I never expected Mary to answer.
I had dialed her cellphone after trying her home land line without success. There hadn’t been any answer for a couple of days, and I didn’t really expect any now, but I kept trying nevertheless.
The storm had rendered her area a disaster, with Gov. Roy Cooper calling for a state of emergency in order to ensure they would receive federal aid when it was over. Mary, my college roommate and friend throughout more decades than either of us cares to remember, lives in Wilmington, N.C., precisely where Hurricane Florence first made landfall. The meteorologists on TV actually called Wilmington the “bull’s-eye of the hurricane,” so I was more than concerned.
When we knew the coming storm was a certainty I called Mary a few days prior to it, and true to her nature she had decided not to evacuate and was on her way out for the most important of supplies … those handy little boxes of wine. She’s lived on the Carolina coast long enough to know what she would be dealing with, so she threw in some cases of water and a whole bunch of batteries, but it was those boxes of wine that topped her list.
The hurricane did indeed hit Wilmington with a vengeance a full day ahead of the predictions, but Mary was ready. She had her 18-year-old grandson, Alex, with her; he had boarded up all the windows and battened down all the hatches, while she opened the precious boxes of wine. When she picked up my call Saturday evening, the high winds had subsided, and Alex was starting to take the boards down. It was still a terrible situation in Wilmington, with rain expected to fall for the next two weeks and the city virtually at a standstill; yet the extent of Mary’s damage was only a couple of uprooted trees, a very soggy lawn, and shingles from neighboring homes all over her property. But that was it … Mary was one of the lucky ones.
They ventured to the front door, and Alex began to walk throughout the neighborhood to see if anyone needed assistance. “It’s what we do,” Mary said. Then she told me a story of having met a young woman shortly after the 9/11 tragedy. The girl was a student from Bali who was spending time in the United States going to school. “She just couldn’t understand all the people who were coming together in the aftermath, doing whatever they could for complete strangers,” Mary said. “So I told her: ‘This is America, and this is what we do. We come together. We help each other.’”
I thought about that long and hard, and how true it is. I thought about Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Bob, automobile accidents where people are trapped and then extricated by passers-by, local fires, floods, the elderly needing a lawn mowed or a board hammered; children who are given toys at the holidays; our local food pantries and food drives. I smiled when I thought of the pasta dinners that are hastily thrown together for families who have experienced a tragedy; the fundraisers in memory of Chariho’s Maddie Potts; the giant community outpouring of love and warmth when it seemed everyone became D-Strong. And I thought about this coming November when the Lions Club and Rotary Club will join forces once again for yet another pasta dinner to benefit those who are in great need of heating assistance in our shared communities. There are so many more I can’t remember and don’t have the room to note here: mission trips from our local churches, walks, dinner auctions, raffles, or just someone showing up with a few cans of food, a hammer, and a smile.
Mary was right to tell that girl from Bali, “This is what we do here.” This is just one of the many ways that make ours a nation unequaled, and the greater Westerly-Stonington area a very special place to live and work and bring up children.
While I certainly wish there would be no more hurricanes, floods, accidents, children dying, hunger, or other difficulties, I know that they are all a part of living on this planet; and they will occur again and again. But I also know we’ll be there to pitch in and make things right again.
It’s what we do.
Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 17 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. Reach her at email@example.com or 401-539-7762.