The Charlotte Observer from Saturday, September 23, 1989. “The devastating winds of Hurricane Hugo left [Charlotteans] with moneyless money machines, no power at the grocery story [sic], and no Notre Dame vs. Michigan State football game on TV.” Snort… “money machines.”

When I woke up in the middle of the night on September 22, 1989, I noticed two things out of the ordinary.  First off, something was hitting my bedroom window and making a ton of noise.  Secondly, my night light was off – for six-year-old me, that was far more troublesome.

I went across the hall to my parents’ room, fully intending to wake them up and lodge a complaint about my night light situation, only to find that they too were awake, listening to WBT on my Transformers battery-powered AM radio.  First they let my room go dark in the middle of the night, and now they’re playing with my toys?!  Oh hell no.  But then I realized that the light in their room was coming from candlelight. I just stared at Mom, confused.

She looked at me and said, “Hugo hit.”

As a six-year-old, I probably watched more news than most adults do, so I knew that Hurricane Hugo was a massive storm in the Atlantic Ocean and it had been heading for South Carolina.  I understood that it was dangerous and a lot of people were leaving the coast.  What I didn’t know was that after I had gone to bed, the storm drifted much further west than the forecasts had predicted and was still a minimal Category 1 hurricane when it arrived in the Charlotte area.

But even though I knew how dangerous a hurricane was, I guess I was too stupid to be scared.  Whatever, we’re indoors, it’s all good.  I remember Mom picking me up so I could look out the window – only for a minute, because she didn’t want me that close to the windows.  I distinctly recall seeing the biggest pine tree in our backyard blow about 45 degrees to the left, right itself, and then blow about 45 degrees in the other direction.  I’ll never understand how that tree didn’t go down.

Hillary, my sister who was 4 at the time, slept through the whole thing.

With the morning light, it was pretty abundantly clear that our neighborhood was a mess.  A tree from the yard of our neighbors across the street had fallen across the road, completely blocking anyone from leaving for at least a while.  The yard was so saturated with rainfall that my dad kicked up giant splashes with every step he took down toward the road – Hillary and I found that part particularly funny.  Some of our outside toys were never heard from again – that Big Bird scooter probably ended up in a tree somewhere.  But we were lucky – no trees came through our house, and Concord didn’t get hit quite as bad as the rest of the Charlotte area.

Hugo tells WSOC what they can do with their doppler radar.

The power was out at our house for five days.  On the third day after the storm, Mom decided to take Hillary and me up to my grandparents’ house in Spruce Pine to get us back into the 20th century, but the days without power were actually kind of…. fun.  The morning after the storm we had to find some essentials, so we ended up traveling all over Cabarrus County to find open stores.  Kwik-Way Catering, near what is now RCCC on Trinity Church Road, was open and selling bags of ice for the then-outrageous price of $1 per bag.  Cars were lined up around the block to get ice.  One grocery store in town was open – the old Harris Teeter on Highway 601 that is now Troutman’s Barbecue.  I remember laughing as the manager manually opened the sliding doors and handed Dad and me a flashlight as we walked in, and then being amused by the cashier ringing up our purchases with a battery-powered calculator.

At home, we managed to keep ourselves occupied.  We had plenty of company – we were one of the only families on the street with a gas-powered grill, so everyone came over to cook the meat from their now-useless refrigerators.  Internet and cell phones weren’t a thing yet, so the only gadget we were really missing was the TV, but that wasn’t really a big deal.  The news was on round-the-clock in the days after the storm, and if we really wanted to see it we could take our 7″ UHF television outside and power it with the car.  At night when we couldn’t sit outside anymore we read books, played board games as a family (hence the title of this post), and bathed in water heated up by the aforementioned grill – at least we had running water.  And hey, we were out of school for a week!  It may have been an inconvenience, but it really wasn’t that bad.

They say that a hurricane making it so far inland is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, so I’m glad that I got to live through it.  Along with my sister’s birth, it’s at the very top of my childhood memories.

But now that I’m old enough to be scared of an 80 mph wind gust, I hope I never see another one.