The Child and the Great New England Hurricane

Two-year-old Joyce with kittens

I am posting this account of the hurricane I lived through when I was a little over 2-years-old. It came to mind, during my Christmas vacation in the Kern County mountains in California. We were snowed in for 3 days and my reaction to the storm was anything but normal. It was, in fact, my old friend PTSD or deja vue all over again. Different kind of storm, but over 80 years later same terror.

From Never Tell

While we are living in old Grammy Howe’s house there is another much greater storm and it is one of the defining events of my life.  It begins on Sept. 21, 1938 the same evening that most of Hereford has gathered in the hall for a chicken pie supper.  Why have such a party in the middle of the week?  It is the autumn equinox.  Is the cult celebrating Mabon, the pagan harvest festival?  That sounds pleasant enough and indeed, the cult cannot be directly blamed for what befalls me this day although it leaves me in a susceptible condition.

The Great New England hurricane I heard about although for many years I did not identify it with my experience. It killed 680 people, destroyed some 9000 buildings, as well as dams, bridges, roads, harbors and an incredible amount of forest.  In today’s terms, it caused $20,000,000,000 damage.

That afternoon before the storm broke, Jenny and my mother set off in the horse and buggy with me between them to shelter me somewhat from the wind.  It has been raining for several days but only now has the wind begun to rise.  When we are about half way along the track that cuts diagonally across the field toward the crossroad, I hear my mother call out,  “The wind is taking her breath away!”

For many years, this is all I remember.  I do not even remember struggling to breathe and not being able to, only my mother’s hysterical cry.  I do not remember, Jenny turning the horse around ninety degrees out of the wind and heading it away from the main road up the rise to the farm above.   When the memory finally returns, it unfolds gradually until I piece out events.

I find myself plunked down in the sitting room of Great Grammy Hood’s house, my home at that time.  I am very disappointed not to be going to the church hall where there will be music and food and kids to play with.  After my mother and grandmother leave, Grammy tries to coax me to stop crying and play with my dolls.  My little table is set with doll dishes and Polly and Teddy are sitting in the little chair facing the one Grammy Hood has sat me in.  Grammy is seventy-three and she is wearing what she always wears, a long black skirt and a black sweater.  She will still wear these clothes in the future, but never afterwards will she talk to me like this.

I am fed supper by Nina under Grammy’s direction. John and his sons are still at home then although Gertrude and her daughter have left like my mother and grandmother to get supper ready at the hall.  John and the boys leave before dark, having milked the cows and, washed their hands and faces and got themselves into their good clothes.  Grammy Hood tucks me into her bed downstairs and I cry myself quietly to sleep.

I wake up to a terrible noise.  Nina is howling and Grammy is berating her to stop it, but I can see that Grammy herself is very upset.  She is trying to pull the bureau in front of the window.  I can see why.  It looks as if the wind is about to break in there.  It is very noisy. Grammy falls down.  Nina shrieks and runs over to her.  She tries to pull Grammy up.  Grammy can’t get up and she won’t answer Nina.  Nina drags her over to the bed and after a hard struggle gets her on it.  I have to slide out of the way fast.  Grammy is sort of snoring and her face looks funny.  Nina gets on her knees on the bed and begins to hit her on her body, trying to wake her up.  But Grammy doesn’t wake up.  She just lies there staring with her mouth drooling.  Nina cries harder and harder.  She’s scaring me so bad I start to cry.  Nina kicks me onto the floor and lies down where I was.  When I try to climb back, she kicks me out again.

It is cold.  I need a blanket.  Rain and wind are pounding on the windows.  There is a kind of howling and not just from Nina and the dogs in the woodshed.  The lamp keeps flickering.  It seems as if it is going to go out.  When it flickers, shadows jump on the wall.  I am very, very scared.  Every time I try to sneak back into the bed, Nina kicks me hard.  For a long time, I am frozen there.  Then I remember the dogs.

