To the editor:
My eyes brimmed with tears as the people flooded the Fairview gymnasium. A sea of faces and chatter, I asked Billy Sexton to please point out some of Dad’s closest friends that I might not know. Billy scanned the crowd and replied, “This crowd? They’re all Mark Hinds’ friends.”
The large gym was filled to the brim and the line pushed out the entry doors into the cold winter air, just past the old concession stand where I used to sell popcorn during seventh-grade basketball games. Folks were getting auction numbers, raffle tickets, pulled pork dinners, and catching up with friends – some they saw last week at church and some they hadn’t seen in years.
My husband Jeremy called it “The only auction on K Highway Mark Hinds hasn’t been to.”
My stepmother, Gail, called it a “celebration of life in place of a funeral.”
I call it humbling.
I’ve always reflected on my hometown of West Plains with some sense of sentiment, but also, perhaps a bit of a disconnect that emerges naturally as one ages and moves away.
I was recently reminded of the concept called a paradigm shift. I recall studying it in graduate school – and loosely speaking, this is when something changes so dramatically that it can no longer be looked at or thought of in the same way. A shift, or a change in thinking, has occurred in a likely permanent way.
As the crowd grew for my father’s benefit auction and supper, I could feel the shift occur. It was a welling inside of me, a newfound sense of pride and admiration for the people of my hometown.
I saw an older man at the auction and I thanked him for coming to support my father and asked him what he thought of the event.
“You know – there’s a lot of bad in the world. We see it on the news every day. But, tonight, we see there’s a lot of good people in the world, too. It seems most of them live right here in West Plains.”
Another man said to me, “Can you imagine living in a big city and them doing something like this?” The question was rhetorical, but I shook my head in wonder.
The small town of West Plains has always felt like mine, but tonight, at the auction, it captured my heart. Young children darted across the gym, farmers bid way too high for power tools, and my grandma’s homemade apple and peach pies brought over $1,800.
Halfway through the auction, my dad, who is currently living in Denver, Colo., at the number one neuro-rehabilitation hospital in the nation for brain injuries, called on video chat. The audience hushed and I showed Dad the crowd. He began to weep and managed to say, “Thank you. Thank you for your support.”
The crowd roared and stood to their feet. This standing ovation was for my father and was perhaps one of the most moving moments of my life.
Dad suffered a traumatic brain injury while cutting wood on his farm on Thanksgiving morning 2018. He nearly died, but God spared him, and has been in the fight of his life ever since. He still suffers from short term amnesia, confusion, and is in a wheelchair. His recovery road will be long, but I’m reminded of the auction T-shirts that say “Farmer Strong.”
That he is. He’s the strongest man I know and he won’t give up.
The auction was buzzing and after a few rousing hours of Billy Sexton firing everybody up, the room full of genuinely good people paid their bills and drove back to their homes. They left behind over $160,000 for my dad.
The doors opened and a bone-chilling wind rushed across my face. As I compared the coldness to the warmth of the gym, the paradigm shift was complete. On a very cold night in heartland of America, a bunch of sincere folks gathered to share some light to a dark and suffering world.
When people ask where I’m from, I will always swell with pride. West Plains, Missouri.
Thank you, all of you, for your support, hard work, calls, cards, and prayers. Please keep praying for my father, Mark Hinds, as he traverses this long and difficult journey.
Natalie Rasnick (Hinds)