For school today, our family watched a National Geographic show about hurricanes, focusing on the hurricane season of 2004 – the year of Charlie, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne. To remind you, Charlie went across the Florida peninsula, Frances also hit the peninsula, Ivan devastated the Florida panhandle, and Jeanne hit the Florida coast after devastating Haiti.
Now, you’re probably wondering, how does this affect someone who was living in The Great White North in 2004? Fair question. First of all, my parents live in West Palm Beach, Florida. The don’t live near the coast, so they don’t typically evacuate. They live in a solid concrete house, but it is surrounded by lots of trees. They also have a screened in pool. The screen was damaged after Frances, but it was about a year before they could get it fixed because all the contractors were busy with other jobs. My in-laws lived in Brandon, FL. They were also inland enough that their main worries were trees, power loss, and disruptions in other services.
In October of 2004, we took a trip to Baton Rouge to visit with Mr. Math Tutor’s grandmother (Grammy). We also got to spend time with Mr. Math Tutor’s parents (Grandma and PawPaw) who came up from Brandon for a visit. We spent some time on Sunday afternoon with Grammy, Grandma, and PawPaw, and Mr. Math Tutor’s brother and his family. On Monday, we went to LSU (our alma mater) to show the kids Mike the Tiger. Well, it was Mike’s birthday and there was a news crew out doing some filming and they interviewed PawPaw (Mr. Math Tutor’s dad) since he remembered the very first Mike the Tiger. That night in our hotel, we watched the piece on the news. Tuesday morning, we took Grandma and PawPaw to the airport for their trip back to Florida, and we drove north to Mississippi to meet my parents (Grandpa and Grams) at their trailer where they are going to build their retirement home. Their trailer sits in the middle of one of three tiny spots in the country where we do not get cell phone reception.
At about midnight, my parents got a call from Mr. Math Tutor’s brother telling us that PawPaw had been taken to the hospital. Thankfully, he had my parents Mississippi phone number from an old email since our cell phones didn’t work. An hour later, he called to tell us that PawPaw had died.
Early the next morning (needless to say, we hadn’t slept much at all that night), we packed the van back up and headed down to Florida. My parents had skipped driving I-10 to avoid any traffic hassles from the hurricanes since several areas of the highway had been badly damaged. They had since, discovered, though, that the highway was passable. The highway department had used pieces of the damaged highway to make a complete 2-way I-10 (only one lane each way) through the Panhandle. As we got close to Brandon, I started calling to make a reservation at a hotel for us to stay at overnight. We didn’t realize that there were almost no hotel rooms available since people displaced by the hurricanes were now living in hotels. In addition, there was a PGA tournament in Tampa that weekend. I managed to find a place for us to stay. I should have known that we were in for an unpleasant night when we got there (totally exhausted and emotionally worn-out) and found that we did our transaction with the clerk through a little window and that the lobby was closed after dark. Our room wasn’t too bad, but we’re pretty sure there was a drug deal going down in the hall. EEK!
The next morning, Grandma told us that she had heard that our hotel was frequently raided on drug busts. She had made some calls, though, and found a bed and breakfast with room for us. This B&B was in a neighborhood very close to Grandma’s house. It wasn’t supposed to be open because the wife usually did the hosting, but she was out of town. The husband, though, opened the place for us after he heard about our predicament. It ended up being wonderful. We stayed in a little out-building right next to a little swimming pool. I could bring the kids (ours and a cousin) to get out of all the grown-up emotion.
We did have one other interesting event during that week, although it wasn’t related to the hurricane. After the wake, I was going to take the kids to get some food then to the hotel room to swim then watch a movie. The cousin didn’t eat fast food – ever. He had recently watched SuperSize Me and wouldn’t touch anything from McDonalds or Wendy’s. We went by a Chinese restaurant and waited for 20 minutes to get him a meal. Then, it was off to Wendy’s to get my kids something to eat – the 6 and 9 year old wanted good, old-fashioned fast food. We stood in line for 15 minutes and got to the front to hear that they were out of french fries. Out of french fries?? I wanted to scream at the person, “You can’t be out of french fries! These children’s grandfather just died and the least they can have is some lousy french fries!” But, not being given to confrontation, I calmly left the place and drove around for a few minutes to find a McDonald’s which DID have french fries. Then, back to the B&B where the kids had a great time and I recovered from my exertions.
I will always remember the hurricane season of 2004 because of how it affected our lives several months later. I’ll also be eternally grateful to the man who opened up the B&B so my family could sleep on beds and not be in a drug-ridden area of town!