Recording memories for future generations

The Hope Tree

UNION BEACH, N.J. _ It’s Christmastime and this is a story about hope, the kind of hope that arises slowly after a tragedy.  It is the little gestures that reminds us there are so many good people in the world.

Here’s the backstory.

Hurricane Sandy arrived in New Jersey on October 29 at high tide on a full moon with winds of 90 miles per hour and, basically, sucker punched the little town of Union Beach. This was Hurricane Katrina’s angry little F-1 sister. More than 100 homes are missing from their footprint. Another 500 homes that were heavily damaged may have to be completely rebuilt. Some 1,000 other homes sustained damage that is repairable.

In a 24-hour period Hurricane Sandy destroyed nearly 75 percent of the homes in Union Beach, taking everything she wanted with her. There are still cars sitting in the bay

The entire dynamic of this small bayshore community will change forever over the next five to 10 years. It will no longer be a little town on the water with year-round bungalows. It may not even maintain the feel of being a small town where everyone knows everyone. No one asked for the task that lies ahead – completely rebuilding their lives – but they are accepting it.

Gigi Liagubo-Door, the owner of Jakeabob’s Bay, a popular waterfront restaurant that was obliterated by Sandy’s surge, told the Asbury Park Press, “It’s as if God came in and hit the reset button.”

 

Families are just beginning to grieve. Yet, they are the poster children of the Hurricane’s ground-zero effect. They’ve had to deal with sudden homelessness, being empty handed of most of their possessions, the onset of winter weather, an uncertainty for stability in their lives and dozens of news crews, photographers and filmmakers.

There seems to be no privacy in a national tragedy.

As thousands of people rushed in to help with demolition and recovery needs, a tiny gesture sparked a ray of hope that continues to grow here.

Someone found an artificial Christmas tree among the rubble and placed it in a field at the intersection of Jersey Avenue and Shore Road. The Jersey Shore.

As others found Christmas ornaments they stopped to decorate the tree. The Hope Tree, as it’s called locally, continues to grow with small toys and notes. No one says a thing. It just grows. There are pieces of driftwood and children’s toys at its base.

A sign posted in the field that backs up to the old railroad right of away reads:

 

Dear Sandy,

You can’t wash away Hope.

You only watered it, so more hope can grow.”

Signed,

Union Beach

 

This is unlike other roadside memorials that continually remind us of a tragic loss. Standing no more than five-feet tall, this tree reminds us of all that is and all that will be again. It gives us inner strength in its subtlety.

People have been adding ornaments and toys to the tree slowly. I heard a neighbor runs an extension cord each night to light its string of blue-and-white lights, the local school colors. The season of giving is working a little magic too, as a Secret Santa has been known to show up.

Locals stop by during the day to take pictures with their cell phones.

This weekend a group of volunteer photographers are offering free photos at the Hope tree to Union Beach resients affected by the hurricane.

In the middle of a disaster area, the Hope Tree is where people come to smile again. It reminds us that the tragedy didn’t take everything. With that, we will rebuild.

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