I was last in Rockport, Texas, in August of 2017, about a week before Hurricane Harvey hit. My Mother and I often went down from Victoria “to the Bay,” as we called it, sometimes staying at the Lighthouse Inn for a couple days or sometimes driving farther out to Mustang Island and Padre. As she got older and more frail, however, we began to make only day trips to Rockport, usually in early August, to enjoy a seafood lunch at our favorite restaurant, Charlotte Plummer’s on Fulton Harbor. Afterward, time and temperature permitting, we’d do a little browsing for “coastal treasures” in some of the many shops and galleries that line Rockport’s central business district down Austin Street.
In case you’ve only heard mention of it during hurricane season, Rockport is (or was) a town of about 10,000 people situated along a string of communities collectively called the Coastal Bend that includes Aransas Pass, Port Aransas, Ingleside, and Corpus Christi. The area is smugly referred to as the Texas Riviera. Rockport is known for its long fishing piers, its rich bird life, the historic 19th century Fulton Mansion, the Texas Maritime Museum, and the Rockport Center for the Arts. The Rockport Art Festival, held annually around July 4 since 1970, is one of the largest juried art festivals in the United States. It has not only gained national attention for Rockport, but it has also helped establish the reputations of several important Coastal Bend artists, among them Steve Russell and Robin Hazard.
I was in Rockport for a few days over last weekend. My husband, son, and I stayed in a friend’s lovely, recently-renovated (since Harvey’s destruction) condominium on Copano Bay on the backside of the Gulf. The weather was hot, of course, but the waters were calm, the sky was blue, and the vibe was lively. Boats unloaded at the Paradise Key Rockport Yacht Club boat ramp, (using the word “yacht” loosely). Tourists shopped, fishermen came and went, and the Paradise Key Dockside Bar & Grill was hopping, As it happened, we were there exactly on the two-year anniversary of Harvey’s arrival on August 24, 2017. I hadn’t planned it that way, hadn’t even remembered the exact date, but somehow being there was fitting, and somewhat bittersweet. All the memories of my Mother’s stroke, of her love of the South Texas Gulf, of her evacuation and the hurricane damage to her house, and subsequently of her long, not-quite complete recovery and relocation up here to San Antonio seems forever connected in my mind to Hurricane Harvey. Maybe that’s because the storm brought two of the longest years of my life.
Even now two years later, there is still a lot of damage remaining in Rockport, and in Victoria, and in other Harvey-ravaged areas of the South Texas Gulf. Entire city blocks were blown away by the Category 4 winds. Fences remain blown down and full of debris, trees are still upended by the roots, buildings are laid waste in rumbles of lumber, and businesses are boarded up and maybe closed forever. On our first night, we had dinner at Charlotte Plummer’s in their brand new, light and airy upstairs dining room, because the old space and the outside deck had been blown away. (In spite of heavy damage, Plummer’s was one of the first businesses to reopen to serve the locals a mere two weeks after the storm.)
On Saturday evening, I attended Mass at the one Catholic church still in operation in Rockport and the pastor reported from the pulpit that “Today, finally, FEMA showed up to assess our damage.” He commented that they came, they saw, and they left. The owner of my favorite women’s shop talked about how she was closed for almost a year after Harvey, and is still arguing even now with her insurance company over claims. According to our condo-owner friend, the problem with recovering and rebuilding after such a wholesale disaster is not only funding the restorations, but also finding reputable contractors who can do the work in a timely and reliable way. Judging by the piles of ruble and the abandoned concrete foundations, lots of property owners have just given up and walked away. Estimates are that about 20 percent of the resident population has been displaced.
The town had planned a street festival downtown on the 24th to commemorate Harvey’s second anniversary. The stores and galleries were open with special promotions, and art and craft vendors, stage musicians, and food trucks (with funnel cakes!) spanned the median. It was already wicked hot, over 100° by late morning, and then intermittent rains came which further dampened the turnout, but the joyous mood and the pride of survival endured. People who live in hurricane country are nothing if not resilient, even as they are ever-mindful of disaster.
Having been raised on the Gulf Coast, I guess I am one of those people, both literally and figuratively. It felt good to be down “at the Bay” again, to relive some happy memories, to make peace with some sad ones, and to see signs of rejuvenation, even in myself.
Life goes on, and now we enter hurricane season once again. And Dorian is on its way.