Over the next few weeks I am going to document the impact on my family of the U.S.’s Fiscal Cliff, should we go over it tomorrow.
I will share real numbers to show the actual impact on things like net pay, spending habits, and savings.
Over the next few weeks I am going to document the impact on my family of the U.S.’s Fiscal Cliff, should we go over it tomorrow.
I will share real numbers to show the actual impact on things like net pay, spending habits, and savings.
Some time back I had decided I was going to write about something else, but since then it has been on my heart and in my mind, instead, to write about the last year and what I did to lose weight.
Everyone seems to want (or need) to lose weight these days. Many people have been published on the best method. Some actually have written from the perspective of having had to do it (lose weight) themselves, and these seem to me to be more credible.
However, every now and again one comes across material written by ‘experts’ who either have tried what they write about or, because they do the proper kind of research and have the right kind of credentials, they just seem to stand out as being the types of people you would read and think “They seem to know what they are talking about; what they are writing sounds reasonable.”
While this blog entry could become a commercial for the book, it isn’t intended as such but some association with that idea is inevitable. If I had a financial interest in the book I’d really be vocal about this but since not, I will just be vocal about it anyway BECAUSE IT WORKED FOR ME.
A short background. In 1999 while I was working at Alcon Laboratories (you can Google them to find out more), I went to the company-sponsored health fair and had my cholesterol checked. At the time I was in my mid-40s and, oddly enough, had not had such checks done previously for reasons I really can’t think of, except that my physicians never bothered to ask if they could check? Who knows…
Anyway, the NEXT DAY after the blood work was drawn I got a call from the health fair people and they said “David, your cholesterol is dangerously high. You need to go see your physician immediately.”
How high was my total cholesterol? The answer: About 315. Anyone who knows about this number knows that figure is up in the stratosphere. I called my father and asked him if he had any information on family history of high cholesterol. He said “Yes, my cholesterol has always been high” and so I said “Thanks for telling me, Dad…” Then I called my brother and he, too, acknowledged having high cholesterol and, him being a physician, I asked him whether he had ever thought that this fact – and he knew Dad’s was high also – was important enough to alert me to get checked. Apparently not.
So there’s the first lesson to learn: Don’t wait for your family or a company health fair to find out your own numbers. If you have health insurance of any kind, it is usually fairly inexpensive to ask your physician to order a lipid panel and have your numbers checked.
You check your bank balance, don’t you? Why wouldn’t you also check your circulating blood fat numbers? It just makes sense.
So, I went to an Internist and he ran a stress test on me plus more extensive blood work and sure enough, my numbers were completely out of whack. He immediately put me on cholesterol medication.
Now, fast forward to 2011. By now I weighed 215, had a size 44 waist, and my BP – while medicated – was still high. So too were my cholesterol numbers, though the medication helped somewhat. My Internist over the last 10 years told me everything you all have heard about what makes you fat and why, besides heredity, your numbers would be bad and you’d be overweight.
“You eat too much fat” was the message and he wanted me to have the ‘perfect’ diet and be a Vegan – a total vegetarian. I told him “Forget it – there’s no way I’m giving up meat.”
So he tried all other kinds of expensive meds to interfere with fat absorbtion in the intestines, tinkered with the cholersterol med dosage, continued to badger me about my diet, and so on. Heck, in one 3 month period just to appease him I actually logged everything I ate, did a calorie, fat and sodium count of it, and impacted my numbers SOMEWHAT, but never enough to satisfy him.
All the while, my level of exercise was…shall I say…dismal. I had tried daily walking during this whole decade. Hit or miss. I tried walking with my wife because we both needed to lose weight. Hit or miss, plus I never lost any weight!
I tried every low fat kind of eating I could think of and lost…nothing. In fact, over the decade of the 2000s I gained weight no matter what I did and got bigger around still.
Then last year I came across the book. From Men’s Health, it is called TNT Diet. If you go to Amazon.com and put in TNT Diet you’ll see it.
I bought the book and when it arrived started reading it. The more I read, the wider my eyes got. The more I read, the more I realized that everything we have been taught about getting fat is just….WRONG. The science behind the supposed connection to fat/cholesterol intake and heart disease is…flawed…and was widely disproven 2 or 3 years after it was first published – back in the 1950s.
1950s, you ask? Yes, the first study associating fat intake with heart disease, based on a flawed statistical sample done at the time, was published in the 50s. The vast majority of medical schools and, therefore physicians, who picked up on that study put its findings as a core part of their medical classroom curriculum and to this day, even worse now that the government got involved (see The Food Pyramid) to try and convince us about our improper meat-laden diet, most doctors will tell you that if you eat too much fat, you will get fat and your circulating blood fat will be too high.
There’s only one problem. They’re simply wrong. Fat doesn’t make you fat!
Want to know the details? Read TNT Diet. You can even get the Kindle version for cheaper than the printed/bound book. Here is a summary, and then I will tell you what has happened to me over the last year.
Carbs make you fat. Excess calories can make you fat, but if the bulk of the excess calories are in the form of carbs, you WILL gain weight and it isn’t just because of the excess calories. It’s because of what carbs to do stimulate your body to produce high cholesterol-laden circulating and stored fat.
Case in point: You eat carbs. The sugar (all digestible carbs ultimately break down into sugar, the basic energy source your body needs) in the carbs stimulates your pancreas to produce insulin, the hormone needed to burn sugar in your cells. If you eat too many carbs, your pancreas cannot produce enough insulin (there’s a limit to what it can produce) and thus your blood sugar goes up. Sometimes it goes way up and you become insulin-starved and thus, diabetic.
Think about the epidemic of overweight, diabetic people in this country. Did they get that way from eating too much fatty food? The answer is a resounding NO! but everyone would have you believe it because of the flawed studies they took as valid. You know how it is – if 100 people hear something presented as fact the first time it’s ever announced, later how many people will realize, when the ‘experts’ declare the original ‘fact’ was invalid, will also rethink and decide that they no longer believe that ‘fact’.
Of people who believed Obama was not born in Hawaii, once he produced a certified copy of his birth certificate, how many of those same people now believe he was born in the U.S.? I rest my case….
Anyway, you eat carbs. The carbs make your pancreas get busy and produce insulin. The insulin stimulates your liver to produce triglycerides – the bad kind – and they circulate in your blood and are not excreted, but are stored as FAT.
“Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. Eating CARBS makes you fat.”
The biochemistry of this chain reaction, it turns out, has not been widely advertised, but the authors of TNT Diet did their homework, one of them being a university professor of nutrition.
So, after reading, and re-reading, and re-reading the first 60 or so pages of the book last February – over a 3 week period that’s all I did was read, not acting on anything the book recommended because I was so amazed to read something that so totally contradicted everything my physician had been telling me for the last decade – I finally decided to take the plunge and do what the book said to do.
At that point I felt I had nothing to lose, because I wasn’t losing weight, my numbers were still not well-controlled – cholesterol level plus blood pressure – and therefore I finally decided to give The Fat Burning Zone a try.
I cut out all – 100% – of the carbs I was eating. Yes, I stopped eating them COLD TURKEY one day, just like that! Sounds a bit like the Atkins diet and there are indeed elements of that idea in this one, but this also incorporated specific, simplistic weight lifting (you’ll have to read the book for those details).
People say “Oh, but we’ve heard that eating like Atkins proposed is dangerous.” Yes, we’ve all heard that, mostly from people and companies who promote low-cost, cheaply-produced, carb-laden food for the masses, it turns out.
5 days after I stopped eating carbs, I had lost 5 pounds. First time in over a decade I actually lost weight. I stopped eating potatoes (in any form), rice, pasta, bread (in any form), corn (in any form, including my favorite, popcorn), carrots (some indecision about the type of carb in carrot so I didn’t chance it) and anything with sugar of any kind. Then I started realizing that food labels are grossly misleading in what they hide in our processed food which is carb-laden.
Heck, they even put (unnecessary) carbs in canned chili! You’d think chili would be carb-free, but the producers of the canned variety use rolled oats to thicken the stuff and those oats run up the carb count in the chili.
5 pounds in 5 days. I was on to something. Like the book says, I did feel a little weird. Felt like I was getting over the flu or a bad hangover (!) – kind of fuzzy, woozy a bit, but I had also just cut out a major source of caloric intake so, as the book confirmed, my body had to make some adjustments…it started BURNING STORED FAT – especially the deep internal ‘brown’ fat underneath the other layers of fat, which stores up toxins along with fat – and I immediately started losing weight. It’s the burning of this fat and the release of toxins as a result of that fat loss which makes one feel ‘weird’ during this early phase, but you just have to choose to ignore it when you see the weight loss result.
I went the entire month of mid-February to mid-March 2011 eating ZERO carbs. I dropped TWENTY POUNDS in that 30-day period! I also dropped 2 pant sizes, going from a 44 to a 40. In the middle of that I got my 6-month blood work done and oh, I had decided to switch physicians – not because of all this but because my family was going to another doctor and I decided it would be expedient for us all to join his practice. Plus, we had been friends with the man and his family for many years prior and it must made sense.
Then I got my numbers back. They improved! I was eating protein and fat (fat satiates the appetite ounce for ounce much more efficiently than carbs), so I likely was also eating less calories and, while some will say THAT is the ONLY reason you lose weight on a low carb diet – that cutting calories is the only thing that causes you to lose weight – my personal experience seems to support what the book says about this whole issue.
It’s the TYPE of calories you eat that matter, because when your appetite isn’t going crazy you eat until you are satisfied and no more. I always – always – had a big appetite. Ask anyone who really knows me up close and personal and they’ll tell you I could eat with the best of them. My wife eats less than I do but is much more overweight than I ever was…and I believe it’s because of the TYPE of calories she consumes – higher carb intake – and her borderline diabetes and high blood sugar confirm this to be the case. My appetite at this point is ‘regular’ – I am no longer famished by the time the next meal comes and rarely ever feel really hungry because what I ate at the last meal lasted and helped suppress that carb-driven appetite ‘crazy gotta eat now’ feeling. It’s simply GONE.
Now, mind you, I do not disparage my wife with that statement about her being more overweight than I ever was. I simply make an observation. For her height she is significantly overweight for her age and stature. In fact recently I finally – after months of asking – convinced her to try cutting carbs in total to see if she would have similar results.
She cut carbs completely, and promptly dropped 13 pounds! However, she also fell off the no-carb bandwagon and gained back some weight and became discouraged. That’s ok – temporary setbacks are not the end of the world, as the book says.
In that vein, the book also mentions not to weigh yourself too much so you don’t become discouraged and such. I decided early on when I lost weight so quickly, to ignore that one piece of advice – because I consider getting discouraged when you weigh and don’t see results to be too much of a silly head game – and so I weighed myself up to twice daily just to see what my weight was doing.
What I observed was amazing. I wish I had been better to record the actual numbers so I could share them with you, but I will tell you that what I discovered is that when I weighed myself, with the same placement of the digital electronic scale on a solid floor, wearing exactly the same thing every time, is that my weight can vary up to 3 or 4 pounds, plus or minus in any given day. For example in the morning I might have weighed 203 and by nightfall I would weigh 201 and the next morning I would weigh 204, and so on. Over time, the slight variations of weight became less important than seeing that the overall trend was a steady, if a bit wavy, downward line.
So, in the end (there is no end, this is a continuous process) where did I wind up, from where I started? I’m glad you asked me that question. Here is a recap of where I was and where I am.
February 2011 when I first started: Weighed 215 pounds. Blood pressure even with meds was 130 to 140 over 80 or 90. Waist size had mushroomed to 44. And my blood work – well, that I *do* have a good history of for nearly a decade. Below I present a chart of my numbers. Not all of these numbers trend the same way, but by November 2011 when I had my last workup, and after 10 months of eating less carbs overall my triglycerides – with a reduced dose of statin cholesterol medication – reached their lowest # since I started tracking my number – 109 – and my total cholesterol, which started before medication at 315 – was at nearly its lowest # ever at 165. Most importantly, the Triglycerides to HDL ratio – which TNT Diet explains is all-important in showing what ‘size’ particles are floating around in the blood (small particle, high ratio is bad; large fluffy particle, low ratio is good) reached its all-time low, indicating that eating a ‘high protein high fat’ diet has done what no amount of low-fat carb-laden dieting and higher dose medication could do: It brought the numbers down to near-normal levels.
My blood pressure recently I measured at 115 over 60 – low enough that the doctor decided to cut in half my BP med, and recently I went off it completely (due to a chronic dry cough the med can sometimes cause), and my BP has stayed in the ‘normal’ range of about 125 over 75.
