dark and stormy


I was seven years old the first time I heard the word "hurricane." 

It was summer of  1974, and my mom, dad, sister and I were visiting my dad's mother and father in Champs Fleurs, a town in Trinidad a few miles away from the capital city.  My dad is the second of nine kids, so whenever we visited Grandma and Grandad, there was also always several of Dad's siblings also around, helping Grandma cook, and clean and generally bustle around the house.  Grandad would play the piano, and people would shout and argue and laugh over the music.  It was always a raucous time.

This time, however, there was an additional noise -- the television was on, everyone was listening to news of an approaching "hurricane."  In fact, it wasn't actually a hurricane, it was a tropical depression -- but Trinidad is so far south in the chain of Caribbean islands, there hadn't been a tropical cyclone there since 1933.  So while it might have been a mere depression, it was one that showed promise of developing into something bigger before landfall, so hyperbole demanded that we call it a hurricane.

We were all glued to the television. 

"Mom, what's a 'hurricane'?" 

"It's a really bad thunderstorm," said my mom, worriedly.  "But it's really bad." 

Hours later, the news anchor announced that the depression had grown, and would now be referred to as Tropical Storm Alma.  And even though the news that the the storm had strengthened was clearly of great concern, there was also a huge cry of laughter, as everyone clapped my Auntie Aqui on the back.

 "What's happening?"

"They named the storm after Auntie Aqui!  'Alma' is her real name!"   Auntie Aqui looked somewhat embarrassed, but also pleased.

I was confused.  "They named it after Auntie Aqui?  How does the weatherman know her?" 

My mom laughed.  "Well, they don't. But they always name hurricanes after women.  They just chose the name 'Alma.'" 

Even at seven years old, it seemed unfair that they would name dangerous storms after women and not men (five years later, they started naming hurricanes after men as well, and I was vindicated).  And honestly, I was a little suspicious that they would pick the name 'Alma' without knowing my aunt -- could it be that they did know her, and in fact my aunt was more dangerous than I knew? 

The next day, the storm hit.  My family tried to act like they weren't worried, but I could tell they were:  they kept staring out the windows with concern, even though to me, it didn't seem much worse than any thunderstorm.  Then, as soon as it arrived, it left -- it only took 3 hours to cross the island -- and the skies cleared.   And although there was some flooding, I don't remember there being much damage (although Venezuela, Alma's next target, didn't fare as well).

It's almost 40 years later, and even given all the time that has passed, I always thought that in many ways, Tropical Storm Alma was exactly  like my Auntie Aqui -- quick-tempered, but ultimately more bluster than peril, and equally quick to cool down.  

Even though that tropical storm wasn't particularly dangerous, the memory of my family's concern never left, and I'm always very nervous about any storms that appear in the Gulf of Mexico, especially since we still live near the coast.  A few years ago, when Hurricane Ike indicated that it was headed toward Houston, we evacuated  to San Antonio with a quickness; the night it made landfall, while Alex and Marcus slept, I obsessively and frantically scoured every bit of media I could for news, worrying about what was happening at home.   

Now it's mid-August, and right on schedule, the hurricane season seems to be approaching its peak, with the Gulf of Mexico  beginning to show some activity -- and I'm watching it like a hawk.

Incidentally, this year, one of the names slated for any upcoming storms is "Karen." I'd like to think that if it gets that far, the storm will be just like Alma:  explosive, but quick to pass, and equally quick to cool down, without much damage in its wake.

I am, after all, a lot like my Auntie Aqui.