Gig Line: Mama’s daffodils among the ashes
Published 2:00 pm Monday, October 24, 2022
In the past couple of weeks, testimonies of survival, hardship and loss that so many Floridians experienced during and following Hurricane Ian were heart wrenching. No doubt you wished you could help (me too) in some way. To comfort and encourage families who lost their loved ones, especially, and every single thing they had in this world. Several victims expressed on live interviews how they didn’t know how they would ever recover.
When the topic of looting came up it reminded me of how I felt when we lost our family home in Manteo – the home my grandmama (Mama Coot) and granddaddy (Papa Dan) built in 1936 when it caught on fire and burned beyond repair. I have written about that event in the past, but I was reminded of what brings about P.T.S.D. (post traumatic stress disorder) in people of all ages and due to different circumstances in their lives, so I can appreciate the pain and suffering our veterans with P.T.S.D. go through daily. I’d like to help them, too.
For a long time after our house was destroyed by fire, I would hear a fire truck’s sirens going and lights flashing and start to cry. You don’t forget heartaches like that because even with “sticks and stones,” it hurts to lose something you’re proud of and cherish. It was my family home where Mama Coot used to take in boarders to help with the bills. It was in my mind’s eye the most beautiful house in the world.
Kudos to our Roanoke Island Volunteer Fire Department – North Station 17 (Manteo) and South Station 17 (Wanchese), that work together and respond to all the fire calls on Roanoke Island – each of their firefighters are awesome and dedicated heroes. Thank you to each of you!
The dedicated firefighters used all their skills and training to extinguish the blaze that ravaged our home, but when it was evaluated by a reputable restoration company, they determined the damage too significant to bring it back to life. One of the Roanoke Island Fire Department firemen, my first cousin Eddie Bliven, along with others, had to finish demolishing the shell of a once happy and beloved home. At that time, I talked to our Manteo Baptist Church pastor who helped me understand that my (our) family’s grief was normal and that we were in mourning. Thankful above all that none of our family was lost in the tragedy, but mourning the loss of a home that embraced our Mann family heritage established in 1936, I was beside myself. After the final burn of the still-standing black shell that had housed so many memories and happy times, Eddie came to us with a box that was recovered during their final sweep before igniting an intentional required burn to minimize the debris to be removed. It was a cigar box full of old family pictures and it made me cry again – this time with gratitude and praise. Eddie brought us a blessing and while all the precious mementos and Christmas ornaments our children had made through the years, cards, letters and important paperwork could not be saved, God delivered a surprise. The box was smeared with soot, but it felt like gold in my hands and I was thankful to Eddie. He looked sad that I cried but I explained how much his delivery had comforted me.
Another cousin, Edward Lee Mann, scooped us up insisting we find refuge at his home which we did that first week. Then two more cousins, Charles and CeCe Evans, offered us lodging at their cottage court in Nags Head by Jennette’s Pier, where we stayed for several weeks. The fire happened in March, so off season weeks were more available back in 1987. Our daughter’s best friend and someone we considered a “second” daughter lived with us at the time also, so there was five of us to be relocated temporarily. Thank goodness we had a place to stay while we collected our thoughts and sorted things out. Through that terrible ordeal, it was clear that our family members, friends and community shared our heartache and everyone who rallied around us offering food, shelter, clothing, etc. was a blessing never, ever to be forgotten. During those weeks, we searched every option to find a temporary home and fortunately we located one on the north end of Manteo.
When what was your home (or castle no matter how modest) suffers significant damage and you walk through the remains, your senses heighten – the stench of burned wood (unlike the fragrant aroma of a crackling campfire or fireplace), melted appliances, plastic, wiring and the scattered puddles of fire truck water which attempted to save it fills your nostrils with an overwhelming odor – everything is charred and the blackest of black surrounds you. The pretty, fluffy muslin country curtains that Dolly Tillett custom made for us were burnt off the rods, the pictures and even Mama’s urn holding her ashes – gone. We still first, of course, thanked the Lord for the time He had given our family in that incredible old house we loved so much (one year) and mostly that our children and “second” daughter were alive and physically well.
The families in Florida who suffered raging flood water sweeping their homes away entirely – or at minimum off their foundations – experience shock, overwhelming sadness and the sickening reek of mold and mildew. In any case, it’s horrible. On top of the loss, you never consider that anyone would seek to find a “pick through” treasure in the remains of what was your home.
At the end of the first few weeks following the fire, I rode by the ruins once full of love, warmth and joy when I looked toward our homesite. Sadly, a woman who had pulled her car into our driveway was digging up the daffodil flower bulbs that Daddy had planted so lovingly for Mama. It was one of the first improvements he made to our home when they bought the house from his two siblings in 1959. Mama loved daffodils and he knew it, so he painstakingly planted each bulb spaced exactly right on each side lining the concrete slab walkway that led to our front porch from US 64/264.
I slowed down. I was upset. I couldn’t pull into our driveway because her car wasn’t in far enough, so I slowly rode by when she looked up and saw me staring at her in disbelief. I didn’t recognize her, but I think she either recognized me or noticed someone was watching. I sped up to get to the next place I could pull in and turn around and I did, then I drove back as quick as I could to confront her. If she had loved daffodils like my Mama (who had died 10 years before) and had asked, I would have shared some of them with her. The picture of our house and our names had just been in The Coastland Times and being on the main highway through Manteo, it wouldn’t have been difficult to have asked almost anybody how to reach us, but she didn’t. I don’t hold a grudge, I guess she thought it didn’t matter. She was wrong. It mattered to me.
It hurt me. I would have shared. So, when anyone who stands on the ground of a site where a family has lost so much – everything – consider what you can give them to help rather than take away. Just saying. If anyone wishes to help the families in Florida, I suggest they contact an excellent resource – Samaritan’s Purse, PO Box 3000, Boone, NC 28607 or call them at 828-262-1980. It is a faith-based 501©(3) tax exempt charity that is doing great work not only in Florida, but around the world.
The 2022 Outer Banks Seafood Festival is this Saturday, October 15. Gates are open from 10:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. and it is located at Nags Head Soundside Event Site – you can’t miss it. IF you are able to attend, please look for the Dare County Veterans’ Advisory Council booth! We will be there to meet, greet and give you a free NC4VETS Resource Guide, a good council ink pen and a council carry around cloth bag! Also, Dare County local veterans and non-resident property owners can come with their DD-214 (showing honorable discharge) and their driver’s license and acquire their free Dare County Veteran Discount Card! If you haven’t gotten yours yet, see Patty O’Sullivan, our Dare County veteran service officer, who will be there to issue your card and answer veteran related questions. Please stop by – we’d love to see you! There will be a DJ and live music, food, fun and a day to remember. Don’t miss it!
Until next time, be healthy, safe and happy! With Veteran’s Day (actually Veteran’s Week in Dare County) coming soon, there will be much to share with you all so please stay tuned. I love you all and pray for God’s blessings on your life every morning in my prayers. Thank you for your emails, calls and snail mail (Charlie and Sally). Please call my cell at 252-202-2058; email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out www.giglineheroes.com – that link will take you to many previous stories/columns! Thank you, veterans, and everyone else too – we’re all in this together! Stay tuned!