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161010 October 10, 2016



Me and Bob and Besty!
(Hurricane Betsy, That Is)
Tommy Towery
LHS '64

With all the news this week about Hurricane Matthew, I could not help but think back at my first personal encounter with a hurricane. The year was 1965 and the place was Gulfport, Mississippi, and I was young and stupid.

People often ask me how I remember so well when things happened in my past. For this event, I had to reply on the music in my life – which is often the keystone of many of my memories. I had been living in Memphis for the year after my graduation, and at the end of the summer of 1965 I had just finished working at the YMCA camp at Pickwick Lake on the Tennessee River. I had about a month until classes started for my sophomore year at Memphis State University so I made a trip back to Huntsville to visit my grandmother who was still living in Lincoln Park. At the time, “Where the Action Is” was one of my favorite TV shows and I remember sitting in her apartment and watching the We Five on the show singing “You Were on My Mind” on the show. So that set the date in my mind of when this happened.

You Were On My Mind

On August 31st 1965, the We Five performed "You Were On My Mind" on the ABC-TV week-day afternoon program 'Where The Action Is".  At the time the song was at #7 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; 19 days later on September 19th it would peak at #3 for one week. This video is from another show, Shindig.

I had graduated from Lee in June of 1964, but my best friend, Bob Walker, had failed Senior English and had to go to summer school to make it up and graduated at the end of the summer session. He moved to Gulfport shortly after that, and I had not seen him since he moved. While I was in Huntsville I called him and he talked me into going to Gulfport and visiting him before I started back to school. I had never made a long distance train trip before with anyone, and expecially never solo , but for some unknown reason I decided to make the trip by train, which later caused a major transportation headache getting home. 

So, I boarded the train in Huntsville, armed with my round-trip ticket to Gulfport and off I went. Of course it was not a straight shot to Gulfport, and I rode the train south through Birmingham and Montgomery and into Mobile, where I changed directions and headed west to my final destination. Bob picked me up at the station and we enjoyed catching up on the events in our lives, not caring about the weather report about a hurricane building strength in the Gulf of Mexico.

Bob and his parents were living in a small house (I mean small)  about five blocks from the beach in Gulfport - not a real safe place to be with a hurricane burrowing its way toward the coast. Though not as memorable as some later hurricanes, Betsy packed quite a punch.

Hurricane Betsy was an intense and destructive tropical hurricane that brought widespread damage to areas of Florida and the central United States Gulf Coast in September of 1965. The storm's erratic nature, coupled with its intensity and minimized preparation time, contributed to making Betsy the first tropical hurricane in the Atlantic basin to accrue at least $1 billion in damage. After emerging into the Gulf of Mexico, the hurricane strengthened and reached its peak intensity, equivalent to that of a Category 4 hurricane, on September 10 before making its final landfall near Grand Isle, Louisiana shortly thereafter. 

        Being born and raised in North Alabama, hurricanes were new to me. I am not even sure I had ever paid attention to any in the news, ever in the 19 years of my life. Bob was from the coast, and he should have known about them, and maybe he did, but he did not respect them.

        We were sitting in their little wooden house, playing cards at their kitchen table as the storm approached. As it got stronger and stronger, we should have “hunkered down” as they say these days, but we did not. Instead, we got the bright idea to walk down to the beach and see what kind of waves were crashing on the shore. And that is what we did.

        Putting on whatever jackets we had, we stepped out the front down and started our trek, with the wind blowing, the tree limbs shaking, and the torrential rain pelting our bare faces. Bob was a smoker at the time and I still remember him taking his cigarette and flicking it James Dean style and it went sailing at least a block away before it disappeared from sight. The power was still on and the street lights were flickering and the red rights were blowing almost horizontal as we walked into the storm.

        When we reached the end of the road and looked onto the beach, the waves were breaking hard enough to cross the two lane road and crash upon the sidewalk where we were. We had planned to be there when the eye came through, but we were not sure when that would occur, so we headed back to Bob’s house.

        It was then when the tree limbs started blowing into the power lines and we started witnessing the fireworks display which occurred because of it. It never dawned upon us that we could be subjected to the falling power lines or the level of risk we were exposing ourselves to. We sped up our travel and quickly returned to the safety of the house, now sitting in darkness.

        The next morning we once again walked to the beach and saw a giant boat which had been displaced from its mooring and deposited on the far side of the two lane road, in a grocery store parking lot. All of the dive bars on the beach were destroyed and bottles and other items littered the sand on the beach and now on the street as well. We hoped to find one of the slot machines which we knew were in some of the bars, but had no luck in our quest.

        What I did not know at the time, is that the tidal surge had also raised the water level so high it had destroyed all the wooden railroad bridges between Gulfport and Mobile, and my transportation back to Huntsville was no longer available. After a few rounds of looking at options, the best choice was for Bob and his brother to drive me to Mobile and me board the train for Huntsville from there – which we did.

        The trip certainly gave me a story for my “what did you do for summer vacation” time, as I got to expand my hurricane encounter tale. My final memory of the remarkable trip was that a few months later I finally received a refund for the part of my ticket from Gulfport to Mobile, which I could not use. It was a check for six dollars, but I do not remember cashing it, and if I did, what I spent the money on.

        Looking back, this is one of those times which proves God looked out for drunks and fools – for we never should have walked down to the beach right in the middle of the hurricane.

Thursday, October 27, 2016
11:00 a.m.
Logan’s Restaurant – fireplace room
Balmoral Drive
Huntsville, AL

        Memphis, TN - Well, it happens to the best of us. While moving my mail from one folder to another, there was a glitch and it all went "poof!" So, Mike, and you others who have sent me some stuff recently, it has all gone away and I am starting with a clean slate for stories and ideas for stories.

        Here's praying all of you who were in the path of Matthew have survived the storm without injury or damage. If you have any storm stories to share let us know.

        Last week John Drummond wrote about watching Shock Theater. I also have some fond memories of doing the same. When I was living on East Clinton I used to walk up the hill to David Sutton's (HHS) house and we would watch Shock Theater and eat popcorn and drink grape Kool-Aid. The fun part of the evening was David's house was on Well's Avenue, right across the street from Maple Hill Cemetery. It was eerie to step outside after the show was over and into the quiet night with the image of the sometimes fog covered tombstones right across the street. David and I were very good friends at the time, and I have great memories of watching those "monster" movies with him.

My brother Don (back), my mother, and me and our TV on East Clinton Street.

The Vintage Television
Tommy Towery
LHS '64


TV Shows of 1958

Here's a bonus from a 1958 TV Show

1958 - The Stroll


From Our Mailbox 


        I did get one email from Spencer Thompson I believe who said he really enjoyed the TV shows videos.




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