Chapter 1... Exposition.
I love Christmas. I really, really do... I love the festivities, I love the color, I love the lights, I love the joy, I love the happiness of it all. Of course, as a Christ-follower and Grace Abuser, I recognize the birth of our Saviour as the main root of what Christmas is all about, but I love what it is.
When I forget, however, the... forgive me for tossing this phrase out, as I'm not a fan of it, but for lack of a better word... "reason for the season", I'm reminded of a Christmas memory, one I hold dear in my mind and heart.
Many Christmasas have come and gone thus far in my life, 32 so far, and my 33rd will be in a few weeks. Hopefully, I'll be able to have many more with God's hand on my life. There are some Christmas days that I vaguely recall, mostly from when I was a child, but I do remember my 7th Christmas, when I awoke to find the Star Wars AT-AT standing by the tree, standing half as tall as I was. Next to it was Slave I, out of the package, awating my imagination to take hold.
My first college Christmas was great, and I remember a few after that actually working at the radio station--WTBF-FM--where I just played the programs on tape and CD all day. I worked perhaps 10 hours that day, making much needed money. I read. I watched tv. I just enjoyed a quiet Christmas day.
And then I remember the Christmas in 2000, and more importantly, the events of December 23rd and 24th, 2000. It was a night that would change my heart and life for years to come, one I hold dearly to, sometimes clinging to when I need a little faith in my life.
It was the week of the Tuscaloosa tornadoes. None of us at The Deuce--that is, the apartment that was habitated by Mikey, Shawn, Tom and Yours Truly--were directly affected, but yet, we ended up being just that. It wasn't just us... it was our friends close to us--Matt Latta, Ginger Thomas, The Revern Ty, Leslie Cordell, Drew Morris, Tommy McLeod, Jennifer Hudson, Justin Glenn, Big Wookiee, Stephanie Nipp--not The Lovely Steph Leann, mind you... I was two months along after meeting her for the first time, yet another month from asking her out. Not only those people mentioned, but there were the Kellers, Aunt Faith, Britney, Claire and more... and of course, what started it all, Amy Wible.
This story will be longer than many tales I tell on Clouds in My Coffee, but I want to make sure you, my fellow Coffee Drinkers, understand the full scope of what I'm about to tell you. I'll break the story up into several parts, perhaps a few postings a week--don't worry, the story is fully written, so there isn't a "what if he doesn't finish it?" fear.
I guess my fear resides in that you won't like the story I have to tell... of course, thats just the chance we all take when posting our thoughts and minds to the world on such a blogsite, one that is visited now by 10s of people every day. But, after thinking about it last year, and even the year before, I decided this is the year that it should be re-told. I'll start tonight, we'll tell it along the way, and I'll finish up right around Christmas, as it should be.
You could say that our story begins early Saturday morning as we left, or you could contend that our story began at the weekly Thursday night Bible study, held at Sybil Johnson's house, as so many were back in those days, this particular one being the Thursday before Christmas. But to truly get the full exposition, I'll have to tell you the two things that occurred, leading up to Thursday night which, in turn, led to the weekend of which you'll read. In fact, if you haven't heard me--or any of us, really--talk about it, I'm a little surprised.
The storm itself was the first major event. After a long evening of partying, Deuce style, I woke up around noon on Saturday. I don't remember the specifics, but if its like a normal Deuce night was, it was people up late, playing Tetris on the Gamecube, or watching a movie on the big screen tv, or playing cards or whatever... this is what we did at The Deuce, starting from the day we moved in (June 10th, 2000) to the day the last of us moved out (March 4th, 2004).
In my room, my bed was right beside the window, which allowed for the brightness of the day to usually blast the room with light. This morning, however, the room wasn't very bright. I rolled out of bed, did my morning routine--bathroom stop, brushing teeth, put on some sort of presentable clothes as I never knew who would be coming in without knocking--and shuffled my way to the living room. The shower would come later, if at all, cause hey, its Saturday, right?
One of the main fixtures of The Deuce was the 35 inch television--not impressive now, but in 2000, most impressive... another fixture was the hundreds of movies that lay on shelves and bookcases around the room... still another fixture mainstay of The Deuce? Tommy McLeod. A thin, lanky guy about 22 or 23 at the time, Tommy had a home in Birmingham (his family lives here), but chose to lay his bushy hair on The Deuce couch most nights. This morning, Tommy's glasses were transfixed on the weather maps that were on channel after channel as he flipped.
I sat down beside him, and gawked, "Wow." He didn't say anything, but stopped flipping on a local station that was showing tornado damage from somewhere. "Where is that?" I asked.
