Morning broke that September Saturday, air pregnant with moisture and as stifling as a woolen blanket wrapped around the lungs. No wind stirred yet on the South Texas coast, making sweat almost immediately ooze and drip down the faces of those who ventured outdoors. Cicadas chirred furiously, agitated by something challenging their innate rhythm.
The post World War I economy smiled on Corpus Christi in 1919, and new wooden homes and buildings dotted the streets that ran to the bayfront and upwards to the 40 foot bluff. That bluff and the barrier islands, Mustang and St. Joe, made the residents feel more protected than their other Gulf counterparts. After all, they had weathered a major hurricane just three years earlier and had come back stronger than ever. They'd heard the reports of a hurricane that was skirting the Florida Keys, but it was far away and no threat to them. This was the last weekend of the summer season and vacationers filled the bayfront hotels, intent on squeezing out every last bit of fun they could.
Robert and Rosa, newlyweds, came to the Pavillion Hotel on the bayfront for their honeymoon. They had this one full day left to enjoy before leaving to return home and begin their new married life tomorrow, Sunday. Rosa shyly looked at Robert as they walked in the sand that morning, barefoot and holding hands. Rosa used one hand to slightly lift the hem of her long skirt to keep it off the sand. "Darling, I can't believe we are actually married now, here on this beautiful beach," she murmured as she leaned her head into his chest.
He stopped, looked down at her and paused for a moment, drinking her in. "You are completely beautiful, Rosa. I must be the luckiest man on earth to have you. I can't wait to start building our family. I think our kids are going to look just like you." He grinned, pulled her close and continued their stroll.
M. C. hustled to finish milking the cows and get them fed. Newly 18 and the eldest son in his family, he shouldered much of the responsibility for the cattle. Father had his hands full with the cotton crop. It looked finally like this would be a prosperous year for them. The last several years had been hard, but Mama's unfailing sunny optimism and Father's unceasing hard work gave him a good feeling about this year. His five younger sisters helped out when they weren't in school and it made him feel good to know there was finally going to be a good year, a year without lack, without going to bed with hungry bellies.
The girls, little brother Hank, and Mama were headed down to North Beach in the wagon to see the Splash Day Festivities that day. A new pirate queen would be crowned and they all had their own opinion about who would win. Then, there was an ice cream social at the school that night. M. C. didn't have time for that kind of frivolity now. "Son, need your help when you finish there," Father called.
"Be right there!" M. C. hollered back.
Maria patted out the last of the tortilla dough into a flattened disc and plopped it onto the comal over the fire in their one room shanty so close to the shoreline she could smell the salt in the air. She was already hot and working over the open fire of the stone fireplace made her even hotter, but she was thankful. Thankful they had escaped the endless violence in Mexico the warring governmental factions wreaked on regular folks like she and her family. Thankful she had her family with her: Jose, her husband; Pablita, their 12 year daughter, and George, their 10 year old son. She and Jose had wonderful dreams, especially for their children. These kids were going to have opportunities in this country they could never have dreamed of in Mexico, opportunties for education and prosperity she and Jose had never had.
She laughed as the kids gobbled down the last of their beans inside their tortillas and Jose wiped the crumbs from his full, dark mustache. "The kids and I are going to go look at a mule I want to buy," he told her. "We'll need it so I can start plowing. Yes, Mama, we're going to have a big farm. We'll start with cotton and raise sheep, too. Even Pablita's going to be helping, right mija?" he chuckled as he gently tugged her braid. The kids chattered as they jumped into the yard and Jose kissed Maria.
The day stretched onward and a cool breeze whispered in from the Gulf. Rain began to fall, gently at first, then with a slowly escalating force. Oddly, flocks of seabirds began hurried flights inland. Horses, cattle, and sheep became jittery. Wild animals left their daytime camoflauge and headed away from the water.
And yet, even into the night when the heavier rain began, people didn't abandon their feelings of security, although under the ebony, water laden skies, the sea had already begun silent deliveries of an ominous cargo, depositing them onto the beach with the high tide.
(This is the first installment of a three part series. It is based on historical record and the accounts of my grandfather and great aunt. If there's interest in it, I'll put up Part 2 soon. And here is Part Two and Part 3.)