April 27: What Warms My Heart in the Midst of Dark Memories

Growing up in the Midwest, tornadoes were no stranger to me. I had my first tornado scare when I was five-years-old and in kindergarten. It was naptime, and many of my classmates had gotten up from their mats to look through the windows at the strangely discolored sky. As soon as our teacher called for everyone to return to their mats, the tornado sirens sounded, and we were led to the hallway.

We must have been sitting on our knees, heads hunched over with hands on our heads, for at least an hour straight. Just feet away from me, some of my classmates were crying. But aside from their whimpers, the hallway was completely silent. What was most discomforting was the look on our teachers’ faces as we looked to them for answers — their expressions spelled nothing but uncertainty about what was to happen next.

That’s when my deathly fear of tornadoes began.

If the clouds started to look even slightly treacherous, you could find me sitting on the living room floor, staring up at the weatherman and listening attentively. If there were severe thunderstorm or tornado watches and warnings in place, you could bet that I knew whether our county was in the storm’s path. Call me crazy, but I would even follow my dad to the front yard and stare up at the clouds for any signs of rotation, just like all Midwesterners do. By doing all of these things, I felt like I somehow had more control over the situation. If I knew the exact county, city and street intersection where the tornado was crossing, I could properly prepare for the worst.

Then I grew up. I began to realize that there was no such thing as control when it comes to natural disasters. You have to roll with what is thrown at you, whether it’s as minor as a rain shower or as severe as an EF5 tornado. I had just never imagined that I would be caught in the middle of such a dangerous tornadic storm system, as I was last year in Tuscaloosa with 90,000 others.

It’s been one year now since April 27, 2011.

But it still seems like just yesterday that I huddled in the halls of an on-campus building with other students, that I clung to my computer and phone as lifelines and my only sources of information, that I frighteningly read the warnings stating the system was moving through downtown Tuscaloosa…and that I saw the tornado with my own eyes. Has it really already been a year since what seemed like the entire student body made the trek to 15th Street to find that the tornado had completely leveled the apartments and businesses there? Since the residents in Alberta City stepped out of their closets and bathrooms to see their homes had been blown away entirely?

Yesterday, Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox (above) revealed a 14th historical marker at the city’s Government Plaza. These markers recount the history of Tuscaloosa, and the newest marker was added in memory of the tornado victims and the heroism of local survivors. The marker reads: “How we fought back, how we refused to quit and how we united will ensure that we never forget our victims, our survivors and our heroes.”

I extend my deepest condolences to the families and friends who are remembering their loved ones today. And I extend my deepest gratitude to all those who are still hard at work, rebuilding Tuscaloosa and the other devastated cities, as well as caring for the victims who still do not have a place to call home. Progress is being made, and we are all moving forward together.

That’s what warms my heart more than anything.

Photo credits (top to bottom): HeatherBradleyPhotography via photo pin cc | Niccolò Ubalducci Photographer via photo pin cc | USACEpublicaffairs via photo pin cc | Niccolò Ubalducci Photographer via photo pin cc

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