If you live in the South you know this, but if you grew up in the South you understand it’s a way of life. You take it for granted that with spring comes azaleas, dogwoods, pollen and bad weather. Fierce thunderstorms and occasional tornadoes dot our existence. Every so often, they result in the tragic loss of life. This happened in Enterprise, Alabama, on March 1, 2007.
This week in Enterprise, Alabama, they laid to rest the bodies of eight high school students. The broken ground and raw earth emblems of the wounds suffered by the community. Who among us can understand the numbness and loss that comes from such a tragedy?
We had the opportunity to visit some friends in Enterprise in the summer of 1999. When they had lived in our area, he had been finishing college and she had taught at the junior high school. She currently teaches at Enterprise High School. Neither they nor their young daughter were injured in the tornado and we’re grateful for that.
The curious thing about Enterprise is that in the middle of its downtown area, at the intersection of College and Main Streets, there is a statute to—a boll weevil! It is the only monument in the world honoring an insect. There is a story behind it that not only explains the statute, but reflects the spirit of the community—something they will need to draw upon in the days ahead.
About a hundred years ago, the boll weevil migrated from Mexico to the southern United States. When it reached Coffee County, it laid waste to the cotton, the staple crop of the area. Years of potential devastation and financial ruin lay ahead, but a local business man by the name of H.M. Sessions had other ideas.
Sessions was convinced that the climate and conditions in Enterprise were perfect for growing peanuts. The problem was he wasn’t able to persuade any of the local farmers. After the boll weevil showed up, Sessions had the ammunition he needed to finally talk a farmer named Baston into trying peanuts for just one year. He gave Baston the peanuts for planting, a picker to harvest them, and the promised the price of one dollar per bushel.
The results were greater than anyone anticipated! Baston made enough money that year to pay off what he had lost farming cotton the previous year with some left over. Most important, his success encouraged other farmers to start growing peanuts and other crops besides cotton.
A few years later, the people of Enterprise decided to erect a monument in honor of the boll weevil. They realized that the good fortune and prosperity that had come to them through their peanut and other crops all began with the boll weevil ruining their cotton and forcing them to diversify. They were discerning enough to realize that what they had cursed and had taken away their comfort, proved in the long run to be a blessing. It seemed that opportunity showed up looking like a boll weevil.
But what does this have to do with what happened you might wonder? After all, boll weevils and ruined cotton aren’t comparable to a tornado that took lives. The insects might have been an opportunity, maybe even a blessing, but not the tornado. That was something else.
But what is the same is that both situations call for a spirit of resilience. The best way for the people of Enterprise to honor the lives that were taken too soon is by remembering and rebuilding. While nothing can bring the young people back, moving forward will allow what they stood for to live on. The hope, promise, and dreams that were theirs must not be allowed to perish. It must continue in those who knew them.
But for now, the people of Enterprise grieve. “Grief,” someone observed, “is the pain we pay for love.” The time to rebuild will come and the people of Enterprise will do just that. The spirit of their past is the promise of their future. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.