We’ve all heard what a difference a day makes, but the reality is that even an instant or an inch can change peoples’ lives forever. Just a mile and a half south of us, the Wednesday morning tornado destroyed a barn, a two-story house (empty I think), and severely damaged the large vacated arena west of them. I was so grateful that our son-in-law had not rented a place to store his combine in that building.
When the 1982 tornado hit Marion, I learned how locations seemed to be chosen weirdly and randomly to be destroyed while others close by survived. Our neighboring citizens in Ridgeway and Harrisburg have had that same terribly painful lesson forced on them. So have many others in our region and across the South. Six people in Harrisburg were killed rather than the l0 that was reported during the confusion, but across the nation, at least 26 have lost their lives.
So far our family has always been incredibly fortunate during natural disasters. In 1982 after Mary Ellen came running downstairs from her bedroom to tell us the radio had announced a tornado had hit Marion and was heading down Route 13 in our direction, we frantically phoned Gerry and Vickie and baby Tara to leave the mobile home they were renting a couple roads away from Route 13 and come to our house. We had no basement, so I am not sure what we would have done if the tornado had shifted a few miles south. We stood in the yard and watched the tornado lift after it destroyed the McDonald house on Route 166. It then headed over rather than through our village of Crab Orchard, where a good many people who had made fun of Bobby and Katherine Sanders’ storm shelter were now crowded into it.
The McDonalds’ lovely home was destroyed while the two houses on either side of it were left intact. They rebuilt, and you would never know it today. However, someone quoted one of them as saying the loss of the house was not consequential—because not too long before that they had lost their beautiful young adult son in a freak hunting accident when he drowned while coon hunting one dark night. Watching their family cope with all the problems they have endured has been an inspiration to even those of us who did not know them well. Their faith-filled lives through all their serious health problems since then have magnified the words Pastor McDonald spoke from the pulpit when he was yet alive. There is no good explanation why one house or one life is taken by the wind, while the others of us nearby escape and are allowed to continue normally. Nor is there an explanation why some families seem to have far more that their share of disasters.
One of the 1982 stories I remember most vividly was of a teenage boy talking on the phone in his upstairs bedroom in his home he had always lived in. The next moment, the house was destroyed and he was out in the yard with a broken arm. As a person who does not tolerate change very well, I have thought of that story so much wondering how would one cope mentally with such unexpected sudden change.
After the weekend funerals and the restoration of electric power in Harrisburg, the children have returned to school. People hoped this gave the kids both a sense of normalcy as well as opportunity to tell each other their storm stories. I was a little irritated by a huge headline in our area paper saying that the healing begins. I don’t think so. By now maybe some are coming out of shock, but people who lost loved ones or everything they own are not ready to start healing yet. And some will never heal from the losses sustained when they lay down to sleep in their own beds assuming they’d wake up in those same beds.
Volunteers with chain saws and heavy boots have poured in to help, and collection sites for donated goods are all over the region. I have to live with my guilt that the day before this happened, I returned the last request for a donation from the area Red Cross with a note on the back asking to be removed from their mailing list. I have always heard wonderful things about the one who directs the Red Cross in our area, and I guess those letters produce needed funds. However, I give when I can to the many important charities that I want to support and feel pain I cannot give more, but never do I give because of a phone call and rarely because of constant repeat letters. I give because I think it is important to help. I don’t like begging letters filling my mailbox and using up the nation’s trees. Because of the extra need caused by the tornado, we will be making a donation now, of course, but not because of a letter requesting it.
When we heard our friends Bill and Mickey had their bedroom roof torn off barely giving them time to get out of their bedroom alive, my first thought was we should tell them to come to our house, but then I realized I couldn’t extend that invitation because our house including the couches would be full all weekend. (There were ten sleeping here Saturday night because the grandkids arranged what they call a “cousins’ weekend” so they could be here to support Sam, whose high school musical was last weekend.)
My second thought was that they would go to their brother’s home just across the way from them on an adjoining farm; they would want to be close to supervise what needs to be done. They probably did go there the day it happened, but fortunately only the bedroom roof and not what was below it was destroyed. So they are sleeping in their finished downstairs quarters where they have rooms for visiting family. Mickey was quoted in the newspaper story as just being grateful to God for their narrow escape. In one of Bill’s calls left our answering machine, he was rejoicing over help they’ve been given by friends and family. I met someone yesterday from their nearby town, and she told me they were both at church Sunday despite Bill’s still being in a back brace from the recent surgery.
Humans are amazingly resilient despite the onslaught of problems often thrown at them. And tragedies such as the tornados can bring out the very best in people not only in our region but wherever the tornados have hit. Sadly the very worst comes out in some people. As I understand it, thousands lined the street at the funerals Saturday to protect the families in case the Westboro Baptist “Church” made good their threats that they were coming to protest or celebrate or whatever they claim to do when families are devastated by loss. Evidently this is one of their new tactics—to make threats and upset people and then not show. The grieving families had to appreciate the human fence of strangers come to show their love and prevent any disruption. And people in Harrisburg will appreciate the ones coming tomorrow to clean out a vacated store, which will provide a place for the tons of donations to be distributed. If not volunteering, we have been asked to stay away from the destruction, but from what I read online, I believe that already each day does make a difference—this time for the better.
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