Surviving Hurricane Andrew: 25 yrs ago today

It was one of the scariest nights of my life. The house was shaking. Water pouring in. Trees blowing sideways like they were Lincoln Logs. Huddled under a mattress not knowing how this would end. But as frightening as it was in the wee hours of Monday morning, just a day earlier couldn’t have been more different.

Put on your tie, it’s time for church.

We were new to Miami, having moved there from Stafford, Virginia only a couple weeks prior to this particular Sunday. So what does a church-going family do when they arrive to a new town? They try out churches, of course. We dressed up in our Sunday best, only this time we arrived to a church with no people. We soon found out the church was “closed” because of the approaching hurricane. Closed on a Sunday!? What is this, Chic-Fil-A? What’s going on here? Weird, I thought. But no church? Hot diggity dog!

I know, it’s terrible that I was excited about that.

Sunday afternoon went pretty normal. A few hundred feet from our house on the Coast Guard base in Miami, Florida, my brother and I and our new friend John played tennis. A mild breeze, partly cloudy. A beautiful August Sunday. All the schools were about to begin the new year, including where my brother and I were brand new students, a private institution called Westminster Christian School.

The weather people got it wrong.

The weather people down here must be crazy. I mean, it’s a beautiful day and they keep talking about a huge storm coming. Have they looked outside? There can’t be a hurricane coming, I thought. How bad can it be, I thought. Little did I know they were not wrong, they were not crazy. They were very right about the dangerous weather that was about to hit south Florida.

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Evening came and still all was calm. At home that night was myself, my brother, my mother, and our dog Belle, the wonder dog. My two sisters were about 8 hours north in Tallahassee because one was starting her freshman year of college and the other was on a mini vacation. My dad, a captain in the United States Coast Guard, was called in to head up a search and rescue team, preparing for action once the storm hit, and for the aftermath. They were based in an underground shelter at the Cape Canaveral shuttle center. Check out some of his storm recollection here.


Predictions had the storm making landfall in the middle of the night, so we went to bed not really knowing what to expect at our house.

Boom.

The storm hit somewhere around 2 or 3am and it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. My brother, mother, and I gathered with Belle and were shocked at what we were witnessing. It was pitch black outside, but what we could see were trees flying by our sliding glass doors. Sideways rain and wind blowing so fast. Our screened-in porch, well, we didn’t see that because it was gone. OK, at this point I’m starting to believe the little weather thing they’ve been talking about might be serious. We had the radio on, listening to Bryan Norcross.
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Based on his expert advice for surviving a hurricane like this, we all climbed into the bathtub and tried to hold a mattress over us. Then we moved to the hallway and laid down side by side, three-wide. I was laying with my left side pressed up against the wall, and I kid you not, the entire wall was rumbling, moving side to side, the power of the storm shaking the entire house. We had the mattress above us, also trying desperately to keep hold of Belle, by her collar. She was obviously spooked by the weather, and kept pulling away from us. Eventually we let her go and she found safety under a chest cabinet in one of the bedrooms.

Then we felt wind blowing. Never good when you’re inside a house. And remember, it’s the middle of the night so it’s really hard to see anything. Was the roof coming off? Was the house about to be blown away? I had no idea.

Thankfully things calmed down, the radio advising to stay alert, though, because this was just the eye of the storm. In other words, we were only halfway through.

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Storm damage in the area from Hurricane Andrew

We were ready to hunker down again after a quick assessment of the damage. There was a hole in the roof, a hole in the kitchen wall. Water on the kitchen floor. The porch blown away. Backyard fence missing in action. Then the good news… we weren’t in the eye of the storm, the storm was over! As it turns out the Coast Guard base was just outside the path of the eye, so there was so much damage to homes and buildings basically next door to the base. I became very thankful for government housing, our home being built well enough to withstand this historic hurricane.

The next day we began cleanup around the base and also began wondering about how we would get food and water. Well, remember how my dad was preparing for the worst? The Coast Guardsmen showed up with water buffalo trucks so we could all have clean water to drink. Truckloads of Gatorade. Canned food like tuna and spaghetti o’s.

They were heroes to all of us.

Hi there, don’t worry about unpacking, your stuff is about to be blown around town. -Andrew

All in all, it was an unique and peculiar way to be welcomed to Miami. And on top of that, school was supposed to start that week! It didn’t. Public school started a couple weeks later, and at Westminster, it took a full 6 weeks to get things back in order. So I guess, as a middle schooler, that can be seen as a silver lining?

