Column

The Wine Before the Storm

proverbially I’m writing this well in advance of publication, so I hope we’re not dealing with a catastrophic hurricane as you read this—or any time, for that matter. But this is the time of year when hurricane season heats up. In fact, I associate the beginning of the school year with hurricanes and am probably not the only one who does. That’s because these storms disrupt everyone’s new routines right when they’re being established. Just as kids are adjusting to the rigor of their daily assignments, they get a spontaneous five-day weekend. Just as teachers are beaming over their carefully crafted syllabi, it’s time to monitor and adjust. Just as parents get their lives back, they have a house full of kids again—but with no electricity. Talk about a tropical depression. There’s no choice but to go home and sit in hot darkness, hoping for Mother Nature’s blessed reprieve.

The anxiety that comes with hurricanes is the uncertainty of what to do once you know one is headed your way. While it’s annoying that many agencies make some of our decisions for us by closing schools and offices on a perfectly pleasant, blue-skied September day, the way I see it, that’s one less thing I have to worry about. My brain is then freed up to agonize over other decisions. Do we evacuate? If so, then where do we go and when do we leave? Should I go in to work tomorrow? Cancel appointments? It’s stressful. That said, it does bring people together in collective angst. Even seasoned Hugo survivors who talk about hurricanes with the same bravado as Quint from Jaws talking about the Indianapolis are at least a tad nervous, if they’re being honest.

Last year during the early warnings of Hurricane Florence my husband and I made a tentative plan. Once we were comfortable with our plan, we then did the same thing as everyone else in town; we headed to the local wine bar to compare everyone’s plans. I’m not at all making light of the storm nor careful planning because between sips of wine I checked the weather maps with the same compulsion my husband checks TigerNet. I’m aware of the devastation caused by hurricanes and know how things ended for Quint. But the sense of community found in that wine bar temporarily eased the tension caused by that knowledge. We met some friends there, and before long we were sharing a large table with neighbors and others who had sought relief from the news in the form of wine and stories. One story led to a discussion of alma maters, which of course led to the singing of said alma maters, which then dominoed into other patrons from the same schools joining in from across the room, which culminated in one gentleman standing to sing God Save the Queen. Hands were clapped, cheers were cheered. The storm was forgotten and all was well.

All was well until we went home, that is. Spoiler alert: we were mercifully spared during Hurricane Florence, unlike many people, including our fellow Sandlappers a little north of us. But at the time, none of us knew for sure what that storm would bring once the tabs were paid and we were all at home, standing in our driveways, squinting at a yellow sky, and assessing the wind. The timbre of a serious storm is vastly different in the solitude of one’s lightless home than the boisterous halls of the community wine garden. We remained confident in our hurricane plan, though maybe not quite as firmly as earlier in the day when the sun was bright and the kids were roaming the streets with their pals. After all, though we have access to the most advanced weather models, choosing not to evacuate is always a gamble, even when the odds are in your favor.
Just as the wind picked up later that night, we lost power in the middle of a movie. “Here it is,” I said. We grabbed our flashlights, lit a few candles, and sat in the middle of the house where we would be safest from falling trees. Twenty minutes passed in near silence, save for the wind. Then, anticlimactically, the power came back on. I also noticed that the wind had seemed to die down, and there was no rain that I could hear. I stepped onto the deck. A tree frog chirped and a light breeze ushered me back inside. We all turned to each other. “Was that it, you think?” And then we went to bed, safe until the next storm.

Of course, that was not it for many folks. Hurricane Florence made landfall in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, on September 14, 2018. It brought with it torrential rain, flooding, and wind damage to neighboring communities, including parts of the Pee Dee and Grand Strand. There were twenty-four direct fatalities and thirty indirect deaths as a result of the storm and billions of dollars worth of damage in the Carolinas. And just as people came together to relieve stress before the storm, many came together to relieve suffering afterwards by forming disaster relief groups and donating funds to devastated areas.

So, here we are in peak hurricane season, likely going about life without much concern for anything other than getting through the day. That said, hopefully you have at least a vague hurricane plan that you can modify as needed. Whether or not you decide to evacuate during the next big hurricane, remember the importance of community and offer a hand to your neighbors both before and after the storm. An evening in the wine bar will surely work for both.

For those who wish to contribute to the One SC Fund, which provides disaster relief following state-declared emergencies, visit onescfund.org.

By Tara Bailey