Tweet Jean Payne retired 20 years ago from her job as an Orange County schoolteacher. These days, the 83-year-old tries her best to stay active and enjoys her free time with her energetic dog. “You’d think after 30 years of teaching autistic children, I could teach a dog not to jump. It’s a harder job,” Payne said. As Payne describes […]
Five days post-Irma. No power in my College Park grid. We’re all hot and bothered, but — after a weeklong buildup of terrifying predictions — we are finally, thankfully, safe and sound on the other side of Hurricane Irma.
This is the side where we meet neighbors outdoors to help with cleanup and get reacquainted or maybe get to know each other for the first time. The side where we sit around a table with family and piece together jigsaw puzzles and play games. The side where afternoon naps are more necessity than luxury. Where we open our windows and smell dinner cooking down the street and then lull ourselves into pitch-black sleep to the hum of generators. Where we can see the stars at night and greet the morning from front porches.
The side where it’s 1960 all over again.
If Irma was your first hurricane, you may recall it like your first kiss. You know, the one you’ll never forget and whose memory no other can hold a flashlight to.
My first hurricane was Donna, and it was 1960.
Donna blew into Florida September 10, the same day as Irma but 57 years later, with winds of 130 mph. It was the most destructive hurricane in Florida’s history at that time. Because of the storm’s devastation to Florida and the mortality associated with it, the name Donna was retired and replaced with Dora on the list for Atlantic storms.
My family lived on Ardsley Drive, which was still mostly undeveloped, with lots of citrus trees and palm trees in yards. Though I was only in kindergarten, Donna set my standard for hurricane preparedness — and a little native Floridian adventure.
Frantic preparations for Donna included a trip to the Ice House on Lake Highland to bring home chunks of ice for the storm. Every household filled the bathtub (and all containers) with fresh water. We had no such thing as convenient, bottled spring water in 1960, and Orlando Utilities water was still sourced in Lake Ivanhoe.
Donna’s destruction contaminated the lake; that tub of water became vital in the aftermath. And our neighbor’s pool filled with bobbing grapefruit blown off the old grove trees in Ardsley Manor.
We drove through the parts of College Park that flooded when we got 8.19 inches of rain in four hours, and we oohed and aahed at all the downed trees.
My favorite memory of Donna involved being allowed to go outside as the eye of the storm passed over Orlando. My brothers and I, along with neighboring friends, ventured out with our roller skates, umbrellas and sheets. As the winds picked up, we set sail down Quailey Avenue. After several trips, the winds grew stronger, and we had to crawl back up the street into the wind. We tested its force by leaning our entire weight into it without falling — things my daughter says parents might be arrested for allowing their children to do today!
These vivid memories somehow omit parental supervision but include a neighborhood hurricane party at our house for all the grownups. I recall my mother cooking in an iron pot in the fireplace, which seemed quite the novelty.
We didn’t miss our air conditioning because we didn’t have any. We still cooled our homes with attic fans and cross breezes from open windows.
Donna’s devastation stayed the benchmark through Charley, Frances, Jeanne and now Irma. But from my viewpoint as a child, I remember Donna more for its adventure than its danger.
The day after Hurricane Irma, as my family and I scoped out the destruction, a bright and beautiful double rainbow appeared over College Park, a glorious reminder that we are not alone, even in the dark aftermath of a hurricane.