Authors: j l johnson
She was delighted when she found not only the baby oil, but also a bar of real cocoa butter. Ida Belle had bought coffee and donuts. Walter resupplied his stock of bourbon and beer, saying that was the one thing he loved about the state of Texas, no dry parishes.
“No parishes period,” Gertie had chuckled. “They call them counties here.”
Walter hadn’t wanted to buy a Texas fishing license so they’d decided to stay on the Louisiana side of the lake. After driving up and down some small roads, they’d discovered a recently built fishing resort with vacancies not too far from the bridge.
“Wow, fancy!” Walter said, “I didn’t know there was a microwave oven in here too.” Walter was staying in a small bed and bath only cabin, but Ida Belle and Gertie had a double bedroom with a kitchenette.
Gertie had offered the second bedroom to Walter, saying she and Ida Belle wouldn’t mind sharing. Walter said he didn’t care about the bedroom but he didn’t want to share the only bathroom with the ladies. “Two women with one bathroom is already one too many,” he’d chuckled.
All the cabins were ‘shotgun’ cabins, which meant if you opened both the back door and the front door, you could shoot a bullet straight through.
The front doors led to the parking lot and the back doors led to a picnic area with tables and outdoor grills. The resort office, with a grocery and bait shop connected, was located at the top of the ‘U’ shaped cluster of cabins. Their cabin was in a corner spot right next to the lake, but on the opposite end of the boat launch and dock.
“We even have dishes, silverware, and pots and pans,” Gertie said as she opened a cupboard to show him.
“Now we just need some fish to fry,” Walter chuckled.
“Did I hear you say something about another hurricane?” Ida Belle asked, coming out of the bathroom, pulling curlers from her hair and stuffing them back into her overnight bag. “Aha! I knew I brought another can,” she exclaimed, pulling the can out of the bag. She stepped out the back door to drench her hair in White Rain.
“Oh yeah, when and where?” Gertie asked.
“There should be another weather report soon…” Walter said, searching for a channel.
“They always say they’re going to hit New Orleans, no matter what the radar says,” Ida Belle scoffed as she came back in to refill her coffee cup. “Oh good, the new pot of coffee’s done. Gertie, where’s your manners? Grab a cup for Walter.”
“Thanks Gertie,” Walter said as she handed him a cup. “They’ve named this one Carmen and she really messed up the Yucatan Peninsula before she got to the gulf. She’s gaining strength out in the gulf again, and seems to be heading in the general direction to hit New Orleans. They’re already calling for evacuations.”
“I knew it, they always say that,” Ida Belle snickered.
“Why ‘she’?” Gertie asked as she picked up the percolator and poured coffee for him. “Why are hurricanes always named women’s names?”
“Funny you should ask. I actually researched that once in high school. The first people to name storms were in the Caribbean Islands,” Walter said, “at least in this part of the world. They named them after whichever Saint’s day it was on the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar whenever a hurricane occurred. So some, or actually most, were named after men.”
“Figures, had to be the Catholics... More men are named saints than women. You know it’s because the ones doing the naming are all men… Anyway, when did that stop?” Gertie asked.
“Here? It was when we first started using science to study the weather,” Walter explained. “In the United States, tropical storms were named with a latitude and longitude designation representing where the storm originated, somewhere in the Atlantic. If it turned into a hurricane, the same name was used. That was hard for most meteorologists, not to mention normal people, to remember. It was also difficult to communicate and made mistakes more common because people easily misplace numbers.”
“That makes sense,” Ida Belle said.
“I can see where it’d get confusing. Who changed it?” Gertie asked.
“During World War II, military meteorologists began to use women’s names for storms, and it’s been that way ever since.”
“I bet all those military meteorologists back then were men,” Ida Belle snorted.
“Of course, you know they were,” Gertie said, nodding in agreement. “So, are we staying here a few more days?”
“I think we need to just play it by ear. We’ve already paid for the cabins for two more nights, so I say we go get that raft pumped up and get out there and catch us some fish,” Walter said. “We already wasted a whole day recuperating from that concert in Austin and I know we got here pretty late last night, but I
to fish. Oh, here’s a report.” Walter grabbed the remote to turn up the sound on the television.
