As the sun rose on the morning of Tuesday, October 30, 2012, the residents of West 12th Road slowly emerged from their homes and apartments and slowly surveyed the devastation that surrounded them. Almost without exception, each neighbor’s face was etched with the strain of complete disbelief and shock, eyes staring blankly into the distance, bereft of emotion as if the life had been sucked out of them. Home heating fuel was everywhere, having spilled from overturned oil tanks. One hundred pound propane tanks littered the street like errant submarine torpedoes. Parts of neighbors’ decks, wooden skiffs, barbecue grills, deck furniture, children’s bikes, sand and other assorted flotsam and jetsam were strewn about West 12th Road, making it appear some evil goliath had picked up our entire block, turned it upside down and shook it hard!
Enter the O'Toole family of West 12th Road. Less than two days after Superstorm Sandy laid waste to Broad Channel back in 2012, Gwen and Frank O'Toole, along with their children, Haley, Madison, "Lil" Frank and their dog "teddy bear," rose to the occasion and served as an inspiration for the entire community. This was a family who decided there would be no sitting around wringing their hands while praying for some government agency or charitable organization to come to their rescue. While the rest of us were walking around like zombies feeling sorry for ourselves, the O'Toole's, after taking stock of the entire miserable situation, quietly decided..."Screw Sandy, we have small children and Christmas is coming - our family will be back home in time for the holiday!"
Gwen and Frank then immediately set about the process of demolition - ripping out water damaged sheet rock, insulation and wall studs, removing water damaged appliances and furniture and sanitizing their home on W12th Road. Within weeks, they were already hard at work rewiring electrical systems, fixing the plumbing and shortly thereafter, they began the process of studding out, insulating, and sheet rocking and taping new walls. It was truly amazing to watch as this family remained continually busy striving to bring new life into a dead home while the rest of us were still overwhelmed trying to empty our houses of water damaged debris!
During all the post Sandy madness Gwen and Frank always found time to go out of their way to visit with their neighbors on West 12th Road who remained in their houses after the storm, to see if anyone needed anything. Their shared good humor, and faces always lit with bright smiles, were always a welcome sight for those of us still living on the block amidst the rubble. As days turned into weeks, like many of us, the O'Tooles would often trek up to the American Legion for a hot meal and maybe a side trip to the VFW for sanitation supplies but never losing sight of their self imposed Christmas deadline, they would immediately return to continue work on their home on W12th Road as there was still much to be done before December 25th.
If, like myself, you were lucky enough to be on West 12th Road on Christmas Eve, 2012, you would have been witness to a true "Broad Channel Christmas Miracle." Less than two months after Sandy, the O'Toole family home was the only habitable residence on the street. Newly furnished, brightly lit with a big Christmas tree with all the trimmings visible through the window, if you listened closely enough, you could hear the soft sounds of holiday music coming from within, providing a juxtaposition to the storm's devastation and stark silence just outside their front door. The O'Toole family was, indeed, home for the holidays. One neighbor who was with me that evening remarked "I guess we'll all get through this thing OK!"
Although Gwen and Frank have since moved from West 12th Road and now reside across town on Noel Road, those of us who were present on West 12th Road that wonderful Christmas Eve four years ago will always remember and be forever grateful to the entire O'Toole Family and the Broad Channel Christmas Miracle of 2012!
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