Posts Tagged ‘fllod damage’

Heroes Without Headlines, Part 2

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Heroes Without Headlines, Part 2
By Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”Anais Nin

Finding the Essence of America in a Flood Zone

As the Susquehanna River flows, Mocanaqua, Pennsylvania, is 26 miles north of Bloomsburg, PA. It is a small community of less than 7,000 people. The name of the town is said to be the name given to Frances Slocum after she was kidnapped by the Delaware Indians in 1778. It means Little Bear Woman.

Kitch and I were introduced to Mocanaqua by one of our former students, Phillip Yacuboski.  In 2000, we were producing Windsor Park Stories. Phillip was working at a local TV station. He asked us to produce a documentary about his church, St. Mary’s of Mocanaqua for the Local Legacy Project sponsored by the Library of Congress. We said yes. The project brought us to his hometown, and the rest as they say is history.

Fast forward 11 years. Phillip is the overnight assignment editor at WBAL TV, Baltimore, Maryland, and we are on our way to visit the flood damaged sections of Mocanaqua.  

After we drove through a flood damaged neighborhood that sits less than 100 yards from the river’s edge, we noticed what appeared to be a carpenter carrying materials into a home on River Street. Little did we know, then, that we were about to meet a person who would speak with authority about the flood and what it means to enjoy the blessings of American citizenship.

Jerzy Milkucki was born in Poland.  He immigrated to America 17 years ago. After his five year probationary period, he became an American citizen. He is a painter by profession, but he is skilled in carpentry as well.  On this Sunday afternoon he was installing drywall in his dining room.

Jerzy is a natural conversationalist.  He was a delight to interview. He is genuine, honest, sincere and very positive. He believes the warning system worked. In fact, he had enough time to take everything upstairs where he spent the night of September 9, waiting for the river to crest. Before the river receded, he used his kayak to float around the neighborhood checking for damage and looking for people who needed help. He was favorably impressed by the help he received after the flood from the Red Cross, the Polish Falcons and volunteer firefighters. His experiences with FEMA were excellent, and the people he met there were, in his words, “very nice.”

When our conversation turned to his thoughts about America, the expression on his face and the cadence of his words spoke volumes.

“America is a beautiful country,” he told me.  This is a country for living. It is a country of opportunity for everybody.  It is a beautiful country. Last year I was in Alaska, a beautiful place. I was in the west states. I was in Florida. I was all over.  One day, if I have the money and time I would like to experience all of the states of America. It is a beautiful country, beautiful people, not everybody, but my experience is with very good, good people, helpful, very kind and very warm. It’s nice.”

When I asked him to compare life in Poland with his experience in America, he willingly shared these thoughts:

“In Poland, the political, economic situation is like this.  The money you make for living, it’s not enough. The level of living over there, you have to be working from morning until night, and it’s still going to be hard to make it."

"Here, you know, you learn something; you do the job, you work hard, you make money. It’s like my family. My wife works. My daughter is going to a very good university, Fordham University. In Poland, I would not be able to afford to put her in a good university. Over here she is a top student, speaks three languages, and she is going for the fourth one. I tell her hard work, hard work, hard work and then you are going to have it easy in your life.”

What did Jerzy Milkucki learn from his flood experience?

He is stronger as a person, more independent. In his words, “my view is way, way wider. I know who is the real person, and who is the one who is trying to slide under. I can count on my neighbors.”

Before I left his home, Jerzy summarized the past two months with this observation:

“In my experience, I survived flood and fire. I don’t know what’s going to be next. The good thing about a flood is you know it’s coming, and you have time to prepare yourself. It brings the community together.”

Don’t Live Next to a Creek

On our way home we stopped in West Nanticoke to speak with John Nash.  He was installing a light over his front door. He stopped what he was doing to talk with us, and his story reinforced the one we had just recorded in Mocanaqua.

His experience with all of the agencies of government was positive. “Everyone in the community pulled together,” he said, “and everybody just helped each other out.”  He believes America on its best day is people helping people.

His mother, Sylvia Nash, knows this is a tough time, but she refuses to sit back and feel sorry for herself. She is determined to keep moving forward.

When I asked her son what was the most important lesson he learned, she interrupted our conversation with six words spoken with authority:

“Don’t live next to a creek.”

Kitch and I have spent the better part of two years talking with people who live in small towns across America.  It never ceases to amaze us what we have learned from these conversations. On this November afternoon, the people we met and the things they shared give truth to the words of Rebecca Harding Davis:

“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world, and a good enough man for any world.”

That’s the essence of the Face of America, and that’s what America is all about on its best day.

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