A Light in the Forest: After Sandy

November 16, 2012
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By Patricia Dumas

If you woke up on Wednesday, Oct. 31, thinking it would be another beautiful suburban Halloween day with the bright autumn sun shining and the kids all dressed up barking for candy along serene streets, you may have well been on another planet.

I woke up with the dog curled up next to me, my beret on my head, and the house as cold as a witch’s heart. The awful smell of extinguished candles lingered in the air, and the fireplace was black with soot and burnt logs. My cat, whose instincts are beyond compare, was smart enough to stay in the house all night and sleep – nary a complaint out of him. The two little parrots in their cage were fluffed up and next to each other trying to keep warm, waiting for their natural cycle of light, which never came. The yard was a big mess with tree limbs and scattered debris.

I haven’t seen a storm even comparing to Sandy since I was a kid back in September of 1960 when Hurricane Donna landed at the Jersey Shore. For some reason, back then, the lights going out was fun. School being off was more fun! Maybe life was simpler; we played Monopoly and cards. The lights always went back on the next day. Or, at least, in my youthfulness, I thought they did. What did I have to worry about?

During Sandy the “Frankenstorm,” I had been getting regular status texts along with the rest of the staff, from Mark, our general manager, Bob Sickles, the owner of Sickles Market where I am employed. On Wednesday, we were given the option to come into work if we could arrive safely. At first, I thought, “Okay, I’ll work, get warm, get a cup of coffee, mill around, talk a bit, eat a lot, and see how other people fared.”

The Spirit of Shrewsbury

That day turned out to be much more than getting our “due,” more than “getting” our creature comforts. How often do we go through our daily lives day to day thinking, “No one gives a hoot about me, or anybody else?” Plenty! But, what I experienced on this Halloween day was far from that.

When I arrived at Sickles, the managers were already calling all the staff members that weren’t at work to make sure they were okay. A surprising number of folks came into work that day – probably with visions of warmth and coffee in their heads just like me. As chatter rose in our workplace, we found out that most of us were fine and some were not. Some fellow staffers lost their homes.

As word got out through the community we were open, shoppers started trickling in, then pouring in. I became “bagger extraordinaire” at the checkout area. While painstakingly trying to pack grocery bags according to the rules: heavy stuff on the bottom, lighter stuff on the top, I failed miserably. I’m a gardener, for goodness sakes! I have big hefty, hands! But, what I heard was more important than winning the “supermarket bagger of the year” award.

I witnessed the lifeblood of a small community in times of trouble. Customers were hugging each other in the parking lot. Staff members were offering room in their homes to those who were stranded. And the embarrassed few who had “the nerve” to announce they had power back, took in laundry to do for others.

Shoppers actually thanked me for coming to work. It was now becoming more than getting a hot cup of coffee and some heat; for customers, more than the daily dinner or party planning. Customers were happy we were there and we were too. Funny how that works.

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That night it felt good to go home. My husband and I even felt good stopping by the side of the road to pick up fallen logs and limbs for fireplace fuel.

I know there will be an outpouring of help and support to everyone at Sickles Market who lost a great deal during Sandy. The “haves” are more than willing and morally sound enough to rise to the occasion and help others. But, what I saw at my place of work that day was more than that. It was more than a business; more than a job. We, (customers and employees) wanted to be together – not only to get physically warm, but to find some of that long-lost moral warmth at each others’ sides. Goodness is in all of us, sometimes you just need a storm to bring that out.


Patricia Duman works in the garden center at Sickles Market in Little Silver and blogs about gardening and bird-watching.

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