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Life in the Time of Corona

Riding Out a Hurricane in a Pandemic

Diane Skelton

Diane Skelton’s work has appeared in The English Journal, Mississippi Magazine, Mississippi Genealogy, Gulf Breeze News, Florida Hockey Life, The Legend, Emerald Coast Review and various professional publications. From her home in Gulf Breeze, she writes the blog, thegumbodiaries. She has published two books, The Gumbo Diaries: Mississippi and Beyond (2015) and Thank You for Asking (2020).

“Coronavirus just moved way down the list,” my neighbor, a private school principal, said as he surveyed the damage from Hurricane Sally. “Power, water, sewerage -- these are the important things.”

Here we are, recovering from a Category 2 hurricane in a pandemic, experiencing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs firsthand. We’re right down at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid, worrying about food, water and our basic needs.  When it comes to hurricanes, the first 72 hours are on us, to quote the State of Florida, so my family is out with the neighbors raking and chopping and lining the street with mounds of debris,  and we’re thankful for simple things: a commode that flushes and a light that turns on.

We’ve got our own quarantine going on.  I live a few miles across the bay, east of Pensacola between Gulf Breeze and Midway. We’re not going anywhere because all the bridges are out due to runaway barges and high winds. The nearest bridge means a 65-mile trip – one way. That’s what our air conditioner repair man said when he made a morning call to jury-rig our air conditioner until the replacement part could arrive via the postal service, whenever that resumes. But we’re used to staying put – we been isolating since March.

The school-principal neighbor would be driving the alternate bridge route, if his Pensacola school was open, but it won’t be open for a long time. The school and adjacent church flooded. The rebuilding will be lengthy, dependent on various inspectors from numerous sectors.  Now we find ourselves thankful for the remote learning forced on us by COVID-19 amid school closures. Wait. Did I say thankful for coronavirus?  Not exactly.

As COVID-19 has suppressed us, we have changed our daily activities, in some ways for the better. When our Walmart lost power and wasn’t open after the hurricane, another neighbor missed her weekly grocery pickup and was forced inside a Publix to shop. That’s troublesome since she has underlying health conditions. I’ll admit to enjoying the luxury of Walmart’s pickup service at three different stores, plus curbside pickup from restaurants and a department store. and I are best pandemic buds.

The pandemic has forced me to think differently about how I handle other routines. I’m taking advantage of autopay and other online services. Though I love visiting with friends, I appreciate two-hour board meetings reduced to 25 productive minutes on Zoom. My weekly writing critique group, now on Zoom, seems more productive with a lot less paper being passed around. Plus, I’m reading more and even chimed-in with readers from Ireland, Israel, and Canada for an author talk from nearby Bay County Library. They hosted best-selling writer Michael Lister, one of their library patrons, on a Zoom session.  All of their library author talks are now on Zoom, a result of library closures during the pandemic.

Those of us who live across the bay are used to being isolated, and we’ll be okay. We have the basics, plus we’ve got gasoline – plenty for us to motor around our small, waterlocked space. Pensacolians are driving as far as Alabama for gas. But then that’s closer than the 65-mile one-way trip over here. There’s also a curfew keeping us in; the result is quieter evenings and darker night skies to behold the majesty of the stars and moon.

I laughed a few weeks ago when fellow writer Mandy Fernandez joked about a hurricane breaking the boredom of a pandemic. She was right. I haven’t thought about the virus for at least 12 hours straight. The TV and online virus briefings continue, but I don’t have time for Florida’s daily statistics – I’m too busy picking up pine limbs and propping up fences.

My body aches all over this morning, even my knuckles creak as I type, but I’m thankful because these aches are the rewards of hard labor caused by a hurricane, not coronavirus. I’m also thankful we had our hurricane preparedness kit ready. Just as we were clawing our way off the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid, the water department robocalled. Thankfully, I’ve got four cases of water in the garage.

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