by Victoria (Woskoff) Bestock
Until I was four we lived on 46th street in Sunnyside in the ground floor apartment of a duplex. I don’t remember very much from the old house, but I do remember the hurricane that occurred when I was three years old. It rained very hard and my parents wouldn't let me go outside to play. The wind was very strong and leaves blew past the windows sideways instead of falling down.
Then the rain stopped and the sky turned weird colors and I wanted to go out to play. My mother said no. My father said the winds would start again soon, but blowing the other way. I didn't see how he could know that. It was nice now. I wanted to go out and play now that it wasn't raining.
My father got a pencil and piece of paper and drew circles and spirals that looked like scribbles. He explained that the scribbles were the winds of the hurricane going round and round in circles. He showed me that as the hurricane passed, we’d be briefly in the eye, where it was calm and then as it continued, the winds and rain would start again, only the winds would be blowing the opposite way. I could understand it when I looked at the picture. So I waited, and sure enough, the wind and rain started again and the wind was blowing the other way. My father knew everything!
After the hurricane was over I went out on the front stoop. The tree in the next yard, an umbrella tree, had uprooted in the high winds and was lying on the lawn, naked roots exposed to the sky. I don’t remember being afraid during the storm, but seeing a whole tree uprooted terrified me. Trees were supposed to be solid and strong. Something was amiss with the world if the trees couldn’t stay put.
A day or two later we drove out on Long Island to look at the damage caused by the storm. Because we were near the shore, where winds had raced over the ocean with no obstructions before striking land, the devastation was greater than in the city, where tall buildings deflected the winds and slowed them. But on the island large branches lay across the roads, hurled down in the winds. We drove over some branches and around others, but eventually the road was blocked and we had to turn back. I still have powerful images in my mind of the fallen umbrella tree, and the roads covered in green limbs torn off trees in the storm and of the terror that these invoked, retroactively, of the powerful storm, which hadn’t scared me at all while it was occurring.
My father had taught me about hurricanes as though I were an adult even though I was only three. He was fascinated with the symmetries in nature, in the regularity of snowflakes and flowers, and in the power of hurricanes and he loved sharing it all with me. I learned from my father about hurricanes at 3 and osmosis at 5, and how airplanes fly at 8.
Was it knowledge that helped me over fears? Did I forget to be afraid because I was fascinated with the explanations? Or was it my father’s calm voice, as he explained the hurricane to me with spiral scribbles on the back of an envelope?
Tree downed in the Great Atlantic Hurricane September 14, 1944
Victoria (Woskoff) Bestock was lucky enough to live on 46th and 44th Streets during her childhood. Now she lives in Seattle, WA.