Childhood memories are some of the most precious things we store in our human central processing units, called brains. As we get older and more cynical toward the world, we cherish more the fondness of revisiting that time or place that once kept our joy, like amusement parks on a warm, summer day, or a snowy mountain on a warm, summer day (it could happen in high places), or in the middle of a bakery where our favorite pies are made.
We hold photo albums and souvenirs of the past to keep the memories alive, and doing so seems to maintain most of us with pretty rational thought or action. But, when our memories are suddenly threatened by a force outside of our control, we may find that rationale chucked out the window, and our greatest panic may turn to our greatest sorrow. Such is the case when loss is inevitable.
The following story is a continuation of my 2006 article, “What Blows Around, Comes Around,” about the futile reality of holding on to fickle child memories during a catastrophic weather event.
To Shed a Tear
By eleven years old, I had grown accustomed to using my backyard shed as a training module for the things that a young boy pretends to train for. The green tin storage chamber, with the broken doors and the eagle emblem nailed to the triangular white headpiece, stood tall as my friends and I used it for a number of faculties, including rain sheltering, target practice (squirt guns opened-fire on the eagle), and the home base for our epic neighborhood Hide and Seek games. Though it claimed to be a run-of-the-mill tool shed—storing such things as my family’s lawnmower, toolboxes, rakes and shovels—my friends and I knew better. With a grimy ladder pressed against an exterior wall, we’d occasionally climb to the top of the damaged roof to see how tough our guts were. As far as I could remember, no one fell.
“Eagle Base,” as it was later christened for its role in our Hide and Seek games, stood tough against a number of elemental hazards, from common rainstorms to a couple incidents of hail. With two large trees protecting each side and a number of object barriers including flowerpots and ladders lining its base, even the worst events, including the big March storm of 1993 (a monster weather maker that hit the entire east coast at once) couldn’t touch it.
The shed, though, didn’t stand without some opposition. In 1979, during its early years of existence, it stood upright and fully formed. Just as it had for the decades to follow, the little tin structure housed its tools with complete vigilance. When the tools weren’t used, it protected them with closed doors, just as it was designed to do. But not far into the second half of the year, it faced its first formidable opponent of its life: Hurricane David. Though the storm was only a Category 1 at the time of its arrival, the reckless winds pounded those doors with iron fists, knocking them into submission. By the time the storm passed, the doors were bent and pushed off their tracks, never again to close properly.
That incident could’ve disheartened the shed, but no, the youthful structure went on. As the ‘80s approached and I became steadily more aware of the world (I was only three at the start of the decade), I began to discover its many uses as a “training center.” From there, it became an important part of my life.
As the years passed, and my childhood transformed into adolescence, “Eagle Base” steadily transformed into a household utility center. Although I hated yard work at the time, I still found myself scouring the hull for rakes and shovels on those weekends when my parents wanted me to pick up leaves or fallen oranges. I wasn’t a fan of the structure in those times, because the grimy foundation became a reminder that going in meant having to take another shower later, which meant I was going to feel nasty in the meantime. But even in my teenage grumbling, the shed stood tall.
Toward my adulthood, it transformed from a mere utility center to a shelter for cats during rainstorms. Every once in awhile, a new stray would find its way to my front porch, coming from some undisclosed place up the street. After hanging out for a while, deciding it would adopt us, the cat would then move to the backyard, where it would take up arms on the deck or under the clothesline. During sunny days, the cats would roam fearlessly around the four corners of the backyard. During rainy days, however, they’d disappear. For the pregnant ones looking for a new home, the shed became a place to give birth and to keep the new litter dry.
More years passed, and more abuse befell it—including a tall object puncturing the roof from the inside, and a large hole wearing through the right wall—but it continued to stand, old but proud. As I reached my twenties, the old “Eagle Base” became a centerpiece for an expanding garden, starting with the Schefflera to its left and a small palm tree to its right. Though the trees made getting behind the shed difficult (with only a few feet of yard between the wall and the surrounding fences), they did so with aesthetic pleasure, making the wounded structure appear at rest.
In 2002, the Florida Holly along the back fence grew tangled, so much that it became a hazard. During this summer and the one to follow, I found myself out there sawing away at its tree branches—the ones too high to make my reach comfortable. The simple tasks of paring the tangled little beasts back, preventing the possibility of disaster striking our yard should another storm ever hit (which had been a rare thing since “Andrew” of 1992), turned into month-long projects. Those projects, in turn, became annual events. While all the trees in my yard became victims of the pole saw at one point or another, the dreaded Florida Holly became my bane—the thing that bled sawdust in waves, but never fell under control. By 2003, we had to cut it down.
