All that's left behind are the stories...
Hurricane Irma not only scarred the landscape it also left an indelible scar on the psyche of many residents of the Keys. The horror/shock/disappointment of losing (all or part) of one's home, one's community, one's dreams in the blink of an eye will not quickly be forgotten. For many, all that's left are the stories. Like old veterans swapping war stories, you hear people speak of it in every bar, every restaurant, every coffee shop. And I'd like to share a few of the ones we heard:
First, there was Mike and Marianne, snowbirds from Wisconsin who had a "dream" retirement home in the Keys. We met them at a local pub and spent an enjoyable evening swapping personal stories.
When our conversation turned toward the destruction of Irma we found out that they owned a retirement condo nearby. Sadly, Irma "cracked" their building and collapsed one of the
exterior walls of the two story structure. Here it is four months after Irma and they are still waiting to hear if their building is going to be condemned. They haven't been allowed to reenter their unit (except for the removal of some valuables). They told of their fight with their HOA insurance company to reach a decision so they can get on with their lives. It's a waiting game filled with angst and paperwork.
Then there was a man named Pete that we met at the Sunset Grille in Marathon. He told us how he had a beautiful house on the beach. As Irma approached, he packed what valuables he could and fled for safety. When he was allowed to return, all he found was a barren lot. Every piece of his house, every stick of furniture, every memento he left behind had been washed out to sea. All that remained were a few pipes sticking out of the ground. "It was as if God came through with a giant eraser," he said.
Then there was the young waitress at the Roostica Wood
Fired Pizza shop in Key West. She told us how the restaurant had been in her family for seven generations and her father refused to let Irma chase him off. It was only after much pleading by the authorities and other family members that he left the day before the hurricane was to strike. Fortunately for her family, the restaurant suffered only minor damage. (Excellent pizza, by the way).
The last story I would like to share was told to me by the lady who cut my hair. She had a humorous story of how Irma picked up a 200+ pound cement swan she had in her front yard and washed it away. She didn't expect to ever see it again. About two weeks after she returned to her home, someone on the other side of her neighborhood approached and asked if she lost a large cement goose. Irma had deposited one on their front yard and they were looking for the owner. She replied no, it wasn't hers because she's never owned a cement goose. Another week passed when the neighbor approached again and asked if she was certain the cement goose was not hers. To placate them, she went to look at the statue and low-and-behold, it was her statue. A bit dirty but otherwise undamaged. Frustrated, she told the neighbor that it is obviously a swan and not a goose because of the gently curved neck!
With the help of others, they were able to put the swan on a cart and walk it home. As they were pulling it down the street, someone in a work truck pulled up and asked, "hey lady, do you want your duck power-washed?"
Although our contact with the general public was limited and I know there are many other stories that are truly heartbreaking stories, we came away impressed with the buoyancy (no pun intended) of the attitudes of those with which we spoke. No where did we find a "woe is me" spirit. There seems to be an unwritten bond between the locals that individually and collectively they were going to rebuild their lives and rebuild the Keys.