Thursday, March 22, 2012

The volunteers are back!

They're back!  They're back!  The volunteers are back!

As we drive through town the kids and I excitedly shout out the license plates of cars driven from far-away states.  College students, high school groups, the occasional retired couple, all here to help rebuild Joplin.  Wonderful does not even begin to describe the joy, the gratitude, the sigh of relief it is to see these souls giving up their time and energy to help us.

Joplin was such a mess.  Just hours after the tornado touched down, the middle third of the city was unrecognizable.  I remember, as my neighbor's son tried (unsuccessfully) to get me and my 3 uninjured kids to the hospital, that the town looked like a war zone.  Like we might as well have been in Kosovo.  I mean, what else could have caused such "unnatural" destruction but a violent bomb attack? Two weeks later, as we drove to our rental house on the far northwest side of Joplin, the debris had morphed with subsequent rain storms from war zone to dump.  The kind of dump you see in Mexico, India, or Ethiopia. There were pieces of life but it was not a friendly or livable environment.  There was such a disharmony between the splintered wood from homes like mine which were picked up, thrown, and scattered, the pink of home insulation, the steel from bent and upturned cars and and the shards of glass that sparkled in the sunlight.  The trees were (and still are) sad.  Those still standing were mangled, missing bark, and oddly leaning northeast.

Despite the unlivable land, the life force of Joplin became stronger.  But, it wasn't on our own that we gained forward motion; it was the life of the volunteers that gave Joplin back its mojo!  They came from all over the country, even from other parts of the world!  Some of the volunteers who helped my family hailed from England, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Oklahoma, and Florida.  They used their vacation hours from a job where they work hard, packed their cars/church vans/got on the plane, brought their kids, put on a breathing mask and rubber gloves and happily completed dirty, difficult, repetitive tasks.  They listened to our traumatic stories, they hugged us, they helped us find the right size shoes for our kids when we couldn't bend over because of a pregnant belly and a broken pelvis (oh, wait, that might have been just me but you get the idea).  The helped us stock our cupboards again with food donated from amazing companies like Newman's Own (and MANY more), they helped us load our cars with bottled water and cleaning supplies and toilet paper.  They picked through the wood and metal and glass and fiberglass and nails and junk to find any piece of our old life like a photo from our wedding or an almost whole piece of our favorite Royal Copenhagen Mother's Day collective plate or one of our kid's favorite toys.  They provided meals and prayers and health care and human touch and kindness to us when many of us couldn't keep our thoughts straight.

But, they had regular lives to which they had to return.  Toward the end of summer the volunteer rush had quieted to a trickle.  The big-wig volunteer relief organizations like The Red Cross and Samaritan's Purse loaded up their giant buses and headed out of town.  I remember one day in late August I was driving toward the highway and passed a massive convoy of military vehicles leaving Joplin.  That was scary.  I thought to myself, "I guess we must be doing fairly well if we don't need them any more."  I felt excited and nervous for Joplin at the same time.  Taking that first step without support is terrifying, but once you realize you can move forward, even if at a snail's pace, you want to do it on your own.

Joplin has been moving forward.  I read that 50% of the properties (business and residential) that were destroyed have applied for new building permits.  I can drive through the destruction zone and see that is true.  But Joplin still has so much work to do.  I am thrilled the volunteers are coming back.  I am glad to be able to take THEM water, give THEM a hug, and tell THEM that we will be all right.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The stuff...

Every once in a while I find myself amused when I think of all the STUFF the tornado took from us.  Of course, there are the big items--the cars (my minivan and my hubby's Civic we bought our first month of marriage 12 years earlier), the furniture we purchased to fill our first house, the SWEET refrigerator we had bought just 2.5 weeks before the tornado; and the sentimental items--the clock my great grandmother and grandfather hand-crafted and painted for me when I was born, the artwork I commissioned from my talented cousin, the painting of my own sweet baby bum painted by my great grandmother, the love letters my husband and I wrote when courting cross-country, the clothes (and positive pregnancy tests) I had saved from each one of my children's infancy.  Then there were the practical things like my MASSIVE collection of cook books and herbs/spices, all the baby gear from the previous 5 kids saved for the final one yet to be born, all the hand-me-down clothes from big brother (I had 5 big tubs of NICE Gymboree clothes saved for the little boys), all my home schooling materials, and so, so, so, so much more.

There are things I find I'm missing that make me laugh.  Items I don't use every day.  For example, Valentine's Day was approaching a few weeks ago and I thought about gettin' a little sexy for the hubby....oh, wait, I don't own any lingerie any more.  Thanks again, Tornado!  Or my daughters and I took a trip to Kansas City for a beauty pageant and the hotel had a pool.  I was excited to go swimming in the winter but wait...I don't own a swim suit any more.  And you know how you amass a collection of clothes that "work" postpartum?  Mine were sucked away into the vortex (which meant postpartum shopping--YUCK)!

The loss of our stuff wasn't too traumatic.  I mean, having it all gone at once left us gob-smacked, but we weren't so attached to it all that we mourned deeply the loss of it all.  I do feel chagrined about the loss of heirlooms like the clock and painting and the fact that I can't share my husband's love letters with my children when they are grown and starting to date.  I feel guilty that since my parents' divorce I was the holder of all videos and pictures from my childhood.  My brothers won't get to share pictures of themselves as cute, freckled 5-year-old boys with their kids because I held onto them and the tornado took them.

But stuff is just stuff.  It is wood, cotton, polymer, nails, bolts, zip-ties, and glue.  I have the memories, I have my children alive and mostly whole.  My husband is still next to me and lives his love letters every day to me.  We bought new stuff--cause you need stuff to go on living in the USA--and if it all gets taken away again, then we'll still be okay.