The little girls on the backseat played and giggled and climbed around like monkeys. Back in the day, seatbelts and car seats might as well have been some sci-fi oddities. They played on unaware that danger was as close as the brake pedal or an incoming vehicle. It is a wonder they lived to tell the stories.
The storm had come and gone. Communications with the island dropped out as was expected. Unlike most storms, something had been different about this one. The adults had decided it was time to go.
Doubt lingered as to whether the decision would be foolhardy in the end. Enough doubt that the brother had been left behind with neighbors to ride out the storm. No use him missing any school should the storm fizzle before it arrived.
If it came on in, he was with 'the natives' – descendents of original inhabitants who had formed the first Coast Guarders. Their own family members now stood duty in the face of the coming storm. They'd ridden them all out. He'd be safe riding this one out with them as well.
Of course, that was how it seemed before the storm and before all communications died away. The storm was gone but not the post storm chop nor the gray skies. More talk laced with doubt. Time to go? Too early? What if the road was washed out along the way? Would they even be allowed back yet?
Apprehension filled the car as hurriedly as the evacuation gear was reloaded for the return trip. To go or to stay. The boy was there. What had become of him and the natives he was with? They were safely tucked away on the sound side. Even if the island had over-washed, the house was way up on stilts and not ocean-front. Would the ferry even be there, and if it was, would they agree to take the family of 4 back to be a family of 5 again? What would the find when they got back?
The girls played on vaguely aware of the tension. In later years, the older one would remember it most when Hurricane Hugo hit her coastal waters. She had not expected her Walmart, 4 hours inland, to be inundated with evacuees, but they were everywhere. A frantic, frenzied hum filled the air as nervous tension seeped from the evacuees and swamped the hometown crowd. Everyone was nervous no matter where they were from.
A child stepped out of sight. The mother could have reached out and grabbed her but did not know. She began to scream the long stretched out scream of a mother whose nerves had been stretched too far. The child took one step into line of sight. The mother nearly collapsed. Her words filled the air in sharp staccato. The child crumpled in confusion under the weight of her mother's scolding. Kids will be kids even after a Cat 5 has wrecked havoc on their lives.
The older one, now an adult, turned and stared in wonder. She recognized the tension. Storms do that to people. The tension in the mother's voice took her back to the car of her own childhood. She remembered the water.
Unlike most trips, the ferry station was mostly deserted. No one wanted to go back yet. Knit brows and earnest conversation ensued. The only one to take the 1st ferry onto the island had been the mailman. He was in a big sturdy truck with no preschoolers in tow.
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The car pulled on to the ferry, and the play began again. On usual trips, there'd be other ferries to wave at or stale bread to throw off to the trailing gulls. Even the gulls had not returned. She can't remember the docking of the ferry or the first few miles of the trip on the island side. Nothing except the gray skies and open sandy expanse punctuated by the area of low scrub evergreens and blackberry thickets.
Way back then, her young mind had noted that area of brush as a magical wonderland. It maybe even looked like the kind of place Jesus had lived when he was a pre-schooler. Maybe. It tantalized with the promise of deep dish blackberry pies. Somehow, it always made her feel sad and alone too even tho' she knew it was one of the last placemarkers before they got close enough to the village to say they were home.
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Water. Everywhere ahead there was nothing but water. No scrub or sandy dunes. There were no houses on this stretch before either. Now, water was coming in from the sea. The ocean and sound had united. The mailman had said the coast was clear. He had come and gone in low tide. The tide had turned. The parents were talking in quiet tones, but the car allowed no privacy.
“What can we do? The ferry will have turned back by now. No one will be at the station. It's just us.”
The older one turned and looked behind them. As far as she could see, all that she could see was water.
Psalm 107: 23-25