As Hurricane Michael bears down on the Florida panhandle, I’m reminded to my experience in 1957. Hurricane Audrey had hit Louisiana, and my dad was sent from Shreveport to put roofs on houses that had been damaged in the storm. We went to Lake Charles. About the only thing I remember about the house was to tall Saint Augustine grass that grew wild. Dad would put me to mowing the back yard with this old timey push mower. Now, I’m six years old, the lush grass was taller than me . . . do the math.
We were removed from the coast so in spite of the number of damaged roofs dad was sent to repair we had not been to the actual coast where Audrey had come ashore. I heard the grownups talking about the people who’d gone to watch the waves generated by the storm, but got caught by the surge. I didn’t know what that meant. They said the storm had blown walls down. I saw a wall in town with a hole in it about the size of a trash can lid, convinced myself that was the size of the hurricane, and wondered what all the fuss was about.
Then came one Sunday when dad decided to take the family down to the coast. I remember it was hot and muggy. There was no bottled water so we had those six ounce Cokes most of you have never seen. Drinking one of those is all very fine, but it doesn’t do much for thirst. Dad just drank beer. Jax beer.
The road was straight. Everything was flat. Somewhere out there was the Gulf of Mexico, but I never saw it. I really didn’t see any devastation. It was a miserable place, the gulf coast. To this day when I hear of someone vacationing on the Gulf I wonder what’s in their mind. Don’t they know the beaches are in Texas, and California? There was a smell I recall. Like spoiled seafood. I was to learn that it was spoiled people.
I don’t know what the death toll was that year. I understand that a certain segment of the population did not take it very seriously, and really DID go to watch it come in. I met one of them. I was staring out of the pickup window. Me, mom, and dad were all riding on one bench seat. That was how pickups were made back in those days. Everyone else rode in the bed. As I strained to look past mom I saw that was left of a barb wire fence. Then I saw what was left of a man.
The water had washed him inland, which was unusual because I heard most of the people were sucked out to sea. Apparently, he’d snagged on what was left of this four strand fence. The fence was leaning, and his knees would have touched the ground if he’d had any. He was a half a man. The crabs had gotten everything from about halfway down. I can still see them hanging on the body, or falling out from inside. I can’t remember him having a face.
For forty years I would not eat crab. Finally I did, but only because someone told me it was Alaskan King Crab, and I reasoned that those crabs had more morals than Louisiana crabs. Every time I hear about a hurricane blowing in, and all the talk, and estimates of cost come across, I remember that man. He is hurricane to me.
Bill the Butcher