The Boy With White Hair:
How Lightning Changed Everything

by David R Mortenson

Illustrations by James Miller

Chapter One

How Andy’s Hair Turned White













     The day had started like any other, with Andy rising before sunup,
dressing quickly in jeans, sneakers and a t-shirt, drinking a quick glass of fresh
milk, taking two of his mother’s fresh, hot biscuits and a couple of pieces of
bacon, and heading for his skiff. The little skiff was beached down on the
bayou and tied off to the dock. He was eager to get another day on the water
before school started again. Like many children who lived in the Southeast
Texas bayou country, Andy had learned to row and pole a skiff and work crab
traps and trot lines with his father not long after he learned to walk.
Andy’s family had lived in bayou country for over a hundred years, and
while they’d never had a lot of money, they had learned how to live pretty well
by using what the land and bayous and the Gulf of Mexico had provided. There
were always fish: redfish, black drum, gafftop catfish, sheepshead, speckled
and sand trout, and occasionally flounder.

     Sometimes there were alligator gar, a large prehistoric looking fish, long and
narrow, with scales that were large and as hard as armor. They had a long
alligator-shaped mouth, and a jaw with two rows of needle-sharp teeth, useful
to catch and hold their prey for dinner.

     Feral hogs were a nuisance–tearing up crops and gardens–but they
provided meat and were plentiful. It was nice to have the fresh pork without
having to keep pigs and feed them. In the fall hunting season, there were
plenty of deer and migrating ducks and geese that wintered in the bayous and
wetlands. A large family garden provided sweet corn, peas, squash, tomatoes,
onions, and much more. One of Andy’s chores was helping to weed the garden
and take care of it. Andy’s family kept several beehives for honey and to
insure the proper pollination of crops and the family’s fruit trees. The Gulf
Coast was warm enough to allow citrus trees like oranges, grapefruit, lemons
and limes to flourish. They also had pecans and wild muscadine grapes and
dewberries. Their fig trees produced one of Andy’s favorite fruits.
Until recently, although the family had been well-fed, cash money had
usually been scarce. Andy’s father had been in the Navy Seabees where he had
learned a number of skills such as operating bulldozers and cranes as well as
learning to be a crane rigger. That knowledge had gotten him a job with the oil
company that was drilling for gas and oil throughout much of Southeast Texas
where the family lived.

     Since they were used to living on very little money, it had been easy for
them to save much of his military pay. When he returned from his military
service and went to work for the oil company, they again saved a good portion
of his wages. The first thing Andy’s father bought was a new pick-up truck to
haul groceries and materials home and to haul extra fish, crabs, and garden
crops to town to sell. To Andy’s delight, the second thing he bought was a new
five horsepower outboard motor for the skiff.

     The outboard motor meant that Andy could pull a small trawl net to
catch shrimp. Several times a week, Andy could catch shrimp, check the crab
traps for blue crabs, and throw the cast net for shad, croakers, and mullet. The
shad and croakers made good fishing bait and, when dried, were good food for
the chickens. His grandfather smoked the bigger mullet to preserve them, and
they made a fine winter meal. After taking what the family could use, the rest
of the shrimp and crabs were taken to the market in town and sold for cash.
Now, Andy had to learn how to mix the right amount of oil with the gas
for the two-cycle engine and how to replace a shear pin if the motor’s propeller
hit something unseen in the water. He also learned how to read the weather.
Reading the changing weather was vital; Chocolate Bayou widened out into
Chocolate Bay, then became part of Galveston West Bay, and then entered the
Gulf of Mexico through San Luis Pass. Storms could come quickly, and while
most were simple rain squalls and wind, some could be quite violent, with
thunder, lightning, and sometimes waterspouts.

     Today, Andy’s crab traps were full, but the shrimp trawl was below
average, and the cast net produced little, even in the best spots. Sometimes
with an incoming tide and a front approaching, the fishing was really good.
With an outgoing tide and weather moving in, though, it was difficult to
predict, and today was one of the less productive days.

     That afternoon, Andy saw the squall line approaching and decided to pull
the trawl net in and head for home and shelter. While the little outboard
motor wasn’t fast, it was much faster than rowing, especially with the wind.
Andy’s little skiff almost made it to the dock at home before the sky opened up
and dropped what seemed like buckets of rain, soaking him from head to foot.
He had just tied the skiff to the dock, had gotten out, and was following the
path headed for the safety of the house when everything went black.
When Andy awoke, he was in bed. Both his mother and father were in
his bedroom along with Dr. Peters, the local doctor. Andy had trouble making
out what everyone was saying; it seemed like there was just too much noise to
hear clearly.

     Finally, his hearing cleared enough for him to hear the doctor say, “You
gave us quite a scare there, son; we were real worried until you woke up just
now. Do you remember what happened?” Andy had a hard time getting his
brain to connect with his voice, so the doctor said, “You took a direct lightning
hit as you were running from the dock to the house. I’m afraid you’re going to
have to get used to a little change or two.”

     Andy’s mother held up her hand mirror, and Andy was shocked to see
that his hair had changed from light brown like his mother’s to pure white.
Andy was also aware that the noise he kept hearing was like nothing he had
ever heard before. When he tried to explain it, both the doctor and his parents
told him they couldn’t hear anything. “Just rest, and in a day or two you’ll feel
just fine,” said Dr. Peters.