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Originally published March 28, 2014 at 8:51 PM | Page modified March 29, 2014 at 1:37 AM

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Darrington’s new normal: everyday life amid tragedy

The new normal in Darrington is living every day with tragedy, and still having to deal with everyday life.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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DARRINGTON — There is a new normal here.

Right across from the fire station, by the IGA, the locals are getting used to seeing the TV trucks with their satellite dishes, and their big floodlights.

The women who run the town’s Funeral Dinner Committee — first set up in 1950 to have a get-together at the community center to honor a departed — know there will be many such dinners in coming days.

Even when the TV trucks and other media depart, there’s no going back to how things used to be in this town of 1,400, says Dave Holmer, who doubles as the Darrington High School principal and the school-district superintendent.

Oso, where Saturday’s tragic mudslide wiped out a neighborhood and left dozens dead or missing, is just 12 miles west on Highway 530.

Amid the tragedy, everyday life still has to go on.

On Friday afternoon, says Holmer, even if “it’s a little rain,” not a downpour, the high-school baseball and softball games still will go on. It’s important to keep the routines going, he says. (The games were canceled after the rain made the field unplayable.)

But the mudslide is never far from people’s thoughts — in conversations among friends at the store, in seeing a woman talk on her cell and wipe away tears.

Darrington always prided itself on neighbors helping neighbors, but a week’s worth of grim news has drawn it even closer together.

“Hopefully, it’ll lead to some new traditions,” says Holmer, although he doesn’t know exactly what.

“People helping each other, being more sensitive to each other,” he says. “I think that’ll be a positive outcome of this regretful situation.”

Each night this past week, there’s been a meeting at the community center, which the locals built themselves 60 years ago, and has as its focus a basketball gym that’s all shiny wood.

“I’ve been here for 11 years, and I’ve never seen this many people fill it up like this,” says Holmer about the crowds, “except maybe for sports.”

State and district championship banners hang around the gym for the Loggers basketball teams.

Three hundred, 400 people have come and sat on the bleachers, to listen to the mayor and rescue officials, and to simply show support for each other. Each meeting has been preceded by dinners served by volunteers.

Kids won’t forget that kind of reaction from the community, says Holmer.

This is a town that has seen economic hard times, as lumber mills have closed. Drive around, and you see “For sale” signs on shuttered businesses.

Near the corner of Darrington Street and Sauk Avenue, there is a little shop called the Cutting Edge Salon.

Outside there is taped a sign made by a kid. It says, “We are loggers and we care.”

On Thursday, for the first time all week, the hair salon’s owner, Margo Powell, opened up the shop.

She’s a volunteer firefighter and had spent the previous five days at the mudslide, first rescuing people on Saturday, then going on searches.

Finally, Powell told the people at the fire station: “I own a business; I still have to make ends meet.”

She had been going on two to three hours’ sleep a night. Finally, getting some rest, she remembers awaking on Thursday and doing the simple act of brewing coffee.

She thought to herself: “I can’t remember when I last did that.”

The new normal is that everybody has a story about that day.

You tell your story, they tell their story, and that further bonds you.

Powell was giving Nancy Green a coloring and haircut.

Green has her story, first about how her husband was driving on Highway 530 to Arlington on Saturday, saw the mud and debris on the road, and turned around. Green had heard about the mudslide and was worried sick, not knowing if he had been caught up in it. Then her husband pulled up in the driveway.

But then she and her husband ended up being put on the missing list through a series of complicated circumstances, but mostly because their phone service had cut out and they couldn’t be reached.

The two women keep talking, a mini group therapy.

And so, perhaps the town’s high-school principal is right when he talks about the tragedy establishing new traditions, or at least cementing current ones.

Among those at the community center, helping unload boxes of food and clothing, helping in whatever way he can, is Jared Grimmer, 28.

He’s a high-school math teacher in Idaho, but has taken time off.

Grimmer is a 2003 graduate of Darrington High School, and he and his brother drove 1,200 miles to be here.

One of the people he met up with was the high school’s retired principal, Beryl Mauldin, 81.

Mauldin reminds Grimmer what he said after arriving to help: “You said you’re going home to a family of 1,000.”

Grimmer is a shy guy and says he doesn’t want publicity for helping out.

But he can’t help but agree. “Home.”

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or On Twitter @ErikLacitis

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