The day after our family meeting at which I announced that we would begin a new adventure in North Carolina, ten-year-old Jenny came and perched on the edge of my green recliner and fixed me with her characteristic direct gaze: “Okay,” she said, “we can move to North Carolina if there are no hurricanes there.”
According to Jenny’s geography map, North Carolina was well to the north of the Gulf Coast, far past the evacuation route signs she knew so well. Surely, there would be no hurricanes in her new state. Of course, she later found out the contrary – there is even a national hockey team named the “Carolina Hurricanes.” Oh well.
My Pawpaw’s big, white bucket truck pulled into his driveway every evening before 6:00 p.m. My imagination was captivated by this mechanical wonder that lifted him high in the air to the pathway of the many electric lines spread across St. Tammany Parish. The exciting stories he told filled me with awe. My favorite story recounted the great Hurricane Camille that struck the Louisiana Gulf Coast with all her fury in the hot summer of 1969. Camille slammed onto the coast and traveled up the Mississippi River, unleashing unbelievably strong winds and lashing rain accompanied by noises and vibrations surpassing that of freight trains mixed with thunder.
According to Pawpaw, whole families hunkered down in hallways with Coleman lanterns and transistor radios and prayed that they might be spared. Electric lines were down, and as soon as it was safe enough, Pawpaw and his crews were out restoring some sort of normalcy.
As I sat looking up at him with saucer-sized eyes, he came to the climax of his story: “We came up to these leaning electric poles and could see something poking out of them. Couldn’t imagine what those barbs were – looked like porcupine quills, but that didn’t make sense. When we came closer, what do you think we saw?” I shook my head side to side, eyes still wide. “Well, I’ll tell you, though I can’t believe it myself even now. Those poles were pricked with pine needles. Thousands of them, maybe three inches deep, in those poles. Now, that’s some force!” And he shook his head, eyes seeing again the incredible sight.
I didn’t remember Camille except from my grandfather’s stories, but my boyhood was spent in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana, always along the Gulf Coast. I knew hurricanes. During the season, grocery stores stacked free “Hurricane Tracking Maps” for customers to pick up and plot the coordinates of storms personified with names such as Eloise and Frederic as the local news gave the information nightly. Every family prudently prepared. We all kept batteries for the portable radios and fuel for the lanterns. Each member of the household knew where to find candles and matches in case of sudden power outages. When the storm was really big, we knew the ways along the “Hurricane Evacuation Routes.” When these routes were used, all lanes became one way – north to safety. Parents took extra precautions to minimize the frightening experience for their children, but sometimes putting a brave face on a scary situation simply wasn’t enough.
The rain had been falling a good while, and the children had reluctantly gone to bed
when a loud cracking noise was followed by a monumental shaking of the whole house. I went running toward the sound of my daughters’ screaming, grabbed them up in my arms, and headed to the relative safety of the hallway. Jenny was visibly shaken and could not be consoled. Later, I rocked her until she slept.
Daylight revealed half of our huge pecan tree sticking straight out of the roof above our daughters’ bedroom. Windows along the back of the house were shattered, limbs jutting through the panes.
But Jenny’s experience with the storm’s fury and Pawpaw’s stories of Camille reveal
only part of a hurricane. I never fail to be awestruck by a particular fact of the big storm. There is a place directly in the center which is calm – the storm’s eye. The sky turns a surreal blue-green and the light is other-worldly in its orangey glow. Alongside the racket of the wind and rain, the respite feels even more peaceful.
In the midst of life’s storms, at the center there is Jesus. Getting to that center often
takes us through the worst of life – heartache, loss, failure, unspeakable pain. It seems as if Satan throws his all into keeping us from our “eye of the storm.” But in the presence of Jesus all falls away. It is the peace that passes all understanding.