Autumn is my very favorite time of year. I love everything about it: the true blue sky, the warm sunlight golden on trees blazing with color, the crisp, cool air, the smell of the first stove fires of the season, hot apple cider (with butterscotch schnapps!), the harvest of fruits and veggies, the layers of clothes with nubby textures wrapping us like cocoons, the energetic excitement of Nature's dance before resting.
Fall of 1984 was an especially important time for me. I had just started getting to know Andrew as a friend; we had stayed up all night on his screened in porch, talking as we rocked in wooden rocking chairs, and I had learned of his love of camping. I relished camping also. I also cherished hot air balloons. So when I learned of a Hot Air Balloon Rally on the weekend of Sept. 21, I knew I wanted to go and see all the beautiful balloons lifting off and peacefully floating away. And I knew I wanted to invite Andrew, but wasn't ready for a trip with just the two of us, so I asked my friend Martha if she would go with us. Always up for an adventure, Martha said yes, and Andrew agreed to go (why not? Traveling with TWO women! What's not to love?). So the three of us (plus Katie, of course) took off in my Oldsmobile Cutlass from Charleston headed for Statesville, North Carolina, packed to the gills for our camping adventure.
Andrew drove some and I drove some. And Martha asked Andrew the questions that I was less comfortable asking (like, are you involved with anyone?), while I listened. The first night we stayed at Andrew's parents' cabin in Saluda, NC; Martha and I slept in the king bed with Andrew across the hall in the double bed. The next morning, we drove through Hendersonville on our way to breakfast (my first visit here, which is where we live now) and the interstate to head for Statesville. We had a flat tire along the way, and while Andrew replaced the flat, Martha and I stood on the side of the highway ready to help. Martha had beautiful long black hair down below her hips, and with her cowgirl hat and jeans on, she attracted a lot of interest from the truckers! We finally arrived at the rally site outside of Statesville (there was no MapQuest back then!) and learned that the lift-off wouldn't occur again until the cooler temperatures of dusk. So we hung out under any shade we could find, listen to music, and watched people. I especially remember a beautiful woman in a form-fitting red dress who wandered through the crowd... and Andrew's eyes following her as long as she was in sight. Otherwise, I only remember the heat. Whew, it was hot!
Finally, the balloons were ready to lift off into the late afternoon sky. I tried to take pictures of all the colors rising into the sky, but finally just put my camera down to see the panorama of color and designs. It was breath taking! Slow majestic beauty languidly rising into the blue sky in the autumn sun. What a cornucopia of beauty!
We left the rally and camped that night, sitting around the campfire talking and laughing and telling stories (and asking questions). The next afternoon, we headed back to Charleston, stopping at a truck stop for a shower before the long ride. We headed home after dark, and unfortunately, we rolled over some metal sheeting in the road which punched a hole in the sidewall of another tire. Thankfullly, we were able to drive on it, but it was a slower, longer drive home than we'd planned. When we drove into Martha's grassy driveway, the tire just gave up the ghost with a loud, long hisssssssss. We borrowed her VW bug to get to my house.
But Andrew said he'd never laughed so much as he did over that weekend with Martha and me. We DID have a great time! And it was the beginning of a lovely courtship.
Five years later, Andrew and I had been married for 3 years by the Autumn Equinox, Sept. 21, 1989: the date that Hurricane Hugo smashed into the South Carolina coast and tore up into North Carolina and Virginia. We were living south of Charleston in the country, but since Hugo was larger than the entire state of SC, with 12-foot storm surges predicted (and we lived on the intracoastal waterway in a cement slab house about 2 feet above mean sea level), we decided to escape to a different area code. My Mom and brother Fred were also living in Charleston; Andrew's Dad was in the hospital -- safe but not able to leave -- and his Mom stayed with him. So we packed up all our animals (including 2 cats and 5 dogs -- two of ours, one each of my Mom and brother, and one elder dog we were keeping for a friend) with the wedding album and other important items and headed to the mountains: us in our car and my Mom and Fred in her car. We avoided the interstate, which was bumper to bumper, and headed up the secondary highways which was a great idea because when we crossed over the interstate we saw cars sitting in what looked like a parking lot as far as the eyes could see. We finally reached Saluda that evening, and the rain from the perimeter of Hugo caught up with us not long after that.
While we had electricity and phones in Saluda, our friends in Charleston didn't, so watching the news was the only way to stay connected (this was before cell phones). We stayed in Saluda two days, then headed back to Charleston loaded with gallons of fresh water to use and to share.
When Andrew and I turned into Hollywood (the little town we lived near), we saw a long line of Florida Light and Power trucks parked in a row on a vacant lot, ready to start returning order to the chaos. And when we turned into our driveway, our home was intact and undamaged! While we lost 2 pine trees, they didn't hit the house, and the roses growing on the east side of our home were still blooming! It was as if Spirit had put a protective hand over our home and kept it safe from harm. We were indescribably thankful.
Within 3 days, we had electricity restored, which was wonderful because our water was pumped from a well. Not having running water helped me to better appreciate our ancestors who spent so much of their energy surviving: carrying water, planting crops, harvesting and preserving foods in order to feed their families during the winters. Life drifts down to the basics where there are no modern conveniences, and running water is certainly convenient!
Tragedy brings out the true meat of people. Over the next few weeks, I saw strangers helping each other out, saw community efforts to rebuild, and saw humor in the face of overwhelming destruction: "Landscaping by Hugo" signs in front yards, "Hugo Stew" where families combined what was thawing in the freezer to feed their neighborhoods, folks helping clear each other's fallen trees, others offering someone a safe place to rest. Friends of ours who lived at Folly Beach in a small cinder-block home still had their home, but the flat roof had been lifted off, the curtains and blinds sucked out, and the roof replaced so that the curtains and blinds flowed through the top of the wall to the outside. We got stuck in the sand where the road used to be when leaving their home when friends had gathered to help with clean-up and repair... and everyone behind us got out of their cars to push our van onto the remaining pavement. We all waited to be sure everyone made it through.
One family I knew from work had decided to stay in Charleston for the storm. They had originally chosen their home because of all the pine trees in their yard. During Hugo's wrath, the seven of them found themselves huddled in the central hall downstairs. Trees were falling onto their second story roof; with the difference in air pressure, as the trees would hit the roof, the higher air pressure inside would cause the roof to explode. Their house was destroyed, but thankfully all of them were uninjured. Another couple lived on Sullivan's Island; again, their pine trees destroyed the upstairs of their brick home while flooding ruined the first floor. They finally packed it up and left town.
While homes and buildings were destroyed, the saddest part (other than the minimal loss of life, thanks to people paying attention to the need to evacuate) was the loss of the Low Country's beautiful, majestic trees. Trees are what gave Charleston its lovely graceful silhouette and profile. My old neighborhood didn't even look like where I had grown up. You can reconstruct a building, but you can't rebuild a tree.
Reassembling a sense of normalcy was difficult that fall. But on the Winter Solstice, December 21, 1989, Nature decided to blanket the Low Country with a beautiful pristine covering of magical white snow. It was as if she was saying, "Now it is time for peace." Blessed Be.
I hope you have a time for peace today.
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