October 26, 2011 FacebookTwitter More...

Island Living: Getting by with a little help from our friends


My insurance adjuster must think I’m a moron.

The guy was terribly nice, didn’t mind that at least two of our animals tried to get personal with him during his brief visit, and knew infinitely more about our house than I did. 

He would wander around and see secretive mold spots or double-glass windows that were missing a panel, and ask “Was that hurricane related?” while I had to stupidly parrot back, “Umm… I don’t know. I never noticed that before.”

Usually, this answer was apologetically followed by some sort of sad excuse like, “I’ve just been so busy at work” or “I had to wash and condition my hair,” so he would surely realize that I was somehow an importantly busy person, and didn’t think that I was completely oblivious to the deteriorating state of our house, which simply occurs sometimes when you live in a place that gets wind and saltwater from all directions for an entire day.

And, to be honest, I felt kind of embarrassed leading him through our home.

For the life of me I can’t figure out why I was so ashamed in front of someone who was there to help, and, more importantly, why I wanted to prove that at one point our home was a beautiful and classy neighborhood landmark. (We did have an awesome and eye-catching pirate flag pre-Irene, after all, before it was blown away.) 

There was even one point, after he strolled around the black mucky yard taking photos of the flood lines, that I forced the poor guy to look at my own photos of how amazing the yard had looked before, with figs, eggplants, and tomatoes growing in the garden area, butterfly bushes in full bloom, and the yard a lovely lush green carpet for our pets to get personal with strangers on.

I was proud of how we looked pre-storm, I suppose, and I didn’t want anyone to get the impression that I was “in need” of anything -- even if I did file an insurance claim to the contrary.

Really, if you think about it, Hatteras and Ocracoke islanders are very strong-willed people. 

Admitting that we need help, or that we’re not as consistently tough and salty as usual, is difficult to do.

And admitting that we’re struggling and might need a hand from someone, whether it’s the government, our neighbors, or fantastically kind strangers, is even harder.

In fact, there are dozens if not hundreds of people who have lost their homes, their possessions, their jobs, and now live a nomadic lifestyle, without asking for much help. And they are able to do this every day, with a smart smirk on their face, as if it’s a minor inconvenience and they’ll make everything right again in the long run.

I know this for an absolute fact because it’s happening right now, in the tri-villages and Avon, to some of the best and most respectable people I know.

I’m not quite there yet. I noticed my roof and storage shed damage, called my local insurance company, and then whined like a silly third-grader when it took them at least a few weeks to come out and survey the damage.

In fact, admittedly, I ended every phone call to the insurance company with, “I’m so sorry. I realize you’re very busy… but it would be great if you could look at our house in the near future,” which is basically a backhanded way of saying, “Better come out here soon or else I will whine like a silly third-grader.”

But, honestly, when the time did come to show our storm damage to the proper authorities in all its glory, I was slightly humiliated that I was asking for help. 

And this, I do believe, is an island-wide phenomenon.

We’ve all heard reports of people who go to the local Really Really Free Markets -- which are remarkable beacons of assistance in this tragedy. They are people who have lost everything and who are literally the folks that donations are aimed towards, but they are embarrassed to walk in and walk out with desperately needed clothes and food.

There was even a program shortly after the evacuation was lifted, where residents who had lost all the food in their refrigerators could walk through the Dare County Social Services doors and minutes later could have food stamps in hand for $200 dollars or more.

This is a fantastic and very well thought out idea, but many people didn’t take advantage of it, simply because they were embarrassed to pick up and use food stamps. (In fact, my fiancÚ and I rationalized this even further by admitting that if we had hundreds of dollars in free groceries, we would stock up on the staples we lost, and then just buy really expensive blocks of cheese that we’ve always been dying to try. And frankly, this really didn’t seem like a good use of food stamps, and totally went against the program’s intentions in the first place.)

At some point, though, we have to realize that asking for help when we really need it is not, in fact, a shameful act. 

It doesn’t make us any less of a hardy islander or any sort of parasitic creature that feeds off the goodwill that’s amazingly coming our way. 

If you need help, ask for it. 

If you need food, clothes, or even a good distracting board game -- I recommend Trivial Pursuit, Pit, or Uno -- that is available at the free markets, then please, by all means, take it. It’s not like your name will be printed in some sort of local “THESE FOLKS ASKED FOR HELP – HAHAHAHA” newsletter. 

Let’s face it. For most people here, asking for help is an excruciating thing to do.  Locals pride themselves on being resourceful and being able to take care of themselves, and they have an incredibly long history of doing so.

Case in point, it’s my understanding that during the Civil War, locals were taken over by federal forces, and then ostracized and cut off from shipments of supplies from the Confederacy for living on a “Union” island. So, basically, both sides were in some way, shape, or form against Hatteras Island.

So what did the locals do? They took independent contractor jobs when they could find them with the occupying soldiers, farmed more, helped their neighbors more, and survived nearly a decade until they were independent once again, and prospered even more than before the war.

Now granted, this is an entirely different situation, and 150 years later, but asking for a little help from your neighbors, and taking advantage of the free markets, might just make it a little easier to eventually thrive and prosper.

We’re all in the same rickety boat, and if the outside world didn’t appreciate Hatteras Island, then we wouldn’t have an influx of food and supplies at our disposal for the folks that desperately need them. 

Please, take them. And use everything that’s offered to get back on your feet and restore the island back to that awesome, uniquely one-of-a-kind place that the people who, for whatever reason, are giving us stuff, absolutely love. 

Islanders are tough. No doubt about it. 

And that’s why we can hold onto our photos of how amazing everything looked pre-Irene, show them to total strangers with absolute pride, and then do our darndest to get back that way again.

(Joy Crist lives in Avon, where she really had a nice yard before Hurricane Irene.  She visited  the Avon Really Really Free Market, came home with a new comforter, and now volunteers at the market.)

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