As a child, my father used to tell us all these stories about his hometown and growing up. There is a point where you think that every word your father utters is the absolute gospel. And then there’s a point where you think he’s been just bullshitting you all along. And then there’s a day where you realize that he was telling you the gospel truth the whole time.
He used to tell us this ghost story about a light up on the end of a road. This light would appear at night and if you’d approach it, the light would disappear. Supposedly there had been scientists out there and no one could explain the phenonomen. I figured it was bullshit until one evening I’m flipping around on the television and there’s Robert Stack on Unsolved Mysteries talking about this light on this road in Joplin, MO. They call it the “spook light“.
There’s another story that I didn’t hear for years. Apparently my father had a job at the town stationary store. He was supposed to go out and sell stationary to the towns people. He was 16. One day the local madame asked him for an appointment, she wanted to buy some stationary. My dad went back to his boss and asked “What do I do?” The reply “Sell the lady some stationary.” So he did. And the other ladies of the evening also bought stationary from my dad. And then they’d call out to him on the street calling him Sweet Billy.
I’ve heard stories of Joplin Missouri as long as I can remember. I’ve never made it down there. Y’all know I want to get down there and help right now but I’m doing the AIDS ride in 11 days. Eleven. So I have to sit still and let other volunteers take care of this one.
My father’s one remaining sibling returned to Joplin many years ago. She’s now 91 years old. The Brother and I spent a goodly portion of Sunday night trying to figure out where the tornado went and if Aunt Rosa still had a home or not. Or if we still had an Aunt Rosa. I called the Fire Department and asked them to do a welfare check. She’s 91 years old. I didn’t feel bad about making that call. If she were 36 I would have just waited to hear from her, but a frail old lady is a different story. I called pretty early in the evening, a lot of news hadn’t trickled out yet. The dispatcher was crying. I didn’t take that as a good sign. Later that evening we read that nearly 75% of the town was destroyed.
I got onto Twitter. Facebook is facebook, but you have to invite people in. Twitter is very dynamic in that anyone searching for a “key word” can see what you’ve said. I asked Twitter if anyone in Joplin could go check on my elderly Aunt. I got numerous responses and suggestions, but the best was from ABC News in New York. The local anchor volunteered to call their affiliate and send someone over to her address to check on her. That’s the good in people. Now my Aunt is as right wing as they come and sending the media to her house might have been unforgivable, but the fact that a guy in New York took the time to write me and offer assistance, that’s what it’s really all about.
Monday morning my Aunt called, not really sure what the fuss was all about. She pretty much missed the tornado. She doesn’t have a television or a computer. A neighbor took her out and drove her around so she could see the damage. I think it’s bad enough that it isn’t registering in her mind. At least on some level she understands how lucky she was. And hopefully she’ll be nice to the fire boys when they finally get to that wel-check.