And my waist size? 38! It was 44! I have a whole “new” (old) wardrobe again! Plus, I no longer have those afternoon sleepy periods (sugar crashes), my overall energy stays level for 18 hours a day, I sleep like a baby (still snore a bit but hey, can’t be perfect), and I feel fantastic compared to what I was feeling a year or more ago. Odd little pains inside my chest are gone…just gone (warning signs, I believe, which have disappeared as the trends in my arteries apparently have reversed).
When you look at the chart below, it helps if you have a context of what the book teaches but you can see that even with cholesterol medication over the years, I have struggled to reduce the bad numbers and increase the good (HDL) numbers until I changed my habits and eliminated carbs in general. You’ll see periods where some of the numbers look really good, but it wasn’t until I did what the book said that ALL of the numbers moved the right direction AT THE SAME TIME. My HDL # in particular has been a point of great concern for both my Internists, because it is an indication of the good kind of cholesterol floating around (higher is better); LDL, also a point of concern (lower is better), and simply cutting carbs as I did made the difference to make all the numbers move toward their individual “nominal” or mid-range normal values. The chart doesn’t show my vitamin D level, which only recently my new internist checked for the first time and found it to be “shockingly low” – a true deficiency – but that was addressed with a calcium and a vitamin D supplement, even though I not cut out milk until after this was discovered, during my no-carb period of eating. D and calcium absorption are related and also are influenced by how much you drink milk and are out in the sun. I am not a sun worshipper but that doesn’t mean I cannot have normal levels, which I now do thanks t0 the D supplement and multi-vitamin (without iron – very important when you eat low carb, NOT to take a vitamin with iron in it as meat is high in iron already).
Click on the chart to enlarge it so you can read it easier. Then come back here to continue reading after you examine my actual, as-tested-by-the-lab, numbers. I have nothing to hide, and nothing to be ashamed of! They are what they are.
Does this mean I *never* eat carbs? No way! (Read the book!). What it means is that I now can finally CONTROL the type and quantity of carbs I eat! I love chocolate. Every now and again a piece of chocolate is a real treat. But, I can no longer tolerate (because I’ve lost the insatiable craving) eating a whole candy bar. Yuk! But a piece of dark chocolate every now and again is wonderful.
Did I find this difficult to do, you wonder? Could you do it, you wonder? Aren’t there other ways to lose weight, you wonder, that don’t involve such radical things as giving up cereal, fruit (yes, fruit – can’t eat fruit during the no-carb mode because it has way too much natural sugar), bread, pasta (“but I love Italian food” – sorry, can’t eat it in this mode)…
No, it wasn’t difficult ONCE I read and understood what the authors were trying to say. Yes, you CAN do it. It’s a little odd to think about just not eating ANY carbs, and also NOT CHEATING, but you CAN do it – because you can, in the end, be true to yourself. That is all it takes – a choice to be true to yourself and your health and your future life with your loved ones.
Yes, there are other ways to lose weight probably but how many of those methods have you tried, and failed – either gone back to your old ways and gained all of it back and more, or simply could not sustain it, like I found when I tried to count calories and fat and drove my whole family crazy?
I have been able to sustain this lower-carb way of life for nearly a year, and this morning when I weighed in I was at 183. I’ve been on a plateau between 182 and 185 for a couple months – the all-critical Christmas holiday season included and I didn’t gain because I just watched the quantity of carbs I ate; enjoyed a small serving of mashed potatoes, a small helping of fruit salad & whipped cream, but a generous helping of ham and turkey, green bean casserole, and absolutely no sugar-laden soft drinks!
The carb craving that went away was the biggest surprise, followed by the elimination of the afternoon “energy crash” that simply no longer happens. The plummet in my blood pressure was and has been a Godsend, the normalization of my blood numbers a blessing, and the reduction in my waist size, a point of continued jealousy for my dear wife but one of delight for me as I can again wear clothing I had filed away years ago that is now back in fashion!
Unlike other things one might blog about, one’s diet/eating habits, weight, blood pressure and numbers, and general health are all one big continuum. So, look for future updates. Meanwhile, if you have any questions, be sure to drop me a note and I will gladly offer other information, encouragement, or debate about the particular method used. If you really are serious and want to try something different because nothing else you’ve tried has worked, let me encourage you to invest a few dollars in yourself and get a copy of that book and just read it for a few weeks, repeatedly, until you (a) completely understand what it is saying (ask me if you have questions), and (b) you screw up the courage to REALLY do what it says and TOTALLY eliminate carbs for 4 weeks to start, even if you don’t lift weights!
On that point, I have become lax about my weight lifting BUT because my eating is disciplined – it’s easy to avoid the bad carbs now, once I understand where to look – I don’t have a problem maintaining this weight and I know I will eventually take it to the next level and not only lose a few more pounds of flab, but I’ll tone up and probably gain back a little bit of weight in the form of muscle exchanged for fat.
Meanwhile I’m told I’m healthier overall – the numbers prove it, much less how I know I feel (and look!) today compared to a year ago – and my stamina is just awesome compared to what it once was.
You can do it. I did, so anybody can! Best wishes as you try (no good luck here – this is science, not luck). If you get the book, read it and try this, write me and let me know how you are doing! I’ll be your accountability partner, if that will help you keep up your courage, and you don’t even have to tell anybody else if you don’t want to! It’s not about that, it’s about getting healthy, so don’t let those outside pressures and other people convince you this is bad. Losing weight and maintaining overall a lower weight is GOOD and nobody can disparage a person for succeeding! Cheers!
I awoke this morning about 4:45 AM to the sound of a sprinkler ratcheting its way through its pattern, in my front yard. Ah, the joys of aging…some things just cannot wait any longer. I suppose the sound of running water, even when asleep, is a powerful subconscious suggestion to “get up and go”. Sorry, not meaning to be graphic but facts are facts. Some things can’t wait any longer as we get up in years.
Suddenly I started thinking about our family dog, Sir Flip Winston Bilodeau II. When I came into the office at home and booted up the computer, imagine my surprise at seeing this headline story on yahoo: Puppy rescued from top of train gets new home. A fine story with a happy ending. You can read that story yourself at this link, for as long as it’s online (not responsible for broken links!): http://news.yahoo.com/puppy-rescued-top-train-gets-home-173446351.html
Sir Flip Winston Bilodeau II – what a pretentious name! I have no idea why, at this point, this was the dog’s name except the II part, and possibly because he was a pure-bred animal, registered and all. Papers – he had papers – so I think you had to give the dog a full name.
We called him Flip. He was a beagle. Oh, the stories he could tell if he could talk. How we came to have Sir Flip II is a tale, but his life’s history is rather a hoot and this morning I have awakened to have a flood of memories about this dog I loved so much, come back to me so I thought I’d write about something more entertaining than memories of a flood.
In 1963 when we moved to our permanent home at 308 North Shadowbend, Friendswood from the rental house in Houston, at some point not long after that I vaguely recall my parents deciding we could have a dog. Maybe my brother and I lobbied for one – that I do not recall – or maybe my mother decided a family pet in such a lovely, suburban setting was appropriate.
Whatever the case, we got a puppy, and he was named Sir Flip Winston Bilodeau, because of the requirement to provide a name to a thoroughbred animal on their registration papers. I think somewhere there might be a few photos of this dog, and I think maybe even a clip of him in our 8mm home movies but I’d have to look back at them to confirm that.
He was a handsome dog but he was not particularly friendly, even to us. He adored my mother (because she always fed him, I recall), and his personality, seems to me now, was rather aloof. He also was a bit crabby. As a kid, I remember sometimes teasing the dog by swiping his dinner bowl while he was trying to eat, and he would snarl at me and jealously guard his dish, so after a while I stopped doing that out of fear I would be bitten.
My mother was never amused at this teasing.
In – I believe it was – the summer of 1965, we went on our ‘usual’ family vacation to Eureka Springs, Arkansas (I’ll blog about the family vacations some day, I’m sure), and at the time it didn’t seem that boarding a dog known for roaming freely about the neighborhood was something one did. One would ask a helpful neighbor to feed the dog, leaving it outside and on its own to fend for itself, which today seems very strange. We didn’t have many fences in back yards back then, and our dogs and cats were allowed to run and play around the neighborhood as freely as all of us kids did.
So, this year we asked the Chappees, who at the time lived next door, separated by a vacant lot, toward Mary’s Crossing. The day we returned from vacation I remember getting out of the car, and the first thing my brother and I did was to start yelling “Flip! Flip!”, expecting our beloved beagle to come lumbering up to us from his latest adventure, having returned to hang around until the family got back to let him inside the house, where after we’d fawn over him as much as he would allow.
Nothing. No Flip. After a few minutes, Paul and I went over to the Chappees and rang the front bell. As I recall, Anne – a year or two younger than me – answered the door and when we asked if she happened to know where Flip might be, she told us that he had been killed the day before, having been run over by the garbage truck as it came through the neighborhood collecting trash placed out by the curb. As my brother and I began to let the shock of her statement sink in, Mrs. Chappee came to the door and very sympathetically explained to us what they had been able to reconstruct that occurred almost in front of their house, out in the street.
Flip liked to chase cars. We had, I remember, done many things trying to dissuade the dog from this behavior to no avail. But, we’d been there all along to call him off – call off the dogs, as it were – any time he was allowed outside and he’d take off chasing after a passing vehicle, baying and howling as he went, and actually trying to bite the tires.
Maybe he thought the vehicle was a threat to his dog food bowl. I never could figure it out, but hey, I was 9 or 10 at the time.
All I knew – all we knew – at that one horrifying moment was that our beloved beagle was dead. Dead. Gone. Betty (Chappee) told us her husband (Jim), had buried the dog in our back yard.
My brother and I went SCREAMING home to Mom & Dad, crying and wailing that our dog was dead, killed by the garbage truck just the day before we returned from a 10-day stay at Lake Lucerne resort. We cried and cried and I remember how my mother held us and hugged us and promised us at that moment we would get another dog, but how could we, we asked, ever replace our beloved beagle Flip with another dog?
How indeed. Skip forward a few weeks (I presume), in the culmination of a search for the ideal new puppy. Of course, it had to be a beagle. And, it had to have a marvelous personality. Somehow today, I seem to recall that we as a family had come to a reluctant understanding that our beloved Flip really wasn’t that friendly of an animal, and that ultimately this had led to his demise.
We wanted something a bit different, and I remember we went to some breeder’s house to have a group of puppies paraded out so we could see if there was one that caught our eye, much less our heart. And so, while I do not remember exactly the day the new dog came home to live with us, I do remember the joy of a new puppy the second time around much more so than the first, and that this dog was “special” – he was the runt of the litter, so we were told.
Why that made him special, at the time probably meant nothing to me. Today, in thinking back about Sir Flip Winston Bilodeau II (another full-bred beagle who had papers), why he was special is the reason for this blog posting.
Now, I know you’re thinking….”I had a family dog as a kid, and it was special too.” Yes, I recognize that. But, since this is my blog and my dog – hey, a ‘dog blog’ – and because there is, now that I’m thinking about it, a tie in to my beloved Grandfather and Grandmother Hitchcock (Mom’s parents), I get to lay claim to ‘dog specialness’ just for the sake of blogging about him, as if he was the only special boyhood dog when I know EVERY boyhood dog is special.
As an aside, does one ever read a story about a “girlhood dog”? Not so often. Ladies, maybe there’s a clue for you to blog your own memories of your childhood’s family pet.
Stories of Sir Flip Winston II
In the family 8mm movie archive (if you have to ask, don’t bother – it’ll just prove how old I am getting), there are films of Flip as a puppy with a white bandana (Mom!) around his neck, chasing a ball on the back porch. While I don’t recall if I shot the film, I sure remember chasing that little guy around as he played. In those days, with film being so costly (for the times) compared to videos today, it was a rare thing indeed to get a few seconds of such footage. Over Flip’s life, we got quite a few moments of him on film, well into his adulthood.
This dog, unlike the first, had such a laid back personality that if you tried to take his dinner bowl while he was eating, he would just look up at you, wag his tail, and wait for you to put it back. Had he been able to talk, I think he would have been the type of personality who’d have offered to share his food with you. I snuck a taste of it one time and nearly barfed. However, the Milk Bones were a more tasty, palatable snack with a nice, teeth-cleansing crunch.
