HURRICANE PROOF PRESERVES
Bon Secour lived in terror of hurricanes, as does all the Gulf Coast. They hang like the sword of Damocles over the heads of all seashore and estuary residents. Tales of the 1906, the 1916, and the 1926 hurricanes were used to frighten bad children, and to prove the heroism of those who survived. These three hurricanes were entirely different from each other. The 1906 hurricane struck with no warning, and destroyed Pilot Town and its inhabitants. The 1916 hurricane brought such high water that it flooded all the snakes out of the swamps and drove seaside residents to high land, so that the LaCoste family at the Boatyard at the mouth of Weeks Bay rowed three miles in a row boat over what had been fields the day before to reach the Weeks farm and safety. However, it was the 1926 hurricane which was the most unusual of all for it blew all the water out of the bay and left hundreds of boats stranded, high and dry before it came back with a destructive rush. The stories that cluster around all three events are remarkable, but the most amazing I ever have heard was about the Johnson family who, with their three children and their neighbor, Mrs. Millie Raybun, lived on the shore of Little Lagoon.
There were no warning systems then, nor any T.V. or radio, and the usual weather signs were not seen ahead of time, so that no one knew a hurricane was coming. The weather looked dark, and, since Mrs. Raybun's husband was away on a fishing trip, she decided to spend the night with the Johnsons.
They went calmly to bed, expecting bad weather but nothing more than a usual rainy and windy night in September. They were awakened at midnight by the ominous sound of logs beating against the side of the house. Logs driven by wind and tide and used as battering rams by the rising water are the greatest destructive element of a hurricane, and the Johnsons realized their danger at once. They barricaded their doors, but the water gradually rose and the howling wind tore away the front porch, the chimney and the shutters.
They slowly retreated through the house, which shook with every onset of the wind and waves, until they were on the north back porch. This still formed a shelter because the house had an ell, and in the corner where the porches met a huge chinaberry tree grew only about five feet from the house itself. It seemed at any moment that the house must go, so each adult took a child and tied themselves together. It was most fortunate that Mrs. Raybun had sought refuge with them, because her presence provided one adult for each child and Alfred, Andersen, and little Annie each had an adult protector.
Then the crowning blow of fate seemed to strike as a tremendous limb of the chinaberry tree broke off and fell beside the porch, partly demolishing the roof as it did so. This limb proved their salvation, not their destruction, for it remained attached to the tree. Just as it fell the house began to break up and Mr. Johnson had a happy inspiration. Each adult carried a child and, sheltered it as best he could from the howling, sand-laden wind. With Mr. Johnson leading the way, they climbed the limb, using it as a ladder, into the comparative shelter of the remaining limbs of the huge tree. When they were safely in the middle of the tree's protection they tied themselves to the adjacent trunk.
Now they were safe from being momentarily washed away or hit by a huge piece of driftwood and killed, but even so it did not seem that they could last out the night, when a second miracle occurred. With a howl like that of a thousand demons the storm tore the roof from the house and deposited it over the top of the chinaberry tree! This relieved them from the pelting needles of the rain, driven by a one hundred and twenty-five mile wind, and so wonderful did the security seem that the children actually fell asleep again.
Gradually the wind slackened, and when the children wakened at dawn they could look down and see fish in the four feet of water running under the tree. As the wind lessened the water receded, and by afternoon they could climb down and make their way across the point to Shellbanks where their families lived. Shell Banks is on the north side of Mobile Point and had not been so badly battered as the Johnson home. When they reached their relatives, they were greeted as persons risen from the dead; so fierce had been the storm even on the lee shore. All of this is miraculous, but it is not the crowning piece of amazing realism, which is the true characteristic of all Bon Secour stories.
Several days later the Johnsons went back to begin repairing their home and cleaning out the well. Imagine their astonishment when they discovered at the bottom of the well unbroken, just as they had floated off the pantry shelves, many of the jars of their summer preserves! The water had carried them into the well and, when it had receded, had left them floating at the normal level. A relative of the Johnsons told me this story and added the fact that nothing sealed with a rubber ring and a jar top had spoiled. It was all in perfect condition and they were able to use them the following winter!
Because in those days hurricanes could strike without warning, or a spell of bad weather delay boats, all families kept "provisions." Salt pork, lard, flour, meal, grits, sugar, syrup, bacon, dried fruits and cheese. Potatoes, sweet and irish, were "dug in" in the yard, buried in mounds which not only preserved them from freezing but kept them fresh. Eggs, milk, butter, chickens, ducks and turkeys and guinea hens, pork and veal were produced on the place, so they were never without food. From these liberal supplies, of what was known then as "Pantries", emergency food was produced.