Beware the Whomping Willows

Things don’t always turn out as you’d expect.

Dunes at Tyndall AFB

After having children I developed a sixth sense (otherwise known as Mom logic) for figuring out what might happen, then preparing for it. Part of my job as food stylist was to anticipate the unexpected. I’d pack my kit, knife bag, and various tools, but in addition I’d have plans B, C, D & E ready for when things went sideways. And trust me – they almost always went sideways.

My best friend and I are both firm believers in imagining the worst possible scenario in any given situation so when it doesn’t happen, as it usually doesn’t, anything else which might have cropped up is a cake-walk (note my husband and therapist are not fans of this last method even if I think it works for me).

The point in noting all of this is simply to say that usually I can deal with most of what life throws at me and mine. Not always gracefully, but I manage. Occasionally even with a modicum of aplomb.

So when we recently travelled to Florida for our daughter’s graduation ceremony I was feeling both excited and prepared. I’d packed:

✓ shorts, sandals, and plenty of sunscreen for the warmer weather
✓ gloves, hat, and a warm coat for the return to Massachusetts in October
✓ cards for our graduates
books and books on tape because traveling without books is the equivalent to walking around naked in public, and I categorically refuse to do either
✓ reusable water bottle (the Gulf Coast of Florida is not big on recycling)

We were ready for the adventures ahead of us and headed south happily. Shawn flew down first and was able to spend a few days with Belle. Since I don’t fly the train got me down a few days later, and our son Russell showed up near the end of his work week.

It was a proud moment to be at the graduation and watch her get her wings pinned on. The celebratory meals were delicious, and our family reveled at exploring the stunning beaches, fresh water pools, and lakes of northwestern Florida.

Sand Pipers on Tyndall AFB beachPitt Spring FloridaOh my she has such big musclesSwim with caution - alligators

What none of us had thought to prepare for was a hurricane. Less than a week after graduation hurricane Michael blew through Florida Panhandle where our daughter lived, and devastated the military base where she was stationed. While I’d packed pretty well for the trip, even I had not anticipated nor expected a hurricane.

Hurricane Michael RAMMB-NOAA

The list of necessary items when dealing with a hurricane and its aftermath are slightly different than when you’re traveling north to south for a celebration:

✓ cash – because with no power cash is king
✓ flashlights, though headlamps would have been even more useful
✓ potable water
✓ access to the internet

The Commander at her base called for a mandatory evacuation of all base personnel Monday, October 8th. Given the severity of the storm (it made landfall with winds of 155 mph) it was the safest decision. A week later when we were allowed to return to check on her apartment and driving through the town we realized how lucky we were that we had been told to evacuate.

Hurricane Michael damagePost hurricane Michael

One sign someone had spray painted on a board and leaned up against a tree in their yard read,

“Beware of the Whomping Willows”

Beware indeed.

Beware the whompping willowDevastation after hurricane Michael

During the evacuation our cooking and eating centered around what each of us thought of as comfort foods. Our first evacuation stop landed us, and Belle’s cat Apollo, in NOLA where we hunkered down in our friend’s beautiful apartment. There was a grocery store a few blocks away which allowed us to cook for ourselves. Plus a short meander in the other direction took us to Cafe Du Monde and the French Market. So despite the stress of being evacuated we were always well-fed. While I didn’t prepare a recipe for this post I can highly recommend the sugary goodness of beignets, hot from the fryer, and coated in powdered sugar.

Last beignet on my plate - time to order more.

This past week we received the good news that Belle received her orders to move on to her next base. Since then I’ve been reflecting on the experience of being evacuated, knowing we were some of the lucky ones. It will be some time before things get back to normal in the areas devastated by the hurricane, but as one of the Colonels said, “We are better today than we were yesterday and tomorrow we will be better than today.” Having done a limited amount of hurricane recovery work in the past after Katrina & Rita I want to give a huge shout out to all the men and women who helped, and who will be working for the foreseeable future, to get things up and running in the wake of this hurricane.

FEMA 931451743 from Katrina

Recovery work from hurricane Katrina in 2006.

I also want to thank our friends Rick & Thomas for generously giving us a place to lay our heads, cook our meals,  and put our bags as we figured out the next steps in the days immediately after the mandatory evacuation. Miss Apollo loved the views out their window.

Evacuation kitty enjoying the views in NOLARick and Tom's garden

My husband pointed out that New Orleans seems to be a place we only visit in connection to a hurricane. Back in 2006 our church sponsored our family to go down and help rebuild in western Louisiana post hurricane Katrina. Work was suspended over New Year’s so we visited NOLA for the first time, staying at a friend of friends’ house on Bourbon Street. Since the evacuation from hurricane Michael found us in New Orleans once again, Shawn and I walked back to the same house to take another picture on the steps twelve years later.

NOLA 2006 and 2018


Satellite photo of Hurricane Michael courtesy of RAMMB
All other photos by author or author’s husband


Filed under In between

12 responses to “Beware the Whomping Willows

  1. Kay McNally

    Enjoyed your pictures, and thoughts of these moments. So glad you were safe. Congrats to Isabelle!

    • Thanks Molly! We’re feeling blessed we got out in time, Isabelle’s apartment was basically unharmed, and that she graduated before Michael hit. All the classes behind her are in a waiting pattern as they rejigger where they’ll teach classes while the base is under construction.

  2. Judith Allen

    Glad you were all safe.

  3. Heather Caldwell

    Glad that you all were safe, together, and well-fed! And that you had generous friends (who live in one of the most beautiful cities on earth) who provided a safe place to perch while you figured out next steps!

  4. Lisa Allen

    Great pictures-So glad you all made it home safe-Just in time for the Northeasterner snow storm ( That is how the media here is describing it)

    • You’re so sweet to say that about the photos Lisa! I’ve been trying to up my game by using a digital camera instead of my phone all the time. Not that you can’t get great photos from a phone, but there is a depth of rich digital information to play with on the Canon.

      Winter definitely decided not to wait this year – we had a foot of snow last week, and another couple inches last night.

  5. This was a great read, despite it’s tough subject – Hurricane Michael. I loved seeing photos of your daughter at her graduation. Congrats all around. Thanks for sharing and for reminding us that being there with our family and friends, along with some good comfort food, can make even the worst situation more palatable. Also thanks for the plug. 🙂

    • Thanks Nicola. Shawn and I read the Callum Lange mysteries by trading books back and forth, depending upon who was cat sitting at the apartment. We’re definitely ready to read more!

  6. Susan Bergeron-West

    Can’t believe how much Isabelle has grown! She will always be your baby in my head. Congratulations to her and to your family.

    Ever since the tornado hit us in Brimfield, I have huge amounts of sympathy for those who go through disaster. What good fortune that you were able to land in N’Awlins for the duration. Finally had the chance to visit that city and I think we stayed in the same area. The begniet smells from Cafe du Monde were intoxicating! Can’t wait to go back.

    Great post, thank you!

    • Thank you for your congratulations Susan! It is amazing witnessing kids growing into young adults.

      Mother Nature sure can pack a powerful wallop. And you’re right – we were some of the fortunate ones. Enjoy a beignet for me the next time you visit NOLA!

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