My phone rang at 3:30 on April 15th and my daughter breathlessly asked “Do we know anybody in Boston?” Needless to say that is not her normal greeting, but after a moment I said, “Your Mom’s aunt Marilyn lives there.” “Do you think she would be at the Marathon? There was an explosion at the finish line and people were hurt!” I assured Maggie that her great aunt was not a running enthusiast and was most likely safe, ended the phone call and immediately looked to my favorite news website to find out just what was going on. Of course details were sketchy, but the key bit of information was that there had been two explosions and people were dead and wounded. That evening I found out that a high school classmate who lives in the Boston Suburbs had been down town when the bombs went off. She was four blocks from the finish line, having a late lunch with friends. Needless to say her evening plans did not come to fruition.
Then Wednesday as I was driving home from choir practice I heard a breaking news story about an explosion in West, Texas. I confess at first I thought that they were talking about the oil fields in western Texas around the area of Midland or Odessa. When I got home I went to my news site again and gave myself a quick education about the town of West, a farming community of 2,800 people in McLennan County. Well, that is about 900 more than Elsberry. The County Seat of McLennan County is Waco, located some 20 miles south of West. Hmm, that sounds familiar also.
Now I realize that Boston is only 220 miles from New York City, that east coast whirling vortex that drains all media coverage from the rest of the country. I also know that the Boston Marathon has been run for the last 126 years on Patriots Day which was originally on April 19th but in more recent years like Washington’s Birthday has morphed into the third Monday of the appropriate month. Yes, there is something remarkably democratic about the marathon in that both amateurs and professionals compete together on the same track. And I think everybody would agree that Texas is very conservative while Boston and New York City share a mindset and political outlook that is decidedly liberal, but I have more concern about the town of West simply because it is more like my community than Boston.
The explosion in West killed 14 people of which 11 were first responders running in to the burning fertilizer plant to provide aid. The majority of those first responders were volunteers. Three of those first responders were trainees who were working on their EMT Certifications. The reports of injuries suffered in West are not as severe as those suffered in Boston where the word amputation is used with distressing regularity. But the impact of those injuries in a town of 2,800 will be more broadly experienced than those in Boston, a city of 625,000.
Life in a small town is a great experience when growing up. You can walk to the park, ride your bike to a baseball game or a school event, and generally know who you need to call in the event of a real emergency. It also has some draw backs. If you skip church on Sunday to go turkey hunting or get in a round of golf, everybody knows it. If you decide to start running to get in shape you have to be dedicated to your cause since it will take at least eight weeks of disciplined running on the same route before your friends stop asking where your car broke down and can they give you a ride. Ultimately when a tragedy happens it affects everybody in town, as we all know so well. So as you are cleaning the debris from the flood, be thankful that nobody died and aside from some blistered hands and knotted muscles, nobody was hurt. The folks in West, Texas are going to be repairing their community for many years.
John Armstrong is a Vice President with Peoples Bank & Trust Company in Elsberry.
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