The Dipstick Miracle and other Miraculous Mississippian Stories: 16 November 2005 - 19 November 2005


The "dipstick miracle" had rather inauspicious beginnings along the Harrisburg Pike between Rheems and Mt. Joy, PA on the afternoon of November 11th, 2005. Actually it began much earlier but Rodger Pickett and Brad Newcomer can't remember when they first met so suffice this miracle to begin on that cool afternoon.

Brad had purchased Rodger's Volvo perhaps 2 years earlier and for whatever reason Rodger had an extra dipstick for the Volvo, which he had carried around in his car for two years waiting for an opportunity to give it to him. In the interval it is estimated Rodger had seen and spoken with Brad perhaps 200 times but had never remembered to give him the dipstick.

On the afternoon of November 11th, Rodger drove past Brad's place of business and noticed him talking with his wife Karen out front. Hence the miracle, for on this day, of all days, Rodger thought, "I'm going to finally give Brad that dipstick."

Rodger turned around and drove back to Brad's place, gave him the dipstick and began to leave. Brad responded by giving Rodger a folder containing pictures of Brad's recent hurricane relief trip to D'Iberville, Mississippi, for which Rodger had made a small contribution.

Rodger returned to the office and while working on various other projects remembered that Cindy Rowe Auto Glass had committed to contribute approximately $6,000 to the hurricane relief effort and thought perhaps Brad might know what to do with it. He called Brad and asked, "If you had $6,000 when would you go back to Mississippi?" Brad replied, "Next week!" Rodger said, "I want to go with you."

And so our story begins. It is a story of miracles, not the least of which is that upon determining to go, Rodger called 19 business associates and asked for additional money for the trip. Many had already given significantly, others could not. But to Rich, Joe, Art, Brian, James, Elaine, Alan, Don and Mickey - thank you for being the second miracle in this story, namely contributing $2,725 in ½ an hour. The following story is for you, and anybody else, who believes in miracles.

The Truck Miracle

In advance of the departure on Wednesday the 16th of November 2005 Brad had called Ryder trucks in Jackson, Mississippi to make arrangement to rent a box van which we would pick up in Jackson and drive to Gulfport and D'Iberville (and anywhere else it was needed while we were there). Before the plane left Baltimore Wednesday evening, Brad called Ryder to confirm and was told they had no more box vans but they would provide us with a truck for the same price. We mused (maybe even complained) about not wanting to drive a big truck all over the place when we got there but knew we'd settle for whatever we got. What we got was a MONSTER!

The truck was a nearly new Freightliner with a 24 foot box on it. All Rodger knew was he was glad Brad knew how to drive a truck. You're wondering what the miracle is about a big truck instead of the desired box van. See below.
The truck was completely filled at least twice. Had we not received a truck instead of a van we would have had to make several return trips to Gulfport and would have been able to accomplish only a fraction of what we did. It was a miracle.

A Miracle at Sam's

Brad and Rodger discussed many things on the way from Jackson to Gulfport. It was determined to take Rt. 49 through Hattiesburg and directly into Gulfport with the hope of arriving before 10am. One persistent topic of conversation was how we could make the money go further than it would. Brad explained that in Mississippi there was 7% sales tax on food so we contemplated how we could eliminate the tax to buy more food.

On the way to the airport on Wednesday Rodger spoke with Sharon at Sam's Club in Gulfport about the pre-ordered food Brad and Rodger would be picking up. Sharon went through every item, asked if that would be acceptable and told Rodger the price would be just less than $10,000 (I think $9,960 and change). Rodger was a little surprised about the kind of food but that was what the food distribution center in D'Iberville had told Brad they needed (lots of Rahmen, Jello Pudding, Tuna, Spaghetti O's, etc.)

Upon arriving at Sam's Club in Gulfport, Sharon was ready with the order. Rodger commented he had never spent so much money in so little time (about $10,000 in 20 minutes). However, when Sharon checked out the items the total came to just over $10,000 (approx. $10,060). It was no big deal but she was determined to find what the problem was. After checking the items one by one she determined that one item had had a price change from the day before of about $1 and that accounted for the problem (about a $100 difference from what she had quoted originally). She called a manager over, they talked, messed with a cash register drawer key, talked some more, Sharon rang it up again and said to Rodger, "That will be $9,409.60."