"Tuscaloosa," Tommy replied.
Chapter 2... Plans.
"So, how are you?" I asked gently over the phone.
"Holding up," came the reply, softly.
"What's it look like over there?"
"Its terrible, Dave. Just terrible. I mean... I can't... I mean I just..." she trailed off, and sniffled.
I could tell that Amy Wible was still crying a little, though not nearly as much as when she'd called me the day of the tornadoes. When she called me, and from my first, "Hello", she began to sob deeply into the phone. I let it go for a little while, as any friend would, until she finally could make coherent sentences. She then told me of her grandmother's house, and how it had been severly damaged by the tornadoes, and about the destruction in the entire neighborhood--entire houses nearby flattened, some people who had lost everything. Right before Christmas.
Amy and I had been friends since 1997, and I've told our story on this site before (you can find it here). This weekend fell about a month or two before we finally began to drift apart, but that's another day. This particular day, I had called her, after having already consulted with the Deuce guys.
"We have an idea, Amy. We want to help." I told her.
I explained to her our idea of gathering a group of people, traveling to Tuscaloosa during the upcoming Friday--six days week after the tornadoes and two days before Christmas--to offer our services of manpower to her family, and to anyone else who needed it there.
"That would be amazing, Dave," she said, and I could tell she was smiling. "I don't know exactly how we'll get it all worked out, but I know the whole area needs help. Not just my grandmother, but the neighbors too. I mean, there are still trees in yards, holes in roofs, streets that are blocked... and the weather has been miserable."
She was right about that. The entire week had been record cold, with temperatures not even approaching 40, and much of it below freezing, even in mid-afternoon. There were rumors that there was snow approaching the area, but I didn't give much credence to such things. At least at this point.
"Well, then, just plan on it." I replied. "I'll send an email out, and call Sybil and ask her to do the same. "We'll see you on Friday, okay?"
"Perfect," came the response, and this time I knew she was smiling.
I hung up, and dialed the number to Sybil's home. She answered, we conversed for a few, and then I told her of the upcoming service day. She was more excited than I thought, saying, "Thats wonderful! This is a perfect chance to serve, especially in this whole 'season of giving'!"
It sounds cliche, but I guess that is what it boils down to.
CHAPTER 3... PARTY
As I mentioned before, there were two events that set our weekend in motion. The first, of course, was the tornado-filled storm that ripped apart Tuscaloosa, specifically the neighborhood of Amy Wible's grandmother. The second of the events happened a few weeks later at Thursday night Bible Study.
Sybil Johnson was, at one time, the leader of a ministry called "Common Ground", the college and career ministry at Valleydale Baptist Church. I'm sure we were an SBC Fellowship at the time, but because the "Baptist" was our middle name, there was no need for a declaration. Common Ground was an amazing ministry, comprised of at least 25 to 30 regular attenders, and numbering more than 50 or 60 in attendance. On this night of which I tell, we were gathering for our annual Christmas party at Common Ground, which was held at the small house across the street from the church campus... this was 2000, remember.
As with every Thursday, the familiar faces came shuffling in, one by one... Stephanie Nipp, sister of Mikey Nipp... Justin Glenn, guitar player and future husband of Jennifer Pritchett (though they knew not at the time)... Sarah Hasha, plucky, cute, loud... the Deuce was represented as always by Michael and myself, who came in together, while Shawn Sharp and Tom Johnson followed closely behind.
In every college ministry, there were faces that only appeared on certain weekends and holiday breaks, and our ministry was no exception... Hillary Kelly strolled in, from Mississippi State. Ginger Thomas and Matt Latta, dating and would eventually marry, from Lee University... Leslie Cordell, bushy hair and beautiful, also from Lee University... Drew Morris, another guitar playing, long haired, Guns N Roses lovin' fellow worshipper. He's an Alabama student, and he also just randomly comes, classes or not.
Sybil scurried around frantically as she does on a day to day basis, lighting candles, straightening pillows, wiping, dusting, fixing and doing whatever she can to pull the place up to her standards. As the leader of this motley, Godly crew, this was a big night... and she wanted everything to be perfect.That didn’t matter much, as when Michael sat down, he bumped the table, spilling candle wax all over Sybil’s new Snowflakes-N-Angels tablecloth.
“Michael!” she yelled. “You are messing up my decor!”
“Dangit woman!” he said, jumping up. “Who puts tablecloths on tables anyway? Stupid gay-cor!”
