Where were you Wednesday?
Pretend to be interested. Demand food. Demand everything, really. Go hide when you don’t want it. And sleep in such a way that makes everyone jealous.
What can you say in the echoes of a day like we’ve just seen? The lucky are blessed beyond measure. Others are setting about the grim business of rebuilding their lives or mourning their losses. There’s no sense of solace. Only blistered hands and red-rimmed eyes. In one place things look just as they did a day before. A short distance away it can appear as if a bomb ripped the heart from a community. For many this is a normal Thursday. For some this is the first day of their new, unexpected life. What can you say to that? What do you feel beyond the mystery of chance and the knowledge of your puny, human vulnerability?
Once in a while you are afforded a glimpse at the absolute best humanity has to offer. The outpouring of support, money, material and manpower some of those communities hit by yesterday’s storms are already receiving is remarkable.
Officials are turning volunteers away in some communities until then can bring a little more order from chaos. Boxes can’t be emptied and replaced fast enough. People are aching to help, donate, ship, whatever. Blood drives in some places had to close today because they had too many donors.
The worst can bring out the best. Sometimes that’s what it takes. Today’s dire problems are going to be next week’s heavy burdens, next month’s inconvenience and next year’s worries. Hopefully that kindness and those giving spirits will endure while the storms’ survivors overcome.
Veteran meteorologists called it the storm of a lifetime. Just as well. No one that watched this thing would ever want to see its like again.
Over the course of the day tornadoes raked the state from border-to-border east-to-west, and hit or threatened towns stretching across more than half the state’s north-south axis. Cities like Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, towns like Cullman, suburbs like Pleasant Grove and small communities like Phil Campbell were hit hard.
(Update: A week later the death toll is still fluctuating a bit. There are still some persons unaccounted for. This is now considered the second-worst storm in U.S. history in terms of fatalities. The numbers are staggering, but how they aren’t higher given what we witnessed and what those people endured seems something of a tragic miracle.)
For me the sky turned from blue to gray to green to gray again. Finally, long after dark, the storms passed. The hard work of real heroes was underway. It will take some of those communities years to recover.
In the scope of all of that, this seems a bit silly. But I watched radar and news from across the state and curated it as well as I could through Twitter. For about two minutes late this afternoon my location was under a direct threat. Beyond that my extended family and I are extremely lucky.
Not surprisingly, given the destruction, a few of my colleagues at the University of Alabama lost their homes. All of those people, too, are safe.
This weekend my grandmother was talking to The Yankee about how she used to decorate her trees for the grandkids at Easter. You see it every now and then still, but when we were young this became the colorful yard decor of spring. My grandmother strung plastic eggs through her giant show trees on colorful strands of yarn.
She invented this decoration. Ask her, she’ll tell you.
Anyway. My grandmother went on the search for photographs to complete the story. Before my grandmother’s birthday dinner I looked through a few of the pictures myself, which is how I ran across this one.
These are my great-grandparents. The back of the photograph said it was their 60th anniversary, which would put this snapshot in early 2000. He died just under two years later. She died earlier this year. He was a farmer, she was a homemaker. I’ve written about them here from time to time, so I’ll try not to repeat myself. In sum, they were sweet, lovely, kind, gentle, Christian people. I miss them a lot.
Just to put all the pictures from around the site in one post …
I found this picture of them last Christmas at my aunt and uncle’s home. This would have been their youngest grandchild, if I am not mistaken:
This one is on the wall at their home. My great-grandfather was going off to Europe as a medic. The little boy is my grandfather.
As far as we know this is the last picture of the two of them together. We buried them each with a print.
(None of these are particularly sharp, obviously. With the exception of the last photograph they are all cell phone pictures of a print. The last picture is an upsized version of a digital image that’s been floating on my hard drive for a decade.)