Hello all. Today is a day I’ve been dreading. Just the first of several coming up in the next few weeks and months, actually. Today is the 1-year anniversary of the day I found out I wasn’t getting my contract renewed at my first teaching job last year. I’ll never be able to forget it because it also happens to be the day a tornado directly hit my hometown, destroyed dozens of homes, and killed 8 people.
I know all of us in this area are probably perusing our own memories of this day, because like all Black Letter Days, we probably all remember exactly where we were and what we were doing, and how that day went for us. For me it was already going pretty poorly, when I went to the office after school to get the results of my evaluation that day. I know without a doubt the eval was just a matter of procedure. My admin had already made up his mind about me by then. But as I sat there feeling rejected, disappointed, hurt, and abandoned, I had no idea the day was actually going to go downhill from there!
My husband and I went to WalMart later that night. I don’t remember what for, but I remember the weather being stormy and ominous-feeling. We went into the store and the wind was already gusting and rain was spitting. When we left the store around 7:00, the storm was getting pretty rough, so we thought we should stop in town at his mother’s house to wait it out before heading home. She had the tv on and tuned to our local channel, and in disbelief we watched the radar and listened to the reports that said a tornado had formed and was moving in a direct line toward Lone Grove. We watched as it hit, waited, listened, tried to make phone calls. We wondered what was hit, what was left, and whether we should try to make it home.
Thankfully, my children were at my parents’ house, and they have a storm cellar. If my kids had been home by themselves, as they often are now that the girls are 16, I would have gone straight home from WalMart, tornado or not! But we knew they were ok, because we had been able to get in touch with Mom and Dad on their cell phones right before they went to the cellar, so I was relatively calm.
We decided we’d better try to make it, and we took Highway 70 as far as we could. Lone Grove and Ardmore are 7 miles apart, and we could only get halfway there by the Highway, because emergency vehicles were already sealing off the area. The entire valley west of Ardmore was complete darkness. It was one of the eeriest things I’d ever seen, because normally you can see lights sprinkled all over between the two towns.
We had to turn off the main highway at South Foxden road and go down to Myall. We went West on Myall and ran straight into a war zone. Trees, branches, strips of tin roof, and every imaginable kind of debris lay in the road, blocking our path. Wires hung loose in the breeze, and there was no light except that from our headlights. We had to take it agonizingly slowly, at one point having to carefully squeeze between the two halves of a huge old tree that lay broken across the road.
Finally, we made it through the damage path and to Cheek road, where my parents live. They still had electricity, but I don’t remember if theirs was unharmed or if it was because Dad has generators. Anyway, it was quite possibly the happiest, most relieved, most joyful I ever felt in my entire life. Everyone was safe. We had to spend the night there, because we didn’t have electricity at our house and weren’t sure we could get through anyway. It was later that night, trying to sleep out in Mom and Dad’s RV, that I found out that people we knew were unaccounted for, or couldn’t be reached. My ex-husband’s wife was home alone with their 2-year old daughter, and he was stuck in town and couldn’t get to her. The next morning my mother braved the emergency vehicles, debris, glass, insulation and destruction, and found them huddled together in a corner of their house, where the rain couldn’t hit them, because part of their roof was gone. She came screaming through their door, collapsed over the two of them, and cried for 20 solid minutes.
As the hours and days went on, we discovered the extent of the damage, learned the names of the people who had been lost, felt the shock of realizing we knew those names. And the media began to show up, and the help. People were there in droves to help clean up and recover. Our church came together in a way I hadn’t seen in a while. We gathered clothing and supplies, helped organize relief. I remember standing in my church parking lot, listening to a lady who had come there for assistance. She lived in the Rolling Hills area of Ardmore that had also been hit, and has unfortunately been rather neglected in both assistance and sympathy since the event, I think. People I have spoken to have felt that their hurt and need were ignored, because they were a “rich neighborhood.” But I can say without question that this “rich neighborhood” lady… had nothing. She was coming to us for food and toothpaste! I remember how her voice broke, how bewildered she was to have gone from there to here so abruptly and so violently. All I could do was to hug her while she cried and to say “We’ll make it through this.” That was all anyone could say.
There has been a lot of recovery in the past year. There has been a lot of cleanup, and we are very fortunate that many of the more jarring visual reminders have disappeared. But I know, and I know everyone else knows, that the emotional reminders are still a part of all of us. My mother is taking off work early tonight, so that she can go to the memorial service at the High School Gym. She just feels she has to be there. Something inside her still hurts from that day. I understand how she feels.
God Bless Lone Grove, Oklahoma.
Until next time,