Author Archives: Stan Deaton

124 Years and Holding

“I was born in a crossfire hurricane,
And I howled at my ma in the driving rain”

            Mick Jagger/Keith Richards, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”

Hurricane Ian has moved through Florida and is headed northeast, expected to make landfall sometime on Friday afternoon, September 30, just east of here in South Carolina, exact destination unknown. For a while it looked like it was headed straight for us here in Savannah, and with a wobble here or there, it may still. Outside my window the skies are dark, and the trees are already bent low with the winds, which, coming from the north, have also refreshingly brought fall here as well.

As the week progressed, there was the usual range of opinions here about the storm’s impact. Some felt that our area would get nothing more than a typical afternoon summer storm. Others feared a Hurricane Camille redux—she of the nearly-200 mph winds that hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969. DIY and grocery stores have seen the usual panic-buying, and I can personally attest that one local adult beverage retailer was doing business yesterday worthy of St. Patrick’s Day.

Ian is the fourth-strongest hurricane to ever hit Florida’s west coast, and ranks with Charley (2004), Michael (2018), and Andrew (1992) among the most powerful storms in US history.

There have only been four Category 5 hurricanes in US history—winds at 157 mph and beyond—and Ian missed making it five by only 2 mph. Those four are: the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 (storms were not named until 1953, and not for men until 1979), considered the strongest storm ever to hit the US when it made landfall in the Florida Keys on September 2 with wind speeds estimated at 185 mph. It killed 409 people.

The aforementioned Hurricane Camille hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast on August 17, 1969, with sustained winds of 170 mph, killing 250 people. There is a legendary story of a group of revelers that holed up in a Gulf Coast apartment building in Pass Christian, Mississippi, ignoring all evacuation warnings. The apartment building was literally blown away by winds that gusted to 200 mph. The party-goers, according to folklore, were never seen again. Legend or not, the actual devastation was catastrophic.

Hurricane Andrew in 1992 is next, with 165 mph winds that destroyed 50,000 homes in south Florida and killed 23. Andrew’s damage was estimated at $26 billion, the costliest storm ever up to that time, not surpassed till Katrina thirteen years later in 2005. Incidentally, Katrina’s winds at sea reached 175 mph but it hit New Orleans as a Category 3, killing 1,800 and costing $125 billion, reinforcing the maxim that the strongest storms are not necessarily the deadliest.

Finally, you may remember Michael in 2018, which hit the Florida panhandle after rapidly intensifying to wind speeds of 165 mph.

Here in Georgia, Hurricane Matthew skirted our coast without making landfall in October 2016, bringing lots of wind, rain, and storm damage. The last hurricane to make landfall in Georgia was David 43 years ago in 1979 as a Category 1. For those keeping score, we’ve not had a direct hit in Georgia from a major storm—at Category 3 or above—in 124 years, since 1898. For those interested in the history of hurricanes in Georgia, I covered all of this in a 2017 podcast that you can listen to here.

For the record, there’s been only one Hurricane Stan, a Category 1 storm in 2005, and there won’t be another—the name was retired for Atlantic storms that year and replaced by Sean.

Whatever happens this week, there’s bound to be more Ians to come, given the frequency and intensity of recent storms and the wildly fluctuating global weather. Eventually Georgia’s 124-year-old streak is bound to end. Here’s hoping I’ve retired to Scotland by then.

Stay safe.

A Tribute from Across the Pond

This past Monday Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in London was watched by more than 4 billion people worldwide. It was an historic occasion, the likes of which has never been seen in the United States and rarely anywhere else. There were the inevitable comparisons to the funerals of Princess Diana and Winston Churchill, but neither could match the stature of this one, nor did those of her royal predecessors, all of which took place before the rise of the global media that now connects the world in ways that were unthinkable before.

