First Words — 05 October 2017
In a hurricane, everything may depend on something small no matter what it may be 



By Mark Gauert

City & Shore Magazine

I don’t know what it’s called, but I can’t find it.

It’s been there since Wilma in 2005. It was there for Matthew last year. It was there whenever anything with a name disturbed the cone of my uncertainty.

It’s just a flat piece of Miami-Dade Approved steel that holds down the bottom of the hurricane shutters on the balcony door at home. I may not know what it’s called, but it kind of looks like a threshold plate (if you possibly lived in a Sherman tank), over which No Storm Shall Pass.

And now it’s gone.

“Where’s the thing that holds down the shutter door?” I ask my wife. It’s our big 32nd wedding anniversary, which just happens to coincide with our prep for the approach of the biggest storm in Atlantic history.

“You don’t know where it is?” she says.

“I do not,” I say. Words I never thought I’d say, 32 years after saying I do.

I must have absently set it aside after Matthew last year – in some place that made sense at the time but makes no sense now.

It’s really beginning to worry me.

Without it, there’s no holding the balcony door against a Cat 4 or 5 storm. Without it, the whole fortress we built after Wilma – the Miami-Dade Approved Steel Shutters, the Blast-Proof windows, the new roof built to Post-Andrew Specs, the Hurricane-Resistant Garage Door – will collapse like our bank account after we bought all that stuff.

Without it, I’m thinking the plan to stay in our fortress of Miami-Dade steel and ride out Irma was possibly ill conceived, even dangerous. Without it, my mom, dad, sister, sophomore high school chemistry teacher and Siri, will have all been right – we should have hit the road the moment Irma hit the Lesser Antilles!

“I can’t find it, Siri,” I say. “What should I do now?”

“I don’t know what to say,’’ Siri says.

Every hurricane brings it challenges, and learning opportunities. For Andrew in 1992, the challenge for us was to find something to cover our windows when every possible piece of plywood at the Home Depot was long gone. We managed to pick up the last piece of available wood – a sheet of pegboard, you know, the stuff your grand-dad uses to hang tools in the garage? – and nailed it around the windows of our apartment in Sunrise. We learned then that pegboard actually melts in the rain.

For Irene in 1999 – our challenge was the 15 inches of rain that fell in about 12 hours on our neighborhood in southwest Broward. We learned then that if it rains 13 hours, we’ll need a canoe to get to the kitchen.

And for Wilma – when we tied one end of a rope to the handle of the balcony door and the other to the bannister and watched it almost burst open – we learned that we need to collapse our bank account to buy whatever it takes so we never to have to go through anything like that again.

I look back at The Weather Channel’s coverage of Irma. It’s gridlock on the roads, apparently all the way to Québec.

“We’ve got to find it,’’ I say.

“Good luck,” she says. “I have to go to work.’’

I tear apart the kids’ room (where empty-nesters tend to store everything). Nothing.

I tear apart the closet under the stairs, the garage, the guest room closet. Nothing, nothing, nothing.

I start to pull up carpet, check between sofa cushions, punch holes in the popcorn ceiling. I don’t know about Hurricane Irma, but Hurricane Mark’s a Cat 6.

Finally, exhausted, ready to start loading the Prius for the Canadian border, I step into the kids’ bathroom (where empty-nesters tend to never go), close the door – and there it is, in the corner behind the bathroom door.


Every hurricane brings it challenges, and learning opportunities. From this one, so far, we’ve learned that sometimes, everything may depend on something small and insignificant – no matter what it may be.

And that we should always remember where we left it.

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