Dora and the Piano

In September 1964, when I was a teenager of 17, Hurricane Dora came to town. My family was fairly well prepared for a storm. We lived in a single story concrete block house in a Southside neighborhood, and, since we were a family that camped out a lot, we had cooking gear, ice chests, thermoses, radios, tarps, ropes, flashlights and lanterns already on hand. When we knew it was coming, we filled the bathtub with water, as well as all the buckets and other containers we could find. My dad’s business was that of a food broker, who supplied grocery stores and restaurants with canned and frozen foods, so we were usually well stocked with food and supplies. And we had an extra freezer full of frozen food we could count on for at least a few days.


The storm started getting stronger during the afternoon daylight hours, the wind and rain began battering us, and soon the electricity went out. We listened to our little weather radio at intervals, careful not to use up the batteries too quickly, and just read or tried to nap. The windows in that house were made with metal frames, and small square glass panes. We hadn’t boarded them up, so I remember looking out my bedroom window at the storm tossed landscape and seeing the pine trees bending in the wind, sometimes at almost 90 degrees to the ground. I was amazed at their sturdy flexibility. 


Sometime in the middle of the night the eye of the storm came and we were amazed at the quiet stillness it brought. We even ventured outside at that late hour, just to check it out. The second part of the storm was not as bad and by the next morning the worst was clearly past. Everyone in the neighborhood was out checking for damages. We had one large old oak tree in the back yard which had already been dead, and just broke in half from the wind. Some streets were flooded, and in the next few days we saw flooded areas in nearby places all along the river, and all over in San Marco. In downtown there was deep flooding for several blocks from the river.


We were without electricity for a whole week, and at one point we were warned to boil any water from the tap we wanted for food or drinking. We used the camping stove and lanterns. We had one lantern which burned white gas and lit up the room very well.


During the next few days my sisters and I looked for things to do. My younger sister had a ticket to the Beatles concert, which had been delayed by Dora,. but was held at last a few days after the storm at the Gator Bowl. I was invited by one of my older sister’s friends to come watch the local fencing team practice. Certainly an odd sort of date, but better than staying home. That may have been my first date with Don, and I did enjoy sitting in the gym bleachers and watching him and the others practice an interesting sport.


When we came home that evening, we were amazed at the crowd gathered in the street around our house, and the flashing lights of fire engines. Pushing our way into the crowd I was asked by some “Where have you been?” and “What were you doing” to which I replied “We were at fencing practice”. Then someone commented loudly “Is that what they call it these days”.


When we got to the door we found smoke emitting from the family room, and my parents, my sisters, the cat and bird were all there and ok. The fire had been put out and the damage was mostly smoke, except for the old upright piano which was badly burned.


It seems my dad had placed the lantern on the piano bench to refill and relight it. But apparently the lantern was still hot, and in the processor of pumping it to pressurize the fuel container, the lantern slipped away and the fuel spilled out and caught fire. The fire quickly spread to the wooden piano and bench. 


It was a very memorable event for all my family. and I always remember the hurricane and the piano fire together. I also associate those events with the memory of an early acquaintance with a young man, who years later would become my husband.


Don DuClose showing off his skills with the axe as he takes on the downed oak tree in our back yard.

1976 The Teton Dam
The Summer of Lefty


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