storm refugees

Golden Isles Magazine editor Bethany Leggett, seated, right, poses for a photo with relatives who live in North Carolina and evacuated to St. Simons Island. Pictured is Julia Steffen, seated, from left, Amelia Steffen, holding their dog Nico, Libby Leggett, and Bethany Leggett. Standing, from left, is Jamey Steffen, Cheryl Mills, and Dennis Leggett.

Matthew. Irma. Florence. The list of names that will forever evoke an emotional response continues to grow as I watch the land of my ancestors withstand winds of more than 100 miles per hour.

It’s the third year in a row that I have had to answer the question, “What can I do to protect those whom I love? What things do I care about most and need to save?” This time, however, I had the difficulty of waiting and watching from afar. It has been my parents, cousins, aunts, and uncles that faced the uncertainty of what would happen when Florence hits our family farm on the coast of North Carolina.

The farm, which has been in my family since King George granted the deed more than 200 years ago, sits in Brunswick County, halfway between Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Wilmington, N.C. My parents, aunts, and uncles all have their homes up and down the dirt road that runs through the fields of corn and soy beans. Those hundreds of acres were where I learned to drive, how to shell butter beans on my MawMaw and PawPaw’s back porch, and cook biscuits without using a recipe.

It’s the people there who taught me to offer someone refreshment as soon as they pass your stoop; that mealtime is better shared together and not something just reserved for holidays or special occasions; and if you are going to town, you better ask what everyone else needs picked up, too.

As an adult, the farm has become a respite and place that rejuvenates the soul. Sitting on my parents’ front porch with a cup of coffee as butterflies pass by and the sounds of birds fill the air is what I imagine heaven will be like. The truth is that it may be months before that serenity returns after Florence leaves fields flooded, trees felled, and the land scarred with debris.

Now, my family is facing the unimaginable, as we all did in the Golden Isles 12 months ago. The night before evacuating for Irma, I opened four suitcases and stared at the empty shells waiting to be filled with necessities. Tears cascaded down into my luggage as I faced the unknown — and that feeling of uncertainty is a special kind of fear that can take hold if you aren’t careful. I understand their primal need to keep The Weather Channel on in the background or look online for webcams to see familiar landscapes become unrecognizable.

Several in North Carolina remember what a hassle it was trying to get back after Hurricane Floyd hit in 1999, echoing what I heard many Glynn County residents say last year. Despite the headache on the roadways, six family members — and one dog — made the slow crawl down I-95 from North Carolina to St. Simons Island as evacuees earlier this week; and judging by the many First in Flight license plates at the pier, they aren’t the only ones. Still, another half dozen of my kin decided to stay behind. In fact, one aunt and uncle flew from Atlanta to Myrtle Beach on one of the last flights available so they could be with their children before the storm hit.

This is what the farm has taught me — it’s a place where everyone comes together. We look after each other, and we lend a hand, chainsaw, tractor, or backhoe when needed. So, after the storm passes, we will pack up our vehicles with supplies, gas up the cars, and make that slow crawl back.

And because I have gone through this before with Matthew and Irma, I also know that waters recede, roofs get repaired, and hard work brings recovery and restoration. One day, the birds will sing, the beans will get planted, and the firepit on the farm will be the spot for Low Country boils and s’mores once again.

Until then, I’ve got Carolina on my mind – and in my prayers.


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