Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tornado Entry: 23

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wednesday began with an early walk of the neighborhoods with Debbie. I did not sleep well the night before. I’m waking up again around midnight and finding it so hard to get back to sleep. The birds are singing now in these early hours. There seems to always be one Mockingbird singing his little heart out anytime during the night.

Stumpy was having a fine time picking up smells from Debbies old car and making himself comfortable in the “rag top”. Oh..... to enjoy a sample of my “old normal life” before heading out..…

Walking into the church Todd cornered me and told me I needed a new shirt. When the relief work first started the volunteer shirts were orange. When it was realized that this was the color of the University of Alabama’s rival school Auburn, the shirt color was changed to the University of Alabama’s school color: crimson red. The early sign-ons could be singled out by their orange shirts. My shirt was faded and worn from weeks of working in the field. I considered that shirt my badge of honour. There was a crew doing filming so I guess they wanted everyone to look the same.

It has been so great to be crewing out with the same guys for the past few days. David the team leader is a master at roofing. I’ve learned so much from him. Our team has really bonded. As always seems to happen in my life, this smooth sailing was not to last long. Todd told me in addition to needing the new shirt; he was going to be putting me on as the team leader of David’s team.

It was emotional when we emptied out David’s truck after our last job. David taught me how to snag the best tools when we crew out in the mornings. I’ve made up a spread sheet to start with.

David is one of the most spiritual people I’ve met in a long time. He is living his life as God tells him. He has been told his work here is done and he must move on. Today, (5/26) we go out on our own. Cory, Mitchell, and Scott will still be crewing out. They have as much or if not more experience than I do. All we can do is our best. We are a team!

Last day of David’s team: David, Scott, Corey, Mitchell, (aka Winston!) and Jamie

Tornado Entry: 22

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

This daily routine of disaster help is like a job now. The Samaritan’s Purse operation in Hueytown I delivered the tee shirts to, has closed and moved on to Joplin, Missouri.

Tuesday I again crewed out with David, Corey, Mitchell, and Scott. These are good hard working guys. We all work pretty well together. Todd tried to push me to being a team leader, but I told him David was short and he needed me! I did not want to be an overseer removing debris.

We were again out in Alberta City doing some straightening up of some previous jobs. Our assignment before lunch provided us with the needed comic relief for the day.

Man: Approaching Scott and Myself on the ground. Hey are you guys’ contractors? Who are you working for?

Jamie: We are volunteers for Samaritan’s Purse. We are just tarping houses today. I’m retired; I should be sitting on my front porch drinking coffee right now!

Man: There’s more to life than that. I’m trying to contract out crews to do roofing work for me. Do you want a job?

Jamie: You mean people get paid to do this? No thanks….

None of the boys wanted to crew on!!!

Man walked away…

Jamie: God Bless sir…..

This man drove off in a vehicle with Florida tags. There will be swarms of contractors from all over for the rebuilding stage. I would not want this man putting on my roof!

We returned to the lady’s house we did the major work to the other day. She was so thrilled to see us again. She is 99 years old. What a sweet lady. She reminded me so of my mother as she forced cookies and water on us. She wanted to feed us all with the food people have been bringing her. The boys blushed as she kept telling them how cute they were! This kind of interaction is all the reward I need…my bread cast upon the water is being returned to me ten fold.

Progress is being made. Ever so slowly the piles of trees and rubble are going down. The traffic patterns are returning to normal: volunteer and relief centers are closing or getting drastically smaller.

Monday will probably be my last day volunteering in this fashion. When I get home from my road trip the SP operations should be pretty well shut down here.

I want my old life back

Tornado Entry: 21

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Monday morning started with a cup of nuked up stale coffee and the Huffington Post. Tornado pictures were the featured story. “Why are they still showing Tuscaloosa tornado pictures?” I immediately thought. Then I read the story and realized another community, Joplin, Missouri was destroyed by a killer storm. My heart goes out to the victims.

The volunteers at the church seem to be “petering out”. I’ve heard this stage of Samaritan’s Purse will be finished up around the middle of June. I have about another week left and then I’m on the road.

I am so looking foreword to going to the “Brick Swap” in Spencer, NY. The brick collectors are such a fun group. Been planning my road trip: It looks like I’ll stop at the Motel 6 in Wytheville, which is a good ½ way stop. The Mexican restaurant I like there has moved to a location just down the hill from the motel. Now I can have two beers with supper and not have to worry about driving!

From there I’ll stop at my friend Len’s who is just over the VA/West VA border on I-81. Then the Brick Swap, and a trip to Lockport, NY my hometown for a few days. Then… to Union, IL for the antique phonograph show. Finally my life will be returning to my “normal”.

I crewed out tarping roofs with David. He is the true master, I have learned so much from him. We were working on steep pitched roofs today. Two college boys Corey and Mitchell I’ve worked with in the past and David did the grunt work on top while I helped with the ground and ladder work. The three on the roof had to be harnessed off which slows things down considerably.

Loading up supplies I bumped my shin into a bob-cat skid. God did that hurt. There was a huge “egg” there within seconds. It is always something!

