MY FIRST NAGS HEAD HURRICANE: BARBARA, AUGUST 1953 (PART TWO) Continued below:
Dad raised the hood on his slicker and opened the main oceanfront door. Surprisingly, the wind did not push it in. We then realized that the wind changed direction and now was coming from the west and the cottage was blocking the wind from impact on him. As he walked onto the porch, some sand cascaded into the great room. At least a foot, likely more, had covered the screened porch.
We were able to stand in the great room with the door open and watch him as he opened the screen door, closing it easily behind him in the wind-free zone. As he began to trudge toward the rise before the beach, his going was easy. But as he escaped the protection of the cottage from the wind, he had to lower his body to avoid being blown away. Realizing he couldn't risk reaching the top of the beach dune in this wind, he turned back and was leaning forward to the point he would fall on his face without the wind. And the sand was punishing and he huddled low until he again reached the safety of the wind-free zone.
He came through the screen door, tried to dust the sand off of his face and slicker jacket and when he opened the main door and walked into the great room, his legs were peppered with blood from the sandblasting he took outside. He began to say something when Mom surprised us by interrupting him, something she never did.
"Before I hear a word, dear Doctor," she began, "I'm going to do something about your legs. I told you not to go out there like that."
Dad knew better than to say a word and he went over to the picnic bench and sat while Mom, the nurse, went to work. First she cleaned the sand off of his bare legs and then she put antiseptic on them which generated an ouch. Dad was usually stoic but I think this time it really hurt. Next came some salve and a gentle scolding.
She said, "Honey, I don't want you going out on the beach under any circumstances until you put on long pants and the sand is not blowing like a desert storm. Sit down and rest and I'll get you a cup of coffee."
Dad was quiet, knowing she was right but not wanting to admit it, then he gathered us around to tell what he experienced. He couldn't see the ocean but with the wind from the west pushing the waves east, not west, it was no longer a threat. There was a break in the dunes about fifty yards north of our property and that accounted for the water washing under the house, but it was already gone. He saw no damage to the cottage, all shingles were intact, but he couldn't find the cause of the loud bang earlier.
"Your mom was right, kids," he finally admitted, "and when the wind stops we'll go take a look. I do know the highway is under water but our property is now high and dry. Power poles are down along the road so I guess we'll be staying right here for quite some time. We'll just rough it out like they did before electricity and make a game of it."
It took about four more hours for the winds to subside. Dad guessed the wind had made it near one hundred with gusts with a steady ninety for at least five or six hours. By mid-morning it had dropped to about twenty and the sun was breaking through. We ate some cold cuts and fruit for breakfast and then, at noon, Mom gave the go ahead sign to go out. Dad was now wearing long pants and the treatment on his legs was working well.
We all walked to the top of the beach dune and were surprised by what we saw. The dune was still mostly intact, but there was about a one foot cut-out at the base and where the beach had formerly sloped to the water it was now flat and smooth. And it was covered in shells and pebbles where beautiful sand had been before. We decided to put on shoes before venturing down.
Walking the beach, we found beautiful shells of many shapes and varieties, many quite large. We gathered a collection for arts and crafts and then, as if like clockwork, the sandfiddlers emerged out of nowhere and the birds came back. Animal life on the beach would rapidly get back to normal, quicker than man.
Sylvia couldn't walk across the road since it was heavily under water and power lines were down. No on knew yet whether they were live, but shortly, Uncle Hal came by in a jeep, able to reconnoiter the roadway in a circuitous route, and joined us for an early evening meal. To our surprise, Mom had some ground chuck on ice and made delicious burgers on a charcoal fire. We had potato salad and cold slaw also on ice and it made a great cookout under hurricane lamp lighting.
That night, we sat out on the beach dune and looked up at the sky. There was no moon out but the stars looked as if you could touch them and bursts of shooting stars shot across the sky at times. And the ocean was smooth, showing absolutely no indication of the rage it displayed earlier.
Two days later the road opened to limited use. Trucks came along with ice and emergency supplies for those who were running short. All we needed was ice and we were set and it was fun eating peaches and pears out of a can, drinking water out of a canteen (no plastic bottles back then) and almost playing like a Cub Scout. But Mom warned me when it was done and we went home, it was back to the balance diet that she demanded. And that meant no peanut butter and jelly for dinner.
Finally, the power came back after five days, the road was opened and our last week of the summer was like back to normal, excepting the condition of the beach, the damage and flooding that many had to deal with and the aggravation of the clean up. The biggest tasks were getting the sand off the porch and drive and cleaning up the garage which took in about ten inches of water for a short period. And that crash I heard? Well, it was a rocking chair from a cottage porch that wasn't secured. It took a glancing blow off the shingled north side of the cottage and left nary a mark.
I learned something important from that storm as well as those "Summers at Old Nags Head" and it was this. Mom was in her glory being close enough to spend so much time with the family she had missed. And Dad changed his outer demeanor entirely. When back home and working at his love, medicine, he was very quiet and studious, but always kind. But at the beach, it was like he had a place to kick off his shoes and let go a bit. It was a great tonic for stress and worry and he immensely enjoyed it.
But there is something else Nags Head of old taught me and it has to do with the lay of the land. You see, back then everything west of the beach road was largely undeveloped. It served as a filter and catch all for water that came over the beach dunes or rainfall and was unable to escape with even higher dunes to the west. It was like a natural bowl and it served as a reservoir to handle the water until it could percolate through the sand. Today, with no such safety valve, the inner beach suffers from lots of flooding from rain or an angry ocean that has nowhere to go. So, the water inland rises and causes damage, damage that could have been prevented with a much better approach to development. Nature always winds no matter what man says. Nature always wins on a narrow sandbar of land not high above the sea and the victory can be devastating to those who don't heed nature's warnings.
This story is just one little portion of my experiences during "Summers at Old Nags Head." If you enjoyed it, you might like the rest of the story.