Monday, March 5, 2012

Ripley Tornado Ripple

Sobering.  On Saturday morning, the morning after the tornados passed through the area, I noticed some debris in the front yard outside of our home.  Our house, located in farm country between the towns of Milan and Sunman, in Ripley County, Indiana, managed to avoid the worst of the storms.  However, about 20-miles to our southwest, as the crow flies, lies (what’s left of) Holton, a small town I’ve passed through a dozen or so times over the years.   Holton was laid to waste by an F3 tornado.  Over a dozen homes were destroyed, two people were killed and several people were injured.  And as I gathered the debris in my arms, a cold, sick feeling entered my stomach.   With each piece, my imagination ran wild.

Some shingles, a piece of ceiling tile, a large tuft of insulation…among the kinds of items one might expect after a serious storm.  Then when I lifted a large, 3-foot piece of wood, I noticed it was a piece of paneling—the kind found in living rooms in homes around the country.  But this piece was frayed, shattered and splintered along the edges revealing the incredibly violent ripping apart it underwent by the cyclone.  I also found a tattered piece of wallpaper, and clinging to it a strip of decorative border art.  I could envision the owner, years earlier, in the home improvement store picking it out.  Wouldn’t it look great with the curtains?  I thought about the many birthday parties it probably witnessed and all the family events it saw before it was wrenched away from its family.   The final piece I picked up almost escaped notice…a small piece of paper.  It was a receipt from 1988 for the princely sum of $2.  It must’ve been important enough to keep, possibly in a shoebox under a bed.  I hurried inside with my sorrowful treasures and quickly looked up the name of the lady on the receipt in the phone book:  the address was “Old Michigan Road, Holton, IN.  I felt a sudden strange sadness for the lady and immediately said a prayer for her, as if she were my favorite aunt or lost cousin.  (I later found out through my doctor-wife that her name was not among those admitted to the hospital, so I breathed a little easier, yet still felt a very odd closeness and concern.)

Later that evening, we attended a party at some friends’ near Yorkville, in Dearborn County…ten miles away from us and probably 30 from Holton.  The storm and the name and the piece of paper came up in discussion and the face of our host turned ashen.  She, too, found a piece of paper with a name.  It was the very same.

There are 640 acres in a square mile.  At the point where the storm passed through, the path was at least ten miles’ wide.  The land upon which this woman’s material world, as well as that of the other victims, could number in the tens of thousands of mostly rural—farmland, wooded—very desolate acres.  I could not begin to give a good accounting of our 70-acres and I cannot imagine how far some of those relics could have traveled.  A co-worker who lives in Newtown, on the eastern side of Cincinnati, found a piece of paper from Henryville, IN, near Louisville, so obviously debris can travel for hundreds of miles.  And yet I felt an urge to do something—to look in every nook and cranny and shrub bush for lost photographs or items of sentimental value on behalf of these poor souls.

While the truth about misplacing value in the material world of houses, cars and even wallpaper holds true, what has really stuck with me has been the witness of the raw violence of the act in which these items can be suddenly taken.  Perhaps only a hurricane or tsunami can rival the wipe-the-slate proficiency of leaving only building foundations and mud.  Ocean going debris from 2011 Japan is only now beginning to reach the California coast this year.  Violence and nature…life in a material world.  Sobering.  And for the lady whose name is on the receipt.  I hope and pray she’ll be okay and someday when we both get some perspective, I’ll return the note.  But not now.  It’s better to not know how widely cast were the seeds of her life among strangers and the wild.

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