My daughter, who is one of my best critics and also my strongest supporter, tells me I should write these blogs more as memoir and less as travel facts. I’ve been contemplating her suggestion, but unable to make it happen as yet. So, I thought I’d post this in the meantime, and I welcome any feedback, positive or negative.
I originally planned to begin with New Zealand or Belgium, as I’ve been to both many times over the years and have friends in both places. However, I’ve decided to start with something much nearer home—Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
Since we were there quite recently (December 2021), my memories are still fresh. My husband Norm and I go to Gatlinburg almost every year around the time of our wedding anniversary, December 19. Things didn’t work out so well in 2020. I’d reserved a log cabin in the next town over, Pigeon Forge, and we started in that direction. Our kids (adults now with families of their own) were anxious. Sevier County, they told us, was setting records that week in new cases of COVID-19. So, we turned back, hunkered down, and spent a cozy week at home in Clarksville, Tennessee, instead. The proprietor who rented us the cabin was gracious enough to give us a full refund, and I hope to try that log cabin, if God wills, in 2022.
In 2021, however, we decided to stay at the Zoder’s Inn in Gatlinburg. This was one of our favorite destinations when our kids were small. It is in walking distance of many Gatlinburg attractions, no small deal since parking can be expensive and hard to find. Also, we always enjoyed the features and amenities at Zoder’s, which included balconies overlooking a rushing stream with the Smoky Mountains in the background, and a large recreational facility with racket-ball courts, a fitness room, an indoor pool with a bridge, a waterfall, and a hot tub, and a breakfast bar that provided a brief menu where you could mark your choices of juice, cereal, toast, etc.
Upon arrival in 2021, we were told that almost all the amenities were closed, with the exception of the pool. Nonetheless, we stayed at Zoder’s, planning to spend most of our time away from the room anyway. Over the years, we’ve had far more good, or even great, experiences in Gatlinburg than disappointing ones, though we’ll never forget the year (we were at Zoder’s that year as well) when I contracted food poising or a wicked stomach virus. But I digress.
I won’t attempt to describe every activity or every meal from our recent visit, so I’ll focus on two of each.
Not everyone loves a theme park, but I do…
The first December that we went to Dollywood around Christmastime, many years ago, almost all the rides were closed for the season. We had a pleasant time walking around at night, taking in the lights and the nativity scenes, listening to some Christmas carols, and shopping for a few souvenirs, but that was about all that was happening. Now Dollywood brims with choices.
Buying online tickets for the park and for parking was easy and saved us a bit of time as we entered. Prepaid parking wasn’t clearly delineated, but we veered into a lane to the far right where an attendant appeared to be waving people through, and it worked. The lights were more spectacular than ever, and the live entertainment choices abounded.
With the exception of the water rides, most of the rides were up and running. My attitude toward theme park rides, roller coasters in particular, differs from Norm’s. Although we both suffer from some neck and back issues, as well as a predisposition for motion sickness, I’d be willing to take my chances in exchange for the thrill of the adrenalin rush. He would not. The last time I talked him into a vintage roller coaster ride that looked relatively tame, the old-fashioned wooden coaster proved more jarring to neck and shoulders than some of the more dazzling modern coasters.
Another memory surfaces. One year when I was a teenager—or preteen, perhaps—a traveling carnival came to my hometown of Mayfield, Kentucky. My best friend Laura and I fell in love with the tilt-a-whirl. We rode it over and over, embracing the feelings of spinning, of dizziness, of lightheadedness, of being out of control. When we got off, we’d stagger around, laughing, and get back in line.
Years later, I talked Norm into a similarly spinning type of ride. His face turned white, then almost green. Watching him throw up when we got off, I promptly followed suit. Now, when we see those kinds of rides, we shake our heads. “No, thank you,” we say. “Not for us.” But still I hold onto my appreciation of roller coasters and only reluctantly pass them by.
I focused my efforts this time on mapping out the sequence of showtimes that would enable us to see as many as possible, without missing the fifty-foot Christmas tree, the Merry & Bright fireworks display near closing time, or the train ride. By accessing the showtimes online for the week we were there, I was able to map out a tentative schedule the night before we went.
