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The Adventures of Lefty and Bill: Hurricane Harvey and the time Lefty ran a red light

November 27, 2019

William Stutzman

A quick introduction.  I, William, am “Bill”.  My left-handed uncle Merle is the one called “Lefty”.

“A hurricane’s tempest contains an ocean’s worth of water.” 

In late August of 2017 Hurricane Harvey dumped nearly forty inches of that water on East Texas.  In East Texas there is one place the water goes: the Colorado River.  No, not the Colorado River that carved out the Grand Canyon-a different Colorado River, an entirely Texas River, flows through East Texas and a town called La Grange on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.  This shallow, lazy, Texas river full of gnarled tree roots and wide sweeping bends seems a far cry from the raging monster that knocked out every bridge within a twenty mile radius.  It was on the banks of this river that Lefty and Bill found themselves in the first week of March 2018.  There would be no canoeing and photogenic bald eagles on this river. We had come to work.

It is a twenty-four-hour drive to La Grange Texas from Walnut Creek Ohio. That is a long time to be in a van with anyone.  Eight of us would make the trip, six from our church including Lefty and I, and two other ladies from Life Bridge Church in Dover Ohio.

We left Saturday morning.  On the way we stayed overnight at a hotel in Little Rock Arkansas.  We arrived at The Camp of the Lost Pines near La Grange sometime on Sunday afternoon without incident.

Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), the organization we went with, was using the camp as a base of operations, and it was here that we would stay for the week.  The camp had everything we volunteers needed: kitchens, dining hall, dormitories, showers, and even a swimming pool!  We settled in and got oriented for Monday: our first day.

When you arrive at a MDS site one of the first things they do is give you forms to fill out.  On one of the forms is a section asking about your experience in various areas of construction.  Since I have had zero experience in construction, I filled the form out as such.  We were divided into work groups and the next morning my team headed out bright and early to a new build in La Grange.

Until Hurricane Harvey, the Serda family had lived in a trailer park near the Colorado River.  After the flooding wiped out their home, MDS helped the Serdas build a new house in town.  The Serda house was my work site and when we arrived on Monday morning it was still a long way from finished.  This made me a smidge nervous as it appeared this job was going to require some serious construction skills, skills I did not exactly have.

“Over here Will,” said Henri, my team leader in his German accent.  (Henri and his wife Stephi were volunteers with MDS for the year from Germany.)

“Okay,” I said, and followed Henri to the storage shed.

“You’ll need this, and this, and this, and this,” said Henri, dumping a tool belt, hammer, hard hat, T-square, tape measure, and goggles into my arms.

“This is great,” I wanted to say, “but what do I do with them?”

An hour later I was building a platform up in the trusses of the roof for an air conditioning unit.  Didn’t really have a clue what I was doing, but I did it anyway.  The old adage “measure twice, cut once” became for me “measure five times, cut once, and then measure one more time ju-u-u-st in case.”  After I was done Henri came over to inspect my work.

“Yep, good job,” he said, “now could you crawl under the porch with the nail gun and put in some hurricane strips?”

I did all kinds of construction-y type things that week, and I still have all my fingers, Amen!  I helped hang windows, cut OSB for the roof, helped frame the inside of the house, and operated a nail gun like a skillful Texas outlaw operates a six shooter.  One of the things I learned that week was that Nike was right.  That big shoe company with their simple slogan was correct.  “Just do it!” 

I think often times we make excuses as to why we can’t do something when really, they are just excuses as to why we don’t want to do something.  “I have no experience,” or “it makes me uncomfortable” doesn’t need to be the barriers we make them into.  The fact of the matter is that, regardless of the excuse, stuff just needs done and will continue to need to get done until it gets done.  I am glad I went down to La Grange and was glad I didn’t make excuses when I was asked to do things I didn’t have much experience doing.  I think sometimes it is in those situations that God gives his richest blessings.

One quick anecdote from the drive back to Ohio.  We drove all night long and it was right after an early morning driver change when up in the driver’s seat Lefty’s morality was suddenly challenged by the red light of a very deserted intersection.  “It’s three AM and there’s no one around,” announced Lefty to a van full of sleeping people.  In the back, too tired to care about Lefty’s loose interpretation of predawn traffic law, I rolled over on the floor beneath the back seat and tried to get some sleep.