“Only the adventurous spirit will see the mountain and believe they can walk to the top.”
~ Deni Fearman
When we drove down highway 172 toward Paintsville, we didn’t stop. We just looked on in silence. But when we came back, we had two places we wanted to stop. The first was the Ramey Branch church that I posted yesterday, and the second was Pennington Trailer Park where mom’s friend, Willa Mae, had lived. I was extremely reluctant to stop anywhere to be honest. When the tornado hit West Liberty I had no hesitation in going through town, camera in hand, snapping to my heart’s content. But that was my home place. It was my story to tell. Flat Gap is not my story, and I didn’t want to be another gawker with a camera capturing so much misfortune and death. Obviously, I favor documentary style photography, but not necessarily in a situation like this. I didn’t want anyone to feel as if I was taking advantage of them. My mother, on the other hand, felt desperate to find Willa Mae’s son. She really wanted to give him her condolences in person, and perhaps share with him stories of their youth. So, we stopped.
As soon as we got out of the truck this young man came to mom from one of only two trailers that remained untouched. I was sure he was going to berate us for being there; interlopers, or God forbid, looters. Instead, he asked if we needed some bottled water. He proceeded to tell mom all about Willa Mae; what a fine neighbor she’d been, her final moments, and showed us exactly where she was found. He talked at length about the folks in the trailer park, people he knew as friends and family, and he gave us detailed descriptions about where things used to sit before the water carried them away. It was he who pointed out the handcuffs still attached to the headboard. “I keep telling all the news people about it, but they ignore me,” he said. “I think it’s funny. Well, the situation ain’t funny – ain’t nothin’ funny about what happened – but this is funny. The Sheriff found a big bag of dildos on down the creek, too.” If you can’t laugh at something like this you might need some professional help. Laughter can carry you through just about anything.
Talking to the young man, whose name I didn’t catch, helped me feel better about being there. Annie Bassoni had gone along with mom and I. At the church, she’d talked to the deacon’s wife, explaining that I had a blog. Annie knew I was uncomfortable, and told me later that the deacon’s wife was thrilled by our presence, and by my camera especially. “Oh, tell everyone,” she said. “We want people to know what’s happened here.” That helped. The kindness we experienced from these people in the throes of complete devastation is a testament to mountain culture; to human endurance, fortitude, and resilience in the worst of circumstances. What a gift these people, and this day, were to me. We never found Willa Mae’s son, but I’m pretty sure he knows she was loved by a whole lot of people.