-Out of the Wilderness

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In the name of love…

I heard a saying recently: “Days go by slow but weeks go by fast.” How true that’s been for me in the last 15 to 20 days. It seems like yesterday I was watching deer in a neighborhood yard…

…and that’s already been 4 weeks ago! Since then I’ve been around the southeast from Birmingham to Tallahassee, Memphis, Branson, Montgomery, Nashville, and lots of little towns in between.

In the name of love.

On the way to Missouri we stopped at the Civil Rights Museum, the site where MLK gave his life for freedom and love.

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My brother and two of his kids at the Lorraine Motel, Memphis, Tennessee.

Then we went on to Missouri, where my brother and I could do our part to serve in the name of love.

In Branson (actually it was Lampe, Missouri), we volunteered at a camp where we worked when we were in college. I’m sure I’ll post more about our time there but for now I’ll say it was a really great, exhausting, learning, fun week with him. We did a lot of manual labor type work, lifted weights, ran a 5k every day for 5 days, played whiffle ball homerun derby, and lots more. We got there on a Saturday. When my body felt like it had done all it could do, and I was ready to pack up and head out, “It’s been a great week, y’all!” I came to realize it was still Saturday. Dang. Long days, for sure!

Straight after that week was Wilder beach week back in Florida, at a little beach just south of Tallahassee called St. Teresa. This is the week all the Wilders meet up for a week of fun with 8 kids, 8 adults, and 3 dogs. Lots of love in this family!

Exhausting was this week, too, but mostly because we’re all having fun on my dad’s boat (tubing, skiing, dolphin watching, etc), playing soccer on the beach, knockout on the basketball court, volleyball on the beach, and other random fun things that don’t include flying a kite. More on that later!

I returned to Nashville two weeks after leaving. It was nice to sleep in my own bed again, to watch Leverage on Netflix again, to play sand volleyball with my friends again. But this trip was so great.


-Out of the Wilderness

All the jobs I’ve had with my brother

The other day I was thinking about how a lot of the jobs I’ve had are thanks to, and were right along side, members of my family. Probably because we’re both guys and only a year and a half apart, it was my brother that I worked with mostly. Going all the way
back to 4th grade, I remember helping him deliver newspapers when we lived in Fort Adams; military housing in Newport, Rhode Island.

Paper or plastic, ma’am?
wdMy first real job, though, was bagging groceries at Winn-Dixie in Miami, Florida… once the area recovered from Hurricane Andrew, that is. Who was bagging there, too? Yep, my bro. The dynamic duo at your service! I have a few memories from this job. The one that stands out most was this lady that came through the line, you had to keep an eye on her, for sure. Even thinking about it now, all the fear I had in the moment rushes back. I think she just had some sort of mental disorder but here’s what she would do: grab something from a nearby shelf (like a candy bar next to the register), throw it on the ground and step on it. At one point, she had a loaf of bread in her hand. Tossed it down, stepped directly in the middle of it. I couldn’t believe it. She did this with a few other things, too. Weird stuff, man.

We gotta wake up at what time????
hardeesFast forward a couple of years and my brother and I were spending the summer in Monticello, Florida. Our dad was starting a new job in New York, so he went up early, before the rest of us moved there from Florida. My mom was spending time in Tallahassee with her parents. So there we were living with my dad’s parents in a house they built off of South Mulberry Street. Well, about a block away was a Hardee’s. We both got jobs making biscuits on the weekend. We only worked a couple days a week, but just knowing we had to wake up at 4am both days was enough to ruin the entire week. But it was pretty awesome to have grandparents that woke up with us, made us breakfast, and drove us the 1 block to get there. And our boss was funny, in a “does he think we’re curing cancer?” kind of way. One time a batch of biscuits came out overcooked. Lost the batch. Boss proceeded to punch the wall. Classic.

