Yesterday

This isn't like the big shindigs they do in Mobile or New Orleans. It's a small event. A family day. Kids sit on shoulders. Homemade floats get towed by Silverados. Parents cheer.

Yesterday, 10:05 A.M., Gulf Shores, Alabama—the worst thing you can imagine. Twelve kids injured. Four in critical condition. Screaming parents. A shut-down highway. Helicopters. Flashing lights.

This is a beach town. Here public schools still observe Mardi Gras—a holiday when anyone owning a trumpet plays Dixieland.

And of all places, it happened at the annual Fat Tuesday parade.

I’ve attended a handful of times. Once, when I was a high-schooler, watching my friend play tuba. Once with my cousin—who was so drunk I had to hold him upright.

This isn’t like the big shindigs they do in Mobile or New Orleans. It’s a small event. A family day. Kids sit on shoulders. Homemade floats get towed by Silverados. Parents cheer.

This year, it was hell on earth.

The Gulf Shores High School band looked good. The sax-section bobbed its horns in rhythm. The drumline tapped out a steady cadence. Lots of smiling. Students waved to parents.

Without warning, an SUV screamed forward. Kids got mowed down. Instruments twisted. Twelve-year-olds. Seventeen-year-olds. Babies.

Like I said. The worst.

“They looked like rag-dolls,” one person remarked. “It was so freaking scary, it didn’t seem real.”

Someone else saw the driver leap out of the vehicle. It was a seventy-three-year-old man. The look on his face was one of shock.

One woman said, “I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh this is some terrorism act…’ But then I saw the old guy and his expression…”

It was an accident that put our section of the world on last night’s national news. It attracted cameras, lights, nice-looking reporters.

But, if you’re looking for an ugly ending to this god-awful story, you’re looking in the wrong place. Because this a heart-strong community with salt-of-the-earth folks.

I’m talking teachers, charter-fishermen, boat mechanics, pastors, nurses, landscapers, and Walmart employees.

An entire town huddled together. Parents wearing Mardi Gras beads knelt over teenagers on the pavement. Adults pressed foreheads against the chests of the wounded. Gulf Shores Fire Rescue fitted neck braces on middle-schoolers.

EMT’s shouted things like, “Stay with me, darling!” Or: “I got you, baby!”

You’ve never seen the fires of Hell extinguished so fast.

This is the kind of town where the high-school band director waits in the hospital during his student’s surgery.

The same teacher who shoved members of the brass section out of the way of an oncoming vehicle—barely avoiding it himself.

“He was trying to save lives,” said one man. “Even if it meant he got hurt. Tells you what kind of school we got.”

Yes it does.

“This is tough,” said school superintendent, Eddie Tyler, who is not ashamed of his teary eyes. A man who talks with a drawl so thick you can spread it on toast.

“We got a great family,” he went on. “This is a special county.”

It’s more than special.

It’s Baldwin Damn County, Alabama.

11 comments

  1. Peggy Bilbro - March 1, 2017 2:52 pm

    Sean, I never comment on your stories, but I read them every day. I just want you to know that I’ve found solace in the goodness you reveal each day. This has been a tough year politically making it hard not to fall into a permanent state of dismay. Thank you for helping me see beyond all that clutter. I probably still won’t comment very often, but want you to know that your words are like a soft spring rain on my soul.
    Peggy B

    Reply
  2. jimbo white - March 1, 2017 3:02 pm

    Thank you for the words of comfort sir. As a former resident of an island Community similar to Gulf Shores, it never ceases to amaze me how close the community can be and held a rally around each other in tragic times. You hit this one out of the park sir.

    Reply
  3. Sam Hunneman - March 1, 2017 3:19 pm

    Prayers.

    Reply
  4. Michael Bishop - March 1, 2017 4:10 pm

    Ditto to “Yesterday.” Ditto to Mr. Hunneman’s comment.

    Reply
  5. Carol DeLater - March 1, 2017 4:57 pm

    This kind of sad event happens all over the country one time or another. One thing that makes this country great…and believe me it has ALWAYS been great..is that when tragedy happens people pull together to do what not only has to be done, but what is second nature for us to do.

    I can only hope I never see another event such as this in the local..or national news again. Many prayers said for the victims and the old man.
    xx, Carol

    Reply
  6. Mitford A. Fontaine - March 2, 2017 12:45 am

    Good Job Sean.

    Reply
  7. Catherine - March 2, 2017 2:52 am

    Proud to be an Ameerican.

    Reply
  8. Tish - March 2, 2017 12:58 pm

    You always get to the heart.

    Reply
  9. Judy - March 2, 2017 2:08 pm

    I was in the marching band in high school and when I heard this, it was like I was there and could see and hear it all. Such a tragedy!!!

    Reply
  10. Marion Pitts - March 3, 2017 2:18 am

    Tears and smiles at the same time!

    Reply
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