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Storms make for events you’ll always remember

couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread while keeping up with weather reports of a monster storm brewing up in the Gulf of Mexico and making dead aim toward Panama City, Fla. The last two times that happened we got hit pretty hard here in the Valley, the first time by Hurricane Eloise in 1975 and twenty years later by Hurricane Opal. Both times, the hurricane made landfall on the northwest Florida coast near Panama City and kept heading north.

We were lucky this time. The Category 4 storm took a right turn through Georgia.

I don’t wish anyone bad luck, especially the good people from our sister state, but I’m relieved we didn’t get hit hard like we have been in the past.

It’s interesting how experiencing a bad storm can make a deep impression on someone, giving them vivid memories that will still be with them late in life.

In my grandfather’s declining years, my brothers and I persuaded him to talk about his experiences into a microphone. We still have the audio tapes and treasure them. We still have his voice recalling long-ago times in Chambers County.

He could remember Civil War veterans, the first car and airplane he ever saw, hard work on a farm and how much he always loved fishing.

The narratives that stood out, though, were the times he endured weather events such as an ice storm in 1961, a big flood on the Chattahoochee the following year, some snowstorms along the way and Hurricane Eloise in 1975.

“My land was a destruction,” I can recall him saying. “There were trees piled up on it from one end to the other! We didn’t have power for several days after that. It was really, really rough. I walked the floor praying that a big pine wouldn’t hit our house.”

What I remember from Opal was that it came through here the day after the O.J. Simpson verdict. I’ll never forget the frowning jack o’lantern someone placed in front of their wrecked front porch off Gilmer Avenue in Lanett and how Fairfax lost so many beautiful oak trees. It made for great pictures the day after the storm, but your heart went out to people who sustained such losses.

Ivan in 2005 is a memorable storm that blew through here. It’s the one time in my life I experienced horizontal rain. It took place on a drive from the Valley to LaFayette.

I was with the paper at the time and had gotten word that the roof had blown off of J.P. Powell Middle School in LaFayette. I grabbed my camera and headed for the door, neglecting the fact that there was a really bad storm outside and it was pretty dangerous to be driving through a hurricane to LaFayette. The rain hit the left side of my car going and the right side coming back. Having to fight the wind to keep the car on the road was pretty frightening. I did get pictures for the front page the next day.

That’s the thing about a newspaperman’s pictures. What you remember is not what it looked like in the paper, but what you went through to get it.

There’s a picture from a Troup High football game back in the 1990s that’s especially memorable to me.

That slow-footed photographer on the sideline got rolled up just after taking the shot. For weeks afterward, he thought of taking that picture every time he woke up on those cool fall mornings with a sore knee and aching ribs.