They did the obvious work first: removing the tree that was snapped by 155 mph winds and fell on their roof then rolled onto the back of their truck. They took pictures of the damage for the insurance claim they’d file in the coming days. Then they began picking through the water saturated things inside this house in the Florida panhandle that is a gathering place for our family.
Ten days later and there is no electricity but cell coverage is coming back in spurts. My cousin drove an hour and half away to have wifi and file a claim with their homeowners insurance. They were the only ones inside a restaurant they found open at the beach to celebrate her husband’s 60th birthday. This will be one none of us will forget.
We live 9 hours south and have had our scares with hurricanes. Last year we evacuated as Irma took aim in our direction but unlike Panama City, we escaped a direct hit and Irma’s punch was much lighter. It doesn’t matter if you live in tornado alley, on a fault line or where annual blizzards cover your cars there is nothing to prepare you for sifting through your life amid the ruins of your home.
When my cousin found a spot of cell coverage she called and quickly said, “We’re okay”. In an instant you realize all the stuff is just that and you celebrate life.
We’ve been able to talk to a few times. Each time we speak I hear her old self coming back but this devastating event will remake her like they’ll remake their home.
Boxes of photo albums had expanded with water were pulled from the attic. Some were beyond saving but the ones in frames made it. Pieces of their life sat in piles to save or trash.
She sent texts as she sorted through. I wish I could have been there with her. She’s not a cryer but I know my eyes would have teared up and maybe together we’d have let a few tears fall. We would have found humor where we could because it’s what our family does. But the texts were good. Her words connected us.
As she sifted through the damp and curled pieces she found love letters between she and her husband when they were dating. They had survived Hurricane Michael just as their love has survived. Thirty-eight years of marriage doesn’t come without figurative storms and they’ve had a few. We’ve all had those moments when we surveyed the damage and made decisions to rebuild or not.
Standing in the middle of their house with a gaping hole through the roof, water still puddled on the floor, insulation hanging down through the ceiling, he asked if she wanted to move. It didn’t take my cousin long to answer a definite NO. She reminded him she likes her neighborhood and her neighbors. This is more than a house. It’s where they’ve put roots that are stronger than the trees tossed like toothpicks.
The ruins that remain are looking more like pieces than can be put back together.
*As I finished this I got word their water and electricity have been restored!