Hometown Hero

I’ve learned that organizing and executing any major event is stressful, but last weekend’s Pensacola walk seemed determined to sincerely test my ability to juggle sanity and reason with an impending nervous breakdown. Everyone, myself included, seemed confident that being on my home turf in my town where I didn’t have to travel or drive a 16 foot truck around could only make this event even easier. And in some ways, they were right. What we didn’t predict were the hurdles and obstacles that decided to pop up like a bad game of Whack-A-Mole every other minute as Walk Day drew near.

The week of the walk arrived, and so did Mother Nature. That tropical blip out in the Gulf, well, we needed to start paying closer attention to it. It seems that it had the potential to become something, and now I had the added stress of wondering if this year would be a repeat of the ill-fated last year and the fall out that came along with the threat of a hurricane. The park wasn’t ready. Tents were broken. My office was looking more like the graveyard of all things purple than an office, and now we had to decide to move forward or to pause because of the threat that became an awful reality of Hurricane Michael.

Thursday morning, the day after Michael’s unprecedented landfall, my leadership team and I made the call: Pensacola was spared, and we moved forward. That call started at 9:30 am. At 3:14 pm, the same day, a mere 1.5 days from the walk, I sent this text, “I need help.”

About a year ago, we were about to head into Sam’s to get our monthly bulk shopping knocked out, when this voice said, “Are you Amy Woodland?” Now I have to admit, my gut instinct was to run because no one is going to be asking that kind of random question unless I owe them money or they are trying to sell me something. There was the split second when I considered it could be a former student, and I really hoped this wasn’t going to be one of those moments where the barrel slowly appeared out the car window and I’d be memorialized as the teacher whose former student extracted revenge in the parking lot while she was headed inside to buy toilet paper and laundry detergent. I always knew a toilet would somehow be involved in my inevitable end, and Heather would eulogize me and try not to laugh. Defying my own good sense, I turned, and the face seemed familiar; it just so happened that the voice belonged to my hometown pen pal who lived across town.

Brandie and I grew up on the same county road almost a 1000 miles from where we stood at that moment, but we’d texted some; we’d called some; and we’d laughed when piecing together memories of the people and places we’d both memorized decades ago. It was through a mutual friend back home that we’d discovered we lived in the same small city. It was a phone call that made us realize we probably passed each other a hundred times and maybe once even chatted over a forest fire that I knew nothing about thank you very much. Nothing to see here. Move along.

We didn’t know each other back then; I knew her name. She played softball with my older sister. We did know each other’s story though because when you come from our hometown it is hard not to have lived some version of it.

Brandie not only called but she also came by my office where I laid out my borderline panic attack. Before I could get one sentence out, she was holding up her hand, telling me to “hold on one minute,” and dialing with the other. My instinct wasn’t wrong; she really does seem to know everyone in this city, and there was no curve ball I threw at her that she didn’t whip out her contacts list and make a call. Singer? Hold on. My best friend’s daughter can do it. DJ? I got a guy. Two actually. Hold on. Llama wearing a tutu dancing to the Nutcracker on a spinning stage in the middle of a bubble? I know someone. Okay, well maybe not that one, but it sure felt that way.

In between phone calls where she cleaned up my life, we reminisced, laughed, mmmhmmm’ed in the way that only women from our neck of the woods can do, and tossed ideas back and forth for things that had zero to do with Saturday but that were fun to consider anyway.

Saturday morning, as we popped tents and created stations, Brandie walked over, her small army of solutions to my problems trailing behind. As she stood on my stage, talking to the crowd of over 500 people in attendance, I stood near the back watching and feeling the gratitude seep out of my soul.

After the walkers left the staging area and we’d started the process of tearing down, we took a minute just to hang out. And I know I said it 10,000 times, but Brandie really saved me on Saturday. Her never-ending list of “I know someone” potentials kept me from possible catastrophe more than once, and those that gathered there to celebrate and honor their loved ones and their journeys never knew what they almost missed as a result of her answering that SOS text from a woman she met in the Sam’s Club parking lot.

Although I am eternally grateful and now owe her big time (and Mexican for dinner), I have to admit that I’m not surprised. Essex County seems to breed women who get things done. I happen to know and love a few of them; I’m pretty sure I’m related to a few more.

So the moral to the story is simple: if you are ever need help—emcee for an event, middle school bands, hula hooping alligators—all you have to do is ask. Someone from home will know someone who knows someone who can make it happen. And if you ever need to host an event two days after a potential Cat 4 hurricane with less than 48 hours notice, give us a call. And then get out of our way. If Tappahannock taught us nothing else, we know how to throw one hell of a party.

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