by Maureen Grey
My sister and her son live in a small town in the Sierra Nevadas. “Susan” lives on a shoestring, working for the county. They do fine, with a small house and beautiful yard with a great homemade jungle gym. Trademark Sierras pines provide shade.
2002 brought unusual temperatures for this upper Sierra town, up past 110 degrees. Gazing out the window one day, my sister saw “incredible wind”. Susan and “Jake” ran to the inner part of the house as giant pines in her yard uprooted, sending dirt clods through virtually every window.
This was caused by a weather “microburst”, where two weather fronts violently collide, producing tornado-strength winds that blow one direction. Susan’s house lost windows and part of the porch. Both jungle gym and workshop were demolished.
Miraculously, the huge trees fell in a “V” shape, barely missing the majority of her house, truck and full propane tank. Susan and Jake were safe. Outside, though, were fallen utility poles, sparking live wires and broken transformers.
My sister spent Friday with her insurance company and emergency power and phone crews. The county emergency team tried to arrange emergency shelter. One of the town’s four motels was demolished, the other three full. The temperature hit 113 — and their house had no electricity, air conditioning, phone, or hot water.
My sister in Oregon drove down for moral support. From Chicago, I used my Internet skills to locate a place for them to stay. The Feather River Inn, 30 minutes away, was nearly full.
However, Feather River’s clerk said, “I live in the same town. It’s unbelievable.” She referred me to the River Pines Resort. She added, “If they’re full, call me back and I’ll work out something.” I was touched by her kindness.
The River Pines clerk said they had exactly one room left with air conditioning. I told her that my sisters would get in late Saturday, after dealing with the mess. She asked me their names, my name, and my phone number, despite my being in Chicago.
When my sisters got to River Pines, the desk person asked how long they’d stay. Two days; until Susan’s house and gas lines could be inspected and her utilities turned back on. My older sister pulled out her credit card to pay for their room. The desk clerk informed them the owner of the resort had said the resort would take care of the bill.
I consider myself a hard-edged cynic, and have spent 25 years perfecting that image in the urban setting of Chicago. Yet when I heard this, I cried, my cynical heart completely melted by the caring and kindness of total strangers.
While this may have been a small disaster compared to many in our world, there really is no small kindness. These kindnesses convinced me that people have not lost the ability to care and respond, to help others in any way possible.