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Tell us about your recent experiences during Hurricane Sandy, how it affected you or Bernardsville.
I was touched and grateful that so many people in our community offered to volunteer, both at the library shelter and the Red Cross shelter at the high school.
As much as the storm threw my family into turmoil just as it did so many others in Bernardsville there was a silver lining. The kindness and generosity of my neighbors was reconfirmed on so many occasions during the nearly 2 weeks we lived without electricity. Dinner became a nightly occasion with families coming together to pool our defrosting foods and show our culinary creativity. We shared a generator that gave our three houses light and heat in the early mornings, and in the dark night, at least until 10. I will miss Cindy’s call of lights out at 10. It was hard to get that call but I must admit I miss it now. Who knew that grocery shopping the Saturday after the storm, a usually dreaded task, would be fun. And a hot shower was my idea of heaven.
I am lucky to have my job at the library to come to each day. I was happy to be able to help my community in some small way by helping to organize the charging stations in the early days of Sandy’s aftermath, and provide the library users with something to fill the dark nights at home. I think we all rediscovered the joys of reading and that sometimes TV is just a lot endless noise.
I hope that we all remember the good feelings we had helping one another, and talking with strangers, now neighbors, while walking the town surveying the damage or standing on the long voting lines at the high school. I don’t ever want this to happen again, but cherish the moments that brought all of us together.
November 12, 2012
Our Lady of Perpetual Help. That’s what the sign on the corner read, the corner where my directions told me to hang a right. Perpetual Help; I remember thinking, a neighborhood with a sign like that has got to be a safe and happy place to live. A quick glance beyond the sign told me that the grounds there were beautiful too. Gorgeous pines, flower gardens, and a pretty little courtyard, with a statue of the Lady right in the center. In front of the courtyard, I spied this sweet brook, running through the property and surrounded by stonework walls.
I drove a half block further and it turns out the house I was looking for was also on the same brook’s path, which ran right next to the house and into the backyard. The whole setting was so tranquil and welcoming, I almost said “I’ll take it!” before ever inspecting the inside of the place. Fortunately, the inside was almost as pretty and quite cozy. Perfect for my needs. My daughter came home from college on the following weekend and was equally enchanted, so I signed the lease and became a full-on Bernardsville resident three weeks later. Both that delightful little brook and the Lady had us, hook, line and sinker.
To get acclimated, I started taking the dog for long walks around the neighborhood and I frequently found myself drawn to the Lady in the courtyard. She looked splendid there, in front of a beautiful stone church; a soft, gentle smile carved on her peaceful marble face.
I’m not Catholic, but am a huge admirer of Mary and she’s one of my Top 10 Most-Admired Women of All Time. Even if you’re not a believer, you have to at least give her serious props for being the ultimate mom. She was so selfless and loving. For me, as a single mother, she continues to be a source of inspiration. It was easy to slip into the habit of stopping by to visit her in the courtyard.
I can almost see the Lady’s courtyard from my home, and I can trace the line of the brook that runs in front of it. It winds through the church grounds, under the street, behind a few houses, under another street, to the west side of my house and beyond. I just love that brook; so many days and evenings have been spent on my back deck just listening to the trickling sounds. It makes the whole yard look beautiful in every season, even on those dreary, snowless winter days, when everything else is so gray and brown.
However, my affinity with the brook is, at times, a love/hate relationship. The first time there was a really nasty rainstorm after we moved in; it threatened to come up over its banks. I spoke to the brook that day. I stood on the deck with my umbrella and hollered, “Don’t you dare even think of flooding this house!” And when it actually seeped into the basement a bit during hurricane Irene, I looked at it and shouted “You brother trucker!” Only I didn’t say brother, and I didn’t say trucker.
I do love the brook, very much in fact, but it angers and frightens me from time to time. This past October, it really, really frightened me.
I started hearing the reports and warnings about hurricane Sandy around October 24th or so. Like most, at first I thought the weather folks might be attempting to scare our pants off just to keep us tuned in. However, the more I watched and followed the maps, the more I realized that this storm could very well be just as serious as they were predicting.
Pulling a page from the ‘Better To Be Safe Than Sorry’ book, I took heed and headed out for supplies early that Saturday morning. A few neighbors were outside talking when I got back and I joined their discussion. Everyone was concerned about flooding. I learned the consensus was that if the brook’s storm drains clogged with debris during the storm, many of us would have mere minutes to get out before it flooded our little area. This speculation was confirmed later that day by a town official.
Thank God for best friends. Mine had already invited me to stay with her and her family in Metuchen if we lost power. After much pacing and deliberation, I called her late Saturday, explained my concerns about the brook and asked if it was alright to come on Sunday, just in case things went as badly here as we imagined. She said of course, and I made arrangements to be there late in the afternoon the next day. My next call was to my daughter. I was relieved to find that she’d already made plans to leave her dorm on Sunday and stay nearby with her boyfriend’s family. We promised to keep in constant contact with each other.
