Connections: When the Bough Breaks

I remember being ready to witness the worst of it

Hurricane Esther had weakened into a tropical storm by the time its winds doubled back on eastern Long Island in September of 1961, and as a newcomer to East Hampton with no experience of the effects of heavy weather in coastal regions, I was excited and looking forward to the storm. The headline in The Star on Sept. 28, 1961, read: “Hurricane Esther Finally Dies of Old Age: Few Regret Passing of Two-Timing Line Storm.”

By then, we had moved a small, four-room house from the head of Three Mile Harbor to family property on Gardiner’s Bay in Amagansett, and considered ourselves adventurous to have settled year round in such an exposed place, where we had no neighbors for a mile or so in either direction. I remember being ready to witness the worst of it, and we drove out to Louse Point to have a look at the water before things got bad. 

But we weren’t brave, or foolhardy, enough to stick it out in the house as the hurricane approached. As we did during subsequent blows, we went to town for the height of the storm. I think that year we stayed with my mother-in-law in her house behind the Star office.

During Hurricane Belle in 1976, now with three children, we decamped to join friends at the imposing three-story house at the corner of Buell Lane and Main Street in East Hampton Village owned by the Morris family. Quite a crowd gathered there. We grilled hot dogs in the living room fireplace and the kids ran wild. Despite warnings about the danger of falling trees and flying debris, I was determined to take my old Cadillac (which a friend called the Brown Cloud because it had a tan body and white hard top and such a smooth ride) out for a spin, because I wanted to find out what it was like out there in the wind. I drove around the block, I think, and returned safely. 

Everyone had plenty of drinks during Belle — it was the 1970s, after all — and when night came, the five of us snuggled into a big bedroom on the second floor . . . and that’s when we got a lesson in hurricanes: An old elm at the intersection came crashing down on the side of the house, damaging a wall and a window. As it turned out, we would have been safer down by the bay on Cranberry Hole Road, where there were no trees to fall and where, despite the storm surge, the waves did not come over the dunes. 

We thought the whole episode pretty hilarious at the time, and I think there remain several families who remember that unforgettable house-party night at the Morris house and our near-miss with the elm. 

I wasn’t laughing this week, however, when Florence came ashore in the Carolinas. By Monday, Florence, even though downgraded to a tropical depression with maximum sustained winds of only 35 miles an hour, had killed 10 people in North Carolina and six in South Carolina, the result of continuing heavy rainfall and unparalleled flooding. 

We thank our lucky stars for being spared  this time. One of these days, the experts tell us, we won’t be so lucky.