My hurricane was called Yankee Clipper, Long Island Express, or simply The Great Hurricane . People still talk about the New England hurricane of 1938. Today we designate hurricanes by female names, which may or may not be significant. For instance those girls named Katrina may wish to rethink the spelling of their name at least. Today Irene seems to be slowing down or pausing for reflection. The wisest residents of states in her path have evacuated at least to higher ground.
In 1938 we moved to Connecticut, where my father was to be attached to the New London Submarine Base. Right after my 10th birthday in April, we loaded our few belongings into our black Chevy sedan, and drove across country, taking four days and nights to do so. It’s a good thing I was small and could curl myself into a ball in the back seat, and liked to read and sleep, because otherwise it might have been a miserable four days for my parents! There weren’t many motels then (they called them motor courts), which was a good thing as we couldn’t afford one anyway in the Depression. My main recollection of the long trip was that the middle of our country is very hot and dry in the summer, and I have subsequently been very happy to live on its Coasts for most of my life.
The New London/Groton area in those days was mostly sleepy rural village, with a Norman Rockwell atmosphere. The small two-room school which I would attend, was three miles from our house. The small collection of houses where we lived were on a tiny lake, which would freeze in the winter, and allow us to skate across thus saving about a mile walk to school. Right after the first of September, the journeys to and from school were still quite warm with the added pleasure the autumn colors offered. Not that I was a bird fancier then, but I still recall the first and only brilliant red cardinal I ever saw flitting through the red/gold leaves.
On September 21, a gigantic hurricane struck, which to this day is said to be the most powerful, costliest, and deadliest to hit New England in its 350 year history It began with light rain, which increased as the morning continued. The morning walk to school was wet, but not too windy. The cloakroom was filled with the children’s wet wool clothes, and the smell, along with the accompanying odors of deviled egg and tuna sandwiches was unpleasant. Later I remember the winds picking up and beginning to howl, and our little wooden building began creaking ominously.
We children couldn’t stay away from the windows, watching the trees in the nearby woods whip around in the gale. Now and then a deafening clap of thunder shook the building. Our teacher was obviously alarmed, and had trouble keeping us away from the large windows which shook with each gust of wind. Some of the smaller trees were being uprooted and small undergrowth was tossed about like beanbags. The noise was frightening. It became apparent that we would be released as soon as the teachers had a plan. The phone was out, and then the lights went out. When I went to collect my damp coat, the building lurched, and I dropped the lunchbox I was carrying. It was a loud and confusing scramble trying to get 25 children back into wet clothes and out into the rain.
A few parents were there to pick up some of the children, though most of the others seemed to live in the same direction as I, and we were left to walk. It was difficult trying to jump over fallen debris, and avoid anything still being blown down. As we hurried along the road, it became apparent as to why no one had come for us. Many of the very old and large trees had fallen across the road preventing any traffic. I don’t remember any of us being afraid, rather as a rather wet game which allowed us to escape school. Some of the children lived in farmhouses along the way, and were very happy to get back home safely. Finally I was left walking alone as I lived the farthest. I tried playing mind games putting myself in a warm safe place, but as it became darker and windier the woods became scarier and more malevolent. The howling of wind is possibly the loneliest sound there is. I lost my prized new lunchbox when I tripped over a log, and while I was down on the ground, I heard a weak pathetic whine coming from just inside the woods. Going to investigate, I found a small very wet dog whose collar had been caught by a bush. Breaking him loose, I picked him up and we went home together. The next day, my father found the owner, who was delighted to have him back home.
My main recollection is arriving home to the warm comforting smell of freshly baked bread, which my mother baked in our old black iron wood stove. Never has bread been so welcome nor tasted so good.
The next day we discovered that the storm had accelerated later in the day, and took the roof off the old schoolhouse, and all of its windows. The only thing left standing in the playground was the large wooden outhouse, and the swing sets.