Help, humor, and hope: giving back to our own

On April 28, an over-55 RV park west of San Antonio was shattered to bits during devastating wind, rain, and hail storms, including an EF1 tornado that touched down nearby.

Miraculously, there were no fatalities, and only one injury that required an ER visit,
but most personal vehicles and RVs were total losses.

Although we’ve never stayed at this park, it is affiliated with the Escapees RV Club, and as Escapees members, we felt called to lend a hand to this branch of our RVing family. (Coincidentally, it was this time last year that we spent a month in service at the Escapees Care Center in Livingston, TX.)

This announcement on Facebook was our first alert, and the news video at this link added jarring visual evidence of the loss.

We happened to arrive in the area (our home base) the week after the storm, and were able to spend a couple of days working on site. Many volunteers had preceded us, so by the time we arrived on Day 9, much of the large debris had been placed in dumpsters already.

There was still more to clear, and we did a lot of that, but we found that one of the most valuable services we could provide was listening. The residents needed to tell their stories from that terrifying night; needed to tell us how much they’d been helped by volunteers; how they appreciated losing only things, not lives.

The hailstones were softball size and larger.
One was measured at 6.4″ in diameter — a record setter.
We saw tow trucks and insurance adjusters coming and going all day long, both days we were on the property.

Almost all the residents we spoke with said they were thankful they didn’t have it as bad as some of the others. We saw what they were dealing with. Just who were these others who had it worse?

Maybe it was because we weren’t on the scene until several days had passed, but we were surprised by the community members’ senses of resiliency, positivity — and even humor. They were in it together, holding each other up, cracking jokes about taking margarita breaks (at 10:30 in the morning), and making light of getting the job done, just slowly, due to age and associated infirmities.

“We can’t thank you enough for coming out here and doing this.”

“It’s… We just wanted… You’re welcome. This time, it wasn’t us. Someday, it could be.”

a typical exchange with residents as we worked
We borrowed the park’s trailer and began picking up piles of debris that had not yet been collected. There was a lot of metal roofing, sodden carpeting, plastic shards, and even ruined personal belongings like books, puzzles, and home decor.
Heartbreaking.
One of the two dumpsters brought in for storm debris was full when we got there.
Three trailer loads later, we’d topped off the second.
He wins at Garbage Can Jenga here at home, because I always cave way before he does.
He wasn’t going to be the one to dump that dumpster either.
(If the video doesn’t load, try refreshing the page. I have the same issue with my browser, and no earthly idea how to fix it. Sorry.)
Some owners were offsite for the season when the storm hit.
We covered a few shed windows and vents with plastic, and hoped for the best.
Those are the crumbs of an RV window on this couple’s wheelchair ramp. The floors inside were peppered with them as well.
Most lots are covered with gravel, not grass, and picking out all the shattered glass will take… well… maybe scraping it all off with a bulldozer and spreading fresh is the way to go.
We saw lots of places where hail had punctured exterior walls.
We also saw one instance of hailstones having fallen with such force that they came through an RV bathroom skylight and punctured an interior wall.
Damage at every turn
A few residents asked for our help clearing yard waste.
Those who were still physically able to stoop, bend, reach, lift, and climb prior to the storms had reached their limit by the time we showed up a week later.
So we raked (and stooped, and bent, and reached, lifted and climbed).
And I got a good reminder that I should have worn boots on that first day.
See those slashes across both shoe tops?
I must have dragged a piece of metal roofing across my feet.
Dummy. And a lucky one at that!
Next trip out, I wore my boots.
Community Support
A nearby business, the Graff 7A Ranch, has served multiple meals to their RV park neighbors since the storm struck, setting up a cafeteria-style line in the park’s clubhouse so that the residents don’t have to travel.
They are charging nothing.
And these business owners were hit by the same storms, and are dealing with clean-up and repair issues of their own.
I can’t even.

The level and amount of destruction we saw certainly filled our minds with our own what-ifs.

What if we lost our home tomorrow? With our full physical capabilities and financial stability, we’d start over, and eventually recover, with ample time ahead of us to appreciate the lessons learned and the blessings of a new beginning. 

But what if it happened when we were closer to our 80’s, when neither physical nor financial strength are assured? When it might be only one of us left able or alive to deal with the aftermath of a natural disaster? How would we begin again? How could we?

No answer. I have no answer to that. These folks probably didn’t either, and I’m sure they handle their “one step at a time” better during some hours than others.

One gentleman needed our help moving some furniture out of his ruined RV and into the outbuilding on his lot. He was unwell. He was living alone.

And yet, he offered to compensate us for our assistance.

We declined.

He insisted, and as the hand holding his wallet began to tremble, we realized that turning him down would likely add to his grief rather than alleviate it, so we told him we’d be stopping at a Dairy Queen for treats on the way home, and that if he’d like to pay for those, we would gratefully accept a few dollars. That earned us a smile.

I don’t think he knew that it was Mother’s Day. 

I also don’t think he knew how he was going to get through the next day. 

But rewarding his helpers was something he could do, while facing so many things he couldn’t.

Blizzards.
After helping people clean up from a tornado.
Um. Way to adhere to a theme?

Surviving such devastation takes more strength and patience than I can imagine, and so does enduring the lengthy and confusing insurance claims process, not to mention the hassle of finding new cars and RVs in which to start over — to start over at age 70 or even older.

I’d also argue that it takes strength to accept assistance. Our hope is that we helped the people of the Alamo Area SKP Co-Op/Lone Star Corral feel just a little stronger this week.

15 thoughts on “Help, humor, and hope: giving back to our own

  1. Wow, Emily, thanks for sharing that story. Heartwarming and heart wrenching at the same time. So great of you guys to lend a hand to them! Bless you!
    I’m sitting here on the banks of the Missouri River just South of Bismarck, ND, adjacent the State Park where we’re camped…wiping tears from my eyes and being thankful for how fortunate Jeanne and I are to be part of the roving RV community with people like you.
    Erik

  2. Your pictures and narrative show a terrible situation. You, Tim, and others have provided much help which will not be forgotten.

    1. We won’t soon forget it either. I can’t come up with another time in my life when I’ve experienced feelings of hopefulness and hopelessness in concurrent waves.

    1. Yes. Me too. And I’ll share the rest of that story next time I see you. Some of the details just didn’t belong here.

  3. Wow!!!! What an amazing service in your year of volunteering. I’m so privileged to hear and see through your eyes – and be reminded of what matters. Thanks to you and Tim- hope we can see you this year.
    Kathy

  4. I’m in tears here Emily. You are such a great writer.
    And you two are amazing! I already knew that but thank you for sharing this experience with us all. Keep up the awesome work – the world needs more people like you. ❤️

  5. It never fails to astound me — and may it never — how the greatest kindnesses exist in the face of such devastation. Thank you for being who you are.

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