5:00 am, my husband rises early to check on Sandy’s progress as she barrels toward the coast. The coffee grinder hums, and soon after the slow steady intoxicating drip invades the air. Out of nowhere he is back, casually mentioning that they are on the way over to our house along with their over sized lion- like cats. In the days leading up to the storm island residents bustled about, placing sand bags near doors, bringing outdoor furniture inside, boarding up windows, battening down the hatches so to speak. Not these two, they wandered about jokingly asking if they could come up should things get bad. Or at least that is what we thought…
As the day progressed I called friends and family members warning them that I could one day be the topic of a dateline episode. Not because I had in fact survived Hurricane Sandy, but because I survived my uninvited guests during Hurricane Sandy. I couldn’t put into words what was happening, and how we had been descended upon by our thankless, lackadaisical, oblivious neighbors who were behaving as if they were on holiday, not in the path of an approaching superstorm.
We could never have turned them away, but in hindsight should have recommended they seek shelter elsewhere in the days leading up to the storm. The “Sugar Shack” as others in the neighborhood affectionately called it, was a ground floor structure where the couple took up residence several years before. It actually was a converted garage, pieced together, creating the illusion of a house.
They waded through the water, carrying their possessions in garbage bags, and their Maine- coon cats hissing and shaking in undersized plastic carriers. The woman wondered where she would allow these beasts to stretch their legs. Of course they would need to ride out the storm in our hall bath, they could exercise after the storm had passed. The man plopped his filthy sopping wet wigwam socks onto our cooler in the hall which housed all the food we had on ice, should we lose power. It was going to be a long couple of hours. He rolled up his wet jeans, fluffed and placed a down filled throw pillow under his head as he stretched himself out on the sofa and asked “when are you going to break the grub out?”
It had been a while since I saw my son, just 10 at the time. I vaguely remember mentioning to him that he should brush his teeth. As I slowly opened the door to the hall bath, there he was. Terrified, sweating, and curled into a tight ball balancing on the edge of the countertop, begging to be rescued from the howling animals nipping at his feet. This was one of countless instances of trauma the wild felines would inflict on this day.
We got the call from a friend around 2:00pm that day, it looked like Ocean City was directly in the eye of the storm. We had 45 minutes to make it off the island. Through the streaked sliding glass door I could see there were countless waves in the bay, floating docks and ramps seemingly in reversed position, and water surrounding our small home as far as the eye could see. After hours of tortuous questions from our two high maintenance house guests, serving them frequent snacks and meals, washing several loads of their laundry, wiping up spilled cups of coffee, cleaning bay mud from atop the rug, scrubbing their fingertip shaped grease stains from the kitchen walls, and witnessing various cat created bathroom messes, we decided we should evacuate the island, and drop them off somewhere safe along the way. “Where will we go?” she asked. Suddenly THEY were now part of my WE.
As we rode over the bridge, I took stock of the situation, and suddenly realized I had no saliva in my mouth. Four adults, two children (clad in lifejackets with flashlights tightly tied around their necks- don’t ask), three cats, and various pieces of mismatched luggage, were all shoved into our Jeep. Leaving Ocean City on the left hand side of the bridge, as the right side was impassable, the car fought its way through the water and wind and up the steep incline bringing us to safety on the mainland. The moment was surreal, and looking back comical.
Arriving back onto the island days later we found our home suffered very little damage. The bay had entered our townhouse the day before the storm, and had not totally made its exit just yet. Silt covered our complex, debris was everywhere, a boat had floated into the fence, our floating docks were slightly damaged, and our house smelled of cold clam chowder. Still, we counted ourselves to be among the luckiest inhabitants on the island.
Lessons I learned: Always evacuate the island when you are told to. If you choose to live in a home by the bay, get comfortable with the idea of the bay coming into that home from time to time. Vodka in a spray bottle is a great disinfectant for upholstered furniture killing odor causing bacteria. Pet hair sticks to rubber gloves, Swiffer pads can be worn on your feet, using vinegar and baking soda in the washing machine recharges the absorbency of your guest towels (and disinfects them as well), this also cleans the inside of your washing machine; two birds, one stone. Kool Aid left in the toilet overnight is a great way to get rid of those unwanted stains and odors, liquid detergent removes mud stains, and white chalk rubbed onto walls removes greasy fingerprints.
Be kind to your neighbors (but don’t casually invite them to stay with you during a weather event, especially when you aren’t even sure of their names)!
Sitting high and dry in Mrs. Hoover’s house during the January blizzard and subsequent flooding, we heard the rumor that they knocked again on the townhouse door asking the new owner for refuge…
Interested in redesigning your beach home? Maureen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.