What Would You Take?

Last year about this time I was in Las Vegas. Not gambling–I didn’t even play the nickel slots. My husband and I had flown there from a summer in Western New York to start our hiking trip through the five national parks of Utah.

what would you takeLearning our route, our children insisted we stay at least one night to take in Sin City and it’s charms, and to cement the deal, a son and daughter-in-law gave us tickets to see Cirque du Soleil’s O at the Bellagio.

So there we sat on our one and only night in Las Vegas, viewing the extraordinary O as Hurricane Irma visited Florida. The latest map had shown the eye passing directly over us, and we also knew she would be doing her damage while we were in the theater. There wasn’t a darned thing we could do about it except enjoy the show and shrug.

On the flight to Las Vegas I did spend time wondering what I would have taken with me if I’d been able to get back home to Florida first.

What would I take?

I was reminded of a story I heard when I was serving in VISTA in the Arkansas Ozarks. We had great neighbors, and some of them were fabulous storytellers. I remembered one man telling me about someone he knew whose house had burned down.

“That woman ran right into that house to save what she could, and when she hot-footed it outside, she was holding an egg. Nothing else. Just that egg. She asks herself every day why she needed it, and she still doesn’t know.”

We’re lucky. The same son who gave us the tickets has digitized all our family photos. In fact he still has them. So we knew we weren’t going to lose all those memories. I had jewelry I prized in our little cottage in New York, as well as my computer, with all our family records and my books. We’re a minister’s family who moved often, so even though I have pack rat tendencies, I was forced to get rid of things I didn’t need along the way. We had four children, so we didn’t collect valuables, and now I have four grandchildren, including two rambunctious grandsons. I don’t want to worry about breakables. I’d rather have fun with them.

But what would I have taken if I’d had the chance? More than an egg, I was sure, but I really didn’t know what. There was absolutely nothing in that house I couldn’t live without.

What would my characters take?

Every novelist works hard to know her characters. Sometimes we play little games. What’s her zodiac sign? What’s his religion? What does she eat for breakfast? What movie does he watch over and over again. I never do this to develop my characters. Some authors do, and that’s fine. If I do it at all, I do it to make sure I know them inside and out. If an answer doesn’t pop right up, then I know I probably have work to do.

My main character in the book I’m just finishing is a young woman named Ryan. I can easily answer all the above questions. More important today, what would Ryan bring with her if a hurricane was bearing down on her house? I don’t think she’d have to think hard. She’d grab her computer–she’s a journalist–jewelry her parents have given her, cell phone, every bit of snack food in her cover, bottled water and car keys. As she starts to shut the door she remembers a certain photo in the drawer beside her bed. She races back, grabs it, frame and all, and finally leaves. She has everything she really needs.

The lesson I learned.

Right now I’m listening to the sound of a drill on my lanai. After many months, our local hurricane shutter company is putting the finishing touches on our hurricane protection. The one thing I did take from my brush with Hurricane Irma–who swerved and died down, inflicting almost no damage on our house–was that being prepared is not just a Boy Scout motto.¬†Being prepared and staying safe is who I am. I want to know I’ve done everything I need to, whether it’s successful or not. Even though I wasn’t home, that’s what I took with me.

Tomorrow Hurricane Florence is bearing down on the east coast. I pray that everyone will be ready, that everyone will take her approach seriously. At this moment people are choosing what they want to bring with them as they evacuate. The choices are agonizing, and enlightening.

What would you take if you had to evacuate? Do you know what that says about you?

For all of you in the hurricane’s path, stay safe and know many of us are thinking about you and hoping for the very best outcome.


  1. Jeanmarie Shingleton on September 12, 2018 at 10:49 am

    Besides the pictures and photo albums, I would try to get all the quilts. They are my heritage to my children and grandchildren and are really not replaceable. Other than that – just getting ourselves out of harms way would be the goal.

  2. Coelle Baskel on September 12, 2018 at 10:53 am

    I live in a pretty safe state from hazardous weather (AZ), I will tell you a tip I read and have followed. That is putting important documents – SS cards, passports, birth & marriage certs along with thumb drives containing family photos and some other things I deemed important to have in a gallon zip loc bag. It’s something I could grab in an instant of having to leave our home due to a catastrophe. I also lived during the 1970s gas shortage in Miami where we waited in lines at gas stations…..so since then I don’t let my gas guage go past half full…..:-)

  3. Marsha Markham on September 12, 2018 at 11:11 am

    I’d take important papers, a few pieces of jewelry I plan to someday leave with our daughter in law…maybe some genealogy books and our cat Jenna. Other than that I guess I’d be thankful to not have to keep working on dejunking the house, which is exactly what I am doing at this moment!
    I am not a hoarded but why do I keep some of the things I do? It’s time to bless others with all the bounty I have and to get out of my own way.
    I enjoyed what you wrote today and also Coelle’s idea of having things in a gallon zip lock bag.

  4. Nancy Lepri on September 12, 2018 at 12:28 pm

    Being in Southeast North Carolina (Southport, specifically) we are one of the few crazies who are going to weather out the storm. Having lived in FL, LA, Cape Cod, and NC, we’ve been in the hurricane-prone areas for more than 45 years and have managed to get through unscathed; unless you count downed trees and missing shingles, and going 5+ days without electric. We have a 20-year-old feline whom we love dearly and realize the trauma of leaving could cause him great problems, so we’ve battened down the hatches (luckily our builder supplied us with pre-drilled plywood for the windows and doors), and we have a big supply of batteries, flashlights, and junk food!!! Now we just pray Mother Nature is kind and doesn’t cause too much destruction. We are in the good Lord’s hands, and He is merciful, so we put all our trust in Him!

    • Emilie Richards on September 12, 2018 at 1:01 pm

      Please let us know how you do, Nancy. I’ll be thinking of you.

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