Everyone told us Nate would be a strong, quick storm, over by mid-Sunday. A puff, one friend predicted. Nothing like Harvey or Irma. Still, we prepared for the worst. Nate was our first hurricane as full-time Gulf Coast homeowners, and for about forty-eight hours, weather occupied us all.
My husband and I moved to Mississippi two years ago, to Pass Christian, a town Hurricane Katrina mostly destroyed in 2005. From 2000 to 2014, Pass Christian was #69 on the list of Top 100 cities with declining populations. My husband and I are among the 1,088 new residents here.
We still find shards of colored pottery broken during Katrina when we dig our gardens. We don’t have to look far to find the remnants of past storms.
For days we kept up with weather news. We hauled important documents, passports, family photo albums, computers and back-up drives to safe rooms. I packed reusable grocery bags with jewelry, framed pictures, memorable notes, good soap, lotions and make-up and lined them up on high kitchen counters. We put fresh batteries in flashlights and brought out the solar-powered radio. We shuttered and boarded the house, picked up anything in the yard that might become a projectile.
Our neighbors did the same. Some hung American flags on their plywood. There was a nervous, productive energy in the air. Strangers doled out hurricane advice in front of emptying water shelves at Walmart — don’t forget to lay down your big potted plants and bring in your wind chimes.
The Weather Channel broadcaster talked about the “sugary sand” in Gulfport and first showed Nate making landfall to our west, then to our east. We always seemed to be in the middle of the cone of uncertainty. Maybe we would get a break. But then we considered the last-minute shifts and turns of Camille and Katrina.
So, around mid-afternoon when the newscasters predicted that Hurricane Nate could turn into a Category 2 at landfall, my husband and I considered packing up and heading North with our 14-year-old golden retriever. We asked neighbors what they were doing. They told us about winds moving counter clockwise, “dirty water” and storm surges we wouldn’t likely get. Most said they were staying, and that they would keep checking on us.
My husband and I stayed hunkered inside our darkened home, waiting for the outer bands to arrive in the early evening. We ate lemon chicken and bread from the freezer. We watched the Ken Burns special on Vietnam, while outside, loomed our own coming catastrophe.
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Throughout the evening, Nate’s 100 mph winds became 85, then dropped further to 70. When an exasperated weatherman said he just wasn't seeing it, we went to bed. During the night, wind and rain came harder, but mostly, we slept through the storm as though it were any storm. In the morning, we picked up the few downed tree branches. Neighbors to the east in Biloxi and Ocean Springs weren’t as lucky. Some cars and garages flooded and there are thousands without power. Still, a Facebook community page showed more green markers for people offering help than red markers for people requesting help.
The hurricane season is now winding down and we have been spared. I was relieved that Nate didn't damage our home and our lives, but I couldn't get over this feeling that could be called disappointment.
My neighbor Mary Katherine told me "nothing" is good when it comes to hurricanes, though you feel let down after all that time and energy spent preparing for them. She was right. Katrina knocked down her home as if it were made of cards. But she came back and rebuilt. Who was I to feel the disappointment of a “nothing” hurricane?
We opened the shutters and began to put our house back in order. Newscasters shifted from talk of Nate to the chaos of the Las Vegas murders, White House tweets, congressional inaction, and who would “take the knee” during the national anthem before Sunday football games.
Outside, a pickup truck passed flying an oversized Don’t Tread on Me flag, signaling American individualism or assertive racism, who knows which?
But the sun was out. Our cars were gassed and we had more water, batteries, soup and cans of tuna than we ever had. And we still have this memory, that for a moment in October we all felt united by one oncoming storm.
Margaret McMullan is the author of seven award-winning books, including In My Mother's House and Aftermath Lounge. Her forthcoming memoir is Where the Angels Lived: One Family’s Story of Exile, Loss, and Return. Follow her on Twitter: @MargaretMcMulla