Elise Patkotak: Family in trouble trumps race for president

By Elise PatkotakNovember 6, 2012 

I'm writing this before Tuesday's votes are tallied. I'd been worrying for weeks about creating a column the day after a presidential election that wouldn't refer to an outcome I didn't know before deadline but still be relevant enough for people to want to read. Then Sandy happened and I realized that while on a macro scale the election held great portent for my country, on a micro scale, nothing mattered as much as my family's safety.

The picture that made it most real for me was the one of the reporter standing in thigh deep water in the middle of Atlantic City. I had to blink twice and really focus to recognize that he was standing about two blocks from where I'd been raised. In fact, he was standing right where I'd been standing six months ago as I searched Atlantic City's outdoor discount mall for a place called Dress Barn so I could buy something to wear to my aunt's funeral. And now, all that was visible for as far as the eye could see was water.

Most of my family still lives in Philadelphia. It's the dream of almost all the cousins of my generation to retire out of Philadelphia and "down the shore", which in Philly terms means the South Jersey beach area. I had family in the direct path of the worse of Sandy. As the storm became more real and the devastation more personal, the whole presidential election fled my mind and the only thing I could focus on was how an area of America I still dearly love would survive this horrible event.

There's been a lot of chatter amidst the political classes about Governor Christie's sudden appreciation of President Obama's leadership in getting relief to New Jersey. This comes as no surprise to anyone who knows what Jersey boys are really all about. Christie can play politics with the best of them, but when you hurt Jersey, it quickly gets very personal because being from Jersey means knowing that there is no better place on this planet to be. Being a Jersey boy means defending your state against all who would laugh at your accent and attitude.

The Jersey shore, and by that I mean the reality not the piece of trash TV that has sullied its name, is iconic for all of us who grew up in that northeast corridor of the country. If our families had any money at all for a vacation, the Jersey shore was the only place to go. One of the pictures my sister sent me after she was allowed back on Absecon Island was that of a home in a tiny little bedroom community at the end of the island called Longport. The house in the picture had originally been built by one of my uncles. For many of us, that house represented our childhood summers as no other could. It's where the family picnics and barbecues happened. It's where we got to stay overnight with our cousins from Philly. It's where those of us from the Atlantic City end of the island could get the feel of suburbia for the first time.

My aunt and uncle sold that house many years ago, yet seeing it emerge from that storm totally unscathed tells me that the spirit of the "aunts" still hovers over it and protects it. It's proof, as though any of the cousins needed it, that even the good lord himself walks a respectful distance around those ladies and fears to cross them. It's the same way we all felt about them growing up. Loved them dearly, feared them almost as much.

The final tally after the storm was that my family got through it relatively unscathed. One cousin had some significant damage to his property but nothing that can's be fixed with a little elbow grease. Most importantly, no life was lost, no damage incurred that could not be repaired.

In every way that's really important, my world is back in its correct orbit and my life feels safe and secure again. No matter who won yesterday's election, my Thanksgiving will be spent in Ocean City with my family. We will all be in one piece and we will be cooing over two new additions.

In the grand scheme of things, that's all that really matters.


Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer and author of "Parallel Logic," a memoir of her 28 years in Barrow. Web site, www.elisepatkotak.com.

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