A gathering Saturday on a dock in Skull Creek was called a celebration of life for a fourth-generation Hilton Head Island waterman.
But it was really a celebration of a vanishing way of life in the Lowcountry.
It's a life that depends on a bare-knuckled grasp of the tides, wind, moon, sandbars, diesel mechanics, net mending, carpentry, salesmanship, two-way radios, radars, and the fickle ways of shrimp, crab, oysters and clams.
The family put an ad in the newspaper inviting all comers to celebrate the life of Cap'n James Benjamin "Butch" Hudson III. His 54 years ended abruptly April 20 in the arms of his son, Joey. He had a heart attack while they were running a boat called Miss Maddie, working the Gulf of Mexico, looking for oil.
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James Ransom Hudson set it all in motion when he moved to Hilton Head in 1880. He had 14 children, a store and three oyster-shucking houses. His son, James Benjamin "Ben" Hudson, ran the oyster factories and a general store that took "Hudson money." He also was the island's magistrate and postmaster.
Ben's son, James Benjamin "Benny" Hudson Jr., ran a fleet of shrimp trawlers and turned one of the oyster factories into the island's longest-running restaurant, Hudson's Seafood House on the Docks, owned since 1975 by Brian and Gloria Carmines.
Benny's son, Butch, captained his first boat at age 12, his wife, Marianne, told me. He was sent out to bring back a sailboat with a captain who had keeled over dead and his hysterical wife who was aboard.
Butch's sister, Terry, said, "He had saltwater running through his veins, and if you looked close, he probably had a set of gills."
His mother, Lola Sullivan, remembered watching from the kitchen window as Butch's father encouraged him to drive a Caterpillar onto a truck when he was no older than 10.
Benny and his second wife, Barbara, later set up a large working dock and retail seafood store in a breezy bend of their beloved Skull Creek.
It was there that the family laid out mountains of boiled shrimp, sausage, corn on the cob and new potatoes for the celebration. Two tables in rooms over water where islanders used to head shrimp by the ton were on this day filled with fried chicken, rice and gumbo, barbecued pork, banana pudding and other delicacies from simple Lowcountry kitchens.
James Benjamin "JB" Hudson IV brought a victory flag. He's the clutch man for a hot-rod racing team based in Charlotte, and a speed-boat racing team. The Red Velvet Mojo Band played "Mustang Sally." Gene Orage tried to sell me the Rip Tide, one of the few shrimp trawlers still working the island's waterways. Phil Propst told about catching a 75-pound black drum while he was perched on the fenders beneath the first bridge to Hilton Head, its swing span tended by his uncle Mose Hudson high above, as the tide and wind pushed a barge right at him.
Old boat captains stood quietly as the Hudson family boarded Jeff Toomer's big blue Reilly Morgan shrimp trawler and eased out into Skull Creek. Like his father's before him, the ashes of Cap'n Butch were spread over the swirling waters that he loved so deeply and knew so well.