One year ago this day--a day that was, like today, the last day of school--a tornado took a surprising turn north and vacuumed our town of 19,000. Some folks suffered more serious devastation and damages than others, but no one was left untouched by that mighty twister.
A drive through the Cornerstone neighborhoods reminds me how far we've come in terms of rebuilding. But the wood frames of houses yet unfinished indicates we've still a ways to go. Those centuries-old trees that once lined the cemetery on the way out of town no longer stand. I miss them. They're trees, I know. Some would say they're just trees. But I love trees and the idea of all the comfort they provide not only us humans, but the animals as well. Trees tell stories if you listen close enough. But those trees? Their stories? Gone forever.
The tornado is still talked about in town--we chat about it in the coffee shops, in line at the post office, in the hallways at school. It has become part of Windsor's folklore, and there's no need to exaggerate what happened that day. Those of us who were here when it hit will never forget it: not the sound, the eerie color of the sky, the outrageous hailstones, the vibration of fear that pulsated through the streets.
Talking about it has been therapeutic. We share experiences--Where were you when it hit? Is your house repaired/rebuilt? Did insurance come through for you? Do you need anything? The very beast that tore us apart within a matter of moments is also responsible for forging bonds that will hold us closer together, possibly forever.
And today, the one-year anniversary, we celebrate. Schoolchildren are letting go of balloons, a color explosion to signal that we're still here. Neighborhoods will enjoy block parties, a traditional gathering that nurtures fellowship and camaraderie. The Town is hosting a party this evening for anyone who wants to attend. Hundreds of new trees have been planted throughout Windsor, and our baseball field has been renovated. Life goes on.
When I think of this time last year, my thoughts immediately turn to my children. Max, who was at lunch when the tornado hit. Tucker, a sixth-grader at the middle school right next door to the high school. Tavia and Bella, huddled in darkened rooms within their elementary school. My most vivid memories of that day play through my mind like a slide show...and still my hands begin to sweat when I allow my thoughts to go there.
What else do I remember? I remember the utter, raw terror in the facial expressions of my daughters, their visible relief when they saw me, the amazing Skyview staff who remained calm in the face of the unknown.
I remember Gene, our neighbor and friend who worked as maintenance man at the middle school. When he saw me there, he knew I was in search of Tucker and instructed me to stay where I was. He would find Tuck and bring him to me. And he did. I will love Gene until the day I die for that.
I remember going into the high school, where I went to a table, gave my student's name, and was told to wait while someone brought him to me. Only he never came; the school went into lockdown again before I could get Max out. It was one of the most helpless feelings I've ever had. Even as I write this, I cry. I had to make a choice: Stay inside the school with one of my children, or retreat back into the storm to where my other three were waiting in the van. I left Max behind in the safety of the brick building. But still. I left him behind.
I remember Tucker, 12 years old at the time, calmly putting his arms around me and saying, "Tell me what you need me to do, Mom. Just tell me." This quiet gift of his, as I was trying to comfort 2 hysterical little girls and maneuver 3 frightened dogs into the basement.
I remember thinking that Wes must be about out of his mind with worry because cell phones were dead and he was working on a job in a nearby town. So he knew what was going on, but not what was going on.
365 days later, I look back on that day with a sense of awe. The kids have their own perspectives of that day. My 3 younger ones volunteered their time at the emergency center for days. They folded clothes, unpacked boxes, did whatever they were told to do. For them, the tornado presented an opportunity to go beyond their own comfort zones, to give of themselves with no expectation of getting anything in return. For Max, that disaster meant no classes. The year before, an unexpected blizzard cancelled the last day of school. He woke up this morning hoping this closing of the last day of school was a pattern. Alas, today is alternately cloudy and sunny, with a breeze and warm temperatures. It is a perfect last day of school.
Then again, with our recent history, what wouldn't be?