Tough as nails: A lesson in building, losing and overcoming

Jennifer Cohron
Posted 6/2/17

There is a caricature of the South depicted on screens big and small as being somewhere between “Gone with the Wind” and “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”

Then there is the South populated by flesh-and-blood …

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Tough as nails: A lesson in building, losing and overcoming

Posted

There is a caricature of the South depicted on screens big and small as being somewhere between “Gone with the Wind” and “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.”

Then there is the South populated by flesh-and-blood Southerners.

In this South, having a tree house is a rite of passage for young boys.

When the boy reaches an age where he is deemed responsible enough to have one, the grandfather arrives one day hauling a trailer loaded down with salvaged lumber, a rope and a slide.

He chooses a tree, makes a sketch on a piece of notebook paper and gets to work.

In this South, a father spends his off day toting wood and keeping the screw gun charged so that his dad can create a kingdom in the sky for a 7-year-old they both love.

Together, and mostly in silence, they build a platform. On day two, they add walls and a roof. On day three, they fashion handrails out of landscape timbers.

On the boy’s birthday, they admire their handiwork and stand shoulder to shoulder at the base of it so that the photographer in the family can capture this moment for posterity.

It’s a start, they agree, but it’s far from finished. It needs doors and windows and could use a few coats of paint.

That can wait, though, while the man who got this project going takes a trip.

In this South, a guy can lose everything he’s worked for while he’s out of town.

The page goes out at 3 a.m. and volunteer firefighters arrive on scene within minutes. They work for hours to put out the flames and then head out for their real jobs, the ones that pay their bills.

At 6 a.m. a small town police chief makes a call and delivers the bad news to an unsuspecting homeowner and friend.

At least a man doesn’t have to worry about what will happen to his two dogs until he can get back to what’s left of his home. His neighbors have a fence and have agreed to take them in for a few nights.

There’s not much a son can do at a time like that, but he can take the day off work and drive down to what’s left of his childhood home in hopes that there are a few things he can salvage.

There isn’t.

So he goes to Town Hall and asks for a fire report. The clerk knows all about it; she lives two streets over and saw the barricades on her way to work.

Unfortunately, the police chief is asleep and the fire chief wasn’t on scene. There’s another guy who might have the report, but he’s still at work.

The clerk places the call and leaves a message. With nothing to do but wait and the obligatory “I’m sorry for your loss” out of the way, the conversation turns to happier topics.

It turns out the clerk is a schoolteacher who retired several years before the young man standing in front of her walked the halls of the local elementary school.

She doesn’t know him, but she can tell him how some of his former classmates are doing.

Of course, they have to talk about Mrs. Cain, who taught at the elementary school. Her son just happens to be a Major League pitcher with a World Series ring and a perfect game to his credit.

At some point, the first guest in over half an hour walks in to report a fire up the road. The clerk isn’t overly concerned when she realizes the location. There’s a man there who frequently burns stumps and other yard debris.

“He makes me nervous with that burning,” she says, seemingly oblivious to the irony of the day’s events.

Finally, the man arrives with the fire report, and it’s time to make the two-hour drive back home.

Rush hour has already begun. Before the young man leaves, the clerk gets on her computer and maps out a route that avoids the interstate. He probably could have found the way himself, but it is a kind gesture on a tough day.

There is a caricature of the South. Then there is the South where good memories and personal tragedies intertwine on a daily basis.

In this South, you grieve what’s been lost and you move on because that’s what the generations that came before you had to do.

After all, there’s a boy who needs a tree house painted.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle’s features editor.