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SURF’S UP!

The 20-Year Anniversary of the Perfect Storm

It was a storm from the old days; didn’t see it coming, what with odometers and spectrometers and satellites snapping shots of black clouds boring down on Buzzard’s Bay. But on this special occasion, in the final days of October 1991, three storms whistled together to make the original Big Bang look tame.

Storm #1: Your Average Joe of a nor’easter, gruesome but no Bob from a couple of months before. Nor’easters endure for two / three days, firing gusts of wind as if from the business end of a Howitzer. They shed a few spits of rain, chunnel up some mad surf, and keep everybody home watching old Magnum P.I. re-runs. Unless the power blips out.

Storm #2: Pooped out Hurricane Grace, lumbering up from the Tropics.

Storm #3: Another tropical hoo-hah, this one from further north northeast in the Atlantic and even less impressive, a mini-me of Gorgeous Grace which, humiliatingly enough to the wind and rain that spawned it, was left unnamed.

When all three collided, there was a mighty brew made famous by Sebastian Junger in his book and then movie, The Perfect Storm. Get the picture? Three wet hissy fits crashing south of Nova Scotia.

Like the Sharks and the Jets and Tupac Shakur calling each other out, the nor’easter yawped, “Ya got one funky high tide to mess wit’? C’mon, you freaks, let’s rumble!” The two small hurricanes, emboldened by the vortex of each other’s business, rapped back, “You be crawlin’ back to that country that packed ya down here. Ya think ya got better health care? Ya gonna need it when we finish witcha!”

On the morning of October 30, tunnel waves pounded the shores of the giant lap pool of Vineyard Sound, as if filming for a new Hawaii 5-0 series had transferred from Maui.

We, the three Nadlers, known for our impeccable timing, had just moved year round to our cottage with the blue shutters at the elbow in the road where Temahigan slopes down to East Chop. Marty was back in LA to re-boot the Carol Burnett Show. Charlie was auditing the second grade at the Oak Bluffs School. As for me, all morning I watched thirty-foot breakers smack the beach. Little did I know Crystal Lake behind us would pump out the big waters as a cut opened from the Sound, overflowing the pond.

At three o’clock I picked up Chuckie. Back home, we saw water surging towards us from the back forty. I dialled the phone to cancel Charlie’s piano lesson.

“Why?” sniffed music maestro Brian Hughes. “It’s just a little rain.” What are you, some kind of a Valley Girl? was the subtext, but I told him things were more perilous away from his mis-named Sea Glen Road, up in the woods of the O.B. / V.H. line. Those Wisconsin boys are tougher than Yankees.

(Brian has never believed me, even to this day, even after the No Name Storm was bumped up to the Halloween Storm and finally baptized the Perfect Storm, and even after the Andrea Gail (George Cloony’s fishing boat in the movie) disappeared into a mid-Atlantic 100-foot wave, Brian still thinks we wimped out of a lesson. Brian, can I write you a check?)

When water surrounded us on all four sides, I called a full evac. I hoisted my skinny kid on my hip and splashed through saltwater up the hill. Our neighbors, the kindly Munsons, sheltered us and fed us dinner, but after apple pie `a la mode, I was ready to scramble back aboard ship. The tide had rolled out. The storm was muffled. How ‘bout we sleep in our own beds?

Back at the homestead, the electricity had cut out. A remorseless wind banged at the shutters that had come unlatched and knocked out a number of storm windows. Glass kept on crashing. It sounded like a neighborhood hooligan tapping headlights with a hammer.              

From somewhere in Northern Ireland, a banshee wailed across the raging seas and ululated at our windows.

It was cold and dark. And all of Nature seemed as clangorous as a boiler room the size of the solar system.

Charlie’s bedroom sat on the leeside of the house. The windows were intact. We piled blankets in his bed shaped like a race car. Our cats Beebe and Gizmo snuggled up with us for the night, giving off the compact furry heat of felines.

I could barely hear Charlie’s voice over the racket of wind and breaking windows:

“Tell me again why we came home?”

The next day and later again that night, new high tides and a resurgent storm roiled in. Island kids trick or treated from their parents’ cars.

This past weekend marked another Big Blow for the run-up weekend to Halloween. Not as fierce as The Perfect Storm but, what do I know? I don’t live on the shore anymore.

Bill McGrath October 31, 2011 at 02:39 PM
Great story, Holly. As always, "perfect" is in the eyes of the beholder.
Holly Nadler October 31, 2011 at 03:59 PM
Hey Bill, thanks for being a beholder!
Charlie Nadler October 31, 2011 at 06:33 PM
I didn't know i audited the 2nd grade. I hope that doesn't negate any of my diplomas I received after though. Otherwise it'll be that Adam Sandler movie Billy Madison and I'll have to go back and do the 2nd grade over.
Holly Nadler October 31, 2011 at 07:49 PM
Charlie, just loved the Ferris Bueller ring of "auditing" a grade. As long as you only needed to re-do the 2nd grade -- and with Barbara Jones! -- you could have some fun with it! Remember when I brought in Chopper as your share and he peed on the carpet?
Charlie Nadler October 31, 2011 at 09:35 PM
Chopper just wanted to share too!
Holly Nadler October 31, 2011 at 09:45 PM
A very generous cocker spaniel . . . never stopped sharing.
K.F. Rogers October 31, 2011 at 10:13 PM
Your article was as entertaining as the movie. Now that Xfinity is back in business tonight, I want more!
Jason Peringer November 01, 2011 at 12:25 PM
As always, entertaining and informative, from a personal perspective. Most of my interesting or exciting adventures happened before I lived on island, mostly working as a private investigator. Let's hope this winter will not be a replay of 2004-05's snowfall on island, when I belayed off my chimney to shovel my roof.
Holly Nadler November 01, 2011 at 04:03 PM
Jason, I think you win the prize for most X-treme Island adventures!

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