And then, in 2004, Hurricane Charley struck central Florida devastating our town of Deltona and injuring my husband as he tried to lift a tree out of our doorway and tore the muscles in his back. His father, sister, and brother-in-law jumped into gear, driving for hours from Jacksonville, loading up ice, candles, chainsaws, and water. They spent days sawing and stacking and raking in terrible heat and humidity. I worked right along with them. I cooked food on the grill, as we had no electricity. I provided cold beer, and his father's favorite, cold wine. And we all sat on the porch in the evenings, trying to cool off. By the end of the week, we had a new appreciation for each other.
I understood that their garrulous interactions were a sign of love. When they teased, they teased with affection. I saw that they meant me no harm, that they wanted to make me one of the family. And they, in turn, realized that I was neither snobby nor uppity, merely shy and reserved.
During the hurricane cleanup his father and I talked through the night, sometimes into the next morning. I learned that he loves the ocean, and he learned that I love his son. We came to understand each other.
I still can't be loud, but I can laugh at myself. And now, in the middle of the chaos when I'm overwhelmed and seek refuge, his father shares a glass of wine with me and we talk about the ocean. It took a hurricane to bring us together and to teach me that familial love comes in many different forms.
Our families couldn't be more different. I come from a household of introverts and nerds. We're quiet. We don't draw attention to ourselves. We don't play practical jokes. We don't laugh loudly, and we never, ever bellow. My childhood home in Tennessee was dark and hushed.
I remember my childhood dinners as a time to discuss politics, religion or philosophy. We debated, but politely. As a child, my goal was to blend in. I hid from attention. I was an excellent student, but I never bragged about my accomplishments–it just wasn't seemly.