The wind tore at my purple dress. It threw dirt and grit into my eyes. Bluefield’s fast-approaching storm nipped at my ankles, lifting my hair until it made knots out the long brown strands. I picked up the pace when I felt a rain drop on my arm. I was running in a derecho. I just didn’t know it at the time.
The evening of the Second Chance Rocks the Two Virginias concert started with blue skies, hot sun and good music. It ended with a sprint down Stadium Drive after concert organizers evacuated Mitchell Stadium. Do I mark the widespread windstorm off my bucket list? I have ran in different kinds of weather — rain, snow and yes, even a tornado watch in North Carolina during a half marathon. According to an online encyclopedia, a derecho — a word the two Virginias are all too familiar with now — is a warm-weather phenomenon during June and July. Until that night, however, I had never run in a derecho while wearing a purple sundress and flips flops.
Since June 29, the word derecho has become popular vocabulary, especially in the newsroom. City editor Charles Owens said he would rather have a nacho than a derecho. I believe men always have food on the brain, even during stormy weather. On that Friday night, I didn’t want any Mexican foods than rhymed with derecho. I wanted shelter from the storm, which is why I ran ahead of the others. Instead of a finish line, the goal was to meet up a house on College Avenue. A new acquaintance, Amy, graciously invited my friends to her parents’ house, while we waited out the storm. We arrived with the wind, clutching our belongings to our chests. The garage filled up with friends of friends. But the owners — Leonard and Mel Nester — ushered all of us into the kitchen and living room.
Small talk — the weather, the news and music — turned into a Bluefield version of the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” where everything and everybody is connected. The Nesters are subscribers to the Daily Telegraph and recognized me as the Lifestyle editor. Their daughter Amy works with my mom at the hospital. Another daughter works in the newspaper business in McDowell County. And finally, the Nesters are originally from Gary. Both Mel and my mom went to Gary High School. Around the room, other conversations, much like my own with the Nesters, echoed off the living room walls. It is not hard to forget we live a small town.
And with small towns comes southern hospitality. And I am not talking about lemonade on the porch. Sandwich fixings appeared on the counter, next to granola bars, fresh fruit and chips. Amy ducked out to grab leftover pizza from her house, a few doors down. To an outsider, it looked like a party filled with longtime friends and family, not a windblown group of folks who met at a country music concert. At 10 p.m., my friend Leslie and I walked back to the stadium. We didn’t make it far before we learned the concert had been canceled due to the weather. Leaves and branches were scattered all over the road. The air was still, but an eerie feeling of uncertainty had fallen over Bluefield, which led me to believe we had experienced more than a summer storm. I drove home on the dark roads of Bluewell, up Route 52 towards Princeton, unsure about what I would find at home. I was relieved to open the door and flip on the lights. I had escaped both the derecho and the darkness.
A majority of the two Virginias spent last week in the dark, trying to survive without electricity. Neighbors, friends and businesses offered water, cooling locations, food and more. It is another example of summer southern hospitality. Despite the canceled performance, which was a good decision by concert organizers, the evening had a bittersweet end. I didn’t get to see Eric Church and Jake Owens, but I met a family whose kindness turned a bad turn of events into a sweet summer memory. And I sure I am not the only one who has experienced that same bittersweet feeling this week. During times of uncertainty and challenges, we discover a modern-day version of southern hospitality . In my case, it came in bottled water, peanut butter sandwiches and shelter from the storm.
Jamie Parsell is the Lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at email@example.com.