I crawled out of bed about 5:30AM groggy from a hangover and too little sleep, ready to get back on-line with Winnie. We chatted for a couple of hours before Brenda came out. Once again I offered Brenda coffee and a chance to chat with Winnie. The two ladies chatted for a while, discussing my cooking and grocery shopping skills and generally getting along great.
We finally ended the video chat and I made breakfast. Neither Brenda nor I said anything about the previous evening. We just talked about our plans for the day and what we would do next; her getting back to her home and me getting a car. We spent the rest of Sunday puttering around the house like two long-time roommates. That evening I made another big dinner for us after chatting with Winnie at my usual time. This time, the conversation between Brenda and I was subdued and more restrained than the previous evening. We both retired early.
Monday morning Brenda drove me to work. During the day I had the chance to tell my co-workers about my hurricane adventures and caught a lot of flak over “running into a storm,” not all of it good-natured. I confirmed that I did indeed get docked one day’s vacation for Friday, and my supervisor was not sympathetic to the fact I had no way of getting back to work. He did agree to put me in for enough unpaid leave of absence to cover my planned China trip as he understood my marriage situation.
On top of everything else I’d gone through for the previous three days, losing a day’s vacation for not being able to get back to work on time felt like adding insult to injury.
Brenda picked me up at quitting time and on the way home told me Orange Beach was reopened, so she would be leaving the next day. I had already talked with my neighbor Tom about driving me to work, so my future commuting wasn’t going to be a problem. Tom and Beth came over that afternoon and when they learned Brenda would be leaving in the morning made their goodbyes and wished her luck, with Beth giving Brenda a warm hug. I offered Brenda some cash and groceries that evening but she refused, which I expected.
Brenda left Tuesday morning at the same time I was leaving for work. We gave each other a big hug goodbye and I wished her luck. Then she was gone.
I returned home that night and found a voice mail from Brenda. She had left a message telling me her mobile home was untouched by any storm damage. Her entire neighborhood had been spared, and she would be starting her new job the next day. Her voice was pure happiness. I’m not a religious person, but at that moment I gave a prayer of thanks for her that her life would get better.
That evening I called my shelter friends John and Mary and let them know I made it home OK. I also let them know about Brenda, that her home was undamaged, and they sent their own prayers of thanks for both of us.
The rest of that week passed in a blur. I was resigned to not getting my truck back for a while and knew I needed a new set of wheels. I’d already been thinking about buying a new vehicle, knowing my 16 year old Isuzu pickup with 230,000 miles on it needed to be replaced. But for financial reasons I’d wanted to wait until Winnie was with me. Now I didn’t have any choice. I located a new 2004 model Isuzu Rodeo at a good price with a dealer in Orlando, Florida, through E-Bay Auto sales. By Friday I’d made all financial arrangements and picked up a one-way rental car to drive down to Orlando, about six hours drive from Gautier. Early Saturday morning I was on the road to Orlando.
My drive took me past Brewton as all east-west traffic was detoured north around the section of I-10 that had collapsed during Ivan. I saw that the roads around Brewton were mostly cleared and many houses had blue tarp covers, but it appeared power was still out in many areas. By early afternoon I pulled into the Orlando dealership, did the paperwork for my new 2004 Rodeo, dropped off my rental car at the airport and was heading home. I spent the night in Daytona Beach and next morning took a long “scenic” drive back to Gautier, arriving early in the evening.
A couple of days after buying my Rodeo I was finally able to make contact with the Brewton auto shop. When I did, the owner explained that power had just been restored and they were now working on my truck. I explained that I would be out of the country for two weeks starting October 8, and if they couldn’t finish my truck by then they would have to hold it until I returned. The owner promised me it would be finished in time, and once again he made good on his word. I received a call the afternoon of October 7 that my truck was ready. I explained that we would probably not be there until about 7:00PM and the owner assured me he’d wait for us.
I had already made arrangements for Tom to drive me to Brewton, and he picked me up as soon as I told him my truck was ready. We arrived at the shop about 7:00PM and the owner was waiting for us as promised. The engine head of my truck had been heavily machined and rebuilt to repair the damage caused by overheating. The owner charged me a very fair price for the amount of work his shop had done, but it was still an expensive repair. This was yet another bill that took away from my China trip money.
We settled up and then talked for a few minutes. The owner’s home had been damaged during the storm with a large tree limb crashing into his porch roof, but otherwise he and his family came through OK. He asked me if the Red Cross people had taken care of me during the storm. I caught myself suddenly choking up, with tears in my eyes, as I told him how generous the people at the shelter had been in offering me food and doing what they could to make me comfortable. I thanked him, and his town, for being so kind. The owner just said “that’s what we are supposed to do.” We made our goodbyes and left with Tom leading us home. We had a late dinner at a truck stop and arrived home after a nearly 300 mile round trip.
The next evening after work, Friday October 8, I was on a plane heading to China. I was exhausted from the previous weeks, but the storm was over and I was going to be with my wife.