We thought we had done the yard a favor. When the jumbled mess of a tree came down that year, we thought we had spared ourselves from future disaster. As the last remnants of the Florida Holly went to the sidewalk, we thought we had ensured “Eagle Base’s” life to last for good.
In 2004, our sense of security proved false.
Hurricanes came and went throughout the last twenty-five years, none doing to the shed what “David” did in its early years. Though the doors piled up in the corner, never again to be used in regular service, we’d return them to their tracks for the brief moments when strong winds were promised, and they would hold long enough to keep the contents inside safe. Because no storm since 1979 packed a zephyr so fierce, we didn’t think any future storm would challenge it. Placing the doors back on their tracks for the arrival of yet another storm seemed like a good idea.
Hurricane Frances, the second of four Florida storms that year, threatened to come into South Florida during the first weekend in September. I had just returned home from my year in Altamonte Springs, having gotten through “Charley” just two weeks earlier, and now I had to stare this new monster in the eye. The news promised a huge storm, but I just shrugged it off. I came home, relaxed a couple of days, prepared for the hurricane, and then headed to my grandmother’s with my family to help her through the storm. I didn’t even bother unpacking my stuff.
With family and two cats in tow, we made it to my grandmother’s condo, where we hung out in front of the TV for several hours, then sat in the dark as the power went out. We stayed in that little unlit condo for three days. “Frances” was not only huge; she was slow.
That was Friday. We returned Monday, after an exhaustive ordeal of winds and heat, to explore the damage left to our home. As usual, the house came through unscathed. As usual, it boasted the expected fallen leaves and branches, with the occasional trash. As usual, it didn’t seem like the storm had been that big of a deal.
Except, something was different than before. This time, a new story befell our backyard:
As usual, the shed endured the onslaught of those 80mph winds. For three days those winds blasted, but they weren’t enough for the tired old veteran to submit. “Frances” kept howling, but the old tin structure kept resisting. She whipped it with wind gusts reaching close to a hundred, but the creaks of sheet metal endured her wrath; the shed vibrating fiercely, but fighting with everything it had. It was the fight of its life, but the old coot stood.
Finally, on the third day, “Frances” realized “Eagle Base” was winning the battle, just as it had won against “David” in its youth, and so she was scared. She came here with a mission, refusing to leave it unfilled. But sensing her time to win growing short, she knew she had to do something, something underhanded if the tide didn’t turn in her favor. It was a bloody fight she refused to lose.
The tide didn’t turn, so “Frances” stopped fighting fair and hit “Eagle Base” below the belt. She snapped a large branch off the Schefflera tree—the tree I didn’t cut—and used it as her weapon. When we came home Monday, we saw the results of the battle. It seemed, at last, that “Eagle Base” had met its match.
The branch had fallen on the roof, crushing the structure into a mangled mess. Under the branch, heaps of tin lay in piles on the old rocky foundation, burying shelves and tools like the lost bodies of a fallen tower. A cross-shaped foot made of brass, belonging to a rack or a chair, poked out from underneath the triangular white headpiece, spelling out the tragedy of the shed’s last stand. With a layer of leaves covering it over its still grave, the last visible trace of the old glory of my childhood set nailed securely against the headpiece: the black eagle emblem, the signature of “Eagle Base,” unmoved, but clearly lost of its purpose.
Normally, I try not to weep over the loss of an inanimate object, especially not one that served primarily as a place to store a lawnmower. But it was hard to hold back the sorrow of that day, a day where my childhood refuge lay fallen. The last vestige of that old life was gone.
An old childhood friend of mine came over that day, to see how we all panned out. The power was off, the place was a wreck, and there was nothing really to do but to clean up. He came over anyway to hang out, and I showed him what had happened. This childhood friend, a grown man in his mid-twenties, a man who never cries, a man who never lets water drench his back, stood there marveling. All he could say was, “But that was base. You can’t destroy base.”
And that day, this grown man who only had half the memories of this little green tin structure that I had, felt sorrow, too.
It was base. It was “Eagle Base.” And like all veterans of battle, it had to retire.
Now, in 2006, the old foundation serves as a backyard patio, complete with chairs, table, and pirate wine barrel. The old eagle emblem that used to loom over the shed’s entrance like a sentry, now sets nailed to the wall next to my front door, where it greets all who choose to enter. And, like a dead relative who had a colorful past, the old shed lives on in pictures and in memory, where now it can never be forgotten. So now let us hold a moment of silence for this inanimate wonder that breathed life into my youth, which could only fall by slide of hand.
(Part 3 tomorrow)
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Cover Image: Pixabay