As Hurricane Irma roared closer to South Florida, evacuees faced an emotional quandary in addition to the bombardment of more practical matters: What do you take with you when you’re not sure what you’ll come home to find?
Everyone knows the basics: Take (or protect) important papers. Keep all medications with you. Remember diapers for the baby and cash for the grown-ups. Above all else, be safe.
But what do you do about the items that sustain your life in less tangible ways? Beloved books? One-of-a-kind art works that are worth nothing at auction but are nostalgically invaluable? Jewelry passed on from a parent or grandparent long gone? The homemade birthday cards your kids drew?
When you can carry only so much, what can’t you bear to leave behind?
For Jeannine Weir of Oakland Park, it’s the sepia photograph of her grandfather, Patrick James Nealy, taken during the Spanish-American War. He was just a teenager when he joined the Army, she says.
“It’s cracked in the middle,” says Weir, who was riding out the storm in western Boca Raton. “But there’s something about that photo. He held it in his hands. His parents held it in their hands. It was probably taken using one of those exploding flashes. … I have newer photos scanned but not this.”
Colleen Stovall, the artistic director for Shakespeare Miami, left Coconut Grove with her husband, his 1962 Gibson guitar and her cherished copy of “The Norton Shakespeare.”
“I just walked away from most everything without batting an eye, but I’m anxious about my books,” says Stovall, who evacuated to St. Petersburg on Florida’s west coast. “I’ve been working on research for a production of ‘Hamlet’ for over a year and left everything but my script and cast binder. But this is inscribed by a former cast member. I have a wall of books on Shakespeare, but this one is really special.”
What else made the cut? Her grandmother’s antique sterling flatware and a lace engagement party dress.
“My 1980s wedding gown, not so much,” she joked.
Miguel Angel Oliva of Coral Gables, who owns a public relations firm and flew to Mexico City Wednesday to stay with family, solved his dilemma of what to take in a creative way: As soon as Hurricane Irma started to threaten Florida, he upgraded his tiny storage unit to a larger one that could accommodate personal items, photos, paintings, even some wine.
“You cannot take everything,” he said. “But I had stuff my grandmother gave me before she passed away, a flower vase, a picture frame. I also have stuff from my father, who passed away 21 years ago. Everything close to my heart that I can’t carry is in the storage facility.”
Jeremy and Mindi Norkin, who live in downtown Miami, didn’t have the luxury of mulling over what to leave. They had more concrete worries: Mindi is 33 weeks pregnant with twins. Once the couple confirmed the babies weren’t imminent, they headed to Orlando, then on to Tallahassee, with unexpected cargo.
“We took our most valuable jewelry, but some of our sentimental stuff we left — our wedding photo album, our honeymoon photo album,” says Jeremy Norkin, adding that they aimed for a metropolitan area in a place where the power wouldn’t go out and was big enough to support a hospital. “We had to get infant car seats installed Wednesday. So we’re driving north now with a freshly minted Mom-mobile with infant seats.”
Like the Norkins, publicist Mabel De Buenza had to focus on practical matters, which made her decisions easier, she said. She and her husband could only worry about their 19-month-old son, who needs a Nebulizer to breathe safely, when they left their Brickell home for landlocked Miramar.
“We thought, ‘What can’t we live without, what will get us back up and running after the power goes out? How do I Nebulize our son if the power goes out?’ ” she said. “Our stuff became secondary. We have prized possessions, but it doesn’t matter if your kid doesn’t need it. It’s not important anymore. That was a lot of the decision making we did.
“You make memories regardless of what happens. This will be an experience of our lifetimes. We just want to live to tell about it.”
De Buenza wasn’t the only one unsentimental about possessions. Broadway producer and director Richard Jay-Alexander, who was planning to leave his Miami Beach home Friday, said he wasn’t worried about what he might lose.
“I’m 64. It’s just stuff to me,” he said. “I secured the house. My dog is safe. I’ll take my dog’s papers, maybe a little bit of jewelry, and raise things off the floor. It’ll be heartbreaking, for sure. But why should I be spared grief that someone else has had before me? You can’t be all precious about it. ”