MY PARENTS AND HURRICANE WILMA
RULE FIFTEEN: EXPECT FALLOUT IF YOU RELOCATE PARENTS DURING
A NATURAL DISASTER (BUT DO IT ANYWAY!)
In October, 2005, Hurricane Wilma hit south Florida. It was only thirteen months after Frances and Jeanne had hit. Wilma went across the Gulf of Mexico and hit Cozumel as a Category 5 storm, then turned around and took aim at Florida's west coast. Its eastward path would carry it across the Everglades toward Ft. Lauderdale, just below us.
Ten years before, I had relocated my parents from Connecticut to Boynton Beach, just five miles from Charley and me in Florida. In 2005 Mom was 89; Dad was 93. I had left them alone in their cinderblock house for Hurricane Frances, a Category 2. During Jeanne, almost a Category 4 storm, my mother and I had mopped up all night in their house. When Wilma bore down, I made reservations for the four of us at the Hampton Inn in Brunswick, Georgia.
My parents protested that all their neighbors were staying in their homes. After age eighty, the herd mentality took over, reminding me of a bunch of teenagers. Evacuation to a shelter was unthinkable, because of the prevalence of germs. "God knows what we'd catch! Besides, we don't want to listen to screaming children all night," Dad insisted. "We'd be on cots and wouldn't sleep at all. We need a bathroom close by and the toilets would be overflowing."
We each packed one suitcase. In addition, I'd put water, snack items, rain gear, books, lanterns, blankets, and some canned food in the car. I'd recharged my cell phone and gone through a check list for our residences. Mom brought her knitting.
On the drive up Route 95, there was dead silence from the back seat. My parents were punishing Charley and me for uprooting them from their home without just cause! At a rest stop we heard, "Bob (next-door) says this will only be a tropical storm. Why do we have to leave our house? Bob has a generator and Ann is the new block captain, with a satellite phone."
"You certainly have a lot of faith in Bob's weather predictions!" I replied. There was no point arguing.
Wilma got stuck over the Yucatan. Mom lectured, "You are a worrier, Pam, and we should never have left Leisureville. Besides, we're missing Doc Schenecke's 90th birthday party, and he came to my party last fall!" My mother the social butterfly??? She hated even going to block parties right in front of her house, especially if she had to bring a dish.
The inhabitants of the Hampton Inn that weekend were all Florida residents, driven out by caution over the storm warnings. Saturday and Sunday Charley and I listened to a litany of complaints about my parents' accommodations. The beds were too soft; there were only three T.V. stations; the toilet seats were too low (after all, they had replaced all theirs in their Leisureville house with high-rises); there was no Florida newspaper at breakfast. "Let's go shopping at the mall," I suggested.
"No thanks, I think we'll stay right here." Charley and I left them in front of the T.V.'s giant screen in the lobby.
The next day: "Why don't you both come to a matinee with us?"
"No thanks, I think we'll just stay here."
By Monday morning, Wilma was gathering strength and heading east across Florida. It finally hit our area, nearly a Category 3. We, however, ate a leisurely breakfast in Georgia, read, napped, and went out for an early dinner.
"You know, Charley, I think it was a very wise decision we made not to stay in our house," Dad informed us. "My God, what am I eating? Catfish??"