The Superstorm and the hutch…
Published 8:06 pm Wednesday, September 6, 2017
There is an old hutch in our breakfast room that needs refinishing. Every time I go to get the sandpaper, I wind up putting it back in my tool bin. This old worn cherry piece of furniture tells a story of survival, hardship, and two people whose lives were saved because they once owned it.
It was March 1993 and my parents had moved from LaGrange to Crystal River, Florida 20 years earlier. Dad left Georgia to manage the development of a cluster home community four miles west of Crystal River toward the Gulf of Mexico.
For years it was idyllic. The waters from the gulf wrapped around seawalls surrounding the community. The land was flat and the ocean calm. Fish jumped, dolphins played, frogs croaked and crabs scampered.
My children and I spent all our vacations at my parent’ fun residence. Both of my dad’s brothers bought homes and retired. The brothers told stories and laughed at their own youthful memories as the kids played and created their own.
Then the winds came and the sea churned as if Mother Nature flew into a rage.
It was simply called, “The Storm of the Century.” It was caused by cyclonic activity in the distant waters off the Gulf of Mexico. Before it finished its destructive path, it had caused 12-foot storm surges as it hit the Gulf’s sandy beaches. More had drowned from this storm’s rage than from Hurricane’s Hugo and Andrew combined. It created snow and ice storms, spawned tornados, knocked out power to 10 million people, and affected the lives of 40 percent of all American citizens.
On the morning of March 13, 1993 many people that lived in the community Dad managed, evacuated. They left everything. Some were taken my helicopter and others by military transport.
My parents decided to stay. My 79-year-old father felt responsible for others and, foolishly, thought he could save their property and belongings. A strong man with a heart condition was determined to save the day! Funny, how our minds have no concept of what we can withstand.
The water started to rise at an alarming rate. They piled furniture as high as they could. They went door to door to make sure all were either gone or safe.
When the water reached their waist inside their home, the tallest place they could find was atop the beautiful cherry hutch mother had bought in the 1950s. They precariously sat on its top ledge and held on to each other.
Finally, some folks found them and moved them to a safe place.
My phone rang. It was the first time I ever heard panic in my mother’s voice and shaking in the words my father spoke. I began to cry.
Ice was starting to form on the power lines as I looked out my window in Atlanta. There was no way to reach them, help them, or begin to understand what they had just gone through.
Mother Nature had just created the Storm of the Century and ended the idyllic life my parents had known.
Mom no longer wanted to stay in Florida and no amount of comfort could ease her fear. We all understood.
By the time they moved to Atlanta, many of their possessions had been given away. The only furniture they brought were the pieces they loved, yet were damaged from the flood.
Especially the old hutch. Its legs were bleached and dry. A door didn’t quite shut all the way. The drawers stuck a bit and salt water had dulled its hardware.
“I figured, I would fix her up and use her anyway. She is one piece of furniture I couldn’t part with. That old hutch saved our lives!” she would say as she decorated its shelves and put oil on its poor legs.
I often sit and gaze at the unscratched panes of glass in the top doors and wonder how they did not break. I always am trying to keep that bottom door shut. I keep adding more oil to the old legs that held up my mom and dad as the water rose around them.
Sixty-two years ago, the furniture store delivered the most beautiful piece of furniture I had ever seen. Mama was so proud to own it. Dad was happy for her. She filled it with her china, and kept it polished with her lemon oil.
Today, even with her damaged legs, her door that never shuts, she will stand regal, beautiful and proud just as she is. She is a reminder of the survival, courage and strength of the people she saved and the parents I loved.
There are some things even floods can’t wash away.
Lynn Walker Gendusa is a former resident and writer who currently resides in Roswell. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org