Mother’s Day: A Tribute to My Mom as She Dodged Four Hurricanes

Mother’s Day: A Tribute to My Mom as She Dodged Four Hurricanes

Here is a Mother’s Day tribute to my late mother, who at the time of this story was living in Florida. It involves a little altercation she had with bad weather. Nothing fazed my mom. — Dan Rattiner

* * *

In early August of 2004, the people of Florida braced for the arrival of Hurricane Charley, as it charged up the Caribbean toward Florida. I called my mother, who lived in Pompano Beach, halfway between Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach.

“Are you doing anything about the hurricane?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “I just hope it doesn’t interfere with my golf game.’”

My mother was 93 years old. She and my dad had lived on the East End for half a century, running the drugstore in Montauk during their pre-retirement years.

“I think you ought to get out of there,’” I said. “Do you have gas in your car?”

“It’s not going to hit here,” she said.

The mayor of Miami ordered everyone to stock up on water and flashlights and to be prepared for the worst. Hurricane Charley, however, after roaring over the Cayman Islands, veered across the Florida Keys and charged up the west coast of Florida, laying waste to Sanibel, Fort Meyers and Naples before fizzling out over Disney World. Damage was estimated at about $16 billion.

Then Hurricane Frances appeared on the horizon. It clobbered Grand Bahama and proceeded to race to the west directly, it seemed to me, toward Pompano Beach. This was in late August.

Again I called her.

“This one is coming right at you,” I said.

“The hurricane is not going to hit the house,” she told me. “Also, I have flying ants. It’s from all the rain from Hurricane Frances, I think. Anyway, the exterminator is coming.”

“The Governor of Florida has ordered the evacuation of the entire east coast of Florida,’” I told her.

“That’s only if you’re oceanfront,” she said. “Cheko in Palm Beach called and is leaving. She’s renting a room in a motel inland. She gave me the name and phone number there so I should check on her to see if anything happens to her.”

“They think it might hit south of there,” I said.

“It isn’t going to hit here,” she repeated.

Dan's mom

Dan’s mom, Photo: Dan Rattiner

As it approached, however, Hurricane Frances, which now looked like it was going to hit Fort Lauderdale, changed course and veered off northward, indeed for a time aiming directly at my mother, but then changing course even more and heading for a town just north of Palm Beach, which is what it eventually hit. First, however, it arrived 10 miles off the east coast of Florida (and my mother) and just hovered there for four days, winds spinning clockwise at 130 miles an hour. Many parts of Florida were without power.

I called my mother again.

“Do you have power?” I asked.

“The flying ants are terrible. The exterminator came, did nothing. People shouldn’t have to live with flying ants like this.”

“What about power?”

“The power is out. But the phone works, as you can see. I’ve called another exterminator.”

“How long have you been without power?’”

“Went out yesterday. But I’m fine.”

The next day, the power came back on at my mother’s. But then Hurricane Ivan came charging up the Caribbean. It devastated Haiti, took a swipe at Cuba and headed for Florida. Again I called my mother.

“Still another hurricane is coming. You really should get out of there,” I said.

“Ivan?’’ she said. “It’s not going to hit here. I’ll be fine.’”

“Mom.”

“I’m flying up for Rosh Hashanah. We’ll see each other.”

“What if it hits when you’re supposed to come up? They might ground the airplane.”

“It won’t be anywhere near the airplane,” she said.

President Bush traveled to Florida so he could be seen bringing bags of ice and containers of water to those still recovering from Frances. The governor told people, once again, to stock up with candles and flashlights, portable radios and batteries—anything that was consumed during the first two hurricanes. Also be prepared for another evacuation.

My mother flew to New York City, where she stayed with my sister. I took the Jitney to New York to meet up with her and have Rosh Hashanah dinner there. Then at six in the morning of Rosh Hashanah, she woke everybody up and, groggy, had my sister and her husband drive her out to the Jewish Center in East Hampton for morning services. I went with them. Our family was one of the founding families.

Everyone wanted to see mom. She had lots of friends here. And after the services, we drove her around town. She really wanted to go out to Montauk but my sister and her husband said there wouldn’t be time. Mom needed to get back to the city to see some of her other friends. Besides, we all were exhausted and wanted to rest up before driving back.

At the last minute, Hurricane Ivan veered over the tip of Cuba, crossed the Florida Keys and slammed into the Florida Panhandle. Mobile, Alabama was underwater. There was flooding in Tampa. And the Tampa Bay baseball team failed to show up for game they were scheduled to play at Yankee Stadium. Their plane was grounded. George Steinbrenner, the owner of the Yankees, said the Yankees should win by default. But at the last minute he backed down. They’d make up the game.

Back in Florida, my mother called to tell me she arrived home safe.

“The second exterminator came,” she said. “Found the nest. End of problem. Those first people shouldn’t be in the exterminating business.”

“How’s your golf?” I asked.

“Terrible,” she said. “By the way, Cheko is fine.”

Four days later, for one hour on Friday afternoon of September 17, the tail of Hurricane Ivan slammed the East End of Long Island with high winds and driving rains. Limbs were knocked down, trees uprooted, cars abandoned in the sudden floods created by the deluge of water. Some who had been to Southeast Asia said it was like a typhoon. Others said its violence must have matched what was here during the Hurricane of 1938, although that lasted 10 hours, not one. In any case, numerous areas were without power for the rest of the afternoon, including Springs and Riverhead.

Late that night, I watched the news. They were interviewing someone in Florida who was standing in the devastation wreaked by the hurricanes.

“Ivan knocked this fence down over here, Frances peeled the shingles off the roof. That tree went down when Charley came through.”

I called my mother again.

“We had quite a blow here,’’ I told her. “A torrential downpour. High winds. We were without power for five hours.”

“But everything’s all right?”

“Oh yes. But some people said it must have been like the Hurricane of ‘38, at least for an hour.”

“I think in that hurricane, about a thousand houses got blown away on the East End,” she said. “But it didn’t hit me or your father. We weren’t there then.”

Five days later, on the morning of Yom Kippur, Hurricane Jeanne, after doing a full loop in the Atlantic, was headed for Florida, once again in the general direction of my mother. It was now 12 hours before its scheduled landfall, which they were predicting to be 20 miles north of Palm Beach, so I called my mom again.

“Well, I’m going,” she said.

“Where?”

“Temple,” she said.

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