We’ve had storms for which the Weather Channel was unprepared. In the first one, they kept reporting on the “land mass between Biloxi and New Orleans.” Those of us who live here call it “Mississippi.” Granted, it doesn’t have the international fame of states such as New York, California, or Hawaii, and it makes lists most often that start with “Poorest.” Also true, but not so well-known, it has led the list for several years for greatest per capita giving for charities. Go figure.
In the recent storm, the Weather Channel reported that a tornado cut a swath through “Johannesburg, Mississippi.” Our city does have a unique name. [Just for fun type in “Hattiesburg” on a search engine. You don’t even have to name a state to find us.] Railroad entrepreneur and former Confederate Captain William Harris Hardy, erected a depot/post office on his rail line and named the town for his beloved wife Hattie. I’m thinking he may have twirled a few times in his grave on hearing it called “Johannesburg.”
From past experience with Katrina, we know volunteers come to help after a disaster of this magnitude, but in “the Burg,” we don’t wait for them. The storm had hardly finished before citizens kicked into gear.
• Westminster Presbyterian took a direct hit in the path of the tornado. Volunteers from various churches, the Islamic community, and others showed up immediately to salvage contents with both Methodist and Baptist churches offering meeting space.
• One church took door-to-door surveys to point people in the direction of immediate help and to make lists to be ready for volunteer disaster team assignments.
• Members of churches with praise bands and words projected on screens hefted limbs from yards side-by-side with those who recited liturgies and sang from hymnbooks accompanied by an organ.
• Local businesses donated supplies and food.
• People of all ages turned out with everything from rakes and chain saws to heavy equipment.
• Phones rang all over town followed by the question, “Are y’all all right?” [or “you” if only one person lived there – a point of Southern grammar]
• There were even festivities as people held block parties for their neighborhoods to grill and eat up food that would spoil without power.
I think Hattie would be proud of her burg, and I would say to the Weather Channel people, “Come on down to Hattiesburg, Mississippi and get to know us. We could rustle you up some fried chicken or gumbo and polish it off with pecan (pronounced with the “a” as in father, accent on the second syllable) pie. We will be happy for you to know the name of our city and state but fervently hope there will be no need for you to use it ever again.”