Robert Hitt Neill column

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 20, 2011

Neills watch the water with rest of Delta

Twenty years ago, my Godfather wrote a letter to me in which he made the statement, somewhat wonderingly, “You have more close friends than anyone I know.”

I accepted that as a great compliment, and was duly humbled by it, but have been blessed once again by being reminded of that by recent events: the pending (as I write this) Great Flood of 2011.

Betsy and I, with the help of three younger friends, spent the past few days moving stuff upstairs, just in case the Mississippi River levees don’t hold this unprecedented amount of water coming down the Mighty Muddy.

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By the time you read this, they either will have held or won’t and we’ll both know it, one way or t’other. But with the national news coverage, we’ve had so many concerned friends to call or e-mail to check on us and offer refuge, that we’ve again been humbled.

One of the earliest friends to call and offer a place to go were Cal-Bob & Dorie, from Palm Desert, California, which should give a hint that they are dry. They stayed with us a year or so ago, out in The Store (our guesthouse), and we’ve been close ever since.  

Cal-Bob called the first time right after the twice-in-one-week spate of tornadoes that ravaged several states, to see if we’d been blown away; we had not, but I appreciated his call. Then the national news media came into the state to cover those record-book storms, and stumbled upon more record-book items – the Mississippi River was headed for one of the highest crests in history. So word of that went out over the national airways.

Cal-Bob called immediately, along with a bunch of other friends and family.  “I realize that you’re an old combat veteran, and think you can handle anything, but you’ve got Betsy and your grandkids and their parents to consider, too. Don’t stay there and take a chance!” he commanded. “Here’s my plan: one of my friends here owns a Roll-Royce dealership, and is honored to be included in our Mississippi Rescue plans. So we’ll be sending a limo to get you and your loved ones out of harms way and bring you to sunny California!”

Next to call was my Ole Miss fraternity little brother, Jerry Center.

“We are at 3800-feet elevation here in Scaly Mount, North Carolina, so come stay with us, and I guarantee you won’t get flooded!”

Mike and Frances, plus S.P. Crockett, called from Mobile to offer a refuge, a place of respite, although they ain’t at 3800 feet, nor did they offer a Rolls limo.

Little Dave called from Anderson, South Carolina, and pledged that Pat would have tomato pies for breakfast if we refugeed with them.

Cuddin Nancy from Atlanta offered another mountaintop cabin in Georgia.

Had two calls from California yesterday: Cal-Bob bumped his ante to a Lear jet pickup, to take us to the Rolls limo. He also said he and Dorie and their prayer chain had stayed up until 3 a.m. praying for us the night before, then he prayed for me over the phone.

Then George Who Married Monica Bubbles checked in to see if we needed to come to Hollywood, and bring his in-laws who’re close by. How big is a Lear jet, anyway? The Rolls limo is a ten-passenger, Cal-Bob says.

What a Blessing we’re getting daily! Eric, Jamie, and Tony came out thrice from the Studio and helped tote heavy stuff upstairs. We’re not panicking, just playing it safe, and Betsy said, “What a great adventure we’re having!”  

She’s decided to take this opportunity to virtually empty the downstairs, then, flood or no flood, start cleaning and polishing floors and walls where rugs and heavy antique furniture has sat unmolested for decades, before we move back downstairs.  

Matter of fact, she’s planning an old-fashioned Sock Hop as the Flood Finale here at Brownspur: we’ll clean all the floors, apply the wax, buy several dozen pairs of white footies, and invite friends to come party and dance the night away, while polishing all the downstairs floors!  

When Cal-Bob heard that, he threw in a helicopter to land in the pasture for our rescue, to take us to the Rolls limo.

There’s a song that declares, “God can take bad, turn it into good!”  Amen!

Editor’s note from the Neills on Wednesday:

Just an update, with an appreciation to so many of you who have offered a refuge in case the levees don’t hold.  Thank you!

The River is cresting here today at 64.5 feet, six inches under the prediction.  I think the old levee that gave way at Lake Providence might have given us that little relief.  We’re staying upstairs and leaving the downstairs furniture up three feet just in case, until June, since the River will fall slowly and therefore the pressure won’t be off the levees for a few weeks.  Sand boils are popping up all over, and will continue to do so, but the Levee Board, Corps of Engineers, and the National Guard (called out) have stayed on top of them and contained them.  The danger is that water running under the levee, if it isn’t contained by sandbagging so that the pressure is equalized, will eventually drop a section of levee into the hole created by the water continuing to run underneath it, eating out the soil.  Clear water on our side of the levee is okay, dirty water is bad news.  We ain’t out of the woods yet, by any means.

This is taking a terrible toll on the wildlife on the River islands between the levees.  I saw a coyote loping along Deer Creek right through Stoneville yesterday morning at 10A, headed east for the hills.  There are pictures of flooded homes inside the levees with herds of deer standing atop the roof, and they’re having to shoot deer that cross over into downtown Greenville.

Please continue to pray for the levees to hold, and thank you all for your prayers for us so far, and for your offers of help and/or refuge.  I’m going to attach my this week’s syndicated newspaper column, though many of you get it anyway.  You have been a blessing to us, just by your caring, and we covet your continued prayer and care while the water is still high up on the levee.

May God Bless you all,

Bob & Betsy