I remember the flood of 1985. I was nine years old, and my aunt and cousin lived in Marlinton. I remember going there the day after, when the waters had receded.
For all these years, I’ve remembered the refrigerator on its side, the piano shoved into the middle of the floor, and I’ve remembered the mud. I also remember that following that flood, my aunt packed up what was left of her possessions and my cousin and moved to Florida.
Those of us who were around for the ‘85 flood wear that memory like a badge of honor.
“Oh yeah,” we say, sucking air in through our teeth, “I was there.”
• • •
What will we say 30 years from now?
I don’t know.
Maybe we’ll say, “You should have seen it. It was horrifying. First of all, the flooding was unreal. Howard’s Creek just carried everything away in White Sulphur. It was just unbelievable.”
Or, “I grieved for so many people. All the lives lost, the homes destroyed. It was devastating.”
One thing I’ll never forget is the fish (presumably washed downstream from fish hatchery) lying on the track at White Sulphur Spring’s municipal park. Cars shoved up in the air against trees. Sidewalks laying in front yards. Nothing where it was supposed to be.
I’ll never forget Greenbrier County Sheriff Jan Cahill describing how the asphalt in some neighborhoods was “peeled off like a banana.” It was.
Will we say, “and can you imagine the loss?” Oh, I think we’ll all say that.
• • •
Here’s what I hope: that we will remember how the community immediately came together. How the Solak boys saved that lady, almost giving their own lives to do so. How Friday morning Rhema Christian Center became a hub for supplies distribution, and quickly, so many other churches followed suit.
I’ll never forget a friend piping up on Facebook with one simple question, “How can I help?” I’ll never forget that she worked for six days solid doing what she could for our devastated community. So many people just dropped everything, put on some boots, grabbed a shovel and a bottle of bleach and said, just like her, “How can I help?”
In six days, United Way of the Greenbrier Valley raised $180,000 (and oh my gosh they need so much more). I saw trucks from North Carolina, from Kentucky, from Canada, for Pete’s sake, bringing supplies. I saw buggies in WalMart full of bleach, mops and paper towels.
I saw a community come together like I’ve never seen.
That’s what I hope to remember.
• • •
I’ll never forget the sobbing relief that came over me when my mother called me Thursday night from a White Sulphur church shelter and I knew she was alive. I’ll never forget how my daughter wept in my arms, when we didn’t know if her Nana was going to have a home to return to. How she wept for her first baby doll, kept safely in a basket in her Nana’s guest room. “Baby Katie!” she wailed. And then stopped, wild eyed with guilt. “I know,” I said. “It’s going to be okay.”
That’s what I’ll remember.
I am humbled by this storm and its aftermath: the devastation and the coming together.
I hope you are okay, and if you aren’t, I am so, so sorry. I hope for Grace in Greenbrier County. But if this community is any indication, I think it might be here.