We always knew the name Surf Street was dead on. When we were little, a sign that spelled “No Wake” was attached to the telephone pole at the top of the street, for when boats would pass through from Shore Road. I’d never seen boats float by our front window, but I do remember Mike L. trick-or-treating from his wave runner, on a Halloween long ago.
Floods came and went at regular intervals, throwing some excitement into our ho-hum suburban Lindenhurst lives. My dad cracked that we had “occasional waterfront property,” made funnier because the water never made it into the house; it just disfigured the landscape enough, for a day or two, to let us miss school and give us a thrilling sense of disorientation when we expected to see bushes or blacktop.
Hurricane Gloria hit us hard when I was in fourth grade. The winds had taken out the oak in our front yard and knocked it sideways, so that we could climb it horizontally. The lights were out for fourteen profanity-laden days. Our neighbors across the street lost their little bungalow house and lived in a trailer right on into the spring, until their new house, elevated six concrete steps high, was built.
When I was eighteen, a flood had gotten so out of hand that Rachel’s jeep was stuck and she had to be rescued by four strapping firemen and deposited, no joke, to my father on our front porch in the arms of the cutest one. The lights stayed on, and my father cooked, and we were stranded all together in the desert island of our choosing. It was a fun way to grow up. And grow up I did, up and out, along the south shore of the Island, first to West Babylon, then to Bay Shore, and finally settling in East Islip, where we moved the electronics from the floor of the basement and rolled up the carpet in anticipation of Hurricane Sandy.
We’ve had some serious flooding in our basement here years ago, once about two feet high. The watermarks on the walls show the growth chart of the water, seeping up, making soup of the tiny toys and debris left on the floor. But as the winds whipped and the trees bent and swayed, their high branches teasing with what was left of their leaves, and I huddled in this very old house made of sticks, we got lucky. We stayed dry. The power lines came down with the telephone poles that cracked in half, one after the other, down the length of our street. But the water stayed away. The trees in our yard fought the wind, surfing righteously and keeping their balance, and our roof stayed intact. We watched the cracks in the basement floor with routine attendance, but they never darkened with the first telling signs of a flood.
Surf Street was not lucky. The S’s, whose family lived in a house identical to our own across the street, finally vacated once the water came up through the floors, rising to fill cabinets and dresser drawers, up and over the box spring of the new bed. Waist high in water, their five year old son Michael hanging onto his father’s neck, they trudged next door, where they waited for the coast guard in the second floor bedroom. Their cars, parked in safety at Shore Road park, were picked up and moved with the water, crashing into each other like bumper cars, lit up with fire and burning. The D family’s brand new truck flashed its brake lights and blared its high-pitched screaming alarm as the battery and the electric core, dissolved into the bay. The C’s at the end of the street, with the prettiest view, watched as the water broke their windows and carried the tangibles of their lives so far, the house where Glen grew up down the block from me, where his mother lived to her last days, downstream, past the telephone pole where the old sign used to hang.