I was scheduled to write another column this morning on the on-going and ugly saga that seemingly always surrounds the world of Bob Baffert, whom, at least for the time being, I refuse to refer as a “horse trainer” any more.
I was going to write about the latest debacle surrounding the life, times, and, now, death of the soon-to-be the disqualified winner Medina Spirit, of the 2021 “Run for the Roses” that has now turned into the “Dash for Drug Tests.”
I was going to offer a possible solution or two to try to make this whole mess go away, if that is even possible, and give the “Baffert Battery of Barristers” an opportunity to once, and for all time, prove that their client is less guilty than most of us believe.
But so much for my original writing plans for today. That will come another day.
This weekend, I witnessed something that makes Baffert and his grotesque lack of respect for our sport and his continuing bouts with rules, regulations and fairness that seemingly govern everyone else in the industry except for him, well, immaterial. At least for a few days.
So, step aside “Babbling Bob,” it is time for some real life issues that deserve our attention and our resolve to fix. So, go away, at least for a little while, “Bullcrap Bob,” it is time to focus on someone else. A bunch of “someones,” in fact, who truly do deserve some assistance; some love; some prayers; and a whole lot of relief.
You see, some things happen in this life that give us perspective. Some things just occur that makes us realize that our problems are not really problems. Some things just fall from the sky and they hit us in the head and they steal life, and, at the same time, nearly everything we have worked so hard for in this life. You see, some things just come along and slap you so hard in the face that it makes you wake and, at the same time, fall to your knees with humbleness, sadness and shame.
You see, that is exactly what happened in Kentucky this past weekend.
On Friday night — a horrific, frightening, massive, grotesque tornado about the size of Rhode Island — carved its’ way from Arkansas through much of West Kentucky. It consumed, digested, and regurgitated damn-near everything in its’ sight and path. It held no regard or respect for either structure or life. It held no prisoners. It held hate in its’ heart, and destruction in its’ soul. And, it delivered devastation to anyone and anything that stood in its’ way.
(Photos from the City of Mayfield this past Sunday / Photos by Gene McLean)
In this tornado’s way was a little town in West Kentucky known as Mayfield, a working-class city of about 10,000 people that labor every single day just to pay the bills and put a meal on the table.
In its’ wake, Mayfield lost. Mayfield fell.
In this tornado’s way was a factory where most everyone in the little town worked, and made candles — most of which were sold in and around the holidays. They made simple candles, which are designed to bring light and, in this season, hope of Christmas and the Christmas Child.
In its’ wake, the “Candle Factory,” as it is called, lost. The “Candle Factory” fell.
In this tornado’s way were grain bins, full of corn from a season of hard work and harvest.
In its’ wake, the grain bins lost — tossed on their side and upside down. The grain bins fell. The grain bins lost.
In this tornado’s way were tiny houses, full of families and dreams.
In its’ wake, the homes lost — no match for the might of a relentless storm. The homes fell. The dreams crushed.
In this tornado’s way was the little, rural town’s downtown square — the center of both commerce and trade. The home of the historic Courthouse. The home for all the local church community. The home of local businesses.
In its’ wake, the tornado stole the steeples of the churches and the clock tower from the Courthouse. It grabbed the heart of each business and snatched it from the heart of the city; it stepped on the throat of every, single local business shop and choked the life out of the town.
Steel beams were twisted into licorice sticks. Wooden trusses were reduced to toothpicks. Tractor trailers were tossed as if they were bags in a game of corn hole. Buildings crumbled into rubble. Homes were crushed, like dreams.
On Sunday, my beautiful wife Leigh Ann — who grew up in rural Graves County and spent much of her life in and around Mayfield — and I drove to West Kentucky. To her home. We met up with Leigh’s mother and father. And, we dropped off some donations to a would-be, make-shift, volunteer collection center to help those desperately dealing with the aftermath of utter destruction.
Leigh’s mom brought some home-made sandwiches, and we went to deliver those to some of the worst-hit parts of the little Kentucky town.
It did not take long to see what devastation truly means.
We came upon a Hispanic lady, carrying a baby in one arm and holding onto a toddler with another. We asked if she and her family could use some sandwiches. She nodded politely, almost apologetically, and voluntarily told us of her plight.
In a little shack, rendered almost uninhabitable by the storm, there were 14 people living. Without running water. Without power. Without heat. Without hope.
I could feel the warm water carving its’ own path down my cheek.
A bit later, we saw a little puppy hanging its’ head out of a shattered upstairs window. Making no noise. Just surveying the damage. The front of the house was now home for a fully-grown tree that was tossed like a javelin through the doorway — an uninvited guest. No one could enter. The back of the house was covered with debris and rubble. No one could enter. A young couple worked feverishly to get a pathway started for the rescue.
Yet, the worst was still to come.
The “Candle Factory” was flattened. Completely. Complete. Ly. Still, rescue workers and search dogs looked for possible survivors and human remains. We heard a few minutes later that the rescue team had located and extracted three more people — almost two full days after the disaster first hit.
The grain bins’ hats were ripped from the head, and the stilts-like-legs that formerly held the bins on their perch were gone. A year’s worth of corn now laid everywhere. A year’s worth of hard work gone.
The railroad tracks were ripped from the ground and looked like a child’s braces to correct the pattern of faulty teeth.
