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Emails to my Therapist

Storm Target: Houston, We Have a Problem

Nicholas, Talking about my life feels wrong while Houston is under water. Seeing what the storm has done there, I feel I have no problems to solve. The damage there is horrific. But as a child I thought hurricanes were a great adventure. Nothing shows a change of perspective more than how my view of them has altered. There are always disasters underway somewhere in the world, but this one feels personal, perhaps because I grew up in a seeming storm target, Wilmington, NC.

Sedan car swamped by flood water in Humble, Texas, US by Harvey Tropical Storm. Flooded car under deep water flood road. hurricane harvey Disaster Severe weather c

What hurricanes meant to me as a child was school’s out, lights out, candles, Vienna sausages out of the can for dinner, huge uprooted trees suddenly made climbable, thrillingly strong wind. I remember my mother reminding me that people were hurt by hurricanes, but that didn’t temper my glee.

My younger brothers shared my excitement. I think it was an eye-opener for Mom when she saw some change in their attitudes. On the phone as one hurricane approached, she said with some amusement: your middle-aged brothers are down here checking on their property.


fallen tree on roof of house

I was five when the famously ferocious Hurricane Hazel made landfall close by. I have a vague memory of gray rain that I may have made up. My brothers (twins) would have been toddlers at the time, and my father was in Cuba on a merchandise buying trip for my parents’ business. I don’t believe my mother was finding that storm a great adventure.

When Daddy heard Hazel was heading for Wilmington, he started toward home. Fayetteville was the closest place planes were still landing. Arriving there, with no other options, he made a deal with an intrepid cab driver for an unaffordable sum to drive him straight into the hurricane. My mom says when he appeared at the door, she burst into tears of relief.

Back then, I never knew about the scary parts. It was all drama and the world turned interestingly upside down. What could be better!

I still find wild water exciting–from a safe distance. However…

ocean wave storm stormy sky

Seeing the pictures and film clips of the destruction in a city larger than New Jersey is stunning. The shock is made more so by the fact of global warming and the rising of sea level, the increasing intensity of storms.

All those people crammed into shelters! Once in my own storm history a family who lived near the water rode out a hurricane with us in our house.  It wasn’t long before people started getting just a little testy. And that was only nine people for a few days in a house with two working toilets.

When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, I watched on TV from the comfort of a clean hospital bed after a bit of not-life-threatening surgery. I felt a very personal stake in that one; my novel-in-progress at the time, Cobalt Blue, was set in Pinehurst and pre-Katrina New Orleans. I’d spent so much time living in my vision of that city, hated seeing it a storm target,  irreparably torn.

Harvey has brought to mind a flood that I didn’t take seriously at the time. At my 50th high school reunion last year in Wilmington, the Friday night festivities were interrupted by quickly rising water in the Cape Fear River next to the hotel.  A party full of 68 year-olds rushed for the parking areas. By the time I got to the front of the building, the aptly-named Water Street was a wide stream about two feet deep between me and my car. I waded across and raced the fast-moving water to my car on the first level of the parking deck. I won by a margin of a few feet.

I’ve long imagined the town of Wilmington safe from the rising warming ocean, because it’s a few miles inland, up the river. Now I realize that the threat to my dear beautiful historically-troubled nostalgia-rich hometown is from the river. Because all the waters are connected. I’m sure feeling the connection with Houston.

But, characteristically, I’ve wound up talking about my own life anyway. At least no gripes about problems.

Trusting you’re safely high and dry,




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  • Stephanie Olsen East
    September 1, 2017 at 2:27 am Reply

    Peggy — I can relate so much to your post. I too was a four year old in Wilmington when Hazel came through. It was quite an adventure! My cousins who lived at Wrightsville Beach came to stay with us and we kids had a grand time, never realizing the human tragedy. I realize now how vulnerable Wilmington is and I am concerned for all my family who remain there; but that has not stopped me from thinking about moving back home!

    • Peggy Payne
      September 1, 2017 at 1:53 pm Reply

      I’m impressed you remember so much of it, Stephanie. I can well understand how you’d consider moving back. I’m glad to be so close. I hope things are good with you. It has been a long time.

  • Judy Carrino
    September 1, 2017 at 1:41 pm Reply

    None of us can fathom the destruction in Houston right now. It is unbelievable that we could ever be subject to such weather here. One thing is for certain; it puts our problems on the back burner, and makes any trouble at home redundant.

    • Peggy Payne
      September 1, 2017 at 1:54 pm Reply

      I don’t seem to believe we could have such trouble here, the way I also think I’ll probably not get around to dying.

  • Robert Braxton
    September 2, 2017 at 12:48 am Reply

    the software ate my comment

    • Peggy Payne
      September 2, 2017 at 1:54 am Reply

      I’m sorry it did that, Bob!

  • September 2, 2017 at 1:48 am Reply

    ” It’s a hard,…it’s a hard,’…it’s a hard Rain’s .. gonna fall. ” – Nobel Prize winning American poet

    • Peggy Payne
      September 2, 2017 at 1:55 am Reply

      And I wish the distribution were a little more even.

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