Unlike James Bond’s martinis, we were shaken and stirred during the storm last weekend. At times the views out our windows of thrashing trees looked like the hurricane videos we see of anchormen in rain slickers standing against wet and contorting palms. Do you ever wonder if the guy is really on the scene? Or is he being taped in a studio with generic storm footage blue-screened behind him, with perhaps a techie suspended from an overhead grid hosing him down?
This past storm reminded me of the first big blow I ever experienced here on the Island, and it occurred 16 years ago nearly to the day. It was the end of October, right before Halloween. Locally we came to call it The No Name Storm which Sebastian Junger rechristened and made famous with his book, The Perfect Storm
The morning began windy and gray, with reports of a coming northeaster (Junger explained how a northeaster from Canada, combining with balmy air in New England, drew into its vortex a vigorous tropical storm heading up from the Caribbean; the clash of these three systems created a monster of a storm with the longevity of a northeaster and the ferocity of a hurricane).
We three Nadlers had recently moved year-round to our little house in the southwest elbow of East Chop Drive. Marty had remained in Los Angeles to finish up work on the newly resuscitated Carol Burnett Show. Seven-year old Charlie was in school that morning (which goes to show you no one expected a mega-storm to strike). By the late morning, I looked out our front windows to see Honolulu-sized breakers rolling toward shore, roaring in at 30-second intervals. In the next few hours friends from around the Island called to invite Charlie and me to take shelter with them. I meanwhile was in that blustery Yankee mode that unconsciously thinks, “If you stay with the ship, you’ll help the ship,” (a sentiment which should be followed by “you idiot.”
Mid-afternoon, Charlie got home from school. We chatted and shared a snack. All of a sudden Charlie said, “Mom! Look out the window!” We jumped up and together peered out all the windows. In every direction the view was the same: we were surrounded by swollen, roiling gray waters, lapping around all four compass points of the house as if we’d been lifted and dropped into the Sound. It was the work of the moment to pack an overnight bag for both of us and to call Bill, Heather, Megan and Billy Munson who lived on a rise above us off Park street.
Charlie was still light enough to carry. I picked him up, plunked him on my hip and grabbed the bag. We charged out the kitchen door into the full force of the gale which whacked us back again. Somehow we managed to round the southeast corner of the house where swirling water sloshed up to our waists.
Up at the Munsons, we changed into dry clothes. Heather made one of her fabulous fish chowders while Charlie and Billy disappeared into the basement to build a smaller version of Noah’s ark, should we need it.
Sometime after dinner, the wind appeared to be subsiding. Bill, who worked for the Steamship Authority, remarked that the tide was going out, and this condition should ease things up on the shore. That was all I needed to know. Through the swirling mists, we could see our house still standing. “Charlie,” I said, “let’s go home!” The Yankee salt was revitalized in me — we should spend the night on our imperiled ship.
When we neared the dark house, the waters still churned around it. Once again I swooped up Charlie. We plowed through the surf to our kitchen door. Once inside we gravitated to the downstairs closet and tried to switch on the main electrical line. Dead, dead, dead. Too, the gale had pulled loose some of the shutters and these, in turn, had knocked against the windows, breaking panes of glass. From the north and east sides of the house, wind whooshed through the broken windows, backed up against the sealed south and west interior walls, creating noisy, freezing eddies in the center of the house.
The only windless room upstairs was Charlie’s. His bed, shaped like a race car, had high sides for extra insulation. We packed our two cats, Gizmo and Beebe (yes, I’d abandoned them earlier to the sinking ship; Yankee captains have to make hard choices) into bed as we waited for sleep to overtake us.
Well, sleep had another agenda. Relentless winds continued to batter the house. The shutters went on slamming the windows, shattering more glass, as water surged around the foundation.
Finally Charlie asked, “Could you run it by me again why we came home?”
Now for the hard news. Ever wonder how the sailors on the whaling ships lived (outside of the story told above)? Featherstone Center for the Arts will host a benefit for the new children’s book, Thirty Dirty Sailors And The Little Girl Who Went A-Whaling, on Saturday, Nov.. 10, from 3 to 5 p.m. The free event will include children’s maritime activities conducted by Sail Martha’s Vineyard and the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, including scrimshaw carving and making sailor’s valentines.
There will be food and fun for both kids and adults. The original watercolors for the book, illustrated by Susan Convery Foltz, will be on display and for sale during the event and for a week afterwards. Dillon Bustin, a well-known performer and author of the song upon which the book is based, will perform at 4 p.m. The song was included in Mr. Bustin’s Tidebook: An Island Rhapsody, showcased here 10 years ago.
The book is based on the life of an Edgartown girl named Laura Jernegan who lived aboard her captain father’s whaling ship for three years in the 1800s and who kept a journal about her adventures, now archived at the historical society. Matthew Stackpole wrote the introduction for the book.
Marsha Winsryg e-mailed us to say the storm-canceled African Artists’ Community Development Program benefit is rescheduled for Saturday, Nov. 10, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Hebrew Center where the new film Making Peace In Zambia will be shown.