with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Journal: Falling Trees and Friends – Part One

Journal: Falling Trees and Friends Part One
Greensboro, NC
July 1, 1998

We have survived our arrival in North Carolina and are slowly beginning to get entrenched here. Tomorrow my mother arrives for our first “from home” visitor to our new “temp” home. I’ve gotten to know some of the people around the campground, especially the ones who are “home” during the day. A couple of them generously allow themselves to be victimized by my need to escape and escort me in their vehicles out of the trailer for lunch, laundry and movies. Oh, and the occasional shopping trip. Now that we are making some money again, I can spend a little.

One of our next door neighbors, Martin, just bought a old used computer. Not just old but ancient, and old 486 machine. I’d almost forgotten about computers that old, but they still serve a purpose. He’d heard I was a computer whiz of some kind. I try not to be obvious about that, since we have so much expensive computer equipment in our nondescript trailer, but he’s one of the few nice people in the campground I’ve met, I’ll help him out.

Martin is just a giant teddy bear and very sweet. Recently, he looked very tired and sad. Seems he just found out he needs open heart surgery soon. That would be terrifying enough except for the fact that he is HUGE. Martin is not just fat, he is very, very tall and very, very heavy on top of that. Unfortunately, the doctors can’t do the surgery as they don’t have a blood circulator to accommodate the amount of blood his 350 plus pound body need during the surgery. He has to lose weight before they can do the surgery. I told him I could help with that along with his ancient computer.

I’ve also met Linda, a very seriously religious (Southern Baptist religious) woman. I put out signs around the office promoting morning walks 3 times a week. She was my first “victim”.

She arrived early for the first morning walk. About fifteen years older than me, Linda is a petite thing, but seemed busting with energy. She was immediately friendly and had a gentle smile framed by dark and gray hair she kept short and pulled back from her face. You could spot a little of a hard life but a lot of laughter in the lines on her face. I found out later that her husband works on constructions projects as a foreman and planner. With the recent boom around the rest of the country, many people from Kentucky went off for jobs along the two coasts and in the north, leaving little work for them back home. They slowly lost their company and now travel around following different construction projects, usually corporate, city or state projects laying fiber optic cables, pipes, and other digging and building work. They stay in a place for a few months to a year or more and then move onto the next job. When possible, Linda gets a job doing some secretary or bookkeeping for the project, but even that gets harder to find.

We spoke a little and waited for others to arrive. When no one showed up, we started off down the campground road that encompassed the campground, creating a walk of about a half mile full circle up and down a good sized hill and through the shaded forest area.

We’d gone only a few yards, fairly evenly matched for pace, when she announced she had exciting news and she just had to share it with someone. Always eager to hear good things, even though I seem to have the face that invites sad and pitiful life stories, I encouraged her story.

“Last night I was driving to the meeting, and I could feel it.” Her voice was breathy and it wasn’t due to the walking. “God came to me. My hair stood on end and I couldn’t breath. He was with me. Around me. In me.”

God and I haven’t been on speaking terms in a LONG time, so I was a little nervous about what kind of person I was suddenly committed to walking with for the next 30 minutes or so. Then she really hit me with the whacko warning lights.

“God healed me.” She put her hand on her heart, her tiny body shaking as she fought to keep her eyes fixed on the gravel path while revealing in the memory of the moment. “He came to me and filled me with light and healed me. I was in the car, not even at the meeting. He healed me! Me!”

What do you say to that? I always have problems with this. I just don’t know quite what to say when a polite response is called for in an extremely uncomfortable situation. I usually just speak the truth, and say things like “Are you kidding?” or “You must be crazy!” or just laugh. But spending time with Brent’s parents and grandmothers has taught me that some people interpret that kind of a response as rude and socially uncouth. I’ve trying to be a better person, but what is the appropriate response to “God healed me”? Do I say, “That’s nice. So what are your plans for lunch today?”

Instead I asked the question that was foremost in my brain, one I’m sure you’re also curious about.

“Excuse me if this is personal, but what did he heal?”

She took a deep breath, gathering her energies, still caught in the memory. I waited. When the answer came, it came out in a gush of air.

“God healed my milk allergy.”

Before you begin to think that I’m totally rude, crude, and social unacceptable, I tempered my response to this poor woman. After all, I can’t understand how horrible it is to suffer from a milk allergy. I’m allergic to perfume soap and cigarettes, but then the majority of humans on the planet are also allergic to those things, and many of them don’t even know it. I just happen to be extra sensitive to those things. Milk and dairy products are found everywhere, so maybe this has been a horrible burden to her. I had to give her the benefit of the doubt.

“Wow, that’s amazing.” I thought that was a pretty good response.

Okay, I’m lying. I didn’t think about how horrible it was to live with a milk allergy until later. Truthfully, I thought “Freakin’ idiot, crazy person. How can I get out of this situation as soon as possible!!!?”

