Hello! My name is Isaac Wood, and I’m one of the Story Gathering Interns this summer. I’m glad you’re here following along as I kick the summer off with staff training in Virginia. Living near Johnson City for the last few years, I’ve grown to love the rolling hills of East Tennessee. I can’t wait to learn more about Appalachia this summer as I travel to ASP centers all throughout Central Appalachia.
The first week of Summer Staff training involves meeting a lot of people at “The Porch”—the nickname for ASP’s year-round facility and training center. I’ve met my two fellow Story Gathering Interns, our supervisor Chelsi, ASP administration, and a whole lot of passionate summer staffers. That was one of the biggest reasons I applied for this internship: because of the chance to meet so many people living and working in this beautiful region.
That’s what’s so great about porches. They give you the chance to get to know strangers. People welcome guests to their home from the porch. People exchange introductions, or sometimes even hugs, on a porch. Porches are where people meet. But they’re also a place of talking long into the night with grandfathers and aunts, neighbors and friends.
This first week has filled the porch with strangers getting to know each other. Those introductions have led to talking in rocking chairs while the crickets begin their racket for the night. I expect introductions and stories might continue to fill this summer as if it was your front porch. I’m hoping to keep good and accurate records in The Porch Rocker Almanac.
On Tuesday morning I met a homeowner, Miss Paula. The Story Gathering team followed an ASP van of ten or so first year staffers toward her house during SIM Day or Simulation Day, but we didn’t know whose house it was at the time. As we drove through the blooming honeysuckle our supervisor Chelsi began to recognize the winding roads and realized where we were going. She told us about Miss Paula, who she had met while helping repair her roof during Holy Week this year. Apparently, Miss Paula is the nicest person I’d ever meet and has a cat named “Puffy Cloud.”
The rumors were true. Miss Paula greeted us before we could make it to her porch and hugged our Chelsi as soon as she recognized her. She told us that the dogs Tinker and Charlie wouldn’t bite and that her grandchildren named her cat—you guessed it—Puffy Cloud. Then she told us some stories.
A month or so before our visit, Miss Paula said, Puffy Cloud had been bitten by a snake—not once, not twice, but five times. Each time she noticed swelling grow around his face and doctored the bites. When we met Puffy Cloud, he looked healthy as could be, prancing around the garden and taking a seat right by a sunflower. But it was right by that sunflower where Miss Paula had discovered the leading suspect: a copperhead. She took care of the 4-foot villain, so Puffy Cloud’s current confidence made plenty of sense.
A couple of weeks before our visit, Miss Paula told us that there were bad storms with a lot of rain in town. She got an alert that a tornado was coming through. As she took cover in her house, she saw the tornado roll through just across the ridge. After the storm she drove to check on her brother across town. She was grateful to find him safe and his house undamaged. No one was harmed or injured by the storm, but several houses were damaged.
Our neighbors—from the stranger next door to the brother down the road, and from the milky gray cat to the fussy coworker—face their own fears and sorrows. They’re left with bites, swelling, damaged homes, and sometimes even plain old hostility. It’s enough to paralyze a person. But Miss Paula doctored her cat’s wounds and addressed the fear. She left the safety of her home to check on her brother after the storm.
This summer, ASP’s guiding verse is Luke 10:27, which says to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Paula’s stories preach the love of tending to neighbors when they’re hurting when they’ve been “bitten.” To do so we may need to leave behind our own comfort so we can care for them as they face storms in their lives.
ASP founder Glenn “Tex” Evans phrases it this way: “We accept people right where they are, just the way they are.” I like to imagine him on his porch in the ‘70s, rocking next to a high schooler and telling that to her. He might have even followed it up with a story about Miss Paula.
As the summer continues, I look forward to meeting more neighbors in Appalachia. Along the way, some stories will be told on a porch. Others won’t. But this series, “The Porch Rocker Almanac,” aims to tell them the best they can be told, which, as you know, is from a rocker as the sun falls behind the ridge.
Story Gathering Intern