Sunday arrived and I spent the day at home, doing laundry, cleaning and generally anything I knew I wouldn’t be able to accomplish sans power. I made a big pot of homemade chicken soup to calm my nerves and then set about securing all of my outdoor items. Since it was October, I had about 6 or 8 mums placed around the yard; I moved them all to the basement along with my Halloween decorations.
Next, I packed up the car, hopped in it with the dog and started pulling out of the driveway. Just before turning out, I noticed that I forgot one of the yellow mums. I didn’t want to run it all the way back to the basement, but I didn’t want throw it away, either. That’s when I thought of the Lady.
I jumped back into the car drove over to the little courtyard. With the car still running, I quickly got out with the mum plant, walked down the path and stood in front of the Lady. I placed the pretty yellow mums on top of the stone base of the statue and looked up at her. I said, “Mary, these are for you. I don’t know if you can do anything here, but if you can, could you please make sure my home is safe? Would you please tell that brook to stay put? And the trees, could you please tell them to stay off of my house? If you’ve got some pull in this world, could you work it for me? I’d really appreciate it.”
It was kind of weird for me, that kind of praying. Especially with my car running nearby and Eddie Vedder’s ‘Hard Sun’ blasting from its speakers. Even the dog looked at me like I was some kind of kook. But it felt right. It felt like a spontaneously correct thing to do.
I left the courtyard, made it safely to my friend’s house and enjoyed a big family dinner that night. We spent the better part of the next day, Monday the 29th, doing the same things I did the day before; cooking, cleaning, laundry and anything we wouldn’t be able to do if the lights went out. The mood was light and almost had a festive quality. However, that aura was about to change drastically.
By late Monday afternoon, the skies looked ominous and the wind picked up considerably. The full force of Sandy was on us by nightfall and like most of New Jersey, we lost power by 9pm.
I’ve since heard so many others say that they’d never been so terrified by a weather occurrence before. I concur; I was literally shaking in my shoes. The wind was the most frightening, followed closely by the sound of what we thought was thunder. ‘Turns out it was the sound of exploding transformers and falling debris that was so heavy it made loud, echoing and booming sounds.
I don’t think any of us got much sleep that night.
As we all know, the scale of destruction was clearly evident the next day. While we had no access to media outlets, just looking around my friend’s neighborhood told me that the devastation was well beyond what we feared it might be. So many homes damaged, cars flattened, trees uprooted, lines down; it was so surreal.
Fortunately, there was no damage to my friend’s house, outside of a fallen chimney cap. I was encouraged to stay as long as I needed to (God bless her generous soul!), which was a good thing because getting home proved to be a difficult endeavor.
The ‘State of Emergency’ kept me off the road for one day and the gasoline situation caused another two-day delay. I tried to keep from worrying about my home, but it was nearly impossible. I had visions of complete destruction, and as each day passed, my fears grew. I kept in touch with a few neighbors via text, but they did the same thing I did; they high-tailed it on out of there before the storm hit and weren’t able to get back home either. None of us really knew the for sure just how bad things were in Bernardsville. The not-knowing only fed my trepidation.
Finally, on Friday November 2nd, I was able to gas up and drive home. As I sailed up the highway, I sang and hummed to myself, just to keep my apprehension at bay. Normally, once I get off the highway, it takes all of 7 minutes to get home. On that trip, it took 45.
I drove towards town and the scene was awful; it seemed as though every other house was severely damaged. There were hundreds of huge trees pulled right out by their roots, utility poles were snapped in half and live wires threatened everywhere. I gasped so much and so often that I felt out of breath.
The main road was closed and blocked, so I had to turn off, into an unfamiliar neighborhood. I found myself in what appeared to be some kind of post-apocalyptic area. I heard myself say, over and over again, “Please God, let all these people here be OK.”
As I continued driving, I came across more blocked streets. I turned and drove in what I thought was the right direction, but started to realize I had no idea how to get back to a main road. After a few more turns, I felt lost and trapped and my anxiety grew.
I just wanted to get to my home! The worst-case scenario pictures flooded my head and I couldn’t shake them. My palms started to sweat and my eyes started to burn from holding back the tears. When my hands began to tremble, I thought it best to pull over for a moment and re-group. I put the car in park, got out, lit a cigarette and started to pray: “Please God, please get me home. And when I get there, let it be standing, unharmed.”
After a few minutes I felt a little better and got back in the car. Before I could even put it in drive, I saw a yellow pick-up truck; the kind they use in our Public Works department. I quickly followed it and waved the driver over when we came to a stop sign. Sure enough, it was one of our Roads Department guys. I explained that I was lost, and asked for a way to get back to a main road. The man in the truck was so kind; he told me to follow him and he’d get me out.
Sure enough, within five minutes, I was back out on a clear main road. Before I passed my escort, I stopped, powered down my window and hollered: “Thank you SO much! If it wasn’t so inappropriate, I’d kiss you, right on the lips!!”
A renewed sense of calm came over me, although I was hesitant to embrace it. I hadn’t gotten home just yet; who knew what I’d find. I continued my trip…..
At last, I turned down my street. As I approached my house, I held my breath.