Of course, it might be that by the time I remember doing that a few times – teasing him by snatching his bowl away in the middle of his meal – Mom had conditioned him to be patient about the whole thing, having seen what the first Flip would do – so as not to get any of us bitten. Part of the mealtime ritual was for one of us to open his can of dog food (not Alpo – that was too expensive; Mom would not buy it), but rather that sort of Spam-like congeal that was oozed into the can in a solid mass. It would ‘eventually’ come out of the can into the bowl, and then we’d smash it up with a fork. Then we’d take it over to Flip’s “spot” between the breakfast room and kitchen, just inside the utility room door, and hold it up, saying “Speak”. Until Flip gave us a good bark, we wouldn’t set it down.
This became “playtime before dinner” because he was the only member of the family who had to perform in order to be fed. It was a lot of fun.
In the mid-60s when Flip was still a puppy, our grandparents – Mom’s parents – came to visit. We hadn’t had the new Flip long, because he was still little enough that even if he could have, he was not able to jump up on the furniture. Good thing, too – mother wouldn’t allow it. But, he was “long” enough to stand on his hind legs and, if you were laying on the couch taking a nap, reach your cheek to lick you. That worked well until he got up there and started licking my grandmother Hitchcock. I can still remember the annoyed tone in her voice as she called my grandfather – “Alan, make that dog stop licking me”. Grandpa H would come over and pop him on the nose; he’d yelp, Mom would feign annoyance at her father (she adored him, and he adored her), and after that 2 week visit, Flip would never lick anyone or anything (except himself…eeewww), for the rest of his life.
At probably that same visit – not sure if it was grandfather H’s last before he died in 1968 – he gave me a book. It was called Vic: The Autobiography of a Fox Terrier. The cover was falling off, but the pages were in great shape. Mom later took the book and got it rebound to keep it from coming apart. Inside was inscribed this note from my grandfather:
A gift to Allen (he changed the spelling of his name later in life) from my mother, 1895. To grandson David, 1965.
It’s a wonderful little story about a dog, from the dog’s perspective. Maybe grandfather H knew how sad we were when our first dog was killed and it reminded him about the love a dog has for its family, and vice versa. I don’t know, but I’ll just say I’ve read the book many, many times in my life. I once even went to the Library of Congress and checked out its copy, just to see what the original cover looked like. Someday, when I am in my 70s like my grandfather was at the time, I hope to be able to pass along the book to my grandson in hopes he will appreciate the multi-generational nature of such a thing.
As Flip got older, certain rules of the house that Mom imposed were tested. Our dining room, living room, and hall plus bedrooms, were all carpeted. The dog was not allowed on any carpeted area, period – never, never ever. How Mom taught Flip this is a mystery to me (I guess I should ask her). But, no matter what you did, you could not entice him to walk into the carpeted areas. It was as if they were covered with flaming volcanic lava (think Mario when he gets burned). That animal wouldn’t do it – he just would not cross the threshold.
Every now and then, when we were all eating in the dining room on a holiday, which was about the only time WE used that room, he’d lay in the doorway with one tiny piece of his ear flopped over onto the carpet. Mom would scold him every time and he’d slink back into the utility room on his rug to sulk.
Well, being the kid I was, one day I remember revving up his hyperness to the point that I got him to chase me around and around, through the kitchen, den, entryway, LIVING ROOM, DINING ROOM (on the carpeted area) and around again…and again…and again.
Sometimes we’d go off and leave him in the house, especially it was raining, and usually we’d close the door to the dining room and the other one from the den into the entryway. This one day, apparently we forgot, because when we came home, Flip came trotting out of the dining room into the kitchen….an ominous sign.
When we dashed into the living room to check things out, to my mother’s extreme displeasure one arm of her sofa was chewed down to the internal wood frame. There was stuffing and material all over the place. Both Mom and Dad were….livid….and as I recall the dog got quite a thrashing. Then the investigation into what had prompted Flip to go astray ensued, and I recall sheepishly admitting that not long before I had been playing a game of chase and got him to run around and through the off-limits rooms, and so really one couldn’t blame him so much as they could me, for I was supposed to be the one to know better.
I don’t recall what it cost to repair the sofa, nor whether we actually did or if we just got rid of it, with the yukky thought that a dog had slobbered all over one arm of it. I remember it WAS covered up with one of those removable coverings you put on sofa arms to keep the material underneath from turning color.
As Flip grew, he developed certain normal (for a dog) morning routines. This included a period of time once we all woke up – we let him sleep in the utility room if it was cold, or in the garage if it was warm, and either way, by the morning he needed to “go” – and so he would find his favorite tree, splatter it a bit, and then trot down our rather long driveway to check out the neighborhood. In those days, leash laws didn’t exist.
I’m sure my dog Flip is one reason that today, leash laws for dogs are EVERYWHERE. He’d go across the street to Dr. Wilson’s (the vet) house, pester his cat for a while, and then he would take off running toward the Engle’s house 2 doors down, howling and baying, throwing his head back seemingly with glee, as he would charge the outdoor pen that contained Ajax, the dreaded German Shepherd and the other dog (name escapes me; both Shepherds). Those animals would go ballistic at Flip’s approach, barking angrily as he would run at the top of his speed toward them. They’d jump up and down trying to get over the 7 foot high fence (never did, thank goodness), and he would run a couple circles around the cage, baying the whole time (remember, beagles are hounds – they bay, not bark like Shepherds). Then he would run off in the opposite direction when either of the Engles would come out to yell at him and chase him off.
This was always a point of contention with them and my parents, and it came to a head one evening while Mr. Engle (Jerry, if I recall) was walking Ajax. For some reason, I had taken the unusual step of opening up a living room window and I was looking outside in the darkness, watching Flip goof around in the front yard. He was chasing squirrels or something. Anyway, as Ajax and Jerry approached, I heard my father calling Flip from around the back side of the house over in the rear driveway. At about the same time Ajax started to bark, and I heard Jerry yell “Ajax, NO!” as the dog took off into our yard after Flip. It was no contest. The shepherd caught Flip by his back side, picked him up with his powerful jaws and shook him like a flopping fish. About that time my father came roaring around the side of the house, yelling and hollering angrily at Mr. Engle to control his dog, asking him why he wasn’t on a leash! The leash was in his hands, but remember – no leash laws and it was a public street.
And that’s when the fight began. The two men stood there yelling at each other for what seemed like an eternity, but which in reality was really only a few moments. All I know is that after that, there was bad blood between my father and Jerry Engle, and I do not really know how long it took to resolve, if it ever was.
Flip was not badly injured, or so we thought until a few days later when his whole backside blossomed with infection. We had to take him to the vet. Oddly, we didn’t take him to Dr. Wilson, the vet across the street, because his practice was near Hobby Airport. Instead we took him in town to Dr. Crump. That becomes important later in the story. Crump’s office was further down 518 beyond Brown’s Pharmacy, and on the other side of the road, in what had been a house before Dr. Crump turned it into a commercial building for his practice.
One time I remember hearing tires screeching out in the street, and the yelping and howling sounds of what turned out to be Flip, struck by the car. He wasn’t chasing it – I guess he crossed over after pestering Dr. Wilson’s cat or something and he forgot to look both ways. We rushed him to Dr. Crump’s office and he fixed him all up. Don’t know if anything was broken, but soon Flip returned to his old routines and happily explored all around the neighborhood.
There was one other time I remember when we let him out one morning and, to our horror, he instantly made a bee-line across the street toward Dr. Wilson’s garage. Seems we had forgotten that Doc’s cat had just had kittens and even though Charlie had warned us to keep Flip away, we flat forgot and let him out without supervision. It was too late. I could not run fast enough to stop the dog from dashing into the garage after the kittens, only to see the mama cat jump onto Flips ears and with full claws extended, proceed to rip 8 multi-inch gashes, 4 each, into the poor hapless dog’s big floppy ears. Blood immediately dripped down to the ground and Flip raced home, yelping all the way in both pain and terror….that was one defensive cat! He never bothered her again.
On Saturday mornings, I’d usually get up to watch Bugs Bunny cartoons. I’m talking 7:30-ish. I remember one morning when Flip was older, as was I, getting up early to watch cartoons. I’m talking about…middle school age. My brother Paul was already driving, and he is 3 years old so you can figure out I was probably 13 or 14. As I went to the kitchen, I saw Flip laying in the utility room, leaning against “something”. The “something” turned out to be brother Paul, lying asleep on the floor, covered in mud and cow manure.
I may have the memory of the story a bit twisted up, but I seem to recall slipping into my parents’ bedroom and suggesting that they come out to the kitchen immediately to check on their other son. The rest, to me, is a blur but as the story goes, Paul and a buddy had been out drinking beer or something, and as they were trying to get home in his ’66 Mustang, apparently “the driver” of the car, whoever it was, hit a cow in the road and flew into the field, only to land in a big muddy patch that had cow dung everywhere. For some reason they left the car there and Paul walked home, making it inside only far enough to see Flip laying asleep, so since Paul was apparently a bit “out of it” himself, he laid down beside the dog, hugged him and, in his loving warmth (but no licking) slept it off until I found him the next morning.
I think it was about 1982 before Paul could drive a car again. His grounding was probably longest in history.
Beagles are hunters. They love to explore. They have long snouts and, like all dogs, keen sense of smell. But, they’re also very (fiercely) loyal to their owners, so they’ll come home like clockwork. That’s why, after the first night Flip didn’t come home, we knew something was wrong. Had he been killed by a car? Run away? Stolen? We were sick with worry.
I came home from school one afternoon to have my mother greet me at the door and tell me that Flip was at that moment being treated at Dr. Crump’s office for a snake bite! Seems he had probably been sniffing around in the woods when a pit viper – cotton mouth or copper head – struck him in the nose. We learned that dogs have an inbuilt defense mechanism, whereby they’ll crawl away and lay very still until their body can metabolize the poison. It’s instinct, it’s automatic, and it is why such animals can survive these bites.
When Mom and a friend – Phiddy Barnes, if I’m spelling it right – came back to our house from where ever they had been, there was this “pile” of fur laying on the front porch. Nothing was EVER on our front porch except maybe milk bottles – when those were still delivered each morning (remember that?) or a new phone book – so as the two ladies cautiously approached, the lump of fur lifted what they concluded was the head, swollen up like a balloon to the point two beady little eyes peered out from beneath the inflamed, fur-covered tissue, and only at that point did Mom recognize Flip. They scooped him up and rushed him to the vet. He had been gone 7 days.
Over the next few years, he disappeared twice more, each time for less days. However, each time he had been snake bit, and by the end of his life the skin around his neck hung loosely below, stretched beyond repair from all the swelling. And, over time he built immunity to the venom with each subsequent strike. It’s a biology thing – want to know more, I’m sure your physician or vet can explain better than can I.
A few times, I’d be brave enough to follow Flip behind our house, down to the creek, and across to the other side, which was thick woods. There were no homes directly behind us at the time. One afternoon, I hadn’t gone with him but I could hear the dog baying and howling way back in the woods somewhere, but in reality one time it was very loud and the next time, quite muffled. That’s what prompted me to investigate. I followed the intermittent beagle hound sounds until I finally came upon Flip, standing up a slight incline and shoving his entire face into a hole in the ground, where he’d then let out a howl. After watching him in utter dumbfounded stone-faced fascination for a few moments, I must have made a noise because he pulled his head out of the hole, yanked around, startled, to see who was behind him, and when he realized it was me, he gave me that “oh, it’s you” look of non-chalant recognition and continued on his “mission”. Apparently he had, or thought he had, trapped some kind of animal down the hole and he was trying to flush it out with that beastly baying and howling, and in between bouts of screaming into the hole in the ground, he’d lunge at the dirt edges of the hole with mouth wide open, bite off a big chunk, and spew out the diggings by swinging his head violently from side to side. Then he’d return to the hole trying to scare his catch into coming out by howling into the ever-larger cavern he’d dug. Never did find out what it was he chased down there. I also recall refusing to give him his bath that time.
Or the time I was outside when he came up from behind the house, carrying a carcass proudly in his mouth. We wouldn’t let him consume the remains in our presence, but every time he brought home a dead critter, after a couple days his whole belly would blow up and he’s pass gas mercilessly for days more….we didn’t even try to blame our father for that smell, as there was no way anyone or anything but that dang dog could have made a horrible aroma as that from ingesting a dead, wild animal he had caught. That was the down side. The upside was that he wouldn’t, or couldn’t, eat his dog food for a few days so I’m sure my parents were all to glad to save a couple bucks.
