TERRE HAUTE —
My wife and I hadn’t been into town for a good while when we drove in from our place to visit her doctor and my favorite hardware store last week. After her appointment and my aisle-wandering were done, we topped off our gas tank, ate a nice lunch and headed for home. Along the way, we got a chance to see firsthand the damage just a few minutes of wind can do.
As we drove through the north end of town, we gawked at the aftermath of the storm that hit our area several weeks ago. Open-mouthed, we took in blocks of splintered trees and tarped roofs, fractured gutters and busted windows, and realized just how lucky we had been in losing only our pretty little Bradford pear tree and the top of one of our Georgia red pines to the storm. I was able to clean up our messes in a few hours of bending and sweating, and sawing and dragging, but much of what we saw that day in town won’t be cleaned up for months to come.
The devastating images we’ve seen out of Tuscaloosa and Joplin on the evening news made nervous wrecks out of a lot of folks before the thunderstorm ever came our way in the reds and yellows of a radar screen. I’ve caught myself peering out windows more often this spring, glancing skyward and standing in the kitchen to wait for the weather report to show up on the television.
I’ve replaced the batteries in our weather alert radio, too, just in case we lose power. I was brought up having a healthy respect for storms; it didn’t take much thunder or wind to convince my mom that we all should head to the basement, and in my memory’s eye, I can still see the rain battering against the long, narrow windows that lined the damp, dark cellar of my childhood house as we huddled together near its creaky stairway. I remember the crack of the lightning that felled a huge red oak that stood near my grandparents’ drive, and can still feel the house shudder under the weight of it crashing to the ground.
Scientists tell us that storms are going to be more frequent in the years to come, more violent, too. I want to believe they are wrong, but suspect they aren’t. I want to think that since there are more people now than ever before — housing developments seem to pop out of the ground like mushrooms to hold all that humanity — storms no one noticed decades ago now pack more costly wallops. The odds that people and bad weather can avoid one another have now grown against us. I hope against hope that one reason we hear about more storms is because we have the technology to see them and track them and report them better. But looking at the Hiroshima-like settings that used to be vibrant parts of towns in Alabama and Missouri, I can’t help but believe that we are having more storms, and that they are growing worse. I fear that the next time, we could lose more than just our electrical current and a few limbs.
We moved to our home nearly 30 years ago. Joanie was just a few days shy of having the baby who would turn out to be our daughter, Ellen, and we needed more room. A friendly couple named Freeman and Wilma Chaney offered to sell us their place on contract, since just about everyone around knew we wanted a house, but couldn’t afford the 16-percent interest rates the banks were “offering” in those days. I knew absolutely nothing about buying a house, and after waltzing through the place in just a few minutes, not even stopping to look at the furnace or the plumbing or the condition of the roof, we agreed to buy it. I used my father-in-law’s grain truck to help move the Chaneys out and us in, and we haven’t budged since.
Over the years, we have done the usual remodeling that accompanies stability and a few raises in pay. Nearly 10 years ago, we added a family room and a new bathroom and a deck. The house has been re-roofed twice, has been re-carpeted, and we have a relatively new kitchen. I propped our old barn up and have given it numerous coats of paint; we built a storage barn, and a cabin, and I have hacked and sawed away brush for years to carve out an expansive rolling yard that runs head-long into the 15 acres of woods we now share with frogs and raccoons and deer. Our home isn’t perfect; it awaits more replacement windows, and we hope to remodel two bedrooms soon. A number of the pine trees that I planted within just a year or two of moving here have died, as have those of my neighbors, and I now have to cut them down with the memories of walking five-gallon buckets of water out to them still in my head.
We love the woods here; we love our hummingbirds and our trees and our clean air and our ever-present breeze. We don’t live in a palace, but we don’t owe much on it, either. It has become our home, our refuge, a place that aggravates us at its worst, but comforts us at its best. It is the place where we have chosen to stay.
Our homes are more than shingles and concrete blocks and 2-by-4s; they are more than a mortgage at the bank and a place in which we store furniture and hang clothes. We need to appreciate what we have more often, to be thankful for it, and to help others who have lost what we often take for granted.
After she was swept away in a Kansas tornado, Dorothy Gale finally discovered that “there’s no place like home.” After awakening from her dreams of Oz, she says, “…if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with!”
And to think, it took a storm to make her realize that…
Mike Lunsford can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to him c/o The Tribune-Star, P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808.