Last weekend in my hometown of Paducah, Kentucky the weather got bad…again. It happens here from time to time. In 2009 we had a devastating ice storm, one of the worst in the nation’s history. Perhaps you never heard about it. The storm and its aftermath, though it affected hundreds of square miles, garnered little or no media attention. That’s because we Midwesterners don’t grab for the camera lens and scream for FEMA. We don’t even think about needing the federal government during events like the ice storm or last week’s flood, after all, we have each other.
The water got high this past weekend, really high. Citizens were encouraged to stay home or to head for higher ground if they were in a flood zone. Most listened. The ones who didn’t went out to see who they could help. Their purpose was not to go and drive through high water, get their vehicle swamped and make further demands on already strained first responders; instead they were out to help those who needed assistance and thus to support responders. Certainly we have our fools and buffoons here just as exist in any other area of the country but they are not the norm.
Nowhere have we seen the mindset of strong community and independence play out any more than in Oklahoma after the recent tornadoes. How much panic has there been? How many cries for the government to come and rescue? Based on the coverage I have seen so far, I would say zero.
A funny moment from our Saturday storms, and one that isn’t particularly rare in these parts: Our recent weather event was a pretty severe flash flood. But then flash floods sometimes live up to their name and the water recedes as fast as it rises. That was the case Saturday and it didn’t take residents long to discover there was no reason not to go ahead and get out of the house. As I was driving by an exit ramp I noticed a tree trunk had floated up onto the ramp and apparently been left behind by receding water. I looked that direction just in time to see a soccer mom in a Chevy Yukon drive right over the tree. I can only imagine the conversation inside the vehicle. “Oh! There’s a tree in the way. Baby, go hook my winch cable around that sign post up there, Mama didn’t order that four thousand dollar off road package for nothing. We’re about to lock in the hubs and drive right over that thing. We’re surely not turning around and going home. It’s 40% off today at the mall.” Within half an hour of the water receding, restaurants and stores were as crowded as ever.
As I watched business boom, I thought about towns like Moore Oklahoma, and Joplin Missouri, and Paducah Kentucky. Perhaps our generation is softer, more lazy, and spoiled, but if you look closely enough you can still see the American independent spirit here. We don’t want need or ask for FEMA. They would probably just get in our way. However we will travel to help you in your time of need. We’ve done it before. In Moore, the Southern Baptist Men volunteers were serving hot meals to those who had lost everything before FEMA ever rolled out of their headquarters.
Our current government leadership cannot fathom such a mind-set. I think they genuinely fail to see the value of that independent spirit. Instead they look at folks like us merely as a source of seemingly never ending tax revenue so that they can perpetuate and grow more and bigger failed assistance programs. Lord help those who believe they must depend on them.
Chris Skates is the author of the novel, Going Green: For Some It Has Nothing To Do With The Environment, which is available in the Patriot Bookstore and the soon to be released historical novel The Tower. He has been published in dozens of national magazines and has authored multiple technical articles in his field of Chemistry. You can follow his blog at