by Henry Lane Hull
When I was a child folks in the Northern Neck compared all storms and hurricanes to the “Great Storm of 1933.” Those were the days before hurricanes received names; for the first of such years all the names were female until the storms achieved parity with male names as well.
Although the 1933 storm’s severity caused residents to leave low-lying areas by rowboat, across land that otherwise would have been passable by car or horse, in 1954 a new measuring gauge for storm severity came along with Hurricane Hazel, which ravaged the Northern Neck on October 15.
Today the generation after 1933 judges storms in comparison with Hazel, which went up the Northern Neck all the way well beyond Washington. Homes, schools, boats, cars, animals and many people were left in disarray after its passage. Centuries-old trees were uprooted as if they had been matchsticks. Roads were washed out and electric power was lost for many days.
At the time my father kept our 16-foot rowboat at Parker’s Marina on Monroe Bay in Colonial Beach. Cap’n H.C. Parker, the proprietor, was then in his mid-70s. His son, Junior, worked with him, crabbed and oystered in the bay and the Potomac. In his youth Cap’n Parker had worked at a sawmill where in an accident he lost all the fingers on his right hand. Later his eldest son, Harold, had lost an arm above the elbow in a similar mishap.
Originally from King George County, he and his wife had moved to Colonial Beach to raise their family. They opened a crab shore overlooking the bay and served delicious food. Mrs. Parker baked goods that her children delivered to homes around the town. After his wife’s death Cap’n Parker turned the crab shore over to his daughter, Dorothy, and her husband “Big Head” Rollins. It remained in the family for three generations, before being sold and ultimately demolished several years ago.
Despite having no fingers on one hand, Cap’n Parker could build beautiful small wooden boats, which he rented out by the hour to vacationers. After the storm had passed my father went to see him to survey the damages. When he saw no boats in the marina, he said to Cap’n Parker, “Well, I guess we all lost our boats?” Cap’n Parker replied, “I saved every one of my customers’ boats, but I lost all of my own in the process.” Indeed, all of his customers’ boats were on saw horses in his backyard. My father always used that example to describe him as a true man of honor who put others first.
Our house was spared during Hazel, but many were not. In the lower Northern Neck, many who remembered 1933 thought Hazel was mild in comparison. Coming in mid-October Hazel was late in the season by the standards of those days, as most hurricanes seemed to come in August and September. The recovery from Hazel carried on into the following year. Cap’n Parker never rebuilt his fleet of rental boats and concentrated on renting his slips to customers with their own boats.
Hearing of the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Florence, I join with many others in making the comparison to the standard bearer, Hazel. Of recent vintage, the dominant storm was Isabel in 2003. In the half-century that we have lived on our farm, Isabel was the worst we have encountered. It took out too 126-year-old pecan trees that politely fell without damaging the house, but took with them many other trees and shrubs as they fell.
A week before Isabel came barreling in, I had set a cup and saucer on the porch and forgot about them, only to find that despite the devastation of the storm, they remained unmoved from where I had placed them. Such are the vagaries of Mother Nature. Florence clearly has merited being compared with the Storm of ’33, Hazel and Isabel, and for North Carolinians it will remain the new standard.