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The Baby and the Broom Closet

Remembering Hurricane Hugo (a story that ran last year)

I was living in Columbia with two friends. Hugo was heading our way so we headed out. One roommate went to her parents’ house in McColl, SC. The other went to Orangeburg. Relatively speaking, Hugo spared Columbia. Our home towns were not so lucky. I spent my Hugo night in Bishopville, SC. My hard-headed father refused to believe a hurricane would ever come as far inland as Lee County. Media hype, he called it. He changed his mind when an oak tree with a trunk the size of a sedan fell into his bedroom. I was next door at my sister’s house. When the winds got really strong, and we got really scared, my sister, my brother-in-law, my 6-month-old nephew and I crammed into the closet under the stairs. During the worst part of the storm – the eye, I guess – the wind sounded strong enough to rip the house apart brick by brick. Loud bangs reminded us of Hugo’s strength. The wind was a steady howl. We got used to that. The unexpected bangs worked your nerves. You never knew when they would come. Unpredictability is always the worst.

It was hot as blue blazes in that closet. The sweat poured off us. My sister wiped my nephew’s face all night. He was drenched, but she never let the sweat stream onto his little face. We never said it out loud, but we thought it was the end. Any reasonable person would. At one point my brother-in-law edged his way out of the closet and went upstairs to get something for the baby. I thought he had lost his mind or at least his good sense. He came back with the crib mattress. I knew what he was thinking. We all wanted the baby to sleep through the hell that was Hurricane Hugo.

We rearranged to make room for the mattress. We were all partially on and partially off with the baby snug in the middle. Hugo called the shots that night. There was no negotiating with him, but if we could have, I think we would have said something like, “Ok, big guy. Take the house, take our beloved oaks, take the cars. Take all of us if you must, but please just let the baby sleep through it.”

I really don’t remember much about the aftermath of Hugo. Of course we talk about the tree that fell through my parents’ roof. We tell stories about being without power for what felt like forever. Lee County looked like a war zone, but those really aren’t my Hurricane Hugo memories. When I think about the night that Hugo came through my little home town, I think about being crammed in a closet with my family. I think of us circled around that baby boy, hoping he would sleep through it all – which he did. My nephew is now a grown man with a baby of his own. Time marches on. Storms come and storms go. The winds of life howl and objects get thrown our way – sometimes with a force so great we don’t think we can bear it. But somehow we do. Just like that night with the baby in the broom closet.

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