Pancho. His name was Pancho. He was my best friend Jan Rutland’s Chihuahua. They lived around on South Shadowbend just over from Mary’s Crossing. Pancho was a typical, shivering, snarling Chihuahua. It wasn’t until my daughter got a Chihuahua – Lola is her name – that I realized that the shivering these dogs do is truly because in this climate, even in Houston, that’s cold for them plus they’re short haired, so there’s not much to cover them up. Lola will lay out in the middle of winter in the yard and not shiver one bit, so long as there is direct sunlight. And, it wasn’t until Lola came along that I learned to love Chihuahuas. Lest I invoke mental pictures of animal cruelty with this story, let me just say that unbeknownst to either my brother or myself, each of us independently would, from time to time when Pancho came calling and (really) scratched on our back door asking to come in and visit his pal Flip, which Mom would never let him do, one of us might happen to slip outside to corner the dog and taunt him a bit, making him yelp and bark in that Chihuahua-scrawny-shivering-dog-like way they do.
Sorry, Jan. No offense intended. It was years later that Paul and I compared “notes” and both realized we had done the same thing, just because that type dog ticked us off, I guess. Real men had HOUND dogs. Anyway, that’s not really the story of Pancho. That’s a bit of embarrassed history. The story is that one day, I was in the front yard with Flip when we saw Pancho trotting up the street toward our house. He got to our yard and by then Flip was just laying around being a dog, and I was there petting him and just pondering the green grass or something. Pancho…apparently a bit ‘confused’….started humping Flip’s leg. Flip sort of turned over and tried to get away, but Pancho kept after it and humped his backside. At some point, Flip had had enough and so he sort of snarled at Pancho out of the side of his mouth, and then when Pancho started running away in terror, Flip chased after him and, in full stride put his long snout underneath and in between Pancho’s back legs and just lifted his head up all at once, sending Pancho flipping over in a mid-air somersault. He landed on the grass on all four and then took off like a rocket. I laid in the grass howling and laughing on my own, having never before seen anything like that! Flip had just had enough and he “flipped him off”, so to speak.
Pancho kept coming back for visits and try as I might, I never really did connect with a Chihuahua until Lola, and she’s a miniature – so cute, so cuddly, and LOVES me just like my grandbaby!
Over the years Flip’s range of wandering grew larger and larger. One day we got a rather amused phone call from our vet’s office. Seems that Flip had wandered over to that side of town and, when someone opened the door of the vet’s office to bring in their animal for treatment, Flip just trotted right in and sat down in the waiting room, seemingly to wait his turn to see the doc. Well, Crump played along, gave him a quick checkup and then they called us to come get him. Dr. Wilson told us later in life, that’s what he’d do when Flip came around – he’d reach down, give him a pat and a quick health check, and send him on his way. In this case, my very annoyed, but equally amused and amazed mother had to drive down there to pick him up and bring him home. I’m sure our dog Flip is one reason why where are leash laws everywhere today!
Well, over the years with snake bites, Shepherd bites, car strikes, and impromptu office visits, I’m sure Dr. Crump was mightily surprised when, one Sunday night around 8 o’clock, he got a worried call from the Bilodeau family asking him if he could meet us right away at his office to tend to one very sick beagle. I’m also sure that Dr. Crump, if he’s still living and is retired, is thankful to have had a “patient” like Flip to help him build up his nest egg. Anyway, Flip was lying in the utility room sort of sprawled out, but when we called him for dinner, he refused to get up. This was not like him and my brother and I both became very concerned, enough so that we started looking at him more closely. And that’s when we discovered it….there it was, swollen to twice or 3 times normal size….one of his testicles. We rushed him (again!) to Dr. Crump, who did whatever he had to do to diagnose the affliction: Doggy VD. Yep, Sir Flip Winston Bilodeau II had contracted a sexually-transmitted disease. As if that wasn’t funny enough, when Crump innocently asked us all “Do you happen to know where he’s been”, the look of “oh no, surely you’re NOT going to actually HAVE an answer to that question are you?”that came over my brother’s face when I started rattling off all the places I knew he had “frequented”, was as priceless and funny as just finding out that the dang dog had a venereal disease. Treatment was swift and dramatic. He had to be treated with antibiotics, and in that good old Bob Barker way, he was immediately castrated (neutered). Nuts! Oh wait, NO MORE nuts! No more fun, either. After that, Flip gained weight and became…well, listless is how I can describe it. I guess when the libido goes, it leaves you a little “empty”.
Turns out, we found out later, Flip actually was known as the stud of the neighborhood, apparently having impregnated a number of….bitches…who also were allowed to roam around freely. Little did we know that the 60s and 70s was not only the decades of free love for people, but also for DOGS!
As time went on and both Paul and I went off to college, we’d come home less and less but oh, when we did, no matter what Flip was doing if he heard us driving up, he’d drop what he was doing and great us with a great baying and jumping for joy as he dashed up to us, tail wagging fiercely as it slapped his sides. I’d get out of my car and spend a good 5 minutes just hugging and petting and talking to the dog, and he was always so happy to see us. But as time progressed, the ravages of old age eventually took their toll and the dog developed ‘hot spots’ – big raw, oozing sores a couple inches across, basically some kind of skin infection where all the hair would fall out and it would scab over, and Dr. Crump had to treat it with ever-increasing doses of antibiotics.
It got to the point that Flip became mostly, or maybe the right word is profoundly, deaf. And, it was bad enough that if you tried to go outside after dark to call the dog home and he saw you, but didn’t hear you (because he couldn’t), he’d turn tale in the darkness and try to run the other direction so he could “stay out late and party”, but if you ran after him and got close enough that your yelling could penetrate his internal silence, he’s shrink all the way down to the ground and just stop dead in his tracks, until you caught up and took him by the collar to drag him home for the night. It was that “dropping down to the ground” he did, cowering in fear mostly of my father’s wrath, that later in life would come back to haunt me as my eldest son Tucker would “noodle” – become completely limp – if you tried to pick him up when he didn’t want you to, making it 10 times harder to move him. Same with Flip – but horizontally instead of vertically – equally tough to drag the dog across two yards when his belly was dragging the ground and his rear feet were stubbornly planted in front of him so as to purposefully impede your progress.
So instead you’d just stop and give him a sound whipping until he stood up and walked home. Dumb dog…never did learn to outsmart us. Tucker, on the other hand…did (learn to outsmart us).
I was still driving the ’67 Ford Falcon so that one time I came home from UT Austin for the weekend, probably in the spring of 1979 (my senior year), Mom and Dad met me in the driveway as I pulled in. That, by that time, immediately seemed unusual but as I got out of the car, I decided to let events unfold as they might.
Unfold they did. I could tell by the look on both their faces that something was wrong….terribly wrong. Sure enough, they had decided they’d meet me outside the moment I drove up, because they know that the moment I arrived home, always the first thing I did was to wait for Flip to come running from where ever he was, to greet me, before I went inside with him to greet my parents. By this time Paul was in Med school in Galveston, so I was the Prodigal Son, returned home to joyous greetings….
Not this day….Flip didn’t appear. I recall starting to ask Mom about it but I could tell by that look on her face, she needed to talk first so I just stood there.
“Flip is gone. We had to have him put to sleep earlier this week.”
“Really? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“We didn’t want you to blow your exams…” (it must have been at the end of one of the last semesters….).
“He was a dog. He had a long life. He was a great friend and I’ll miss him, but believe me, I would not have blown my exams over his passing.”
They then proceeded to tell me the rest of the story, whereby throughout Flips life both Drs Wilson and Crump had told them, “when the time comes, if you have to put the dog down, don’t bring him to us – we love that dog too much to have to put him to sleep.”
He had become so deaf, and so lame, and so infected with sores, that by the time Dad took him to yet another vet in town to see if there was anything that could be done, when the vet was finished examining him, he said they could try and prolong the dog’s life but that it was all but over anyway, so it might just make more sense to put him out of his misery.
Mom told me later that Dad petted the dog, gave him a little hug, turned around out of the exam room and left the building, crying, as he had to turn over our beloved Sir Flip Winston the Second to be euthanized….
I think it was probably harder on Dad than it was on me at that point, and while I did, and do to this day, miss Flip, I also recognized that he probably was suffering so much that it was the only humane thing to do. Funny that we think very little of alleviating our pets’ suffering and yet, we sometimes cruelly do nothing to alleviate the suffering of our fellow man, not by euthanizing them but by going beyond ourselves to actually help them. I’m not an advocate nor supporter of ‘assisted suicide’ or anything like that. Please do not equate a story about us putting down our family pet, to anything like someone failing to care for their own loved ones, or anything like that.
When I moved to Brownwood in 1981, to manage my first Radio Shack store, after about a year there of living by myself I decided to get a dog…and guess what? I found a really neat beagle to adopt.
I tried my best to keep the dog safe and happy without letting him get me in trouble with the apartment manager where I lived, and when I bought my own house in 1982 and moved to it, I set up a perimeter electric fence to try and contain the fella so I could let him roam around my 1-acre lot without having to coop him up in the house.
That strategy did not work and one day I came home to find that he had disappeared. I never saw him again, and I felt guilty for thinking that that kind of fence could contain a hunter. It was not until years later when technology changed that dogs could thusly be corralled much more humanely with the later technology that would send some kind of signal to their collar to induce pain or a sound or something, to keep them from crossing over the line. The electric fence never worked like that. It probably is what contributed to the dog “wanting” to leave me….and it was a really dumb idea in the first place, even if well-intentioned.
Since then and after I got married, we had a few dogs and one of them, I truly loved as much as I had remembered loving Flip. Molly was her name, and she was a miniature Dachshund we had bought (pure bred) for our daughter. One day I got a panicked phone call from my very pregnant (with Tucker) wife, saying to come home immediately as it looked to them like Molly had drowned in our swimming pool.
Sure enough, when I got home, she had apparently fallen in, having gotten through the protected fence I designed specifically to keep her out, and maybe when she tried to take a drink, she fell in on that cold November day and just could not get out of the frigid water before she died.
I cried that day, having to take the lovingly wrapped carcass to our neighbor, the vet, for ‘disposal’.
Someday, I’ll probably have another dog, but it won’t be until long after my grandchildren are old enough to be at that age where, if they come see their loving grandparents, we’ll be here and so will our beloved puppy, to visit with and love on them. For now, I can be satisfied that our daughter, who gave us a most wonderful and beautifully cute granddaughter (9 months as of this writing), also has two wonderful grandpuppies who both love me like crazy, just like Flip and Molly did. Kennedy, the male mini-Yorkshire Terrier and his ‘little’ sis, Lola the mini-Chihuahua.
There’s nothing in the world like being Gumpy to a granddaughter and two grandpuppies, and it was my own childhood experiences with my beloved beagle Flip, and his sidekick Pancho, which helped prepare me for what arguably shapes up to be the greatest time in our lives…grand-parenthood!
Thanks for reading. Hope you got a good laugh, maybe had a moment of nostalgia about your own pet, and that you will forgive me if I mistyped anything or if my actions were anything less than honorable. It was never my intent to be cruel or careless, but as kids, sometimes we have to make mistakes to learn from them later in life when something “rings a bell” as that article I provided at the beginning of this story did to me, the other day.
Blessings to you and your family.
Tropical Storm Claudette:
Tropical Storm Claudette – July 16-31, 1979
The tropical wave that spawned Claudette was the strongest of the season in the mid-levels of the troposphere, with 85 knot winds being reported at the 550 hPa level at Dakar, Senegal on the morning of July 12. On the 16th, a surface circulation developed about 450 miles east of the Leeward Islands. When reconnaisance aircraft flew into the system around noon that day, the system was already a tropical storm. Strong upper level westerly wind shear weakened the storm to a tropical depression over Puerto Rico, then into a tropical wave over Hispaniola. Rainfall of 7-8 inches caused some flooding on Guadeloupe. Amounts exceeding 9 inches fell in Puerto Rico, which led to flooding and one fatality. Below are maps showing the rainfall amounts across Puerto Rico and St. Croix, prepared from data retrieved from the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina.
As the tropical wave emerged into the Gulf of Mexico upper level conditions improved, and a tropical depression formed on the morning of the 21st. Claudette re-achieved tropical storm status by the 23rd, but its center remained poorly defined. As at least two surface centers struggled for dominance, Claudette dropped back to tropical depression status late on the 23rd. A northern center emerged victorious by the morning of the 24th, and the system became a tropical storm once more. That afternoon, the cyclone moved inland near the Texas/Louisiana border.
Initially it was thought the system would remain progressive, however, a blocking ridge formed to its north preventing recurvature for an additional day, which led to extremely heavy rains between Alvin, Freeport, and Sergent in Texas. The 42 inches that were measured at Alvin within a 24 hour period set a new 24 hour rainfall record for the United States. One died in Texas during the ensuing flood. At the time, Claudette became the tenth costliest tropical cyclone in United States history, and the first not to reach hurricane strength.
