Irene Was Her Name

… and she played a cruel game.  

Back in October of 1999, I put together a statewide homeschoolers’ field trip to the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral.  I figured it was a no-brainer, since the day’s outing would be tagged onto the end of a big homeschoolers’ event in Orlando.  Easier said than done.  I managed to scrape together about a dozen adults and children, to qualify for a group discount.

The day arrived, and we pondered what to do at a breakfast buffet in Orlando.  Hurricane Irene had pounded southern Florida, and was moving up the Atlantic, just off of Cape Canaveral.  It didn’t look good for our field trip.  I called the Kennedy Space Center, and asked if we could have a refund or a rain check.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because of the hurricane,” I said, painfully stating the obvious.

“Oh, it’s going to miss us.  We’re open, so come on over!”

“But the news is showing it will hit Cape Canaveral.”

“That’s not what our forecasters are saying.  It isn’t even raining.  If we’re open, I can’t give you a refund or a rain check.  You just need to come today.”

I got off the phone, and the adults had a little pow-wow.  After much deliberation, our group dwindled down to about 3 families who were committed to going.

Our family piled into our full-size van and led the caravan of three vehicles.  As we drove east, it started to rain.  Our two boys, ages 13 and 11, and our 8-year-old daughter were up for the adventure.

“Hey,” said the 11-year-old, “look at those palm trees bending over.”

The rain was pelting us now, and I was rather concerned about the bending palm trees.  I called the Center.

“No, we’re open, and we’re doing fine!  Come on over!”

The water seemed to be getting deeper on the highway, as the hubby and I exchanged worried glances.

“Wow, look at that!”  The 13-year-old lunged with his outstretched arm, pointing toward the front of the van.

Way up ahead, we could see the bridge going over to Cape Canaveral.  Waves of water were crashing over the railing and pounding the cars of the few brave souls trying to drive across … brave or stupid, anyway.

“That doesn’t look good,” said the hubby.

“Are they out of their minds?” I asked.  “How could they possibly be open?”

Yes, they were out of their minds, and yes, we were out of our minds for continuing to drive!

We made it across the bridge – which now appeared to be sitting on the raging water’s surface – as our kids shouted things like, “Wow, this is cool!”

We pulled into the space center parking lot, and there were actually some other cars there.  We made sure everyone was wearing their ponchos, and carefully opened the van doors, holding them with all our strength, so the wind wouldn’t rip them off their hinges.

As the two boys deboarded the van, I held their hands as tight as I could … so they wouldn’t blow away.  I had quite a bit more body mass than them, and wasn’t in too much danger.  But their little bodies were like leaves tossing in the wind.

“Steve!” I shouted pointlessly in the deafening wind and pelting rain.  “Come around!”  I could only hold two kids, and needed another hand.  He couldn’t hear me, but could see our predicament, and safely retrieved our daughter from the van … without her blowing away.

We held on tightly to our children and marched toward the entrance, along with the other two struggling homeschool families.  I was fuming.  I couldn’t believe they told us to come.  I couldn’t believe we came!

I argued with the lady at the front counter, trying to get our money back, but she insisted everything was fine, and to just enjoy the exhibits.  We went through a few of them, until we were blocked from the next show.

“No one can pass through here,” said a security guard.

“What’s wrong?” we asked.

“The roof’s coming off.”

“Oh, that’s just great,” I muttered.

We made our way to the cafeteria to wait out the storm.  It finally slowed down to a steady, mildly-windy rain, and we decided to head back to our hotel in Orlando.

We couldn’t believe the day we had, and laughed most of the way back.  After we got home, though, I called the center, calmly explained our situation, and was cheerfully promised rain checks for everyone who had signed up for the field trip.

I never planned a statewide field trip again.  And I don’t ever plan on intentionally driving into a hurricane again.  Homeschooling afforded us many valuable life lessons … and Irene taught us well.


4 Responses to “Irene Was Her Name”

  1. Mark Boss Says:

    Wow, the shuttle won’t fly if it’s drizzling, but the Space Center stayed open during a hurricane? Amazing. Sounds like one of those trips that years later you think about and just shake your head.

  2. Tim Says:

    I can’t help but think of my family’s relocation to Baton Rouge… on the same weekend that Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Our moving van and car we about the only vehicles heading west on I-10, but eastbound was bumper to bumper for miles. Thankfully, we arrived at our friends’ house in Baton Rouge about three hours before the storm.
    Now if only I could tell the story as playfully as Judy tells hers. I really enjoy reading her stuff!

  3. slowdancejournal Says:

    My favorite part is your description of your kids’ reactions. So blissfully unaware! What a treat it would be to be the person that gets blown around instead of the one who has to keep it from happening!

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