Kim Dault believes in love at first sight - and love that lasts, at that.
The object of her affection? A nearly 300-year-old pecan tree in the front yard of the home near Summerton, where she and her husband, Scott, have lived for about 20 years.
Kim said she felt an immediate affinity for the tree.
"I always said we bought the tree and the house came with it," she said.
"When we went to look at the house for the first time, I got there before Scott and the realtor. I parked under the tree and immediately felt like I'd come home."
Scott said when he drove up and saw Kim under the tree, he had the same feeling.
Twenty years of shade and lots of pecans only bolstered her connection to the tree, Kim said.
"Once we moved in, I started calling her 'Old Gal,'" she said. "Whenever I'd go outside and walk past her, I'd pat her trunk and talk to her: 'As old as you are, Old Gal, I wonder what you saw happen here.' ... She was part of the family."
As the years went by, neighborhood children would visit to pick up pecans. Kim said she'd often sit under the tree and would "always say, 'Thanks, old girl, for all the pecans.'"
The tree, so huge visitors often mistook it for an oak, endured storms, floods, winds and hurricanes, even 1989's Hurricane Hugo, with little damage - until Hurricane Matthew struck in early October 2016.
DESTRUCTION and RESURRECTION
Inside their house, as Matthew approached, the Daults slept fitfully at first, then not at all as the winds and rain increased. Kim watched through the window, whispering encouragement under her breath.
"Hang in there, girl," she'd say. "You can do it. ... Just hang in there."
The following morning, the storm still raging, Kim and Scott got up to check on the house. The power went out, then the phone. The noise made by Matthew made it difficult to hear each other talk. They walked to a window, looked out and saw that two smaller pecan trees - Kim said she used to refer to them as "Old Gal's children" - had been uprooted.
She ran to another window to check on Old Gal, saw her lying on her side. She screamed, then cried, as Scott held her to comfort her.
"She was part of our family," he told her.
Many days later, when the Daults had a new roof and all the storm debris was gone, the three pecan trees still lay on their sides in the yard. Old Gal's tap root was broken, but all three trees still had roots attached to the ground.
"We talked about them," Kim said. She told Scott, "I don't care if we cut off her limbs and stand her up like a totem pole, I want her back."
They decided to try to save the three trees, which seemed to be stubbornly clinging to life. Scott came up with a plan and, as Kim said, they found it really does "take a village" for such an ambitious undertaking.
Beginning in November, help arrived, first from neighbors Kendall Cogdill and Josh Jenkinson. Using heavy equipment, they pruned the trees and pushed the larger limbs aside, Kim said.
"Ben Rogers and his sons Luke and Grayson Matthews drilled 6-foot metal anchors into the ground for the support straps to go around the trees," she said. "Scott and his friend David Harrison dug the holes deeper and wider so the trees would sit safely back in the ground when pulled upright."
Robbie Spigner and Lynn Mahoney of Bob's Body Shop used their wrecker to move the trees' roots back into position, so that, with a push from Harrison's front-end loader and a pull from the wrecker that was more accustomed to moving 18-wheelers, the trees were back in place, albeit not perfectly straight. Each had shifted "just a little," Kim said.
She was at work on the day Old Gal was made to stand upright again. Tears came again when she got home, she said, but this time they were happy tears because Old Gal was back where she belonged.
That was on March 31, almost seven months since Hurricane Matthew had felled the trees.
"I got out of the car and said, 'She's up, and she's alive!'"
Still there was no guarantee that the endeavor would ultimately be successful.
Spring came, and the trees seemed to be holding on. Now, Kim said, "They've budded out," and she feels fairly confident they'll live.
She said, "Someone asked Scott why he didn't just take a chain saw to the trees. He told me he'd replied 'The things you do for the love of a woman ... .' ... I'm pretty sure he meant me. But I have a feeling he meant Old Gal, too."