Michael Williams and Rebecca came in, hand in hand, prompting half the room to smile with an “aw, cute!” look and the other half to smirk with a nauseous glance. Justin and Drew sat down in the corner with their guitars, and began to strum and pluck, sharing cords and guitar stories. When Stephanie joined them, a chorus of Caedmon’s Call tunes came from that side of the room.
Ty walked through a few moments later. I stood in the game room watching Michael beat up on Ross Kingrey in ping-pong, so though I didn’t see him, I knew when Ty entered the building.“What’s up guys!” he said in his loud voice. “Hey Sybil! Why are you scrubbing that tablecloth?”
I perked up when I heard Shawn yell “Wookiee!” Walking back to the main room, there stood my 7 foot tall friend, Chris Fulaytar.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“Dude, got your email about Saturday,” he smiled. “I was coming for the dinner tomorrow night, and so I thought ‘You know, any mass destruction not caused by a Wookiee should have a Wookiee helping to clean it up’.”
“Right on,” I smiled, doing the Wonder Twins fist smack.
By seven or so, there were thirty people in the room, wandering about, hugging, talking, strumming, whatever, when Sybil came to the stage and gathered the attention of the crowd.
"A few announcements before we start,” she read from her paper. “Don’t forget, ministry team meeting in January… Watermark concert on January 20th… and Dave, I got your email, so do you want to make the announcement about Saturday's clean-up?"
"Sure," I replied. I spoke loudly, "Good friend of mine, Amy--some of you have met her--has a grandmother who lives in Tuscaloosa. You heard that lots of places were damaged, and I talked to Amy this past week... a few of us are going over there on Saturday to help clean up, maybe clear some trees, just do whatever we can.”
"What time?" Sybil asked.
“Nine thirty!” I yelled back.
“Okay, 9:30 it is,” she responded. “Now, without further ado, here is Noel Johnson.”
Sybil’s son took the stage and immediately began to play, while the crowd began to mingle again.
I had gotten my cup of whatever was available drink-wise, and saw Sarah sitting at a table by herself. I strode over and sat down with a "What's up, sunshine?" She looked up and half-smiled, “I can’t go this weekend,” she said. “I’m sorry… I have my surgery tomorrow, and I know I won’t be in any shape to go do any sort of manual labor by the next day.” Sarah had had nasal problems for awhile, and was finally getting it fixed. I was actually rather saddened, as I would have enjoyed having her around, if only to hear Michael and Sarah bicker. Good times.
She also had a special place in my heart as she had been baptized recently. "It’s okay,” I smiled, grabbing her hand. “I really enjoyed watching your baptism. Congrats.” I stood up and gave her a hug.
Over the course of the evening, I talked to several people, many who told me they could be there, and would be there, several who were unable to make it. Close to the end of the night, I had moved from here to there and back, finally ending up on a couch next to Leslie Cordell.
“So, who is going on Saturday?” Leslie asked me when I sat down, "besides me and you, I mean."
“What, you don't want to go with just me?" I laughed. She rolled her eyes and smiled.
"Let’s see…" I starting going through the faces that had given me a YES over the course of the evening,"Justin Glenn said he wanted to go... all the Deuce guys--Mikey, Shawn, Tom, Tommy, Drew and Wookiee... Steph Nipp wanted in... Matt and Ginger both felt like it would be cool to go... Jennifer Hudson said it would be fun to hang out with everyone... and Ty said he'd be in, as long as we could be back by 5pm.”
“What's he doing at 5pm?"
"I dunno, something about he knows this guy, Rob Riley or something, that is running for governor in a few years, and Ty is going to be on his campaign... I dunno. And Sybil can't go, because she's still having foot problems.”
Leslie nodded, “Ah, yeah, her surgery was just a few days ago, right? How are we getting there? Are we all just loading up and driving down there, or do we have any sort of plan whatsoever?”
“Michael, Ty and I are riding with Matt and Ginger. Wookiee is driving, and I think we worked it out that you and Steph and Shawn will ride with him. Justin and Drew will both be a little late, so Tommy, Tom and Jenn will wait on them.”
“And exactly what will we be doing?”
“Clearing debris, mostly. Amy’s grandmother’s house, plus the house on either side, have trees fallen over either in the yard or on the house. We’ve got to clear the yards of all three houses so that the dozers and equipment can get in there and do the big clearing of brick and stuff.”
“Should make for an interesting day.”
“Not really,” I leaned back. “Just another day of yardwork in a really messy yard or two.”
Leslie laughed, scoffing at the idea that any project we would be involved in would ever classify as "just another day".
Chapters 4 - 7