Brief Bilodeau family history prior to July, 1979:
Mom & Dad moved to Texas (Dallas) in 1951 from Minneapolis, Minnesota where they had met & married in 1948 (September). My brother Paul was born in 1953 in Dallas. They moved to Arlington, Texas (A Dallas suburb) in the mid-50s and I was born in Dallas/Methodist hospital in October 1956 but we lived in Arlington at the time, on Donna Street.
We moved to Friendswood when my father was hired by NASA in 1962. We lived in a rent house in Houston until our home at 308 North Shadowbend, in Imperial Estates II subdivision, was completed in 1963, a custom-built home that my father always said “Buy more home than you can afford because the investment will never lose value…” That is, until the last 2-3 years in the latter part of the first decade of the 21st century!
Both my brother and I graduated from Friendswood High School. He, in 1971 and myself, in 1975. I went off to the University of Houston, bound and determined to be a piano performance major. 3 weeks into that first semester in the fall of 1975 I realized I had made a terrible mistake, so I finished out that semester as a music major, hating every minute of it; then I fought with the University counselors toward the end of that semester to change my major, which I did in the spring semester to biology, and the following year transferred as a BA/Science candidate to UT-Austin where I thought my chances of getting into medical school would be better.
Background of membership in the Friendswood VFD:
I had been a member of the Friendswood Volunteer Fire Department since the spring semester of my senior year in high school, January 1975. Terry Matheny, my closest life-long friend since first grade in Friendswood, suggested I join up because, as he told me, he thought it was worthwhile, and it was fun (!). I joined, we trained together as firefighters along with a few other senior classmates, and later that school year we both decided to take ECA (Emergency Care Attendant) 24 training hours certification program to become ambulance attendants. Seems that 4 ladies – Letha Camp, Robbie Williams and two others were covering the 5 weekday daytime shifts, 7 AM to 7 PM and our addition to the small daytime volunteer ambulance crew would give them some much-needed and welcome relief, as there were so few to cover so much of the 24-hour period and they were getting very tired.
As soon as we were trained they put us on Tuesday/Thursday daytime duty. One day I would drive Unit 88, as it was called, and Terry would attend to any patients. The other day, reversed – I’d attend and he would drive. There were numerous days we left school for an emergency call, either fire or ambulance, and no one seemed to mind. It was a few years later that younger students who followed us caused the VFD and the High School to decide “no more high school student volunteers in the Fire Department” when some of the student members faked emergency calls by making their fire department pagers beep (in a test mode, and the teachers didn’t know the difference) to have an excuse to leave and thus skip class. That put an end to it when they got caught and to my knowledge, to this day no high school student volunteers are accepted in the Friendswood Volunteer Fire Department, spoiled forever some wonderful community service due to the antics of a couple of knuckleheads….they were underclassmen to us and we were appalled and astounded when we heard about this a couple years after we graduated.
In this context, we continued emergency medical & fire training that senior high school year, later becoming EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians), which required 120+ hours of training and practical experience including much time spent observing surgery, riding with an existing ambulance service not our own (I rode with the Houston FD and saw…amazing, horrific things), and spending countless hours practicing all the necessary care-giving skills on each other under the supervision of the sponsoring physician for our EMT Certification – Dr. David Hearn. You may recognize his name because he later became a member of the FISD School Board…
By the time Tropical Storm Claudette threatened the Gulf Coast, I had graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biological Sciences from The University of Texas at Austin, spending the summers at home doing my volunteer work, working a summer job, and just being a college kid. Having been unsuccessful gaining admittance to medical school prior to July 1979, I was studying options throughout the summer of what I might do instead if I didn’t get called off the alternates list of any of the 3 med schools – all in Texas- where I had been placed as an alternate, and so I was working a paid summer job, volunteering in the Fire Department whenever I could, and also being paid to do some technical repair work for the Friendswood ISD – fixing the school clock & bell, plus PA and intercom systems – on all the campuses. Seems I had my mother’s father’s knack for figuring out mechanical, electrical and electronic things. It was in this regard, that of making such repairs, that the story of those fateful days of Tropical Storm Claudette came to pass and unfolded before me. Here, I relate my memories of each day as it occurred, from what I still vividly remember and, where my memory is fuzzy or non-existent, I fill in what details I am sure of or comment if I am not clear.
Wednesday, July 25, 1979.
It was early that morning, daytime and it was already raining heavily, but I had work to do up at the High School fixing the bell system master clock so I was up and out of the house in the 8 o’clock hour as I knew I had a full day of work, especially if the parts that I’d ordered came in. Some weeks before I had figured out the problem with the mechanical bell timer that was causing the bells not to ring on schedule and I had placed the repair parts order with the supplier using a school purchase order…..felt like real power to be able to do that. Little did I know, nature’s fury and power were about to be unleashed on my entire hometown that very day.
That morning, around 10 AM as I recall, HS assistant principal Fred Nelson said he needed to run to the post office, and invited me to go with him because he was aware the parts I needed had come in and were there for pickup as he had seen the delivery notice for the package come in the mail the previous day. We left the school and drove to the Friendswood post office, located at that time adjacent to the Friendswood First Baptist Church just off 518 on my own street, Shadowbend – East Shadowbend as it is called. I lived at 308 North Shadowbend in Imperial Estates II subdivision.
I remember that when we got to the post office, we both jumped out of the car and bolted the 10 feet to the front glass doors and got inside, but due to the heavy downpour we were soaked to the bone in an instant.
When we got back in the car, parts in hand, dripping wet, to head back to the High School I turned to Fred and said “I have a bad feeling about this one…I think we’re going to have a major flood.” I don’t recall his response to my thought, but later that night I would learn just how true it would be as the worst flooding in history up to that point occurred right there, less than a mile from where we sat there dripping, earlier the same day.
I do not remember much the rest of that day until I left the school that afternoon and still seeing the heavy downpour in progress late that day, I recall being gravely concerned so I had made a plan to monitor police & fire communications on my scanner. Seems all of us who were volunteers got scanners so we could listen even when we were not on duty. It’s just what we did.
When I got home I fixed myself some dinner because I was home alone.
My brother was married, living in Galveston, and was still in medical school. My parents were on vacation at the time in northern Minnesota, visiting my father’s sister and brother-in-law, who lived in Brainerd, a small lake community about 125 miles northwest of Minneapolis where they had all grown up.
As it got darker, I finally turned on my scanner and started listening to radio traffic from both departments. It was hard to coordinate anything between the two organizations because they used different radio frequencies and so you’d hear one call on the fire channel and then it would jump to the police channel where something else was going on, and by the time you got back to the fire channel again after the police became silent, often you had missed the other side of the first radio chat.
I recall there was an unusually heavy amount of radio traffic on both frequencies that night, and what caught my attention were the transmissions from on-duty members of the fire & police and even city departments who were going around town calling out creek water elevations back to the central dispatcher at city hall. When they called out the creek elevation of Mary’s Creek, which was the one at the back of our lot, as “less than 3 feet below the 2351 bridge” I sprang into action because I knew at that point that any water already that high, with heavy rain forecast for hours more, was going to keep coming as runoff upstream finally made its way into Friendswood. At least we knew that much about the surrounding terrain…but it was not enough to know that, at that point. Nothing could have prepared us for what would happen over the next couple of days.
I called my parents that evening and informed them that I was certain our home was going to flood. I recall my father being skeptical of my claims of an impending flood and him asking me whether I was just getting nervous over some heavy rain because I was there alone and feeling isolated. I assured him that my Fire Department friends and police I could hear calling out creek levels were on top of things, and based on the rate of rise I could just tell we were going to take a direct hit. During the conversation I sought instructions from my parents about things that would be logical for me to save. I remember making a list and adding things to it myself, that I was there to see.
Once I finished that phone call I started to come up with an action plan. This would be to take everything I could save into our attic, because for some reason I had concluded that we would not get water as deep as others might in town.
So, the first thing I did was to go through the house, opening all the doors and cabinets in every room, and turning on every single light in the house. I remember thinking it would just make more sense to turn everything on and open everything up and then, as I progressed room to room, I would turn things off and close the doors behind me, signifying that I had completed the sweep of that room.
While it was still relatively early in the evening when I started, by the time I finished moving things into the attic, it was somewhere after 11 PM. I had spent the evening periodically calling down to the fire station direct line and asking for them to send someone to my house for just a few minutes to help me move our 3 cars, but the help never came. Every time I called, I was told that they were already too busy pulling panicked residents out of lower-lying areas where the floods were either already happening, or the roads were about to become impassible making it impossible to pull people out by vehicle.
As I went about my work, I put my whole stereo system up in the attic first – not an insignificant feat even for a college kid, because the amplifier was very heavy and the two giant speakers, way heavier. I grabbed big boxes of family photos, slides, paperwork, and such and put all of that on the floored part of the attic. Then, for things I could not get up through the attic opening, I took doors off the hinges and used them as platforms between night stands in my parents’ and my brother’s and my bedrooms, to stack things on that I wanted to save if I could.
By this time in our family’s life, my mother’s mother – Grandmother Hitchcock – had become a resident in the Friendswood nursing home which was just a few hundred feet up the block from our house at the intersection of North Shadowbend and Quaker Drive.
I mention that because we had built a small apartment on the back of our house for her to come live after my grandfather died, back in 1968, and she lived with us until Mom could no longer care for her as she became infirm as she got older, so they found a nice room in the nursing home and she lived out the duration of her life there, finally succumbing to old age in 1986. The apartment was furnished at the time of the flood but I didn’t take anything of value out of it, as all which was there was the furniture, and I tended to sleep back there when I was home from school because I could leave out the side door to our back porch on fire or ambulance runs in the middle of the night without disturbing my parents, who at those hours would be asleep.
Anyway, I do not recall going by the nursing home before the flood to check on Grandma H, but afterwards I did as I was trying to get back to the house. That part of the story comes later.
Once I finished up moving everything I could think of, and in the context of heavy rain still coming down and no one showing up to help me move the cars, I decided it was about time to leave the house and head to the only place I could think to go – the fire station, which by that year had moved from City Hall near the house, to 1000 South Friendswood Drive, where it, and city hall, stand today next to the city park.
Before I left I went next door to the Copelands – Gerald and Martha* - to ask them what preparations they were making. To my surprise, when she answered the back door, they had been sitting on the couch watching The Tonight Show (Johnny Carson). I could hear the show coming from their TV, and Gerald was still sitting on the couch.
Mrs. Copeland said they were just watching TV, and I told her “You have to make preparations; our houses are going to flood.” I remember Gerald looking up from the TV and asking me from across the room, “What makes you think that?” and I reminded them I was in the Fire Department and had been listening all evening to weather forecasts and our members plus police going around town calling out creek elevations.
When I went next door, I had my FD flashlight and I was for some reason wearing my pull-up fire boots. Those are the kind which have a long rubber sleeve that you pull up under your bunker gear to keep water out, and it makes them look like fishing waders.
Anyway, when Gerald basically blew me off, I looked at his wife and said “Mrs. Copeland, you have to believe me, it’s GOING to flood, and soon” and I then pointed the flashlight at our back yard, at an angle toward the back from their back door, as I showed her that the water she saw more than halfway up our back yard was not runoff, it was THE CREEK – Mary’s Creek – heading toward our homes. I even recall running back there and standing at the edge of the creek in the water, shining the flashlight way across to the other side of the neighborhood over on Royal Court, where you could see lights on even that late at night, reflecting all the way across and on the raging surface of the creek.
Martha, as I recall, screamed at her husband something to the effect of “Gerald, he’s right – the creek is already nearly up to the back corner of our garage, we have to get moving!”
So, as they sprang into action, I went back to our house to try and figure out what to do about our 3 cars. As I hadn’t been able to get any help, I decided I would take the ‘good’ car – my Mom’s Buick – and leave my Dad’s car and mine, some kind of old Dodge Dad had bought after I wrecked my ’65 Plymouth Fury a couple years before, and the 1967 Ford Falcon he had driven that he gave me when he bought the used Dodge.
To this day I don’t know why I didn’t drive both cars up to the nursing home parking lot (empty that time of night) and leave them there, but what I did instead was to put Mom’s car in the street and park Dad’s car at the end of our rather long driveway, just before the street, and my car behind it. I had figured, I recalled later, that maybe the water would not come that far out into our front yard so maybe, I had reasoned, the cars would be ok.
