First Words — 05 October 2017
A selective memory helps, after hurricanes Andrew, Wilma and Irene


By Mark Gauert

City & Shore Magazine

What we don’t know now we’ll know later.

Wait for it.

For every clean and dirty side of this storm, there’ll be good memories from Irma, too. Wait for them.

For every hurricane that’s stared at us with cruel eyes, we’ll remember gentler moments, too.

What we choose to remember. What we choose to forget.

Andrew, Wilma and Irene are practically family to me now. You might have some memories of them that do not involve wind speed or shattered glass or power off pressed into your family album now, too.

The night Andrew came in 1992, I was a young dad walking the floors of a Sunrise townhouse with my infant son who Just Would Not Sleep. My wife and I listened all night as the storm took apart our neighborhood, nervously wondering if the (ridiculous) sheet of pegboard we’d nailed around the windows would stand up between us and a Cat 5 buzz saw out there in the dark. (It did not.)

All I remember is walking through debris the next morning with my son in my arms, pointing out trees Andrew had strewn all over the ground.

“Look,” I said. “They all fell down – Boom.”

“Boom,” he whispered.

“Boom,’’ I said.

Andrew ripped us apart all those years ago. But all I remember is my son saying one of his first words.


That’s how I choose to remember Andrew, now.

Denise Corbitt-Coppola, who went through the same storm with her mother, husband and son nearer the eye in Homestead, last week was remembering a scary moment during Andrew that turned into a funny memory for her, too.

“My very expensive window treatments came falling down,’’ she says, “and my mother, in her best Scarlett O’Hara voice, said, ‘I’m going to make a beautiful gown, with matching hat and purse, and go find Rhett!’”

Gregory von Hausch, president and CEO of the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival, last week was remembering a show-must-go-on moment after Wilma in 2005.

“I had been working all summer on a free Halloween event that FLIFF would produce on Las Olas,” he says. “I lined up horse-drawn hay rides, petting zoo, costume contest, scream contest, face painters [for the event], called The BOO-Tacular. It was going to be great.”

Then Wilma hit on Oct. 24 – the Monday before Halloween, on Friday.

“It devastated Las Olas Boulevard and Cinema Paradiso [now Savor Cinema],” he says. “We had to use chainsaws just to get inside the cinema through the fallen oaks.

“We couldn’t get the word out, canceling the event,” he says, “but, by 5 p.m. Friday, we decided, what the hey, we’re doing it anyway!”

He chooses to remember the response.

“More than 600 people showed up, the majority being kids in costume,” he says. “The parents were delighted as trick-or-treating was too dangerous, with virtually no streetlights and so many foreign obstacles blocking sidewalks and streets.”

And Alan Kratish, who with his brother, Marty, ran the Sauce of Life Café in Pembroke Pines, last week was remembering the creative ways he used food left after Wilma to make three meals a day at home – without electricity – for almost a week.

“Some dishes were more successful than others,’’ says Kratish, a magician whose title now is Chief Wizard and Wand Washer at the South Florida Magic School. “It’s undoubtedly more fun reminiscing about it than it seemed at the time.”

And that’s the thing. None of these folks ever expected to have fond memories from these dangerous storms.

“No, not during the storm,” Gregory von Hausch says. “I only thought about the present.”

“No, of course not,’’ Alan Kratish says. “The ‘silver lining’ came after the hurricane.’’

“Absolutely not,’’ Denise Corbitt-Coppola says. “Even though I pace the floor [now] when the wind blows at night, and certain smells, like mold, bring back vivid bad memories, time has tempered my thoughts.

“Back in 1992, my mother and husband were alive and my son was at home,’’ she says. “I’d gladly sit through another Cat 5 if I had them all back.’’

What we don’t know now we’ll know later, they say.

Just wait.

So, here’s what I choose to remember. (Your results may vary).

I was driving a low-clearance Civic from work at the newspaper through high-rising waters home in southwest Broward during Hurricane Irene in 1999. My dear parents – from the high, arid plains of New Mexico, and unfamiliar with the concept of water in any quantity – were bravely babysitting our two sons, now 8 and 5, as rising water crept up to our doors. The power was out and the batteries in their Game Boys had run dry, so they were bouncing off the walls by the time my wife and I arrived between feeder bands. (And so were the kids).

Irene was more wet than windy – dumping 15 inches of rain on us in 12 hours. (More rain than New Mexico gets in a year). Another hour of rain, and we would have had water in the house.

But all I remember now is taking the boys out for a canoe ride after the storm on a submerged park down the street. Our own personal water park, courtesy of Irene.

Weeee,’’ they said. “This is awesome!

During the height of Wilma in 2005, holding on in a home without shutters in 115-mile-per-hour gusts, our youngest son suddenly turned pale, sick and shivering. We knew something was really wrong when he stopped talking.
We managed to open the garage door in a lull, and drive him to Memorial West in Pembroke Pines. His appendix needed to come out – stat! – but they couldn’t perform the appendectomy there. So, they put the pale, sick and shivering 11-year-old into an ambulance and drove him around downed power lines to Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood.

Somehow – even though the hospital was taking care of patients who had bloody, storm-related injuries – the doctor managed to perform the surgery laparoscopically. (It left no scar).

What I remember from Wilma was seeing my son in the well-lighted, air-conditioned room at the hospital – watching the Cartoon Channel – after surgery.

“Hi, Dad,’’ he whispered, the color returning to his face.

“Hi, Colin,’’ I said. “I’m so happy you feel better now.’’

My wife stayed with him, while I took our oldest son back home to survey the damage from Wilma. She’d left us no power there, no lights, no Cartoon Channel.

But everyone was safe.

I set up the camp stove from Cub Scouts, plopped a thawing pizza from the freezer on the grill and looked up at a sky so filled with stars I thought I was in heaven.

I was.

It’s too soon to think about what I’ll remember from Irma. The friend who took shelter with us and her two dachshunds, who ran around the house trying to “hold it” till the storm passed? The good neighbor offering to help me put up our mail box, crushed under mahoganies in the front yard?

Or the sound of our now grown children, 26 and 23 and living in Tampa and Tallahassee, texting to let us know that they were safe.

We were worried about them, so far now from the safety of our shutters. I think that’s especially true for all of us parents in Florida – and our own unique categories of fear.

I wondered what they’d learned about self-sufficiency and independence from childhoods spent in the company of Andrew, Wilma and Irene. I worried if they’d been ready for Irma, out there on their own.

“How’s things?” I texted them. The boys who learned their first words during Andrew, who bounced off walls without their Game Boys during Irene, who had emergency surgery during Wilma.

Who stared into space with me, in the powerless dark.

“Never better,’’ they texted back from Tallahassee. “We have power, water and internet. The weather is also nice.’’

I choose to remember this.

“Travel safe, boys,’’ I texted back. “I’m proud of you.”

“Love, Dad.”

My memory from Irma pressed into the family album now, with Andrew, Wilma and Irene.

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