Although I’ve seen it many times, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas remains one of my favorite shows, and this year was no exception. I was a bit disappointed in the acoustics for Christmas in the Smokies, but we managed to do almost everything on my list, with the exception of taking a peek into Santa’s List, to find out if I’d been naughty or nice (Norm says that’s a no-brainer). We caught the last train ride of the day, and it was so crowded I’d swap it for the peek at Santa’s workshop, or the concert by the Mistletones if I had a do-over. This was the first time we saw the show, Heart of the Holidays, featuring some of Dolly’s relatives, and it was worthwhile.
We were so busy taking in the sights and sounds, we nearly forgot to eat. But on the way out, we stood in a relatively short line for a steak panini with caramelized onions and peppers. Delicious! No wonder Dollywood is often ranked as one of the best theme parks and one of the best Christmas attractions in the world.
Not sure if Anakeesta would qualify as a theme park, exactly…
I’d never been to Anakeesta before, and I loved every minute of it. This is a relatively small park atop, you guessed it, Anakeesta Mountain, in downtown Gatlinburg. The price is very affordable. Here too we were able to buy our tickets online, and reserve a time for the Chondola ride to take us up the mountain.
This time the lanes were clearly marked. Anakeesta was booming when we arrived, but almost everyone was in the line to purchase tickets. We were able to move straight on to the Chondola. I’d been wondering if they offered open-air chair lifts or enclosed gondolas, or both, until I figured out that both (hence the name) are on the same line.
We chose the open-air chair lift, and we were blessed with great weather, which made this ride quite pleasant. As we went up the mountain, we passed families with small kids moving down, and the children usually called out greetings or waved. One chair held a Christmas elf. Another option was to ride up in a Ridge Rambler adventure truck. At the summit, you’re about 600 feet above the heart of the city. The views are great, especially if you climb Anakeesta Tower.
You can spend more money inside the village, if you choose. For example, the bobsled looked like fun. But one admission ticket allows you to ride up and down the mountain as many times as you like on the Ridge Rambler or Chondola. We chose to go once in daylight and once at night. In our first visit, we explored the challenge courses, traversed the hanging bridge, climbed the tower, and took in the view while splitting a burger and fries at the Clifftop café. Then we returned late that evening to see the lights ablaze.
The evening visit was magical, as you could choose between rockers overlooking the city and those around a fire, sip on a mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows or indulge in a fried pie or scoop of hand-dipped ice cream (we chose the latter, and it was yummy). If I go again, I may have to try the dueling zipline adventure (extra fee for this), which looked like lots of fun.
Although I’d already joined the kids earlier in the day in the tree-venture challenge, the bear venture, and the treehouse, we retraced our steps to see what was now illuminated. I was so intent on not missing a thing, Norm said he feared my head might pop off my twisting neck. When we prepared to leave at closing time, the line for the Chondola looked long, but it moved quickly. Downtown Gatlinburg, all lit up as viewed on the way down, was more captivating than in daylight.
Looking forward to new places to eat, or old favorites, is one of the joys of travel.
Every time we go to Gatlinburg, we plan at least one midday meal at the Old Mill Pottery House Café in Pigeon Forge. My usual order is the spinach and muenster quiche with a spinach and strawberry salad, and a thick slice of cinnamon raisin bread. Everything there is made locally, if I recall correctly, from the dishes, tables and chairs, to the delicious breads and pies. Although spinach is not usually on my diet (kidney stone unfriendly), and raisins are not one of my favorites, this dish is so tasty I make an exception here. Norm loves their pimento cheese and fried green tomatoes.
This time we also tried a new restaurant located in one of our old hangouts. Townsend, Tennessee, is a little village nestled in the Smokies about twenty miles from Gatlinburg. We spent a lot of time there in the 1990s, when our son was cast in the TV series Christy, based on the Catherine Marshall novel. To learn more about that enchanted period of our lives, check out my first published book, The Past Ever Present. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B091F3MN3R/ref=reader_auth_dp
We usually plan one semi-fancy evening meal to celebrate our anniversary. This year we chose the Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro in Townsend. We read the reviews and made a reservation. What I’d forgotten was how winding the roads are between Gatlinburg and Townsend, and how long those twenty miles can seem if you’re prone to motion sickness.
