On September 8, 1900, the most vicious hurricane ever recorded in the United States roared up out of the Gulf of Mexico and laid the town of Galveston, Texas, flat!  Millions of dollars worth of property damage was done and an estimated ten to twelve thousand people perished. By 1932, a great deal of Galveston had been rebuilt and engineers had added a "seawall" on the Gulf side of the Island and a "jetty" jutting out into the Gulf on the eastern mainland.  

This jetty was constructed of huge rocks and blocks of concrete.  The top was fairly smooth and one could walk out to the end.  I don't recall how long it was, because I was only ten years old when I visited there that summer.  Even before Galveston became a tourist attraction again, our family, together with several other family groups, went to the jetty to camp out for about ten days.  We traveled in several automobiles and we had a couple of trucks to haul fresh water in barrels and to carry other supplies.  I recall seeing a case of canned Carnation milk (we had no refrigeration, you see, so milk for breakfast was mixed every morning), and there was cornmeal for cush-cush (my favorite breakfast) and for breading fish and softshell crabs to fry in hog lard.  There were long loaves of French bread, and the usual cheese and pimento to mix for sandwiches.  There were big cast-iron pots for cooking and tubs for boiling the crabs.  The men dug holes in the sand and set metal grills up on blocks over the holes.  Fires were built in the holes, so there was no chance that a blaze might spread.  

The adults spent their time pole-fishing and throwing out cast nets to harvest all kinds of seafood.  We had a drag net, too, and the stronger swimmers hauled in lots of fish and crabs.  That is the first time I saw a hammerhead shark.  (It was not very big.)  The children set out crab lines baited with chunks of beef spleen or meaty bones from the rocks on the sides of the jetty and we perched on there and waited patiently with nets and buckets, ready to scoop up big Gulf crabs for the ladies to boil for supper.

Of course it wasn't all work, work, work!  Every day, one of the adults accompanied the children and we got to ride on the ferry boats plying the waters of Galveston Bay.  I loved boats then and I love boats now.   Each child had his own "float" - an inner tube inflated with a bicycle pump.  Little brother Jerry's was a small tube, since he was so little he would have slipped right through a regular-size one.  And Jerry's was the only one whose float was tied with a rope to a big rock.  One day it got away from him anyway, and he jumped up and down on the beach yelling for his inner tube.

Big brother Jay had a serious case of shingles, and the traiteur who had treated him had warned Mom not to let him get wet, but Jay forgot all about that and went bounding out into the water, his long arms and legs flailing wildly, and swam out to retrieve the baby's float.  That was one of the few times I saw my mother really upset!  She dried him off as best she could and made him sit in the shade under one of the trucks.  But you know what?  Instead of hurting him, that Gulf salt water healed his blisters and rash, and in three days time, he was good as new.  For the rest of our stay, he was allowed to swim and crab and fish with the rest of us.  

My mother brought white vinegar to soothe our sunburn, and cornstarch to dry our heat rash.  I used cornstarch when my babies had diaper rash, and white vinegar on their sunburns when they were yard-sized.  One of the ladies had brought a big aloe vera plant.  We called it "the burn plant" in those days, and the leaves from them were used to take care of sunburn, too.  Today, I keep a bottle of aloe vera jell on hand.  I  used it to heal my skin after radiation treatments.

Galveston is again a thriving city and tourist attraction, but I don't think anyone camps at the jetty any more.  When I go to Texas, I always ask to go through Galveston, just so I can ride the ferry.

5 August 2002

Copyright © 2002  Aline T. Meaux, Abbeville, LA

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