I took a walk around my yard Sunday morning, walking slowly and thinking while I picked up small pieces of debris my husband had missed the evening before.
I wondered whose 2-inch-square piece of siding was in the grass by my newly-planted garden. Did the yellow insulation that fell from the tree in our front yard overnight come from the hard-hit house about a half-mile away? And what was that green plastic piece that looked like the color of a stop light?
All these little pieces were part of someone’s business, someone’s home, someone’s life.
The ripped bottom portion of a car title might have come from the used car lot that was in the direct line of fire when a tornado tore through N.C. 42. And what business close by uses trayformers? I have the instructions on how to operate and clean one — whatever it is.
My walk was very sobering. The entire weekend was sobering — humbling, in fact — as I realized once again just how little control I have over my life.
Like so many others, my family sat around the television and computer Saturday afternoon, watching the radar and listening to forecasters talk about the life-threatening tornadoes that were headed towards our part of the state. I stayed in constant contact with my daughter, Anna, who was in the Lucama area with her boyfriend’s family. She was worried, and I was too, and wanted nothing more than for her to be with me or to at least be safe where she was.
As the system got closer to Wilson County, and it became apparent we weren’t going to dodge it this time, we all got a little more anxious and firmed up our plans for taking cover. We decided we would sit in the hallway; it’s the same place my children slept during Hurricane Fran. I opened up the hall closet where we store blankets and quilts and told my husband, son and his fiancee, Alicia, to grab whatever they needed and to cover up when the time came.
By the time the storm was in Wilson County, we had determined by the television maps that the tornado was headed for our neighborhood — Westwood. It was really coming, and there was nothing we could do about it and nowhere to run.
Anna was safe, I learned, but now it was our turn to deal with the tornado.
I calmly walked to the back of the house to tell the latest forecast to my husband, Reggie, who was watching a DVD with our 2-year-old granddaughter, Sora. Before we finished talking, we lost power, and everything went dark. It was like a signal, a curtain rising, indicating that the show was about to begin.
It was then we realized we had almost waited too long to bring our elderly next-door neighbor to our house. But my husband headed out in the wind and the loud noise — a very loud, roaring noise unlike any I’d heard before.
And when I saw a large piece of something black and square fly way above the tree line, I knew something was very different and very wrong. Son Robert called out, “It’s here!”
Within seconds, insulation and siding and tree limbs were swirling and flying everywhere, and my husband and neighbor were running the best they could into the house with Robert hurrying them in.
We didn’t stay in the hallway long. We were curious, too curious. Robert stayed in the hall with his young family and our neighbor, but Reggie and I couldn’t be still. We peeked out windows, and I walked into the den before realizing how foolish I was to be in a room with so many windows.
And then it was over — so unlike a hurricane, which goes on for hours, but also so much like a hurricane with its destruction.
Our family and our home were spared. We had limbs and debris to pick up, but nothing more.
As the evening went on and my children and I visited homes where people had lost so much. We listened to their stories, I took notes, and Robert and Anna took photographs for me. I couldn’t believe the destruction I was seeing. The blown-out windows in homes, the trees on roofs, the look of disbelief and shock on so many faces.
Their homes and their way of life were here one minute and gone the next.
Saturday night, after my stories and photos were emailed to my editor, I walked outside to the front porch and was immediately overwhelmed once again by the smell of pine from the fallen trees.
I looked up and saw the moon and thought about the stormy sky and debris I had watched just six hours before.
So much went through my mind. Why don’t we have a battery-operated radio? Why was our house spared? Where are the people staying tonight who no longer have a home? How will they ever pick up the pieces and start all over again? Will they get help?
Then I thought of little Sora and other children who lived through the storm.
Sora definitely sensed our fear Saturday, and when she was at the house on Sunday, she ran up to me and wanted me to hold her when she realized we were watching a video of the tornado on the computer.
Saturday night, she told her Mama that the loud monster had scared her. She later told her that her daddy’s blanket and her daddy had scared that monster away. If only it were that simple.
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