When the hooded man with the flashlight and the yellow slicker bangs on your door at 4 in the morning and tells you the hurricane is headed your way and you must evacuate, you have two choices: to stay or to go. Maybe the constable, mayor or governor says you have only one choice. But in our house there were always two.
Call it civil disobedience, passive resistance, territoriality or sheer stubbornness, my father was a man who was not easily dislodged from his comfortable chair in his comfortable living room, his good reading lamp, his papers, his crosswords, his peace, especially when he was in the midst of his weeks-long vacation at Bethany Beach, a Delaware spot where he began to take his family in 1948.
And so as the vigilant firemen or lifeguards went door to door announcing the imminent arrival of first Connie and then Diane, both in August 1955, my father thanked them each time for their hard work and in his minimalist lawyerlike way created the impression that his family would evacuate, though of course he had no plans to do so.
Provisioning was not the obsession that it is today. We had no canned goods or bottled water stacked on shelves, no batteries, because I don't think we even owned a transistor radio, no Doppler radar to forecast impending doom. We rode out the storm by simply watching the storm, taking the measure of the willow in the back yard as it bent in half, looking for the first rush of foam in the street, the sign that the ocean was coming over the dunes. And then we fell asleep. Only once did we wake up the next morning to learn that the wind had ripped the front porch off the house in the middle of the night.
In fact, by the time Donna was threatening in 1960, our father's response to emergency was encoded in us. In the early fury of that storm we headed to the boardwalk bowling alley, grabbed the two lanes, numbers 3 and 4, whose U-shaped warps were advantageous to our game, and flung balls at duckpins until the ocean spilled under the bowling alley. Dad had given us a wad of money to tip the pin boy.
A healthy skepticism of authority, a tendency not to overreact and the ability to keep a cool head in a crisis: As we grew older, we told ourselves that these virtues had been the bene- fit of behavior that some would say was Dad's foolhardiness.
Only once, the first time the man with the flashlight came knocking at the door, had Dad taken the other route, the safe, sane one. That first time, in the dark and driving rain of Hurricane Barbara in 1953, my father and mother woke the four kids, all under age 10, got us dressed and in the Chevy station wagon, heading up the narrow Delaware roads for home. Before we went west out the main drag, my father convinced the fireman directing traffic while standing in the ankle-deep water that he had to go a few blocks north to check on his "brother," not a brother at all but a close friend. Our families vacationed together, though wisely never in the same house. They had eight kids -- one the age of each of us, plus another four -- and quite possibly would want to offload a few into our station wagon. A dog and various grandparents and in-laws were also involved.
But when we arrived at the house, they had already fled, their overhead lights still on, the back door wide open and the screen door banging wildly in the forceful wind, the home of a family spirited off by aliens.
Dad closed their back door, then joined the long snaking line of cars headed up 26 west to Dagsboro, then on to Bridgeville, across the Maryland line to Denton and to the Bay Bridge and Washington. Dad "drove straight through." In later years this became our polite euphemism for his style of motoring and, in fact, of life: Get where you're going as fast as you can, eyes straight ahead. Destination is all, journey is nothing.
Back home in Washington by mid-morning it was hot and humid. The kid whom Dad had hired to mow the lawn while we were away had not shown up, and the grass was knee high. Mom had packed up all the dirty laundry, since the typical beach house back then had no washer and dryer. She spent the day folding sheets, towels and summer shorts. Dad mowed the lawn. At 3 he called our landlady in Bethany.
"How's the weather down there now?" he asked. Lillian replied that it was a beautiful day, the sky was blue and a crisp fresh ocean breeze was blowing.
We got back in the car and drove straight through. Mom took a bluefish out of the freezer, which was still working, and broiled it, and we sat down to dinner. And that was the last time we ever fled a hurricane.
The writer is editor of The Post's Food section.