When bad things happen to good people, there are those who will rally together and provide assistance, who will go out of their way to help others, who will donate their time, money and professional experience to lend a hand, and no matter how hard they work, no matter how much of their time or money they spend, or how aggravating some situations may become, the thing that keeps them going is…
It’s for a good cause.
So, when I found out that two of my high school buddies were helping with a tornado relief effort for the town of West Liberty, Kentucky, I decided to donate my time. This would entail riding down to West Liberty from Germantown, Ohio, helping to unload the truck full of donated items, riding back to Germantown to have a few beers, and call it a day.
Or so I thought.
For the purpose of protecting their identities, I will call my friends Sam and Dave, not because they may be shy about receiving recognition for helping people in need, but because, if I use their names in this blog, they will renounce all association with me.That is not a joke.
I rode down with Dave and we met Sam just outside of West Liberty around noon. Sam has family living there, and he is the one who organized a relief effort in Germantown by asking for donations of bottled water, non-perishable food items, clothing, and everything else you might need when your house is blown away. He also purchased a used 24-foot box truck to collect those donations, which he drove there, followed by his family in a minivan.
Dave and I greeted Sam in typical man fashion, with forceful handshakes and grunts. Sam grunts a little too much, due to a painful back injury he sustained a few years ago. This led him to ask me the following question: “Hey, man. You think you can drive that truck back? My back is killing me.”
Sure. Why not? I agreed without hesitation. Here’s a guy who single handedly organized a relief drive for homeless tornado victims. So, what kind of person would I be to turn down the request of a guy with a bad back and a heart of gold? I looked at the truck and thought, no problem. After all…
It’s for a good cause.
Dave and I followed Sam to the drop-off point at a church in West Liberty. Sam’s truck was filled almost to the top, and Dave and I helped the local volunteers who worked relentlessly to unload all the donations sent by the good people of my hometown. Except for the bags of used clothing. Apparently, this particular location did not accept used clothing.
Enter Sam’s aunt: a sweet, lovable, Kentucky born and raised woman, who reminded me of my dearly departed grandmother, who was also Kentucky born and raised. She told Sam that her church was taking donations, and that they would take anything. Sam looked at me and handed over his truck keys. As soon as the keys touched my hand, Sam said, “Oh, you need to watch the brake.”
“The brake. It’s a little touchy.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll be fine. Just try to avoid hills.”
I don’t know if any of you have ever been to the state of Kentucky, but avoiding hills in that state is like trying to avoid women in tube-tops at Wal-Mart.
I looked at my cell phone and saw that I had just two bars. I decided, while I still had the chance and the reception, to call my two sons back home in Germantown to tell them that my imminent and untimely death by box-truck, while tragic, should only be remembered by one thing...
It’s for a good cause.
Sam’s aunt, or rather, Sam’s uncle with Sam’s aunt in the car, took off out of the parking lot like somebody had told him another tornado was coming. I started the truck and gave chase, forgetting about the brake. I was reminded at the first red light.
If a “touchy” brake meant, that when the brake pedal is applied, the truck careens into the oncoming lane of traffic, Sam was right on the money. The trip to his aunt’s church became a constant battle between me, the steering wheel, and a punch-button AM radio that only picked up Gospel Stations.
On the way to the church, we traveled through the destruction that was West Liberty. It literally looked like a war zone. More on that later.
I followed Sam's uncle at breakneck speed, through hills and dips, curves and roads that may or may not have been intended for motorized travel. I looked at my cell phone. The bars were replaced by the word, “Extended.” Extended what? Luck?
We kept going… and going, and going. At one point, I saw a buzzard sitting on a guardrail, waiting. I looked in the truck’s side-view mirror. Sam and Dave, who were supposed to be following me, were nowhere in sight. It became apparent that I was in danger of being stranded in a land where buzzards don’t fly. The just sit by the side of the road and wait for hopeless travelers to perish.
In a panic, I tried to call Dave. I looked at my cell phone and the word “Extended” was replaced with “Turn around!”
Finally, I saw a church on a hill to the left, and in a cloud of dust and screeching tires, Sam’s uncle pulled in to the church with a maneuver that would have made Burt Reynolds load his pants.
