By: Sabrina Culpepper for Junior Hollywood Reporter
When my brother came to me all excited about a college elective we could take and would be able to volunteer in the forest and state parks and learn so much I was skeptical. First of all my brother does not always research things completely. Second of all my brother does not know the concept if it sounds to good to be true it probably is.
The more I looked into it the more I thought well this doesn’t sound to bad. The only concern I had and still have is taking the rest of our classes online for this semester. It is hard. very hard.
Our parents were all for it. No Freshman partying for us. Oh no sir not going to happen.
August in Florida is hot. It is really hot. And buggy. I can honestly say I learned how to identify a lot of bugs. No see ems suck. You can not see them but they have teeth like shark on them that bite to the bone. Love bugs? Who named them that? I don’t care why. No one loves them.
In August We had nice cabins with screened porches, fire pits in the yard and surrounded by beautiful nature. We learned to identify a lot of plants and animals, I saw my first alligator that was not captive. We went to a lot of great places on our days off and learned so much of the history of the area.
September arrived and we moved to our permanent place until the end of Dec. Holy Mary mother of Jesus. What have I got myself into???? We are now in RVs in the middle of no where in the middle of the woods that takes four miles to get out of. Irma decided to visit. We are evacuating, No we are not, yes we are. no we are not. GET OUT GET OUT NOW!!! What the heck???
The bus cant get to us because the interstate is grid locked. We have one vehicle shared by six volunteers. Then it was decided to move us to a parking lot in the RV’s. Hello did you hear the words hurricane is coming?
I am not one to complain a lot (Regardless of what my brother says) But you put six young adults ages 18-22 in three RVs and park them up against a building when a Hurricane is coming and you have mass panic. Luckily I am doing this adventure with my brother and one other good friend and don’t think for one minute my brother has not heard more times than he can count what a bad idea this was.
The first night of Parking lot camping we sat outside all night in camping chairs getting eaten alive by bugs watching the trees shift in the wind. It was not strong wind but none the less it was a forewarning wind.
We finally go to sleep around 5 am and by 6 am we are wide awake with banging on our RV door and rain beating down so hard it sounds like the roof will come in on us at any second. The people from the first and last RV have decided ours in the middle is the safest and we will all ride it out in this one. Yea ok had nothing to do with them being scared and not wanting to be alone at all.
So now six of us are crowded into one RV with the rains and winds rocking us but honestly we can see out the windows and were constantly gasping at how bad the first one was rocking. We rocked a few times but nothing bad.
We had food and water and were not worried about how long we had to stay in the first few hours. After four hours of the rain beating down on us we were done. Get us out of here. The shopping center stores were all closed and no plans to reopen for several days so we could not get inside any of the buildings. We had not seen hide nor hair of those who moved us here. We were in this together for better or worse.
We survived four days in a parking lot waiting for it to arrive, going through it and waiting for word that it was safe to return. Finally on the fourth day word arrived we could return and drivers were coming to get us. Ok you figured it out didn’t you? We were not so sure we wanted to return.
Once we got there we got a huge surprise. No electricity. None. Not a drop. We had to run off generators. And were told to cut them off at night when we went to sleep. don’t run them non stop because Gas was in short supply. Have I mentioned this is in Florida heat? Cutting them off means this tin can has no AC and it gets very hot in there. Oh open the windows. Good idea and let in some more hot air. We were absolutely miserable.
Our second day back we were told to be at the end of the road (Four Miles) at 8 am the next morning we were going to go help with clean up. This is when my attitude changed.
Our discomfort was temporary and we would survive it but I met families who live in Fla all year long with barely anything. And what little they did have was destroyed during the storm. I met people who had more than they will ever need and do you know what they were doing with it? Loading it in the back of trucks and trailers and giving it to those who had nothing. I met people who just drove up and started handing out bottles of water and snacks from their cars to anyone they saw that might need it.
And then I met her. I met Irma. Yes I did and she changed my life forever. Not Hurricane Irma but 92 year old Irma. She was tired, hot and saddened that her little shack of a house lost most of its windows and porch but she smiled when we pulled up. She was sitting in a folding chair under a tree in her yard wiping her face with a damn cloth. I did not realize until much later that the dampness likely was her own sweat.
I told her how sorry I was for her and she smiled and said honey don’t be sad for me. I have so much more than others have. I still have a roof over my head even if I don’t have windows. I still have a home that is mine and paid for and my garden has been good to me this year so I have food. I learned that Irma actually has five acres. She lets neighbors garden and can most of the land in return they tend her crops and can her food for her now that she cant do as much as she used to.
Irma was thrilled we were there and told us stories of her life while we worked to clean her area up. She was thrilled to have us there and cooked a pot of soup over a fire. Yes, hot as it was she made soup in a big cast iron pot over an open flame. She said she cooks this way most of the year to keep from heating her house because she only has one window AC unit she runs in her bedroom at night some nights. Not all nights only some when it is just to hot to get comfortable.
Irma told us about her husband who died 20 years ago and what a wonderful man he was. He was a great husband and father. She told us about her son and grandson who both died in wars. She told us about her daughter who moved to New York and is a success now. She told us she used to see more of her than she does now but she knows she is busy with her own life and she is so proud of her. After all her daughter is up in age now and traveling is hard on both of them.
Irma told us about how she loves the lord and knows that when he is ready to take her home she will go home. Not until. But what was really funny was Irma said she had watched the TV and knew Irma the hurricane was very bad and she wished they had named it Imogene because she knew an Imogene when she was a girl and Imogene was much Meaner than Irma could ever be. I believed her.
Miss Irma made me realize we were together in an RV during the Hurricane and scared beyond reasoning. There were six of us together and still we were terrified. Miss Irma was a 92 year old woman with faith in God that she would not go until her time and she was all alone and never once was she scared. She knew if she took her chair and went and sat under the tree in the shade that friends and neighbors and yes, even strangers would come along and help her clean up and make repairs she needed to her home. While we were there two truck loads of men from her church arrived with windows to replace hers that had broken and wood to repair her porch and even though sweat was dripping off all of us she dipped out a cup of soup for every one who showed up even if they were only there to check on her and see what she needed. She was giving more than she was receiving but I don’t think she knew that. Or maybe she did. You see Miss Irma woke hearts that day. Every time I am afraid or think I have something to complain about I will think with a happy heart about the 92 year old Miss Irma thankful for just a wave from a passing car on the road each day. Someone to acknowledge they see her and know she is still there.
Miss Irma taught me much this day but the best thing is she invited us to come back. She is going to teach us how to cook over a fire, but we have to split wood to learn it. That’s ok there is still plenty of trees laying around waiting for us to come back and cut them up for her. Now instead of dreading our days off with no where to go and nothing to do we will hike the six miles through the woods to Miss Irma’s house and spend our day off with her learning more than they could ever teach us in this class.
Don’t tell my brother I said this but I am now very happy he found out about this program and looking forward to every day I get to spend with Miss Irma learning and listening to her stories.