When our son Clay was involved in Christy, he bonded with Andy, the child who played Little Burl. Clay played his brother, Creed Allen. Andy’s mom loved for Clay to hang out with them because Clay managed to entertain her toddler, Alex, in a way that lessened her parenting burden—understandably so, as Alex was a handful by any definition. I always remember going out to eat with them once when Alex was inconsolably howling his head off. I was at a loss as to how to ease the situation. But his mother smiled calmly. “I love this restaurant,” she said, taking another bite. “Anywhere else, I’d have been asked to leave by now.”
Clay often accompanied Andy, Alex, and their mom on outings. On one memorable occasion, they returned to our hotel in Townsend from a trip to Gatlinburg. Their car, and Clay’s clothing, exuded a decidedly foul odor. Motion sickness runs in our family. Andy’s mom took this calmly as well.
By the time we arrived at the Dancing Bear, I was beginning to regret our choice. Once inside, my nausea subsided, and I ordered modestly but with a growing appetite. Norm had the filet, which came with a foie gras glaze. He ordered it without the glaze, as he eats virtually anything but liver. (I was tempted to ask for his glaze on the side but resisted). I had looked forward to the scallops, but they were only a starter on this evening, so I ordered them plus a pear salad. Both were amazing. I left the restaurant, no longer thinking that I’d never voluntarily undertake that drive again, but wondering what I’d order next time.
In 2020, when we didn’t go to Gatlinburg, Norm baked me a crustless quiche at home.
In past anniversary trips, we have made different choices, including the free-standing shows in Pigeon Forge, the craft circle in Gatlinburg, the outlet mall in Sevierville, the Titanic Museum, and more. Next year we plan to go to the Aquarium in Gatlinburg. So, I anticipate another blog at some point about this quaint and intriguing part of our home state of Tennessee.
In one of my newsletters, I related a humorous incident that occurred in a bed and breakfast near Dublin, Ireland. I received more positive responses to this piece than usual, and an idea was born. Travel has always been one of my joys, though the pandemic has taken its toll, of course. I’ve kept countless detailed journals over the years, intending to incorporate the settings into novels.
While not abandoning that idea, I’m thinking of starting a travel blog in which I take the reader to a few of the places I’ve been. My travels have been varied, from taking bus trips or river cruises to renting cars or traveling by train. Because my work has taken me most often to New Zealand (eighteen visits, averaging a month each) and Belgium, I’m likely to begin with those.
If I do this, in my newsletters I’ll incorporate a snippet and a link to the more detailed blog for those interested. In the blog I may talk about where I stayed, what I saw, food, history, what went well, and what turned out disastrously. Because I always figured I could see more places if I was cost conscious, I’ve stayed on occasion in hostels and campgrounds, but when the prices were right (Thailand, for instance) we stayed in some magnificent hotels.
As I keep writing, I’ll also keep you updated on my books, of course. Let me hear your thoughts on this. If you don’t like the idea, please don’t hesitate to say so. I haven’t decided.
In Song of Sugar Sands, Acadia and Peter run out of money on a trip to Gatlinburg and laugh over steak that’s too tough to chew and swallow. Their car breaks down, as did ours on our honeymoon (though we were in Nashville rather than Gatlinburg)—and, yes, I remember that grizzly steak, which was on an anniversary trip to Gatlinburg.
Here’s a brief excerpt from the novel. In this scene Acadia and Peter are on their honeymoon:
Our resources had dwindled considerably by the time we shopped for men’s clothes. Determined to be as generous as Peter had been, I encouraged him to spend most of our remaining dollars on shirts, ties, and trousers. More from necessity than choice, we dined at an inexpensive fifties-style diner decorated with photographs of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and old cars. I stared at a huge photo of Marilyn. How short her life had been, how sad too, judging from what I’d read.
