My downstairs neighbor and I were visiting a couple of days ago. Just talking. Talking about all kinds of things. Harvey. Harvey, of course. But how her therapy (post hip replacement) is going. And how my new job is. (I like it very much, thank you for asking. I am, by the way, a pre-K instructional aide at a San Angelo school.) My dog’s allergies. (Hey, Reba’s a dog groomer. She is an invaluable source of information, and a fabulous dog bather.) The rent going up because of property taxes and why we’re staying.
We don’t discriminate when it comes to conversation topics. We share what we know, let go of what we can’t fix.
So she asked me, “Did you go get gas today?”
No, I admitted. I actually had nearly a full tank.
“Well did you see the lines at all the stations?” We asked each other, practically in unison.
“Oh my goodness,” I said. “I got out of school, and there were texts from both my sons. ‘Mom, go get gas.’ I picked up my granddaughter after practice, and first thing she says as she’s getting in the car, “Grandma, did you get gas?”
“Honestly, I’d almost rather walk than wait in a panic in a long line at the gas station.”
“I know, it’s the same with me,” Reba said.
We meandered a bit and discussed how we weren’t sure but that whatever shortage there might be was caused more by panic than an actual impending shortage.
Then I asked the question I’ve repeated in Facebook discussions and the other half-dozen discussions I’ve had with people on the same topic.
“How is that supposed to work? Me? I go through close to a tank of gas a week. I try to not go below a quarter of a tank before I fill up. So, if I’d filled up today – need to or not – what happens when I use all that tank and there’s no more gas to buy?
“Did I not just delay the inevitable by a week?
“I mean, if we’re running out of gas, we’re running out of gas.”
“Well I don’t think we are,” Reba said. “Lots of sources are saying that’s not true, but now, with everybody making a run on gas at the stations, we might.
“People ask why those people in Houston didn’t just evacuate,” Reba elaborated wisely. “But you know, I get it. There was a time in my life, not too long ago, if I’d had to evacuate from someplace, would I have had the 50 or 60 bucks to fill my truck? I bet not. Shoot (Reba says “shoot” a lot – at just the right time, so you know she’s serious), I’m not sure I’ve got it right now.”
For a long time after I’d climbed the stairs and gone into my own apartment, I thought about our conversation. I thought about some of my friends in Port Aransas who have lost everything. The girl – now woman – younger than me, who also grew up in Sanderson, whose home in Rockport may be saved, but she admitted she’d accidentally let her high wind insurance lapse in May.
“Now everything’s on us,” Debra posted on Facebook. They’d deal with it a step at a time when, if and as they were able. Priorities were to find their cat who’d freaked as they were trying to evacuate, and to lift the caved in garage door to see if their second car could be salvaged.
Later in the day, she posted, they’d seen the cat and set a live trap, hoping to catch him and take him with them to the friends’ in New Braunfels where they’d found shelter “for as long as they wanted.”
I thought about the long lines of people going toward Harvey’s aftermath offering what they could and had to help, and I tisk, tisked over the long lines of people lined up to buy gas here in West Texas, less they be inconvenienced by a mythical gas shortage.
Disaster, my daddy always said, will bring out the best in people, and the worst. I guess we know that. I just hope – and pray – when it is my time to choose I’ll choose to do good over greed, calm over panic, compassion over selfishness. I have prayed and will continue to pray for all the victims of this awful, awful storm; that those who might believe they’ve lost everything, will find themselves and be triumphant after all.
Candace Cooksey Fulton, formerly of Brownwood, is a freelance writer now living in San Angelo. She writes weekly columns for the Brownwood Bulletin and the San Angelo Standard-Times, each unique to the particular paper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.