By Jack Molisani | STC Fellow
I grew up in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, and moved back there five years ago to help my aging parents. My mom developed dementia, so we moved her into a brand new, top-notch, memory care facility that opened two blocks from my apartment, exactly one month before we needed it. (Coincidence?)
A few months later, I flew to New Orleans on a business trip just as a Category 5 hurricane formed off the coast of Florida. I considered flying back to Jacksonville—if I could even get a flight—but then I’d just have to turn around and evacuate again. What to do?
Mom’s facility was just two blocks from the beach, in a mandatory evacuation zone. I knew the facility had a hurricane evacuation plan (I had asked in our first meeting). They had a sister facility farther inland, with the exact same floorplan, backup generators, the works. They would evacuate my mom, but since they were doubling up in the sleeping rooms, they’d need something for her to sleep on.
Amazon Prime to the rescue!
There was no way I was going to have my mom sleep on a blow-up mattress on the floor, so I found a queen-sized camping mattress, which stood about three feet off the ground when set up, and two D-size batteries inflated the mattress. Perfect! Amazon delivered it the next morning.
I am happy to report the evacuation to the other facility and back went perfectly. Mom loves road trips, and since the second facility was an exact duplicate of her own, I don’t think she even realize she was evacuated! (Although the other residents did want to know why Miss Gloria had a bed and they had to sleep on a blow-up mattress on the floor!)
I flew back to Jacksonville as soon as the storm passed. No damage to my car at the airport, no damage to my mom’s facility, no damage to my apartment—although a huge oak tree fell, missing my roof by inches. My landlady said angels must have guided the tree away from my apartment. I agreed.
My Aunt Cyd lives in St. Augustine, about an hour south of Jacksonville. She lives in a wooded neighborhood, and her home took some damage in the storm. I tried to round up some friends and family to help, but everyone was busy fixing their own family homes, so I decided to go alone and do what I could.
Half way between Jacksonville Beach and St. Augustine is about 30 miles of national wetlands and wildlife reserve. As I’m driving past the reserve, I saw a man and a woman hiking along the road, literally in the middle of nowhere. I pulled over and offered them a ride. We made introductions, and I discovered they just left a homeless shelter in Jax Beach and were on their way to Tampa, Forida, where they had family. An idea hit and I asked them, “How would you like a job today?” They said, “We’d love a job today!”
I called my Aunt Cyd to see if she was OK with that, and she said, “Sure!” So, I stopped at the McDonald’s in St. Augustine, bought us all bacon and egg muffins, and we made our way to my aunt’s house.
They were a godsend! The gentleman helped me clear the road of debris, cut fallen tree limbs, mowed the yard, fixed her fence, and took down the storm shutters. The lady cleaned the leaves out of the pool, swept the deck, swept the drive, and flushed leaves out of the rain gutters. My aunt made us all lunch, and the couple got to take hot showers and do a load of laundry. When we were done, I gave each of them $100 and dropped them off at a reasonably priced motel. They thanked me profusely and said, “We get to sleep in a real bed tonight!”
They thanked me, yet it was I who was grateful. There was absolutely no way I could have done all that work by myself.
For the record: I have never seen hitchhikers on that stretch of A1A, let alone have I ever stopped to pick up any. Yet there I was, desperate for some extra hands to help clear my aunt’s house from the hurricane damage, when God? Karma? Fate? puts two people walking on the side of the road, exactly when I needed them, who needed some work, a meal, clean clothes, and money for a hotel.
Funny, that was years ago, and I’m tearing up (and smiling) as I write this. There is much—and there are many—to be thankful for. I have proof!
Editor’s note: Jack’s poignant Off Hours experience reminds us all that for many, “when I’m not working” is synonymous with “family,” “friends,” and “community.” In other words, just being with people rather than manically doing. We think of our off hours as time for hobbies to bring relaxation and rejuvenation. Especially in these pandemic times, connection has become more precious and supportive of reducing stress, relaxing, and rejuvenating. Consider not only the impact others have on you when you connect but also the impact you are having on them. Thank you, Jack, for bringing us that reminder.