Hurricanes, humility and community losses

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 25, 2004

commentary by Jonathan McElvy

There’s a first time for everything, and the next few paragraphs will be the first time I’ve tried a column that didn’t stick to a specific theme.

(Then again, many readers have accused me of never finding a theme in anything I’ve written. And then there are those who think I should stick to the theme of writing about why people don’t like me. Sometimes you win; more times you lose.)

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Our area had too many events – some personal, some universal – to limit this column to any one in particular. Following are some thoughts on a few of them:

Hurricane Humor

Every once in a while, the horrid sense of helplessness comes over us like a 50-foot cedar tree comes over a roof.

On “Storm Thursday,” as Hurricane Ivan spit on West Alabama, I woke up around 7 a.m. and the ceiling fan had long since quit turning. (Power outages tend to do that.)

I live in a house that federal agencies must have once used as headquarters for a national forest. I literally have 25 trees on my lot.

Wait, scratch that. I HAD 25 trees on my lot.

So at 7 a.m. on Storm Thursday, I decided to walk outside and stare Ivan straight in the eye. Part of me wanted to imitate one of those loons on the Weather Channel. (“As you can see, Bob, a 79-foot tidal wave is about to crash on my head. This storm is really incredible. It’s going to wreak havoc on the entire world. It’s…”) That’s when the screen turns to snow and, on another channel, a Fox News correspondent reports on the Weather Channel correspondent who was found hanging from a cedar tree. In my back yard.

Again, we digress.

After taking a step outside – into 70-mph winds – I walked around the house to see what damage had already been done. Instead, I had the wonderful opportunity to see the damage that was about to be done.

In much the same fashion that a teenage boy watches a pimple grow, I watched the roots of a 50-foot cedar tree burst from the ground – directly toward my front door. For a moment, I considered the ludicrous option of trying to hold the tree up, but I realized I’d get a bunch of sap on my arms, and I sure didn’t want to spend the next hour in a shower (cold shower, by the way) washing sap from my fingers.

So I watched. Gracefully, the tree tumbled to my roof. Madly, I laughed and got in my car.

For the next few days, I considered leaving the tree on my house forever. For starters, every person who drove by my house slowed down and developed an awkward look of sympathy. (You can’t beat sympathy.) Next, I figure a good cedar tree on the roof is just another layer of insulation. With winter fast approaching, what’s it gonna hurt? Right?

A friend, Rob Pearson, and his dad, T.E. Pearson, showed up earlier this week to help remove my insulation. (Kind of presumptuous, if you ask me.)

Anyway, I couldn’t help – somewhere in the midst of the rubbish – but find a small sense of humor in the middle of the storm. I also found a lot of good in people. The Pearsons – of whom I’d consider the salt of the earth kind of folks – took a Wednesday evening to climb my roof and saw away the cedar. The Tuckers, just across the street, wouldn’t leave my yard until the last limb made it to the curb. And the Bedsoles, next door, made sure I knew their help was available.

The best in our community has come out over the past week, and there’s nothing more comforting than to know neighbors will help each other during tough times.

What a loss

I didn’t know Dr. Reese Holifield. I kind of wish I had.

For the past few days, many in the Demopolis community have mourned the loss of a doctor who obviously didn’t mind coming out from behind his surgical mask.

To the family and friends of Dr. Holifield, I offer my condolences. More importantly, I hope those close to him understand the impact Dr. Holifield had on so many people.

The greatest legacy a man can leave is one that never stops spreading. Even in death, Dr. Holifield has made an impact on the lives of many, and that sort of impact doesn’t come from an empty life.

Last week, I helped bury my grandmother. This week, as family members bury Dr. Holifield, I hope they find peace in the lasting footprint he left on our community.

A different loss

Austin Caldwell will serve Demopolis as mayor for one last week. On Friday, the last of the memories and golf scenes will be removed from the walls of City Hall.

Like so many others in Demopolis, I wish there was a better word than “thanks” we could offer to Mayor Caldwell. Instead, we’ll have to figure out a way, over the next seven days, to express our gratitude to a man who virtually volunteered the bright sunset of his life to every person in this city.

Here’s what’s best about Mayor Caldwell, though. Over these next seven days, a lot of people will stop by City Hall to offer their thanks. Many, I hope, attend the function scheduled at the Civic Center at 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

For every handshake and piece of gratitude, Mayor Caldwell will bow his head and visually display his embarrassment at the entire charade. The reason, I believe, is because Mayor Caldwell never considered himself anything more than just another faithful citizen to Demopolis.

Folks, that’s called humility. A man cannot be called anything better.