A billow of smoke rose from the caney shores of Lake Sabine, Friday, where Bailey’s Road ends and a piece of local history succumbed to ash. The remnants of the bait house of the famed Rob Bailey’s Fish Camp are tended by Bill McKinney and a small group of friends.

What Hurricane Rita didn’t take last summer’s surprise Hurricane Humberto did.  McKinney, 23, inherited the position of care-taker and among his jobs are cleaning up the grounds and taking care of his 85-year old grandmother.

McKinney has her quick wit, humor and keen sense of observation. “There goes a Brown Pelican,” he says, “The state bird of Louisiana.” He points into the shallow water where flounder had left their impressions in the mud from the night before.  Like his grandmother, life on the edge of Sabine Lake has molded him. He shuffles through the old boards of the collapsed bait house, rusted memorabilia and anything useful is tossed aside, and the rest goes to the flames.

McKinney believes his grandmother may have suffered a stroke. What he does know for sure is that his grandmother, Sue Bailey, has Leukemia.

“Sometimes she asks me where Rob is and I have to tell her,” McKinney says. “That’s hard, because to her it’s like just hearing that he died all over again. I explain it to her and then she understands.”

Last February, Bailey was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS) a group of diseases that affect the bone marrow and blood. She was given two weeks to live. The family rushed her to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston for a second opinion.
There was a new diagnosis that determined Bailey had Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) a fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Since spring her treatment protocol has been chemotherapy. She returns to M.D. Anderson this week to continue treatment.

McKinney became his grandmother’s caregiver the afternoon she returned to Sabine Lake following treatment last August. Then, on Sept. 13, Hurricane Humberto, a surprise Category 1 upgrade from a tropical storm, slammed Bailey’s lifelong residence with a four foot surge. McKinney says that he watched it come in across the cove from the doorway of the old Rob Bailey Fish Camp store.

The hurricane shoved water and mud two feet deep in the house, while in a back room Sue Bailey lay with her hospital bracelet still on.

McKinney says that it was a long night. By dawn, he and Bailey relations and friends where cleaning up the mess. A frail Sue Bailey wasn’t impressed with Humberto. Not like Hurricane Rita. During Rita she evacuated to her daughter, Madeline Bailey’s home in Bridge City about four miles away. The morning after Humberto, she was sitting up in her bed reading an outdated J.C. Penny catalog while McKinney tried to keep her there.

He was the family’s logical choice to take over the care of his grandmother. She says she wants to be nowhere else but home on Sabine Lake. McKinney provides around the clock care for her and administers her medication. The pair makes good company together in a house that once raised five Bailey children including McKinney’s mother, Madeline. Sue Bailey’s son Henry, a geologist living in League City, provides financial support and visits as frequently as possible.

Today, storm damage to the Rob Bailey Fish Camp store and residence has been repaired.  The store has a “closed” sign in the window. Sue Bailey nature photography post cards are for sale inside.

After 60 years, the popular Sabine Lake boat launch has filled with mud and without dredging is ruined. But in the four months since Hurricane Humberto, McKinney says his grandmother’s condition has greatly improved.

Where memory fails, the trademark wit and wisdom of Sue Bailey prevails. She sits in her usual spot, on a wicker love seat near the window in the front room. The drapes are pulled back with a view of the yard, the old docks and the end of Bailey’s Road. McKinney serves her a piece of cheesecake with coffee.  “Bill is a natural born politician,” she says, in her sly Sue Bailey way.

“She’s really doing good right now. She was real sick,” McKinney says. “She has gained a lot of her weight back. Last night we even went to Dairy Queen.” 

Saturday afternoon, as the embers still smoldered, Sue Bailey read a book by window-light where a Poinsettia had been placed. She is undecided about a Christmas tree and contemplates preparing fruitcakes. One of Sue Bailey’s homemade fruitcakes at Christmas is a special gift indeed. She says she survived malaria twice, once as a child and again as a young adult. She says nothing of Leukemia.

Because of her knowledge of the natural habitat of Sabine Lake and the surrounding wildlife preserve, Sue Bailey, naturalist and photographer, brought much acclaim to the area. She became the first woman warden for the Audubon Society of Texas, a position she held for a decade. She was featured on Texas Country Reporter and was named “Conservationist