The last house we worked on was on the fringe of the worst damage. A tree branch cut through the roof from the peak to the base. We had to lay out 2/4’s for a grid and then sheets of plywood. The entire repair was then tarped over. It turned out to be a beautiful job.

The lady living in this home is elderly and disabled, needing a walker to get around. What a sweet lady. She offered us her “meals on wheels” supper to eat as she was not hungry!

It stayed fairly overcast with an occasional breeze. But, it was hot, in the 90’s. We all stayed hydrated with Gatorade and water.

My friend Guy was in town. He stopped over at 6:30. We had the best time just talking on the front porch. I feel sorry for people who have never experienced a warm evening rocking on a front porch and having intelligent conversation.

I have no idea what I’ll be doing today. I figure I’m on the down slide now with my volunteer duties. I'm running late this morning so this entry is rather hurried....

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tornado Entry: 20

Back in 1989 when Ron was working at Kodak, his job required him to do team training. There was an aptitude test he used in those classes that he administered to me. It was a long series of questions, with no right or wrong answer. Upon grading you were assigned a designation by letters as to your strongest attributes. I can see that paper in my mind, but a quick search of my files failed to turn it up. Ron was impressed by how my attributes in things mechanical and working with my hands pretty much jumped off the page. Those skills have been working overtime lately.

Saturday I had a crew of 10 to clean off a lot for a trailer. This was way out in Cottondale. The original trailer was picked up off the block foundation and thrown into trees. The bottom frame and floor is still tangled up there. Our job was to clean the walls and debris to allow a bobcat access. The family survived in their “storm cellar”.

This is the first I’ve been out in this backwoods section of the county. The people living here are proud, but poor. They are also a living example of how Alabama is part and parcel of the “Diabetes belt”. The family we were helping out are all diabetic and overweight from the grandmother to the mother & father, to the daughter. I don’t judge, but the facts speak for themselves. I’m just seeing the tip of the iceberg; how can our broken health care system even attempt to keep these people halfway healthy?

The family was on site helping out as much as they could. In respect to them I did not bring out my camera to take pictures of the job.

Some of the team were complaining how it was a waste of their time to clean the site by hand, as a bob-cat could have done job in no time. I told them I would contact Todd and relay their thoughts to him. These people don’t realize; I usually know as little of the job as they do. Todd explained once again we only have one functioning bob-cat and the site has to be cleared by hand to the suspended frame so it can be brought down and cut up. Wood and metal must be put into separate piles and the rest of the debris put into the empty dumpster which had been delivered to the site that morning.

Hearing our status from the powers in charge we went to work: The front wall and ceiling of the trailer were flat on the ground, covered in debris in front of the suspended floor/frame. That mess was shoveled into wheelbarrows and wheeled to the dumpster.

By the time we got to really moving that stuff, the bottom of the dumpster was full and the entry door was closed. Our easy time was over, now we had to lift the debris over the sides. I noticed one guy from the team studying the contact information on the dumpster and talking on his cell phone.

Jamie: What are you doing, who are you calling?

Man: I’m calling the dumpster people to bring us another dumpster, this is nearly full.

Jamie: Please don’t do that. Tell whoever you are talking to, to disregard your call. Samaritan’s Purse is NOT responsible for this dumpster, it is the homeowner. There is a LOT of room left. It is NOT our call to have it hauled out.

It took every ounce of my energy to not go off on a tear. Who does this guy think he is? He can just call up out of the blue and make the decision that would incur more expenses. I’m not power hungry, but the team decisions must go through me. That damn dumpster is not a team decision.

My God, the rental, delivery and pick-up on these is now $500.00. This guy has not even looked over the edge and he is the authority the dumpster is full. I can just hear the wrath of Todd if that man had his way……

There was so much dead air space to be filled up. From loading UPS trucks and Billy's vans and trucks over the years I learned you need to have things filled solid. I’m starting to believe that God does provide us with tools. I pulled a round trampoline mat out of a tree. This was the perfect size to hold 3-4 wheelbarrow loads of insulation and debris. Having about five people grab the sides, we could raise it even to the lip of the dumpster. I was on top to hoist it over the edge and roll the contents out. I then worked to pack it down solid.

The cool gray morning burned off to a clear blue sky and a roasting hot sun. We tried to find some shade for our lunch break. I could tell the team was tiring out early.

Getting back to the job at hand I had to yell from the top of the dumpster for help in transferring the debris. People no longer ran to help unquestioned. It is amazing how deaf people become when a disagreeable job is to be done. I try not to get annoyed. But, it is not like I’m asking them to do more than I’m doing myself. Truth be told, I’m the one soaked in God knows what stinking to high heaven spreading out wet fiberglass.

The job ended with a core crew of six. The metal siding was the last major clean up we did rolling it up like a rug. It sounds easy enough, but the work to clear the wood framing and insulation away to enable this was pretty impressive.

The family was so grateful. They got a decent insurance settlement and have another trailer all set to be put on the site once the debris is cleared away.

I was tired and smelly when I turned in the paperwork. I’m not sure if I’ll volunteer out Sunday afternoon or not. If we don’t have enough people to take out the four by noon, I’ll probably go out again.

I can still detect a “dumpster smell” on me even after two hot showers scrubbing down with Dr Bonner’s Peppermint soap. The stories I’ll have to tell from all this…life really is good….

