Monday, August 1, 2016

Her Name Was Hazel But She Was No Lady

Were you ever in a hurricane? That’s a silly question to ask a Floridian. The answer is most likely “which one?” But today I’m thinking of one long-ago hurricane, Hazel, and October of 1954, as it neared the State of Delaware.

I was in the fourth grade, Mrs. Quillen’s class at Harrington Elementary, not quite ten years old. Mommy and I listened to the news the night before as the weatherman told us Hazel was in the Bahamas and not expected to be a threat to the U.S. mainland, but by the time I was on the school bus on the morning of October 15th, and unknown to us at the time, Hazel had made a unexpected left hand turn and was about to slam into North and South Carolina.

I remember looking out the huge plate glass windows on the east side of my classroom and wondering why it was getting so dark. All the lights were on in mid-morning. Then the announcement came, buses were coming to take us back home. I saw them lining up out front. I swallowed a few times and wondered if Mommy would be home from work or if I would be alone. I never thought to tell anyone.

As we gathered our book bags, Mrs. Quillen hurried us along and marched us outside in a line. It seemed like nighttime, still and quiet. The ride home was like any other day except for the headlights of oncoming cars. The bus driver didn’t drive any faster than usual and I chatted with my seatmate about everything including the hurricane. None of us had ever seen one before and if this was what all the hullabaloo was about, it didn’t look like anything to be scared of.

The bus stopped to let me off and I used my door key to get in, in to darkness. The wind was starting to blow and I felt a few whopper raindrop plops as I stepped inside. Mommy wasn’t there. I turned on all the lights and wondered what I should do. I looked out the living room window. The wind was picking up and flattening the tall dead grasses next door. The sugar maples planted along the highway out front must have shed hundreds of orange leaves as the wind swirled them past my lookout post. I wished for Mommy to come home. I stayed glued to the window even though I couldn’t see much. It wasn’t long until my wish was granted.

I saw the headlights bobbing through the rain as the vehicle neared our driveway. The driver kindly pulled in and deposited Mommy almost at our front door, and I held it open as she quickly came inside, turning to wave to her friend that all was well.

That night was one of the scariest of my life. Rain pummeled our house, the wind screeched and blew things against our walls that we could not see. The power went off and we were in total darkness until Mommy lit the kerosene lamp and then the shadows made me think I was in a horror movie. It rained and rained some more. We played gin rummy by lamp light and I ate melting ice cream until I felt sick, all the while listening to the background noise of Hazel. Finally, I fell into a stressed, nightmarish sleep.

I woke to an eerie dawn almost like twilight, no wind, no rain, but the air seemed full of something. I heard frogs croaking and saw that water covered our lawn. Sticks and limbs and crushed maple leaves were everywhere. Out front a couple telephone poles leaned, stretching the wires tight. Big power trucks were already parked a ways down the road. Mommy was fixing us cereal with warm milk.

Later that day Uncle Parvin brought concrete blocks and boards, and he made a bridge-like path for us to walk above the water. He warned me not to get brave and walk in the water because you wouldn’t know what might be in there. I wasn’t that brave anyway. It took the water forever to go down. The muck and yuck that remained had a not so nice smell.

After the power came back on, we heard that the winds had been over 100 miles per hour, that the storm had roared through at 50 miles per hour, and that a lady in Wilmington was killed when she was picked up and slammed into a trolley car. A few days later we rode by the Dover Armory and saw its roof lying on the ground, deposited there by Hazel. Newspapers reported a total of four Delawareans perished as a result of the storm. Hazel left its footprint on Rehoboth Beach, my favorite place, with damage to hotels, the boardwalk, and excessive beach erosion.

Hazel traveled on up into Canada, merged with a cold front but continued to do lots of damage. It was unusual that a hurricane, a category 4 when it pelted the Carolinas, got that far north and stayed that strong. I thanked my lucky stars that Mommy came home when she did. And better yet, no school for a few days, which usually only happened for snow. Even hurricanes had a tiny silver lining.


  1. Good story, Connie. I could feel your fear and tension. We're lucky to have better predictions now than we had then. I remember Hazel's destruction but must have slept through the storm. We lived in upstate NY. My father had gone to PA and was on his way home. Later, he told me he must have been driving through the eye as it was calm where he was, but he could see barns collapse along the road. He must have had 9 lives. He survived crazy things like that all the time.

  2. Oh, Connie, does this sound real! As a Midwestern transplant, my first hurricane introduction was in Houston. I learned real respect and understand the erie feel of the air. Enjoyed your story a lot.