I was wrong. It turned out that the water went across Shadowbend and was lapping at the doorstep of our neighbors directly across the street, Dr. Wilson (Veterinarian) and Tom & Pat Anderson. I think Dr. Wilson’s house got a little water, and the Anderson’s didn’t. Both cars were submerged enough to destroy them.
As I left the house, I turned off all the lights and shut all the doors, and I recall thinking that if things floated around they wouldn’t do as much damage if they were confined to a single room. I also, for reasons I suppose were based on something I had learned in fire emergency training, turned off all the circuit breakers in the garage, killing power to the entire house, for safety.
What I did not do, and for which later I heard stories of my neighbors asking somewhat in anguish why, was to go to the OTHER side of my house to neighbors the other direction, that late at night, and warn them of the impending flood. When I heard these stores some weeks or months later, I remember how terribly I regretted not thinking to do that before I left for the fire station, but I also remember wondering how in the world anyone could have sat through 18 hours of the heaviest rains I’m sure any of us had, and have, seen and done nothing. I found out later that our neighbors two doors down – the Chappees – went to bed and awoke in the wee hours of that Thursday to ‘strange gurgling sounds’ and that their first inkling of a flood was when Mrs. Chappee got out of bed and stepped down to the floor…suddenly ankle deep in creek water. The neighbors to their other side – Bob & Aileen (sp) Anderson – had gone to bed upstairs, heard funny noises downstairs, and turned on the lights to see their living room flooding. He was a metallurgist and had thousands of structural and metal failure photographs he used in court cases, all stored in cabinets downstairs. All of the photos were saturated with dirty creek water, but later as I recall he sent some to NASA to their photo labs to try and see if they could salvage any. I vaguely recall that effort was only partly successful.
Thursday, July 26, 1979
It was close to or just after midnight when I left the house. By that time rain water was covering Shadowbend up to the curbs, and so I had to drive the black Buick slowly to avoid washing water all over everything in my path. I proceeded up to Quaker by the nursing home, over to East Shadowbend and past the Post Office to 518, as I started to make my way through town to the other end and the safety of the fire station.
In those days, 518 had become a four-lane divided road with a median, having previously been a more elevated 2-lane undivided road. It has been decided to lower the elevation of the road partly for possible flood and storm water control, with the thinking that channeling the water to the road at a lower elevation through town would work to help prevent homes along either side from flooding, if the water could not get to the storm sewers if the center of town was elevated like it had been.
Little did anyone think that this design would cause 518 all the way from 2351 down to just a few feet from the new fire station to become a river, where the road at the time narrowed to 2 undivided lanes again at the original, higher elevation but that is exactly what happened.
As I turned onto 518 to head toward 528, water was already covering the road, much deeper than the curbs, I could tell. It was pouring rain and visibility was very low, and for some reason I deduced that if I wanted to make it through town I would have to put the car’s transmission into low gear and sort of ‘race’ the engine to blow water away, using the fan in front of the radiator as I gunned the engine.
What I did, thus, was to rev up the engine with my foot on the brake and I would let off, to propel myself forward. The car would push through massive amounts of water that covered the headlights and rolled up over the hood. I did this from that intersection where I had turned, all the way down to the part of 518 near the Salem Square Apartments and Friendswood Bank. By the time I got there, the water had gotten deeper and I was afraid, like so many other cars I passed on both sides of the road, I would stall out right there and have to abandon the vehicle. There were dozens – probably hundreds, for all I remember – of cars which the drivers had had to leave and escape to safety as they tried to make it through town.
I remember seeing headlights of a lone vehicle behind me, and as it got somewhat closer I noted that it was a pickup truck, and it was sort of following me and lurching forward like I was. At some point toward that end of town, I decided that I needed to get to higher ground so I drove up on what at the time was a newly-planted median. Seems the City of Friendswood had just planted a bunch of new trees in the entire median from one end of town to another, but that night, or rather early that next morning, when I put that car up onto that median and the pickup truck following me did the same, we were the last two vehicles to safely make it through town and we mowed down every single tree from there to the end of the divided road….when I went back by a few days later, I recall seeing all the broken trees and thinking “Gee, I hope the City doesn’t find out it was ME who led the way for those two vehicles to take ‘em all out”, thinking they’d probably want to send me the bill or something!
I finally made it to the fire station and I remember thinking how relieved I was to have made it through town to the relative safety of that higher elevation, in that parking lot. I remember that the truck flashed its lights and honked its horns as it continued on down the road in that direction, as a way of maybe saying thanks for having given that driver the idea to drive through town on the medians, elevated just enough to make it through the worst part of the flooded main road to higher ground.
When I opened the car door to get out, I recall looking into the back seat and seeing a bit of water in the floor boards, seepage from the closed doors (It was a 4-door car). Later, when I measured the height of the hood and remembered the water rolling up over it, I concluded that I probably drove through water that was in some places 3 to 4 feet deep. My father was amazed that I managed to salvage that one car, but I think he was the one who asked me why I didn’t think to park the other two cars up at the nursing home. It was one of those moments when you just had to look at your family member and say “Who knows? I’m just glad I got out when I did.”
Rescue Assignment, Imperial Estates I:
I do not remember much after I got to the Fire Station, until I was on station out in the neighborhood where I was assigned, but I remember that the reason I was assigned to go out to Imperial Estates I and help pull people out of their houses as the calls came in was because everyone in the FD knew I lived just across the creek, and so many of the families on that side of the creek were those my parents socialized with and that Dad worked at NASA with – Bill Tindall, Warren North, Christopher Kraft, Deke Slayton, and so on.
So, equipped with a Fire Department handheld Motorola walkie-talkie secured inside a plastic bag (I think it was a ZipLoc, if they existed back then), and a bright flashlight, both with fresh batteries, I somehow was conveyed back through town, down 2351 and finally by boat, to that part of the neighborhood, there on Imperial Drive.
Having had so much trouble getting through town to get to the fire station in the first place, I really cannot remember how I got back to Imperial I, because the water was still deep. Maybe it was on a fire truck, and somehow either the FD had arranged for a resident on that street to let us coordinate recues with their boat, or we took some kind of boat with us and they dropped us off to get people out while they arranged for other boats to ferry people from one creek’s edge to another, to get people to an emergency shelter that was going to open up at Westwood Elementary, on 2351 the other side of 518 away from Imperial Estates.
What I do recall is that I was dressed in my full FD bunker gear – heavy coat, helmet, the boots and some gloves – and I was walking house to house down what I could only surmise was the middle of the street, to then lead the boat as close as I could to any house where, once I banged on the door and hollered “Fire Department, here to get you into a boat”, people would acknowledge. Or, in some cases the Dispatchers had radioed an address and they were organizing the calls in order on the map, one house after another.
I remember as I left one unoccupied house and headed toward the next, in the back part of that subdivision, there was a vacant lot between the two houses and I, in all my gear, boat still behind me taking other people out before it came back for my next “find” or assignment, started to float away in the current. I found myself being dragged toward the back of the lot, off the street, into ever deeper water but fortunately, as I was just beginning to swim back the other direction with my radio elevated in one hand and the flashlight elevated in the other so neither would get submerged, I was able to grab onto the angled guy wire of a telephone pole and hang on for a moment until I could regain control of myself, my feet finally coming to rest on muddy ground beneath me.
I then pushed my way across the yard toward the front door of the house, where I could see light inside, and when I got to the door it got nearly neck deep at the front of the porch, so I remember stepping sideways and over a railing I could still see sticking out, to a front window where I started banging on the window and yelling loudly “Fire Department”.
As I recall, suddenly a man appeared at the window and I asked “How many people do you have, and where are you?” He said they had several families, including a couple elderly folks and an infant, up in the attic, a total of 13 people.
Come to think of it, I think maybe the rescue boat captain also had an FD radio because I remember radioing back, either to the boat or maybe to the fire station, that I was going to pick up 13 people and get them out of this one house.
I had the man open the window so I could get inside and assess the escape situation, and as I went into what apparently was their living room a refrigerator from the kitchen sort of floated by and I had to push it out of the way to keep it from running over me.
I looked down a hallway and saw the attic door extended into the swirling, filthy water and I remember climbing partway up the ladder in all that soaked, heavy gear to shine the light around. There indeed were a lot of people and so I just started pointing, telling the adults to grab the kids and to follow me.
One lady, as I recall, was petrified of getting into the water inside the house and I had to stop and show her that I was standing safely in it, and that the boat was coming back and we could get them out right then, but that would be the only chance of escape they had. I assured her she would be safe once she was in the boat because there were people lined up all along the way to get them from the back of that flooded neighborhood to the shelter at the elementary school. I remember sort of taking her by the hands and leading her to that open window on the porch, and as she stepped on the window sill to get out, I cautioned her that the water was deeper outside but as the boat was right there, everyone would be able to just grab her and hoist her up into the craft to get her out.
As I recall it took 2 or 3 trips back up to 2351 to get those families out, and I can still remember the adult – I would assume the father – of the baby carrying it above his head, laying flat, to insure the little one didn’t touch any of the water, and they handed it off several times to get that baby, bone dry until they all had to get out in the rain, into the boat and to safety.
That one house for some reason has stuck in my mind and I don’t remember much else, until I got around to the other side of the neighborhood right beside Mary’s Crossing, which of course led to my side, and Imperial Estates II.
It was across from the Beatty house where I remember being in the boat and somehow figuring out or being told that there were those at that address wanting to get out, so we made our way behind the house and managed to avoid the power lines which ran from the pole to the house, to park the boat alongside the roof that comprised the lowest level of the second floor of the two-story house, next to a window. I remember Mrs. Beatty crawling out onto the roof to be helped down into the boat, and if memory serves I even think I identified myself by saying “Mrs. Beatty, it’s David Bilodeau” and because she knew me and saw me in my FD gear, that maybe seemed to calm her down a bit and she and the rest of the family all were able to get into the boat and be taken back to 2351 to be ferried to the shelter.
Not real sure of that sequence, but it does seem to come back to me like that, and this was another rescue from back there which has stuck in my head, probably because I remember helping the driver of the boat steer clear of all the overhead lines which, by that time – the wee hours of Thursday – were just barely above the water at the level of the top of the first story of many of those two-story homes, so if we had accidentally crossed them we’d have wound up ripping them loose from the house and setting off who knows what sort of chaos, danger, death due to electrocution when the ends of the live wires touched the metal boat or a person.
All of this, we in the Fire Department were absolutely making up on the fly because I do not believe any of us had ever really trained for that kind of massive rescue operation, but because we did train for emergencies, it does seem to me now, that what to do just sort of came naturally and we all were very quickly united to a common task, that of pulling out as many people as called for help or that we could find and convince that they needed to come with us while we were there, because “we would not be coming back once the water receded”.
We did miss, back in the back of Imperial I, an elderly gentleman who, we found out the next day, lived there either alone, or who – like me – was home alone at the time, and so while I was off working other things, some other members of the FD went to that house, located the man in the attic and, because the water was 10 to 13 feet deep, they took a big circular gas-powered saw and cut a hole in the guy’s roof to bring him out to safety. Seems that I recall the homeowner wasn’t real happy with the big hole in the roof, but by then the house was a total wreck so I would guess that the insurance company didn’t really care too much.
Friday, July 27, 1979:
The daytime hours on Thursday, I have absolutely no recollection of. What I remember is that I stayed down there in Imperial Estates until the morning of Friday the 27th, because there wasn’t any place else to go nor anything to do except keep working as ordered, getting people out. I really don’t remember working much in the daylight hours that Thursday. I don’t remember eating or drinking anything, but I do know one thing: No one slept. No one in the Fire Department stopped to sleep. We started Wednesday night and we worked straight through without rest. How we did that, I do not remember.
What I recall, when my memory picks up next, is that sometime early Friday morning I realized, or was told or had it confirmed, that we had canvassed all of the homes in Imperial I and that it was time to move to another neighborhood or to try and get back to the station. I don’t exactly recall making that decision myself, though I recall at some point realizing that the battery in my FD radio was dead and so I was no longer able to communicate with the station.
Also, what I recall is that I, myself, was ferried in my bunker gear from one creek’s edge to another in boats that sort of ‘sprang up’ along the way, on 2351, to the point that I finally made it to dry land right there at the corner of Pecan and 2351, near the intersection of 518 and 2351. What’s even stranger to me now, thinking back on it, is that some sort of shop – a flower shop, I think, on that Friday was open and had a working telephone, so I asked if I could borrow it to call my parents in Minnesota. As I recall, I had to place a “3rd-party billing” call to have the long distance call billed to my parents’ home phone.
