Do You Know Where You Were On August 17, 1969?
I know exactly.
As Snoopy would write, it was a dark and stormy night . . . literally. Wind beat the windows, rain blew sideways and beat the glass, the streetlight barely visible in the torrential rain outside. Thunder boomed and lightening cracked, lighting up the sky where I could see the Register’s house across the street.
I sat in the living room of Adel’s Police Chief Harvey Phillips and watched the storm from a big, single paned window, where nothing was left to the imagination of the onslaught going on outside. Normally, the shade would be pulled down to block the sun or allow for privacy at night. Tonight it was up and me, my best friend Lisa, and her mother Marsha watched the storm. Chief Phillips was out in it as best I can remember, the CB radio channel blinking a red light and voices chattering into the quiet living room. No TV. Only the sounds of the storm, the radio, and the grandfather clock chiming in the background. We did have lights. And I don’t remember them going out. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did. Electricity was temperamental in those days. I have a vague memory of a flashlight on standby.
The “storm” was actually Hurricane Camille assaulting the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This night she roared past the mouth of the Mississippi and made landfall the next morning between Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian. She was reported to have reached maximum sustained winds of 200 miles per hour, but the exact velocity could not be verified as the force of her winds destroyed the measuring instruments. Hurricane Camille, one of the strongest hurricanes ever recorded at a ferocious Category 5, drove a record storm surge of 22.6 feet. More than 250 people were killed as she made her way through Mississippi, traveling Northeast all the way to Norfolk, Virginia where she popped out into the Atlantic Ocean and became a tropical storm again.
As a child, I was particularly frightened of thunderstorms, wailing and crying when they descended on our little town. Once when I was about six or seven, we had a big thunderstorm, and the wind blew a street sign down the middle of the street in front of my house. It was one of those swinging signs used at the gas stations, the kind that had had a square frame with feet on it. The sign was hinged to the top bar of the frame. I sat on my bed screaming bloody murder with my grandmother trying to console me.
One reason I remember this so well is because I was teased about being a “Hurricane Camille.” I wasn’t sure how to take the ribbing. Did this teasing contain a hidden message? Was I akin to a path of destruction? Or was it just because I had the same name? Whatever the meaning, I didn’t care for it.
Another reason this day is so prominent in my memory is that I couldn’t fall apart at someone else’s house like I could at my own. I had to put on my big girl panties and “weather the storm.” I didn’t want my friend Lisa to see how scared I really was. I probably wanted to call my mother and go home. But with the weather, it was unthinkable.
For the record, I was scared to death.
After all these years, I can still see the view out that window. I asked Lisa a few months ago if she knew where she was on that day. She had no memory of the event. It blew her mind that I could remember that day so accurately.
Of course, I have the history books—and the internet—to clue me in on the exact date.