Calhoun County, Florida—a small world bordered by the mighty Apalachicola. A rural community, forty minutes south of the Georgia line. A place where you can get live crickets at supermarkets. Where you can still buy plug tobacco.
It’s a progressive area.
Here, for instance, they observe Goat Day—a holiday honoring goat-milking, banjos, hell-fire preaching, and greased pig chases.
It bears mention: I’ve chased a greased pig once—at a Baptist fair. I broke two ribs.
So welcome to Blountstown. It’s more than a small town. It’s Tonya Lawrence’s life. She grew up in these schools, played softball on this dirt, shopped at The Pig, birthed Calhoun-County babies.
One day, she went to the doctor for a routine visit. The doctor ordered lab work. The results were a punch to the face. Her kidneys were shutting down.
Tonya says, “It was devastating, I always considered myself a strong person, but once I started dialysis…”
Seven nights a week, she hooked to a machine, watching her strength run through little tubes.
Her condition isn’t just the kind that kills. It’s the sort that ruins your life first.
And there’s a problem: kidney-donor lists are more exclusive than US congressional barbecues. It takes a long time to locate an organ. Best case scenario: seven to fourteen years.
Tonya’s children will be filing for AARP by then.
Still, this is Old Florida, a place where everybody knows everybody. Where the school principal graduated with your daddy’s fishing-buddy’s cousin. Where gossip flies across Facebook faster than a greased hog.
Tonya’s friends put the word out for donors.
But sadly, this isn’t a fairytale. And drumming up vital organs isn’t as easy as holding canned-food drives at the sheriff’s station. Tonya waited.
In the meantime, she’s received affection. Lots of it.
She’s been fielding billions of phone calls, responding to texts, tapping out Facebook thank-yous. And I’m willing to bet she received enough gift baskets to compromise her porch’s structural stability.
These few years have been hell. But Tonya’s not breaking. She tells me her only option is trusting.
Thus, while the rest of the world points cameras at politicians and half-naked celebrities—the heroes which journalists think you should give a damn about—Tonya sits connected to a machine. Praying.
I asked Tonya if I could write about her.
“Me?” she says. “Sure, but can you give me a copy? For a keepsake?”
You bet. And if it’s okay, I’d like to drop it off Friday, with some poundcake my wife made.
“Sorry,” she says. “Friday won’t work, I’m gonna be busy.”
Busy. I guess so. This morning, the school principal is giving Tonya one of her kidneys.
Say what you will about small towns.
They own the patent on love.