My grandparents are always saying they wish they could see their four adult granddaughters more--scattered around the country in Portland, Ore., Brooklyn, San Diego and Chicago--but this isn't quite what they had in mind.
When Hurricane Sandy struck last week, my grandparents--both approaching 90 and still very much in love after 65 years of marriage in a beach town called Long Beach, Long Island--were evacuated and displaced from their home like millions of others on the East Coast.
Their 27-year-old granddaughter, my wonderful cousin Heidi, and her boyfriend have taken them in, sheltering them from Sandy in their Brooklyn apartment, where they've all been staying for more than a week. They did not go willingly. My grandfather, a World War II combat vet in the Pacific theatre, does not frighten much. I guess being on a troop ship in a typhoon will do that to you.
When I first heard about the sleeping arrangements, I thought it might be a bit too close for comfort, even though my grandparents and Heidi are big fans of each other. But then I got a little envious. I wished I could have been there to help my grandparents out in their time of crisis too.
When I call them each day, despite their reason for being there, they sound like they're making the best of it, eating lasagna together, watching TV together, or just hanging out together. I picture my grandma in the kitchen, dishing to Heidi about some anecdote from the Sher archives about a great uncle or a long-lost cousin on the family tree. The storm knocked down plenty of trees outside, but family trees were strengthened during this trying time.
Granted, these are not ideal conditions to be bonding with the family, but their reunion is the silver lining of an awful situation. And my grandparents were just one of millions of gatherings of generosity and compassion among family, friends, and even strangers happening up and down the East Coast in the wake of Sandy.
My grandparents fared better than so many others devastated by Sandy's wrath. They were only victims of power and plumbing loss and a flooded crawlspace while the rest of their home remained relatively dry. They plan to stay in Brooklyn for a couple more days until their power and creature comforts are restored to their two-story duplex home.
The same home they've lived in for 63 years, since my father was a baby.
The same home my older sister and I would spend two weeks every summer of our childhoods, trekking to the beach and boardwalk (now destroyed) each day with our plastic pails and shovels, our cherry Italian ices, and our carefree, summertime joy, hand in hand with our grandparents and parents.
The same home where my grandparents and my grandma's mother--my bubbe--would share Shabbat dinner with my father and uncle when they were kids.
The same home decorated from top to bottom with warm and colorful family portraits painted by my grandfather, an artist in his spare time away from his job working at a paper factory.
The same home where my grandma would do The New York Times crossword every day for 60 years, always picking up a few missing sports or celebrity names from my grandfather to complete the missing clues to the puzzle. She now googles them too.
The same home where my dad and his brother, as kids, would dupe my grandma into believing they were practicing the clarinet, when really they were shooting fireworks in the backyard using the music stand as a crossbow.
The same home where my grandma would dust the house and clean the toilets every morning at 5 a.m. before she went off to a long day of work as a high school history teacher.
The same home where she would teach my sister and me to knit and my grandpa would teach us to play Rummy.
We're lucky my grandparents will soon make their way back home--and I pray that so many others will too.
For some, though, that won't be possible. But no matter what physical structures the hurricane destroyed in its path, it can never destroy the beautiful stories, histories, and memories that every home has to share.