She tells me her father was a hard man. And he’d earned the right to be. He’d survived one Depression, one World War, and he was a dirt farmer. He’d forgotten how to cry.
And when it came to the subject of God, he once told his daughter, “If God’s real, he’s a heartless sumbitch, honey.”
His words, not mine.
Anyway, it happened one sunny day, while she and her brothers were in the woods. She saw smoke in the distance. Black smoke. The bad kind. They ran home.
Only, there was no home. Just flames.
Her mother stood covered in soot. Her baby sister screamed. Her daddy was coughing in the yard.
They salvaged what they could from the dust. A few skillets. A potbelly stove. Their clothes were gone, photo albums, beds, food.
That night, the family slept in the barn. She said it was the first time she’d seen her daddy look rattled. She expected him to cry.
He didn’t. He only cussed the sky.
The next morning, a man came to visit. He was dressed in his Sunday best. He placed a handful of cash in her father’s hand.
“We talked about you in church today,” the man said. “And I wanna help.”
Not long after, another couple came. It was the neighbors, with a wagon full of lumber.
Next, she remembers her mother hollering, “They took up an offering at church! Look! Six hundred dollars!”
Before the day ended, one hundred thirty-two people had visited the rural plot, each offering help.
One hundred thirty-two.
Over the following days, she says men showed up to frame the home. Even local clergy swung hammers. Sunup to sundown, they worked.
You might think this sounds like a fairytale. Only this is no bedtime story. This was South Alabama.
She tells me they ran out of lumber. But it didn’t slow them. Men took apart their own barns and used the wood to finish the home.
After construction, they threw a party. Before supper, someone prayed aloud. Folks touched the white-washed clapboards, eyes closed.
She saw her father bow his head for the first time, and she saw water fall from his face.
There are a lot of folks who’ve let hope dry up. They’ve quit believing in things. In good. In people. In real love. And it’s not their fault. This life can be hell—don’t let anyone tell you different.
Every day, there is another pile of ashes where a house used to be.
Some folks cuss at the Old Man. Some folks do worse. They believe this world is going down the outhouse hole, and they don’t think there’s anything anyone can do about it.
I’ll give you one hundred thirty-two reasons why.