I’m not sure if I can recall the exact name of the church, but it was something like, Mount Zion Episcopal Church of the Brethren and 24-hour Laundry Mat, which explained why they didn’t have a problem with the used clothing.
I parked the truck and walked over to Sam’s aunt. She smiled and asked me where I was from, how long I had known her nephew, and if I had accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior?
I answered: Germantown, since high school, and no… but if the brake goes out in that truck, I’ll have a chance to talk with JC about it one-on-one. I’m sure He will ask what I'm doing in heaven, and I'll just say…
It’s for a good cause.
She gave me a funny look, which I usually get from everybody I meet, and said, “If the church won’t take these clothes, we’ll just take them on to my house.”
“How far away is your house?” I asked.
“About five or ten miles down in the holler.”
“Is it five, or is it ten?”
“Yeah, five or ten.”
“I need to know how to get outta here.”
“You know how to get to Owl Creek?”
“Ma’am, I wouldn’t know how to get to Owl Creek if I was an owl. My ancestors are from Kentucky, and I’m pretty sure they’ve never heard of this place. So, I’d like to get back to Ohio before the bears come out of hibernation.”
A young man ran up and showed me where to park the truck for unloading and I cried tears of joy. I had a strange feeling that “five or ten miles down in the holler” would have turned into ten or twenty.
As soon as the truck was unloaded, Sam and Dave showed up in their respective vehicles. Obviously, Sam knew how to get to Owl Creek. All I had to do now was follow them back to the highway.
Before hitting the highway, we stopped for a bathroom break at a small gas station called the J & J Carry Out. I’m not sure what the two J’s meant, but I’ll wager that one of them stood for Jesus and the other one stood for Justice, because some of the locals were having a gun show in the parking lot… or, forming a posse. I did my best to avoid eye contact.
There’s no easy way to explain what happened next, except that it was God’s way of telling me that I shouldn’t make jokes about His son in front of sweet old ladies who reminded me of my grandmother.
About three miles outside of Flemingsburg, Kentucky, the exhaust system disconnected itself from the truck. I knew this because it sounded like Tony Stewart was passing me on the inside lane. I called Dave to tell him what had happened, but of course, he couldn’t hear me because the exhaust had disconnected itself from the truck, and I couldn’t hear him because I was quickly going deaf.
When we got to Flemingsburg, we pulled into a gas station to assess the damage. The exhaust, disconnected right in front of the catalytic converter, was hanging forward toward the front of the truck, and had surely been throwing sparks out the back for the last several miles.
At this point, I made a command decision to abort. I called Sam and explained to him what happened, and that I didn’t feel comfortable driving the truck back to Ohio, because I wasn’t sure what other valuable part God would decide the truck didn’t need anymore. Sam understood. I think.
Sam said he would call his uncle to pick up the truck, so I pulled the truck to the side and gave the key to the nice lady behind the counter at the gas station, telling her that a guy who drives like a tornado is chasing him would pick up the truck.
Dave and I made it back to Ohio later that night. During the drive back, I had time to ponder about the things I learned that day:
Kentucky is full of nice ladies, but the terrain is hard on used trucks.
God has a sense of humor, but he doesn’t like some of my jokes.
In some parts of Kentucky, smart phones become expensive paperweights.
If it looks like an impromptu gun show… it probably isn’t.
All kidding aside. I make fun of a lot of things, mostly myself. But there is nothing funny about the aftermath of the tornado that literally destroyed most of West Liberty, Kentucky. You see the pictures in the news, or the videos on YouTube, but you cannot fully comprehend the brutality of Mother Nature unless you witness it first hand.
A few people lost their lives, and dozens were left homeless. The only thing that outweighed the devastation was the spirit and devotion of the volunteers who worked non-stop to help their neighbors in need.
There may be idiots running this country now, and even bigger ones who want to run it in the future, but I am confident that it will be the people of this country who keep this nation strong.
For obvious reasons that are not my own, I hope I never have to volunteer for another relief effort ever again… but if someone asks me to help out. Sure. Why not?
It’s for a good cause.