"That's the same as before you made the correction," said Rodger (since it was the same pre-tax amount).

With a twinkle in her eye she looked at Rodger and said, "That will be $9,409.60 - TOTAL." She had found a way to take the tax off even though Brad and Rodger had never mentioned their conversation to her. Brad and Rodger both began to see a pattern of miracles evolving, which would linger until the very end.

The Devastation

At the south end of Gulfport where Gulfport meets the white sands of the Gulf of Mexico, Rt. 49 intersects Rt. 90, which runs from Gulfport to Biloxi perhaps 12 miles to the east. It is along this stretch that the devastation is most apparent to the eye. The force of the wind and water is evident everywhere you look (even though the real devastation is 5 miles inland in the tent cities and food lines).

In order to access Rt. 90 one must pass by check points staffed by local police. Brad indicated as we approached the check point that when he was there only three weeks earlier the check points were staffed by National Guard, a gruff crew with little flexibility. Nevertheless, Brad had toured the 12 mile stretch on his last visit and hoped to be able to let Rodger experience the impact of the wasteland.

The police asked a couple quick questions about where we were going and why and then waved us through. This was an answer to Brad's prayers who later commented he had come to get the food and show Rodger Rt. 90 so everything he'd wanted out of the trip had come true. As we came to the stop sign at the intersection of 49 and 90 a large church came into view. It's outer walls were gone. The force required to do such a thing was incomprehensible. We paused at the spot. Rodger glanced at Brad. He wept silently, then turned left and we entered the destruction zone.

As the truck passed, the magnitude of the destruction became apparent.

The destruction was complete in many instances. There were many historic homes along this stretch, which simply no longer exist.

The Floating Casinos Floating No More

It's hard to imagine, but if you look closely you can ascertain that the immense building in the picture below has a hull and before Katrina was floating on the Gulf of Mexico. The building it came to rest against is a four story condominium complex which helps give perspective to the incredible size of the once floating casino. It is perhaps 6 or 7 stories high, 300 or more feet long and 150 feet wide. It is resting on the north side of Rt. 90, which is a four lane, elevated road north of the beach which is several hundred yards wide. It was quite a journey to its current resting place from its moorings in the Gulf.

Several other casinos experienced the same fate. One also wound up on the north side of Rt. 90. It apparently destroyed an historic house as it came to rest.

The Beach

The once pristine white sand beaches of the gulf coast are strewn with litter, debris and trees. It was hard to close your eyes and imagine just weeks before the beaches were covered with people. Although construction on the casinos is fast and furious it is difficult to conceive how long it will be before tourists will want, or even be able, to return to these vacation spots.

The Bridge

The Rt. 90 bridge looking east toward Ocean Springs was the most impressive evidence of the brute force of the wind and waves.

At first I thought the wind and waves had simply torn the bridge apart. It was explained that each section of the bridge sits on top of the mooring cap and is "gravity attached," meaning they have no bolts or anything except gravity holding them to the cap.

As the waves repeatedly beat upon the bridge sections and lifted them from beneath, the sections shifted, ever so little, from right to left. After the waves had moved the deck sections perhaps 30 feet, the sections fell of the mooring caps and into the bay

The Oak Trees

To me the oak trees were the most moving sign of hope among the devastation. They stood, firm and strong, even beginning to bear green foliage again. It was as if they were speaking and I could hear their words.

"Bring it on Katrina. Hit us with your best shot. 150 miles per hour, that's all you've got? You will pass, but we will stand. We will stand for everyone to see that you will not and cannot defeat us."

One proud patriarch fought a good fight but in the end it was too much. An impressive tree, none the less which reminds me of a favorite poem:

Good Timber
by Douglas Malloch

The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing.
The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began.
Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.
Where thickest lies the forest growth,
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
This is the common law of life.

The Miracle of the Food

Brad and Rodger arrived in Jackson, Mississippi on Wednesday night after lengthy delays at BWI due to weather. Upon arrival in Jackson, a hotel shuttle van driver asked where they needed to go. After being informed they wished to go to the Ryder Truck rental on route 49 he volunteered to take them there. Brad and Rodger had fully expected to pay taxi fare for the several mile trip (another little miracle).

