The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Tornado: Mike Pound

May 30, 2011

Mike Pound: 9-year-old’s small gesture stands tall

JOPLIN, Mo. — Sometimes it’s the little things that have the most impact.

A lot of big things have happened in the past week or so. Many of those big things have been bad. Unbelievably bad. Beyond description bad. Death and destruction bad.

But there also have been some good big things. There have been amazing stories of courage, of uncommon sacrifice. Stories of incredible generosity and deep, heartfelt empathy.

But there also have been some good little things. A smile or a pat on the back when a smile or a pat on the back is exactly what was needed. A well-timed hug. A cold bottle of water. A hot cup of coffee. A small toy given to a child who has lost everything.

In times like this, little things can stand awfully tall.

Maddie Meek did one of those little things. Maddie is 9 years old. She will be 10 on June 5. Maddie lives with her parents, Roy and Dina Meek, in Saginaw. The Meeks’ home was not in the path of the May 22 tornado, but the home of Maddie’s aunt, Earlene Ivy, was.

“Me and Mom got worried about Aunt Earlene, so right after the storm we were running, crying down the road (to her house on the 2400 block of Grand Avenue),” Maddie said.

Thankfully, Earlene was not hurt in the storm. But her house was destroyed. Maddie and Dina returned to Earlene’s home the day after the storm to begin salvaging what could be salvaged. While they were poring through the debris that used to be Earlene’s home, Maddie came across a bag of small American flags. She had seen other American flags flying in Joplin, and she thought it would be a good idea to put the flags up around her aunt’s neighborhood.

“I put them up along Grand because I wanted people to come out that morning and see the flags,” Maddie said. “I hope it puts a smile on their faces to know that there are people who are thinking about them.”

Dina and Roy have always known that their daughter has a good heart. But Dina said she was a bit surprised that Maddie chose to return to her aunt’s home the day after the storm to help.

“At first she didn’t want to go back, as she calls it, to the ‘sad place,’” Dina said.

Dina said she and Roy worried about how much Maddie should see in the aftermath of the storm. It was, I thought, a good worry. I mean, who knows what a 9-year-old kid is thinking? In the end, Dina and Roy opted to let Maddie make that call.

“If she didn’t want to come (to her aunt’s house), she didn’t have to,” Dina said.

After Maddie put out the flags and saw the smiles on the faces of residents, she decided to do more.

Saturday, using her own money, Maddie purchased more flags.

“I had paid $22 for it, and my mom had to help me with some of it,” Maddie said. “We put 200 flags up around more of Grand, around the high school, at Dillons and on Range Line.”

So if you happen to drive along Range Line Road, around the high school, past Dillons or along Grand Avenue, take a minute and quietly thank a 9-year-old girl with a big heart who just wanted to make people smile. A 9-year-old girl who just wanted to remind folks that someone was thinking about them.

“All of the people who survived the tornado and all of the people who did not survive the tornado are heroes,” Maddie said.

Yep, sometimes it’s the real little things that stand the tallest.

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Tornado: Mike Pound