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Where I Stand: Notes from our evacuation

     Tomorrow I’m putting one kid on a plane and sending him back to southern California and my first thought after buying the last minute ticket on Southwest out of Reno was “at least we won’t have to worry about where to house him there.”

     It’s a strange thing for the mostly self-reliant people of Indian Valley to suddenly rely so heavily on other people. I can tell we appreciate it even while feeling uneasy by it. I didn’t consider myself an evacuee until the kids and I got back and I farmed them and myself out to various friends in Quincy.

     The signs in Quincy that say “We Love You Greenville” hit us hard. But then my son and I looked at each and realized. “Oh, wait a minute. That’s us.”

     The day was surreal. I don’t normally spend the night in Quincy unless I’m putting on a show with Pachuca Productions. We must have looked haggard walking into Carey Candy Co for coffee and croissants this morning.

     I had my card out ready to pay for our meal and coffee and the nice woman behind the cash register inquired as to whether we were from Greenville and I said yes with my card out in my hand and she said our meal was free. We were grateful and stunned and not quite awake enough to fight the gesture off. My son left money in the tip jar feeling uneasy about it all.

     We are having a bout of survivor guilt coupled with knowing we will probably get by more than others.

     Next we went to the post office where we saw Margie Meeker ahead of us from Country Salon in Greenville. We asked about the condition of each other’s houses—it’s what we do these days. Her business and house are gone. My mother’s is still standing for now. My son inquired about her husband. Having worked at Hunter’s Hardware for four years through high school and a year after, my son knows more men than I do in town. We all got a little teary.

     When it was our turn at the window I realized how little identification I have left in the world. I kept all that in the office. I opened a PO Box in Quincy for the very first time so that the checks sent to me two days from now have some place to go. The only proof I had that I lived in Greenville was my word and my passport.

     After our two errands my son wasn’t up for anymore. The uneasiness of not being able to go home to Greenville. The inability to answer rhetorical questions like ‘how are you?’ weighed on him heavily. I drove him back to where his girlfriend is staying. Her family lost everything. At the beginning of July when I began to move he and his girlfriend south, I convinced them to leave all their winter clothes at her parent’s house to be picked up next trip up. Now their clothes are ash. A bad mom call on my part.

     I went to Quincy Pharmacy next and the pharmacist was a wealth of understanding and empathy—Village Drug got most records transferred over. The clerk was a little officious and new and not quite ready to realize that there are customers who are walking trauma and I left there needing to cry with no place to do it.

     Plumas Bank was wonderful. I’m sure many Greenville residents are doing this right now. But all through my day when I need something, I’m suddenly envisioning it in my office and then remember in a second of lag time that I have no office. I have no checks left of either account. They are in the drawer to the left in my rolltop desk that no longer exists. One draw over from all the letters I kept that my grandmother ever sent me. I have nothing. No example of her penmanship anymore. No little words of love and that hurts on a day like today when I’m walking in a daze.

     The teller says Plumas Bank will expedite the new checks to my new p.o. box and for a moment I feel like it’s all going to work out. My other kid starts volleyball today. It feels almost normal.

     Except I can’t breathe and my eyes are bloodshot red veined and white.

     The friend my kid and I are staying with in Quincy tells me his daughter’s escrow is precarious. She wants to move back to Quincy, but her bank doesn’t want to loan to a couple in Plumas anymore. The house—though in town—will not be able to get insurance. There’s going to be a lot of that, I fear.

     I’ve been asked a good deal about what makes Indian Valley special. I try to answer what I know to be true: this strange mixture of self-reliance and knowing that at the very least, your neighbors have your back even when large entities may not.

     As I speak to people still in Indian Valley it becomes clear that the narrative of ‘guns drawn’ obstinacy was not the nature of everyone who stayed behind. People stayed behind because their experience of the county and the state told them that Indian Valley would be left to fend for themselves. That there would be no retardant drops for them. That watering their own property down would be the only thing that might save them.

     The people of downtown areas of the Flats and Alta Camp Road think about the efforts to save Chester succeeding. They talk about their perceptions of Lake Almanor being saved over poor Greenville with both conspiracy and resignation.

     It’s their stories I’m thinking about this morning. Knowing my fellow towns people woke up like I did a bit ago in a welcoming town that doesn’t feel like home.

     This morning I’m off to the airport to get my kid out of here. Working for Hunter Hardware for four years straight got him some fast job interviews in southern California and he landed a part time position that he can do while in college. Starts Friday. I wonder if he’d ever move back, but I doubt it.

     But first talking for 20 minutes at a conference on rural towns building back. Our houses will not be worth much here in Greenville. We will have little recourse other than try and eek out an existence—or walk away and lose even more.

     Thank you to all who have been kind to us and my Greenville brethren. We appreciate it—even if we can’t always meet your eyes this week.

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