Honestly, this is totally bizarre. If God exists in whatever form people imagine him/her/it, don’t you think that God would spend a little more time healing things like leprosy, cancer, diseases killing children, plagues, the BIG diseases? Why would God take time out from his/her/its busy schedule for a milk allergy healing? And how could she really know that she’d been healed. It had been less than 12 hours since the healing. Did she promptly go out and drink a few gallons of milk to test drive the new healing? Let’s be honest, folks. This woman is a whacko and I’m walking next to her about to enter the woods at the back of the campground. I was not thinking nice thoughts, I was thinking “get me the hell out of here.”

Yet, I was trying to be a “good person” and not alienate the first person I’d met in the campground. She ignored my careful attempt to pacify and took it as a sign that I was encouraging her to talk more about it.

Over time, I realized that she was absolutely sincere in her – let’s just call it something safe – belief that God had singled her out for a special healing and her life was totally changed now. Over the next weeks, as I came to know her better, continuing our regular walks around the campground, I found a poorly educated but very experienced middle aged woman who was a great debater, eager for new ideas and ways of thinking, but firmly set in her narrow belief path and structure. We spent ages discussing politics, family, life on the road, and the history of the world. Lynda has a great sense of humor and is the first in line to laugh at herself. That much we seriously have in common. And slowly, we are finding more and more in common, but plenty to laugh and talk about.

About two weeks later, a religious revival tent with a “healer preacher” came into town. Lynda was right there, volunteering with the round the clock prayers. It is really interesting to hear about all of this, holy rollers and bringing down hell on people’s heads, but I’m getting a little ahead of the story.

I’ve met other people in the campground, but these two people figure in my next tale.

Last week, my fingers were flying across the computer when our weather radio alarm went off. After dealing with the alarm going off in the middle of the night, we moved it to the bedroom. We quickly learned that it was easier to rush from one end of the trailer to another in the middle of the day than the middle of the night. My toes appreciated the move. I rushed into the bedroom and clicked the weather button.

For those unfamiliar with weather radios, it is different from your normal AM/FM radio. While some weather radios may pick up normal AM/FM channels, weather radios are designed to pick up the 24hr weather reports released by NOAA and the National Weather Stations. There is a special alarm built-in so that when the radio is “on standby” you can’t hear the radio but the alarm goes off to tell you something bad is coming your way. In Florida, it went off all the time as rains, high winds, tornado watches, and other storms plagued our time there. Here, well, it went off plenty during our first few weeks, but now I actually can go three or four days between alerts. It doesn’t go off for rain or storms, just for BAD storms, flash flood warnings, tornados, hurricanes and things that risk life.

The sound of the monotone voice fills the bedroom, a tinny can within a can tone. The radio announcer tells me a 150 mile wide thunderstorm is forming from Tennessee in the south to north of the town of Greensboro, North Carolina, our current residence. We’re only on the north tip of this massive storm, so I figured it wouldn’t be bad. Still, I take my normal precautions.

I turned off the desktop computer, and put the laptop on battery. I turned off the air conditioner and the electric water heater. The power can go off at the snap of the fingers around here, so I’ve learned to shut down all the power consuming devices. If the power goes out, our inverter will kick in to supply 110 volts from our trailer batteries allowing me several hours at 110 volts, but our air conditioner and electric hot water heater will suck that power right down in a few minutes, killing the batteries.

I close the awning up and put Toshi in the bathroom to keep him in one place. I’ve gotten tired of trying to find him during a storm as he tends to hid under the couch as far back as possible, out of reach. I decided to catch up on email on the laptop.

A few minutes later, the alarm goes off again. I jump up and go in the bedroom. The tin can voice tells me that the storm is now heading straight for Greensboro, no longer on the tip but now in the path. It will be here within the next 15 – 30 minutes bringing huge hail, massive rain and strong winds. Fifteen minutes isn’t much time, but I’ve been practicing.

I turn the radio off, grab Toshi’s leash and bag, and move to get the file folder I’ve put together with all our most important papers. In mid step, the trailer jerked and shifted a couple inches back and forth. I grabbed the wall to keep my balance. It’s been less than two minutes since the alarm warning. What’s going on? Earthquake before the storm?

Bright white light from lightning blasts through the windows and the thunder and wind smacks into the trailer. Holding onto the wall as the trailer sways, I take the two steps I need to take to get to the bathroom and my beloved Toshi. Then a huge snap and crash slams into my ears. I drop down out of instinct.

Trees! The campground is filled with them. Screw the papers. I throw open the bathroom door and drag Toshi out from under the sink. I throw him into his bag with his leash, not bothering to fasten it on. I take the four steps to the door and look out. I can’t see a foot beyond the window. The rain is coming down in huge drops, forming a curtain of grey white. I hooked the cat sack over my shoulder and pulled my raincoat on. I grabbed the laptop, holding it tightly to my chest under the raincoat, and kicked open the door.

It’s insane. I make a mad dash into the onslaught of Niagra Falls. I didn’t bother closing the trailer door or locking it. Getting away and into a stronger structure was more important than being inside a tin can surrounded by trees.

Already the road in front of the trailer was a river six inches deep of dirty rapids. I struggled through, the wind tearing at me, leaves and branches smacking my face and coat, hunched around my laptop, Toshi banging against my legs in his bag under my coat.

