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A little bit of normal

By: Jefferson Weaver

Jefferson-WeaverI hope my dad would have been proud.

I braced up the back of the new mailbox with a board that I sort-of mortised with the new chainsaw. I drilled pilot holes for the nails, and managed to get all but one in without a missed stroke and a bent shaft. I had already used the old post to bolster the base of the new one, which came from an old utility right of way sign forgotten by a company long since out of business, but whose choice of a cedar post told of a different time.

True, the mailbox has a little angle, but not an offensive one. I wiped my brow on a sleeve, gathered my tools, and stepped back for a few seconds to critique, if not admire, my handiwork.

We were once again connected with bill collectors, marketing firms, magazines, and the rare, endangered species known as a writer of letters. I’m not sure, honestly, if anyone since Sen. Marion Butler’s days of fighting for rural free delivery was ever so happy to see a mailbox on a two-lane country road.

It was what a fellow I met a few days later called “a little bit of normal.”

He’d lost his home, and almost everything else, in Hurricane Matthew, which also stole my mailbox and caused a lot of mischief at our farm. This fellow, however, had the look I remember from others in similar straits in the days and weeks after Fran, Floyd and Hugo.

He was proud, he was strong, and he was frustrated. The gentleman didn’t want to be in the newspaper, but he was grateful to tears for a hot meal. He had held on after sending his wife and the grandchild they’re raising to a relative’s home away from the storm. He hadn’t had the heart, at that point, to tell her what they’d lost. He wasn’t even sure what was gone, and what was left.

He sipped his coffee – which the Salvation Army does quite well – and sighed.

“It’s like a little bit of normal is back,” he said.

His was but one of thousands of “I” stories we’ll all hear in the coming months and likely, years. Like my buddy Joey Ingram looking for a boat to go home and feed his beloved chickens. Chickens provide a sense of normalcy in even the most tumultuous life – they need feeding, eggs need gathering, pens have to be checked for holes where predators can get in. In the midst of everything else, after Joey had his family safe, he still had to feed the chickens. Life goes on.

We missed church the Sunday after the storm, but when we finally slid sideways into the parking lot at Whites Creek on the next Sunday morning, I felt things were already better. The routine, the normal, the good was trying its best to fight its way above the brown water still surrounding the homes and businesses of some of my less fortunate friends to the east and the west, and as the water was receding, there were signs of a little bit of normal coming back to us.

After services, it was a typical sunshiny Sunday on October. We talked of deer hunting; one of our members asked if I knew anyone who liked pears, and promised to bring me a bushel; we ate too much at our Sunday dinner after church.

Almost normal.

Yet there were still plenty of signs that a little bit of normal had a big pair of shoes to fill.

Everywhere we went, landmark trees were down, sometimes snarled in utility lines, sometimes chainsawed into pieces and rudely thrown beside the road, as emergency workers fought the rain and wind and headed for the next hazard. Lovingly tended, ancient azaleas were piled beside the curb of one home, where they had been smashed by a majestic oak that was likely there before the town grew up around it, more than a century ago. Chainsaws and heavy equipment were background music to an afternoon of heavy sopping boxes of memories into the  impersonal trailer headed for the dump, assuming the tires hold up.

One of our best buddies came to the house, but instead of spending the afternoon shooting targets and playing with critters, she helped us through some of the hardest rooms to clean up. Another buddy had been there doing the same thing the day before; instead of talking politics and faith and history and fun on the front porch, as we usually do, we heaved antique furniture into the driveway as another friend worked to make sure our ditches never again have the chance to betray our home.

As has become normal, I had to remind myself how well off Miss Rhonda and I actually are; the waters were rising in Fair Bluff by then, and my friends George and Laurie didn’t know their restaurant, along with everything else in town, would soon be under four feet of water and in the national spotlight. George talked to me later of how he was restless, waiting for the water to go down so he could try to save what he could from his business.

“I’m having to wait around and do nothing,” he said, “and I can’t do that. It’s not normal.”

There have been a couple times, on arriving home at night, I’ve stretched out on the wavy plywood floor of our home, and taken a quick nap with the dogs. They won’t fit in the camper we’re sleeping in now, and I often wake up in the night trying to find Susie the Dobermuffin, Hope or Wesley curled by my side, or hogging the pillows. I wake up trying to hear old Cleo’s snoring at Rhonda’s feet.

It’s not normal to have a bed to ourselves, so when I can, I take a nap with the dogs.

It’s become normal, if you will, for me to ask folks to help someone else. Our mantra through all this has been that things are going to get better, and other folks have it far worse.  Indeed, George and some of the other folks I’ve talked to are determined that things are going to be even better—in their communities, their homes, their families and their lives.

I hope so – but for the moment, I’m thankful for just every little bit of normal.

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