When I was seventeen, I got my first car. It was a family hand me down, an old Buick Riviera. One of my first trips in it was to go see Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert. Bad Company was opening up for them.
I put the car in drive and headed up the block. I was only a few hundred feet away from the house when a station wagon came soaring out of nowhere and completely totaled my ride. I walked away after the report and the tow. Then I phoned a friend, hopped in her car and not long after I was singing, “Sweet Home Alabama”. That’s where Jo and I are at now, in Alabama.
Joe McLaughlin is a good friend of mine who lives in Bend. I met him during the summer of 2011 when I was on another mission in life to aid in the aftermath of a horrific EF5 tornado that leveled the city of Joplin, Missouri. Learning about a mother who had had her nine year old pulled from her arms into the storm, and not surviving, I felt compelled to go help however I could.
I took two trips there that summer, driving cross country both times, working on what I had dubbed as ‘love projects’ in Joplin. One of those was “The House That Love Built”.
I had met a woman who’s house had vanished, her car was totaled, her place of employment was swept away and the daycare where she brought her three little ones had been cleaned off its slab. I became a voice for this young mother that summer.
Joe McLaughlin was back home in Bend. With the help of his wife, a bunch of her friends, and the community, we rallied together in support of those who endured such devastating loss. Holding a bluegrass concert, a benefit in Downtown Bend at Common Table, we were able to raise close to two thousand dollars in support.
At the time, I was also touring, playing my guitar and singing songs. I shared that woman’s story at every venue, emptying my tip jar at the end of each night, putting it towards the cause.
When I arrived back in Joplin in mid August, I finished what I had been divinely inspired to start. I found a small home in a nearby community and paid the rent up for six months. With the permission of the landlord, I completed a mini-makeover on the house, laying new tile, painting walls and refinishing cabinets. I scavenged around at thrift stores, yard sales, a few churches, and an appliance place, and located all the furniture, beds, and a refrigerator.
When that was done, I drove the mother to a small used car lot and spoke with the owners. We found a perfect little grocery getter for her and her children and after she signed the paperwork, with the help of many friends who supported this, I was able to hand over the cash for her new wheels.
It was Sunday afternoon, the two of us stood in the front yard of her new home. I handed her the keys to the place and told her that I loved her, that a lot of people from Bend Oregon love her. And then I drove off, headed westward.
I was able to return to Joplin and visit her again in November of 2013. Chantel and her children are doing well.
That story was leading to me telling you this one…
Joe McLaughlin has a brother who lives in Mobile. He called his bro and told him that Shoeless Jo and I were pedaling through his neighborhood. Sean and his wife, Jan, they invited us to stay over.
After leaving the town of Ocean Springs yesterday at noon, I followed Highway 90 until I came to a junction where I turned north. I had the wind on my back as I rode through the country side. It seemed like every other house had a an off-leash pit bull that could run almost as fast as I can ride.
I pulled into the driveway where Sean and Jan came out to welcome us in. Sean is a caterer here in Mobile, Creative Catering is his business. He had lined up 15 pounds of crawfish, 5 pounds of shrimp and 5 pounds of incredibly delicious sausage. We stood around in the kitchen, pulling tails, peeling shrimp and nibbling on corn and potatoes, dipping them all in a garlic butter sauce that I could have taken straight shots of.
We sat out on the patio late into the evening getting to know each other. I told him the story about how last year, I was traveling around to different military bases, working with my friend, Breck, catering meals for the Army National Guard.
We ended up talking about food for an hour, audibly swapping our favorite recipes with each other.
I’ll finish by writing this. The last 65 days of my life, seeing America, one day at a time, have been incredibly soul feeding. I’ve witnessed countless exchanges of love and trust take place as I’ve relied on the sole support of old friends, and new friends, who are caring for us, providing for us along the way. All of these experiences stir the Spirit in me and my faith continues to grow. I hope yours does too.
Here’s a link to our GoFundMe, if you feel inspired and are able to support us this way.
With Love & Thanks,
Josh & Jo