Weather comes and goes. You see rain in the mountains first. It clicks along the tin then it’s gone.
Have you ever noticed that we ask the same questions to everyone we meet? We repeat stories, gesture punctuation. We get irritated if our favorite gas pump is taken. The sameness of the days keeps us together.
ASP prides itself in ritual. Walk around a center and see the same posters adorning its walls. One reminds volunteers of the three S’s (safety, stewardship, and sensitivity). Another shows them their schedule, meticulously planned (with a hug break even built in at 12:34). We eat through the same food cycle every week from the same cafeteria trays. We go through staff meetings in the same order. Each day is transparent. These repetitions, set against an ever-changing backdrop, bring me a kind of familiar comfort.
This week, I stopped by Washington County on my drive from Carter to Knott County to sit down with two volunteers that have been coming to ASP since its inception, Jerry and Tammy. They told me countless stories of their time serving with Tex Evans and how ASP has grown and grown from its humble roots: “Tex used to drive into the hollers and give a sermon every night based on what he saw,” Jerry tells me, “to his credit, he managed to tie every story together. Every day was built upon the last. We’ve been coming for almost 50 years now, and ASP hasn’t changed much for us. I still feel like it’s telling the same story. Warmer. Safer. Drier.”
“We mean what we say. We show up year after year,” said Jim, a volunteer. Progress follows repetition.
On-site, a volunteer walked up to me, tilted his head, and asked me the classic, “How are you doing?”
“Good,” I answered, “It’s another day.”
“Yeah it’s really just the showing-up-every-day part that’s important, isn’t it?”
Post holes are dug by a volunteer group one week. The frame is put on, and the decking is built by the group the following week. Each project is an amalgamation of current volunteers building off of previous volunteers’ work spread out over a summer. Slow, steady, honest work. There is no hero moment.
I spent the 4th of July in Carter County, Tennessee. Falling on a Monday, all the firework shows in Elizabethton had taken place over the weekend. A light rain persisted, too, drowning any hope of a celebration. But as the sky got dark, scatters of fireworks began shooting off from the hollers; little pockets of light coloring the horizon for hours on end. They came from every corner. Even with stormy weather and a Monday, people still felt it was important to launch fireworks on Independence Day because that is the ritual. This is what we do. Keeping these things the same is what binds us together.
Story Gathering Intern