Carmen was the first hurricane I experienced. I was 6 years old in September of 1974. I was a tomboy who spent most of my time outside dodging my mother and my 3-year-old clinging effeminate baby brother.
We lived in New Iberia, Louisiana at the time, right in the middle of town on the corner of Jefferson Street and St. Peter. Where my house stood is now the parking lot for the United Methodist church. I played with the girl next door but the house is now a private parochial school. At the time the area was homes mixed with churches and a few businesses.
At that age I did not understand about hurricanes or the danger of storms. I remember the wind picking up and enjoying the strong tropical breezes. We were located about 25 to 30 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.
I don’t remember much about how we prepared for the storm but I do remember my dad telling my mother to fill all the tubs with water and to start getting the ice ready. This was the time of filling ice cube trays then dumping them into a tub in the freezer. We did not have ice makers. I don’t know if we couldn’t afford it or they didn’t exist but we didn’t have one.
With my mother busy getting the house ready my dad pulled sheets of plywood out of the storage shed. The storage shed was suppose to be a garage but it was made of wood and had lots of rot and my dad didn’t trust it enough to park in it. He used it for keeping the lawnmower and other tools. He measured and sawed (with a hand saw, we didn’t have power tools either). My dad was only 5’9” and couldn’t reach the tops of the windows to nail the plywood over the windows. So he decided to show me how to hammer nails. I couldn’t hold the large 16 pound carpenter’s hammer. He had to find my grandfather’s 12 pound framing hammer for me to use. I thought I was Big Stuff hammering nails. He would hoist me on his shoulders, hold the plywood and I would hammer all the top nails. When we were done with each side we would hammer in all the lower nails. He tried to go behind me to reach what he could to make sure they were nailed properly.
I don’t remember the storm itself but I remember my uncle and cousins coming over to BBQ what was in the freezer. What we didn’t eat we wrapped in aluminum foil so we could eat it later.
They also came back after the storm to help my dad take the plywood off. I never realized that taking plywood down was more work than getting it up. My cousins complained about how well I’d hammered in the nails. I was proud of myself for that and laughed and teased them. A girl could make male cousins complain!
According to the weather history it was a Cat 4 storm. As a child I loved weather and storms so I was awed and amazed at hurricanes. The weather bug bit me at that moment and I even considered it as a career in high school. But I decided to pursue other avenues (I’m a motorcycle painter).
Carmen showed up again in my life……. In the fall 1994 I met my future husband and we decided to go see our first movie together. I picked Forrest Gump. There is a hurricane in the film that allowed Forrest to become rich when his shrimp boat is hit by a hurricane, Hurricane Carmen, and he’s the only shrimper left. Every year on our anniversary we watch the movie again (it’s now on saved on Tivo since we’ve grown with technology) and I remember my childhood helping my father (who passed away 18 years ago) and trying to outwit Mother Nature.
Every storm that has come along brings my family closer together. We learn what’s important in the face of the ferocity of Mother Nature.