Carmen looked like she was getting ready to devastate some part of the gulf coast, but the meteorologists couldn’t yet pinpoint the exact area. They already had plans for evacuation however and listed the parishes in Louisiana which would most likely be affected.
Gertie had been feeling guilty about a having a substitute teach her classes that week, but it appeared her students wouldn’t be in class as their parish was included in the evacuation. She told Walter and Ida Belle she’d rather feel guilty about the substitute than worry about a hurricane.
“I just hope it skips Sinful completely,” Gertie mused.
“The bayou will probably flood, but we’re all used to that happening,” Ida Belle said. She turned to Walter. “Have you talked to your dad, is he closing the store?”
“I talked to him earlier, right after I saw the first report. He told me he’d already heard about the hurricane. He said he planned on closing up the store and heading up to Shreveport if they got an evacuation order,” he replied.
“Well, we weren’t planning to go home for a few days anyway, so we might as well fish,” Ida Belle fluffed her hair. “How about we get going?”
Walter nodded and went to get the raft out of Gertie’s trunk. He carried it to the back of the cabin and spread it out on the grass.
“That’s a pretty handy little machine,” Gertie said as she unplugged the portable pump Walter had brought to blow up the raft.
“Yep, it sure is,” he said, “too bad our extension cord wasn’t longer, though. Think you girls can help me carry the raft?”
“You can’t just drag it?” Ida Belle asked.
“Not with all this stuff all over the ground,” Walter replied. “I’m afraid a stick or something could tear a hole and it’d take over an hour to patch it.”
“So I guess we’ll have to heft it,” Ida Belle said. “Should we load everything in first or wait till we have it in the lake?”
“Let’s carry the oars and poles down to the dock and then bring the raft,” Walter picked up his tackle box and one of the poles, and pointed to the other poles and the oars. “Grab those, we’ll put them on the end of the dock and load them into the raft on our way out.”
“Um, Walter?” Gertie asked, “where are the life vests?”
“I only had two and I think they’re still in the trunk,” he said and set his tackle box back on the ground. “That reminds me, that little cooler is in the trunk too,” he propped his fishing pole against the box.
“Don’t we need three?” Gertie headed back through the cabin in the direction of the car. She popped the trunk when she reached it.
“Naw, Fish and Game is more concerned about everyone having fishing licenses, and I don’t plan on going too far from the shore, anyway.” Walter had followed her. “I’m gonna grab the cooler and put some beer in it. You guys have ice in your fridge?”
“There’s an ice machine,” Ida Belle pointed toward the bait store, “did I hear you say we only brought two life vests?”
“Yep,” Walter answered, “I’m gonna let you two have them, I’ll do without.”
They finally got everything ready and took the supplies to the dock. Then they carried the raft over and loaded everything into it.
“Is that the top of a tree?” Gertie asked a half hour later, cocking her head at the large bump moving along the floor of the raft. The middle of the raft rippled and then there was a scratchy noise, quickly followed by ripping sounds.
“That’s not good…” Walter sighed. He closed the tackle box on his lap and began to reel in his line.
“Yep, we’re gonna sink. Hand me the oars and the poles when I get in. I’ll try to get them to shore,” Ida Belle said as she tightened her life jacket and lowered herself into the water, carefully keeping her hair-do out of the lake.
“And to think you laughed at us when Gertie and I put these on,” she raised an eyebrow at Walter. “At least the water’s warm.”
“You can’t manage all of that, how about you take the poles and… maybe the cooler, it should float. Hand me the oars,” Gertie started to say as she sank lower into the water. The entire side of the raft Walter had been sitting on suddenly deflated and dumped him head over heels into the lake. Gertie simply slid feet first into the water and she managed to hold onto the oars Ida Belle had shoved at her.
“Hang on Walter,” Gertie shifted her hold on the oars and grabbed for the remaining side of the raft which still had enough air to hold it above the water. She dog-paddled her way over and maneuvered the raft to land in front of him. He plunked his tackle box onto the partially inflated side of the raft. Then he pulled it behind him while he swam toward the shore. It appeared he was about ten yards behind Ida Belle.
