First Words — 06 October 2017
Hurricane Irma scattered our words to wind

By Mark Gauert

City & Shore Magazine

Irma took our words away.

They were there the morning before Irma, on the sign in front of Allied Kitchen & Bath in Fort Lauderdale. Words of folksy advice, wisdom and wit on the marquee so many pass each day on Oakland Park Boulevard.

You’re never too important to be nice to people, read one side of the sign, the morning before Irma.

Be the reason someone smiles today, read the other.

Just words – pulled from a poem, or a proverb or maybe suggested by a customer – changed each Monday morning on the sign outside the store.

But there was nothing nice about the morning after Irma.

“That sign had been our landmark for over 30 years,’’ says Bill Feinberg, president of Allied Kitchen & Bath. “Over the years, these quotes have been very meaningful not just to myself but to our entire staff and the community at large.”

Irma was indifferent to any of that, the morning Bill’s brother, David, normally changes the words.

“The sign was destroyed from the hurricane,” Bill Feinberg says. “The bottom portion of the sign where we put the quotes was completely blown out, and nowhere to be found.”

And the words? Scattered in the wind.

You may find some in your back yard. Or in a parking lot in Tallahassee. Or up in the branches of a tree near Atlanta, where someone may see a message and wonder.

Be the reason someone smiles today?

This may be a small detail in the overall story of Irma. A line item in a punch list of repairs that includes downed power lines, uprooted trees, upended lives – and lives lost.

But words can help with that. All of it.

And we miss them now.

“We’ve had many people stop, write to us and even call to tell us how we have changed their lives with the sign, in the quotes we put up there,” Feinberg says. “The sign is never used to sell or advertise anything about Allied. It’s always used as inspiration and positive thinking.”

Feinberg says he’s getting estimates now to replace the sign. He wants to get it back up soon. He’s even been thinking about the words he might put up there now, too.

Until then, we still have photos on Facebook of the words on the sign that Irma took away.

Forget what hurt you in the past but never forget what it taught you.

Slow progress is better than no progress.

And, Tough times don’t last, tough people do.

I wondered what I would write here, this first issue since the storm. What would I say about a magazine “savoring the good life in South Florida,” when so much of South Florida is still scattered to the wind, too.

I wondered until I saw the first responders at work.

I wondered until I saw so many of us helping our neighbors.

I wondered until I saw so many people determined to get on with their lives and reopen their businesses.

I wondered until I saw drivers on our roads pulling over to let utility trucks pass on their way south to help.

And I remembered the words from the sign on Oakland Park Boulevard, a long time before Hurricane Irma.

The great gift in life, it read, is giving back and loving others.

— mgauert@cityandshore.com

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