The trailer is parked the equivalent of about a half block from the office building, the most sturdy structure in the campground. I plowed through the torrent around my legs, avoiding flying branches, unable to see more than a foot or two in front of me. I felt like I was being pressed back and down into the ground from the driving rain, pounding like sheets of lead.

As I get near the pool, only a few more steps from the office, I swear lightning either struck the pool or came darn close. The crack and sizzle was in my mouth and nose. My hair stood on end and Toshi howled from his soaked bag as the thunder clapped us, causing my skin to vibrate with the blast. Water streamed off my hood and down into my face.

Petrified, I changed my running shuffle to bigger leaps through the brown river on the road towards the office. Ahead of me in the mist I see a big out-of-focus red blob moving into the office directly ahead of me. While I can’t see details through the cascading water over my face and between us, it isn’t hard to recognize the only person that size in the campground, my friend and neighbor, Martin.

Within a few seconds I followed him through the door into the dry office.

Wiping the water off my face, my eyes come back into focus in time to see Martin turn around at the sound of the door closing behind me. There was no color in his normally olive skinned face. I tore off my soaked coat and dropped Toshi and the laptop and kicked a lady out of the chair near the door and ordered him to sit down. I hugged him. He was cold and clammy, beads of sweat on his face, mixed with the rain.

“A tree fell on my trailer.” We all gasped. He then clutched his chest, barely able to get another word out.

“Where is your nitro pills?” Through gasping breaths, he explained he’d left them on his TV in the trailer. I asked if the trailer and television were still standing and he advised me they were. I turned and looked at Carl, one of the campground workers who could pass for a taller version of my father, right down to the bad teeth, beer drink induced belly, and cigarette permanently attached to his lips. He may be a good ole boy, but he’d been through a few rounds with the military and I knew words weren’t necessary. He nodded and handed me my wet coat. We went back out into the storm.

The rain hadn’t let up, but the wind had lessened. We got into the old golf cart truck and headed back down the flooded road I had just traversed, splashing water in all directions, a four wheeled hydroplane. At the end of the road, across from my trailer, Martin’s small white trailer rose out of the gloom. I think Carl swore before I did.

A huge tree had landed across the back end of the trailer, punching down a good four feet from one side to the other. Through the driving rain, I could see that the tip of the tree had smacked the front of our trailer, doing no damage. Still, no cars would pass through this lane until the tree was cut down.

Martin’s trailer roof formed a huge V indented by the tree’s path downward. The trailer door hung open, swinging in the wind.

“We’ve got to go in there to get his pills!”

Carl blanched. As far as he was concerned, he’d already done his part of the job by foolishly bringing out into the weather, risking life and limb. It was now up to me to do the real work. His courage only went so far outside of the bottle. How nice.

I checked the tree and pushed down on it. It didn’t budge. I crawled in through the open door, and towards the back of the trailer. The roof slanted down towards the puncture mark of the tree breaking through the roof. Amazingly, the water wasn’t pouring in as the tree had sealed the hole tightly. The angle the tree had landed was lowest over the television and then slanted up over the couch across from it. This was where Martin always sat, one of the few places he could sit comfortably in his tiny trailer. I’d sat in the small chair next to the television frequently over the past few weeks, talking to him about his heart problems, upcoming surgery, and fixing his old computer.

The tree had stopped two inches above the television. Between the television and the tree bark sat his nitroglycerin pills in their plastic bottle. Another inch lower and they would have been crushed against the top of the television. I grabbed them and turned, hearing a tiny mewing noise. I’d forgotten that Martin had just acquired a tiny kitten just two days before. She was hiding in the bathroom, terrified. I grabbed one of his dirty t-shirts from the laundry in the bathroom and wrapped the little wet creature inside. I climbed out of the broken trailer and back onto the cart. Carl roared a U-turn and we wheeled water spouts back to the office.

Martin recovered quickly with his pills, and Toshi and the kitten tolerated each other in the bag together. The storm passed within 15 minutes and we headed back out to check the damage. My trailer was fine. I put both cats in there and came back out to look at Martin’s trailer. And to look at the people starting to form, like ambulance chasers and accident watchers, around the most heavily damaged trailer in the park.

Drill sergeant Lorelle, me, started rounding people up and handing out assignments. I ordered them to start picking up the broken glass and to pull away the branches that had broken off trees and were littering the road and around the trailer. I dashed back inside my trailer and grabbed the camera to photograph the damage. I knew he would need it for his insurance purposes, and we all had to move as fast as possible to clean this up. Word from the weather radio said another storm was due in 15 minutes.

Out of the grey afternoon, two guys showed up in a big bulldozer to lift the tree off his tree. I have no idea where they came from, but they were a blessing. The tree came off and one of my tarps and some others from the campground office went over this trailer as fast as we could. Everyone pitched in as best they could, while others stood by and gave insurance advice to poor Martin who sat at the picnic table, barely able to stand, shocked into silence.

The second storm hit just as we were getting the tarp on the trailer, but I was already inside with buckets and pans to catch the water rolling in through the newly but semi-covered exposed holes. We made it. Luckily, the storm just brought a little wind and lots of rain.

Next: Part Two

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