Fishing as Debby rolls in

Summer on the island could be divided in two halves: BEFORE DEBBY – calm, breezy, beautiful, plenty of nice kids for my nice kids to play with. AFTER DEBBY: hot, sticky, muddy, not enough kids for my kids to play with.

Then, there was DURING DEBBY. It was predicted to rain a little and go toward Texas, right? RIGHT. We played cards with this great family while the rain poured down and the power flickered on and off, just riding it out. We made pina colodas and nachos and had a blast. All good. THEN, I left the island on Sunday to pick up Mom at the Sarasota airport. Small craft advisory X1. Choppy water, decided I couldn’t get Mom and the kids back over in that water, decided to stay in Sarasota over night. Wise decision because DEBBY sat down and chose to VISIT. You have to hand it to Mom. She is the only person I know to have ever spent two days in France and have a migraine the entire time she was there. She has the worst travel luck. So, this time, she flew into a tropical storm that is being called, in retrospect, a disorganizedstorm, reminiscent of the 1985 Hurricane Elena because it sat around for so long before moving. While hovering, it messed up the power on the island. Three days in a one-room hotel with three kids and mom complaining about our musty-smelling boat ponchos. Thanks for the memories, DEBBY. On day three, there was a rumor that power had been restored to the island, so we braved the white caps in our flats boat, got soaked and trudged five days worth of groceries across to find there was still no power due to two snapped power poles. Sounded serious. Helicopters would be needed to fix this one. Our fridge had been without power for THREE days. Our house smelled like the fish we had in the freezer. Mom was exhausted. Kids super cranky, un-enthused about leaving the island again and all the take-out food was not agreeing with our tummies. In addition, the water on the island was not working, either. We shuffled bags, grabbed the two lap-tops still in the house, emptied fridge and freezer and set out to cross the white caps again.

Me to Hubs in text: “There is NO power on the island until Sunday. I NEED a Residence Inn near the beach please. Trashing smelly stuff from fridge. Managing people. Have diarrhea. Top torn off boat. Made it across okay but half island under water. Have to go back to mainland with six bags of trash. Boat tossed & turned everywhere.” On the way back, due to the waves being so high, the motor got flooded and cut out on me three times in Charlotte Harbor, but we made it back to the marina – white knuckles and all. Come to find out the ferry had quit running because the waves were so rough. Oh, well. Some things have to be done, whether there is a small craft advisory or not.

Text to hubs: “Motor cut out 3X. But we are here. Still have diarrhea. I am woman hear me roar.”

He got me a condo. On the beach.


So, now that brings us to the wave that almost killed me. I am privileged to be the mother of a 14 year old boy which means he only does things if there is an element of slacking, humor or danger involved. So, a few days later when the gulf died down to a hyper-up Atlantic state/ Pacific coast-on-acid style waves, my son decided it was time for us to body surf. I, wanting ANY quality time with him, foolishly accepted, obviously having forgotten our latest saltwater cowgirl experience with previously stated small craft advisory and whitecaps. I go into the gulf. And he follows. We’re knocked down within five seconds, proving that this is going to be fantastic. We give each other a grin, one of those – oh, yeah – one of us is losing a bathing suit and it isn’t going to be me – grins. We try to walk out past the breakers, but every time we take a step another waves knocks our feet out from under us.

The thing about a storm like Debby is, it doesn’t just mess with the water, it moves the sand, too. So, when you step, sometimes the ocean floor is solid, but every few feet or so, you step into a deep hole, maybe three feet deeper than where you just stood. If you are hit by a wave, it can push you in and out of one of those, toss you and you don’t know up from down. I grew up on the Atlantic at New Smyrna Beach riding waves with my dad. This gulf stuff is nothing, unless there’s a storm. We finally get out past the breakers and wait for the pull of the waves to tell us whether they’re good enough to ride or not. And they are. Very good. They take you all the way in, past the deep holes, over the rough shells. The waves push you all the way to the little tide pool and scrape you knees on the scallop shells. We catch a few. The ones we don’t catch, push us to the bottom, flip us over and push sand into the crevices of our behinds, then pop us out and roar, “NEXT.”

The particular waves that takes me under gets me as I am trying to stand, from a previous wave where my feet had come out of the water over my head and I had said to my son, “Okay, one more and that’s it. I’m tired.” DEMON WAVE hits me in the side of the head, flips me over, skids my head along the bottom one-two-three like Fred Flinstone dragging Wilma. My feet scramble to find the bottom. One thing I taught my kids is that when a wave knocks you down, stand up as fast as you can because there’s always another one coming.

My concern is that if DEMON WAVE did this to 150 lb, 5’8″ me, what has it done to my 90 lb, 5’4″ son? My arms are flying around, but all I feel is water, except my head which is still skidding along the bottom every now and then, burning like crazy. I kick my leg and break the surface. Flipping my self over, I stand up, looking for my son. He’s standing right next to me. His hair isn’t wet. Not recently anyway. “What happened to you?” he asks, as I gasp for breath, thankful he is standing. “You were down for like, EVER. I think two waves hit you or something. You didn’t stand up like you were supposed to.” In my recounting of the story, I tell him I think I lost some hair to DEMON WAVE. I actually do have a spot on my head that stayed swollen for two or three days which concerned my mom. (Thanks, Mom.)

We get out of the water, much to my son’s chagrin, but I was dizzy, rubbing the lump on my head. That wave made me feel completely paranoid, especially when my younger kids started saying, “Why does HE get to go out and WE don’t?” Yeah, there’s no way I could keep up with all three of them when I was getting spun around like that.