We were starving by the time our food came, and I speared a particularly large steak tip. The meat was so full of gristle, I had to chew for what seemed an eternity before I could swallow. “This must be one of those foods where you burn more calories than you consume.”
“Yeah? What are some of the others?”
“Celery, I think,” I said and Peter grimaced. “You never heard that? They’re great diet foods because you chew for so long you can’t gain weight on them.”
“Maybe we should complain,” Peter said. He was still working on his first bite. “This is ridiculous.”
I giggled. “I’m trying to look on the bright side.” [end of excerpt]
That wasn’t the only time we ran out of money on a trip. I also remember having to ask my dad to wire money to eastern Kentucky when we visited the Red River Gorge. Nonetheless, I’m glad we didn’t wait until we could afford it to start traveling, or we would have missed a lot of adventures.
Let me know what you think of the idea; and, if you like it, which of the places listed you’d like to hear about first:
England—London, Lake District, Bronte Country, Cliffs of Dover
Italy: Tuscany and Umbria, Florence, Rome, Venice
New Zealand—north island
New Zealand—south island
Gulf Shores, Alabama
France—Monet settings, Van Gogh
Rio de Janeiro
Tennessee State Parks
Kentucky State Parks
Canada: Nova Scotia, Maritime provinces
Christmas markets in Europe
Land between the Lakes
Gems of southeast Europe: Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia
As I look over the list, I’m amazed by how many places I’ve been. I also see some big gaps. I’ve barely touched on Asia, and not on Africa at all. These remain on my wish list for future travel.
The next person to cross the yard was a grown man—a parent, perhaps. He wore a plain black mask covering only his eyes and nose. A sparse, scraggly growth of a reddish blonde hue adorned a weak chin. I glanced past him in search of his child, but none was in sight.
I shivered with foreboding, then scoffed at my fear. His kid was probably just lagging behind. A group of children in the next yard laughed and chased after each other, the contents of a small witch’s bag tumbling onto the lawn. None of them appeared to be connected to the masked man.
I shook off my premonition. Surely the general eeriness of the holiday was working on my imagination. When he showed no sign of slowing his pace, I took a step backward and started to close the door. The man caught the door with his foot and shoved it open.
A scream froze in my throat as he pushed inside. He was broad-shouldered and strong. My heart banged in terror. I found a voice, though it didn’t sound much like my own. “What do you want—who are you?”
“I just want to talk to you. Give me a little cooperation and you won’t get hurt.”
Like a nightmare where my feet felt glued to the floor, I found myself unable to move or even scream. The din of happy children sounded farther away.
“All right.” My voice came out in a raspy squeak. “I’ll cooperate. Do you want money? We don’t have much, but—"
“I don’t want your money. I just want you to stay out of my life.”
My husband and I recently watched a TV series about a sociopath. We looked up the distinction between a sociopath and a psychopath. One source tells us that a psychopath has no conscience, while a sociopath has a weak conscience. I don’t find this particularly enlightening, but it does suggest the notion that conscience is, like many conditions, a spectrum.
When I was eight, I was baptized for the remission of my sins. When I was in my thirties, I was baptized again in case I didn’t know what I was doing the first time. But, looking back to remorse I experienced as a young child, I’m pretty sure I knew right from wrong at a very early age. Doesn’t everyone?
We’re not all the same, though we are also all the same in so many ways. We have a tendency to expect others to react as we would in a particular situation. And sometimes they do, which reinforces the notion of sameness. But sometimes they don’t, and we’re stunned, or at least surprised. When we get to know someone intimately—a spouse, a child, a parent—if we have an open mind, we grow to understand those differences, to expect them. Yet not always. We still find ourselves surprised on occasion.
I remember reading Little Women for the first time and being heartbroken by Jo’s rejection of Laurie. “We’re too much the same,” she said, or something to that effect. Having married someone very different from me, I understand what she meant, though I still wonder on occasion. Are we better off, or worse off, when we’re quite similar? We know the adage: opposites attract, but does that lead to a happy forever? Does anything?