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Tornado Entry: 19

Thursday started out with a western omlette at Wrights. It was so good to see this place back up and running. The owner told me how she lost her home of 26 years on Crescent Ridge Road, one of the hardest hit areas. She asked where the gang was Wednesday. I explained how they did not realize they were open again, and they met at the “nasty truck stop” at exit 77. I promised they would be back! I had them laughing telling them my Utilikilt story of tarping a roof and getting startled looks from the cadaver crews!

Finally did a shopping, meeting up with Woody and Gene at both Hell-mart and Sam’s Club. For the first time in ages I needed to get underwear. For nearly as long as I can remember I’ve worn Hane’s briefs. With losing weight these past few years my waist size has dropped back to 32” . Hanes sizing’s now go from 28”-30” being small. The medium starts at 32”-34”. The 30”-32” size I wore back in the day no longer exists! This kind of change drives me crazy!

Thursday was like reliving a previous life. After unloading the truck I took a quick nap with Daggy listening to “Performance Today” on Alabama Public Radio. Then did up the back yard, mowing trimming and raking. It was good to see some order and familiarity. Those bricks, fire hydrants, railroad signs and manhole covers are my little “utopia”!

Got cleaned up, put on my Utilikilt and walked to Innisfree to meet up with the gang. What a good time to sit back and have a few beers and tell stories. I had the fish and chips for my meal. Some good fried stuff was just what I needed!

Everyone ended up back at my house for one more beer on the front porch. It was just like the old days at my house in Lockport. Billy loves to tell the story how he and Linda arrived en route to the Union Show in their motor home in 1984. It was in the evening and a “porch party” was in full swing! We got a bucket of “Killer Wings” from Wagners and partied the night away. This old body can’t party like that anymore!!!

Friday I was in much better shape when I showed up at the church. Joyce told me I looked a lot better from the last time she saw me. Things are slacking off now. Finally I was able to crew out with David tarping roofs. David is the expert to learn from.

For the first time I did not have to drive my truck, being able to ride with Todd and Jeremy. These guys were great. They were from North Carolina and had been crewing out all week. Our tarping jobs were out in Holt, in one of the worst hit areas. The first house we worked on was not too badly damaged. It was just on the “ring”. I wish I had my taken my camera. The trees behind were bent at nearly a 90° angle. The trunks were not broken, they were just bent.

The homeowners arrived and told us the story of how the tornado hit. The stories of faith I’m hearing are amazing. The mother told her teenagers and husband to “put on your shoes NOW!” as they prepared for the onslaught. She told us “God told me to have the wear their shoes.” Once the storm passed, the first thing they all did was run out into the debris to save people from the rubble. They were about the only source for clean towels supplies to dress and wrap wounds. Their vehicle was spared to transport people to the hospital.

These everyday people are the true heroes of this disaster.

Across the street hardly a house is standing. Weeks later, many homes have already been leveled.

Our second job was to fix up a roof not far from here. This job turned out to be just down the street from the tarping job Samantha, Holly, Clay and I did last week.

The people who live in this part of town do not have a lot. The lady living in this house is no exception. Her vehicle was totaled by the storm. It was a vintage 1990’s Chevy with no insurance value. Her house is a ramshackle one story added to haphazardly over the years. She warned us to be careful and she had no insurance.

The roof was partly tarped. The bad part was a very poorly built addition. The roof deck was thin, wet particle board. David and Jeremy did the roof work as it would not safely support any more weight. I heard this woman’s story as the guys were working. If anything, this experience has reinforced to me how rich my life is. The work we are doing is not really storm damage, it is just a messed up roof.

From here we had another job in an area I have never been before. The damage here is as bad as I have seen anywhere. This trap job is extensive. The steeply pitched roof is pretty well devoid of shingles. It would be easiest to go and just put another roof on now that the deck is totally exposed. Oh well….

We headed back to the church. We were through for the day.

From there I ran to Publix and picked up six lamb shanks that were on sale and a steak.

After a delicious supper the cats and I lit the bug torches had a “party” on the patio; it is now such a nice break to enjoy my “normalcy” in this fashion.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tornado Entry: 18

Tuesday morning I approached the church with a dull leaden feeling. I can feel burn-out happening. This feeling reminds me all too well how I lived through out 1997-1998. I was living with Joe waiting for the elusive transfer south. I was a mess: (not the good kind of mess!) It was in November 1997 I had Ron’s Cat Chloe put down. That traumatic event was like turning a switch. From that time on I just lived to work. Overtime was off the charts then and I was working 60+ hours a week. That period of time is very painful to look back on for me.

The dull, dead feeling is returning as I try to do all I can to help in the clean-up. I need to have time to take care of my life. There are stacks of mail to go through and projects of my mine to do. A second load of laundry is in the spin cycle as I type this out. I have not cleaned the bathrooms or run the vacuum in weeks. I’m taking a few days off to get my life in order and get a second wind.

Tuesday I had a huge team. We split up. I took three to do a quick clean-up and put Clay in charge of the other team. Like an idiot I had forgotten to write down the work location they were at. I told them to call me on my cell which never happened.