You’ve got to scalp ’em Seminoles!
Two years later we were both students at Florida State and he helped me get a job at the Leach Center, where he was already working. We both worked there for the remainder of our college careers. This job reinforced the importance of being on time. They didn’t have much tolerance for being late, I’ll say that! We both made a lot of good friends there, some we are still friends with today. And by the way, if you’re ever trying to use someone else’s ID to sneak in somewhere, at least make sure you kinda sorta possibly look like them! College kids, man, you’d think they’d be a little smarter 😉Leach New Inside

It’s where, now?
Another place we both worked was a summer camp in Lampe, Missouri. It’s called Kanakuk. I know, I know, I just said a few words you may not have heard before. But Lampe is about an hour south of Branson and Kanakuk is pronounced can-uh-cuck. An amazing place for kids to learn sports taught by college athletes and at the same time, grow in your relationship with God. No, I was not a college athlete. Unless you count being intramural champs, baaabbaaayyy! DSC09261My brother and I both count Kanakuk as a big influence on our lives, from the people we met and worked with there, to shaping our outlook on life and faith.

We’ve also worked together on various video projects over the years. One might be a workout video, another a sports highlight reel. Here’s one we made recently of his son, my nephew, playing football.

So I’ll finish by saying that of all the things my brother is great at (sports, public speaking, being a brother, friend, etc), he’s also been a great co-worker. And he’s got an amazing younger brother, too!

-Out of the Wilderness

 

 

All the places I’ve lived, and a favorite memory from each

coast-guardMy dad was in the Coast Guard, so that meant a lot of moving around. Before I was born, my family had already been up and down the east coast, and spent some time on the west coast, too. My oldest sister was born in Key West, next oldest sister was born in Monterey, CA and then my brother in Virginia. When it was my time, the family was back in Key West. I was there for a short time before we moved out west. Here’s the list!

born: Key west, FL (December 26, 1978)

Hawaii – I was just a little guy here, about a year old, so I have three memories: attending a luau, going into a building, and going under a bridge (or tunnel?) on the way to a beach. I guess the luau is my favorite because I remember looking across and seeing my baby sitter.

Hollywood, FL – Started my academic career here at Sheridan Hills Christian School. Favorite memory: Our family took a lot of boat trips. We went down to the keys, spent nights on the water, I got sea sick for the first time, and still, these trips are easily my favorite memory!

me as 4th grader 2St. Petersburg, FL –  Attended Maximo Elementary School for 2nd and 3rd grade. Favorite memory: At school I met a friend that made me laugh so hard all the time. To this day, I measure everyone else against him. He was so funny. One of my least favorite memories: My funny friend was not at school one day, then not there the next day or the next. A few days later, his mom came in and picked up his things. I never saw him again!

Newport, RI – This is where I attended 4th grade at Underwood Elementary. Favorite memory: touring all the mansions, like these.

the-breakers

The Breakers. 62,000 square feet! 

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Rough Point. 39,000 square feet and 105 rooms!

A tie for favorite: all the lamborginis. Not sure why there were so many, but it was somewhat common to see one driving around the city. And Saabs. Lots of Saabs.

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5th grade at Widewater.

Stafford, VA – I was a 5th grader at Widewater Elementary School then moved to Stafford Middle School for 6th and 7th grade. These are my favorite years from growing up. I made great friends that I still have today. One favorite memory: trick or treating on Halloween one of the years. Somehow a friend and I got separated from our group of friends, but he and I still went around to so many houses. That was a fun night! Also, our house was situated on a golf course so we’d go out there to play football, capture the flag, flashlight tag, and hmmm, maybe hit some golf balls. I also came up with a list of things that happened in middle school that absolutely would not happen in today’s world. Here’s a link to that:

[11 Things You Can’t Do In School Anymore]

Miami, FL – Westminster Christian School for 8th – 10th grade. Favorite memory: being on the JV basketball team. And it was in 10th grade I had my first kiss. I know, I was late to the party! 🙂

New York, NY – Curtis High School for half of 11th grade. Favorite memory: I got to see a taping of David Letterman. It was really fun. We lived on Governors Island, so it was nice to have a place with grass, and trees, unlike most of New York City back then! Also, riding a ferry past the Statue of Liberty every day on the way to school was pretty neat.

Tallahassee, FL – Finished 11th and 12th grade at Leon High School. My dad retired from the Coast Guard in 1996 so we moved back towards family in Florida. Favorite memory: this is getting difficult because with each place, I have more than one favorite! But to name a few, I’d say my aunt’s lemon squares, my grandfather driving 120mph in his Isuzu Trooper to get me to school, pb and j lunches at The Brown Bag Express, basketball with friends, and graduating from the same high school my mom graduated from.

Note: I stayed in Tallahassee for college, as well. I have so many great memories in those 4.5 years. Too many to pick one!

