So, I was walking my Big Dog late last night. [Correction: He was walking me–100+ pounds of Weimaraner galloping through our streets. There’s a reason we walk after nine at night…very few people left out to be terrified of a humongous grey ghost.] And, just as any cool night gives him an extra pep to his parading, the added wind sent his big ears flapping and set his tail to wagging even harder. It was pure bliss on the streets last night!
Now, you must know something…Big Dog is ten years old, which is “over the hill” in big dog years, and so he mostly just lies on his bed from morn until night. Somehow, though, that internal alarm goes off about nine each night. When that happens, he will come and sit staring at me with his big blue eyes (yes, some Weimaraner have blue eyes) and I hear the ever-present “tch-tch-tch-tch” of his tail wagging against the floor. This will progress to whimpering, and finally a gigantic paw on my lap if I don’t quickly proceed to the door to walk him.
So, I bundled a sweatshirt over my pajamas and ventured out alone because my husband and son weren’t budging. [Correction: They were actually involved in an online battle of Call of Duty 2 and totally ignoring everything non-virtual in the household, including me.] So, it was just my Big Dog and me. [Note: There is a Little Dog, a Yorkie, who slips through our fence daily to walk himself around the neighborhood. Joggers’ Achilles beware!]
We were only partway down the street when through the trees I could see the southern skyline, beautifully dark with these graceful white clouds silently sailing past. Funny how rain clouds look white at night. At any rate, these clouds weren’t just sailing past, they were flat-out motoring! [Note: At this point in our walk, Big Dog is hunched over to take a dump, so I am trying desperately to blend into the shadows because I’ve forgotten a “doggie bag.” Meanwhile, our Big Cat, a humongous Main Coon who is part bloodhound and leans more towards his dog heritage than cat, meows loudly from behind. He has decided to go on our walk with us. “Shhhh,” I hushed him, but Big Cat decided he was coming.]
Big Dog is finally off and galloping down the street, and so I avoid tripping over Big Cat and manage to return my attention to the clouds overhead. I find myself reminded of the clouds swirling the night Hurricane Charley made his riotous stomp across in Central Florida. We had recently moved into our current house, had an additional cat and big dog, as well as three giant Laurel Oaks in the front yard. My husband and I had sat in the front yard then, watching the clouds sprint past the setting sun. We all knew Charley was coming, but being native Floridians, we hadn’t made the ridiculous panicked raid on the grocery stores quite as aptly as our local weather men wanted us to. [Note: My father had actually done that for us. My parents had come over the spend the night in our cement block house–compared to their 1926 wooden house that sits underneath a giant oak tree–and he brought appropriate supplies consisting of the right amount of Sonny’s Sweet Tea and bottles of wine.]
My family’s ability to not worry too much about hurricanes probably dates back to my grandmother Agnes, who was born in Winter Park in 1900. [Note: She loved the beach, and her family would make the all-day trek to New Smyrna via horse and buggy and then ferry once they reached the intracoastal waterway. She and her sister Eleanor built a ocean-front home just as soon as they could afford to, and she would often spend weeks there at a time.] Part of our family lore now tells of Agnes and her sister sitting on the porch merrily watching Hurricane Betsy roll through. [Note: Eleanor’s husband was terrified!]
These hurricane stories entered my mind as Big Dog rounded the corner to head home. [Note: Big Cat has decided he is tired of walking and has rolled over onto his back in the middle of the street. I grunted as I picked up his 20+ pounds of sagging furry flesh lest a car decides to make a late night run.] Thus burdened, my mind returned to our neighborhood and how it changed in just a few short hours of Charley’s temper tantrum. All three oak trees down in our front yard. At least a hundred uprooted along the streets of our neighborhood, fully blocking the driveways, tearing down telephone wires and electricity. People had nearly drowned in their own sweat as the hot days slowly passed, and even worse, they suddenly had to entertain bored children who had no X-Boxes to play and no televisions or DVDs to watch.
Water stations were even taken offline. [Note: I am on the same a power grid as a nearby water station, so we received power back with three days. My brother who lived one street over had to wait over two weeks for power! Muhahaha! Okay, okay, I let his family spend quite a bit of time at my house…they even bathed in our pool!]
As Big Cat and I continued to walk [Note: I walked. Big Cat rode on my weary shoulder.] it was hard to believe our idyllic little neighborhood had ever been so rudely uprooted. New trees have matured to take the place of their fallen brothers. Grass and bushes have covered the scars in the earth. Memories have long forgotten the days of misery we all spent inside our houses, jumping into pools for showers, leaving windows open while hoping for a breath of wind. Thankfully, no sign of destruction was now visible.
Central Florida had seen the worst of a hurricane (a rare occurence in the middle of the state) but we had also seen the best in our neighbors. Strangers walked around with chainsaws. [Note: I normally run from strangers with chainsaws.] Those with power ran extensions cords to the needy. People smiled and offered water or ice to passersby. Children played in the streets. And so, another set of Dicken’s words come to mind this Christmas: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” I met neighbors I never even knew I had! [Note: I have rarely seen them in the years since.]
So, this holiday season, as I continue to find things I am thankful for, I’ve decided several things:
1) Big Cat needs to go on a diet.
2) Be thankful 2009 was hurricane light.
3) Appreciate my neighbors more.
4) Love Central Florida for everything it offers.
5) Cherish the times we have–both good and bad–because sometimes they are the only times you have.
[Note: My brother passed away last year. Every memory really does count; even those that include bathing miserably in a swimming pool.]