THOMASVILLE, Mo. - “Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass; it's about learning to dance in the rain.”
Those beautiful words are still written on the walls within the 11 Point Cafe in Thomasville. No truer words can be heard right now, as the building stands stripped of all its sheet rock and sweet decor. These words remain untouched by the water, mud and tears that have tried to wash this little town away.
Cafe owners/operators Jamie and Scott Warren, a married couple, are shining examples of true Christian friends. They bought the cafe months ago with a dream and a vision. They lost it all in the wall of water that engulfed the town in late April. Now they struggle to do what's needed by lending helping hands to those others in need.
They walk the streets at all hours of the night and have little more than prayers to offer to the ones they learned to call friends. They struggle to find supplies to rebuild, as they do not qualify to receive relief funds as they are a business.
Still, God gives promise. He knows what's in the next chapter of 11 Point Cafe, just like the little dolls in the sweet story from Jamie's mama. She rescued the dolls as she walked through the muck and the mud and saw the great loss of her daughters after the flood. She saw hope in their eyes as she washed them clean. She spoke of peace and of vision as she brushed their hair, and then she spoke of promise as she named them Dolly and Lilly Flood.
How can we help you? Like the words on the wall, a cross was left untouched, rebuilding the vision within these walls. The laughter is gone but the memories will never fade.
Woodside Cemetery stood for much more than a beautiful place to lay our loved ones to rest. That night, it stood as a safe haven for those as they watched as the flood take everything they had. As I drove along side of the cemetery recently, I saw the beautiful Memorial Day flowers that were laid lovingly on the graves of the many loved ones gone on now. I wondered what the ancestors that lay there today would have advised. Where would they start to rebuild the vision that will grow to restore our town?
Veterans sprinkle the town as well as many elderly people. Generations of families have raised their children and grandchildren along these banks of the Eleven Point River, and spent many hours playing on the slab that crosses over the Middle Fork Creek. They have been displaced. They are in adjoining towns because their houses are uninhabitable. They’re homeless for the first time ever.
They feel lost, with everything for which they worked gone, just like that. Amid their hopes to rebuild, they’re surrounded by fears of this happening again someday. Fixed incomes keep them from seeking loans to buy new. We grieve with them. What more can we do?
Looking at it today, you would not be able to tell that it was once a thriving little town, the original county seat of Oregon County, the reason for the name West Plains, as it was on the plains west of Thomasville. Established in 1803, the vision was clear. In 2017, the vision is fear -- fear of the ‘What if?’ and fear of the unknown. This cannot be.
An old vault can still be seen within the walls of the 11 Point Café. This vault once held the money that kept this little town going. The vault may not hold the precious dollars but it does hold the precious memories of what once was.
We've worked alongside many of the people from this town but in particular Randy Walker. He has helped every homeowner here in Thomasville with cleanup. He's not missed a day. He too lost everything but is among those fighting to bring this town back to life. He lends the ever ready helping hand, asking nothing in return. His entire house is gone; his clothing is gone, his food supplies are gone. He was ruined by flood waters but he smiles at all he meets, waves as they drive by.
Walker, displaced by the flood, stays with family members, works as he can to earn money to survive, or just to buy tires for his old pickup, which is the only thing he has left. His family home is completely gone --washed away. The only thing left is a slab of concrete. His home was among the oldest homes in Thomasville, built by his mom and dad many, many years ago.
Walker has no steady income but the vision is there. He is learning to dance in the rain. He's not giving up. His strength and values shine through. How can we help him?
Street lights are now again starting to shine their dim lights along the narrow streets. They are a welcomed sight as they show the first glimmer of life. A vision is once again beginning to form for this town with hopes of a rebuild. More people are moving here to start their families or maybe even spend the remainder of their days here. They’re surrounded by the love that encompasses Thomasville.
Many people will drive through, making our loss seem entertaining. Their vehicles drive slowly as they try not to miss a single misplaced item, as if taking in the Christmas lights in the late days of December.
Doors stand open, and thieves run amuck as we try to protect what little is left. I’m not sure how some can stoop to such levels. Satan is a selfish, selfish man, making our loss and grief seem like a shopping mall to others.
As the words on the cafe walls, I hope for the umbrella to open and the dancing to begin. The rains will come again but, if the vision can be rebuilt, and hopes now crushed can be revived, this town can go on; this town can stand again. The people here will join hands again; the smiles can come again; the story board can be filled once again with the pinned memories of the flood survivors. The streets can reopen, new businesses can be established, the Christmas lights can be hung and, the porch lights can shine again.
Editor's note: Tina Presley lives on a hill on the outskirts of Thomasville. The flood did not directly affect her home. She sent the photos that accompany her essay.
The slide show photos are from shortly after the flood.