We got out of the car to walk towards downtown and the square.
The worst scenes yet?
Still to come.
One church was ripped right down the middle. The nursery room dangling from the sky, and seemingly hanging in the air by a simple thread.
Another church was opened at the gut like the tornado used a can opener. One could see the devastation inside. Debris. Trash. Mud. Dirt. Pews turned upside down. Chairs crippled. But at the front of the room, one could see the alter still standing. Perfectly.
The front of another church was surgically removed. The brick laying in the street, as if scissored from the rest of the building. Shambles everywhere. Except for a massive “Cross.” It stood from street to the 2nd Floor. Unscathed. Unyielding. Unfazed.
The Post Office was completely gutted. Every window blown. Every ceiling joist exposed. The envelopes still flapping in the wind. The delivery trucks tossed into a heap. An American flag — tattered and torn — flapped in the wind.
A car dealership had no car left standing. Windows shattered. Mud caked inside and out. Steering wheels completed ripped off the column. And, get this? A 6-foot, 2×4 wooden board — completely unscathed and in-tact — had pierced the roof of the car and penetrated to the floorboard. Right through the metal roof of the car. Like a dart through cork.
A law office where my wonderful Leigh Ann used to work was smashed to the ground like a pancake at I-Hops. Not a single thing left standing, except for a concrete slap and a concrete vault in what used to be the middle of the office — where the lawyers had built a storage unit for pertinent and important legal documents for their clients. On the side of the vault’s wall — opposite of the direction the tornado travelled — there was a miracle, though. A book shelf was totally saved. The law books still sitting perfectly on the shelves. Not moved an inch.
Two of the attorneys, who still used the building as their daily office and whom LA used to work with and for, told her to take one of the books. They wanted her to have one. They had all survived. And, then they all hugged. Leigh Ann went and got her book and held it to her chest. As if a tornado may try to blow it away.
Tears. So many tears.
Across the street there stood what remained of the Graves County Courthouse. A beacon of justice. A historic reminder of what had come before, and what should always come after. And, something that will one day stand up for all again.
The old “gal” was a bit worse for wear. The clock tower that stood on top and pierced the air for so many generations was now missing in action. Huge holes had been torn in the roof and the side. Stone blocks tossed like tinker toys.
But a little old man scurried about. He hung two huge, dirty, tattered wreaths back on the doors. He propped up a Christmas tree that used to sit and welcome visitors. The top of the tree was bent at a 90-degree angle. But it stood.
The man grabbed a little broom and started sweeping off the porch. A town full of debris. Tons of trash that could fill a hundred — a thousand — railroad cars strewn all about.
But one clean porch.
As the sun began to set, and the sky turned a shade of blackish gray that seemed to mourn with those left to fix this tattered town, we made our way back to the car.
No one talked.
No words were spoken.
None needed to be said.
It was understood.
The definition for “Sadness” had taken on an all-new meaning. It would forever be different than what it used to be. Now, there was a new standard by which all will be compared and contrasted. While the death toll has yet to be determined, and rescuers continue to look for both the living and the missing, there was a pall that laid over all. A new level of gloom had been discovered. A new meaning of sadness had been found.
The feeling of “Helplessness” had reached a new depth. The massive pile of destruction was so overwhelming, one wondered where to even begin. In order to rebuild, there must first be removal. How? Where? When? How? Seriously, how? One was overwhelmed.
At the very same time, the need to “Help” seemed to overpower both the heart and the soul. So many people stood and just stood. At the very same time, so many people wanted to give. They wanted to give money to those without. They wanted to give “things” to those that needed. They wanted to give food to the hungry. They wanted to give drink to the thirsty. They wanted to give shelter to the homeless. They wanted to give love to the unloved.
As we reached the car, Leigh Ann was already in full motion. She called her partners in Frankfort and others in her lobbying profession. She contacted some of her clients and asked that her counterparts do the same. By nightfall, a plan was in motion.
A massive toy drive was being engineered for the kids who had lost all, including the hope of Christmas and the sugar plums dancing in their heads for a return of Santa.
Drop-off destinations were being designated.
Trucks were being lined up to transport.
Volunteers were working to ID needed families and children.
Christmas Trees are being gathered, and gifts soon will be sorted to go underneath.
This Friday “The Plan” will be in full motion. If you want to help — and we need you all — please consider the following:
We need your help. The children of Mayfield need your help. All God’s children of Mayfield need your help.
It will take awhile to restore Mayfield, the City. So much to be done. To be sure.
But it should not take that long to restore hope in humanity; to restore faith that we not only can survive, but that we shall thrive; and, to restore Christmas dreams for a little child.
Not if we all pitch in.
Not if all God’s children lend a helping hand and a willing soul.
No damn storm can ever match our might, if we only choose to use it.
No damn storm can ever defeat us, if we only persevere.
A damn tornado may be able to destroy our buildings; our sticks and stones; but no damn tornado can destroy our spirit or commitment to help one another.
Let us all help.
My Daily Prayer:
Let Christmas bells ring.
Let Christmas carolers sing.
Let Santa and his reindeer set sail.
Let us all not fail.
Let all God’s Children feel once more.
Let all of Mayfield be restored.
Let the healing begin.
Let us continue to the very end.
Let there be Christmas.