“I can’t believe you held on to that tackle box. That’s gotta weigh a ton. You’re lucky it didn’t drag you down with it,” Gertie said, swimming awkwardly in her life jacket behind him.
“It’s really not that heavy. My grandad gave it to me when I was just a kid. I’d never forgive myself if I lost it,” Walter replied. “Were you able to save the oars? Although, they’re not much use without a raft,” Walter chuckled.
“I’ve got them tucked under my arm. You don’t think we can save it? Can’t you patch the hole?”
“I’m sure I can, but I think I’ll wait till we get home. The tops of the trees here are so close to the surface, I don’t think there’s any way a raft can handle it,” Walter said. “I’m back to thinking we need to rent a rowboat.”
Ida Belle pulled Gertie to shore, yanking her forward with the oar Gertie shoved toward her. “Easy there Ida Belle,” Gertie moaned, “you’re gonna jerk my arm off.”
Walter, dripping wet, sat on the shore and popped the plug holding the remaining air in the raft. He started to roll the raft up as the air hissed out. “We can hose it off and let it dry on a picnic table before we put it back in the trunk,” he sighed.
“Where are we?” Gertie asked as she rubbed her shoulder.
“I think that’s our dock,” Ida Belle pointed down the shore, “looks about a half a mile from here.”
“Wanna walk along the shore, or go up through the trees and find the road?” Walter scanned the water’s edge, “the rocks don’t look too bad here…”
“I say we take the short route back. There’s more sunshine by the lake anyway, we’ll dry out quicker,” Gertie said and then stretched out her arm. “Damn, Ida Belle, I think you almost pulled my shoulder out of its socket.”
They slowly trudged up the beach and made it back to the cabin in decent time. After checking the TV for any hurricane updates, Walter spread the raft over a picnic table and hosed it down while Gertie and Ida Belle changed into dry clothes and made lunch. Ida Belle surprised Walter with a reservation for a rowboat later in the afternoon. When they went to pick it up, Walter paid for it for the following two days just to make sure they could go out whenever they wanted.
Chapter 4 – Early Friday evening, September 6, 1974
“I really wanted a beer,” Walter sighed, “but with more churches in this town than any other kind of business, I should’ve known it’d be dry.” They’d just sat down at a window table in a small store-front restaurant located right off highway six in the tiny town of Many, Louisiana.
They’d considered driving back to Sinful yesterday but Walter’s dad had told him he might as well stay where he was. That if they tried to come home, they’d probably get home just in time to evacuate because of Carmen.
“We could’ve gone to the Texas side of the lake,” Ida Belle said, “you know they serve beer over there.”
They’d driven the ten miles or so into Many, hoping for a few different choices of where to eat, but Walter had said his stomach needed food, so they settled on the first eatery they stumbled upon.
“As long as I don’t have to eat more fish,” Gertie insisted before they walked in the door. Walter and Ida Belle had each caught some fish and they’d had fried fish on Wednesday night and grilled fish on Thursday night.
“It’s a good thing we’re not Catholic, you’d
to eat fish tonight,” Ida Belle had chuckled.
“I thought they did away with that rule, didn’t they?” Walter asked. “During that Vatican II thing?”
“Maybe they did, who could possibly keep up with all their rules and regulations?” Ida Belle asked right back. “Ten simple commandments is good enough for me.”
“Um,” Gertie mused, “I don’t think they refer to them as regulations. I think they do categorize the different sins though: grave sins, venial sins, and mortal sins.”
“That’s an awful lot of sins,” Ida Belle waved her hand dismissively. “How anyone could keep up with all that is beyond me.”
“It doesn’t help that they keep changing them too... A sin should just be a sin.” Gertie added.
“At least you can smoke your cigar in here,” Gertie elbowed Walter as she waved her hand to chase away some of the smoke which hovered like a dense fog in the room.
“Don’t even think about lighting that disgusting thing,” Ida Belle said, shooting daggers with her eyes at Walter as she tried to open the window above their table.