The Nashville (and Franklin) Flood of 2010

May 2010

“Don’t Stop When It Rains” Shirley Logan. 

Just a few hundred yards from Shirley’s home in Franklin, Tennessee, lay an eclectic array of garbage rendered useless by the receded waters of the Harpeth River. Debris lined up along the curbs looking more like inspection time at the county jail (awkward and perfunctory) than remnants of a recent devastating flash flood. A week earlier, the river mutated from an inconsequential, tranquil creek to liquid brown brawn swallowing up homes, memories, and property lines just one street away from my “second” home.

Franklin, TN, 2010

To my more curious Pennsylvania friends, I describe Franklin as a “perfect little town,” so earlier in the month when I’d watched the devastation from my Yankee living room, I experienced the helplessness one must feel when an injured neighbor is in need, but just out of reach. If it weren’t for the toilets, sinks, and warped hunks of walls and splintered floor boards waiting like expectant patients, I would not have believed the reports. Oddly enough, the homeowners had arranged their broken possessions in neat piles for collection. Otherwise, it would be difficult to find evidence of what had taken place two weeks earlier.

Rivers shoveling silt after the flood.

I rambled through town in my rental car after returning from my first songwriting session. I was looking for markings of the violent flood waters–if you’ve been through a flood (mine was Agnes as a girl), you know where to look: under bridges, on houses, in the hedgerows. The flood waters had moved so violently that they swept away much of what stood in the path–even lives. I could see that little remained untouched near the river banks of this quaint, picturesque town, as well as along nearby highways, and downtown Nashville itself.

Shirley and I met at a songwriting conference in New Jersey, and she has opened her home to me many times over the years so I could chase a dream. And, yes, Nashville is host to a long line of dream chasers. Rather than feeling disconcerted, I’ve always felt encouraged and renewed after a songwriting trip. It could be the simple act of creating something that hadn’t existed when you’d gotten out of bed, or maybe the camaraderie inherent to co-writing. After the first few songwriting trips, my visits became more like a mini-relocations and Shirley and I forged a deep friendship. Before long, the Nashville skyline and Franklin merchantiles prompted a strong wave of nostalgia. Something I’ve only felt for a few places: my childhood home, my first house after college, and Colorado. Though these trips scratch a necessary itch in my musical life, the friendships soon overshadowed any creative pursuits. So, as I drove through the Franklin streets near the river, I inspected the damage like an adjuster with a personal, vested interest. What I really scavenged for was the human story behind the vacant stare of the houses. A week into my songwriting trip, I met a lively, witty woman and her daughter in Shirley’s kitchen. She was gathering Shirley’s young daughters for a sleepover; however, she wasn’t taking the girls to her home. During the flood, everything she owned was covered in eight feet of water. “I went to work in the morning and came home to a flooded house. I lost all but 3% of what I own.” Neighbors and friends helped save as many photographs as possible, and offered even more than that: a place to rest and live in a spare room until she and her daughter can sort through the legalities and insurances–or lack there of.

So many people are in the same situation; this is a small slice of the human cost. A surface wound. This is what I was looking for when I drove past the houses willing the walls to speak, but here in front of me was a real story.

Franklin, Nashville, and the surrounding areas hit the hardest have been swift to retaliate against the rain. Behind the piles, lawns perked up. Tree branches and ragged brush quarantined to dumpsters. Neighbors laugh together, standing in long lines for ice cream and songwriter rounds. I should not be surprised, but I am.

Nashville’s lifeblood is music and the only silence it allows is the moment following a great song.

Surprised, but also thankful, because it had been frightening to watch torrents of rain push through places I recognized. I decided to drive this trip, rather than fly (a ten-hour difference), filling the back of my Volvo wagon with the extras stashed in my basement: unneeded clothing, toys, and “stuff.” I asked my children to sort their clothes by “Keep,” “Trash,” and “Nashville.” I loaded my car with anything I thought might bring comfort. Then, I drove 770 miles, happy to do something. In the big scheme of things, considering the human toll and the physical pillage, it wasn’t much.

With Shirley Logan

That’s what my head said, but my heart had learned a valuable lesson years earlier while working with World Vision: doing one simple thing for someone else, whether you know their name or not, makes a difference. To everyone involved.

It’s the doing that matters.

One life brushes up against another and another and another, and if we all just do one thing–something–we can press on together, a little easier and maybe a little further. Sometimes, it is the simple thing that heals, like saying, “I hear you,” and “You’re strong,” and “We’ll figure it out together.”

For Nashville and Franklin, Tennessee, the flood of 2010 tattooed a watermark on bridges and fields, houses and hearts, as all floods do. Some will rebuild, forget, happy to put it behind them, and others will commemorate those days with flowers on concrete markers.

So when you hear about another benefit concert in Nashville, push past the temptation to think the industry is “milking” the flood or any other disaster for publicity. The flood ran deep, yes it did; but the ties between the people of Tennessee run deeper still.

Grubbing for pizza in Franklin with Shirley and husband, Harry Tiffany IV.