In my family, I’ve seen plenty of evidence to the contrary. After being married for well over fifty years, my parents continued to try to change each other to be more like themselves. Did this spring from excessive narcissism, or from a lack of understanding? Both, perhaps, or the former in my mother’s case and the latter in my father’s, though I really don’t know.
Among my earliest memories are those of my parents fighting. Verbal fights mainly, with insults being hurled freely, which occasionally became physical for a moment with my mother striking out and my dad defending himself. Into their eighties, they would visit me and the quarrels would resume. Were they oblivious to my presence, I’d wonder, or did they prefer an audience?
I think of my Uncle Prentice, who has witnessed plenty of their spats, and who is known for his clever country saying. One of them comes to mind: That’s why we have chocolate and vanilla.
When I was a kid, I wrote this poem about spring. Not long after that, I realized I wasn’t a poet and dismissed it as embarrassing and sentimental with its obvious rhymes and optimistic viewpoint. As I looked out at the budding trees and flowers this morning, though, the words of the first verse came back to me and I thought I’d share them. (Keep in mind that I know I’m no poet.)
Spring is an awakening,
An awakening of life.
Spring is a forsakening,
A forsakening of strife.
Spring spreads across the earth,
Bringing joy where e’er she can.
Spring rejoices in her rebirth
In the heart of every man.
As I look back over my past blogs, I found one I wrote one year ago. I’m copying the last bit of that one below, written on March 30, 2020:
By the time we left Auckland on March 22, we knew the virus was indeed serious. Where would it end? What would we find when we arrived in the U.S.? Should we wear masks on the plane even though reports indicate the masks aren’t helpful? Would we be able to buy toilet tissue or hand sanitizer?
We’re here now. We feel safe much of the time. But we are saddened to hear how many people in the world, in the nation, in our state, even in our city, have contracted the virus. When will it end?
My morning walk, despite the absence of people stirring, wasn’t without splendor. Flowers and trees are budding and bursting into full bloom. Spring surges into our world, oblivious to this threat to our health. Let’s enjoy the beauty around us and, yes, let our hearts sing.
I wrote this Valentine to my husband a few years ago. However, in this past year of COVID-19, when we have been shut up together for days on end, we often get on each other’s nerves. It’s easy to forget the bright side, to overlook the qualities we love. So I thought I’d remind myself and share it with you.
I may not always tell you, but I hope you always know.
I love the way:
December has always been a big month in our family. My son was born on December 15; our wedding anniversary is December 19; and Christmas is our favorite holiday. While our kids (adults now) spend Thanksgiving with their in-laws, we’ve been fortunate to have them with us for Christmas. Until this year.
We knew well ahead of time that our son, who lives in Los Angeles, wouldn’t be coming home for his birthday or Christmas. But the rest of our plans remained up in the air until the last minute. My mom and dad, aged 88 and 87, were diagnosed with COVID-19 in November; we had no idea how they got it. By Christmas, thankfully, they were recovering though still fatigued.
Our anniversary tradition for many years has been to spend a few nights in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, or nearby in Pigeon Forge, where we do our last-minute Christmas shopping. I always look forward to the lights in the area, and a favorite restaurant in the Old Mill complex. We rented a cabin for two nights in 2020 in Pigeon Forge, figuring we’d stay inside mostly, and we headed that way. Within an hour, we started getting phone calls from concerned family and friends.
Apparently Tennessee had been listed as the worst state in the U.S. for numbers of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000, and Sevier County (where we were heading) one of the worst counties in the state. After about three such calls, we turned our car around and went home. My husband, knowing I usually order quiche there, promised to bake a special quiche at home.
For the past few years, we have attended a Christmas Eve church service, where my niece sings a solo of Ave Maria. For 2020, the service was to be virtual. But would we have our usual Christmas Eve party? All family members planned to get tested for COVID-19 in time to get the results before Christmas Eve. My daughter and her family were planning to head our way on December 23. Then they got their COVID-19 test results. My daughter had tested positive, and they were all being quarantined.
We told my sister, niece, and parents. If we all wore masks and didn’t serve food, would a small party be safe? We decided it would. We felt blessed to be together and spent much of the party on a zoom call with those who weren’t there in person. Not the same, but special and memorable in its own way.
