Friday, August 20, 2010

Male Hurricane Names and Other Stuff

The other day I watched a documentary about the storm that hit the Florida Keys in 1935. It was just one of those channel surfing things where a set of interviews caught my eye. Between writing a post here the other day about living in cold Lake, Alberta and on military bases, Stagg and I got into a series of conversations about our childhoods. I got an email from a blogger friend who grew up in Cold Lake and we never knew that about each other. I landed up writing her a brief account of some of the places I have lived while stationed out in PMQs across North America...nowhere fancy except for Florida. I was telling Stagg stories about my days traveling with various meditation groups for retreats and meditation festivals and when this documentary came on the other day...I told him how I had been in Miami Beach when one of two of the first male hurricanes hit the area. We had to be evacuated from Miami and a bunch of my friends and I landed up going in to the interior of Florida and sharing a bunch of hotel rooms. It was hurricane David. The other first male named hurricane was Frederick that same year. Hurricane David was a Category 5 hurrcane and killed over 2000 people mostly in the Dominican Republic, and a dozen in Florida. I was young and quite a lot more ignorant than I am now. I am still as dumb as they come about most things....but back then I was pretty dense. I thought it was exciting to be in a hurricane. The idea of dying never even occured to me. When we moved upstate and got about 30 of us into hotel rooms we had bought all kinds of organic groceries from the health food stores in Miami. We had to dig out the yellow pages of the phone book (the original "google" sort of) and follow the instructions. The phone book! Who uses a phone book anymore? We bought masking tape and taped up all the windows in our hotel rooms. We filled up the bathtubs with fresh cold water. We bought bottled water. And then for the next two days we partied in each others hotel rooms. Partied as people who meditate party...not with booze or anything. Most of us weren't even legal to drink, for one thing, and for another we were high on life. we shared our granola, our muesli, our trail mixes and made Chai on a hot plate with all spices we had bought and ground into a steel bowl with hammers and the ends of screw drivers as mortars and pestles. We stayed up all night on the Indian spices, honey, black pepper corns, and English Breakfast tea that entail the ingredients for killer Chai. We sort of had the news on in the background but we were busy running outside in the violent rain between our rooms and doing marathon meditation sessions. when we got back to Miami a couple days later, the city was a mess. Garbage, broken windows, palm trees all blown around. And we found out the terrible news of the death toll. Sobering.

naming Hurricane David and Hurricane Frederick came about as one of the extensions of social change brought by previous generations of women who were feminists. The general mood of culture was beginning to incorporate what we now call "the politically correct" and some side of me felt triumphant that the women before me had accomplished this aspect of social change. That the protesting and the activism had trickled throughout our society and affected our attitude towards naming even hurricanes. The tradition of naming hurricanes had come from the West Indies a hundred years or so earlier and the names were usually the names of Catholic saints. The first being Saint Ann. After this Florida storm in 1979, the name David for hurricanes was retired because the devastation was so terrible. A hurricane name is retired after such a storm because to use it again would be insensitive to all those who lost people, family, homes and city infrastructures.

As Stagg and I listened to the documentary on the storm of 1935 in the Florida Keys that killed hundreds of people, mostly war veterans displaced during the Deression, I told Stagg I had lived in Florida. It had completely not hit me that I have been a resident of the States before on a military base in Florida! This fact had never really hit me before, and Stagg was dumbfounded as well. . My mum said she used to feed hotdogs to aligators that would show up to cross our backyard. I don't remember anything.

During the documentary on the storm of 1935, Hemingway was introduced into the narrative. He lived near the Keys and used to hang out in one of the same bars as the veterans who were hired to build an automobile bridge between the mainline and the Keys. Hemingway often bought the vets drinks and loved to socialize with them. Many of these vets had lost their families, had post traumatic stress syndrome and were substance abusers and had no luck fitting into the Depression economic climate of the States anymore. But these same sad things about these vets also was part of their colourful personalities and attitudes that attracted hemingway. these guys were real characters. The work they were doing for Florida was an attempt to assimilate them into society and provide livlihoods. Hemingway was one of the first responders to the disaster after the storm, he went on his boat to check on his friends after the storm and found hundreds of dead vets, many who he recognized only by their clothes or jewelry. He was shocked and furious and he published an article in a small press. His political stance was right wing, but he landed up choosing a left wing paper to write his response, condeming the government. I found some excerpts online and here are a few...

"The writer of this article lives a long way from Washington and would not know the answers to those questions. But he does know that wealthy people, yachtsmen, fishermen such as President Hoover and Presidents Roosevelt, do not come to the Florida Keys in hurricane months.... There is a known danger to property. But veterans, especially the bonus-marching variety of veterans, are not property. They are only human beings; unsuccessful human beings, and all they have to lose is their lives. They are doing coolie labor for a top wage of $45 a month and they have been put down on the Florida Keys where they can't make trouble. It is hurricane months, sure, but if anything comes up, you can always evacuate them, can't you?

It is not necessary to go into the deaths of the civilians and their families since they were on the Keys of their own free will; They made their living there, had property and knew the hazards involved. But the veterans had been sent there; they had no opportunity to leave, nor any protection against hurricanes; and they never had a chance for their lives. Who sent nearly a thousand war veterans, many of them husky, hard-working and simply out of luck, but many of them close to the border of pathological cases, to live in frame shacks on the Florida Keys in hurricane months?

The railroad embankment was gone and the men who had cowered behind it and finally, when the water came, clung to the rails, were all gone with it. You could find them face down and face up in the mangroves. The biggest bunch of the dead were in the tangled, always green but now brown, mangroves behind the tanks cars and the water towers. They hung on there, in shelter, until the wind and the rising water carried them away.

Who left you there? And what's the punishment for manslaughter now?"


Janet said...

It's funny, the things we did as youths that we'd never do now!

Candy Minx said...

Tru dat!