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Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Amsterdam, NY ,
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A storm of memories

Friday, November 02, 2012 - Updated: 7:29 PM

She made landfall on Long Island, slamming Fire Island particularly hard, and then went on to lambaste Connecticut with winds as high as 135 mph.

She pushed water ashore like it was her job. Storm surges reached 14 feet in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and contributed to the destruction of 4,000 homes, 3,500 vehicles and 3,000 boats. Salt water killed myriad trees.

When she hit, the men of my family were working near Hempstead, Long Island, at the Fairchild Engine Co., welding and acetylene-fitting on military engines.

At home their wives worried and tended the little ones; nothing like coping with toddlers in a storm like that one, with no men home to watch out for things.

On Long Island the fellows were split on whether to evacuate and try to get home or to just hunker down and wait it out.

Eventually some headed for the route through New York City and north. Their trip was terminated, however, by the road signs flying though the air in front of them. And the water. Lots of water.

Up in tropical Fultonville, the old wooden silo on another family's heifer barn was lifted into the air by the howling winds. It spun in circles and then blew to bits. The cupola rose off the cow barn and smashed to the ground, and terrified cows charged inside to escape the pounding hail.

She even knocked down the spire of Old North Church in Boston and then rampaged on through Maine, devastating the corn crop, and picking all the apples to fling them on the ground.

I'm not talking about Sandy, though.

Her name was Carol and she struck in 1954. The men stranded in Hempstead included my dad and grandpa, and one of those terrible toddlers was me. I was 2 years old. I don't really recall the storm, but family stories make it seem so. The boss is a little older and actually remembers her.

Hurricanes and nor'easters, like the one that made history with its marriage to Sandy, loom large in the lore of our family. Our men have often gone south to the cities where the work and the money is, and the storms have long found their way north to wreak havoc on the farms and forests.

Mom reminisces about Dad driving her back to college at Plattsburgh State in 1950, after yet another howler of a storm, a legendary nor'easter that time. Route 9 was lined with thousands of downed trees that she remembers well, even now. In fact, that storm impacted 420,000 acres -- the damage total was estimated at 2 million cords of softwood and 40 million of hardwood.

Later, that blown-down timber contributed to forest fires all through the early 1950s, which burned thousands upon thousands of acres in the Adirondacks. Those fires are also legend in our family, as Dad went north to fight them.

Thus, we were paying attention when Sandy came to town, especially with memories of Irene so fresh and frightening.

Early in the morning of the day before the terrible night, the breeze was warm and barely stirring. What air was moving had a vigorous feel to it, even if it was still barely strong enough to flap the diagnostic windbreaker on the clothesline, left there as a poor man's anemometer.

It was nearly hot enough in the barn for the fans, but not quite. By the time milking was over it was just a tad cooler, but the wind still wasn't doing much. It was good to know that the milk truck was picking up early before the impending storm had time to get serious.

Indeed, the truck arrived shortly after breakfast; one less thing to worry about. The boss went out to chop some hay, but even mowing was debatable. The windrows snaked around as if alive.

By early afternoon the wind was really picking up and sounding serious. That siren heard from the parlor that seemed to start and stop at random turned out to be the wind whistling in the eaves.

The coat was still clinging to the clothesline though, and hung limply at least part of the time.

Then the canal corporation announced that the state canal system was closed to navigation, a good sense move from where we perched up here on the hill.

As the afternoon rolled by, the weather grew ever more threatening. It was chilling to realize that as the wind began to blow in earnest the storm hadn't even made landfall.

History was revisited as our boy drove home from yet another construction job, nearly six decades after Carol, and road signs were ripped out of the ground to whirl across the road in front of his truck. At least he was able to get home.

Watching the storm hit the city and Long Island was as riveting as it was disturbing. Fires and flooding, horrific wind damage, all played out on television in real time. I finally couldn't watch anymore. Morning brought photos on Facebook of places like the World Trade Center, and the New York City subways, where the men in our family have recently worked, with millions of gallons of water cascading through them.

The repairs will be staggering. Such terrible losses for so many.

Here at the farm we lucked out. Only a few shingles and a board or two were torn away. The jacket anemometer didn't even blow far, just over to the hook that normally holds the hummingbird feeder.

The impact on agriculture across a good part of the storm area was expressed as fairly positive by Reuters news as well. Purdue temporarily closed some processing facilities and some chicken farms experienced extensive flooding. Tyson and Cargill also closed plants or restricted hours, but expect to reopen soon. Hopefully the coastal cities will return to normal before too long, but Sandy was a bad one, even worse than Carol, and she was plenty tough enough.

Fultonville dairy farmer MARIANNE FRIERS

is a regular columnist. She blogs

at http://northviewdiary.blogspot.com/

     

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