Awash in memories of hurricanes gone by
My mother was a cigarette girl.
She moved to South Beach in 1948, well before construction on Collins Avenue blocked the ocean view. With her full figure and glamour-girl looks, in a swimsuit she could pass for Esther Williams. My future father, a New Yorker with a soft spot for Cuban cigars, visited Miami often. They were introduced.
By 1965, we lived in a second-floor apartment on 80th Street with a wrought iron terrace rail and a full ocean breeze. Our jalousie windows couldn't keep Hurricane Betsy from drenching all that chintz. Within hours, we were ankle deep in sea water and sand. To this day I'm allergic to mold.
When my son Leo was five and Katrina wreaked her havoc, I remembered my mother's Betsy-induced anxiety for the first time in decades. "Betsy's coming! Betsy's coming! Pick up your toys," my mother had cried. "Betsy's coming! Betsy's coming! Hurry up inside!" With every frantic repeat, she issued another command intended to keep us safe.
So whenever storms shook our beams, or we were snowed in, or I was exhausted and sad to be the only adult who still lived in the house, I channeled that energy into playing Leo's favorite kind of game: one with repetition, concrete images, and the chance to fill-in-the blanks. We conflated Betsy with I Spy. "Betsy's coming! Betsy's coming! put away the waffle iron!" or "Betsy's coming! Betsy's coming! It's time to feed the dog!"
Today, parts of Miami are under water and miles and miles of sand have again eroded. There are coconuts floating in the streets. Hurricanes are stronger now but so are we.
Last night at dinner I asked Leo if he remembers the Betsy game. Of course he does. But he is 16 and we live in Denver where it's high and dry. There's no way he can wrap his head around the destruction that is happening now.
In less than a month, I will return to Miami Beach for the 40th reunion of my high school class. By the time I arrive, at least some of the debris will be cleared. But the hurricane trauma will not have faded.
My parents are long gone and the internet says our old apartment, built in 1946, still stands. I knew it had good bones.
What matters to me most—especially these days as I reinvent myself again as a writer and solopreneur—is creating something of lasting value. A kid who has empathy. Stories that convey truth. A business that is engaged in community. Friendships that transcend time and place.
I'm doing my best. And I choose to believe that you are too.