Once the truck was rented they traveled to Clinton to spend the night at the Hampton Inn. After arising Thursday morning at 5am local time (just anxious I guess) they eventually got on the road headed for Gulfport. After picking up the food at Sam's Club and viewing the devastation on Rt. 90 they arrived at the vacant grocery store used as a food distribution point at about noon. Friday is food distribution day. The food we brought arrived just in time. It would have been a very meager Friday without it. Just another miracle.

Tent City

Tent city is situated directly beneath the D'Iberville city water tower which boldly proclaims "Welcome To D'Iberville." It means what it says! Perhaps half the town lost its housing and yet it is the very center of volunteer and relief efforts in the whole region. Anyone from anywhere can come and eat and come and live in tent city because of the generosity of the city and its people. The city has provided space for tents erected by a Construction Battalion (CB's) which can house over 200 people. Additionally the city has hired a catering company to provide three meals a day for the residents of tent city. The tents have plywood floors, walls and ceilings covered by a canvass tent. There is a small heating and ac unit which keeps the temperatures livable.

When Brad and Rodger arrived at tent city Brad was greeted (as usual) with big hugs and smiles. The woman running the city is named Miss Kelly. Brad asked Miss Kelly what the residents of the city needed, since there was money left over, and she provided a "wish list." As we talked with Kelly we were impressed by the need in the city for entertainment and determined to focus our efforts on card tables and chairs for each of the tents and board games that the inhabitants could play to pass the evening hours. Wal-Mart treated us great and we were able to acquire the desired items plus some.

The Wal-Mart Miracle

Whenever Brad and Rodger arrived at a place to spend money it seems Brad would say Rodger, "your job is to get us a deal." When we arrived at Wal-Mart to buy goods for Tent City and the POD (Point of Distribution) Rodger asked to speak to the store manager. The manager is Mr. Bill (really). Rodger explained to Mr. Bill that he was a bishop in the Mormon church and that he and Brad were buying goods for the POD and tent city. He authorized an "associate discount" for all of our purchases. We later learned that he almost never authorizes discounts because EVERYBODY asks for them. Ten percent off and no tax to boot because we had received a tax card from the volunteer organization.

Food Day At The POD

Friday was food day at the POD and was probably the most rewarding day of the journey (although they were all very good). There aren't many pictures because we were working the whole day but the stories were great. The first remarkable thing is that every person I talked to who arrived to receive food was smiling and upbeat. I personally asked at least 50 people, "how are you this fine day?" to which the answer was universally, "just great," or some derivative. It was never, "ok" or "fine" or "pretty good." It was always at least, "great."

It struck me how upbeat these people were, many of whom had lost EVERTHING they own. It was a stark contrast to the news on and in the national media. Brad and I had read an article in Rolling Stone on the way down about a FEMA trailer city in which not one person spoke a positive word. The pictures were literally contorted in their sadness and desperation. I simply did not experience that.

Oh, there were little turf battles between different volunteer organizations and between volunteers and FEMA but the recipients of the volunteerism were, to a person, upbeat and happy. I wish I had a picture of the approximately 70-year-old woman who came through the food line. Dressed up (as you might expect from grandma), had a little make up on, lipstick, hair combed.

"How are you this beautiful day?"

"Just wonderful," came the response.

The weather had begun to warm a bit (perhaps 60 degrees) so I asked, "what are you going to do the rest of this beautiful day?"

"Work on my house."

"That's great, are you able to live in it?"

Now pay attention to the response from this beautiful, upbeat, 70ish woman: "No, all I have left is studs."

My heart broke.

"Are you going to rebuild?"

"I don't have any choice. I can't afford an apartment," came the response with a smile. "A group from the church is going to put up dry wall in February."

You read that right, FEBRUARY.Nevertheless she smiled sincerely, appreciated the meager amount of food she received that day at the POD and perhaps changed me forever (I hope).


"We have a truck," was what Brad and Rodger told everyone who would listen.

