It’s the first day of September! Around the corner will come relief from stuffed sinuses and scratchy throats caused by weeks of smoke. Or will it? Forest fires continue to rage in the mountains between here and Mt. Rainier, with new fires spreading across Montana and Canada. A thick haze grey blankets western skies and obliterates the horizon. Sunlight struggles through orange haze. The other evening, the sun looked like a child’s red-orange crayon drawing on grey paper.
In the mornings I escape to my courtyard and listen to the water fountain gurgle. Geraniums and large ferns continue thrive in the heat. Roses stage a late summer re-blooming spell with deeper hues, especially The Fairy bushes surrounding the armillary on its pedestal and the once little Hermosa shooting long canes beside Gertrude Jekyll as though outdoing each other. I fully expect the Red Rose of Lancaster to put on a September show, as well, to join hips already formed from June roses.
Cousin Melissa Rose is serving as this year’s president of the Dame Family Association. (The Dames of England originated in Lancastershire; the House of Lancaster color is marked by the Apothecary Rose c. 1300, thus the name Red Rose of Lancaster, distinguished from the White Rose of York.)
I once had a dolly named Rose, and another I called Daisy, when I was a young child. Both hybrid roses and Shasta daisies grew abundantly on our place, as I described in a previous post.
But–oh!–what is happening to our beautiful country? Fires ravage the West. Floods rampage southeast Texas. Another storm churns westward from the mid-Atlantic Ocean in what is turning out to be a busy hurricane year.
Hurricane Flossie that hit the Florida panhandle in September 1956 is the most devastating storm I lived through. I had just entered high school three weeks earlier. Our “English country gardens” lifestyle drowned in floodwaters rising from rain-soaked creeks and drainage ditches overflowing their boundaries. The water seeped up through the floor boards, although these Southern country houses were built on brick supports for this very reason. Mother panicked. She shouted for us two girls to help her pull all the blankets off the beds and out of the cupboards to staunch the seepage—to no avail. The waters continued to rise to a foot or more inside the house.
My then eight-year-old sister thought the flooding was “fun.” She pretended our house was a boat, and she packed her little blue dolly suitcase for a make-believe trip on this make-believe boat. But Mother would not allow her outside in the floodwaters to accompany me on my own “adventure,” as I considered it, to try to help Daddy save the chickens. Poor things were squawking, flapping wings, piling on top of each other to stay out of the water, thus smothering and drowning the ones beneath them. I don’t know who was the more hysterical, Daddy’s chickens or my mother.
By this time, Daddy had retired and begun a business raising broilers for wholesale. We had two brooder houses. Chickens in the older house were hopeless in the flood, but those in the newer one, built on higher ground, could have had a chance with every available sawhorse set up with loose boards laid across to form some sort of roost. Daddy even had me gather up and drive as many chickens as I could up the steps to the feed loft, but they didn’t like that and kept flapping out to the feed hopper railing to roost like a row of crows. Finally, at dark, he sent me back to our house. On the way, I discovered that rushing waters had all but washed out the little wood bridge separating the main part of the estate from the west side. Only one board remained, attached as it was to the handrail affixed to sunken posts. I made my way back to warn Daddy, then waded back home.
My sister tells me she remembers “the dark and the rain and the water and the sound of your black rubber-clad feet, sloshing through the water inside the house.” The horror hit the next morning when we went out to survey those drowned chickens almost ready for market. Mother could only exclaim, “My stars, Herschel!” I think that’s all. No one else muttered a thing. We couldn’t. It’s still too hard to write about, fifty years later.
Mother’s prized rose bushes were left standing bare, thorns intact. Summer annuals, like the mint, were buried under mud. Adirondack chairs made of heavy oak had floated to the far end of the property. Only the fence kept them from floating right on down the highway to town.
That was the same flood that kept everyone home from school, especially the high school, because the highways were under water and all the creek and bayou bridges had been washed out. The school buses couldn’t run. Those of us who rode them from Ferry Pass were unexcused from our absences, in spite of telephone calls and handwritten notes from our parents. The day after the flood, the Price boy rode over on his big black stallion and offered to take me to school, on horseback. What an adventure that would have been. I would have accepted had Mother not retorted, “Oh, no you don’t!”
Congressman Bob Sikes, Daddy’s colleague and personal friend, came out to see the debacle, console us, and advise us on legal procedures. Mother served tall glasses of iced tea–without fresh mint as it was buried in muck–as we all stood outside on muddy ground. Daddy followed Mr. Sikes’s counsel and applied for Red Cross and U.S. Government “flood victim aid” to rebuild the chicken business back up, almost from scratch. Three years later, he was dead.
But Mother’s roses lived on.