No funeral of a US president will ever rise to anything like the level of public mourning and grief that we witnessed for twelve days in Great Britain. And there are many reasons for that. American heads of state are elected leaders who, at best, now have the support of about half the electorate. There simply is no unifying figure here whose death would bring us together—not in politics, or sport, or popular culture. If you can think of one, I’m willing to listen. The sad truth is that when one former president dies, many people will gleefully dance in the streets; when another former president dies, people on the other side of the aisle will do the same. In both cases, it will be a sad and sorry spectacle for our country, but somewhat inevitable in the hyper-partisan world in which we live. In this country, politics is now a winner-take-all, no-holds-barred war to the death. It may be in the UK as well, but the Queen transcended that.

For this reason and others, I found myself over the last two weeks envious of our British friends who could and did unite around the Queen in the days after her death. I’m not so naïve as to believe that all Brits liked the Queen or support the monarch—they most certainly do not—but in that unmatched British way, those who don’t kept mostly quiet while the rest of the country paid tribute. What we witnessed instead was a dignified and historic national commemoration of a life that was unmatched in duty and service.

I asked an English friend to talk about this historic moment, to sum up what the Queen and these two weeks have meant to the British people, and what it was like to witness it all close up. What follows is an eloquent tribute.

“Uniquely, we have a constitutional monarchy where the Head of State is unelected and so is ‘above politics’ but nominally has a constitutional oversight of government business. In practice, of course, it is unlikely that the Monarch would over-ride the government, whereas an elected head of state probably would. I don’t need to give you examples of elected heads of state acting like dictators, fixing elections, and over-riding government, most of whom are already in their pockets. We have one or two people who would love to be elected our President, but do we want them? The problem is that if there was an election for head of state, one of them would get in and then probably go the way of others in other countries!

This was the Queen’s strength. She never made her political views public, never criticized the government, but undoubtedly made her views known by suggestion to the Prime Minister of the day in her weekly audiences. King Charles III, when he was the heir to the throne, often meddled in Government business and policy, giving often sensible but unwarranted advice, albeit in private, to Ministers. This will now have to stop, and it is to be hoped that he understands this.

The other strength our late Queen showed was in her character. Although surrounded by the trappings of royalty, away from the limelight, so one reads, she was down to earth, amusing, sharp as a tack, highly intelligent and a thoroughly nice person with a backbone of steel. She had the unfailing knack of getting on with all she met, and this can’t have been easy on State visits: Nicolae Ceausescu, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, to mention a few and then, of course, at the Commonwealth conferences there were people like Robert Mugabe!

I believe that her crowning show of tact and diplomacy was shaking hands with Martin McGuinness, a reformed senior member of the IRA. This act did more than anything else to find a solution to peace in Northern Ireland

The issue for the future is whether or not Charles can continue in that vein. He will never be his mother, but on the strength of the last few days, while he might not have all her qualities, he has shown an awareness, compassion, and sensibility which I don’t think many people thought he possessed. All this while grieving in public for a mother he adored.

The Queen’s funeral was watched by 28 million people in the UK, a quarter of a million filed past her coffin as it lay in state in Westminster Hall and the numbers who witnessed the coffin as it was carried on its various journeys were impossible to count. One only has to look at the TV coverage to see the numbers involved. This perhaps will be her greatest legacy, that in her death she united the country. Divisions of race, creed, and culture were ignored, and people came together, some in grief and some not, to remember her.

The King’s Consort, Camilla, summed it up. When the Queen came to the throne, she was a lone woman in a male-dominated club of world leaders. When she died, she was revered and respected by nearly all and was perhaps the most prominent statesman in the world, a fact borne out in that over 100 countries were represented at the funeral. This was ‘soft power’ working to the good of the UK, and the world.

The funeral itself was simple, but the pageantry and precision which surrounded it will never be forgotten. Could any other country have put on such a display?

We have lost a much-loved Monarch, the likes of whom is unlikely to be seen again in the country, or indeed, anywhere else in the world.”

Dispatches from Off the Deaton Path: Georgia’s Royal Connection

With the death of Queen Elizabeth dominating the news, Stan looks back at Georgia’s historic connections to Great Britain, the monarchy, and the British Empire.

The Power of Things Left Behind

“I carry you with me,
A ghost inside,
And in these shattered arms
You’re still alive.”