I called, got through, and remember just as I was seeing an image of “Friendswood, Texas” on the morning national news broadcast, live, that Mom and Dad had awakened that Friday to flip on the TV on that same network (NBC, I think – the Today Show) – just in time to see the same image of Friendswood that I was seeing.
We chatted a bit and then, as I hung up the phone, I promised them I was being careful (I didn’t tell them anything at that point about what I had been doing for 2 days, but they hadn’t heard from me after Wednesday night until that Friday and were a bit panicked), and that I would go by and check on Grandmother H on my way back to the house to see what the damage was.
So I left that shop and the relative safety of that intersection and headed back up 2351 a short block, turning down Pecan Drive and then left at the next block on East Heritage, passing the Baptist Church and getting down to the 90-degree right turn that became Quaker Drive, right there where the nursing home was and in front of the only home at the time, anyway, which was built with a basement…one which, I learned later, was submerged. It was the Woodwards’ house – parents of Fred Camp’s wife (Fred ran H&H Music for the Hackneys*) who built and lived in that home and I recall having watched it under construction, basement and all, in wonderment that it had such a thing that one hardly ever found near the gulf coast.
It was at that point that I realized, as I looked at the elevated, angled parking spaces in front of the front door of the nursing home, which faced Quaker Drive, that the spaces there were high and dry and that there had been no flood damage to any car parked along that side of the facility. So, I went in and quickly checked on my grandmother and, finding her in good spirits and having had a meal and with the power still on for them to watch TV and all, I headed up the street on Shadowbend, wading into deeper and deeper water as I approached our home, on the left side of the street toward Mary’s Creek, and I could see the other two cars partly submerged there at the end of the driveway.
I remember unlocking the driveway door where we always came in, and having trouble pushing the door open because the water was 3 to 4 feet deep at that point, and the door seemed like it weighed a ton.
I didn’t touch the power to the house, and while I still had my flashlight with me, by that time – probably 9 AM that Friday morning if I recall – it was light enough without the flashlight or lights in the house, that I could see anyway. I remember looking at the submerged mess of laundry appliances right there in the utility room, and as I pushed deeper into the house I saw more and more destruction. I remember at one point leaning against a wall and just starting to cry out loud, and then I suddenly realized that no one was around to hear that anyway, and now I had lots more to do, so why not shut up and just get on with it.
I went through the house with my fire boots pulled up so my feet, legs and clothing wouldn’t get contaminated any further with creek water, but at the time I didn’t realize also that raw sewage was backing up through the pipes into the houses, making the contamination dangerous. At one point I got back into the apartment on the back of the house and, having forgotten to close the door from that small hallway into our den, I found that a heavy glass decorative jar with lid, filled with matches (probably Waterford crystal), had floated from the living room at the front of the house, through the den, past the fireplace, through that small door, down that narrow, short hallway and to the very back of the apartment, settling there in the water in the kitchenette, all the way at the back of the room, intact. The matches were high and dry.
In my parents’ room I had put a door I took off the hinges across their two night stands to make a sort of platform for two antique chairs that had been in the family for a long time, and the whole assembly – two chairs standing upright on the horizontal door, and the night stands – were just sort of hovering there in the middle of the room next to the saturated mattress.
I had to do something when I lifted the first chair off that “table” to put it on top of the dresser in the corner, to keep the thing from tipping over and dumping the other chair into the water. I do not remember what I did to prevent that, but to this day those two chairs are a proud part of my own personal family collection and, as space permits, they always have a place of honor in our home although we discourage anyone from sitting in them (except me – one is a rocking chair and I do sometimes sit in it, but the other, much older chair that’s actually an heirloom, nobody sits in both because it is not very comfortable, and because the crocheted cover on it was done by my great great Aunt Gusta in the 1920s, so we want to keep it intact and prevent any undue wear and tear….except the front fringe that my own family’s first puppy dog we got our daughter when she was little, chewed it apart.
All that to save a 250-year-old chair from that flood and a decade later a dog chewed off the front fringe. Go figure.
So, after I completed the assessment of the house, I picked up the telephone on the counter between the den and the kitchen and, getting a dial tone, I again called my parents in Brainerd, MN. This time, I described the house as detailed as I could and at that point I recall asking them when they were coming home. My father said their return flight was scheduled for the following Wednesday, and I said “no good – come home immediately on the next flight you can get”, and when he balked at changing the tickets, I got my mother on the phone and basically demanded that they be home by Sunday at the latest.
“But where will we stay?” I recall her asking, and I said “I don’t care if we have to stay with Paul and Jan in Galveston…they don’t have [didn’t have at the time] any kids, so that’s what we’ll do until we figure it out. Just GET HERE.”
As an aside, the story will pick up on Sunday, July 29, with their arrival back home in our still-functioning Buick, from the airport…Mother prevailed over Dad and home they came, having to wait one extra day for flood waters to recede and flights to resume.
I left the house and started walking back up the road toward 518. I remember walking along – lumbering along in all the heavy, still somewhat wet, fire gear, and wondering how I was going to get the several miles through town to the fire station.
Somehow, when I got up to 518, either I saw an FD vehicle and flagged them down, or I hitched a ride with someone – maybe even a policeman in a patrol car – who saw me in my FD gear and asked if I needed a ride.
I did, and by about 10 AM that Friday I got back to the fire station, where I was greeted with a very large group of people, most of them grouped around the dispatch office and radio, where the fire station had become a second command post for the city, coordinating all rescue operations from there and, in an unusual move, answering all the emergency calls to the fire/ambulance # in town (482-7211 – predates 911 service). Usually the police dispatchers at city hall answered our fire phone even though we could hear it over a phone company-provided (and expensive) loudspeaker with a buzzer that buzzed and opened up so we could hear the incoming calls, if we happened to be down there when a call came in.
At some point, either Letha Camp or Robbie Williams, or both, went into their “motherly” mode and, knowing that I was just getting back to the station from Wednesday night, they asked me if I wanted to sleep. I don’t think I had still eaten anything, but we must have had water to drink or we’d have been so terribly thirsty and I don’t remember being thirsty, but I was absolutely dead on my feet.
Someone decided I should immediately lay down and rest, and they all knew my home had flooded, and also that I was one of the few FD members who also was a victim of the flood, so they pulled a mattress out of the bunks just behind the dispatch room, around the corner and down the hall in the fire station library – yes, there are a lot of books at a fire station for study of emergency procedures, laws & regulations, and such – and there I laid down my head on that mattress on that floor in that darkened room, at which point, after which seemed like just an instant, I awoke with a start….
I stumbled up and onto my feet, turned on the light, got my bearings (for a few moments I recall not knowing where I was nor what day it was) and went back down the now-quieter hall to the dispatch room, only to encounter a completely different group of people than I thought I had just left.
Problem was, it was 8 hours later, 6 PM at night, and I had fallen asleep instantly and had not stirred for 8 solid hours of complete rest. I was told later they kept peeking in on me throughout the day to be sure I was ok, and once I finally woke up and got back to the dispatch room, someone at some point mercifully decided for me that I was hungry and made me a plate of food that some company had brought down to the station in gratitude for all our efforts over the last couple of days. I vaguely recall sitting there mostly quiet, not talking, just eating, staring out the window and thinking about what had just happened to my beloved home town and my boyhood home, now devastated by the worst flood, a 100 year flood, in its young history (founded in 1895, there just had not been a flood that bad even including the terrible 1900 storm that hit Galveston and killed 6000 people). That was a different issue back then and it was a different time now, with subsidence from excessive use of sub-surface water taking its toll and causing the land to slowly sink to the point it was more flood prone as time passed, to the point today that the homes which once existed back there in Imperial I and also along the lower elevations of Imperial II, right up to my own home, it being the last one standing along nearly that whole side of the street, are all gone now, rebuilding prohibited by the U.S. Government. They won’t issue flood insurance in that flood plain anymore.
I don’t remember doing much that Friday night except maybe helping out around the station, and I think I slept there that night, but then the next day came and by then, massive relief help had started to arrive and so finally the rather worn and ragged volunteers of the FD started to see the welcome sight of National Guard troops and their high-up vehicles – the name of which escapes me…Deuce and a Half, I believe as it suddenly comes back to me – that could get through flood water a few feet deep without so much as a drop getting on the personnel secured up inside the back of the truck.
Saturday, July 28, 1979:
At some point on Saturday morning, it was decided that I should be assigned to a crew to go out and continue helping people get out of their flooded homes. I do not remember much of the day – mostly a blur – but I recall getting on a deuce-and-a-half with National Guard and going to some neighborhood in town – which, I do not recall – and getting people into the truck and taking them to one of the shelters.
I also recall getting an ambulance run for a lady in labor. The roads into Friendswood were still flooded and so we had to call the Houston area air ambulance, Life Flight, and have her air-lifted to Clear Lake Hospital to deliver her baby.
At some point I came back down to the Fire Station and managed to land a spot in the dispatch room answering the emergency fire phone. This was in the days before 911 service was available, so there was a local (in Friendswood) number residents would call for Fire & Ambulance, and a different number for police. As it was the days before 10-digit dialing, residents would dial 482-7211 if they needed the FD.
Friendswood had only recently gotten its digital telephone switch, the computerized version of old mechanical switches that used to use banks of relays to complete calls, and as such new features like Call Waiting had become available.
The reason I mention this is that because the FD emergency number, prior to the digital switch, was considered “special service” by the phone company and I remember when the day came for the digital switchover, Southwestern Bell – part of the AT&T system at the time before the famous anti-trust suit landmark ruling that broke up the AT&T system in 1984 – stationed special trucks around town to insure continuity of emergency calls during the cutover to the new computerized switch.
One thing immediately became clear to us as we tested that FD phone number (482-7211), namely that for the first time this “inbound-only” phone line had a dial tone! It never had one before, and in face if you happened to pick up the phone at the fire station and were holding it in your hand, a caller would simply click on the line and be there – no ring or anything. This happened a few times while I was a member, as I recall, and suddenly on the day of the switch, with the dial tone, we discovered during testing that if you picked up the line and got a dial tone, the line would be….BUSY!
This, of course, was not acceptable and we had to call SW Bell to get them to reprogram the new computer switch to accommodate the special service this number represented. Somehow, they managed to do that and the previous capabilities of simultaneous ring at the PD and FD, plus no dial tone, and also automatic answer, were restored.
But, with the new digital switch, Call Waiting was also available on that line, and in that context then, on this Saturday of the flood, as I answered emergency calls (the PD was so overwhelmed they turned over FD line answer responsibilities to the volunteers), one call after another would come in, often on top of each other, two at a time with Call Waiting beeping in.
So, I’d take a call, write down the information of the location where people needed to be rescued, and then hand that off to someone else to radio out to crews around town.
Once such time, a call came in and it wasn’t an emergency, but some radio station wanting information about what was going on in Friendswood during the flood. I remember telling the caller I didn’t mind answering questions, but if I got a Call Waiting tone, I had to click over to it to take emergency calls and he would just have to wait. He agreed, proceeded to sort of interview me, and sure enough I got quite a few calls that interrupted this process.
Only weeks later did I find out, after my father went back to work at NASA, that the radio station which had called was apparently the largest AM news station in Houston, and all that time without me realizing it they had been interviewing me live on the air! My Dad’s co-workers told him they were all listening to the radio trying to hear more about the flooded towns, and suddenly “David Bilodeau, with the Friendswood Volunteer Fire Department” was on the air answering questions. That’s how they knew I was safe, because they knew my father was on vacation and that he and Mom still had a son living at home.
Anyway, after a time doing that, at some point I decided I needed to leave and try and get to my own house and assess the damage while I waited for my parents to return home. By now I had convinced them to come home on Sunday, which was the first day it was estimated the water would have receded enough that some – at least some – of the flooded roads leading into town would be re-opened.
So, I went to the house and just started looking around at the mess. I don’t really remember when I started it, but by the time my parents got home the next day, I had already pulled out all the carpets and they were sitting in a big pile in the driveway, ready to greet my parents when we pulled up from the airport.
As well, and whether this happened Sunday morning or Saturday afternoon, my brother and sister-in-law came up from Galveston to help clean up the mess.
Sunday, July 29, 1979:
I have to assume, in thinking back, that Paul & Jan probably came up Sunday morning, because as I remember Sunday was indeed the first day that F.M. 2351 re-opened after water on that (the high side) of town receded.
