Updated: Aug 12, 2021
by Sandy Kay Slawson
Hildie Sablich dug her toes and fingers into the warm Mississippi gulf coast sand. On this September afternoon in 1947, she had the beach to herself. The spot not far from the docks did not attract many vacationers and since school had started a month before, the few who had found their way to her place were gone. Their complaints of the "fishy smells" which emanated from the boats and seafood factory nearby where her daddy and big brother worked were sometimes funny and sometimes not. It depended on the person doing the complaining. She rarely, if ever, noticed the smells unless the wind blew her way, but it did not bother her.
Near about every day of her life had been spent by or in the water. She loved this special place where she could be alone to think and dream. She leaned back onto her elbows, raised her face to the sun, and let it darken her tan in spite of her mother's portents about freckles. A breeze lifted the hair off her neck. A nice cool breeze on a hot day must be one of the best feelings in the world. Waves crashed on the shore. The usual slow glide of gentle waves were quiet and calm. Not these. Each new crash brought a forewarning of trouble, as in trouble with a capital T.
The call of sea gulls brought her upright. They did not stop for a visit as normal but moved past her on their way inland. "I brought y'all my leftover lunch," said Hilde to their tail feathers. Still they flew from view without a backwards glance. "If they ain't hungry, there's no doubt it's bad out there."
Hildie crossed her legs and pulled her yellow dress to cover her sand crusted knees. She wished she could throw the big black bow around her neck and the hot thick belt at her waist into the water, but her mama would tan her hide, fourteen years old or not.
Hildie studied the choppy gulf and searched the horizon. She spotted a line of dark shelf clouds in the distance. A few boats broke through the horizon and headed inshore. "They must not want to be stuck out there in the storm. I can't say as I blame them."
Another breeze blew, this one harder than the last. Hildie laid back on the sand. She wanted to enjoy a few more minutes by herself before she went home to chores and homework. With arms folded beneath her head, she watched the sky. White clouds flew by. Fast. Soon an occasional grey cloud entered the mix. Not long after, the grey grew darker and more plentiful than the white.
Warm water tickled her toes. She jumped from her sandy position. The tide had moved in further than usual for this time of day. More shrimp boats, fishing boats and sail boats lined the horizon. Their wakes told her they moved at a swift pace. Must be their attempt to outrun the darkness which now loomed behind them. Distant thunder rolled with an ominous bass. She counted to twenty before she saw the flash of lightning. They had time. The storm couldn't get here faster than the boats. Could it?
Another blast of wind whipped her chestnut curls into a chaotic dance. Her straw boater flew off. Hildie chased after it and grabbed it off the wet sand right before the next wave stole it away. The wind stung as it blew tiny pieces of sand against her skin. She closed her eyes to keep the grit from doing worse damage.
"Hildie!" The sound of her little brother's voice reached her from the road. She gathered her things and trudged through the thick sand to meet him.
"Gene, what are you doing here? There's a storm out there," asked Hildie. He stood by his bike and gripped his handle bars. His frown deepened as he stared past her at the approaching tempest.
"Anybody can see that exceptin' you, I guess. Just cause yore in high school this year don't mean you've got any sense. Everybody knows boys got more sense than girls anyhow. Mama's fit to be tied. She sent me after you. " said Gene.
"Hush your nonsense. Mama is a girl too, and she won't be happy about what you said. Anyway she shouldn't have sent a ten year old out in this. You head on and tell her I'm on my way. Let me get my socks and shoes on."
"Hurry up about it. That storm really does look like a bad one." Gene jumped on his bike and pedaled toward home.
Hildie stepped off the beach, onto the concrete barrier, and wiped sand from her skin and dress with practiced efficiency. Then she perched on the seawall and pulled on her bobby socks and saddle shoes. As she tied her second shoe, a siren blasted behind her. She spun around surprised she hadn't heard the Buick roll behind her.
"Hi, Chief Anglada. Do you need something?" Hildie finished tying her shoelace and stood to face him.
"Good afternoon, Miss Sablich. What I need, is for you to get yourself home. Your in about the most dangerous place you can be," said Chief Anglada as he leaned across the seat of his police car. His window, though only half rolled down, allowed the next whoosh of wind to ruffle the brown hair which hung a couple inches below his hat. "Don't you know a hurricane is near 'bout here? We're already getting hit by some of its outer bands."
"No sir, a storm...maybe but not a hurricane. Our radio is broken at home and my teachers didn't mention anything but bad weather over the weekend," said Hildie with a glance at the ever closer darkness which moved inland.
"Well, get yourself home. Do you want a ride?"
"No thank you, sir. My little brother is ahead of me on his bike. I want to catch him and make sure he gets home safely."
"Make it quick and hunker down. It's not safe outside." The chief rolled up his window and drove on. Hildie checked her school bag and secured it in her basket then stuffed her boater in beside it. She settled on her bike and straightened her dress around her legs despite the wind which whipped them every which way. Hildie pushed the pedals and rode onto the street that would lead her home. The wind knocked her sideways twice, but she saved herself from a fall with a quick foot to the ground. She wondered how her brother managed but before she even finished the thought, tires screeched on the other side of a hill up ahead.
Hildie pushed with all her might to make it uphill. Hair flew and blocked her vision, skirts wrapped around her legs before they puffed out like a parachute. She yielded the fight and focused on the crest ahead. Debris created barriers and rain began to fall. After what seemed like an eternity of effort with her muscles on fire, she made it to the top.
A black Plymouth sat idling in the middle of the road. A man with a black suit, black tie, black fedora and black glasses stood with his hands on his hat. She could not decipher his expression. Fear? Anger? What happened? Something, no, someone lay on the ground beside a bike. Fear froze her in place and then pushed her forward. "Lord have mercy, it's Gene."
To be continued...
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