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Eunice Graham says goodbye

By Eunice Graham I came to Georgia following a dream. What I received from Georgia was far more than a dream, it was a new life. I arrived late 1992 and in early 1993 began working with the Soil Conservation Service as a county technician. Immediately Georgia set about to educate this transplant. Our agency had a young college intern who promptly informed me, ‘Now, Eunice, if you are ever going to expect us to understand you, you’ll have to speak like a Georgian.’ Little did I know that the only drinks one could order at lunch were tea and Coke. The term soda or pop does not exist in Georgia; it is Coke. It makes no difference what color or flavor it is, it is Coke. I listened. Then one day we were doing a field visit when this young man picked something and handed it to me with, ‘Do you know what this is?’ With that, I was introduced to a muscadine. I had no idea what I had missed in my education of fine foods until that moment. Now, I admit I never did graduate to becoming a connoisseur of collard greens and grits; but the muscadine and its cousin the scuppernong, wow! My work with SCS, now NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service), allowed me to be passionate about soil and water. Having come from a farming background, it wasn’t difficult to love what my team was doing. My work family has changed over the years, but the love and unity has always been solid. Hurricane Alberto arrived in July 1994, and I was to see first-hand the power of water. The memories of that storm are still vivid. We lived next to a little pond that ‘never floods.’ That proved incorrect as the pond arrived at my back door. I was able to go to work that Monday morning only to be greeted with a telephone request from my supervisor. She asked and warned as well, ‘Will you go out to the Potato Creek Bridge on Highway 18 and let me know if it appears to be passable? Don’t get out; don’t go down the embankment. Don’t go across it. Just see where the water is and come back to the office and call me back. I’ll wait for your call.’ With that I began to realize this was not an ordinary Georgia storm. The rain continued as we set out to check the various watershed structures and confirm their stability and that they were functioning correctly. We drove through water, and as we reached our first dam, the 4-wheel drive vehicle we were using began to object. We hurried away from the inspection, and found ourselves at the mercy of the storm. A nice man came along and gave us a ride into Thomaston where we were able to secure passage back to Barnesville. The hurricane had severely damaged streams and roadways throughout the area. Our area was declared a federal disaster area. My journey in Georgia, and a goal of helping Georgia retain her natural resources, had begun. Hurricane Alberto was my first hurricane. It was not the last, but it was definitely a fitting initiation into Geor gia weather. Georgia does not know how to do anything halfway when it comes to weather. I’ve discovered we either have too much rain or we’re in a drought situation. It’s too cold or too hot. Georgia, however, recovers beautifully from weather woes and within a short time and with hard work, she is beautiful again. The storm that came the night of April 27-28, 2011, was unforgettable. It was the first time since my arrival in Georgia in 1992, that I left my bed for the comfort of a root cellar under the house. The tornado sirens and emergency warnings continued forever, it seemed. When all was over, I returned to my bed to contemplate what I would find in the morning. My residence was not touched, but tornados had wreaked havoc on Lamar County. My trip to work (less than five miles) found a detour from Highway 41 to the four-lane on 19/341 and I proceeded with big eyes, and probably mouth open, as I saw the first glimpse of this massive EF-3 tornado. It left two people dead and destroyed homes, barns and buildings, trees and virtually anything in its way. A beautiful hillside with a mansion at the top was completely stripped of all trees. This home, barely visible the day before, stood lonely, and I wondered how the people were who lived there. I’ve known them for years. The gas station where I frequently bought gasoline was an unbelievable site. The people at the business at the time the tornado struck survived inside a cooler. A church was destroyed across the road; a bridge damaged; power poles snapped. The deciduous trees that remained standing throughout this area of destruction were generally stripped of all leaves and reminded me of a hangman’s tree in an old Western. Sad, worn, with little hope of the morrow. Some tall slender pine trees that survived, remain today with little greenery, bent toward the ground, no longer reaching toward heaven. This is what I saw the morning of April 28. The tornado touched down in Upson County and with little exception remained on the ground through Lamar County and the northern end of Monroe County before it expired in Butts County. Lamar and Monroe counties (two of the four counties my field office serves) were declared federal disaster areas. The tornado had cut a path in excess of one-half mile through the county in which I live. It missed my office by a half mile. It missed my home by only one mile. In a short time, I will be retiring and moving from Georgia. I will miss my church, the Farmers’ Market, my work partnerships and the many friends I have acquired. I thank Lamar County and its neighbors for welcoming me and helping me grow these past 20 years. I remain extremely excited about both the closing of this chapter of my life book and the beginning of my next. I am anxious to start exploring Montana again, and getting back into things I remember from years gone by. Thanks, y’all!

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