David Lauderdale

Mending the soul after tree hits dream home

'A tree has come down and cut (your house) in half. ... It's still a shock.'

Linda Whidden talks about the damage her Hilton Head Island home received from Hurricane Matthew.
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Linda Whidden talks about the damage her Hilton Head Island home received from Hurricane Matthew.

This is the story of a single tree.

Each of the thousands of trees snapped, twisted, pushed and uprooted all over Beaufort County after Hurricane Matthew tells its own story.

For John and Linda Whidden, a tall pine ripped into their roof on Oyster Rake Lane in Hilton Head Plantation. But it also tried to put a damper on a glorious new chapter in their lives.

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They closed on the house on May 31 and have been fixing it up together ever since. They had spent weeks removing popcorn from the ceilings. They’d just had three trees removed.

John’s father, Bill, was an accomplished golfer in Maine and it was his dream to live on a golf course. He had just retired, and their home is near the 10th green of the Bear Creek golf course. The only damage prior to the storm was a golf ball crashing one of their new outdoor lights.

John’s brother-in-law, David Pagano, had just moved into a house across the fairway. It’s a 12-minute walk away.

And for John and Linda, the home is a big part of another new chapter in life. They’ve been married only two years. He lost his wife, and she’d been a single mom for 37 years. They knew each other from high school. They reconnected.

And so it was that the sun room overlooking the fairway was a dream come true.

That’s why Linda tears up as we sat in the room on Wednesday, a hammer in her hand.

She tells how a large pine in the yard next door snapped a good 10 feet above ground. The trunk crashed through the roof over the master bedroom. And it punctured the roof over the sunroom. A pine three times larger — so big you can hardly crawl over it — crashed to the ground but missed the house.

They had evacuated to Fort Mill when the governor said to leave. Like everyone else, they tossed and turned, worrying. After the storm, they tried everything to find out what happened at their house.

On Tuesday, they moved closer to home and were waiting at a friend’s house in Bluffton for the 3 p.m. re-entry time for Hilton Head when the call came.

Linda wrote it on Facebook. “Bad news! We just got a call from Hilton Head Plantation Security. A large pine tree on the golf course side fell through the living room and split the house in half. Everything is wide open to the weather and anything else that wants to come in. We will know more once we can get in.”

She burst into tears. John stopped at Home Depot and got a roll of material to cover a hole in the roof, and some nails. He’s an engineer.

Their area of the Headlands neighborhood looks like a tornado ripped through it. Unlike some neighbors, they were able to saw their way through the driveway to get to the house. The tree had split the roof, but not the whole house. The ceilings they worked so hard on were cracked and water was everywhere inside. Another tree leaned against the garage roof. Small dead fish filled a drainage swale between the house and the fairway.

By Wednesday afternoon, John and his brother-in-law had covered the hole in the roof the best they could. Linda had moved new furniture to drier spots. They turned the dry guest room into their bedroom. They had talked to the tree people and the insurance company. And as they began another wait, they called it a bump in their new life.

By Thursday, Linda had set up her sewing machine on the dining room table in the hallway, the only dry floor.

A friend had sent her a Facebook note: “Sewing mends the soul.”

And Linda sent back a picture of the sewing machine.

“Guess what I will be doing today while we wait for tree removal and insurance adjuster? Have to stay busy. If not I will cry.”

David Lauderdale: 843-706-8115, @ThatsLauderdale

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