Mike Cline: Memories of downed tree

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 19, 2011

By Mike Cline
for the Salisbury Post
I feel your pain — I really do. The violent storms of April 16 that pummeled Rowan County and eastern North Carolina cut a path of destruction just like Maj. Gen. Sherman marching through the South during the Civil War. Millions of dollars of damage and the loss of life.
Fortunately, the Rowan County damage, as bad as it was, included no deaths locally. Personal property can be replaced, not so with people.
As the winds blew that Saturday and my trees bent almost to the point of no return, I was thinking back to the April Monday morning, almost four years to the day. My daughter reminded me that the horrible shootings at Virginia Tech took place on this day.
It was a beautiful spring morning — bright blue sky, birds singing, the whole nine yards. But it had poured rain all through the weekend, so the ground was as mushy as guacamole. About 10 a.m., the wind started to whip up, but not anywhere to the degree as the recent Saturday.
I was downstairs at the computer, as I am now, when I heard a loud whoosh. Not an explosion or an alarming noise, just a whoosh.
Wondering what I had heard, I got up and walked to the back door, and all I could see were fully leafed branches against the back door.
“What the heck” I thought, so I ran upstairs and when I turned the corner, I was greeted by yet another branch, inside the kitchen. I made my way around the intruder to discover a humongous oak tree had crashed through our sunroom and was resting on the kitchen table. I couldn’t see much else from this angle because there were branches and limbs everywhere.
It may not sound like such a big deal to have a tree hit a sunroom, but our sunroom was 50 feet long, the entire length of our house. When I got to the back yard and saw the damage, all but the last 8 feet of the sunroom were gone. What hadn’t been crushed by the mighty oak had exploded into the back yard. And to make matters worse, our two cars were parked under the sunroom, so they were damaged as well.
Having no prior experience in dealing with such an issue, I stopped for a moment to gather my thoughts. Better call the insurance company first. Being that my sister-in-law is also my insurance agent, the call went well. Adjusters were on the scene the next morning. I then made a barrage of calls to every reputable tree business in the area. The first one that called me back got the job. He and his crew were on the scene within two hours.
Sis-in-law said to take plenty of photos. Of course, there I am without a camera (I have since purchased one), so good neighbor and baseball phenom Brian Hatley provided me with many Kodak moments.
The first issue of business was to clear the tree and debris off the cars so they could be moved. Both turned out to be driveable, but damaged.
The tree crew worked until dark, doing what they do, but had to return the next morning to finish up. I was told by the expert that the oak tree was 75 to 80 years old, totally healthy, but just couldn’t handle the wet ground and winds. The area, at the point of the uprooting, measured 12 feet in diameter.
Once the tree was removed, we discovered some good fortune, that the floor of the room had been spared. The roof and kitchen table were to thank for that. All of the furnishings in the closest third of the room nearest the initial impact were destroyed, the middle section furnishings were damaged, but repairable, and the third furthest from the impact were just filthy, needing cleaning.
After the tree people left, the cleanup began, removing all the chunks of the 6-by-6 windows, roof, walls, and so on, mostly now in the back yard. Glass pieces, large and small, were everywhere. Every piece of glass we could see was picked up, but there’s still glass out there, so going barefoot in the back yard is a forever no-no.
Whatever civilization occupies my property five hundred years into the future, the people will be saying, “Why are all these little pieces of glass here?”
Things then fell into place in an order of priority leading to replacing the room. The entire process took about two months before we had the sunroom back.
It was a long two months. Lots of phone calls, lots of emails, lots of coordinating everything and everybody. Sadly, many local folks are dealing with the same issues now, and I truly feel for you.
A phrase we always use and always hear in situations such as this is, “It could have been a lot worse.” And that is usually very true.
Certainly, in my case. If Mother Nature had dropped the mighty oak 10 minutes earlier that April morning, my then-87-year-old mother, who was at the kitchen table, would have been just like the toast she was eating for breakfast. But she wasn’t. She had come downstairs. My dogs, who were in the fenced-in area where the tree once stood, were not in the tree’s path. No injuries or worse. Just replaceable stuff.
We were also fortunate that the tree did not cause any damage to the main part of our house. The oak dropped in a straight line and literally shaved the sunroom off the back of our house, as smoothly as barber Walt Shoaf’s straight razor.
I remain grateful to the nice people who came to my aid that day: the tree people, my friend Brian and his camera, my friend Bruce who brought sheets of plywood to cover up the doorway from our kitchen to the destroyed sunroom. I thank you again.
It often seems as if I am always paying some sort of insurance premium, be it medical, automobile, homeowners, whatever. The April morning of four years ago made me thankful that I had paid my homeowner’s insurance premium, and that I had insurance coverage. I know some dealing with their current crisis do not. It isn’t my business to know why they might not have coverage. But I have always told my kids that even if you have to eat Spam and beans five days a week to sustain, make sure you are insured.
For some, it’s probably too late, at least, for now. I hope you get another chance.
And, for whatever reason, if you ever find yourself in my back yard, don’t forget to wear your shoes.
Mike Cline lives just outside of Salisbury. His website, “Mike Cline’s Then Playing” (www.mikeclinesthenplaying.com) offers a history of movies shown in Salisbury and Rowan County from 1920 through 1979.