Living in the Florida Panhandle, I’ve learned never to take a hurricane warning lightly. Right now, one monster storm is making its way closer to the state, and everyone here is on edge, waiting to learn where Irma’s path is going to take her. Even with all that is still unknown, water is in short supply in Pensacola; gas lines are getting long; and the bread aisle offers very little by way of variety right now.
In 2004, Pensacola and the Gulf Coast prepared for the worst. Having grown up in Virginia, I really had no concept of what that would look like. I didn’t comprehend the enormity of a storm’s destruction, and I certainly had no frame of reference for the aftermath.
We boarded up windows. We dismantled electronics and put them on our kitchen table, which was now in our hallway, covered in a tarp. Laundry was done, and perishables were consumed. All of those practicalities made logical sense to me, and we’d planned to spend the brunt of the storm with friends a few miles away. Although our apartment was at zero risk of a storm surge, the idea of strength in numbers seemed like a good idea at the time.
That day, as we sat in our driveway, car waiting to be put into reverse, Dave looked at me and simply asked, “Do you have everything that matters to you in this car?”
In 2004, those things included some family photos, signed copies of my favorite writers’ books, my father’s Bible, a few pieces of jewelry, and other odds and ends that held sentimental value from my nomadic life. The “must haves” were fairly limited as the big ticket items were at my Mom’s house where I didn’t have to consider their fragility.
Today, as Irma looms over us, I find myself in that position once again: one where I have to take stock of what matters, what can be replaced, what can be lost, and what must be protected.
Those items I packed in 2004 will still be on my list, but now I struggle with what will make the cut and what stays behind. I’ve been taking mental stock all day in between texts with friends and work. Some things are easily solved as they are tucked away in our storage unit, so I can cross them off my to-do list. Yet, there are things I have to consider and decisions I have to make.
Some things are obvious. Clothes, my laptop, camera bag, Percy Jones and Seamus are all no-brainers. But what about my mother’s cedar chest? Do I put it in storage? Move it beforehand? Secure it in an interior room? What about the deacon’s bench my father made me? The art I’ve painstakingly collected over the years? My framed degrees? The quilt my great-great aunts made?
Before I forget, I need to make a mental note: add my grandfather’s journals to the important document list alongside birth certificates and my passport. How could I forget to include Pru and Thor’s ashes in that list? (Even in death, my cats go where I go.) What about Ralph, my childhood bear that was a gift from my Aunt Lois who passed away just a few short months ago?
I wish I could take the attitude that things don’t matter, but the truth is that sometimes they do. These small items, the things I can hold and touch, are often all that remains of the people I’ve loved. My memories of my father have faded over time, but I have that bench that he made just for me; he crafted my name right into the back so that I would know it was mine. And like the voicemails from Mom that I have saved on my phone, I can’t imagine one day waking up to find they’ve simply disappeared.
Maybe all this prepping and planning will be for nothing; maybe Irma will take a path that leads her far away from my home. I won’t know for a few more days what the upcoming week(s) hold for us here in Pensacola. For now, I have reached out to friends across the state, making contingency plans if one area gets hit and the other doesn’t.
And as every minute creeps by, I’ll continue to assess. Those items that can be replaced. Those that insurance will adequately cover. Those that I can live without. The ones I can’t.
Until we know more, we’ll sit tight. The pantry is stocked. The laundry is getting done. Flashlights and batteries and evacuation plans are being checked. And friends and family periodically check in to see what the plan is.
For right now, all I can say is we’re watching. And planning. And waiting. That’s all we can do. I’m going to start boxing up photographs–just in case. And I’ll start writing down my list. Of those things. The things that make me me; the things that matter most.