Last Friday I expected to have an eventful day. I meant to get a haircut, tidy up the house a bit, mow the lawn, and attend a baseball game in the evening. As it turned out, I didn’t get to some of the things on my to-do list, but my day was far more dramatic than I expected.
In the morning, as I was about to depart for my haircut, I noticed some ominous clouds to the south. Miriam had the day off work, so I opted to drive the car rather than ride my bike, as I otherwise would. I am glad I did, because shortly after Danielle got me in the chair it began raining.
The morning rain didn’t last long, but I had a feeling it wasn’t done for good, so I decided by the late afternoon to skip the ballgame, since a thunderstorm would leave me stranded with my bicycle on campus. That turned out to be a wise decision.
At dusk I began seeing flashes in the eastern sky. Eventually I heard the thunder, as the lightning moved closer. When the storm arrived it was frantic. Each bolt of lightning immediately followed the one before it. The rain became so heavy, and the wind blew so hard, that looking through the living room window was like staring into a waterfall. I watched as the cedar tree in the front yard lost one limb, then another. When the hail began, I ran to the front door to try and snap a photo. The floor just inside was soaked from the wind driving the rain sideways under the door. When I opened it, the rain blew in directly at me, and the wind slammed the door shut. I went to the back door, which has a larger overhang. No sooner had I turned the knob than the wind blew the door wide open, and I had to reach way out to grab it and close it. That was my last attempt to take a photograph of the storm.
Then the lights went out.
With the lamp across the street dark, I could see the creepy glow in the sky. I went to the kitchen to try and light some candles, but was disappointed to learn that my stove won’t light without electricity. Miriam, who was in Melbourne for a charity event, called to say she was on her way home, but with a terrible storm raging, and no power to check the radar to see which way the storm was moving and how long it would last, I advised her not to come. She spent the night at her parents’ house in Orlando.
The wind died down after a while, but the rain continued. I began hearing the sound of chainsaws in the distance. Some city trucks came rumbling down the street, but the downed limbs from my cedar tree sent them back in the other direction. Every once in a while I would see an emergency vehicle with lights flashing pass by. Some time around two o’clock I saw the bathroom light come on. I must have absent-mindedly attempted to turn it on when I went to brush my teeth in the dark.
When I woke up in the morning I found my neighbors already outside clearing debris and cutting up fallen branches and limbs. I saw the fellows from the house behind me attempting to untangle a limb from the cable line running from the street to their house. I had so much to do on Saturday that I barely had time to remove some branches that were blocking our driveway, and survey the rest of the yard. One rotten tree had fallen in the back, but, miraculously, it hit nothing of any great value.
The same cannot be said for the houses further down the block. The last house on the street was crushed by a fallen oak. The massive trunk of the tree lay diagonal across the driveway, its enormous weight supported by the house’s brick walls. The roof was smashed. The old farm house at 3100 Northwest Sixth Street had an indescribably large oak tree snap in half, and fall across its front yard, obliterating a fence, and–as I discovered later when I rode my bicycle past, as I do every day on my way to school or work–smashing the sidewalk beneath it practically to dust. Many houses and businesses along Sixth Street north of Twenty-Third Avenue suffered tremendous structural damage, from smashed roofs to downed utility cables. The dozen or so American flags that surround the roof of National Vacuum had all blown away. The rumor is that a tornado skipped through, and I believe it. No other Gainesville neighborhood experienced damage approaching that which the Stephen Foster Neighborhood suffered.
All of us at this end of the street, however, are fine. Elke and her kids rode out the storm in their bomb shelter. The enormous decaying tree that leans perilously over their home didn’t lose a leaf, it seems. Our mulch driveway washed away, leaving sand in its place, but that’s no big deal. The cats were all waiting outside the door Saturday morning. By the time I returned home that afternoon, my neighbors had cut up my downed branches and piled them up by the curb.
The garbage men have a hell of a week ahead of them.