The first thing I saw was one of our huge pine trees. This sucker used to stand about four stories high, but now it was on its side, pulled right out of the ground. When I saw where it fell, the word ‘miraculous’ came to mind.
There was only one way that tree could fall and not hit a house. If it crashed to the east, it would have hit mine, if it went west it would have hit the one next door, and if it fell north it would have gotten the place across the street. The tree fell to the south. I heard myself say “Holy Moses!”
I turned into the driveway and around back. I did this slowly, for fear of what I’d find when I pulled up in front of the brook. The backyard looked dry, but it had been a few days, so who knew? I turned off the car, got out and walked the 10 yards to the banks.
When I got there, I quietly whispered “Whoa.” Along the very edge of the bank, I could see the water line. At the edge. Not over it, or past it. AT it. The brook didn’t flood!
From there, I ran to the basement. Ours is an older home, so the entrance to the basement is outside. I threw open the door, ran in and found the floor was bone-dry! No seepage at all! I said “No. Way. No way! NO WAY!!!” I started dancing around like an ecstatic fool.
I went into the house and aside from being cold and a bit stinky from the food I left in the ‘fridge, all was OK there too. I quickly emptied the freezer and refrigerator, threw out the garbage and went back to the car to get warm.
It was my plan to go back to my friend’s house after inspecting things at home. She had power by then and said it would be OK to stay with her until mine came back on. I texted my daughter with a report and started back out of the driveway.
Instead of heading back to the highway, I decided it was only fitting to visit the Lady. I wanted to stop there and make sure she and her church were equally spared, as well as thank her for watching over my home. I drove over to the little courtyard, parked and got out.
As I stated down the path I looked up, and stopped dead in my tracks.
The Lady and her church were unscathed, but that’s not what took my breath away. It was the mums. Those sweet yellow mums; the ones that prompted me to petition the Lady in the first place. They were still there, exactly where I left them. They looked a wee bit brown and water-logged, but otherwise intact, unmoved by Sandy.
I was stunned.
At the sight of those little flowers and the beautiful, graceful Lady, every bit of stress came rushing out. All the fear, worry and anxiety flowed out of me. I started to cry; bawl, actually, saying “Oh, thank you! Thank you! Thank You!”
I stayed there, weeping, for a good 10 minutes, comforted by the Lady of Perpetual Help. I knew I must’ve looked like an idiot, but I didn’t care. I cried until I was done.
Before I left the courtyard, I promised the Lady that I would tell people about what she’d done for me. I swore I’d tell this story to others, and let them take from it what they will.
A few weeks ago, I heard our Library was collecting ‘Storm Stories’; accounts of individual experiences of hurricane Sandy here in Bernardsville. I thought, what a perfect opportunity.
So here it is, my storm story. The story of me, in my town, and the brook, and the Lady and the awful storm, and the miracles I encountered as a result of it all. I consider myself lucky and blessed to be able to retell it. And to say thank you – thank you Bernardsville, thank you to the brook that stayed put and thank you to the Lady; that beautiful majestic Lady who protected my home.
Mine Mount Road
The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy was just as traumatic, if not more so, than the storm itself, and it was an exercise on many levels.
An exercise of patience waiting for the power to be restored…
An exercise of will and of working to maintain my health as I am not a happy camper in any way when the temperature is too cold for me…
An exercise in slowing down as technology was virtually shut down for two weeks…A very disconcerting circumstance for someone who makes a good portion of her living as a web and print designer…
Finally, and most importantly, an exercise in receiving kindness as my family was given an amazing gift…
At the beginning of the storm, we reserved a hotel room at Dolce Baking Ridge. But, a few days later, the hotel had to close down because they were having trouble finding gas for their generator. After four days of living in our very cold house, thankfully, power was restored at Dolce and we were able to get another room.
In the midst of our second hotel stay, I received a text from my dear friend Megan McDowell, founder of the random acts of kindness organization, Heartworks, (Please visit njheartworks.org to find out more about this wonderful foundation!) She was letting me know that a Heartworker would be bringing lunch to my mom and me.
Immediately, I got choked up and called Megan to thank her and the Heartworker.
Upon hearing the emotion in my voice, Megan said, “Well, hang on to your hat because Heartworks is also paying your entire hotel bill.”
At that point I started to sob. I put Megan on speakerphone and asked her to repeat her news to my mom. Upon hearing about this generous gift, my mother began to sob as well. While very grateful, we both felt undeserving of this kindness since there were so many Hurricane victims who were much worse off than we were.
But as Megan explained through our protests, Heartworks is not about giving to those who deserve it more, it’s about seeing people in need and easing their burden through a kind act. She also said while giving is an essential part of Heartworks, receiving, and learning how to receive, is just as vital to the process. Giving doesn’t work without receiving. Isn’t it interesting how that shakes out?
So, my family and I graciously received Heartworks’ gift and it did, in fact, go a long way to easing our stress about this unexpected expense.
Thank you to Heartworks for all that it does to make to world a kinder, better place, and for teaching us how to be better receivers.
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