“Wharf Rats”, is the term probably used by the watchmen at the Pierce and Kilburn Shipyard in Fairhaven to describe the group of youngsters that hung out , on and under the long wooden pier and the ribs of decaying barges, in search for shiners and mumpers for bait and harassing the double-decker blue crabs that clung to the pilings.
It was 1954. I was almost 14 and in a snapper blue fishing state of mind during the waning days of August and school vacation.
Our peaceful antics were interrupted in the late afternoon and early evening of August 30th. by asudden increase in activity around the old rum-runner used as a dock by the shipyard. Yachtsmen were working on the lines securing their boats. Then the word ” Hurricane ” caught our ears. So thatswhat all this activity is about….hmmm
My “Rollfast ” bicycle lived up to its name as I peddled eastward on Farmfield Street towards homein the Harbor View section of town. I remember nothing unusual about the weather conditions that evening, even though the rides home were scary at times, as I was always looking skyward and overthe shoulder for flying saucers. I had seen the movie, ” The Thing” through the button holes of my jacket.
Home was a two family year round summer cottage, on a dirt toad they called an avenue and a goodstones throw and a half from the beach and the waters of Buzzards Bay in the southeastern part of Massachusetts. My father and mother and younger sister and I lived there with a family of four as neighbors. We had neither telephone nor television or hot water for that matter. Communication werethe evening newspaper, The Standard Times and local radio stations WNBH and WBSM..
Droplets of water formed on the black painted metal window screening during the foggy muggy daysof summer, and sticky paper caught the flies that escaped the slamming stay-in or stay-out screen door.Uniform of the day was usually a bathing suit. Salt marsh horse flies would chase you around the beachby day and the mosquitoes would chase you inside by night. The last day of August 1954 would notbe a typical Summer day..
Harbor View is a Summer colony that was “wiped out ” during the Great Hurricane of 1938 only tobe battered again by the Hurricane of 1944. Cedar posts that once supported many a Summer cottageand piazza protruded out of the beach sand. Several newly constructed cottages on the beach displayedbig bay windows for a better view.
Warnings of impending Hurricane Carol must have been lacking for I don’t recall any advancedpreparations for her visit. No boarding of window, no packing up of belongings, many folks didn’t evenown a car. Somehow though, the boat owners knew. Maybe it was on the wind, the waves, or the tide. I told my father of the goings on at the shipyard before hitting the hay.
My dad must not have liked what he heard on the radio that Tuesday morning, August 31 st. forhe did not go to work. Events happened so quickly over the next few hours that all one could do wasreact to the wrath that Mother Nature had in store for us.
I don’t recall much rain that morning. Maybe it had fallen overnight, for it was the wind that caughtour attention. Lightly it came from the East at first and then the wind steadily increased and veered intothe Southeast. We went to the beach, bent over in the gusts at times to secure our 12 ft. “Correia” builtskiff a little higher up from the rack line. We flipped the boat over and placed the rollers underneath itand tied it to one of the posts that dotted the beach.
I helped a friend to round up his two dogs. We put the dogs inside an automobile that was in a garage,and we cracked the windows and closed the doors. I am surprised to see that the waves had broken overthe crown of the beach and the water was on its way towards the driveway as we shut the garage doors.
The wires on the cross – armed telephone poles hummed, as I quickly headed some 50 yards towardshome. Priests Cove became an awesome mound of salt water that quickly flooded everything below ourlocation. We watched bottled propane gas tanks break away from a beach front cottage. They spiraled and spit as they floated away venting their contents. I could not believe my eyes as the cottage on the beachstarted to move and float away like a rudderless match box.
Anxious now, my Father gathered the Family and said it was time to go. We headed out the door into water entering our yard, taking nothing but ourselves. Airborne roof shingles were chop-your-head-offfrightening as we struggled through backyards to reach Farmfield Street and higher ground. Thankfullyour neighbors hailed us into their closed-in front porch to wait out the storm.
We ventured outside when it appeared safe, and watched the ocean surge rivers of water between the remaining cottages of Harbor View. It was the wind that caught our attention at first, but it was thewind driven storm surge that was the leveler. The debris acting as battering rams destroying cottages and garages on its way inland.
It was afternoon before the ocean and wind receded enough to head back home. We were stunned tofind the front part and side of our cottage ripped open by Carol. A sandwich like roof-on -floor remains ofa beach front cottage in our front yard. The area looked like a war zone with our close neighbors wipedout. A debris field of more roof-on-floor remains lie in the marsh grass below the electric sub-station,along with an upside down but still intact “Correia” skiff. Just rubble remained of the two cement block garages in the neighborhood. Somehow the dogs survived the sprung open door wreckage of a car now garaged by reeds in a field. WE are now dazed refugees of Mother Natures wrath. Neighbors are homeless and those that remain find miserable muckand salt water – but no utilities.
Towards evening relatives from the North End of New Bedford arrived to offer help and they took my mother and sister back to the city with them. A neighbor knocked on the door offering one of her spare kerosene lanterns. My father and I stayed the course to make repairs and mop up.
The National Guard arrived the next day, to protect against looters. They rapped on the side of thehouse on their evening patrols to see if everything was all right. Night time hollaring, of “Sargent of theGuard, Sargent of the Guard” was followed by I swear a shot or two during their stay.
Sandwiches that arrived from the Salvation Army and Red Cross were delicious, considering thecircumstances. Several days went by before the town water was turned back on. It would be muchlonger before electricity was restored., as all the electric outlets in the cottage had to be replaced.
The Hurricane leaves behind an odor of marsh and muck and salt-soaked-wood that lasted till the cold of late Fall. Some of the homeless neighbors rebuild in Harbor View, others were never seen again.
School would start late that year, but Mother Nature had already taught me a lesson that I will neverforget. Any Hurricane eye that puts a stare on Southeastern Massachusetts still bristles the hair of thoseof us who got up and close to Carol.
73’s Tom Carr, WA1KDD – Acushnet, MA. 2020
*This article was originally published in 2004 in a local newspaper.
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