I didn’t glimpse any shotgun barrels aimed our way but I certainly saw the sign beyond a vast pile of hurricane debris outside the modest home in Naples, Florida.
“You Loot, We Shoot” was scrawled across a wooden board.
We got the message although it didn’t look like Hurricane Ian’s force earlier this fall had spared anything on this property.
We were in Naples last week, invited by longtime friends. I felt a little guilty being there with so many locals still trying to make heads or tails of what they had left but the vacation had been planned before Ian’s visit. Our friends wanted to check out their place, too, although they were far enough from the water that they sustained little damage.
Another front yard sign also caught my eye: “Quit Gawking. Go Volunteer.”
I took that to heart. My buddy Rick and I decided to go over to a mobile home park that had been hit particularly hard. A couple of octogenarians named Don and Gladys were watching the gate, keeping any gawkers and looters from entering.
“We both have places here, but we’re a couple,” Don wanted to make sure we knew.
Gladys’s home had taken on more than a foot of water and everything had already been torn out. Don’s home set a little higher and wasn’t damaged as badly. I didn’t ask if Don had invited Gladys to stay with him.
Don took us over to an office and made some calls to see what we might be able to do to help. A couple of other guys there sort of sized us up.
“Most of the physical work of carrying stuff out is pretty much done,” one of them said.
We admitted we weren’t electricians, carpenters or plumbers and really weren’t very handy at all. But we could still haul away things.
Don mentioned that some wet insulation needed to be torn out from under some mobile homes. I just nodded at that.
He was very appreciative that we had offered to help and took my phone number. But it felt like one of those “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” situations.
We never got the call, but at least we tried.
We also checked on my Uncle Larry, a retired veterinarian, and Aunt Nancy who have lived in the Naples area for more than 20 years. I think their cats have wreaked more havoc on their home than Ian did.
“I just went to bed and let the (100-plus mph) wind blow,” Uncle Larry said.
He’s a tough old bird who used to castrate bulls and birth colts and calves for a living. But when my mom last FaceTimed him, she ended the call — or thought she did— with “My kid brother has become a little, old man.”
And then a voice came from the phone: “I can still hear you.”
He and Aunt Nancy have loved growing old in Florida and put up with the occasional hurricane, although Ian really hammered those near the Gulf of Mexico. And Ian didn’t differentiate between the rich and the not-so-rich, especially if they were on the ground floor.
There were areas that probably looked a little like Ukraine. Yet it wasn’t man’s cruelty but Mother Nature’s.
Rebuilding was going on everywhere and it was amazing to see large piles of gathered sand even blocks away from the beach.
Downtown Naples with its fancy shops and nice restaurants was mostly back to normal but some areas are several months away. And, of course, many homes and businesses will never be the same.
I tried to help. I guess I can only give them my best wishes.
I left Naples with a marked-down Tommy Bahama shirt, a sack of seashells and a deep appreciation for the resilience — or is it stubbornness? — of Floridians along the coast.
I love to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there, a large reason being the hurricanes. But that’s just me.
When I become “a little old man” like Uncle Larry, maybe I’ll feel differently.