A flood to remember

Published 10:33 am Saturday, July 21, 2012

by James D. “Archie” Howell

It’s been raining for days.

The drainage ditch in the short field close by our house is overflowing. Trees on the far side of fields are hiding behind a misty curtain.

Water has carved deep ruts in the runoff area in our back yard; our back porch alternates between damp and wet. All hoof, foot, and tire prints have been washed from our path.

Runoff has washed large quantities of light, sandy soil from the high end of crop rows to pool as a slushy mess at the lower ends. Fields generally are inaccessible, by man, beast, or machine.

Farming has come to a standstill in Southampton County. Everybody is waiting for the rain to end. Little traffic passes our house on the paved road; nobody even tries the dirt roads.

The occasional military convoy still passes, usually going toward Norfolk. They always move slowly and have a line of traffic behind waiting to pass.

Canvas-covered trucks filled with unknown loads sag with saturation; streams pour off their sides. A mist cloud obscures most details. No vehicles follow, waiting for a hurried passing.

Cloudy, gray, rainy days are followed by cloudy, gray, rainy days.

Trips to the water-well become a race between heavier showers. A trip to our outhouse is, literally, a slippery slope.

I can’t hide in the barn; I can’t climb on its steep tin roof and slide down from the top. I can’t jump from the roof of the shed to the ground; I can’t climb trees or roll hoops or play “Mumble the Peg” with my siblings.

I can’t wander along paths in our backfields. Hide and seek and Kick the Can — two favorite pastimes — have been rained out. Time drags by on the farm.

The lower pasture appears to be a broad, flat, lake; cows slog through hock-deep muck moving to and from the large barn.

Geese, ducks, guineas and chickens are gone from open areas of the barnyard. Wild birds may still be in the air somewhere, but I can’t see them.

Hogs seem to be faring the best; they just don’t seem to care and are happy to stay crowded up under their shelter.

Every night, my father sits in his chair and listens to Gabriel Heatter on our radio. Every night Mr. Heatter reports, “there’s good news tonight” and talks about a war being waged somewhere. I don’t think they can wage much war if they have as much rain as we have.

After an eternity, a drier day comes, and my father allows me to ride around with him in our truck to check out damages.

We turn toward Courtland. Below the hill, the road has stayed above water. Poorly drained pastures have returned to view; ditches still run full.

A muddy Lovers Lane has no tracks; it’s still too soon for vehicles. Fisher’s Mill doesn’t seem to have flooded, but it is not yet running.

Shady Brook is flowing at a good rate, but is not across the new roadbed. I can’t see the old road.

In Courtland, we park in a dry area just short of the Nottoway River bridge. Other vehicles are parked here also, in a loose order to permit coming and going.

Only water is moving across the bridge. Lower areas and buildings on approaches to the bridge are flooded.

My father exchanges information with others as to what areas are flooded and not. It is obvious that people will be limited to whatever side of the river they find themselves on for awhile.

No bridge is available in our area. Water is flowing swiftly at Courtland and will take several days to recede. I stare, mesmerized, by the power of water.

We return home slowly, almost deliberately, enjoying the freedom from isolation, smiling at clearing skies. We have stories to share.

In my travels, I’ve seen the aftermath of hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, landslides, violent thunderstorms and spring floods— some up close, some at a distance. I am awed by the power of Mother Nature, and admit to a certain level of excitement and heightened awareness when I’m permitted to observe.

The flood of my childhood stays etched in my memory banks, and when I see or hear news reports of floods in later years, I return to that wet porch, rain on the roof and childish irritation. I am home

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at archiepix@kingwoodcable.com.