Hillbilly Strong

To say the State of West Virginia has had a rough couple of days would be a massive understatement.

To make a long and extremely depressing story somewhat shorter, suffice it to say we received record rainfall amounts across much of the state, and as a result we had record flooding.

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This is just a glimpse of the widespread destruction and devastation that struck our state.  Over twenty lives have been lost.  Homes were completely wiped out, people have been displaced and are staying in shelters, and everything has been just generally awful in every imaginable way.

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It’s the type of situation that you think only happens in “other” places, to “other” people, but in reality, it happened all around us.  Small communities that we grew up in, that we have vacationed in or simply just driven through on a regular basis have been reduced to so much stinking, muddy, condemned rubble.

We escaped damage, thanks be to God.  Our driveway washed out and there a little water in the low spots of our basement that seeped in through the walls, but that’s it.

But this post isn’t about that.

What I have witnessed over the past few days, besides destruction and loss and devastation, is something I forgot about.  It’s something that is special about this place I live, this place which I catch myself holding in disdain from time to time.  It’s easy to look around, especially in small towns (which is really all WV has), and see all of the stereotypical things that people associate with our state.  As a lifelong resident, I find myself frustrated at times with the small town mentality, the fear of the unknown, and the unwillingness to change.  I lament the poor school systems, and even sometimes wish I could live somewhere else–anywhere else, where the people weren’t so backward and trapped in the past.

And so I forgot.

I forgot that any state is basically just geography, just a place, the boundaries of which were drawn out politically a hundred or so years ago.  The boundaries and shape of a state don’t define its personality any more than a simple snapshot of your face can define your personality.  A state–this state–is defined by the people who live in it.  We, like all humans, have our flaws.  We may be backward and fearful of change.  We may stick obstinately to our small town ways, even in the face of these global times.  Yes, we do have a drug problem here that has arguably reached epidemic status.  We are hicks, and some of us are rednecks, and we may sound funny to you when we speak, and yes, we are hillbillies.

But we are strong.

Like everyone else, along with our faults come an array of qualities that shame the rest of the world.  Over these past few days, I have seen people rally together in a way that I never even knew was possible.  Shelters were set up and donations were pouring in before some people had even been rescued from their homes.  People have taken in complete strangers right into their homes.  We are a poor state, and I know some of the people who have given had little to give, but donations have literally rolled into all of the shelters and staging points.

The National Guard is here, but they can’t keep up with us.

In the midst of this disaster, I am reminded of what this state, at its heart, truly is.  It’s people who take up for each other, and help their neighbor, and give of themselves, even when they have little to give.  The heart of a Mountaineer is as large as the mountains we call home. Some of the people who have been on tv have had some missing teeth, and horrible grammar, and maybe they didn’t really look like the type of person you would associate with a “good” person, but that’s just what they are.  This has reminded me that people are not defined by how they sound or how they look, but rather by their actions.  And the actions of my neighbors over the past few days have served to remind me that it’s okay to be who I am, and it’s okay to be from where I’m from.  It’s okay to be a hillbilly.

In fact, it’s freaking awesome.

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#hillbillystrong

 


 

 

Soggy Bottom Blues (or, Love Thy Neighbor)

Here’s an interesting (not so) scientific fact for you: washing machines do not float.

Now, one would think that washing machines would be a tiny bit more tolerant of water, since, obviously, they use water to wash the clothes.  Sadly, however, they are quite intolerant of being submerged in 3 feet of water.  The dryer didn’t do so well, either.

We got flooded Friday night.

Now, it wasn’t all that bad.  The main part of my house and, more importantly, all of the life forms, all remained perfectly safe, if slightly soggy.  The garage and the basement, well, let’s just say the spiders in the window sill suddenly had an ocean view.  The teeny tiny creek behind our house became a raging inferno of water to rival the Amazon at high tide.  We are in the middle of one of the wettest summers on history, and a few localized areas received almost five inches of rain.

I would like to take a brief digression to make a little public service announcement.  Pay attention to flash flood warnings.  Don’t fool around with it.  Those little creeks aren’t trickling little streams anymore, and people can and do get killed.  Roads wash away.  The pressure of the water built up outside our basement door and blew it right off the hinges.  Blasted the hinges right out of the wooden frame.  Be alert!

Okay, enough of that.

So the water came in and we went out.  My husband was hauling everyone out and I heard some sort of commotion downstairs.  I opened the door at the top of the basement stairs, and I had the very surreal experience of seeing my (full) laundry basket go floating by.  After that we left.

Everyone keeps saying “at least everyone is safe.” And that is absolutely the truth.  But I won’t lie to you.  As we sat at my in-laws, I was doing a mental inventory of what was in my basement.  Of course my washer and dryer were history, and the pool table (also not tolerant of water, in spite of the name.) I had a fridge down there we kept “extra” groceries in.  The real heartbreaker was all of my new kitchen cabinets that were all stained and sealed and waiting to be installed.  Again, I won’t lie.  I cried for my cabinets.

After the water went back down, we had to clean up.  This is where I learned what it really means to “love thy neighbor.” Our friends and family came and helped.  They shoveled mud and cleaned with bleach.  They loaded a dump truck and laid things in the yard to dry.  They cracked jokes and laughed and just generally cheered us up.  Then, Matt’s company donated a load of gravel to replace our washed away driveway.  Then a neighbor came with his tractor and spread out the gravel.  We got a perfectly good washer and dryer at no cost to us, also through the generosity of others.  It was a lesson for me that people are not perfect, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good people.

And once the smoke settled, a lot of things were saved.  The new riding lawn mower, my husband’s baby, was revived.  We saved all of the cabinets but one that was too big to put up on anything.  Sadly, it fell in the water and drown.  The clothes have been gathered and washed.  The dishes just need washed and re-wrapped.

All of this has also made me think about the things that you really lose when something like this happens.  You see these things on tv–fires and floods–and you know it’s a tragedy and you feel just awful for the people.  Monetary value is attached to the things that are lost.  It’s true–washers and dryers and lawn mowers are not cheap.  All of my husband’s power tools are in limbo right now–will they work, or are they dead?  The four-wheeler ran for a while then died.  All of these cost money, and that sucks.

But there is more.

All of the little drawings my kids did when they were small were down there in a plastic tote, which was not waterproof, as it turns out.  One was a big poster of a flower, and my daughter’s tiny hands dipped in paint made the petals.  My son’s grade school report cards, mother’s day cards they made, all of the good stuff.  They have no monetary value, because they are priceless.  All of my high school yearbooks are gone, along with the kid’s favorite books, mostly Dr. Suess.  My Christmas decorations are all destroyed, including the ones the kids made over the years.  My only two pieces of luggage and all of our duffel bags were so full of mud that I just tossed them.  Another sad blow was the tent and the camp bed we always use.  It seems like every day I remember something else that was down there that is gone now.  Just this morning I was thinking I might deep fry some squash–whoops! The deep frier took a deep dive.

So the emotional roller coaster continues, along with the rain.  All in all, I think the only thing to do is keep a positive attitude and just let it all go.  What else is there?  All of the great times we have had camping didn’t happen because we had a cool tent and a camp bed.  They happened because we were all together, and because we love each other.

No flood can wash that away.

 

This was the runoff from the road in front of our house. That’s what washed my driveway away

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This is my washer, may it rest in peace, with a kitchen cabinet on top. (Note: my basement was NOT that messy.  The creek sort of evenly distributed a layer of my stuff all over the basement floor.)

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