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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Good People - Good Community

I’ve wanted to write about an experience I had a few weeks ago that revived my faith in community. These days, with the current administration so negative about everything none American, the news media so willing to expound on the negative with no regard for the positive and business running skittish thus ruining so many peoples financial well being, it is rare that something can help get me past all the negative exposure. What I experienced went way beyond just getting past the negative. It gave me hope for the future and a great respect for local influence in our lives.

Emily is a RN and works at a retirement home and was, until recently, tagged the “Wound Care Nurse.” That is, along with the normal nursing responsibilities, she was the nurse called when a resident/patient developed an open wound. This responsibility is mostly for liability purposes, but don’t rule out compassionate care of the clients. She is called to not only care for the wound but to adequately document it – size, location, probable cause, etc. She works closely with another Wound Care Nurse, Gloria. Gloria’s husband, Doug, had a transplant a while back and after the extreme traumatic experience of the surgery, they have gone through some hard times with his recovery. There is insurance, but there is disagreement over what is covered. Meanwhile the pressure to pay the bills ignores the disagreement between the pained and the profiters. To help out, the little community of Boonshill put on a Grand Old* Opry show at the Boonshill Community Center. This is just a little place out in the country in the north-west corner of Lincoln County. If you looked up the stats most of the categories will read, “significantly below state average.” There are as many Indians are there are Blacks although its population is decidedly white. The community center is an old now unused public school building and, trust me, it wasn’t updated when it shifted purposes. It is a big building with some A/C on a good day. On this very hot July night it wasn’t up to the task.

The event was a multi-phased presentation broken into two functions. First there was a dinner which cost $10. The nursing staff at the county nursing home where Emily works provided the kitchen staff and it was served in the old school cafeteria. I got to meet a lot of the women she works with and let me tell you, they are good people. All that friendliness you read and hear about Southerners was there in abundance. That’s saying a lot for a bunch of women who were working in a steamy hot, un-air conditioned kitchen serving lots of people looking forward to a good meal. Not a lot of national chains in Boonshill, none to be exact. It’s a place where Mom is still respected for her cooking abilities. So a night out is A NIGHT OUT!

As I was in line working my way up to the service line and being introduced to all of Emily’s working buds along the way, I noticed pictures all along the walls of graduation classes. The early classes (70’s) had maybe ten people in the senior classes. As the years progressed the numbers grew, but not by much. The last picture had a respectful 30 or 40 seniors. All the pictures were black and white and faded to that old sepitone quality. Each individual’s picture in the early years was individual head shots in oval inlays. The years were showing on the photos, but the style of proper dress for such an important life event was more revealing. Most definitely something I could identify with.

The dinner was spaghetti and garlic bread. One of those hard to eat meals when the last thing you wanted was tomato sauce stains on your yellow shirt. There was a choice of deserts and the drinks were one’s choice of the national soda brands over ice in a plastic cup. Refills were expected. We sat at old folding tables and metal folding chairs with the only relief from the heat coming when the door opened letting people in or out. It was for a good cause so allowances were made.

$10 bought your way into the second phase which was a music regalia, silent auction, a not so silent pie/cake sale and a gas card and country ham raffle in the old dark wood gym with a stage at one end. The basketball goals were cranked to the ceiling. The hard steel folding chairs populated the gym floor all dress-right-dress and a couple of huge (5 foot) fans were placed here and there in front of the ancient bleachers. I captured a couple of chairs in front of one of those huge fans for the evening. Along the back wall the items up for bid during the silent auction were displayed. The items ranged from exercise equipment and office furniture to candles, country painting and song birds complete with wood cage. Many of the restaurants from Fayetteville put up dinners for two and several hair salons offered haircuts, manicure and pedicures. I went through when I first got there and made a few bids. Emily would pass through several times that night refreshing her bids after someone would out bid her until they reach her limit. She also donated a quilt to the silent auction. It would net the proceeds $200. That surprised me, but not her. She knew it would bring that much.

