In September 1989, a day after Hugo, I had a rake in my hands as I stood in my front yard trying to figure out where to start. Music and conversation could be heard from a battery-operated radio on the front steps. The sun was shining and the sky was a bright blue. But hope and happy days seemed so far away.
What had just happened to us? How could we ever rebound? Where should we even start? Everywhere you looked there was so much to do.
I sat down on those steps, took off my work gloves and called the disc jockey — Michael D was his radio name. He asked if we could talk on the air. I told him I just wanted to request a song but we could talk if he liked.
We spent a few minutes and then he asked what I wanted to hear. I told him if he could find Bruce Springsteen’s “My Hometown” it would be appreciated. The song is not especially uplifting. It’s quite sad, actually, but it spoke to what I was feeling and fearing for the Lowcountry at that moment.
As the haunting melody started to ooze from the radio, I dropped the rake, removed my work gloves, crumpled to those cold brick steps and started to cry.
A tough blow
That song was an anthem bemoaning the death of small towns across America. It had nothing to do with hurricanes or tropical storms. It dealt with a dad explaining to his 8-year-old son that even through tragic times and closed businesses and racial unrest and massive unemployment, this is your hometown.
A week ago I found myself in that same West Ashley front yard wearing work gloves and holding a rake. There was standing water everywhere, but nothing close to what we’d faced more than 20 years earlier.
There were folks in Florida dealing with it though. I fished my phone from my pocket, pulled up that very same Springsteen song and let those lyrics wash over me all over again.
As those folks in the Sunshine State sort through what is left of their lives, the smell of fear and uncertainty is strangely familiar. It’s not enough, though, to say we’ve been there and done that. It could have been us if not for slight jogs and indiscriminate turns of this violent storm.
See you in September
Sometimes I think that the ability to see these storms coming so far in advance merely adds to the drama of dealing with them. Day after day we monitor the various models and wonder if we’ll remain in the cone of uncertainty. Do we evacuate? If so, which way is the right way?
For many in our community, this was their first taste of what a big storm can bring — and it ended up only coming within a couple hundred miles from us.
In many of Springsteen’s live performances of “My Hometown,” he invites the crowd to join him by thrusting his microphone in their direction. This happens at a point in the chorus that explains this is “your hometown.”
Time after time, at the singer’s urging, he invites them to reply, and with each invitation the crowd becomes louder and more engaged.
That’s how our community must respond each time we’re challenged by such disasters. It’s no longer enough to separate ourselves by how long we’ve been here. When it comes to finding healing and hope, it’s up to all of us.
Being sad and taking a moment to cry is allowed.
Parents, let this next generation know this is also their place to protect. Be proud and passionate in delivering that message.
That anthem’s chorus says it simply: “This is your hometown, your hometown.”
Sometimes, a rake, a pair of work gloves and a song provide the perfect tools for gaining perspective.
Reach Warren Peper at email@example.com.