My gas station guy, a Turkish immigrant, practices his English by chatting up the customers. Grammar is my domain of expertise, so I’m happy to oblige.
We’ve talked about European football, American politics, and, of course, the weather. “These are for the big hurricane?” he asked as he helped me top off the Jeep and fill three jerry cans on the Friday before Sandy slammed into Long Island’s South Shore. Before I could answer, he added, “Don’t worry. It’s never nothing.”
I knew what he meant. But he wasn’t here for Gloria, the quick-and-dirty Category I that mortally wounded the Long Island Lighting Company, or for the 1991 Halloween superstorm that sank the Andrea Gail.
I was newly married and living in a co-op on the South Shore when Gloria hit in 1985. When I heard the tornado advisory, I grabbed our two kittens and a bag of cookies and waited out the storm in a storage closet. My husband laughed and took a photo. Then the storm blew the roof off the adjacent apartment building.
By October 1991, we had moved into a little ranch house a little closer to the Great South Bay. I took our toddler trick-or-treating, then worried as the Perfect Storm took out the power, which took out the sump pump and flooded the basement. The cats that had been kittens during Gloria, unwilling to believe their eyes, dog-paddled around the playroom.
A friend of ours, a soil scientist with New York’s conservation office, did some figurative digging into our development, discovered it had been built on an underground stream, and told us, “Sell.” We did, several years and countless leaks later, and moved to our current house—right on the water.
Most of the stuff in this pile is hand-me-down furniture from my son's ground-floor apartment. He's already scoping out IKEA.
This time, we did our homework first. We found a high ranch on a canal that was so unlikely to flood, our flood insurance premium would be lower than it was at the ranch house with the wet basement. For added assurance, we consulted the domain experts, also known as the locals. The ’20s-era vacation bungalow that once stood on our property, we were told, got wet during Gloria but survived the storm. The high ranch that replaced the bungalow in 1987 stayed dry during the ’91 flood. We couldn’t find anyone who’d been around during 1938’s Long Island Express, though we’d seen the old photos. Still, we liked our odds.
Tropical Storm Irene was our dry run for Sandy. We moved everything we could carry to the top floor, hauled the boat, and headed for my mother’s house with our son, now a college student, and three cats in tow. We found a ruined yard but a dry house when we returned. The power never went off. But our neighbors just a few blocks to the south and east were still repairing Irene’s damage when Sandy struck.