Monday, December 26, 2005

Well, it was an uplifting holiday weekend for me on the Coast. Out-of-town volunteers and the people of South Mississippi proved again how much solemn resolve they could muster to share their hearts with neighbors in need.
On Saturday, I went over to Bay St. Louis to cover a Christmas eve party at an emergency distribution center. After wandering around for a good bit of time, I glommed onto little Maddy, a 3-year-old who was much less concerned about the fact that she was at a party than with piling dirt and grass into a little pile. Story follows, of course courtesy of Sun Herald:

Madeline "Maddy" Bellman intently piled handfuls of brown grass and dirt into a small mound in the outfield of Bay St. Louis' McDonald Field during a Christmas celebration Saturday.

"I'm making a mountain with a straw on top," the 3-year-old said.

A pile of gift-wrapped shoeboxes next to Maddy along the outfield fence dwarfed her and her mountain. The gifts, organized and brought down by volunteers with Quota International, a community service group, would be handed out later in the morning to the 400 children invited to the party.

"The shoeboxes came from over 20 cities throughout the United States," said Vicki Miller, a member of the group's local chapter who was dressed up like a rock 'n' roll elf, complete with glittery white stars painted on her face. "The boxes have crayons, school supplies and dolls for girls and boys."

At the party, recorded Christmas music could be heard coming from a red-and-white striped tent placed over home plate. Inside, a band named "Tribute" set up on a makeshift dance floor of plywood and shipping palettes.

The band started up.

Maddy, looking content from a project finished, stood and yelled, "Now it's finished!"

"Here's your flag, honey," said her mother, Angela Bellman. Maddy stuck the flag, a straight twig with a piece of grey duct tape at the tip, into her mound.

Sleigh bells sounded in the distance and a group of children playing football and bingo looked up the street.

Santa Claus walked up to the field and Maddy took off from her mother's side to meet him.

"Santa!" Maddy yelled at him, as if Santa didn't know his own name.

"Ho, Ho, Ho!" he said loudly.

Moments later, the glare of a weakened sun filtering through a heavy Coast fog made Maddy squish her face to protect her eyes and then look down. There on the ground she found her mountain. As quickly as that, Maddy forgot about Santa and went back to piling grass on the mound.

A while later, after making her mountain even higher and intermittently running through the crowd, Maddy curled up on one of the folding chairs. She sat backwards on it and rested her chin on the seat back.

It was not yet noon, but Maddy had already had a full Christmas Eve day.


The story was twice as long, but so goes the heavy hand of editing for a daily newspaper.

I went along with some volunteers on Sunday, Christmas day, who used their own holiday to prepare, pack and deliver turkey dinners to the needy. I met some really interesting people at the place, including a Duke University student who dragged his parents down from NC to do some volunteering on the Coast. He was a public policy student at the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy, a great school with some really smart people coming out of it.

Sorry, my mind started wandering there for a sec. Where was I? Oh yeah, meals to the needy.

Another interesting guy I met there was Jamey Turner, who was entertaining the volunteers with a bunch of cognac snifters that, with wet fingers that he slid atop their rims, he played Mozart and Beethoven on.

Story is at the following link:

Again, I don't know who's doing the editing, but they hacked off the lede in the online story. I was proud of that sentence because I used both 'nary' and 'awash.' Maybe that's why they hacked it. Oh well.


Blogger Sarabeth said...

I still like reading the stories. That's great that there are people who don't forget about the needy in Mississippi's coast.

7:19 PM  
Blogger Jillian said...

Yeah I really enjoyed reading that story about Maddie. Although I would have much rather seen the uncut (heh, play on words...) version - that one was still very effective and nice.

I'm glad your Christmas went well, now I'm wondering about the other version of you (You know what I mean).

Hope you both have a Happy New Year!

1:42 PM  
Blogger cheesemeister said...

The resiliance of children is always inspiring to those of us who have become rigid in our patterns and thoughts. Thanks for sharing it!

11:10 PM  
Blogger The Fergoosons said...

Have you checked out Vincent Laforet's website lately? Not that your photos aren't spectacular, but there are some on his site, just as yours, that show such emotion and tell an entire story. Thanks for sharing it with us.

9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The strength of the human spirit is indeed quite powerful and uplifting. Keep on keeping us updated in nyc. Your stories remind us what is most important.

Warmest wishes to you and the folks of Mississippi for the new year!

PS Go Duke!

2:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was a great story....too bad it involved Maddy, and not some other little child. Nothing against Maddy, who lives in Ocean Springs, but her mom has been milking this storm for all it's worth. She's been taking advantage of every freebie that's been handed out. It's digraceful. Their home wasn't even damaged. I've known maddy's mom for many, many years and she is an attention hog to the extreme. Any time there's media or attention involved, Ang is right there. Now, sadly, she's doing the same with her poor child.
Like I said, great article, but it would have been nice for the focus to be on a child who lived right in the immediate area, and who's life was irrevocably changed by this tragedy.

12:22 PM  
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