I'll say one thing about blogging this story: it makes tornadoes and what they do painfully real for me. Tornadoes have gone from a woozy mythical Wizard of Ozzy abstraction to the worst of monsters in my mind. I've been writing these posts for three days now, dawn to well past dark, trying to get the story pulled together and cogent, gathering images from diverse sources, and it has been stormy here in Ohio the whole time. I must glance at the sky a hundred times a day as I write. I eye the clouds, looking for the dirty greenish-brown, the cyclonic rotation that indicates we're all in big trouble. I go outside, hear the birds warblers singing songs of comfort even as I wheel around examining the sky. And I can't stop thinking about what it means to lose everything.
Or perhaps not everything, but to lose one's shelter, one's home, one's garden; one's handmade Eden.
I stop to put my head in my hands and cry several times a day, in the purest of empathy for a dear friend, bereft. I think about what it must be like to have your home be nothing but a pile of wet rubble, from which you're charged with extracting the things still extant, still dear.
And so it began, and Debby sent us her photos of the process. The thing being not to stop to mourn, but to scratch and scrabble to recover what could still be recovered. Put up by friends in Oklahoma City, wearing borrowed clothing and just-bought underwear, they braved the still-violent thunderstorms to try to beat the rain to their possessions.
A grit-spattered photo of one of Debby's early bluegrass bands, Heartland, ca. 1985. There she is, second from right, lookin' real bluegrassy. Big hair has never been a problem for Deb.
The current issue of Bird Watcher's Digest. There's a nice symmetry to her finding that, since it brought us together.
Some of Debby's earlier Cameo Girls. Most people who know her as a natural history artist don't realize that as a designer and sculptor, she's a huge celebrity in the head vase collector's world. Well, she is. Check it out!
Ah ha ha ha ha! The magic of the Tubes of the Interwebs!
Debby, our own Cameo Girl. Nice hat. But where's the hole to put the flowers?
Through it all, Debby and Mike haven't lost their sense of humor.
and another ironic find:
You can see the dreadful conditions they've been working in--storms and rain. The roof collapsed right on top of the house, and actually protected a lot of their belongings.
Here's a beautiful wood flatfile, totaled, but still holding priceless sketchbooks full of tropical animals, birds, plants and insects--the kernel of a book I know Debby will write one day.
Oh yes, when this is all done, she will. Because the sketchbooks survived.
And here they are, drying out on the floor of the home where they were staying.
She's entering a framed painting in the Bennington, VT show this summer. It survived the gallon of water that was sitting in the box without even a drop in the frame. Way to go, Airfloat Box.
Wedding and family photos, drying out.
Each new discovery, an extravagant gift.
Both Deb and Mike found their laptops, asleep in the rubble. Both Macs started right up on being opened.
They've sent a desk computer and some external hard drives off for data recovery. Expensive stuff, that data recovery, but not as expensive as losing it all. Mike had a home office that looked like E.O Wilson's might.
Amidst the joy, there is still great sadness. Debby says what hurts most is the oak trees, the hundred-year-old giants that surrounded the house in quiet and green.
Every last one of them, uprooted or shorn off, every one of them gone.
An aquatic biologist from the university tries to recover the beautiful red comets from the pond. Only two of 15 survived the storm.
A backhoe scoops rubble.
My book, as lasting and undamaged as our forever friendship.
On the night of May 10, one of the first things I thought of, after finding out that Debby and Mike and little Gizmo had survived the storm, was Debby's banjo. Oh, please, let it be in its case, let it be OK. It had been under the stairwell where Mike sometimes went during storms, and it was in its case. The stairwell collapsed completely, but when they excavated down, the banjo was unharmed.
I still weep every time I look at this photo. Musical instruments are not things to be replaced. Musical instruments have history; they have souls. Thank you, tornado gods, for not taking her banjo, too.
Debby and Mike's house and cars were insured, even most of the artwork was insured. Insurance will cover a lot of it. But there is a tremendous amount of outlay for tornado survivors; for instance, insurance will cover only part of the huge cost of demolition and hauling the rubble away. She'll need to replace all her art materials, her paper, brushes, clothing, and kitchen stuff (the first floor was crushed under the top floor, where her studio was). Other tornado survivors have told Debby and Mike that insurance helps, but the cash outlay is still considerable.
Debby and Mike have been assigned a terrible job for which they never applied. Building their lives back after the tornado is what they are going to be doing for a long, long time. Each night, when they collapse exhausted in borrowed lodging wearing borrowed clothes, they hit an emotional wall, and they're struggling to keep working through the grief and bewilderment of being suddenly homeless, rootless, carless, skilletless, gardenless.
I've set up a Paypal page for any contribution you might wish to make. There's a donation button in the blog sidebar.
Deborah Kaspari c/o
Department of Zoology
University of Oklahoma
730 Van Vleet Oval
Norman, OK 73019
I'll wrap up this series with my heartfelt thanks for any help you might be moved to offer. Hug your loved ones, look up in gratitude at the roof over your head, and be sure you have a basement or storm shelter nearby. Be safe, and keep an eye to the sky.