I haven’t been taken down like that in twenty years. Quite a wave. I stuck by the pool, where there was clear water and a large, grumpy woman from Illinois who fussed if my kids splashed her Cooking Light magazine. There was once a beer commercial (Anheuser Busch) called “Know when to say when”. I believe after that wave hit me, I had reached that point with Debby. Because once the waves died down, Debby brought in seaweed with nasty jelly fish just to prove one more time she was still in charge.

The water wasn’t the same for about two weeks and I am an island girl, believe me, I love the gulf. But Debby, she ruled those weeks and it has been nothing but a hot mess since. Nothing but rain mixed with the smell of dead coquinas and no fish and mud and down pours every day and I surrender, Girl.

But I would still rather be no where else.

“You gotta write about the Florida stuff. You know. When you were out on the island alone with the kids and the manatee scared you and you fell off the boat.”


“And you scraped your foot on the barnacles and couldn’t come back to Atlanta ‘cuz you couldn’t drive because you wouldn’t get stitches?”

When something happens and I say I might use it, someday, my mom only remembers the version that comes out of the shaky end of the HP printer. Often friends and family members have over-invested, over-blown ideas about what I’m writing.

(There’s times when they totally ignore it- this is not one of those times)

I crunch my Trader Joe’s corn chip. Mom has just come from Atlanta for Labor Day. I don’t want to disappoint a woman who just brought me six jars of Chipotle salsa.

“I saw your foot,” she says. “I know a nasty barnacle scrape when I see one. You needed stitches.”

There’s a reason for that. Our little gulf island has no bridge. You must have a boat to get here and there are no cars. The only consistent business on the island is the golf cart repairman. That’s how we get around. Golf carts on sandy paths of crushed shell. You bring your groceries over on your boat, put them on your golf cart. Your house, whether you’re renting or have the *luxury* of owning, was probably built circa 1970/80 and stands about ten to fifteen feet off the ground.

“It was almost dark,” I remind her. “Who wants to leave after sundown for the ER with a boatload of kids?”

We have water. We have electricity. We steal ice. It sounds poetic, but translate: summer camp at the beach.

“You are quite cavalier when it comes to stitches,” she says.

“I had steri-strips. I had Percocet.”

“You had sand ground into a wound four inches long. You limped around for over week.”

Understand why I’m reluctant to tell the tale of FALLING off my boat.

Last month, my neighbor, Adventure Woman, makes a late-night Publix run with three kids under the age of eight. This is nothing new to her. She lives here full-time. She tosses everybody in her cute little cabin cruiser, which she’s dubbed “the mini-van” and takes off.

On her way back, she sees the ferry, with my in-laws and about forty other people stuck in shallow water at ten o’clock at night. My mother-in-law will tell you she “doesn’t like to wade, much less swim, Honey”. (How she has a house on an island is for a whole other blog post.)

“You need help,” Adventure Woman tells the ferry boat captain.

(Not, “Let’s call for help.” Not, “DO you need help?” No tip-toeing around his ego. That just wastes time.)

She jumps off her boat into chest-deep water like it’s nothing, walks up to the knee-deep where he’s got the ferry stuck and ties the ferry to her boat while the captain protests. A little.

All the people on the ferry start whispering, IT’S A WOMAN. My mother-in-law whispers back that she knows Adventure Woman, gave her sweet tea when she was pregnant with the youngest baby.

Adventure Woman’s three little boys stand proud, watching Mom be a She-Ro. She hops back onto her boat, fires that baby up and pulls the ferry, loaded with whispering people off the flat.

The ferry boat captain will never live it down. I won’t mention his name because as I type this, one of my boys is paying Lego’s on the front porch with one of the other ferry boat captain’s grandsons and they are still completely mortified ON BEHALF OF THE GUY. Sheesh.  I’m sure the ribbing will go on forever. The story will be told at his funeral. I have no doubt.

“So, if it wasn’t a manatee,” my mom asks. “Why’d you fall out?”

“I couldn’t reach the weight when I was tying up. I stretched too far and… Splash. I could tweak it, but-”

“That was you first summer on the island. You’ve gotten better. I don’t even worry about you anymore.”

“I’m not Adventure Woman.”

She frowns at her salsa. “I liked the manatee aspect. Now, I’m suspicious of your stories.”

“You should be suspicious of everyone’s stories. You have to look through what they’re not telling you. It’s fiction.”

Her eyebrows come together. “Like, what was Adventure Woman doing out at ten o’clock on a Tuesday?”

“Mom,” I say. “That’s not what I meant. She was out of diapers.”

She raises an eyebrow. “And your barnacle injury?”

“Out of chips and salsa.”

“Ah,” Mom says, crunching away. “Island necessities. Still, you should put that in your book.”

I giggle until salsa starts coming out my nose, thinking of the line from DANCES WITH WOLVES.

Kevin Costner is sitting at the campfire, scribbling away and the other guy has just had enough. He lets one loose and delivers the line: “Put THAT in your book.”

Sometimes we don’t have to step farther than a family reunion before Aunt So&So is elbowing us about Uncle Jimmy’s Sad Tale. “SO tragic. You have to write it. Like Nicholas Sparks.”

Ever had your arm twisted when someone was desperate? Has a friend ever gotten screwed over by her company and called close to tears, wanting you to write her Blockbuster screenplay, but you don’t write screenplays?!  “I swear this is like THE FIRM.”

Or vindictive. Has your ex ever emailed an article: “This was so freaking weird, I thought of you. Sounds like your obsession with cemeteries.”?

I’m curious. Class reunion? Funeral? Someone has bent your ear.

What’s your “Put THAT in Your Book” story?