailors' delight.
The sky this morning is glowing coppery, reddish pink. You don't grow up on a barrier island without learning how to pay attention to the weather and you don't survive something like the Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962 without acquiring a respect for it.
I wasn't quite three years old when a perfect confluence of events - a big nor'easter, a spring high tide and a full moon, all conspired to create the conditions which spawned the storm to which the records books still peg. We lived five blocks from the beach, and five blocks from the bay. I remember kneeling perched on a dining room chair, watching out the big picture window as the ocean came swirling up the street. I remember the water lapping at our front steps and flooding the backyard.
I remember neighbors gathering in our house, friends of my parents from more low-lying points on the island. One couple had a little boy, just a couple years older than me. We were watching out the window as night fell and the waters rose and the adults babbled behind us. Suddenly, Ashie shook me and pointed. "The gas station's on fire!" he cried.
Diagonally across the street from my great-grandfather's house, which stood beside ours on the corner, was a gas station. I looked but didn't see anything. "No it isn't," I said. The words had no sooner left my mouth than an enormous plume of blue and orange flame exploded out of one tiny window in the secord floor of the garage, as high as the roof of my great-grandfather's house.
The adults behind us sprung into action.
My mother remembers the shadows of the flames dancing on the walls as she ran screaming, for my 13 month old brother. I remember the enormous civil defense truck that trundled down the alley, and the uniformed men who scooped me up and put me on my grandmother's lap. I remember my great-grandfather arguing as my father and the other men hustled him down the steps of his battleship of a house.
I remember my mother spreading blankets on a desk at a building on Wesley Avenue that I forever harbored warm and fuzzy feelings for. Years later, on a walk to church, I remember asking my grandmother what the building was. She said it was the telephone company's building and that it was used as a shelter because it was one of the few on the island built of brick.
I remember waking up in my own bed and wondering if it were all a dream.
My father said what saved the neighborhood was the fact that it was March, and still cold enough that all the roofs were coated with a thin layer of ice. Also, everything was saturated by the rain which had fallen more or less steadily for three days, and the fire could only burn to the water line, which on that night, was nearly two feet. The gas station might've burned down anyway. So in a way, he said, what saved our houses was the storm itself.
The world outside my window is absolutely still. Every now and then a crow cries or a jay calls. Only the crickets sing. The dogs have been acting funny since yesterday. The color has faded and the sky is leaden gray. It's the sort of weather that would send my grandmother scurrying to close windows and tie up awnings and bring in flower pots.
May Irene pass gently on her way. Blessed be.