In God We Trust. That’s the motto of my home state. In 1868, the Florida legislature adopted this motto. Namely, because they thought it sounded better than “Florida—most of us are Realtors®.”
Our state motto was so good that Eisenhower signed a bill to make it the national motto in 1956. Congress voted. It was unanimous.
This is just one more clear example of how everyone wants to be Florida.
I am a Floridian. My family lives in Florida. My people are Floridians. My former Sunday school teachers. My in-laws. My exes. I grew up with hurricanes.
During the feckless summers of my youth, hurricane season ran from June until the following June. And that was life. You didn’t like it. But you tolerated it because you didn’t know anything else.
When the newspaper announced a hurricane in the Gulf, you would watch TV incessantly. You’d stay up until the wee hours, waiting for updates, watching endless commercials wherein grumpy old men in supermarkets warned you not to squeeze the Charmin.
There were no smartphones or fancy weather websites back then. You just had a radio and a TV.
In the Western Panhandle, our television news came from either Mobile, Pensacola, or Panama City. And our newscasters wore so much hairspray they could deflect small caliber ammunition.
These newspersons were from the old school of broadcasting, which meant that they were pretty sedate and matter-of-fact. There was no anxiety among news anchors like there is today. All the meteorologists were calm men who wore coats and ties and looked like your father’s dentist.
The whole town came together during hurricane preparations. You’d go into Ace Hardware to buy plywood, and all the old men were sipping coffee from foam cups, talking about it. Most of us felt a slight thrill coursing through our arteries.
You’d help your neighbors put up storm shutters. You’d bring in Miss Betty’s potted plants. You’d place all your mama’s lawn furniture into the garage.
Most people on my street drank beer during hurricanes. Even the Baptists drank beer because beer went better with unfiltered Camels.
My friend’s mom locked her whole family in a small closet and made everyone wear Little League batting helmets for storms.
I have another friend who, to this day, still sleeps in a canoe in the garage during a hurricane, just in case the storm surge gets bad.
I’ve had multiple relatives interviewed on the Weather Channel. They were all selected at random inside filling stations by Jim Cantore or Stephanie Abrams.
Weathermen usually selected my people solely because of our accents and poor dental plans.
I have seen destruction from hurricanes more times than I can count. All my people have. Andrew. Opal. Charley.
Ivan almost killed us. Dennis sucked pieces of our coastline into outer space. Wilma. Irma. And Michael. Oh, Michael.
Michael made landfall 33 miles west of my front porch, and killed friends of mine.
But now I live in another state. I am far away from my family. In a mountain region. Another world.
I still, however, watch the news with that familiar anxiety in my gut. I am constantly texting my mother and sister and family members, asking how they’re doing. Their responses usually come within milliseconds, because everyone is slightly on edge.
Currently, Hurricane Ian isn’t heading for my hometown, but landing extremely east of it, tracking up Florida’s mainland. But this does nothing to relieve me.
I can’t be glad about where the storm is going. Because I am a Floridian, and so are my brothers and sisters. If my hometown doesn’t get creamed, theirs does. We’re all in this together.
So tonight I can only pray for my brothers and sisters in Hurricane Ian’s path.
I can only watch television and listen to adrenaline-fueled newscasters milk the storm coverage for all its worth. I can only watch meteorologists chew the same cud for hours and wonder how much money they make selling commercial ads.
This must be like Super Bowl Sunday for them.
The TV shows footage of Disney World, with people leaving the park in a mild frenzy, just before the gates close. Sea World is a ghost town. Legoland, Universal, Busch Gardens: all empty.
On my screen is a newsman, standing on a beach, wearing a rain slicker, announcing that the storm surge from Bonita Beach to Charlotte Harbor is expected to be nearly 18 feet.
People have died in three feet.
As I write this, a meteorologist tells viewers that this storm is approaching Category 5 status. The highest hurricane status known to man, with winds exceeding 150 mph. Strong enough to knock down skyscrapers.
And all I can do is say a prayer.
Tonight, I sit far away from the Sunshine State, praying for some kind of divine mercy upon my Floridian kith and kin. For leniency from On High. Supernatural forbearance. For Grace from heaven itself.
I love you, Florida. May the Almighty shed his grace on thee.
In God We Trust.