I have been blessed to write a weekly column that has been running in newspapers throughout the state of Georgia for the past two decades. There are readers I have never met face-to-face but who I consider my friends, thanks to their emails and letters and to the editors who give me the opportunity to correspond with them.
This past week, I have been in touch with a number of people in south Georgia whose towns were in the direct and devastating path of Hurricane Michael. I can’t imagine what they have been through and are still going through. It is a cliche but one that fits the situation — I guess you had to be there.
Homes have been destroyed, lives have been lost and livelihoods wrecked. As I mentioned last week, I had planned to brag on Georgia’s olive industry, a gem unknown as of yet to many Georgians, but highly regarded by some of America’s top chefs.
I had interviewed Jason Shaw, who is involved in the olive business in Lakeland, near Valdosta. Shaw, also a state representative, talked to me on his tractor (that was a new experience!) while trying to harvest the family corn crop before Hurricane Michael’s arrival. That particular corn is used to make grits. I hurried through that interview because the last thing I wanted on my conscience was boogering up anything having to do with making grits. Southerners are a forgiving bunch, but I think not having grits to go with their sausage and eggs is pretty much unforgivable.
Not only did Rep. Shaw and I talk about olive oil, we talked about life in rural Georgia. It can be a good life, but not an easy one.
There are truly two Georgias. There is the Metro Atlanta Georgia, where the biggest issue going on these days is whether or not fat cat developers and politicians can talk Atlanta taxpayers into contributing $1.7 billion over 30 years to develop a rundown area of the city called The Gulch. In addition, there is the usual tiresome Chamber of Commerce blah-blah about upcoming Super Bowl Roman Numeral Whatever, as if the fate of the free world hangs in the balance.
Beyond that self-absorbed world, there is the Other Georgia. No billion-dollar tax giveaways, no millionaire knee-jerkers playing irrelevant games — just hard-working folks trying to eke out a living in an area where quality health care is not a given, high-tech communications almost nonexistent and where population decreases are the norm. That’s the other Georgia.
And now comes Hurricane Michael, as if they needed more challenges. Losses in the agriculture industry could reach $3 billion, according to state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black. Black says timber losses alone are estimated at $1 billion, with a million acres destroyed. Cotton crops, pecan orchards and peanut fields wiped out. An estimated 2 million chickens killed. We are talking a recovery that could take years.
If this incomprehensible disaster missed you because you were safely north or east of the Gnat Line, just remember that there is always a tornado or flood or wildfire lurking somewhere, ready to strike. The next time, it could be any of the rest of us. We are much better at predicting natural disasters, but we haven’t learned how to prevent them from happening.
Please take a moment and see what you can do to help. Call your local Red Cross or other relief agencies and find out what they say are the most basic needs. I suspect drinking water is a priority. Many churches and businesses and civic organizations are collecting money for relief aid. Volunteers are needed, as well. There is something you can do, even at a long distance.
Rep. Jason Shaw, whose family and property were spared much of the damage, has been in touch with his colleagues in the hurricane-ravaged area and says it is heartening to see how total strangers are reaching out to the victims. Somehow, it seems to take a tragedy to bring out the best in us.
As for me, I am feeling a special hurt today because I have a lot of readers in southwest Georgia who are hurting as well. I wish I could think of something that would bring a smile to their face. And I promise I will. I owe them that. They deserve it. Bless them, one and all.