Sad news about family and friends less fortunate began to drift in. It saddens me too much to share those details, so I won’t.
I left our Christmas decorations and tree up this year until after January 9, when we thought it safe to celebrate our grandson Finn’s ninth birthday (actual birthday January 4). We opened our Christmas gifts that day as well. Christmas in January! How wonderful to see him, his sister Elise (age 5), and their parents in person at last!
I remember meeting a woman many years ago at a writing workshop (or conference of some sort). She struck me as very hippy-dippy at the time. Somehow we got to talking about my mother and my husband. I honestly can’t remember how or why, as that’s not typical for me (even with long-standing friends, much less new acquaintances). What stands out in my memory is that she told me I’d married my mother. I immediately dismissed this as ridiculous, because they are very different people in so many ways.
My mother always expected the worst of any sort of opportunity or scheme that caught Daddy’s eye or ear. My husband Norm is similarly quick to point out the flaws in any idea I present, though in a less judgmental fashion (he claims he’s just being realistic). When my daughter Nikki was planning her wedding, Norm and I visited all the state parks in the area to consider possible venues. He pointed out so many potential problems to the manager at Ken-Lake (the one we chose in the end) that she nicknamed him Mr. Negativity.
In contrast, my dad was such a believer in the power of positive thinking that it was almost annoying at times. He remained consistently optimistic that I could be president of my undergraduate university (or probably the U.S.) if I’d encouraged him, even though I hadn’t an ounce of administrative experience or ambition.
When Nikki was dating a high school boyfriend named Mark, she told us a story one day that has stayed with me. Mark’s parents had been expecting a windfall from their insurance company. They had not received it yet but were already contemplating how they were going to spend it. Nikki didn’t comment to them, but she later confided to us her feeling that they were inviting disappointment. To her surprise, the insurance check came through as they expected. As she told us this story, she said she’d realized to what extent we had trained her to always expect the worst. Until then, I hadn’t realized that both Norm and I were pessimists, though of slightly different types. If being a pessimist protects us from disappointment, it also shields us from joy.
As an academic trying to publish research, the best you can usually hope for when you submit a paper to a journal is a “revise and resubmit” with a list of suggested changes. Often you get another list on the second round and maybe even on the third. If you don’t celebrate on the first, second, or third round, by the time the paper is actually accepted for publication, it feels like old news and you’re starting to get tired of the paper anyway.
I’m trying to learn to celebrate the moments without delay, or I may never truly rejoice. Am I too old to learn?
Thank goodness for my dad’s positivity as he deals every day with my mom’s declining health and constant demands. Would that I become more like him, at least in this respect, as I age.
October 16, 2020
My husband and I were recently trying to recall our earliest childhood memories. It occurred to me that, apart from stories I’ve been told or those imagined from old photos, my earliest memories are of books.
I had four books as a small child, and I memorized them all. I may have had others, but possibly not—my parents did not spend money easily. These four introduced me to the world of books in a myriad of ways. I’m sure that at least one of them was a Little Golden Book, but I don’t think they all were. I know they all had colorful pictures on every page and not too many words. I remember at least one picture vividly from each book.
My parents selected wisely, as the four books fell into very different categories. One was about panda bears. The picture I recall from this one was of the panda bear eating bamboo shoots. This book introduced me to the world of nature and wildlife, and the joy of eating.
The second book was about a little pig who disappeared one day after eating a bunch of donuts. The picture I recall from this one was of the little pig erasing the blackboard for his teacher. Although I had not started school, I longed for the experience with every fiber of my being. This book introduced me to mysteries. I do not write in this genre, but I appreciate an element of mystery in everything I read or write.
The third book was Sleeping Beauty. The picture I remember best is of the lopsided cake the godmothers made before applying their magic. This, of course, introduced me to fairy tales, villains, and romance.
The fourth book, my favorite, was called The Little Ballerina. It was about a little girl who had polio. I remember two illustrations from this one. The first is of the girl looking out her window at the children playing outside and wishing she could join them. The second is at a dance recital after she’s strengthened her legs by taking ballet lessons. I always wanted her to be the lead ballerina in the center. She wasn’t, but she was one of the dancers. This introduced me to the immense potential humans have for overcoming hardships and handicaps, and achieving our goals.