It was an easy raking job we went on. Stopped back to the trailers to get the location to meet back up with Clay’s team: They were on Hargrove Road right by the entrance to Hillcrest. Hillcrest was devastated by the tornado.

This home we are working on sustained a fair amount of damage. I would estimate it would be a borderline call if it can be saved or not. There were roofing and gable sections from the garage lying in the yard. We got to work with the crowbars and axes to break up the sections. Slow but sure progress was made.

I had to laugh, in the morning before we headed out one of the girls asked if she could have another tee shirt as the one she wore yesterday was dirty. The ladies in charge of the shirts naturally told her “NO!” This girl was relating the story on the site as to why she was not wearing her “official” tee shirt. I laughed and told her I was lucky to get my shirt washed once a week. She still did not get it.

We were supposed to have a chainsaw team join us to take down a fallen tree in the back. Clay and the boys were sawing their hearts out of that tree with pruning saws. A bobcat was working in the neighbors’ yard. This man operating the bobcat and his son came over and took care of the tree in short order. It is like watching a ballet witnessing these craftsmen at work.

Clay in the center and the “chainsaw man”.

It turned out the homeowner and I had numerous friends in common. I was so happy to see Rusty, our “Starbucks Friend” from the days when Debby and I would stop by the coffee shop in the Ferguson Center on Campus. I did not know he lived in Hillcrest. His home survived. Steve and Des, friends who live across the street from him were not so lucky. I ran the gas line to their kitchen stove when they remodeled back in 2004. I cried when I saw that beautiful house ripped open.

It is this roller coaster of emotions that is wearing me out. I almost seems absurd, but this is how progress is made a little bit at a time. I took this picture to try and convey how a bit of green can have an effect among the ruins. My crew did a fantastic job. I am so proud of the work they did.

My crew:

After turning in my paperwork I told the coordinators I was burning out and was not sure if I would show up or not on Wednesday. Joyce told me to take some time off. “We need you at your best” she said. These past few days have not been my best.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tornado Entry: 17

Tuscaloosa can now be regarded as a “Tale of Two Cities”. Not so much in the Charles Dickens sense of London, and Paris in one of my favourite escapist books to read. Instead there is the “normal” Tuscaloosa where life goes on as if nothing has happened, and the cleaning and rebuilding Tuscaloosa recovering from the Tornado.

The clean-up to prepare for the rebuilding Tuscaloosa is so draining. I can feel burn-out setting in. I tell the story how the “Blizzard of 1977” was supposed to be the storm on my lifetime. I don’t mean to belittle that disaster, but it was nothing in scope to what I’m now living.

Cleaning up the wood:

Monday I was assigned a crew of some 10 Louisiana State students. Clay also showed up. I grabbed him to be on my team. He is my main man!!

Our first job was out in Alberta City on the outer fringe of the serious damage. A roof had to be stabilized. Clay took the brave ones who would venture up the ladder. The neighbors across the street were preparing for back hoes. I told the homeowner if she needed any help I had all these kids who would love to pitch in. They were put to work pulling up the patio blocks and landscaping. These were stacked out of the way to be reused.

Clay and his crew on the roof:

Cleaning up across the street:

Our next stop was not far away. This was more chainsaw work needed with removal done with a bob cat. The small stuff had already been cut away. The lady living in this house was so nice. She told us about her families she worked for, how she was an influence in the children she raised. It was like I was living in the book, “The Help”. The people I’m meeting is unreal.

As we were preparing to leave an example of how frustrations build upon this disaster played out. The phone line was ripped from the house and secured to the porch railing. A garbage truck filled with logs passed catching the line. The line held, but it ripped the railing from the porch. It is the small pain in the neck jobs like this that can wear you out.

The house next door was on a worksheet. There was no signature so we needed approval to do work. The roof was badly damaged having huge areas open and exposed. The homeowners were home. They were very wary, finally refusing our help. They said they had to have insurance adjusters at the property first. We hear this a lot. I explain all we are doing is protecting the house from further water damage. I’ve reached the point where I don’t care. If they don’t want help, they don’t want help. Too many people are out there who desperately need assistance.

We were told that hot food was at the Holt Assistance Center. Two and half weeks into the clean up, the hot food centers are closing down. We got the center at 12:30. The hot food was hot dogs and the remains of granola bars and some kind of marshmallow Easter candy. Tuesday we will pack sandwiches from the church.

We finished up the jobs we had, and returned to the church to see if there was more we could do.

Todd gave me another folder for Team 11. This looked to be mainly clean up work. The weather had turned cold and the kids were not dressed for chill. I told them to get their stuff together and I had extra sweats they could borrow. They were all driving together in a church van. Clay knew where I lived so I told them to meet at my house.

I picked up a lot of extra gloves and headed to my house. After getting the clothes together I thought I’d make up a Google map to the job site. The notebooks were not in the cab. Oh Shit! The team 10 book was in the truck bed. No Team 11 was present. I nervously backtracked my route and miracle of miracles that notebook was in the middle of 21st Ave. It had been run over, but everything was there.

We got to the job. This was on the west side not far from my plant which was destroyed. A trailer was blown into a house. What a nightmare: We cleaned up as best we could. Insulation was blowing around everywhere. I passed out face masks. One of the kids was wearing flip-flops. What are they thinking???

