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

Morels and more

A few of the morel mushrooms I bought at the farmers market.

This morning I saw morel mushrooms at the Ferguson Farmers Market. I had to buy them.

It goes back to an experience I had last year.

It was March. For the kids’ spring break, we asked Aunt Marcy and Uncle Ken if we could stay a few days at the clubhouse near Clearwater Lake, and they said yes.

The weather was cool and the lake was high, but that was fine by us. We just wanted a safe escape from the pandemic with no worries of running into other people.

Jadzia and the family at a recent trip to Clearwater Lake. Jadzia loved bratwurst more than almost anything. She also has her art notebook nearby.

I think I was photo-bombing Jadzia’s selfie here.

It turned out to be our final family vacation with Jadzia. In fact, St. Louis County issued a quarantine order that same weekend, and we mostly stayed home for the rest of the year.

Anyway, shortly after we arrived, I started raking leaves in the front yard. When I reached the section of the yard near the fire pit and some trees, I spotted several mushrooms. They looked an awful lot like photos I had seen of morel mushrooms. Excited to find them, I plucked them and set them aside.

Later I told Yoli about the mushrooms. She wanted to be certain they were real morels, sinec false morels can be toxic. My phone gets almost no internet service when we stay at the lake, so we couldn’t pull up any photos to check. Based on my memories, I felt confident they were real, but I couldn’t be certain. So we let them be, and I planned to bring them home with us.

Anyway, we enjoyed a fun several days, cooking outside, hiking, visiting the dam, trying to fish. When it was time to go home, my mind was consumed with packing, making sure the house was clean, and that we had put everything away. I forgot the morels.

When we arrived in Ferguson, I suddenly realized my mistake.

Even though I came home empty-handed, I consulted the internet just to see if my memories were right. Yep. Every photo I saw looked exactly like the mushrooms I had found. If only I had remembered to bring them home, we could have tried them.

Fast-forward to 2021. When I saw the morels at the market, I just had to buy them. Yes, they were way too expensive. But we had never tried them before, and everyone seemed to rave about them. So, I bought a pint container, and looked up some recipes for pan-frying them.

Yoli prepared them. First she washed them, then coated them in flour, and finally fried them in butter.

We ate them as a side with an alfredo pasta. Josie and Ludi each tried them and loved them. Joseph has no interest in mushrooms — or things made with butter, he said.

I couldn’t help but think of Jadzia. She had become an adventurous eater, and I am sure she would have tried the morels. I hope she would have loved them.

Breaded and fried morel mushrooms

Jadzia’s obituary

Jadzia Renaud

Jadzia Marie Renaud was welcomed into the kingdom of heaven on June 24, 2020, at the age of 14.

Jadzia was born Aug. 24, 2005, and attended the STEAM Academy at McCluer South-Berkeley High School, where she was a member of the mock trial team, book club and theater. She was a beautiful young woman remembered by teachers, friends and classmates as an inspiring leader, a person of honesty and integrity, wise beyond her years.

Jadzia was an artist, sketching illustrations daily in notebooks, sometimes sharing them with friends — but only very occasionally giving her parents a peek. She loved to sing and recently learned to whistle.

Jadzia was a scholar who loved the Ferguson-Florissant PROBE program. Twice, she was the district-wide spelling champion. In 2017 she reached the sixth round of the Post-Dispatch regional spelling bee finals.

She was a programmer, a tinkerer, and a founding member of the Viper Bots, a robotics team at Vogt Elementary. Her team was recognized on the floor of the Missouri House of Representatives in 2016.

She was all this and so much more.

Jadzia is survived by her parents, Joshua and Yolange Renaud (nee Zegarra Antelo); her loving siblings Ludivine, Josie and Joseph Renaud; her grandparents Joseph and Anita Renaud (nee George), and Hector Zegarra Barron and Lucila Antelo Flores; her great-grandmothers Janice Renaud (nee Becker) and Paddy Kuncas (formerly George, nee Lawrence); and numerous aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, teachers and neighbors in St. Louis, Texas, Bolivia, England and around the world who cared deeply about her.

Services: Visitation will be held Tuesday, June 30, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Grace Church, 2695 Creve Coeur Mill Road, Maryland Heights, MO 63043; followed by a service at 1 p.m. Interment will be private at Memorial Park Cemetery. The service will be live-streamed at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFa0Qh0lzq8

When Jadzia was very small, she was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder which affected her heart. She lived with this condition all her life, but never let it define her. The family asks that, in lieu of flowers, memorials be made to The Marfan Foundation online at marfan.org.

