Hurricane Carla delivers ultimate insult - cancels church picnic

Sept. 4, 2010 at 4:04 a.m.

Margaret Lincoln

Margaret Lincoln

As another tropical storm season heats up, I think of my first hurricane, in September 1961. Carla still ranks No. 1 on the Atlantic Hurricane Intensity Scale, a standing she attained by slamming Texas at 175 mph. When her center reached Yoakum 90 miles inland, she was still packing 110 mph winds. In comparison, Ike, 19 on the scale, was a baby brother.

I didn't appreciate gradations on the intensity scale when I was 11, but Carla remains my personal worst hurricane for another reason: Carla summarily canceled my church picnic.

The church picnic was bigger than Christmas, bigger than my birthday, bigger than losing a first tooth. The Labor Day celebration signaled the end of a long, lonely summer on the farm, the beginning of school (and I loved school for so many reasons, but most of all for recess). The picnic was a no holds barred play-for-all, a welcome harbinger of recesses to come.

It was also the one day of the year when I knew for certain my father loved me, because he conceded to my every nickel request. Nickel for a snow cone. Nickel for an Orange Crush. Nickel for a Frito pie. Nickel for the merry go round. Nickel for the fish pond. Nickel for an ice cream and a peek at fog curling off dry ice.

Nickel for three chances to throw a ring on a turtles' neck and win a paddleball. Nickel for the cake walk . but who really wants a pink iced cake, here Mama, hold this for me. Nickel to play bingo . and please don't make me choose the box of Tide for my prize, please, Mama, please, I want the ceramic poodle made in Japan.

At the end of the day, I was too dirty for anyone but a mother to love, my face snow cone streaked, my Sunday dress stained orange, red and purple, my feet so begrimed that my summer white sandals would be trashed tomorrow with no wear-left regrets. But my mother did love me, and when the band started playing, she taught me "Put Your Little Foot" and then let me wriggle free to slide across the dance-waxed wooden floor with all the other too-dirty-for-anyone-to-love-them children.

This is the day that Carla stole from me.

I didn't concede easily. Huddled in the root cellar by the light of a kerosene lantern, I held on to the possibility of a picnic. I prayed for it all through that caterwauling night. In the stillness of the eye came a glimmer of hope. Could the storm be over? Then a sound like a freight train rumbled the walls again.

The winds rattled and whistled for two more days. After crashing ashore with a 22-foot storm surge, Carla spawned one of the largest tornado outbreaks on record. The Texas coast was smashed and splintered. Carla killed 43 people, 31 in Texas.

And worst of all, she blew away my church picnic, and I'll never get it back.

Margaret Vahalik Lincoln, native of the Midway community between Shiner and Yoakum, is a retired banker and freelance writer living in Houston. Contact her at



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