The Good Friday tornado: 10 years later

Ten years ago our house was badly damaged by the Good Friday tornado. This photo was taken on April 30, 2011, after the tree was removed and tarps were in place.

Ten years ago, the Good Friday tornado smashed houses, uprooted trees, and disrupted our lives.

For our family, April 22, 2011, was like many other Friday evenings. Yoli and the kids were at home, and I was downtown at work. “Wheel of Fortune” was on the TV, and it’s likely that saved Yoli’s life — when the tornado alert was issued, she heard it, and ran with the kids to the basement. Minutes later, the kitchen where she had been cooking was crushed. The fierce storm toppled the oak tree in our backyard. Its massive trunk fell on our house, and its branches poked through the roof of our neighbor Connie’s house.

It was a crazy night. The fallen tree blocked both exits from the basement, so our neighbor Monica helped Yoli and the kids escape through a window. At the newspaper, we heard reports of the tornado, and I received a brief phone call from Yoli, but it was difficult to understand. My coworkers urged me to hand off my work to someone else and go home.

I couldn’t see the devastation that night. It was too dark. But everything was clear in the morning light. Our lives wouldn’t be the same.

The Good Friday tornado passed a block or two north of our home. Strong winds knocked our huge oak tree onto the house, destroying the sun room and kitchen, and damaging other parts of the house.

Over the next six months, we navigated a confusing maze of insurance adjusters, city inspectors, contractors, landlords and more. We moved to a rental house in Woodson Terrace, which the girls loved because it had two big flat-screen TVs, and it was very close to a park.

Throughout this time of waiting, we could see God’s mercy everywhere we looked — especially in the love and help we received from our family, friends, neighbors and coworkers.

In November, at last we could move back into our house. The tornado had made it possible for us to expand it from two bedrooms to three, which made quite a difference for our young family of six. Jadzia and Ludi got one bedroom, Josie and Joseph got another, and Yoli and I got the new one, complete with bathroom and walk-in closet.

All in all, there’s so much to be thankful for. The house became bigger and better. And though the work wasn’t perfect, it was mostly pretty good. This has been a good house and a nice street to spend the last 10 years, watching the kids grow up and having adventures.

One other milestone for the house — we paid off our mortgage last month.

We bought it in 2005, at the height of the housing bubble. But even though mortgage lenders told us “money is cheap!” and urged us to take out bigger loans, we wanted to live within our means. We considered only houses that we could afford to put 20% down on, which would allow us to avoid paying mortgage insurance.

Jadzia always was a bit nosy about our finances, which I thought was a good thing. She went through a phase where she would compare our family with the families of her friends. She wished our family had a big TV, and cable, and iPhones for every kid, but I believe she understood why we didn’t. Last spring during COVID lockdown, I told her that we would probably pay off the mortgage in spring of 2021, and that when we did, it would free up some money that we could put towards things like a better TV, or put in her college savings account.

So Jadzia was looking forward to this mortgage payoff. She didn’t live to see us reach the goal, but I know she’d be celebrating with us.

Anyway, to mark this 10-year tornado anniversary, I put together a collection of nine videos from our 2011 travails. You can see them at vimeo.com/showcase/8076349

Ten years

josh_yoli_cascada1

we wrote letters
	and raked leaves

we pleaded 
	and prayed

we vowed in Santa Cruz
	and signed in Coral Gables

we made
	babies and bunuelos

we gained 
	family and friends 
	and facebook

we lost 
	tios and tias 
	and little Jubilee

we endured
	tornados and tantrums
	surazos and suegros

we watched
	Petra and parades

we explored
	D.C. and Del Rio
	Copacabana, Cotoca
	San Antonio, Samaipata

we saved
	and we spent

we loved
	and we left

we gave 
	and we grew

from just me and you
	to those four and us two

vows and visas
looks and laughs
tea and tears 
ten times ten
let us love 
again
and again

11 things we are thankful for in 2011

This year, the final day of our anniversary falls on the same day as Thanksgiving. There is much to be thankful for, so much of it obviously connected with the tornado that wrecked our house in April.

We are thankful:

  • To the creators of Wheel of Fortune, for a show the family enjoys watching, which ensured they saw the tornado warning on TV in plenty of time to go downstairs.
  • To our neighbors who checked helped Yoli and the kids get out of the basement through a window and let them stay in their house until I got there.
  • To my brother Justin for connecting us with a contractor who did above and beyond what we hoped might be possible in rebuilding our house.
  • To my dad who was there the morning after the tornado, and on many other days afterward, to offer help and advice as we figured out what to do.
  • To my mom for, among many other things, finding a notice about a house for rent and passing it on to us. We spent a good 6-7 months in that house.
  • To State Farm for ponying up quickly and often. (However I am not thankful for all the paperwork, but what can you do?)
  • To all our friends and family who helped after the tornado with gifts, with time, with advice, with words of comfort.
  • To the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for continuing to give me a job that I enjoy doing.
  • To my coworkers, who sent us a gift of help after the tornado, and who nominated us for an obscure Lee Foundation grant that our family was eligible for.
  • To God for our home, for supplying our needs, for love, for everything; but mostly for our lives. If Yoli or one of the kids had perished in the tornado, this year would have been inconceivably different.
  • To that darn tree: I loved you for your tallness, for the cool shade you provided. You have given us a year of work and waiting, a new house — and fewer leaves to rake.

Aniversario

This weekend Yoli and I celebrated our fifth anniversary. Ours is a little atypical … the celebration spreads out over 3 days since that’s how we got married. Day One, the wedding ceremony in Bolivia; Day Two, the flight back to the U.S.; Day Three, the actual legal marriage in Coral Gables, Fla. and the start of our honeymoon.

It’s always fun to remember those times and laugh about all the visa paperwork, the way I massively sunburned my legs the day before the Bolivian ceremony, and how cold it was during our honeymoon at Clearwater Lake in Piedmont, Mo.

Five years later we’ve got our own house, two beautiful girls and another baby on the way, good jobs that we enjoy, and family and friends we love.

It’s probably appropriate that our anniversary is always so close to Thanksgiving. Indeed we have so much to be thankful for.