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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

No. 32 "Just look at you crowd ..."

Anyone who lived on the Island before the days of thermostatically controlled heat and air conditioning can recall the sounds of seagulls in the morning. When windows were left open, the cascading sounds of the gulls announced that fishing or shrimping boats were back at the landing. Large flocks would gather as the fisherman cleared or culled their nets, waiting anxiously for the refuse – pinfish, shad or “tongues” – that were thrown or shoveled o’er board as they sorted through their harvest.

As the process concluded, and the fisherman used his big flat-head shovel to pile together his scraps, the gulls could sense that their booty was ready. Especially then they circled and squawked, anxious to pounce on what would soon be thrown over the boat’s stern or side. The noise was so loud that it could be heard far away, up on the shore and even through the paths that dissected the vines, yaupons, cedars and oaks that still were abundant just above the tide line.

All of us recognized the sound, and even if we had no need to hurry and help in lifting the baskets or shoving the skiffs, we had been there enough that in our mind’s eye we could see it as clearly as if we were standing on the shore. Seagulls, in both sight and sound, were as much a part of our environment as the sand and the water. Indeed, we were so accustomed to them that we could describe people or things by ascribing to them the traits we saw most often in these scavenger birds. Soaring like a gull, hungry as a gull, mouth open as wide as a gull, and lots of other similes, were so much a part of our language that they needed no explanation.

Thr family of Joe Wallace Willis. A younger
Mary Willis is standing at the far left.
So it was that no clarification was needed when my mother’s Aunt Mary one day made just such an allusion to express her exasperation. Mary was what might be tactfully described as “simple.” She never married and spent her entire life in the care of her parents. She was opinionated and loud, and as she grew older, according to my father, was “just as wide as she was long.”

During the lean years of the Depression, and the beginnings of the social services that most of us now take for granted, Mary learned that the local “welfare office” was offering handouts for those who where in dire need. Along with many others, she stood in line at an office in Beaufort for the chance to explain her predicament and, hopefully, get some of the food or other supplies to be handed out. Unfortunately for Aunt Mary, because she had no dependents and lived in the home of her mother, she was deemed unqualified for anything.

Obviously disappointed, and just as much frustrated, she walked out of the office to where she was obliged to stand face to face with the long line of others who were awaiting their own chance to plead their case. Having already told the interviewer in graphic terms how she felt about his decision, she now placed her hand on her hip, leaned a little to the side, and then hollered at all those who were still standing between her and the door. “Just look at you crowd. You look like a bunch of d*** gulls!”

1 comment:

  1. Another great story, Joel! Keep up the good work, and let us know when a book is on the way. Mr. Coward on Red Hill was another "transplanted farmer" who always had a big, pretty garden there on Red Hill. Would love to know who the person from Fayetteville that's reading these, as we could possibly know each other? Take care and regards to all there "at home"! G-Man aka Bill Griffin