Like most people from Calhoun County, FL, my grandpa had a farm that took up quite a chunk of my childhood. My grandpa’s farm was about 50 acres, half of which was covered with timber and the rest divided up into ponds for his hybrid bass and catfish operations. Rumor was that during the highpoint of the hybrid bass business, the Queen of England ate some of his fish, a pretty neat accomplishment for a guy from rural Blountstown. The best part about that farm was that it was right behind our house and just a quick trail ride away. I spent a significant amount of time there growing up. I can remember shooting my first gun, catching my first fish, watching my dad and grandpa catch and clean catfish and probably my favorite thing: fetching tools for them to fix the tractor. All of which happened in the shadow of a great big pole barn.
That pole barn housed tools and random farm equipment and basically anything my grandpa bought. One shelf would house about five hammers and countless old coffee cans full of nails, while the next would have several rusty metal and wooden pipes from our church’s retired pipe organ. Papa has also worked at a hardware store his whole life. He has hundreds of tools and equipment from hardware shows he has gone to over the years. I can even remember when Papa installed a new light inside that was about the size of a UFO. When finally turned on, it would light up the whole barn like a football field. I also can’t tell you how many times my dad and I, and probably (definitely) Papa, have hit our heads on random boards in that barn that were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As of October 11th, 2018, that barn is more. Where it once stood, stands a mountain of tools, pipe organ parts, cans of nails, and other knick-knacks tangled with the frame of wooden poles and sheet metal. Even those five hammers can be accounted for.
The first trip back to the farm with my dad and grandpa was a surreal experience. Realizing that the home of so many childhood memories – a monument to my dad and grandpa’s hard work on the farm – was gone was extremely saddening. Those feelings of sadness and loss were quickly put to bed after seeing my dad and grandpa assess the damage. Both men of little complaint, they drew up a plan of what to do with the barn and all the equipment that had been thrown around. Both my dad and grandpa were extremely fortunate and suffered very little damage to their homes compared with their neighbors throughout Blountstown. Both realized the stuff in the barn could easily be replaced and that the people that mattered, were alive and well and had much to be thankful for.
The memories made in that barn with my dad, grandpa and family will last my whole life. The stuff will be replaced, but those memories will never be replaced, nor extinguished.
Hurricane Micheal, a category 5 hurricane, made landfall three months ago on North Florida. (Officially a cat. 4, but only 2 mph off from a cat. 5 and dealing damage of a cat. 5, therefore we are going to say it was a cat. 5. If you disagree, you clearly haven’t been here.) This storm hit almost every city that was a part of my childhood: Blountstown, Panama City, Mexico Beach, Apalachicola, St. George Island, and Marianna just to name a few. In those towns are people that are near and dear to my heart. Some of those people have lost a little. Some of those people have lost a great deal. And yet, all of those people are thankful. Thankful to be alive. Thankful they are safe and their family is safe. Thankful for the first responders from across the country. Thankful for workers making repairs on their homes. Thankful, dare I say it, for insurance companies and government assistance programs.
Above all, thankful to be safe.
It’s a strange thing to see power trucks, first responders, and the National Guard in your rearview mirror and know that they are headed to where you’re headed: Home. It’s something I hope you never experience, but if you have experienced it you know exactly what those chill bumps feel like. It’s also a strange thing to feel thankful for working traffic lights or for the sound of a Salvation Army food truck driving through your neighborhood handing out meals as you work on repairing house after house.
This storm has brought so much sadness and so much loss. But it has also brought so much love. It’s brought neighbors and communities closer together. Some faith has been shaken and some faith has stood fast. I won’t talk to you about whether or not God let this happen. Instead, let me show you how I’ve seen God work in the aftermath of this catastrophe:
How about our neighbor, an elderly man from Alabama, have someone from his hometown that he has never met show up with a camper loaded up with supplies and tell him it’s his until his house is repaired.
Friends and family, some we haven’t talked to in years, call us out of the blue to check on us and offer assistance.
Linemen from Illinois, California, Ohio, Texas, and many others spending weeks away from their own families so that they can restore power to people who will never get a chance to thank them. While home in Blountstown, I went with my dad to check out our church. In there, he showed me that almost every available room in the church was full of cots for linemen who were staying there and helping restore power. I’ll have you know that those linemen restored power a solid month before it was estimated to return (and that was with 98% of Calhoun County residents being without power after the storm).
The policemen, firefighters, EMT’s and other first responders from across the state and South East coming here to keep us safe and bring us supplies.
We volunteered with our church to deliver meals, only to find neighbors who won’t even begin to complain about their collapsed roof and instead point you to a family in more need.
Seeing a family that lost everything and they immediately ask about you and how you are.
Friends and church groups gathering small armies to fix homes and repair lives.
Volunteers that cook thousands of meals to feed citizens, first responders, linemen, workers, and anyone in need of a hot meal.
A friend, with a brand new Mustang, that shoved a full-size generator into his passenger seat to deliver to his parents.
A puppy, that sometimes was an inconvenience, brought so much love and joy in times that were desperately needed.
And lastly, battery-powered AM/FM radios.
While my dad stayed in Blountstown without power for almost 3 weeks, he never asked for anything. I tried and tried to get him to tell me what he needed: Gas, food, snacks, water, but he had plenty. After almost two weeks, he finally broke and said, “You know, if you could find a small, battery-powered FM radio, that would be great. I’d love to finally be able to listen to something.” That night, my wife and I traveled to 3 stores looking for a small radio but had no luck in finding one. The next morning I left for Blountstown and made one last-ditch effort to find one at the last store I could think of, CVS. I prayed and prayed as I walked in that there would be just some sort of battery-powered radio. The good Lord was listening because there was one radio left. I never thought a small radio would bring me to tears, but never say never, right? My dad was so thankful for that radio. He immediately tuned it to Dr. Shane on 92.5 WPAP so he could listen to updates after the storm.
That radio made me feel like everything is going to be alright. That the only thing we can focus on after so much devastation is by helping our loved ones and building back our homes. Be thankful for your family. Be thankful for your neighbors. Be thankful for what you have. Be thankful for that roof over your head. Be thankful for that family barn. And be thankful for that radio.
There is still much to be done in areas affected by Hurricane Michael. There are still families that are homeless or going from rental to rental while their homes are repaired. There are still houses destroyed and insulation can still be seen on almost every street. But a spirit of fortitude has been revealed in North Floridians over the past few months. And with it, a determination to fix what is broken. Every day, our circumstances get a bit better. I recently saw a Facebook post that said something along the lines of: “When a crisis occurs, you find out who are runners, hiders, or fighters.” I’m glad to say that North Florida is filled with fighters who are determined to pick up the pieces.
Lastly, a hashtag. I’ve always thought hashtags were stupid and cheesy. But of course, this hurricane put things into perspective. A hashtag became a rallying cry that brought people from all walks of life together. It brought people that lost their homes together. It made a community closer. And now it is a hashtag to forever live by.