It is Saturday morning, and I’m on my slightly-worse-for-the-wear deck. This morning I have my coffee (Peet’s Major Dickason’s Blend), a Food Lion-brand Chocolate Chip Cookie (“dare to dunk differently”) and a view of my side yard. That yard presents a tableau that looks like the Somme Battlefield complete with an uprooted tree and two other trees severed at the 20-foot level. The yard is still covered with debris and my mood resides beneath that debris fluctuating between acceptance, resignation and hope.
I am sitting, coffee in hand, awaiting the arrival of my friends—friends who will come with chain saws, wheel barrows and degenerating spinal vertebras. As I wait my mind jumps from deductibles, to the cost of plywood (for a busted-out window) to the notion that Port Royal will pick up whatever debris we can drag to 9th Street. All of this drama began Wednesday night when my wife, Susan, screamed “Get on the floor!” into my sleep-addled face.
“Get on the floor” was confusing but, given the tenor of her voice, I did what I was told while we listened to a series of explosions as the tops of nearby oak and magnolia trees were removed by a tornado.
My 9th Street neighbors were also reacting to “Tornado Warning” blasting unexpectedly from their cell phones. They were ducking into closets or, in one instance, getting into a bath tub. We would later learn that this particular tornado formed somewhere on Parris Island, came across the Sound, making random stops in the Town of Port Royal.
We were one of those stops.
At some point my wife and I realized there was another sound — the sound of breaking glass in our downstairs library. We arrived to find rain horizontally streaming through a broken window and, about the same moment, a layer of broken glass shards coating our old, Persian carpet. In the midst of these two discoveries Susan decided that we should cover the busted-out window with a 30 gallon-sized garbage bag.
Somehow in the darkness she had found the bag but now there was the question of attaching the bag to the window frame. The choices were duct tape or multi-colored push pins. There was discussion, some disagreement in the midst of the rain and glass, but eventually we settled on push pins.
Early the next morning I toured our battlefield, comparing this damage to that of Matthew and Irma. I also compared tornadoes with hurricanes and decided that there was one good thing about a “tornado event” — it doesn’t last very long.
Maybe fifteen minutes tops.
With a tornado there is never the innocuous announcement — almost a footnote — that a depression has formed-up off West Africa. There is never the inevitable turn to the Weather Channel where we see the Accu-Weather tracks usually bringing the now-named Hurricane to the Southeast Coast. There is never the arrival of Jim Cantore; or any other wind-beaten, slicker-wearing forecaster screaming that this storm is “The size of Rhode Island.”
After my tour of the yard, I had a court-ordered mediation — and so I reluctantly left the devastation for the carpeted comfort and 78 degree temperature of a conference room. While I was there, a man pulled up to our house and told my wife, “I want to clean your yard.”
“Thank you for your concern, your offer, but we will get to this mess as soon as my husband comes home,” she said.
“You don’t understand,” he said. “I really want to do this and I’m going to insist.”
And so while I argued issues of negligence, and notice and duty to customers, this man — a decorated Iraqi War veteran I did not know — began chain-sawing his way through the six-foot high mountain of tree limbs that then rested on our deck. He worked alone for five hours. Then he stopped, cleaned and oiled his chainsaw, and drove away.
I have since learned this man’s name, and will not repeat it in this piece, but I will say it is these spontaneous, freely-given acts of kindness that give me hope in these difficult times.
In a few minutes David Murray, Dean Moss, Wendy Zara, Ken Bodine, Lewis Bruce, Kit Bruce, Kristin Monroe, Joe Morrall, Don Altman and Donna Altman will also arrive with their chainsaws, wheel barrows, Spondylothesis and age-related arthrosis. They will work with me for hours, in 96-degree heat, reminding me (again) why I love this small town.
Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at email@example.com.