Monday, May 23, 2011

Random Thoughts: Joplin

Today I wanted to write something poignant and timely. The tragedy in Joplin hits close to home. But I can't seem to put those poignant and timely thoughts together. I have so much going through my head..and I felt like I needed to write something down. So I did it in my usual random way.

1. It’s hard to put into words what I’m feeling this morning. And really to be honest this isn’t even my story. Joplin isn’t “my town.” We live about 60 miles east. But it is a town I am well acquainted with. I have been visiting since I was a baby. I have tons of family there. It has always been the 'big city' to my Dad's side of the family. Many of them migrated up from their farms and little houses located in Anderson, MO.  My great-grandma Leona LeMasters lived in a little white house in Joplin.  The house was simple and old-fashioned. It had one of those big floor radiators between the kitchen and the living room. It would occasionally grumble and growl. I would peer down into the grate and imagine that thousands of tiny people were being kept prisoners by the evil floor monster. In Grandma Leona’s living room stood a bookshelf filled with books of all shapes and sizes. Those books always comforted me in some ways. I practically inhale books…Even as a little girl I would rather read than do most anything. Grandma LeMasters was an avid reader and writer and she would sit in her corner chair and bestow nuggets of wisdom with her distinct wavering voice (I have a cousin who can do a pretty great Grandma LeMasters impression). It’s not ironic that the one thing I have left from Grandma Leona is a book. I thought about that little house yesterday.

2. For a few months now Troy and I have been assisting my parents at their church in Diamond. Diamond is a little town just miles away from Joplin. My parents live a little farther out than that on a farm outside of Stella. Every Saturday morning we load up the car, take the Kansas Expressway exit out of Springfield on I-44 and head to Diamond. The church is undergoing some remodeling so Troy, my dad and a few others gather every Saturday and work. I spend the day wandering around with my mom. We usually find our way to the Dollar Tree and occasionally hit Hobby Lobby in Joplin.  Saturday was windy, but gorgeous. Almost a perfect temperature for a May Day. My guys fished in the pond that afternoon and then Josiah helped Papa plant pumpkins and sunflowers in the garden after supper. The evening was spectacular. I sat reading an old book by Gene Stratton-Porter and was treated to the frogs and birds singing in an evening concert.

3. If you live in this part of the country for very long you can tell those days that might hold severe weather. The air gets thick and soupy. Not the oppressive heat of a hot, summer day. But on stormy days the atmosphere almost seems electric. Sunday was that kind of day. The morning found us at church. We went back to the farm for the afternoon. We did laundry, watched tv, napped…occasionally the weather guy would pop in on the TV and talk about a nasty looking cell that was heading into the area. You have to understand that in this part of the country we are not unaccustomed to severe weather. While certainly unwelcome, severe weather can be common. What is not common, however, are giant tornadoes touching down in such a populated area. Dad had already gone back to church for our Sunday evening service and Mom had gotten off work and went right to the church. She works at a nursing home just off Rangeline Rd. in Joplin. Troy, Josiah and I loaded up the car and headed to the church. Mom called me  and I could hear the tornado sirens in the background. “Where are you?” she said. “Where is the tornado? The sirens are going off.” By the time we got to the church we knew that a tornado had touched down in Joplin and was heading east. We made the decision to go try and beat the storm back to Springfield (which is east!). I can tell you that it was an intense hour. Almost immediately we found a radio station broadcasting nonstop storm coverage and the report was heartbreaking. At some point a caller had called in with his eyewitness account of the destruction. He called out familiar businesses and locations. All gone or heavily damaged. He described cars overturned, people wandering aimlessly, power lines down. He remained remarkably calm. However, eventually the reality of it all must have hit him. He became frantic. Worried about his family. He lived near St. John’s. We found out later that the hospital and surrounding community looked like a war zone. At one point I can remember thinking. “This must be a prank caller. There is no way this can be happening.” Occasionally, the radio announcer would break in and talk about another exit on I-44 that had been closed. Cars flipped, semi’s twisted. Troy and I would look at each other. We had passed that exit minutes before. The storm was right behind us.

Eventually, we made enough time that we put enough distance between us and the storm and we drove back to a relatively calm Springfield. The storm sagged south and we in Springfield were treated to a beautiful double rainbow.  As I write this, the deathtoll has risen to 116. I know it could have been much, much worse. But how heartbreaking.

4. My aunt and uncle have a house on Texas Street in Joplin. It was there we took Josiah for his first overnight visit to see family when he was just a few weeks old. And in fact, I believe we are going for Sunday dinner in just a few weeks. My aunt is the glue that holds the extended family together. I have enjoyed many Sunday dinners at her house. She and my uncle rode the storm out in their little basement. It is so little I wasn’t even aware it existed. I am sure that today she and my uncle are assisting those who have been affected by this tragedy. They have been ‘assisting’ others for so many years…I don’t imagine today to be any different.

5. This afternoon I went grocery shopping and turned the station to the same one we had listened to while outrunning the storm. Caller after caller were offering their services. A muffler repair shop owner called in and told folks to bring in their cars…they would air up tires and even sharpen up chainsaws. A pet groomer called and told everybody to bring their pets to her to keep safe. A grandpa from Kentucky called worried about his granddaughter. He hadn’t heard from her. “Call Grandpa as soon as you can,” he said. You know, our part of the country has somewhat of a reputation. We are all right-wing bigots. We wear our pajamas to Wal-mart (you know who you are… I’ve seen you) and marry our cousins. We are unsophisticated, uneducated hicks. Some of us might be all of those things. Some of us might be a few of those things. But I dare you to find a part of the country where you will find such warm and generous people. Hey, my pajama pants are your pajama pants. And I am not going to say I have never seen certain plumbing fixtures in a yard or two...but in a call on us. We will help you down to our last bean in the pot.

5. My mom went to work this morning. To be honest, I would have rather her stay home. At the little farm in Stella, with her Rottweiler, in the little rock farmhouse with my Dad’s shotgun. But those little old people in the nursing home need her. They need familiar faces and routine. We all need each other. Last night I received calls, FB posts and emails from family and friends…they had heard of the storm and wanted to be sure we were all okay. Saturday the media was talking about “The End of the World.” We never know when our world is going to change in a blink of an eye. We must never take for granted for what God has blessed us with. My aches and pains don't seem to matter today.

If you are able and want to do something, but don't know what...I would suggest donating to Convoy of Hope. They are a terrific relief organization based out of Springfield. They do excellent work and help people all over the world. They have a team in Joplin right now. You won't have to worry about where your money is going. They are good folks. You can get to their website from Here.

Much love,

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