It was three years ago today, Memorial Day afternoon 2011, when 110 mph winds over mere seconds knocked two circa 100-year-old oaks through our house and changed our neighborhood from a woodland to a prairie. It changed a lot more than just our neighborhood. It changed lives. There were no deaths attributed to the storm, but there were many deaths which resulted from it. Three neighbors within a few houses of us died within the next three months. My guess is the stress of hundreds of chain saws going from dawn to dusk around the longest daylight time of the year. The geese and swans moved their chicks to the south end of the lake, a mile away. Snakes, raccoons, deer, woodland birds — all left or were killed. Dogs in the neighborhood developed emotional/behavioral and physical problems resulting in hundreds of dollars in medication for one family alone a few doors down. A volunteer tree-cutter died in the yard next door when he fell about fifty feet. One woman in her 60’s fell down her basement steps in the week-long power outage. Many people went to the hospital from injuries resulting in repairs. One nearby family couldn’t stand…many things about our neighborhood and situation, so left, foreclosing on their house , dropping future potential house prices. They moved to an unaffected neighborhood. Only three sections of the town were affected — but not my husband’s workplace — so he was required to go in to work every day as usual.
It took us four months after the Memorial Day storm to be able to move out of the short twin beds in the guest bedroom, which were undamaged, back into the master bedroom. We saw, experienced and heard of scoundrels, liars and thieves who flocked into our disaster-struck neighborhood. We saw, experienced and felt helpers and givers and neighbors I never met pre-storm who flocked together.
It took 11.5 months of one neighbor saying he was going to take care of the line of trees which uprooted our backyard fence, and doing nothing about it, until we decided to do something about it ourselves. We contacted a fence company and personally cut and dug back the tree balls two feet onto his property so sections of our fence could be replaced. The fence company woman said in her twenty years in the business that only one other time had they experienced someone who so abandoned his neighbor (like he did with us). Whenever I worked at the roots, said neighbor would yell at me, screaming that he said he would take care of it and to get off his property. One of the tree holes started five feet into our small backyard.
It took a year for the foreclosed house to sell and a lovely young couple moved in. Summer of 2012 I spent cleaning, filling, seeding and repairing our yard. Summer of 2013 brought a drought. I am happy to report summer (late spring, anyway) of 2014 is looking quite lovely. We have had rain and lots of sunshine.
Ten years ago, when we moved into this neighborhood, our yard had 10% sky with thousands of oaks and pines and other kinds of trees sheltering our homes with our yard one-third moss. Inch worms, ticks and acorns plopped on each adventure outside. Today there is 90% sky, grass easily and quickly growing everywhere, and I can walk in my yard barefoot — not stepping on ten acorns at each step. Instead of hearing the “foooph” of hot air balloons during our city’s annual races and running into the street and down the road to find a clear spot to maybe see the low-flying balloons, we can now sit in our livingroom and watch the high-flying balloons from inside our house.
It wasn’t like our house was stripped to its foundation as in many natural disasters. Even so, it’s taken three years to start to feel our new normal, and that things are okay… Except. Except whenever we receive thunderstorm or tornado watches or warnings. Or even if it starts to overcast with grey-black clouds. There were no forewarnings three years ago, until about three minutes of sirens before trees slammed through our house. Since then, from April through October I keep a Tornado Bag in the spare bedroom, ready to grab (if I am near enough) and hear a siren. Our battery weather radio and flashlight and other emergency items are tucked away in our basement.
I don’t know when I’ll recover from my fear of storms. (It’s not just about wind. A young friend survived a car accident two years ago and is still scared whenever she rides in cars.)
I’ve realized because of the storm how quickly lives and neighborhoods can change over just a few moments. And that it takes years to fix things/buildings/yards after the event to look normal.
I’ve been recipient of selfish (putting it nicely) people and of kind people. It’s the kind people who give despairing people hope. They make me want to be one of them, to freely and quickly give real aid with words and ears and deeds, to stand by a stranger offering help, expecting nothing in return.
The Memorial Day Storm twisted my world upside-down, but I’m bobbing rightside-up again…with my eyes ever on the sky.