Se non e vero, e ben trovato
Floating to Georgetown
As is obvious from these stories, my Grandfather Cox (Robert L. Cox, Sr., affectionately called “Big Daddy” by his grandchildren) loved to tell stories and I loved to listen to them. While I can’t vouch for the absolute factual truth of all of his tales, I will always insist that any deviations from the literal truth were only to facilitate the flow of the narrative or to sharpen the particular life lesson being taught. However, I have to admit that this sort of “facilitating” and “sharpening” when telling stories is mostly a “guy thing.” I know that when I am telling what I think to be a good story, if I deviate from the literal truth about even the smallest and most inconsequential of details, my wife will often disrupt the whole flow of my tale to correct me. This I think is a “girl thing”, because not only does my wife do it, but my mother did it, and my Grandmother Cox was a particular stickler about such things. In addition to such occasional nitpicking, Grandmother Cox (Winnie Eugenia McWhorter Cox, affectionately called “Nana Cox” by her grandchildren), sometimes outright challenged the veracity of an entire yarn Big Daddy was spinning for his enthralled grandchildren.
Generally such a challenge took the form of, “Oh, Robert, you know that didn’t happen to you! You’re just telling some tale that you heard as a child from your father or grandfather as if it had happened to you.” Big Daddy’s reply would generally be something like, “Well Winnie, you grew up in a town and the towns and cities of North Carolina recovered from Reconstruction much faster than the rural areas did.” While Nana Cox never doubted the basic proposition of this response, she always insisted that rural North Carolina in the late Nineteenth Century was not nearly as backwards as depicted in her husband’s stories.
One of Big Daddy’s stories that always prompted a doubting comment from Nana Cox concerned floating logs down the Waccamaw River for sale in Georgetown, SC.
Big Daddy describes how–during slack periods on the farm--he, his brothers, his father, and other assorted neighbors and relatives cut pine trees all during the year in Green Swamp, through which the Waccamaw flowed. Then in the spring when the river was high, they cut ditches through the swamp to float the downed timber to the river. There, the logs were tied together in rafts, similar to, but much smaller than those so often depicted in films about the North Woods. For shelter during the several day journey down to Georgetown, they build a hut on the log raft. Once in Georgetown, they maneuvered the log raft to a river-side saw mill and sold the logs. Then, most, but not all, of the cash proceeds were used to purchase a few amenities that made rural living a little more bearable and farming a little less backbreaking.
Then our merry band of lumberjacks loaded their treasure on the row boats they had brought with them for the trip back home. Once at the river landing closest to home, the men dispatched the youngest member of their party to bring back a mule and wagon for the final leg of their journey. My grandfather said that before he was old enough to travel with the logs to Georgetown, the excitement of knowing that the men were at the river and would soon be home was almost unbearable. While most of the goods purchased in Georgetown were of an entirely utilitarian nature, there was always a little something special for each of the younger children.
When everything went right, these logs produced a nice income that supplemented what the farm produced and provided some protection against the ups and downs of the agricultural market. But one time, it all went terribly wrong. Georgetown, SC is located where the Pee Dee and Waccamaw Rivers join and empty into Winyah Bay, which in turn connects to the Atlantic Ocean.
Once, our ancestors made the mistake of reaching Georgetown at dusk, just as the tide started to ebb. This mistake would have gone without consequence except that it occurred simultaneously with one of those terribly sudden storms of spring that fall upon you with barely a moment’s notice. The combination of the river current, the falling tide, and the violent storm, swept the raft, Big Daddy, his father, and a couple of other neighbors/relatives out into Winyah Bay. Once in the bay, the lashings holding the log raft together started to unravel. These lashings, while fully adequate for the slow trip down the sleepy Waccamaw, were no match for the big waves in Winyah Bay that had been whipped up by the storm. But fortunately, the waves weren’t big enough to swamp the row boats tied to the disintegrating log raft. So the men abandoned their year’s work, climbed into their boats, and rowed to the safety of shore.
Big Daddy said that they waited until morning hoping that their raft had somehow survived the night and could be salvaged. But it was gone and the logs were dispersed as thoroughly as dandelion seeds by a strong wind. They found a few of their logs and towed them to the saw mill. But the money they received wasn’t even enough to replace what they had left behind in the hut on the log raft. But before they returned home, poorer than when they had departed, Big Daddy said that his father led them all in a prayer of Thanksgiving that their lives had been spared. And once home, they were greeted by wives and children who were equally thankful that no lives had been lost. All of them accepted the loss of a year’s income with an equanimity that is unimaginable those of us in the present day who live paycheck to paycheck. Life was a little harder the next year, but not as hard as those terrible years following the Civil War when many had to start over with nothing.
But Nana Cox never accepted this story as true. She always insisted that if such things had happened, they had occurred long before Big Daddy was born (June 27, 1888) and he was just repeating tales he had been told in childhood. But I always wondered whether Nana Cox actually didn’t believe the story or just didn’t want to have to think about the terror her husband of fifty years had faced as a young man one stormy night on Winyah Bay.