A young girl was concerned as she was getting bumps on her arm. I took her to Rite-Aid where the pharmacist recommended Benadryl. We got that and headed back to the site. It was time to quit for the day. On the way back to the church I detoured to Office Max for a folder and Pets Plus for cat food.

The kids were waiting for me in the lot. Clay got his tools and helped me unload the SP supplies. My clothes were returned.

I was able to get an exact duplicate folder. The insert was easy to change. The end piece on the spine was a bear to peel off. Fortunately enough glue remained to hold it fast to the replacement. The claw end of the hammer was needed to bend open the crushed rings.

This kind of stress I do not need!!!

I got home at about 5:45 after turning in the distressed paperwork. Fixed up chicken wings for supper and was in bed at 8:00.

It is 6:45 a.m. now. I just took this photo of my new Raintree. It seems to be doing well. I’m going to use the planting of it as a bookmark for returning to my old life. I want to put this present life behind me as soon as possible.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tornado Entry: 16

This entry was originally started Sunday morning the 15th and never finished. I finished it up with my first coffee of the day today, Monday the 16th.

I slept in this morning. It was so nice to have a day start leisurely and no place to go. Two loads of laundry were done up and hung on the line. I attempted to balance my checking account. Ugh… it is $30.00 off… that drives me crazy!

Saturday I surprised the SP Coordinators by showing up for half a day. There was a good crew of half day people who set out to 4th Street East to cut some trees and fix up the tarping on a roof.

I had earlier met up with Sara and Holly. (I had her named as Laura in my previous entry) They are so personable. Someday we will meet again. Sara grew up with missionary parents and is very versed in things biblical. She said a prayer to keep me and my crew safe today.

We needed to get supplies, so Jim, and Luther went on ahead to kick out the chain saw work. They are local guys so they should not have any problem finding the place.

Myself and my crew of three college boys headed out. One in the cab with me, and the other two riding in the back bed: My truck looks like something from “the Grapes of Wrath” with the ladder and tools all hanging out.

We were driving up a hill on 25th Ave East when out of the corner of my eye I saw a bucket truck pulling out and into my side. I hit the horn, said a quick prayer and hit the gas as easy as I could to avoid jolting the boys out of the truck bed. We all survived. That prayer was just what I needed. I’m afraid my guardian angels are on overtime lately.

The GPS can’t get us to 4th St East where we need to be. This section of town is so difficult. We parked and walked to the damn address. This street dead ends to a sidewalk just at 25th Ave. The GPS for whatever reason has this street intersecting. We had to drive to University Blvd, drive over one block and then up 26th ave. This is the only entrance to this section of 4th St.

Jim and Luther had the same problem finding the place. Surveying the house, we discover the tree work had already been done. This is happening a lot. I sent the “chainsaw boys” to the next job. The boys and I needed to firm up tarping and cover holes in the house and cover the broken windows.

It can be hard to figure out and secure previous jobs. It took a bit but we got everything done we could. New power lines had been installed along the west side of the place. They were really close to the roof so we stayed away. There was no way to safely get a ladder close.

We went over to the next job. Luther was waiting for us. Again the chainsaw work had been done. This house was built into the side of a hill. The peak at the front where the damage occurred was about 2 ½ stories off the ground. This roof had a VERY steep pitch and was metal. I put the ladder to the side and climbed up. One step off the ladder convinced me to scrap this job. It was too dangerous for my skills. This roof survived well, the leak was just over the front porch. There was nothing leaking into the house. The house owner daughter told us the story how she picked up her father from the hospital the morning the tornado hit. He had suffered a stroke. He had a couple more and was not in the best of shape. Apparently the leaking water was driving him to distraction.

There was a hanging shard of metal I was able to knock off the front that was a danger. I explained how metal roofs are so slippery, and the last thing you want to do is to be nailing holes into them that are not needed. They were very appreciative for what little help we were.

From here we went to the Moose Lodge for lunch. The boys loved it! They went back for seconds. Now I can appreciate how my mother enjoyed when we kids dug into our food!

Driving back to the church we were behind a pick up truck…my jaw dropped when this girl on the passenger side climbed out the window and maneuvered her way to the truck bed. She then handed an Igloo lunch box to the driver through his window, returning to the cab the same way she got out all at 35 mph. We had incredulous stories to tell at the church when we all met there over that incident.

This type of day is getting to be routine now for me. I totally forgot to get a team picture. I need to make up check list now!

I got cleaned up and was running just a little bit late when Gary stopped by to give me a ride to Paul and Mike’s party. This proved to be a most welcome respite to be able to laugh and be lighthearted. The weather had turned cold. I ended up wearing a sweat shirt of Em’s and a ski hat of Paul’s to compliment my newest Utilikilt!

It was Mexican food tonight. I made up three huge Frittatas during the course of dinner.

Sunday was a slow catch-up morning trying to balance my check book with no success! As long as the checks don’t go bouncing I’ll be OK! A few loads of laundry were washed up and hung on the line. It was cool and gray all day. I called Buck to see if I could come down and dig up the Rain Trees he had to move. The original seeds came from our friend Ernie who died of Pancreatic Cancer back in 1999. Ernie was so good with plants. He gave me the Chinese Lacquer tree and ferns which grace my yard.

