Come a Tide That Broke My Heart

We needed the rain. All across Kentucky we needed the rain, especially after baking so in the early days of July, those days of withering heat.  And then we got it. 

Our friends in Eastern Kentucky were swept away by it, four children ripped from their parents as they clung to a tree and each other.  And they were gone, four sweet babies swirled away and their parents’ anguished cries echo, sweeping our anguish along in a choke of fellow feeling.  Because how can we think of such a thing and not imagine our own babies, our own feeble arms trying to hold on.

Numbers of loss of life climb.  Over thirty, and we hold our breath, for there will be more. 

The Appalachian Writers Workshop was going on last week when the rains came. Troublesome Creek lived up to her name, over-washed her banks. Sweeping away cars, roaring now, illuminated only by lighting strikes. The water kept rising, rushing, threatening all the low places.  

“Come a tide” Appalachians would say.

It rained and rained, Troublesome rose and rushed, and by the middle of the night, with no electricity or water, writers were jostled from their sleep to head for higher ground, until all who could safely get there huddled on the porch of Stuckey, a cottage that was first a hospital for the settlement school. They wondered with worry about their friends on the other side of the creek, with no way to reach them. 

I know all this, not because I was there, but because so many of my friends were, and I’ve heard stories.  I’ve seen their pictures and videos. Go to the Hindman Settlement School Facebook page and you can see them, too. 

The sun rose on devastation. While buildings were still standing, the flood waters wreaked havoc, destroying offices, meetings rooms, and especially heartbreaking, the archives. 

Looking at it, one wonders how it will ever be made right. Over the weekend and even now, volunteers are sifting through old pictures, letters, correspondence—the documents that help create and preserve a living place—with experts guiding them in preservation.  

My friend, Silas, sent a photo of a photo from the early 1900s, an image of a straight-backed woman in a doorway, a dulcimer in her lap, her hair piled in the fashion of the day. Flood waters and mud have done their best to ruin her, but, even so, we still get a sense of her, the time and place, though streaks of scratches dull her, we know her, even so. 

He said he saved this one, but so many beauties like her were lost. 

He spent the day, and so many others did, volunteering.  He worked the archives, unloaded flats of water, sweltered on the campus that started his writing career. 

You don’t have to be a writer to have a connection to Hindman,  If you have read “The Dollmaker,” and loved it, you have a connection.  Harriet Arnow was a pillar of the writing workshop for years.  If you adore Wendell Berry, you have a connection,  He is a great friend of the place. As is Lee Smith.  If you own and play a mountain dulcimer, you have a connection to Eastern Kentucky, if you have sent supplies to Red Bird Mission, you are connected.  

It was surely impossible to escape the devastation of the flood waters for folks from Hindman.  Family, friends displaced and homes destroyed.  But even so, the staff at the settlement school set up emergency housing for the community, provided hot meals cooked in a makeshift kitchen—grills in the parking lot—feeding and caring for anyone who wanders up and needs food and water and, there is no other word for it, love. 

Hindman and the settlement school aren’t the only ones who have suffered.  And right now, before FEMA funds kick in, before insurance pays out, our friends in Appalachia need our help.  We have so many outlets and ways to help right now.  

I invite you to go to the Hindman Settlement School and donate through  Hindman Flood Relief.  Funds are used for immediate clean up and the provision of cleaning supplies, food, shelter for the displaced.  Appalshop, that wonderful program, suffered greatly from the flooding too, and they have a Flood Support tab you can use to donate.  Buckhorn Home, too, suffered damage and their website provides a place to donate.

There are other outlets, too. 

This is something we can do, right now, knowing what we give will be used tomorrow, or the next day to ease suffering, to bring some hope, to save just one more photo, diary, little scrap of history. 

Thank you for helping. 

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