So, they came up to help start cleaning up. That’s probably really when we pulled out the carpets, and by then I had already had a chat with Dad’s air conditioning repairman, who told me not to try and run the air conditioning until the power had been restored for 24 hours, prior to restarting the unit, because otherwise the oil in the compressor would not be pre-heated, and damage could occur.
My brother had a different idea, and so he went to the master switch for the A/C unit, which was oddly positioned behind the hall door near our bathroom. By this time I had turned on all power, including the breakers to the A/C, but I had not – as instructed – turned on the unit itself. Paul decided he was going to, in order to expel the humidity but I objected, and that’s when the fight began.
Jan had to pull us apart, literally. I wasn’t going to let Paul suddenly come in and start making decisions, when I had already checked the facts and had been instructed what to do. He was obstinately going to do what he thought best, and so we had a bit of a meltdown right then and there. I think, actually, that was probably the last physical fight we had.
In the end Jan prevailed upon Paul, that I likely actually knew what I was talking about, and so I ‘got my way’ and we didn’t turn on the A/C until later. I don’t remember if the A/C repairman came out and checked the unit first before we turned it on, or if we turned it on later that day and he came out later to check it, since it had been submerged for several days, but in the end it survived without any ill effects.
That’s more than I can say for the rest of the things in the house. We had about 3 to 3 and ½ feet of water, maybe 4 in some places. Like all the flooded homes, you just had to look at the debris line on the outside of the house to tell how high up the water came.
At some point, before my parents got home that Sunday, my across-the-street neighbors had already given me the photo they took of our house, probably on that Friday, submerged. And, my very kind hosts, the Williams, had a side business engraving plaques and trophies and such, so they made me a little plastic engraved plate which said “Welcome to Wild Willy’s Wet, Whacky Waterhole” – a reference to my previous year at UT/Austin as an RA in Prather Hall dorm name for William “Wild Willy” Prather.
I framed that photo and the plaque and had it hanging in the laundry room on the back of the door, when my parents arrived home. How I did all that before Sunday, I just do not remember. And, somewhere today in a box in my garage, I still have that framed picture.
I remember driving my parents home from the airport. I do not recall meeting the flight, but I think it was in the late afternoon. Probably had left Paul and Jan at the house cleaning (and cooling off after our little disagreement), and the first thing I remember as we drove back into down on 2351 was my parents’ reaction to seeing all the mud that coated everything, and me explaining how high up the water had been.
We had to go down 2351 toward the intersection at 518 and turn on a side street there, because Mary’s Crossing between Imperial I, which had a turn-in off 2351, and Imperial II where we lived, was still impassable.
I remember pulling into the driveway and as Mom & Dad got out of the car, greeted by piles of wet carpet and Paul & Jan, Mom started to cry.
The days and weeks following that flood, Dad found out that his insurance agent at the time had failed to tell him he could have gotten federal flood insurance for nearly any amount, since we did live in a flood plain. Dad had what at the time was the statutory limit, $17,400, of flood insurance. As a result, he had to go down to the SBA (Small Business Administration) who came to town to help with emergency loans, and get a $50,000 low-interest loan to help rebuild the house. He was really angry at the agent for his failure to tell Dad about the change in rules, and as a result, as soon as Dad could, he changed agents and got flood insurance.
We managed to score an apartment down in the Salem Square Apartments (I think Christopher Kraft, had of NASA/JSC at the time, whose house in Imperial I also flooded, was instrumental in getting his NASA management team re-housed by making some calls to apartment owners, because we had been told there were no vacancies in those apartments and the next thing I knew, we were moving into one of the units for the long rebuilding process.
In the end, we tore out the sheet rock from the floor, 4 feet up. As you probably know, sheet rock is usually laid in two horizontal sections, floor-to-4-feet and then from there to the ceiling. The upper layer of wallboard wasn’t wet, so we didn’t have to take it out.
I spent the first few days scrambling to suck water out from beneath the ranch peg wood floor in our den. It was a sunken floor, and I had heard that if you didn’t get the water out, the floor would expand and push the walls of the house, causing further damage. We didn’t have a wet/dry vac so I borrowed one from a neighbor, along with a handheld circular saw (we didn’t have one of those either). Then I proceeded to try and cut one of the 5” wide floor boards in a 25 foot strip from one end of the room to the other. All the furniture, of course, had been removed so the room was empty, but the boards were made of solid oak and I recall having a terrible time making the cut. In fact, I seem to remember having to go buy several replacement blades for the saw to complete the cut.
As soon as I managed to finish cutting the floor and get the board out, sure enough I saw the dirty water which was still under the floor, so I started vacuuming it up, but it just kept coming. Finally I figured out where the low point of the concrete foundation was, and so I just stayed in that one spot, sucking up water until no more would come out.
I recall also borrowing some fans to blow on the floor to help dry it out. When I started, the board I cut out left a 5” slot. When I finished, the slot was only 3” wide, so apparently doing what I did prevented the floor from buckling.
We put in a patch and later carpeted over the wood. To this day, I detest houses with carpeting over wood, because a lot of the wood underneath is ‘vintage’ and is better than having dusty, musty carpet.
I remember the pots & pans in the kitchen. Mom stored them upright, and all of them were therefore full of dirty creek water. Jan (sister-in-law) was tasked to empty the dishes, and because the sewers still were not working, I think she had to cart them out the back door and just dump the water in the yard. Seems to me, she spent hours and hours doing that.
At some point, I remember looking in my brother’s and my shared bathroom. It was a big bathroom with an outer section where there were two full sinks and cabinets for each of us, a cedar closet, and the inner room was the toilet, bath & shower, and towel plus dirty clothes storage cabinets. The entire floor was terrazzo and it was covered in a thin coating of smelly, raw sewage. I believe I got the job of tackling that mess.
Along the way, I had heard or read that electrical outlets should be replaced, so after counting all of them, I went down to try and buy some to begin the process of removing & replacing each and every outlet in the house. Problem was, everyone who sold outlets was sold out, so as I recall I had to wait a few days, having placed an order at the local hardware store for the quantity I needed. Remember, Dad didn’t have adequate insurance so we became a family of do-it-yourselfers for a time.
Once I got the outlets, I went from room to room, killing the circuit breakers, and removing the outlets that were flooded, cleaning the copper wire with steel wool, and replacing them. I was intrigued to notice, and still recall, the green corrosion (think Statue of Liberty green) that was on the wiring and all the fittings made of brass or copper.
At some point, we began to discover certain things that were lost in the flood which were upsetting. The one I remember the most was Mom’s recipe box. It was a small metal box full of index cards and papers in a lower kitchen cabinet, and even though I had saved family photos, my stereo, and lots of other things, none of us thought about her recipe box. It was a devastating loss in one sense, because it had handwritten family recipes that had been in our family for some generations, written by my grandmothers or their mothers. Mom did manage to recover most of the recipes by asking family members to make copies, but I’ve never been completely convinced that a couple of family favorites came back to us the same as they had originally been in Mom’s version, in that little metal box which was a gooey mess by the time we got to it.
Another devastating loss didn’t come to light until we turned our attention to our garage. It was my brother who discovered that all my Mom’s father’s tools, meticulously stored in a special case since the 20s, when he had been a tool-and-die maker, were ruined. These were precision measuring instruments – micrometers for measuring every manner of thing that could be made into a tool or a die, and dozens of them, all very expensive and impossible to replace.
All ruined – totally rusted out. They were not made of stainless steel (I don’t think it existed back then), and they were given to Paul by our grandfather Hitchcock. It was a very sad moment indeed when we all – my Dad, me, my brother – realized there was going to be no way to salvage those tools, and so we had to relegate them to the junk pile. It was as if a connection to our family tree had been severed, and I remember distinctly feeling bad that we also had not remembered those tools in that case, so I could pull them into the attic and save them. It just never occurred to any of us, especially me. They were stored in the garage on the floor under Dad’s workbench.
And then there were the cars. Both my car, a ’67 Ford Falcon and Dad’s car, a Dodge Dart or something, I had left at the end of our driveway as I have noted previously. At some point, we rolled the cars down the driveway to the back of the house, and it was there that I opened my trunk and found all sorts of moldy treasures. By now, anything that was still wet, had begun to mold. There was a Radio Shack “Realistic” brand CB Radio in the trunk, a muddy mess and some mold on it too. I took it apart, washed it with the hose, and put it into the oven at 150 degrees for a time to dry it out. Except for the signal strength meter, which stuck in place, the unit continued to work for many years after that, to my amazement. Later when I went to work for Radio Shack, I sold a lot of our CB radios by telling about the high quality of the equipment, relating a brief version of the flood story and how I salvaged a unit that had been submerged for 2 days in a flood.
Mom got a new car, Dad took Mom’s car, and he got me a red ’79 Chevy Luv pickup truck, as a thanks for all that I did to salvage what I could while they were gone. I drove that truck for a few years until the repair costs exceeded a replacement. Truth be told, it was their first mini-truck, built overseas, and it was a piece of junk.
At some point not too many days after the flood, my Mom’s sister and brother-in-law, Aunt Verabelle and Uncle Wendall, came to town to help. They camped a lot – 6 months out of the year they lived in Phoenix, and 6 months they would drag their small camper around the country to get out of the Phoenix heat. So, they came and stayed in the trailer at the house and helped us clean up. I had a piano that was ruined the flood, and Uncle Wendall wanted some of the cherry wood its cabinet was made from, so I remember helping him bust it apart to get the wood, before we took the inner workings to the junk heap. He was going to use the wood to make a fireplace mantel in his home in Phoenix.
I don’t know if they still live in that same home, but my Aunt and Uncle, both in their 90s as of this writing, still do live out in Phoenix with my cousins, their daughters, and their families. We recently made a new connection through Skype and so from time to time we chat or email.
After a few months we completed the house repairs and gladly moved back into our beloved home, presumably to resume our lives….
In September of that year another flood came and this time, the water lapped at the back of our foundation but did not get into the house, to our great relief.
A young couple over in Imperial I had purchased what had been the Warren North family home, and they had moved in just before the July flood, with their newborn baby. Then, the house flooded again in September, and not long after that, maybe in October, I was at the time teaching two classes of physics in my alma mater, Friendswood High School, having not gotten into medical school like I had tried, when the call came in for a house fire.
It was that same house, and it was ‘blowing and going’, as we would say, by the time we got there. Turns out, an electrical outlet in the garage, into which they had a spare refrigerator plugged, overheated and shorted out, starting a fire that destroyed most of the home. Remember my earlier story about me going through our house and replacing every electrical outlet? Apparently this family didn’t do that, and the resulting fire prompted them to move away, never to return. Two floods and a fire within 3 or 4 months proved too much for the young family, and who could blame them?!
Today, most of the homes that flooded in Imperial I are gone. The Federal Government, a few years ago after yet another flood, decided they would no longer insure through the federal flood insurance program, so most of the area was bought up and turned into sort of a big park. The homes which remain have to be built up on stilts, and so it is rather odd to drive through that neighborhood, like I did a couple years ago after hurricane Ike came through, and see nothing where once there was a thriving neighborhood, bustling with families, neighbors, and many of my friends. Everyone has moved away now, and even on my side of the creek, a lot of the homes that were there that fateful summer in 1979 have been torn down, unable to be insured since they are too low in elevation to qualify.
Our own home is the last one left on that side of the street down towards Mary’s Crossing, between there and another home that is also high enough not to be denied insurance, but it’s probably only a matter of time before they’ll all have to go, with subsidence in that area from excessive ground water removal causing the land to slowly sink in elevation.
It was a wonderful place to grow up, Imperial Estates II in Friendswood Texas, on Shadowbend. We rode bikes, hiked along the creek, ran and played with the dogs not on leashes, met as families in the street every 4th of July to shoot off firecrackers, held bridge club for all the adults at many of the houses which flooded and are gone, and in all enjoyed a quieter, simpler time where a telephone was still a thing of mystery, and the family entertainment was “broadcast TV” that, by 1968, also came in color (we were one of the last families in the neighborhood to get a color TV).
Today when people ask me where I grew up, even though I was born in Dallas and lived in Arlington, Texas at the time, I always answer the question “Friendswood – a little suburb southeast of Houston, where we lived while my Dad worked for NASA”.
It’s surprising to me, even today, how many people know about Friendswood for one reason or another, and as I conclude that story and this, I always like to add my tag line, “Friendswood is a great place to be from.”
David Bilodeau, October 15, 2011
*My thanks to Leslie Phillips, who lived two doors down from me and who, under her married name, works – as I do – for Verizon, up in Boston. We discovered this some time back and she has helped me recall a few details I did not.