It is hard to describe this phase of the evening. So much was going on and people were everywhere. After we had made our initial bids and took our much envied seats, Emily continued to introduce passer-bys. I had a little time to observe the people. All ages were represented and while tee-shirts won the most worn category, there were lots of folks in clean neat plaid shirts and jeans or nice colorful summer tops and caprices. Older white haired men wore clean baseball caps with neatly trimmed haircuts. Younger men were well tanned and either had very long hair or closely cut but not quite crew cuts. The older women carried purses and fussed over the kids and the younger women tended to be knockouts in tight jeans and healthy long flowing hair. The teens were teens, boys and girls alike. They fully accepted the style of the times. The little kids . . . well let’s just say I knew they were there but they never slowed down long enough for me to get a good look. A few of the entertainers were standing around waiting for their time on stage wearing the recognizable clothing of the singer they were going to portray. A few had square dance dresses that were brightly colored and lots of ruffled slips. No one was a stranger and no one was out of place. A few of the teenage boys had the “I need an identity” fright in their eyes, but everyone else was as comfortable being there as they would be in their own living room.

When the show started it was just like the Grand Old Opry. For you who don’t know, I lived in and around Nashville during my high school years. My folks loved country music. I have lots of pictures of them taken with the likes of Grand Pa Jones, Porter Waggoner, Loretta Lynn and the like. So when I tell you that I was floored by the talent of these country folks, I know of what I speak. Their attempts to look like the stars they pretended to be may have only gone as far as the costumes they had on, but their talent was right up there with the real country singers of my youth. When I heard Andea Delap as Patsy Cline, I was transported back in time as her voice was indistinguishable from the real Patsy singing “I fell to Pieces”. Charles Sullivan singing Conway Twitty’s “15 Years Ago” had me doing a double take. Michelle Hardiman as Jeanie C. Riley singing “Harper Valley PTA” moved me to join in. As much as I wanted to rib Emily (an avid Tennessee Vols fan) when Mary Ann Tackett sang as Dolly doing “Rocky Top”, I just couldn’t because it was so good. That night’s stars ran the gamut from Merle Haggard to Elvis Presley and Connie Smith to Emmylou Harris. All of these performers were backed up by the great sounding Boonshill Grand Old Opry Band. Emily says when they are out on their own they call themselves "The Carpenters."

The graceful Sharron Reavis sang a special tribute to Doug and Gloria, who were front role video taping the entire performance. Mrs. Reavis has her own beautiful voice and it lend itself nicely to the evenings performances. Now remember, these are local folks who do this not for money or fame, but for a good cause and to give a helping hand, not with cash, but with their gifts of song.

There was a brake in the performances for the raffles and cake sale. Emily was sitting on the edge of her chair when they called out the winner for the $50.00 Gas Card. I guess driving to Huntsville as often as she does, this was a real deal. Alas it wasn’t destined to fill her gas tank, so she got up to refresh her bids back in the silent auction.

The cake sale was interesting not because the cakes were brought to the announcer by cute little 10 to 12 year old girls nor because the pointers in the audience hurriedly ran around pointing out who was bidding nor because there were so many cakes up for bid. No, what made the cake sale interesting was the sale of one cake in particular. I so wanted to find out the history behind this cake but couldn’t. See, most of the cakes and pies went for $7 to $10. However, the gym was brought to a stand still as the bidding for one cake rose to over a hundred dollars finally selling for $130. There were “ooos” and “awwws“ as the price rose and a thunderous applause as it was finally raveled sold. Imagine a $130 dollar homemade cake. I’m sure it didn’t come from a box.

As the evening grew long they finished the silent auction just before the 4th portion of the show. Emily’s boss, Debbie, got the ergonomic office chair and Emily got two dinners at Tammy’s Outback, not to be confused with the national chain with the Aussy image. Tammy is a realtor broker by day and runs a Bar at night that serves great food. Emily just happens to be neighbors with Tammy’s best cook, Farnel, who works full time at a local appliance manufacturing plant. I’m telling you these people are interesting.

There was recognition for Doug and Gloria and the tough times they had so far endured with still more to come. This little fund raiser with all the events brought them $10,000. Not bad for a community of around 1500 people. Granted a lot of outsiders came like me, but one evening’s take like that just adds to my early testament of the talent of these voluntary performers and the generosity of this community. Its good to know that there are places where people can be this generous with their time and talent and community recourses and not get hog tied by policy, regulation and political correctness.