The kitchen is almost dark.  Only a little light gets in there from the lamp.  But I tell myself to be a big girl.  I stand in the doorway looking hard to see if there is anything bad there in the shadows.  Then I walk as fast as I can around the table and chairs to the woodshed door, which I open.  The dogs that have been leaning against it rush in and make for the stove.  I struggle to close the door up again against the wind that is coming into the shed.  I run back to the daybed that sits under the window.  This window is protected by the veranda so it seems safer that the windows in the living room.  I climb up on it and unhook the barn coats that hang beside the door.  They have the comforting smell of cows.  Then I call the dogs, Rex and Trooper and Sarge.  At first, they don’t come, so I crawl under the coats, but I keep calling until Rex finally comes over.  He has figured out that the stove is cold.  Finally, all of them climb up and lie with me.  They keep me warm.  I hug them for comfort.  In return they have a once in a lifetime opportunity to lie on a bed.

I can still hear Nina mourning above the shriek of the storm.  I pull a coat right over my head and in that pitch-blackness smelling of cow and dog and pass into oblivion.

It doesn’t really ever get light, just less obscure, so that when I wake up, I can see across the kitchen.  I lie there, listening to the rain and wind still lashing the house.  The stove and the table and chairs are very still.  One of the dogs sighs and shifts itself.

Where is my mother?  Where is my father?  Why don’t they come?  Why have they left me alone?

I have actually forgotten that Nina and Grammy are in her bedroom just the other side of the living room.

There comes a time when I get very hungry.  I’ve let the dogs back out into the woodshed by then at their insistence.  I’m hungry and thirsty and crying doesn’t help.

That is when the lady comes.   She looks very bright like an Aladdin lamp and has a beautiful dress, long and loose. She tells me I should make breakfast for my babies.  Then she stands and watches me while I drag a chair into the pantry and climb up so that I can reach the biscuit jar.  There is one hard baking powder biscuit there.  I get a dipperful of water from the pail and carry all these in two trips to my little table.  I break the biscuit up and pour water on it.  A good deal of mess happens.  I sit down chatting to my babies, telling them they have to eat so they will grow up big and strong.  When I have finished my half of the biscuit, I trade dishes with my babies, pretending they have eaten it all up.  The good thing is that I now got to eat their half.  I feel only a little guilty because I am so hungry.  When it is all gone, the Lady tells me to be brave and strong and remember that Jesus loves little children and that he has sent her to help me.  She is his mommy, she says.

I try to do what the Lady has told me to.  I do for a while, a long, long while.  I wait and wait and wait.  I use up all my waiting for the rest of my life that September day.  Ever afterward, I will suffer intensely waiting for people.  Waiting will reduce me.

In the end, I wet myself and have diarrhea.  I am ashamed and miserable.  My heart breaks.  My Mommy and Daddy don’t love me.  In the end, I give up.

Lying on the couch again a long time later, I watch my father coming through the door.  He looks desperate.  Don’t care.  Don’t want him anymore.  He rushes toward me and grabs me up.  He carries me kicking and screaming into the other room, yelling for Nina and Grammy as he goes.  Nina sets up a howl to rival mine and Grammy just lies there.  He puts me down and calls to Grammy and rubs her hands with his.  He says she’s had a shock.  Needs the doctor, but he can’t go for the doctor yet.  The road’s not cleared for horses.  He stands there trying to figure out what to do.  Then he looks down at me.  He takes one blanket off the bed and wraps me up in it and puts me down on the couch.  He makes the fire in the living room stove and one in the kitchen.  He yells at Nina to stop that.  He walks back and forth to Grammy.  He pumps pails of water and puts it on the stove to heat.  Eventually, he pulls my soiled pajamas off and puts me into a tin tub of warm water next to the hot stove.  He makes beef broth which he tells me is going to make us all better. I think it is my momma is lying in there unable to help me.  But I believe him.  He carries a bowl into the other room.  Then he comes back, takes me out of the tub, dries me off, sits me in his lap and spoons broth into my mouth.

It will live on in mythology that once there was a great storm and Roy chopped his way up Cannon Hill.

After that night Great Grammy sits and stares most of the time.

From Never Tell: Recovered Memories of a Daughter of the Temple Mater (alternately “Daughter of the Knights Templar)

Autumn Equinox: heaven’s wheel turns

earth at solstice

I know, I know, I come late to the equinox. Perhaps it’s the equinox’s fault. All hell broke loose when I should have been sitting down to ponder its significance. Fortunately, the sun positioned itself directly over the equator at right angles to Earth and showered its light equally on both hemispheres without my help. The Russian weather satellite Electro L also got on without me and took this picture of the earth as it can be seen only at the equinox. If I think about this hard enough, I may actually figure out why. (Usually part of it would be in shadow?) But you’re better off if I don’t try to explain that, given my ignorance.

