WILMINGTON -- Andy Haskins turned to his boss. Both of them were looking out at the gray sky gathering beyond Route 9. Haskins asked what him what he thought about closing the restaurant.
It was Aug. 27, 2011, and Tommy Leristis, owner of Tommy's Pizzeria and Haskins' lifelong friend, said it was probably best to be closed the next day.
The two former junior high school basketball teammates had both heard the news reports about the impending storm, Irene.
"We're a small crew here and Tommy's a family man and he didn't want to think about us being stuck up here if something happened," Haskins said, reflecting on the day nearly a year later. "We figured we go and check things out the next afternoon
About two weeks before, Haskins' wife had given birth to the couple's first son, Aiden, and on the porch of his High Street home in Brattleboro, Haskins held his son on the morning of Aug. 28, 2011, watching the rain fall, unaware of what the floodwater was doing 30 miles west or what it had done three blocks away on Flat Street.
"From where I stood you'd have no idea what devastation was going on," he said. "When I saw the pictures I couldn't believe what happened. I saw pictures of Wilmington on Facebook and my stomach dropped. I thought, ‘Wow, I might not have a job to return to, the business might be gone.' Then I called Tommy."
The two of them agreed they had to get
Along Route 9 near Marlboro there was a Vermont State Police officer that said a section of the road was washed out and they had to turn around. It was the same story when they tried to drive along Route 30. All roads to Wilmington were either closed or washed out.
"It was one of those times we just had to sit and wait," he said. "I hugged my wife and held my son, grateful and blessed. But Tommy and I were going to try again, we had to for the people there."
Eventually they found a route through Massachusetts, but Haskins took a wrong turn and found out quickly how bad the storm had damaged the roads.
"It looked like God had taken an eraser and removed the road," he said of a road in Halifax. "I had to back the truck up nearly a mile before I could turn around."
When they arrived they found the only damage was the caused by the four inches of water soaking the carpets and floors and the two friends got to work quickly to clean up the mess.
After the few hours the doors to the Pizzeria were reopened and Leristis and Haskins were greeting the weary survivors and watching Army vehicles trudge past. Haskins said it looked like a scene from "Red Dawn."
For hundreds of people, Tommy's Pizzeria was a gathering place. Somewhere they could get something to drink, use the bathroom, get some rest and be indoors. A place of respite.
"We wanted people to have a place to feel human again," Haskins said. "All the things people had gone through, they were hurt, it was crushing for them and most just needed a place where they could process those feelings."
Remembering the looks on people's faces, the transition from fatherhood to servant, brought tears to his eyes.
"I just give them their dinner, I'm no one special, and they were asking me about my son, how I was doing," Haskins said. "That's
As the rain fell nearly a year after Tropical Storm Irene hit the Deerfield Valley, Haskins looked out the window again, grateful for the people in Wilmington, and sighed heavily.
"I see a lot of these people for five minutes at a time, but they really are like a second family to me," he said. "We're gonna keep doing whatever we can for them."
Josh Stilts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.