Mary Mellon will be one year closer to her milestone 75th year later this month. She knows she’ll spend part of that 73rd birthday with family, but she doesn’t know where they’ll go for the party in 2019. That was an easy decision last September, before Hurricane Michael came through.
Her typical birthday celebrations usually included some time with relatives at the wood-frame house she’d called home for nearly a decade.
But there’s nothing left of that old house now, except the added-on porch that somehow escaped the brunt of the storm that did so much destruction to the house. She was there, alone, when the storm came through.
She’d carried out a handful of other household chores that day, never dreaming of what was to come.
“I’d done the laundry, dusted, mopped, got the laundry in, and all that time it was a pretty-looking day. But then the skies darkened and the wind started howling. When the walls to the house started buckling in and out as if they were breathing, she considered heading into the bathroom, where she’d often heard was the place to go for safety in a storm, but rejected that idea. Instead, she barricaded herself between her refrigerator and other furnishings in the kitchen. At some point, as trees began to crack outside, her fear rose to its peak. But then a calm surrender took over. She said she folded her arms over her head and gave the moment to God.
As the stormy hours wore on like an attack, some glass shattered with tremendous force into the bathroom where she would have been standing if she’d taken refuge there. She’s certain that she would have been killed in that case.
When it was all over, nothing much was left of the old house. The bathroom fixtures were all in place, but its walls were destroyed. She jokes now that she had a “porch bathroom” left. Eventually, the ruins of the home were scooped into a pile of rubble that sat on the property nearly a year before a federal agency had it removed.
Only one element was left fairly unscathed – the old brick chimney still reaches skyward, with just a portion of the brickwork rattled out of place. It is something of a symbol for the property owner, a close relative of Mellon, and for Mellon herself.
Like that old chimney, she’s still standing, too, a little worse for the wear, perhaps, but feeling blessed.
“I’m good,” she said. “I’m alive.”
Some post-storm events have challenged that attitude, but it remains unwavering.
With pecan trees down everywhere on the property just off Alliance Road below Cypress, she had purchased a 32-foot travel trailer to live in and moved it to an area near Dellwood-Cypress Road until that land could be cleared of all the storm debris.
But before Christmas of 2018, a flooding rush of water would come along and ruin everything inside. Those things included her children’s baby pictures and everything else she held dear.
Mellon started again, this time buying a 22-foot travel trailer that she was finally able to move onto the Alliance Road location. She had the 32-footer hauled there, too, and will, little-by-little, work through it to see if there’s anything to save. She’s not expecting to salvage much but will do her best to find savable treasures.
These days, until the weather cools and she can muster the energy for that, she’s putting her life back together in that second travel-trailer. Her ‘bedroom’ is basically a bed closely surrounded by walls and a very low ceiling-she can’t stand up in there, but that’s okay she says-she’s so weary by the end of the day that she’s not ready to do much but step up the three short stairs leading to it and fall in.
Because it’s cooler outside than in, she receives her visitors on the small porch that survived the storm. Those visitors include her beloved great-grandchildren. She’s bought them a dollhouse to play with. It sits on a corner of the porch. There’s no room in the trailer for it, and not much space for the kids, really, but she’s not about to miss out on their company or that of other relatives and friends. She makes do with what she’s got right now, and does it with a smile and a sense of peace.
No matter what’s left of her belongings crammed into the flooded trailer, Mellon lives by the catch phrase she repeats often when asked about how the storm and flood affected her life.
“I’m good,” she says again. “I’m alive.”