Friday, April 29, 2011

Chicago feels a long, long way from home today.

Little Chickamauga Creek, Ringgold, GA
You’ve probably heard of Ringgold in the news over the past couple of days. It’s the small town in northwest Georgia, just outside Chattanooga, TN, where a monstrous tornado set down at about 8:30 on Wednesday evening and tore up half of town. It’s also my home town, and thank God, my parents and their home are fine.
But the Tennessee Valley is part of my DNA, and it’s hard to be so far away when so many people are hurting and so much will never be the same.
Ringgold is the kind of small town where the folks at the post office will work to figure out who a postcard addressed to “Mom, Ringgold, GA” that says “Here’s our new address. Please send the money,” goes to. And they got it right. It’s been over ten years since I’ve lived there, and every time I go home I’m the one who gets sent into the post office to pick up the mail, since “they’re always asking about you.”
Catoosa County Courthouse
Ringgold is the kind of small town where American flags line the roads of town for a full four weeks around both Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. The flags that line the courthouse lawn top crosses that bear the names of the county’s veterans who have died.
It’s the county seat, and for years, folks came out to picnic on the courthouse lawn and see the returns come in on election night. They used to pull flatbed trucks on the courthouse lawn with backboards loaded all across them, and as the returns came in election workers would write them up on the boards. These days the results get projected on a large screen, but the idea is the same. While the media is covering state and national races, folks want to know how the local elections are going.
From the video I saw this morning, it looks like the 1939 Catoosa County Courthouse survived.
Too much didn’t.
When you get off I-75 at exit #348, you used to see most of Ringgold’s businesses strung along Ga-151 (or "Alabama Highway," as that’s where it goes). Gas stations, grocery stores, a handful of motels, and a whole string of restaurants, mostly fast food. As best I can tell from the pictures, now you mostly just see debris. The Ingle’s looks okay, and I hope Aunt Effie’s, across the street from it, survived. The schools are a mess. One whole wing of the Middle School, they said, is “missing.” A whole wing of the building just “missing.”

The Sherriff is saying that half the Ringgold business district and a quarter of its residential area has been damaged.
Among the dead is a family – father, mother, 21 year old son, and 16 year old daughter. I suppose it’s a miracle there aren’t more than the eight who died. There are places it’s much worse.
Chattanooga was mostly spared a direct hit, but many of the communities that surround it are devastated. Trenton. Apison. Cleveland. Tiftonia. Bledsoe County. Flintstone. Northeast Alabama. The death toll for the Tennessee Valley is at 78 as I write.
It’s hard to drive around Chicagoland under sunny blue skies today. I was in the Wheaton Chick-fil-A for lunch, and the woman ahead of me in line was from Jacksonville, FL and had lived in Arkansas and Texas. The man beside me was from Memphis. It made me wish for a place we Southerners could gather and find each other. Just be with people whose hearts are hurting for home, too. 
If you pray, pray for Ringgold and the Tennessee Valley, and Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, and all the communities in the South that have been devastated this week. And if you can give, they need help. The Greater Chattanooga Area Chapter of the Red Cross relies solely on local donations, and you can also donate to their local partners, the Chattanooga Salvation Army, by texting the word "GIVE" to 80888.
Chow Time, on Nashville Street, as it was for decades

(I don’t have the heart to post pictures of the damage, but there’s raw footage of the area at http://www.walkermessenger.com/view/full_story/12996194/article-Ringgold-devastated--eight-confirmed-dead?instance=home_news_1st_left.)

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