This happened on Sunday, September 22, 2013 around 4:45 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Coincidentally, the moon had been full three days before and was particularly beautiful from my front porch.

There are four heavenly events that we still note: the vernal equinox around March 21st, the first day of spring when day and night are of equal length; the summer solstice around June 21st, Midsummer Night, the longest day of the year, and the first day of summer after which the days start to shorten; the autumnal equinox around September 21st, the first day of fall when darkness and light are once again equal; and the winter solstice around December 21st, the first day of winter when day begins to lengthen and night to grow shorter. These changes amount to only a minute or two a day, so that spring creeps northward at that daily rate.

The autumn equinox is the festival of Mabon, an early Cornish saint, according to some internet sources. That would be a pagan or Wiccan saint. Some accounts assert that she is female while others say he is male. They all see the festival as a celebration of the second harvest, the first harvest presumably was in July. But whether female or male, the deity is about to descend into the underworld, just as the energy of nature withdraws and disappears from sight in winter.

We feel this in our own bodies and we may even wonder out loud if we really can survive another winter. Chances of such complaining probably relate to how far north we live and how old we are. Me, old and here at 43.7 ° N. But I have observed that those living at 34° N and much younger also dread winter.

To cope with these fears, we have used narrative. Mabon, Persephone or Ianna goes into the underworld sometimes as the bride of Hades. The yearly King Must Die as Mary Renault recounted and Joseph Conrad alluded to in Heart of Darkness. The Green Man is sacrificed. The Straw Man is burned.

On October 31, the third harvest is celebrated, as Samhain, the Celtic New Year. So why do I get so irritated by the appearance of Hallowe’en costumes and God help us- Happy Hallowe’en cards- in stores in September? It’s just humanity acclimatizing to the death of the god, preparing to embrace the darkness by mocking it in scarey costumes and forays into the night in pursuit of sweet solace. November 1st, the Christian church designates as All Saints Day, a day to remember all the dead.

Our goal is to get through to the goddess’s or god’s rebirth, the emergence from the underworld or womb at the festival of light at winter solstice. We hang lights -much too early- and bring evergreens and holly, red with berries, into our houses to assure ourselves that eventually divine forces will bring back the energy of growth and expansion at the spring equinox.

Since I am almost as old as Mabon, I have a 75 year-old memory of one autumn equinox that I recount in Never Tell: recovered memories of a daughter of the Knights Templar. (

On September 21, 1934, I was a 2 year-old, seated in a horse drawn buggy between my mother and my grandmother on my way to the church hall in Hereford, Quebec on the Vermont border. There was going to be a chicken pie supper and dance. The pies under the seat were ready to be reheated in the hall stove. They smelled delicious. I never made it. “The wind took my breath away.” Don’t ask. I heard my mother say that. Evidently, the wind was very strong and I couldn’t breathe. So I found myself unceremoniously  dumped back home in the care of my great grandmother and mentally challenged cousin. They did their best to comfort me, setting up my little table with tea for my dolls and me, but I was sore aggrieved.

Later that evening, I woke up to an incredible hullabloo, a great wind hammering at the isolated hilltop farm house, my caregivers pushing furniture against the windows, which were bulging inward. My great grammy fell down. She wouldn’t get up. My cousin started screaming. When I went near her, she pushed me away and shouted at me. Things went downhill from there.

By the time my father arrived next day, having chopped his way back up hill from the church hall, I was truly traumatized, Grammy had suffered a stroke from which she never fully recovered and my clever little mind had decided to forget the whole thing. It never happened.

Exactly what never happened, I didn’t figure out for 60 years. It was the Great New England Hurricane which whaled up the eastern seaboard without warning. It killed 680 people, destroyed 9000 buildings as well as damns, bridges, roads, and harbours. It leveled whole forests. It did $20,000,000,000 damage in today’s terms. Only one of the great white pines that stood on the road down the hill was left. Although I didn’t remember the event, I loved that tree with inexplicable intensity.

So here we are just past the autumn equinox. The days grow short, but no hurricane is knocking at the door and fortunately, our stories light our way.