The food had been emptied and it seemed a shame to have it just sitting around. Perhaps if enough people knew about it, something would need to be done. The call came on Friday, from Alabama, Spanish Fort, Alabama to be precise. There was a Relief Center there that had six pallets of bottled water and if we could come get it they would gladly give it to the POD.

A woman was headed that way (about 40 miles, just east of Mobile) so she said "follow me." We followed her to Spanish Fort and there was another miracle going on in Alabama. A local church had purchased a vacant strip center and converted it into a relief center. It was literally filled with food, water, clothes and every other imaginable thing. The guy running the fork lift (also a pastor for the church) informed us that since Katrina they had moved $30MM worth of food and goods through the center. It was amazing. As you might suspect, the six pallets of water (at least 7,200 bottles of water) filled the truck from front to back. It couldn't have happened if Ryder Truck had had the van we asked for!

The church had also converted part of the warehouse into a Youth Center. There were ping pong tables and other game tables, a worship area and a social area. Behind a fork lift, taped to the wall, half folded over because the tape was coming off, I found a poster made by a youth that literally made me weep.

On it was inscribed three scriptures:

1 Chronicals 16:8-12, which reads, "Give thanks unto the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the people. Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him, talk ye of all his wondrous works. Glory ye in his holy name: let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord. Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his face continually. Remember his marvellous works that he hath done, his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth."

1 Thesolonians 5:16-18, "Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. Ineverything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."

And Philippians 4: 4-7, "Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and suplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."

Attached to the poster were pictures, cut out from magazine of things this young person was thankful. They included deodorant, shoes, soap, facial cream, cleaning utensils, communication (phones), family, food (Duncan Hines), and movies. How humbled I was to think that I had never once thanked God for deodorant. I was here to help but really was the one being fed.

The Poster

The Volunteers

The volunteers came from all walks of life and from all parts of the country. Next to tent city was another city of tents, although these were standard camping tents being used by the Methodist volunteers. Sleeping in tents on cold nights, taking cold showers in "not very private" shower facilities and working hard all day long, every day, just to try to help the victims of a hurricane. Pennsylvania and North Carolina were popular points of origin for volunteers but thy came from everywhere. Some were rich, some were poor but they were all committed and knew a great deal about serving their fellow men.

Lowe's Thanksgiving Miracle

The D'Ibersville Volunteer organization is going to feed the entire town Thanksgiving dinner. There have been over 1,300 turkeys donated. The only question was how to cook all those turkeys. Bar-B-Q is the only way but how to have enough gas on hand to get it done? Brad and Rodger and Lowe's to the rescue. Lowe's agreed to provide a 10% discount and no sales tax on all the gas tanks we wanted. The gas company volunteered (with some arm twisting) to fill them all for free. And then another great miracle. There, way up on a rack ten feet above the floor was a patio propane patio heater. Last year's model. Discounted from $499 to $298. It simply was begging to be taken to the volunteers quarters for some warmth on the suddenly very cold nights (35 degrees). Of course the greatest miracle of that story was that the heater was NO ASSEMBLY REQUIRED! So along it came and Brad and Rodger were almost done.

In Conclusion

Just some observations and stories in conclusion. Blond Miss Missey liked to joke that Brad and Rodger needed a blond to keep things straight for them (we were running around like chickens with their heads cut off at times). Anyway she told us of the day after the hurricane when Wal-Mart was trying to get the store back open. A very pregnant woman came to the store and begged to go in. She was having a baby and needed things. They let her in with a flashlight, told her to take whatever she needed and she left.

The next morning when Miss Missey arrived there were 1,000 people waiting outside Wal-Mart because they heard it was open. She and other employees tried to get the store safe enough to allow people in. Generators were brought in and eventually shoppers were allowed inside.

A man approached Missey and said something about needing a bunch of stuff. She said she'd get with him as soon as she could. When she finally spoke to him, he turned out to be a FEMA representative who needed to buy $500,000 worth of supplies. She made the arrangements and brought him to customer service to check out when the generators went off. He said to Missey, "I need to roll." To which Missey replied, "I'm sorry, but you're not my priority right now."

$500,000 not a priority because she needed to take care of 1,000 people who were in the store with no power. Nice call, don't you think?

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