My rating: 3 of 5 stars
"Hide from the wind, run from the water," is a mantra that is well-known to Gulf Coast residents. It is something that we hear every hurricane season when there is a storm stirring in the Gulf and headed our way. The wind can create chaos and damage, but the water will kill you. And water pushed by the wind is more deadly still.
Unfortunately for the residents of Galveston, Texas, on September 8, 1900, when the killer hurricane smashed into their island, there was no place left to hide, no place to run, because the island had already been effectively cut off from the rest of the world. Through that long, horror-filled night, all the residents of Galveston could do was to try to stay alive and wait for the storm to pass. We'll never know for sure how many of them didn't make it. Estimates of casualties range from 8,000 to 12,000. Thousands were washed out to sea and never seen again; many, many more were buried under piles of debris, some of them never found.
This terrible tragedy is at the center of Susan Wittig-Albert's book, Widow's Tears. The story goes back and forth between that awful day in history and the present. The two points in time are linked together by a ghost story.
The sad ghost here is a survivor of the Galveston storm, a woman who lost everyone she loved - her husband, her five children, her two beloved servants - in that storm. She later built a replica of her Galveston home near the little Central Texas community of Round Top, where she lived with her companion for the rest of her very long life. She lived into her 90s and never stopped grieving for all she had lost. Even after death, she still grieves.
The story that Wittig-Albert gives us is that a friend of Ruby Wilcox has recently inherited this house of tragedy and she wants to turn it into a bed-and-breakfast, but the supernatural happenings in the house give her pause. Since Ruby, the purveyor of a New Age shop in Pecan Springs, is psychic, her friend hopes that she may be able to reason with the ghost and she asks her to come and help her.
Frankly, I found the ghost story to be the weakest part of this novel. It didn't really grab my attention or interest. What I did find fascinating were the chapters that took place in Galveston on that fatal day in 1900. I'd always heard a lot about that storm; it's a tale that gets quite a bit of play here just about every year during hurricane season, but I had never really read that much about it. Reading it really brought it all home to me, more so because I was reading it during a time when we were living through a major storm with torrential rains this week.
It was very interesting to read about the arrogance of the weather forecasters of the day who kept assuring the residents right up until they went under water that such a storm would never hit Galveston. That combined with the architectural style that was so popular in the town and that was highly unsuitable for withstanding storms and the lack of foresight and planning on the part of the city's leaders essentially doomed the island city and its residents. Reading about it just made me doubly thankful for modern technology and well-trained meteorologists who typically give us several days warning when a storm is on the way.
Wittig-Albert starts each of her chapters with information about a particular herb and its uses and then ties that in with the happenings she relates in the chapter. It's one of my favorite parts of these books. I find the herbal lore engrossing.
So, to sum up: Galveston storm story - fascinating; herbal lore - engrossing; ghost story - meh. But, on the whole, it was a fairly interesting read that held my attention.
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