Happy to provide refuge from the storm

Dr. Sarah Jane Byars, West Columbia

July 31, 2009 

Two days before the storm, my longtime friend and Charleston native called, “Can you take us all?” she asked. “Sure, we’ll find places for everybody somewhere,” I answered as I as assessed my modest abode. Lisa and I are fellow teachers who became close friends in graduate school and tend to be caretaker types. The morning of the storm, my friend arrived with her mother, her 90-year-old grandmother, her 92-year-old great aunt, her 4-year-old daughter, and the wife of a commercial fisherman from Florida who was stranded by the storm.

Lisa’s father owned a shrimp dock on Shem Creek in Mount Pleasant, and her husband was a commercial fisherman. Because fishermen have no insurance on their boats, they have to stay with them during storms. Lisa’s husband and the stranded fisherman from Florida would be on their boats as far inland as they could travel on the Wando River along with other fish boats from the area. Her father stayed at their West Ashley house leaving the dock only minutes before the storm hit. This entourage had far more at stake in this storm than the usual Charleston refugee.

While we bided our time for the impact to come, the two elderly ladies watched TV in tandem; one couldn’t hear, the other one couldn’t see. Together, they got the complete story conveying to each other what their disability prohibited. The comedy of it could be enjoyed were it not for the risks that loomed heavy in the air. Lisa’s mother brought a Kraft cream cheese cookbook to entertain herself, examining cheesecake recipes as a treat to lighten the mood. After perusing the numerous variations of cheesecakes, we all decided on one that would please the crowd. As an accomplished cook, she was dismayed to learn I didn’t own a spring form pan needed to cook the cheesecake. Not to be deterred, we improvised using a deep-dish pie pan instead. The sweet distraction of the cheesecake offered a bit of solace to the anxious group.

As bedtime approached, the three older ladies stayed at a house a few doors down with a neighbor who had empty guestrooms. My daughter, Lisa, her daughter, and the fisherman’s wife all found beds and couches at my house. Little sleep actually occurred as the winds blew the trees around whistling through the windows for what seemed like hours. As the sun was rising the following morning, the elderly ladies reappeared at the back door. Coffee was brewing and telephone calls were being made to Charleston trying to assess the damages and accessibility of the roads to return. The dock took a sizable hit, but could be rebuilt. The fishing boats lost some antennas and minor parts, but all life was unharmed; the sighs of relief were audible.

The motley crew quickly packed everything in the two cars and headed out without ceremony to rejoin their loved ones. Gracious thank you notes arrived within the week including apologies for their abrupt departure. Six weeks later, I received a package in the mail. It contained a Kraft cream cheese cookbook and a spring form pan, a gift from Lisa’s mother. With every cheesecake I make, I am reminded of my Hurricane Hugo guests, and I thank God for the opportunity to have provided a refuge for them.

-- Dr. Sarah Jane Byars, West Columbia

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