Buck knows his stuff. We were able to easily dig up the trees. I got three good ones. We enjoyed coffee on his front porch after getting the root balls wrapped in plastic and the trees packed away on my truck.

Heading back to my house I saw a turtle trying to cross the highway. By the time I was able to get back to him, he had been hit and killed. I felt so terrible: The poor little guy.

I stopped at Blowe’s and got peat moss. Buck told me to mix that real well with the dirt when I plant the trees. The roots need good soft soil to grow into. Checking out in the garden center I was behind a woman telling her tornado story to the clerk. When I check out I remarked how she was doing a service listening to the customers. She replied telling me some of the losses her family suffered.

These interchanges remind me of the book “Gone With the Wind”. Margaret Mitchell based much of history behind the book from the stories she learned on front porches growing up. In GWTW, after the war, families gathered in the evenings on Melanie’s front porch to relive the days of the siege of Atlanta. Similarly, people here will be reliving the tornado for years down the road.

It was so good to work in my yard for a change. I used the pick axe to dig up a good sized hole for the first Raintree in the front corner of my house. The peat moss was mixed with the dirt dug up and the tree settled into it’s new home. I just tried to take a picture of the tree, but at 5:00 a.m. things are still too dark.

One of the smaller trees was planted in the back in the same manner. There is one last tree to go which is now in a bucket of water till I can get to it.

Debbie will be here to walk the neighborhood in a bit. It is sweat suit weather again. If anything, the plants love this cool weather. My ferns are growing like crazy!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tornado Entry: 15

In a way I’m sort of sorry this is not November Journaling Month where-by a journal entry a day is required. I have more happening in my life now than I can daily record!

For whatever reason my camera is not downloading all its pictures: Stray shots are turning up. I need to show these shots from my Thursday crew.

This house picture starkly shows the warlike landscape we are working in. Two people were killed when crashing trees pushed it off the foundation. This is just down the road from the house we worked on.

This was my Thursday crew. Clay on the far left: Jimmy on the far right

Friday I was so happy to see Clay and Jimmy at the church. Clay is the main man on roofing in my book! We picked up two more workers. Sara and Laura (?) Forgive me I am so horrible with names!

We picked up tools and supplies and headed right out to Crescent Ridge Road to finish out the house we were only able to ½ tarp. The weather was expected to turn ugly. We had three jobs total in the book.

Clay took charge of the roofing detail. He had been wearing my old nail belt. That roofing tar encrusted belt was given to my back in 1978 by one of my oldest friend’s Dad. Ted (his son) was helping me shingle my garage, the first project I undertook upon buying my house. I told Clay the story behind that nail belt and passed it on to him.

We finished up the house in time for lunch at the Moose Lodge. The folks there know us on sight and greet us like old returning friends.

The sky opened up and it poured while we ate. There is no way we can climb on roofs. We returned to the church. Jimmie headed back to Mississippi. While we are at the church the sky cleared a bit. Clay, Sara, Lara and I headed out to the other two jobs.

One was on Crescent Ridge Road. It had already been taken care of. We then headed to 25th Ave to the last job in the book.

This was a cute 1930’s house. There were some bad areas in the back that needed covering. The old three tab shingle roof was in horrible shape before the storm hit. Clay, Sara and Laura tackled the roofing work. I took care of taping over the smashed out windows.

Part of the enjoyment of doing this work is the bonding between the teams. Sara is a surgical nurse. She loved hearing my stories of my mother, who was a WWII Army nurse. I’m adamant about my team wearing gloves whenever they get near any form of metal roofing. I show off my “wound” as an example.

At the Moose Lodge I had to change out my dressing, meaning another piece of duct tape over the cut. Sara laughed! I told her how it bled really well and I had cleaned it out. “It’s the puncture wounds which don’t bleed that hold the germs in. That’s what my mom always told me!” I said to Sara. “She sounds like a wise woman.” Sara replied to me. If she could only realize what an understatement that was!

Sara, Clay in his nail belt and Laura holding onto the tarping.

We got back to the Church to drop off our supplies. We had some tarping and two SP hammers to turn in. Sara said she would turn in the hammers as she picked up my new framing hammer. “Not that one!!!!” I yelled. How she laughed… she played me just like a piano.

I told Les after we went through the work book that I would be back on Monday as they should have more than enough people turn out for the weekend. Les replied “We have people but not experienced team leaders.”

As I walked to my truck I saw Todd, who had invited me to the church supper Thursday night. I apologized for not being there, explaining the circumstances why. This exchange followed.

Todd: Where do you go to church?

Jamie: I’m not much on organized religion, but I do believe in the teachings of Jesus. I believe how Jesus taught by example to do good and I try to follow in his footsteps.

Todd: Well, organized religion is man’s way of finding God.

Jamie: Thank you Todd.

At this point I was so tempted to tell Todd that his organized religion does not treat people of my sexual orientation very “Jesus-like”. It was not the time to have "that talk".

I decided to do a ½ day today (Saturday) Paul is having a cook out at his Gordo Farm tonight. Just the kind of distraction I need right now…..

