Monday, October 5, 2015

20 Years Ago: Double or Triple Whammy?

I hadn't planned to post today, since I have a very busy afternoon. My morning prayer circle got canceled, so I thought I would be reflective today.

Twenty years ago, on October 3rd, 1995, Hurricane Opal hit our area. That in itself would be plenty to recall, but it is the circumstances around it that made it even more difficult.

Life is full of hilltops and valleys. That year, late summer and into the beginnings of fall plummeted our family from the hilltop to the valley.

Summer found us with school out and summer projects; just the love of being home. I loved being home with the kids. I counted the days until I could be just a mommy at home. Jeff was teaching by that time too. Lindsay would be starting school, and Paul Allen had turned 3. 

We lived right around the corner from our current home which was Jeff's parents home. Jeff's dad was retired and for entertainment he kept our yard as immaculate as his own. I am not kidding when I tell you the man could do up a yard. Flowers everywhere. People stopped to gaze at his front bed of impatiens. They were a sight to behold.

We had noticed he had slowed down. He actually had gone to doctors, even had gall bladder surgery earlier in the summer.

Late summer, August 3, 2015, Hurricane Erin came into our area as a Category 2 hurricane. It was amazing. I have never seen so many limbs in one yard. We all thought the amount of debris was incredible. I said it really pruned the trees for Opal.

August 1995 after Erin. Photos taken of photos. The scanner was not being cooperative.

New lunch boxes. No, he didn't need one, but he wanted one because she had one. 

I have told you before we are truly the last people in the county to regain power. We are on a small line that connects to nothing important. 

Anyway after several days, Mr. Palmer made his way to the KFC and brought over dinner. You can not even imagine how good that meal was!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Let me back up for a side story, Jeff is one that always thinks he must get out and survey the damage before he should which ended up in a flat tire. 

When we sat down to that dinner, for some reason I felt it was video worthy!!! The kids are explaining to Nana and PaPa how Daddy should not have been driving after the hurricane (repeating what I had said) and how we got a flat tire and so forth. We have priceless video of our eating our first hot meal and Daddy getting scolded by the kids. It's the little things we remember. Who knew that video would be such a wonderful memory.

A week passed by and we had celebrated the return of electricity. I can't even begin to tell you how much I love air conditioning. Those August nights were some of the hottest of my life. 
Mr. Palmer had a doctor's appointment that gave us news that changed our lives. He had cancer that was untreatable and he had just a little time left.

School started.

Jeff went to work late every morning. His wonderful principal set up his planning period early so that he could come in late. So, for six weeks he went to his parents house every morning and then as soon as school was out he was back over there. 

Lindsay started to school and flourished.

I held the fort down.

Late September arrived and with that Lindsay's birthday. The time was getting close for his passing, so I took her for a small party with just closest friends to Chuckie Cheese and back over to see her grandparents. I knew he would pass soon, and I couldn't help but be selfish and hoped it wouldn't be on her birthday because I didn't want it to always be her birthday and the day PaPa died. I realize that is rather stupid now, but you know when you are in the thick of things you don't think rationally. He passed away after midnight that evening.

Lindsay and Chelsea pictured here are still best friends today.

Less than a week, still battered from the whirlwind of the last 8 weeks of recovering from a hurricane, and then watching a loved one pass away, I awoke to the alarm of the TV. 

There was another storm out there...surely, it wouldn't come to the exact same place. 

I went to bed and left the TV on watching it. I woke at 4:00 to that sound on the Weather Channel when there is an alert. Hurricane Opal was indeed going to come to the same place and she was a category 5. Later it was determined that she was only a 4 with the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded in the Atlantic basin. Big deal. She was not good news.

I have lived along the Gulf Coast all my life. I remembered Camille from 1969. I was up and waking everyone. We packed our stuff and headed to Nana's. She was a mess. We loaded up the car, two kids, Nana, and Jeff's brother to head north. 

That was the year that Emergency Management Systems everywhere learned lots of lessons. Too late for us, but they learned lessons! We were on Highway 85 North halfway to Crestview with all four lanes north jammed up and jelly tight with people. The radio announcer begins to say, everyone needs to get off the road immediately. Where!? That is Air Force Base reservation. There is no where to go. Lovely...two small kids and a distraught Nana. 

We get to Crestview only to find out that a tornado has just come across the area. We realized we would never make to my parent's house or to Jeff's aunt's home in Montgomery. We would have to find shelter. We made a phone call to a family in north Crestview. They said come. We made it only to find out two more families had made it there too. Words can never express my gratitude to those people. I took Nana and the kids to a bedroom and just tried to keep them calm. It is all surreal to even think about. Those people were angels in the midst.

We rode out the night. When we were able to be let back into Fort Walton, we headed home.

IT was unbelievable. For us, more trees down, the bottom deck at our current home (Nana's at the time) washed away. Boats everywhere. No electricity for two more weeks. 

Highway 98 in front of the Sound. That high rise in the background is still there today.

The shopping center is no longer there. This is right next to the old civic center and library building on Highway 98.

But, the worst of that was trying to deal with all of that while grieving. My poor hubby was so pitiful. It is a time we will never forget. I can still remember the weeks and months after that and the tears he shed. He was very close to his dad, and I knew his life would be forever changed. He was his parents' surprise baby. They had him late in life, and Jeff was one of those who realized how special his dad was. A WWII vet who had gone in not on D-Day, but the day after. Still not good. He was from the Greatest Generation for sure.

Every hurricane has a story, and I can tell you one for every single one, big or small, that has hit our area since Camille in 1969, but none are quite like Erin and Opal.

It is deeply embedded into the fabric of our stories.

We don't think of his passing with Lindsay's birthday, but with Erin and Opal.

20 years ago, this past weekend, but, yet still so fresh. But, God is always good and provides a way to pass through the deep waters.

Now, off to start a busy day. Needed to write it down for posterity's sake.

Picture taken in May of 1995.

Hurricane Erin, Hurricane Opal, and the loss of a great man. Triple dose of trouble. They valleys come, but God holds us up.


  1. We remember Opal up here as well. I did not realize it was 20 yrs ago! We had high winds and had a tree down in our yard. The next hurricane to impact us was Katrina. I guess I tend to remember tornados as those come our way a lot. And you are is a very difficult time to live through. Your stories of your father in law are so sweet...he sounds like a dear man. I am so glad you have a video of him. Today I am thinking of a recent widow friend in Columbia SC who is riding out the flooding all alone. Fortunately she has little damage but is unable to get out as the road in front of her home is closed due to flooding. So glad her home was not touched!! Hopefully the sun will shine, the floods will recede and we can enjoy some fall weather this week.

  2. I got tears in my eyes reading this! Nothing is worse than stress on top of grieving!

    I know exactly where those photos were taken. The Sound Restaurant was my favorite in FWB. My parents live west of there in Mary Esther. At the time of Opal, I was in Georgia, and the storm was still so strong after it hit the Gulf Coast, that it caused damage in North GA, and a man was even killed. Just terrible.

    So sorry for your loss, but I'm sure good memories outweigh the bad.

    1. The good does outweigh the bad! I don't usually share the personal things on the blog, but just felt led.
      After that one, I never ceased to pray that all hurricanes weaken as they come in. Opal was only a 3 when it came in and yet it did so much damage and yes, all the way to north Georgia.
      The infamous landmark, Samford Hall on Auburn's campus looked different after Opal. It took out quite a few of the big oaks out front.
      Feeling bad for those people in South Carolina.


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