Since I knew all these books by heart at a young age, I could impress visitors by pretending to read. How I longed to read for real! If I had a knack for memorization back then, I’ve long since lost it. I cannot remember any of the books in their entirety, only bits and pieces. I do remember how much I loved them. Imagine my delight when I eventually discovered a library filled with shelf after shelf of books. Still, there aren’t too many I recall as clearly and as fondly as these four.
The Morning After (Hurricane Sally)
Orange Beach, Alabama
September 16, 2020
We bought a 16th floor penthouse in Orange Beach a couple of years ago as a possible retirement home. We went to bed here last night with the wind roaring like a lion. Hurricane Sally was expected to make landfall sometime today most likely west of us, though the exact predicted location kept shifting eastward. At this point I don’t know where it touched down, or even if it has.
It’s about 9:30 AM as I write. Our condo has water standing in virtually every room with the possible exception of one guest bedroom and bath. The sliding door in the living room that faces directly onto the balcony is shattered, and the balcony tiles have flipped up and broken.
Last night before we went to bed we had water standing in the kitchen and dining room, but limited at that point to water from the ice maker (which we had disconnected). This morning the water is coming in through or around all doors, windows, etc. We have the balcony doors open to help dry out the floors and a stiff wind is blowing my papers, pens, throw pillows, and other stuff about.
Norm has spent a lot of time with a mop, but we really need a wet vacuum to suck up the remaining water. We weren’t here when Ivan struck, but know it was worse. Looking down toward the various pools, I see the mushroom waterfall from the kiddie pool lying dismembered inside the pool. The other pools look okay, except dirty and full of debris. The one nearest us now hosts fallen palm trees.
The door to the stairwell kept slamming open and shut last night, sounding like a shotgun. We moved our car to one remaining elevated spot in the parking lot. Most of the cars in the lot are okay, but a few have broken windows.
The Gulf is churning with foam like a giant mug of beer. One electrical outlet cover lies on the floor near the balcony doors. The power and water went out in the early morning, probably between 2 and 4 AM.
Yesterday the fire alarm kept going off every couple of hours, as the flooding would set it off with a corresponding recorded announcement. After the first one, which we obeyed—taking the stairs down 16 flights (15 actually, as there is no 13th floor), waiting for the firemen to check things out, then hiking back up fifteen flights—we ignored the rest. The property manager made an appearance at the first one. Both she and the news media indicated that if we hadn’t voluntarily evacuated by that point, our best course was to remain inside our unit—which we did.
In the middle of the night, I got up to use the toilet, and the commode seemed to be floating in a circle. In fact the entire room was floating, swimming, swaying in the intensity of the air currents.
Two Mornings After
September 17, 2020
We’ve had no power or water for two days. Yesterday we made our way toward Gulf Shores, but a police barricade blocked one side of the road. We had not brought our hurricane stickers for the car. Norm got out to talk to the policeman, who said we might not be allowed into Gulf Shores. We turned around.
Along the way we saw lots of broken, leaning, or sagging power lines. All traffic lights and power were out everywhere we looked. A later email suggested it was likely to be at least two weeks before power would be restored.
Water was flooding one side of the road in places, and some bridges were closed. We could not access news by tv or computer and were worried our cell phones would soon die (as we could not charge them, except in the car). Though tempted to leave, we could not obtain good information about road closures and routes out of Orange Beach. With no elevators, we dreaded hauling luggage; so, once we returned to our condo, we stayed put through another night. Fifteen flights of stairs make me question our decision to buy a condo this high.
Three Mornings After
September 18, 2020
On the way out of Orange Beach, we saw at least three large boats perched on the side of the road. One charter boat had crossed the highway and perched like a massive bird on the opposite side. Possibly the boats had lodged in the road, and someone had moved them to the side to allow traffic to pass. Many gas stations are closed, and we’re having trouble finding a restroom that’s open.