Friday, May 13, 2011

Tornado Entry: 14

I have a new daily routine now. Up at my usual time of 4:00 a.m. make coffee, feed Daggy and Stump, check my g.mail and glance quickly over my news sites and blogs. The new part is that now I do my journal entries before cooking up my breakfast. I’m too tired to do much more than to just fix up some supper and then drop into bed. Thursday I was so glad to see Clay and Jimmy on hand. We three had all worked together previously as a team. We picked up some good workers and headed right out. I’m learning the lay-out of Tuscaloosa. The GPS I purchased last year has paid for itself over and over these past two weeks.

Our first job was to pretty much cover an entire roof. Clay has worked with David one of the Samaritan's Purse instructors. How I wanted to team out with his crew to learn the techniques. I never had that opportunity.

Now I have an idea how an teacher feels when they see a student blossom. Clay took over instructing the crew on the proper way to do the tarping. I was so proud of him. Everyone was working on my crew today. I felt left out! This gave me a chance to converse with the homeowner when he showed up. He and his wife had lived here in this house for 40 years. He is not sure if he will stay or not. Alberta City has been in a downward slide. This disaster might be the nail in the coffin that pushes the last of the old timers out.

My crew at work:


The main railroad line is in plain view here. It is unreal how from certain vantage points the trains are totally visible. There is a fairly sharp curve here that reminds me of my old model train set watching the cars go round the bend. OMG!! I just remembered a children’s book that I loved as a child about a modern Diesel engine who “knew everything”. (Remember I’m talking 1950’s here.) This engine would not listen to the sage advice of the wise old steam engine. This diesel engine got his train going around the mountain in a circle, with the caboose just ahead. This infuriated him and he tried to catch up to the caboose without success. He felt like a fool when he realized what had happened and all the other train engines were laughing at him.

My team got the first job out right around lunch time. Most were only working half a day. We all went to the Moose Hall for grub. I was able to chat with Matt and Sue who are quite active in the Moose Club. They are from my hometown Lockport and we worked together years ago at the plant here. Sue “donated” a lot of her unwanted yarn to my “Granny Square” I’m still adding to!

What the Moose Lodge has done is an example how the community has come together in this crisis. The day after the tornado hit, some $300.00 worth of hamburgers and fixings were set up in the parking lot. Word spread and food was donated. Matt has estimated they have served about 10,000 meals so far.

We returned to the church and got some fresh bodies. I checked out a ladder to supplement mine and three hammers. One of the hammers was the one of mine that turned up missing from the first day traping roofs! I’m glad to know it has a good home. I have not used it much in recent years. The people who originally were only working ½ a day signed on for more! We got right back out …..These kids just love riding in the back of pick up trucks!

There is a rush to get as much tarping done as possible as the weather is supposed to turn nasty. Our first call was to fix up a trap already up. The new shingling job is in progress so we did very little.

From here we went to an elderly handicapped lady who had some nasty leaks. Her house had some tree limbs and a huge antenna on the roof. The house was built on the side of a hill with a huge drop off the back. We were very careful. The insurance company had already marked out the damaged areas. We patched up and covered as best we could. It was a good roofing job. The lady told me a church group had put it on some five years ago. I’ve been on lots of roof now and can tell the wavy shingle edges from the straight ones in a second.

Our next call was supposed to be a quick tarping. I could not contact the home owner. The replacement roof had already been started. An elderly man was at the house. He was not in a condition to realize why were even there. I left him with a note to give to his son. There is no way we can work over new shingles and tarpaper…

The last job in the book was off Crescent Ridge Road, one of the hardest hit areas. En route we witnessed a van getting “T-Boned”. The way people drive here. We pulled over. I quickly gave the innocent driver my name and number in case they needed a witness. Pastor Jim from Samaritan’s Purse was right there: it was the third time that day we had met in the field!

Clay took care of assessing the job and what needed to be done. This poor house is a mess. There could only be a few people on the roof at a time it was pretty shaky.

This is representative of how the homes were in this part of town. Not anything fancy, but comfortable. The view from the kitchen sink must have been beautiful. The cabinet work is of the 1950-1960’s vintage showing a lot of skill in the cut out work.

Back view of the house:

Remains of the kitchen; what a view through the window to wash dishes to: My new hammer is on the counter... it rings when it hits the nails just right!!!

I got to talk with the owner. This was his family’s home where he grew up. Siblings and other family are all scattered along this road. I learned how one family member lost his wife the week before the tornado. Then he lost his home. Hearing these stories makes me realize how my problems don’t amount to a “hill of beans”.

We got the roof half covered and had to quit. We returned back to the church about 5:30. By the time I checked in the tools and my paperwork it was 6:00 when I dragged in my door. Oh… that hot shower felt good. I was invited to join the SP coordinators for supper at the church at 6:30. I’m hoping they will not think I blew them off. I was in bed at 8:15.

Waiting for my pictures to download to my Photobucket account, I cooked and ate breakfast. The small folding table that was my Aunt Fran's held my food plate on the front porch. The cool breeze and birdsong made a tranquil backdrop compared to the devastation I'll soon be in. Small things like this make me count my blessings.....

