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Christmas gift to last lifetimes

It has a mane from a mop and a leather bridle from an old chair, but it’s the body made from Mississippi debris that makes Katrina the rocking horse truly special.
“It was a labor of love,” said Buck Watson, who made the rocking horse for his 9-month-old grandson, Zachary Garner.
Buck collected materials during one of three visits to Mississippi during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Zachary received the present for Christmas, which came complete with a plaque reading “Out of horrible tragedy comes joy to a little boy.”
“I would want him maybe to look back on it and realize people help people,” Buck said. “Governments can do so much, but it’s left up to folks. I just want him to know his grandfather tried to do the right thing.”
Buck went to Mississippi as a part of a group with Covenant Bible Church. He was shocked by what he saw – “cars, houses piled up in different places.”
He saw neighborhoods that had literally washed away and stretches of land where the only thing left was a bank vault.
There were no cars, no roads, no phones. Those left in Mississippi lived in tent cities, which basically meant blue tarps stretched out across cars and trees.

Janice and Buck Watson used to live part-time in Gulfport, Miss. in the 1980s. After Hurricane Katrina, all that was left of the town was wreckage. Contributed / LTN Photo

“You do what you have to do in a situation like that,” said Buck’s wife, Janice.
Witnessing it was “heart wrenching.”
“He said ‘It breaks my heart to think those old people and especially those little children can’t stay warm,’” said Janice. “‘Everything they’ve got is gone, and they can’t even stay warm.’”
In the ‘80s, Buck and Janice spent time living in Gulfport, Miss. where Buck worked for Heafner Tire as a computer specialist. They would stay in Mississippi a few weeks and then come back home to Lincolnton.
“Did I live there? Yeah,” Buck said. “Was it home? No.”
Even so, the couple had made friends in the area, making the effects of Hurricane Katrina all the more emotionally devastating.
Following his employment with Heafner Tire, Buck worked for Charles D. Owen Manufacturing in Asheville. Now retired, he used his connection to help the people of Mississippi.
The business produced blankets, 100,000 of which were donated to FEMA. Buck personally took another 1,000 to Gulfport.
During visits to Mississippi, members of Covenant Bible Church also put up sheet rock, worked on roofing and “tore out some houses.”
The biggest problem, “other than the fact it was torn all to pieces” was mold.
Buck was in Waveland, Miss. digging holes for steel footers required by new building codes when he picked up three pieces of lumber, which would make the rocking horse.
It was the end of the summer, and Buck hauled the debris back in the trailer he went down with, which had been filled with windows and doors.
From there, he handmade his first rocking horse. His grandson loved it.
“He just piled up on top of it and started pulling his mane,” Buck said.
Their granddaughter, now 8, also received a handmade present from her grandpa this Christmas – a bookcase.
“She’s the only kid I know whose 8 years old and has her own personal library,” Buck said.
For him and his wife, family is the most important thing.
“Look how we are today – families are going to hell in a hand basket,” Buck said. “It’s time for families to come back together.”
He hopes his grandchildren grow up to follow his example of service.
“You do it by leading,” he said.

Janice and Buck Watson stand in Buck’s woodworking shop, where he made the rocking horse for his grandson and a bookcase for his granddaughter. Chris Dean / LTN Photo

by Sarah Grano

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