Heather Nova, “Walking Higher”

My father died one year ago, on September 5. A Sunday afternoon. 5:25 p.m. To say that I miss him doesn’t do justice to the wound that occupies the space he filled. I feel as if I’m drifting downstream, and I can still see him, standing on the riverbank. But I cannot swim back to him, against the current, and he can’t hear me calling for him. Every day, the waters that rush us along in life enlarge that gulf.

Some days I just want to call and talk to him about the latest Braves rookie phenom, or how good the Bulldogs look, or the best way to fix the belt on my lawn mower. I want him to know my knees hurt, just as his must have, when I painted the porch at our cabin this summer. Other days I want to hear his laughter, the way he laughed years ago when time and disease had not robbed him of the ability to let loose when something really tickled him.

Some days I just want to hear his voice say, “Hey Doc,” the way he always did whenever I called, and he picked up the phone. These are things I knew I would miss long before he was gone and knowing it has softened the blow not one whit.

Dad was a devoted Georgia Bulldogs and Atlanta Braves fan, and both teams won their respective championships in the months after his death. I know how much he would have loved to watch them win. I keep wanting to talk to him about it, to relive those glorious moments together, and it bothers me deeply that I can’t and never will.

I want to tell him that I know now how hard it must have been for him when his own father died in 1979, when Dad was 46 years old, how sorry I am that I didn’t try harder to comfort him and be there for him. But I know that, even then, he expected no comfort from a 14-year-old boy. Still, I wish that I could have shared that pain with him in a more meaningful way, now that I fully comprehend how crushing that loss was.

I regret the things we never talked about, but the truth is, I asked him everything that I really wanted to know. Except one. In his last weeks, when he could no longer stand or walk, when he must have known the end was near, I wanted to ask him if he was afraid of dying. And I wanted to tell him how badly we would miss him when he was gone. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I didn’t want him to think there wasn’t hope, that we had given up, and so I remained silent.

I think I know what he would have said, though, given the example he lived throughout his long years. Afraid? No. It always seemed to me that Dad was incapable of fear. Death is part of life. I’m sure there were some days he welcomed it. But knowing him, I doubt he spent much time thinking about it. For Dad as for T.S. Eliot: “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”

The last month was hard, but after reading about others who suffered from cancer or Alzheimer’s, there was much to be thankful for. His mind was clear up to the last 24 hours before his death. As he battled idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, we feared in his last moments he’d be gasping for breath. When the end came, however, it was as peaceful and easy as if he’d gotten up out of his chair and walked out of the room. Sometimes that’s what it seemed like. It still feels at times as if he’s just gone somewhere and will be coming back. The finality of it, the eternal-ness of it, knowing I won’t see him again if I live to be a hundred—that part has been hard to accept.

I remember walking into my parents’ bedroom shortly after his death, and there, peeking out from the dresser, was a pair of his shoes. It wasn’t as if I didn’t know about the power of things left behind, but I wasn’t prepared, in that moment, for those shoes. He would never wear them again. The reality of it seized me, strangled me, reduced me to a quivering mess. I fought through it then, as I’ve done many times since. Sometimes I can’t.

I have many of his things left behind. The hat he wore when he first began driving a truck professionally in 1959. His pocketknife. Many of his shirts, his smell living in them still. His belts. And his handkerchiefs. I tuck one in my pocket every day as I go off to work, just as he did. A tangible reminder in a small piece of fabric of a loss still deeply felt. I owe him everything.

Grief is ever constant, silent, unseen by those around you. Grief is navigated on muggy morning runs, on quiet walks, on Sunday evenings, watching a crimson sky fade to black. It sits with you in the silent watches of the night.

James Baldwin wrote that “after departure, only invisible things are left.” The world, he said, is held together “by invisible chains of memory, loss, and love.”

Podcast S6E1: Star Trek, Horrifying Cliches, & Goodbye Georgy Girl

This week Stan looks back at one of the most popular TV shows ever, a Mad magazine cartoonist who left his mark on the holidays, a critical day in the American Civil War, a milestone birthday of a legendary football coach, one of the most momentous days in Olympic history, Travis McGee novels, and much more.