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Tornado Entry: 13

“You can’t be rigid, you can’t be flexible, you have to be fluid.” Has become my motto. I’ve been a team leader pretty much since volunteering. Basically this means I’m responsible for the paperwork and coordinating everyone assigned to me.

From how I’m understanding how things work there are two basic crews: chainsaw, and tarping crews. I know so little of chainsaws I let those guys make the calls. The one thing I really push is they wear chaps for safety. This is like having to wear safety glasses in the plant. When tarping I TRY to make the nailers wear safety glasses. Those nails can “zing” so fast. I’ve had too many bounce off my glasses to question the pain of wearing them.

Wednesday I was supposed to crew out with David and help his tarping crew. I got pulled at the last minute and was given a chainsaw group to oversee. This was a great group of guys who all worked together. I could tell these guys knew their stuff.

We went to our first of three jobs in Alberta City. These addresses here are so random, this job was challenge to find. A tree was on a little shotgun house. It looked like the root ball was weak on one side and the wind stress pushed the tree over. This area was not heavily damaged.

It was like watching a surgeon dissect a cadaver as these boys plotted out the cuts to take down this tree. The branches came off we hauled them to the curb.

I inspected and cleared off the roof. There were old leaves that had been up there for years. I was pulling out compost from some areas. I swept off the roof, and drove down some protruding nails.

We are to leave our work areas in good shape. This property had not been kept up. The grass had not been mowed forever. The East side of the house had not been cleaned or raked in months perhaps years. You could not tell where I had swept off the leaves from the roof.

Here is my crew in front of the debris we cleared away.

We did the best clean up we could and broke for lunch. I always try to get my crews to the Moose Lodge. They put on a great lunch for the volunteers. This service is going to end this week, so I’m going to enjoy it while I can! They love to hear me say, “I want to treat my crews right, so I bring them here!”

Today (Wednesday) lunch was chicken, lima beans, okra&tomatoes, sweet potatoes salad and carrot cake for desert. I enjoy watching my “boys” chow down.

I get new crews every day, but we all bond and become a pretty close knit group at the close of our jobs. I feel quite paternal and protective towards them. I now wonder if my old Supervisors ever felt that way of me. There were a few I know disliked me to no end, but others I would do extra because they were decent. It is those decent foreman I try to emulate with my crews.

Before we even leave the church to go out I tell my crews we are all in this together, don’t be afraid to tell me if anything can be done better. The chainsaw boys work in Nuclear Medicine! I showed Jason my work orders so he could pick out the next job. It was a tree on a house off Crescent Ridge Road. This was a very hard hit area. The GPS was invaluable finding this place as street signs are missing. This is some the worst damage I have witnessed up close.

This job was down in a little valley. A huge tree was crashed through the house. There was no safe way our crew could take this out. I told the boys it was their call and they said, “No way” in unison. This house is a total loss.

The house is in this valley:

The tree to be removed.

What is left of the kitchen:

Matrix rescue code. I was unsuccessful in finding information on how to read this code.

Our last job was on University Blvd East. This is a strange address because you can’t access the houses from the street. Homes along this area are up a hill and have an access from the back along a narrow street. You can barely get down this street from the debris lining it. Finally we get to this elusive address.

This is the kind of a job that really annoys me. A tree was leaning towards the house about one foot away from live electric service. There is no way to take it down without a pulley and bucket. The branches have already been taken out, there was no danger to the house from this.

There were fallen trees that had been cut up some. Our basic job is to secure the property from any further damage. It seems like now people are wanting to use us as a free service to clear their yards. I contacted the homeowner as is requested. She wanted the trees in the back cut and hauled down the hill to the road because she claimed the city would not go on her property to remove the limbs. The hardwood she wanted us to cut up and stack for her fireplace. She was annoyed about the damage to her roof. There was a small area on the corner of the carport that had been tarped that was a bit loose. Then as I talked to her she directed me to the other damage over her back door. Finding the damage my blood began to boil, but I held it in and told her it would be repaired. There was a two foot area where the shingle overhang was missing exposing the wooden soffit board. After tarping entire roofs that little bit did not even register in my mind as damage. I cut a little section of tarp and covered it to show we did something.

We had no more jobs and returned to the church. I had the chainsaw guys come in with me to explain the extent of the damage to the one house, and the absurdity of the last house call. They know more about that kind of work than I ever will.

Apparently the removal of the tree debris is becoming a problem with what is expected from the homeowners and what we are obligated and can accomplish as volunteers.

It was kind of an early quit. I had time to get to the barbershop. It was an easy cut…buzz my head with a 1 ½ blade. It felt so good as I could feel the cool air on my head as the locks fell off.

I can see progress being made. Some of the debris piles on University Blvd are down. Traffic is going again in all the lanes. There is not so much of a military presence now. Slowly things are returning to a form of what will be the “new normalcy” for a while


About Me

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Tuscaloosa, Alabama, United States
Retired auto worker who can now spend too much time restoring his 1922 Bungalow Home. I'm involved in a number of varied activities from collecting bricks to rowing with a masters rowing group. This blog is to share different aspects of my life on my Facebook page. I've kept an on-line journal for eight years.