Worst Of Storms Can Bring Out The Best In People

Sep 17, 2018

As North Carolina deals with the fallout from Hurricane-turned-Tropical Storm Florence, WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson has his own ideas on how to deal with the storm – and how to treat one another, stormy days or not.

By now you have a good idea what Hurricane Florence has brought our way. I’m having to tape this piece in advance – that’s the way our schedules work sometimes – so you know the details better than I do at the moment. I thought about trying to talk about something else. But when a big storm comes, that’s the only thing on your mind.

Sometimes I think Charlotte can be divided into pre-Hugo people and post-Hugo people. I moved to this area just a couple of months before Hurricane Hugo hit in late September 1989. The storm came about 3 in the morning. I was living in a little duplex in Lancaster, South Carolina. The front door wasn’t quite square in the frame, and every time the wind gusted, the door blew open and soaked the living room. About the third time that happened, I went in the back and got an old Royal typewriter my mom and dad had bought for me when I was 12. I jammed it against the bottom of the door and it held. That’s not the first time that writing saved me.

The bigger problem was the huge old pecan tree next to the house. The wind bent the tree like a fishhook and all night long it hovered over the top of the roof. I kept waiting for it to snap. There wasn’t a thing I could do. The tree bent but somehow it didn’t break. By the time the storm eased off, the sun had come up. I opened the door and stumbled out into the yard and saw my neighbors doing the same. We looked like zombies.

But after that, what I remember is how everybody helped one another. Those of us who got power back pretty fast let other folks stash food in our refrigerators. A guy with a chainsaw came around clearing driveways. Every night for a week, some neighbors behind me had a big cookout for anybody who needed a hot meal. For some reason the Isley Brothers were always on the stereo. To this day, every time I hear the Isley Brothers, I smell grilled chicken.

I’ve covered a bunch of hurricanes since then. At their worst, they can cause damage that never goes away – just ask those New Orleanians who are still dealing, in one way or another, with Hurricane Katrina. But a big storm can also bring out the best in us. It can remind us that we don’t sail through life alone. We’re part of neighborhoods and communities. And one of the unwritten rules of society is that we ought to look out for each other.

If you’re in good shape this morning, and Florence has not hit you too hard, go find somebody to help. Actually, that’s not bad advice anytime. Maybe we can remember that on the calm days as much as the stormy ones.

Tommy Tomlinson’s commentaries appear every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. They represent his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to his commentaries on wfae.org. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.