Nashville, TN – This is where I’ve lived since the mid-2000s. Also too many great memories to pick one at the moment. So I’ll go with the lame answer: My favorite memory of Nashville is all of them. 😉

-Out of the Wilderness

When death knocks at a neighbor’s door

It’s been over 10 years since I left Tallahassee, Florida to pursue a burning in my heart that brought me to Tennessee. My delight in video production started way back when I was a little kid but it really grabbed ahold of me in college. Soon after graduating, I had the opportunity to volunteer with a local church youth group and a lot of what I did with them was make videos. Each week I got to know the kids better and realized they were a pretty special group.

Well, in this group was a young girl, I think she was in middle school at the time. She had short, curly, blonde hair. I remember how much she smiled and was friends with a lot of other kids there. She had a spark and you could just see it, that she would be a spark in a lot of people’s lives. I didn’t know how, and I guess no one did at the time. At that age, and even the age of me and my friends who were also volunteering there, it’s hard to know exactly what mark we’ll leave on the world. We were all so young.

A few days ago this girl, now an adult, was killed. The moment I found out moved in slow motion. It’s not like I knew her anymore, but still, it was a total shock. No one ever wants to hear of someone dying way too young. She was 24, the reports say. Her death continues to weigh heavy on me. I can still barely believe it, and don’t want to.

The sad news has reminded me how precious life is. I sit in the back yard, letting the heaviness pin me to my camping chair. I think about all the little concerns I have that, if I knew I was about to die, those concerns would not even be the very last things I’d worry about. They’d be so far off the list. One of my dogs lays about 10 feet in front of me, next to her frisbee. My other dog’s inside, under the sheets napping. My family in Florida is probably at the soccer field, baseball field, or eating lunch, or a few of them jumping on the trampoline, or swimming in a pool. I blink my eyes as my mind goes deeper and deeper into thought about what really matters. My faith. My family. My friends. My neighbors.

Then more thoughts about what I’m doing that’s a waste of time. What I’m doing that I need to keep doing. What’s important? When it’s my time to go, what I’ll be most proud of. Least proud of. What I’ll regret. Will I have been a spark in the lives of those around me; my friends, my family, anyone I work with?

I’ve tried to express the current state of mind I’m in, but maybe this quote I’ve heard before is more appropriate, “When you don’t know what to say, sing.” This song by Greg Holden is what I’m singing along to…

A few days have passed since her death. Clicking over to her Facebook page I’m reading comments on her wall, all confirming the spark she was to so many people. Because of Shannan, I’m not taking today for granted. I’m soaking in the sun and sights of kayaking downtown Nashville, and thinking of Shannan.

Hope you’re still a bright shining spark in Heaven.

-BW

The year 1997: putting the O in pOpular

The year was 1997. I was a pale, skinny, timid high schooler walking the halls as a senior at Leon High School in Tallahassee, Florida. This city was different than what I was used to. Students drove big trucks with big Mickey Thompson tires.mickeythompson
In Miami, where I spent most of high school, the smaller the tires, the better.
Hooptie1Both were absurdly extreme. And possibly extremely absurd. But as a teen in Tallahassee, a must-have car accessory whether you rolled on mud tires or more efficient, less noisy stock tires was the O.
oakley sticker

It was practically your parking permit at Leon. Having mud tires and this sticker earned you triple bonus points and a spot on the football team.

20 years later I don’t see any Mickey Thompson tires, maybe because Nashville isn’t as “southern” as Tallahassee. I will see the O every once in a while, and it takes me right back to my days at Leon High School and that pair of Oakley’s I lost in Georgia when I left them on a rented van after me and my family went to Callaway Gardens for a holiday weekend full of lights and laughter… and tears.

-Out of the Wilderness

 

My dad used to drink and drive

dont-drink-and-drive-sign-k-8676When I was a little kid, I often saw commercials that said, “Don’t drink and drive,” and then I’d see my dad drinking while he was driving. It was usually on long trips to visit family in Florida that I remember this happening. And with 4 rowdy kids in the back with no batteries in their Gameboys, could you really blame him?

But before I get in trouble with my dad, I’ll make it crystal clear for you; he didn’t drink alcohol while he was driving. It was usually coffee or ice water. But all I remember from those TV ads is the warning, and so I thought my dad was breaking the law every time we had a family vacation.

I should’ve spoken up. You know, so I wasn’t aiding and abetting a felon! But then I’d find batteries between the crack in my seat and start playing Tetris.

-Out of the Wilderness