“What was your earliest memory, Dad?”
I posed this question during one of my many hours interviewing my father for my novel, based on his remarkable life.
“Late summer, when I was three,” he began. “Hurricane San Felipe destroyed the island. My father carried me and Lila to the
house, the only cement house in the village . . . he and Don Cadiz ripped up the
floorboards so our families could hide there, in the dirt crawl space
underneath the floor. It was moist, the dirt seeped into me. It was hard to
breath with all those people, almost fifteen of us huddling in fear.
“Afterwards, the town was destroyed. Trees uprooted, entire houses gone. The sheep herder never found his flock. We slept without a roof over our heads for weeks. The small grammar school was destroyed, too. There was no money to replace lost supplies. Each student received only one pencil and one writing tablet for the rest of the year . . .”
I was amazed at the accuracy of my father’s memory from only age three. Hurricane San Felipe battered
Puerto Rico on September 13, 1928 and is the only cyclone
to hit the island at Category 5 intensity, at winds up to 175 MPH. Click on the NOAA Hurricane Scale for an excellent depiction of storms ranging from 1 to 5 and the damage inflicted.
San Felipe is the second deadliest hurricane to impact the
mainland, behind only the 1900 Galveston Hurricane, and the most powerful to
strike Puerto Rico. The eye of the hurricane
took eight hours to cross the island; 500,000 people were homeless in its
aftermath and 312 were killed. San Felipe inflicted 50 million dollars damage
in 1928, just in time for the great depression. This is another image Dad remembered, of a ten-foot pine board driven through the trunk of an African palm, from The Hurricane Hunters by Ivan Ray Tannehill (Dodd, Mead and Company, 1960)
Dad also talked about the calm before the storm, how everything was completely silent. No rustles from the leaves of the palm trees. Even the animals didn’t make a sound, the birds stopped singing.
What’s your earliest memory? Who was there? What was the season?