People Helping People
By Bill Shepard
The American people are a caring people and are quick to respond to the needs of others. When disaster strikes anywhere in the world, the American people, through various sources, answer the call for help! Whether it be a flood, fire, tornado or other, the American people quickly respond. Is that not the way it should be? When people care for people, the disaster is made easier for those affected by it. I have seen it happen many times and in many ways.
I had given thought to writing this article, long before Hurricane Florence began flexing her muscles along the eastern coast and threatening to harm my homeland. When Florence was far out in the Atlantic Ocean, the news of her coming to the American shores was being broadcast over TV, radio and in newspapers. Even the direction she would travel, after reaching the mainland, was being made known. It seemed as if she was saying, “I am coming, prepare yourselves for the battle!” It is true that hurricanes have traveled along the coast for longer than anyone knows; it is their territory! It is also true that men have moved closer and closer to the ocean’s front, building their homes and hotels and vacation resorts. As surely as that happens, the elements will continue to fight back, and what we are experiencing with this hurricane will continue on into the future.
As I listened to the news of the approaching storm, I could not help but think of another hurricane and another time long ago. There were no warnings sounded of the approaching storm; at least, none were made known to the people where I lived. We had no TV, radio or telephone, and not even a newspaper! The year was 1928 and I was living on the mill village in the town of Darlington. It was September and the rain began to fall. “The September Gales have arrived,” the people thought, and it was time to plant their fall gardens. Every year, for as long as I could remember, my dad sowed his garden spot with turnip, mustard and collard seeds. The vegetables would be so good when served at mealtime, in the days ahead. The rains that came would be helpful in getting the garden off to a good start. With no news from outside of the village where we lived, no one could know what lay ahead. The rain continued to fall!
The water in Swift Creek began to spread across the swampland and on to the pastureland, a short distance from the house where this writer had lived for all of his six years. Each day, as soon as we had awakened, we would hasten outside to see how close the water had moved to our house.
The Atlantic Railroad track ran through the village, and its high embankment served as a dam that was holding back the water that was falling. The tunnels, that would ordinarily have allowed the water from the creek to pass through the embankment, were filled with debris; there was no place for the water to escape, and it grew closer and closer to our little house.
I don’t know how many days and nights the rain continued to fall, before I awakened one morning and heard voices outside our house. I looked through the window and could see men wading through water up to their waists. Water had begun to creep into our house. Other men were helping to remove our furniture through a window in the kitchen. Mama and I were the last to leave the house and head for higher ground. Holding onto Mama’s hand, we waded to higher ground. We stopped and looked back at the men who were moving the kitchen stove through the window.
At that moment, a sound of thunder made a splitting sound in my ears. I squeezed my mama’s hand even tighter. Before my very eyes, I watched the railroad embankment give way to the rushing sea of water that it held back. It took everything in its path, including the little store that was on the opposite side of the track. The water quickly rushed on by, but the days ahead were filled with dealing with the aftermath of the hurricane. A new bridge was built, spanning the creek, and a second bridge was built to span a washout in the road. A trestle was built to cover the washed out part of the railroad embankment.
The little house where I lived is still standing, and memories of it all are still alive. As Florence speeds on by, leaving her tracks behind, I am reminded again of the age-old truth-when the elements fight back, man is always the loser!
NOTE: Aftermath-Results of the hurricane of 1928 can be seen in the Pictorial History of Darlington County by the late Horace Rudisill on pages 76-77. The house shown in the picture was my home at that time.
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. He is the author of “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised”. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week.
His mailing address for cards and letters is: Bill Shepard 324 Sunny Lane, Piedmont, S.C. 29673