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Hurricanes

09/30/08 5:55PM By Bill Mares
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(HOST) As he watched from afar as Hurricane Ike passed over his boyhood home, commentator, writer, former teacher, and legislator Bill Mares remembered the hurricanes of his childhood.

(MARES) Hurricanes were as much a part of the life and lore of my Texas Gulf coast childhood as tropical heat, poisonous snakes and mosquitoes.

Our house was about 20 miles inland from Galveston but only eight feet above sea level.  We lived on Dickinson Bayou, a tidal stream which flowed into Galveston Bay.
    
Those were the days when all hurricanes had female names.  "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," was my literary mother's dry explanation.  
     
The great Galveston hurricane of 1900 - so well described in Eric Larsen's book Isaac's Storm - was still a vivid memory for some people in our town.  A few had lost relatives in what has regularly been listed as the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history.   It killed over 6,000 people, and the city never really recovered.      
       
I was reminded of the times we swam on the Galveston beaches beneath a 15-foot barrier that was built AFTER that storm - as I watched TV film of Gulf waters crashing over the Galveston sea-wall during Ike's assault.

For us kids, hurricanes were more adventures than dangers.  Our parents had to decide when to board up the windows, what to stockpile - batteries, canned food, candles, fresh water - as well as if and when to leave for the higher ground.  We prepared for days without power or school - and lots of rain.        

We were spared the tragedy and gross incompetence of Katrina, and the massive evacuations of Gustav and Ike.  But we had a few close calls.
    
In one hurricane the water rose to our back step and brought lots of snakes out of their holes, although not as many as terrified the Louisiana city of Cameron during Hurricane Audrey in 1957, when snakes and people fled to the same trees.            

During Hurricane Carla in September 1961, I joined a rag-tag band of National Guardsmen, cops, and other volunteers to drive  amphibious vehicles called "Ducks" into the teeth of the gale to rescue people in the low-lying areas of Galveston. One thing I learned is that it's actually easier to withstand 100-mile-per hour winds if you're waist-deep in water.
     
In the early 1980's, another hurricane (I don't remember the name) passed over our small town. Afterward, my mother called to say she was safe, but her voice broke when she described the yard littered with over thirty broken and uprooted trees. "Can you come down and help clean up this up?" she asked.   "Sure," I said.  
    
And so, at my wife's suggestion, I packed up my chainsaw, sharpening file, gloves, helmet and ear plugs and headed south, attracting a certain measure of curiosity at the baggage carousel in Houston, but no arrest.   For four days, in that sticky September heat, I sweated and swore and cut my way through toppled mimosa, oleanders, cedars, oaks and pines.  On the third day, the power came back on.  One of its first blessings was a cold beer.
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