April 30, 2014 10:51:47 AM
By 10 o'clock Tuesday morning Bobby Ray had almost finished picking up storm debris in his yard on Tabernacle Road when neighbor Ricky Ward showed up. The two are old friends, their friendship rooted in their shared passion for dirt-track racing.
Ward, a master mechanic, helps his next-door neighbor, race promoter Johnny Stokes, put on races and Ray works pit crew and serves as head cheerleader for his son, Lee, who is a dirt-track driver.
Naturally, the topic of the day was Monday night's storm. Ray and his wife Martha were among 11 who took refuge in their above-ground storm shelter behind their house, a space about the size of a spacious broom closet.
"Four of them were small children," Ray explained.
Ward, for his part, took cover at the home of his neighbor, Stokes. Johnny and Barbara Stokes' brick ranch-style house is built into the side of a hill.
The men said two funnels passed through the area about 20 minutes apart.
"It sounded like thunder that never stopped," Ward said.
When Ward commented on the sound at the time, his friend Stokes said, "That ain't thunder, that's it!"
Ward's wife Tamie refused to leave their trailer. When the straight-line winds devastated the county in February of 2001, Tamie got in a closet with a Bible and the family's dachshund. There she rode out the storm reading aloud.
"The Lord's blessed this house," she told Ward when time came to take cover, "and I ain't leaving."
"I couldn't make her leave," Ward said. "So I got Max (the dachshund) and went to Johnny's.
"When I came back to the trailer, she said, 'I told you.'"
When conversation waned, Ward headed up to Ray's shop, where he spends a lot of his spare time tinkering with cars. Ray, who had been cruising his property in a Kawasaki Mule picking up storm debris in the company of his constant companion, Molly, a small, light-haired dog of indeterminate linage, took a visitor to his backyard to meet his wife Martha and tour their storm shelter.
"It was all right," Martha said of the experience.
As the storm was threatening, a neighbor with three children stopped by and asked if they could get in the Ray's shelter, thus the crowd.
The Rays have lived at this bend in the road since 1965. They share their large well-cared-for lot with the home of their son, his wife Christi and their granddaughter Rylee. The Rays were lucky, other than limbs in their yard and one out-of-the-way tree snapped in two, their compound received little damage. The buckeyes growing in their backyard still had their red blooms.
The storm upended huge trees -- many of them old oaks -- all along Tabernacle and Lee Stokes roads, however. A forester told Ray the already waterlogged ground made the trees more susceptible to blowing over.
By mid-day Tuesday, families -- men, women and children -- could be seen all along those thoroughfares, cutting trees, dragging limbs and stacking wood. There will be no firewood shortage in these parts this winter.
People appeared to be in good spirits, buoyed by the novelty of the situation, the shared sense of purpose and the simple fact there had been no injury or loss of life.
As I passed a house with its roof caved in at the intersection of Lee-Stokes and Lacy roads, four young boys had just retrieved from a pile of debris four fishing rods and reels that looked to be in perfect condition. The boys, all grins, waved the rods in the air like swords.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.
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