I know those of you in the Northern part of the state are tired of hearing how Hurricane Sally left all of us Gulf Coast pirates miserable without any ice for our lukewarm drinks, but don’t forget, we’ll soon have to endure your sad tales of trying to drive on ice. Alabama either has too much ice or not enough, depending upon the specific atmospheric conditions and location of the stormy blast.
Susan Leigh (her daddy called her “Sugar Leigh” which morphed into “Shuglee”) had more house damage than anyone else I know during this storm. She’s the third generation to live in the family’s Gulf Shores house, constructed of local pine funded from the bounty of her granddaddy’s fishing boat. As the family business grew to include a fleet of charter boats, Shuglee expanded the house into a style I call “traditional sandy-floored mansion.” The slow-moving Hurricane Sally pushed water, trees and street signs into her house, creating a devastating scene.
Wearing a Lulu’s T-shirt and running shorts, along with her pearls — because beach chicks of all ages know at the first sign of a tropical disturbance, to pop the pearls on so we’re prepared for anything. Our beloved jewels from the sea, reminiscent of creamy grits and white magnolias, won’t be misplaced in the chaos, and if the worst happens and we get carried off to the funeral home, we’ll be appropriately adorned for the viewing.
Stepping carefully through the mess, Shuglee saw the mangled kitchen cabinet where she kept her cast iron collection, and held her breath until she could pluck her grandmother’s deep 13″ skillet out of the muck. “I had just seasoned that pan to perfection the week before.” she sniffed.
A storm organizes the list of things we hold dear. Whether it’s water, wind, ice or snow, the forces of nature rage and swirl everything into a neatly arranged hierarchy. At the top of our list, are our people. We make sure everyone we love is safe. Next come the pets, family Bible, photo albums, great grandpa’s violin that sat on the bookshelf and the box of love notes that Hallmark could never replicate.
Shuglee had far more pricey things in her home than an old cast iron skillet, yet upon seeing the ceiling drooping down onto the countertops, it was all she wanted.
Some things can be replaced, others can’t, and it breaks our hearts. We tell ourselves they’re just “things — stuff — objects,” but sometimes those things represent our loves, stories, hopes and dreams and it hurts to see them blown away.
It may look like paper dancing in the wind or plastic washing down the street or even cast iron, wood or glass smashed against a tree, but to us, it’s our story.
Shuglee wiped the drywall jibbles from her skillet, slid it onto the outdoor grill and cooked up every bit of shrimp and sausage in her freezer before it went bad. She fed the people she loved just as her grandmother and mother had done in the aftermath of hurricanes long ago. It wasn’t just a skillet; it was a treasure that connected generations of strong Alabama women who survive the storms in life.
This story first appeared on AL.com and in their newspapers in Mobile, Birmingham and Huntsville.