In my lifetime I can say that there have been several events that have left a mark on me: President Kennedy’s assassination on November 22,1963, and September 11, 2001, in which I was in Washington, D.C. at Union Station ready to take the Amtrak train back to New Jersey when I heard the news of the attacks, and the happy event that I experienced in Washington, D.C., which was the Bicentennial birthday party on July 4, 1976. These all had a certain impact on my life, but never personal like Hurricane Sandy which occurred on October 29, 2012.
My two sisters and I were all personally affected by the hurricane. I was shell-shocked when I opened the door to my house on Florence Avenue in Leonardo which got two feet of water in it, my furniture tossed all over the house, including my refrigerator which had toppled over, and all of my appliances including my computer destroyed. I cried in my next door neighbor’s arms.
My oldest sister’s house on Beach Avenue was so severely damaged that it has been condemned. She lost an entire side of her house, all of her belongings such as books and furniture were sucked out by the water, there was absolutely nothing left in the room which made up that side of the house. Her furniture was literally tossed upside down, unrecognizable to her, and her refrigerator was wedged in between the oven in the kitchen. She had been flooded with five feet of water. The foundation of her house was split in half and a huge crate in the crawlspace. She is still in limbo as to what is going to happen to her house.
My middle sister on Burlington Avenue at one point had eighteen boats surrounding her house. Her basement had seven feet of water which came up to the first floor where she got more than a foot of water. The boats were eventually removed, but much was damaged in her yard. The porch of her house prevented the boats from entering her house.
My experience with neighbors and strangers was and still is a Norman Rockwell painting come alive. The renown American painter would be so happy to see the outpouring of American citizens unconditionally helping one another. For many weeks, cars would literally drive up and down streets in Leonardo offering hot food, sandwiches, and water, all prepared themselves. Churches in Leonardo warmly opened their doors to citizens with food and clothing as well as Croyden Hall. Today, volunteer groups are continuing to help people in Leonardo, including my two sisters, fix up their houses, along with giving them boxes of food, and I will not forget the person who rode up in his car from Maryland and drove along the streets handing out blankets and water, along with a Bible, which he did all on his own.
I was very lucky to have a Leonardo resident fix up my home. Everyday this person came to my house at 9:30 in the morning and left at 4:30 in the afternoon, working very hard to get me back in my house. He was an angel from heaven. Everyday I would come to my house, putting together what needed to be packed or thrown away, some of the days in complete shock. Until I got heat, I would wear two sweaters under my coat because the house was so cold, and I would have to sit outside in the sun in order to warm myself up. I did all of this for weeks. My next door neighbors were all wonderful and kind. They too, got hit by the hurricane, but we all came together, as the saying goes. I also want to say that my sister and I were lucky enough to live on the second floor of a very kind friend.
Nine days after Hurricane Sandy I had the very sad experience of having to put to sleep my thirteen year old cat Yardley. Yardley came into my life a few days after I moved up from Virginia in June of 2000. He lived his entire life in this house that was damaged by the storm, dying soon after it was struck. I find poetry in it.
I prayed to get back into my house by Christmas and I did. I had a festive Christmas, it was on the simple side, but it was Christmas in my home. I know there are so many fellow citizens of Monmouth and Ocean counties with their lives still turned upside down and in limbo. I hope someday soon it changes for the good, and they get back to some sort of normal. It will happen, and I hope that Norman Rockwell’s America will continue to live on.