As summer winds down and the kiddies get ready to head back to school, I can't help but think about my own years as a child going to school in a small Cajun town less than fifty miles from the Gulf of Mexico. There was always two things I could count on at the beginning of each school year...1) I would be wearing homemade hand me down clothes that never quite fit right and 2) a hurricane would always prevent me from starting school on time.
With four children and an alcoholic husband who was hardly ever around, my mother had to resort to a number of things to keep her offspring clothed and fed properly. I remember one summer having to handle the humiliation of visiting an estate sale where my mother proceeded to scoop up some deceased elderly woman's "Sunday go to meetin'" dresses. Once home she would slowly pick apart the threading and scale down the dress to be worn by her youngest daughter to school. Do you have any idea what is was like to walk around in clothing better suited for an eighty year old woman rather than a twelve year old girl?
I understood the meaning of the depths of stark poverty but I've always wondered if my mother ever understood the humiliation I endured simply by having to walk into the school wearing those types of cast offs?
But it was the real threat of hurricanes I most associate with the first days of school. My school would always begin between the end of August and the beginning of September...smack dab in the middle of hurricane season. The fact my hometown was so close to the gulf usually also meant we would deal with the backlash of Mother Nature's fury.
Most of the time we would hunker down in our rental house where mother would calmly fill the bathtub with water and make sure we had plenty of kerosene for our lanterns. She would stock up on bread and other food just in case we would be without electricity and stacks of towels stood ready to stuff under doors in case of flooding. Then she would gather up her children and ride out the terrible hurricanes passing near town...and I'm sure doing quite a bit of praying that her family would remain safe for another day.
I even remember a few times having to be evacuated to my high school gymnasium because it was considered the sturdiest building in town. I must have been only four or five years old at the time when my father lifted me up high enough to look out one of the windows. I remember watching the swirling, slashing wind and rain picking up garbage cans and tossing them like confetti as we waited out the storm. Or trying to make it back home afterwards in our old car and taking the long way around flooded streets where kids paddled by in homemade boats or having to backtrack and find another way home because so many uprooted trees made it impossible to continue moving forward.
Just this week my town was under a tornado warning and while that was frightening enough, I wonder sometimes how frightened I would have really been if I had been a little bit older and fully realized the fury heading my way when I was caught in the eye of the storm every year when school began?