Thursday, May 20, 2010

Proud to Be From Middle Tennessee

It's a new day here at Blackwater.

Michael has now graduated from the University of Rochester. He had completed his freshman year there before we came to North Carolina. It was not an easy thing for him to spend his first summer home helping us get ready to leave. Nashville will always be the home of his heart, as it will for most of us.

Nashville finds a way to be home for many of the people who leave it. No matter how wonderful the place you go to, no matter how long you live there, a piece of you always belongs to Nashville.

This was made obvious to us as we watched on the first weekend in May as dozens of places we knew and loved were drenched, flooded, even washed away by 13 inches of rain that fell over two days onto a city that is built on rock coated with a couple feet of topsoil. While nowhere near the epic destruction that was Katrina, this flood is nevertheless the most monumental and overwhelming natural disaster that has ever struck Middle Tennessee. The area of damage is the size of the state of New Jersey. About 30 people lost their lives; a modest number compared to disasters like Haiti or Katrina. 30,000 kept their lives but lost much of their belongings, including their homes. Damage, private and municipal and corporate, is estimated at over 2 billion dollars in Nashville alone. Approximately 50 other counties were affected, some to a much greater extent than Nashville.

Our Nashville house was built on a hill, and apparently the new owners bought a generator (which could run the sump pump to keep the basement clear of ground water), as that was the only sound reported in the neighborhood Sunday morning. That section was without power for 14 hours. Some people in the city had none for days. The area just down the street and down the hill from our old house was blocked off due to flooding. The river is only a few blocks away. Luckily the horses were evacuated off the Tennessee Walking Horse farm that borders the neighborhood right next to the river.

Nashville is in a basin bubbled by hills, through which the Cumberland River snakes. The first two days the flooding was due to the continuous rain; the next day it was due to the river and its tributaries trying to carry away the run-off and groundwaters that had swelled their banks. Hills became islands, and the valleys became rivers, lakes, and ponds which you entered at your peril.

Downtown was flooded; Symphony Hall (yes, Music City caters to all kinds of tunes) had 11 feet of water in a 12 foot basement-the Concert Hall was barely spared; Sound Check, a company which stores musical equipment for many of country music's finest, had its storage facility flooded, and several musicians lost their equipment; Opryland Hotel flooded to ten feet, guests were displaced to a local high school and then other hotels. And then there were the neighborhoods, people's homes. Two feet of water, four feet, eight feet, twelve. One house, half submerged, caught fire, and the occupants were rescued by a neighbor on a jet ski.

A neighbor.

In the middle of dazing surrealty, neighbors, ordinary people, were helping neighbors. And friends. And strangers.

Our daughter and son-in-law still live in Nashville. They were fine. But for several hours they didn't hear from his brother. His family was okay, but cut off from everyone by flooded roads. No word from his brother, until much later, when he finally phoned in.

He and his townhouse neighbors had been busy taking down a fence so they could get their cars out to move to safety. In the process, he fried his iPhone. My son-in-law told me he hadn't been worried. His brother was like our Michael, always in the thick of things, helping out. He has returned to helping people, and our daughter and son-in-law have also spent much of their time helping with clean-up and aid.

Since that weekend,, the city has been awash, not with floodwaters, but with people setting things right, getting back to normal, assessing damage and making plans, and making appeals for money, because this task is too monumental for them to handle alone.

They've stepped up, not only to help themselves, but more often to help out someone else. Ordinary people as well as people we might think of as too much above the ordinary to care. The country music and entertainment industry as well as many local and national corporations that either call Nashville home or do business in Nashville have already raised over 3 million dollars to help those who need it. Over $3,000,000 in response to telethons and radiothons worked by people who live there and who care about the rest of the community. From musicians who must rebuild their own homes and studios to the kids who are going to a different school because they've been displaced from their home, everyone is helping everyone.

And that's Nashville. With all its flaws, and there are some big ones, Nashville is a community where people care about each other and do something about it. It is the biggest small town in the nation. When everything is on the line, Nashville does it right.

Two of our kids, including graduate Michael, once had the opportunity to write essays for a book, "Proud to be From Middle Tennessee". I am, we are, he is, and we always will be, proud to be from middle Tennessee.

I would be remiss not to note that nearby Raleigh radio station WQDR, this year's recipient of an ACM award for Best Country Music Station, also stepped up during the first week, not only publicizing what had happened (as so many national outlets neglected to do), but organizing relief efforts. In three days they had 3 semis loaded with goods and $6000 that they personally took to Music City to deliver. Man, when it comes to places to live, can we pick 'em or what?

And one more thing, please, remember to return to Nashville. Like New Orleans, the best thing you can do is remember these cities. Visit them and their people, share their lifestyle, and enjoy yourself. Nashville is still open for business. The CMA Music Festival 2010--what used to be known as Fan Fair--is still on for June. Y'all need to come on by.