The Current at 50

Back row: Jeff Kuchno, Clint Zweifel, David Baugher, Wiley Price, Judi Burch Linville, Josh Renaud and Rick Jackoway Front row: Sharon Reus, Michelle McMurray, Kathleen Riddler
Back row: Jeff Kuchno, Clint Zweifel, David Baugher, Wiley Price, Judi Burch Linville, Josh Renaud and Rick Jackoway
Front row: Sharon Reus, Michelle McMurray, Kathleen Riddler

In November 1966, UMSL’s student newspaper published its first issue under the name “Current.” That means The Current turns 50 this year!

To celebrate, this year’s editor-in-chief, Kat Riddler, put together a fantastic banquet for the current Current staff, alumni and other interested folks.

Continue reading “The Current at 50”

Still thankful for the Rams

I’m definitely feeling all the outrage over the Rams leaving St. Louis to return to Los Angeles.

They were, overall, terrible for most of their years in St. Louis. They fleeced us to come here in 1995, and they fleeced us when they left, as we wasted millions hoping to keep them.

Joseph has a Rams jersey that he loves to wear. The older girls want to hate the Rams for going away. Hopefully I can get them all to embrace the Cowboys.

Still, I’d like to remember the bright spots. The “Greatest Show on Turf” years will remain amazing. For me, the Rams run to their second Super Bowl appearance is particularly meaningful.

Continue reading “Still thankful for the Rams”

Remembering Yolanda Salinas Hess

I was surprised this morning to see an obituary in the Post-Dispatch for Yolanda Salinas Hess. I wanted to share a little bit about her brief, but bright, impact on my life.
It started one morning late in Oct. 2002, when my dad told me to read an article in the Post-Dispatch about a new Hispanic bookstore that was opening in St. Ann. He said it had mentioned something about selling Bolivian music.

I read the story and headed over to “Librería Cultura Hispana” to see what sorts of Bolivian things they might have. I didn’t count on meeting a live, Bolivian person.

Continue reading “Remembering Yolanda Salinas Hess”

“Jerusalem”

israel3

This morning Yoli and I had a rare kid-free couple of hours. We thought it would be fun to to see the new film Jerusalem on the Imax screen at the St. Louis Science Center.

The film is very nicely done. Narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, it tries to show the different facets of Jerusalem through the inhabitants. The film features three girls: one Jewish, one Christian, and one Muslim, who talk about their lives in the different quarters of the old city. The film also features beautiful visuals, and a good helping of archaeology and sightseeing to explain why different faiths care so deeply about particular places.

Watching the film with Yoli transported me back to the year 2000. As the editor of the student newspaper at UMSL, I received a flyer in the mail inviting me to apply for a seminar in Israel for college newspaper editors sponsored by the American Jewish Committee. It didn’t take me long to decide to apply.

Continue reading ““Jerusalem””

The best Christmas present of all time

Two things came up recently which spurred me to write a blog post one year sooner than I originally planned.

The first thing is that I created a new website called Break Into Chat, which hosts a wiki about the history of old BBS door games as well a blog about retro computing topics. You can visit the website to learn more about the reasons why I created it.

The second thing is that my mom has been scanning truckloads of photos from Christmases past, then sharing them on Facebook.

These two seemingly unrelated threads converge in 1993, the year my parents surprised me and my brothers with the greatest Christmas present ever: The Atari Jaguar.

Please take a minute to click the link above and relive the memory with me!

Love, baseball and losses

There’s something about that first love. Or maybe it’s that first loss.

I remember a girl I loved, and the spark of hope that burned in me until the day I found out there was no chance, that she would be with someone else. And I grieved the loss of something which had never come to pass.

It was a time of intense sadness and lament. But I suppose old hopes must die, so that new hopes might live — and be fulfilled.

New joys come, years pass, life transforms but in some long-forgotten place, that loss lingers. A sensitive place. A ticklish place that gets a reaction if you touch it.

In my case, music does it. I’m a sucker for really good break-up albums and songs. It’s not that they resurrect a memory. Rather, the raw pain of the songwriter resonates with me, taps into my own little vein of sadness. I empathize and feel their righteous anger.

Does it work that way with baseball, too? I guess that it does.

Just as someone can remember their first love, I can remember when I first followed the St. Louis Cardinals of my own accord. When I began to collect and trade baseball cards, clip out newspaper articles, memorize stats. It was the early 1990s, and the Cardinals were not very good — but that never matters.

Then came 1996. The year the Cardinals hired Tony La Russa as their manager. The year they got back into the playoffs. The year they were one win away from reaching the World Series.

But then the unthinkable happened. The team unraveled with successive losses — 14-0, 3-1, 15-0 — and missed their opportunity.

As a kid, you grieve. But with baseball hope arises again each spring. There would be false starts along the way, but ultimately the Cardinals did get back into the World Series. Three times. They won it twice, including last year’s mind-blowing comebacks.

This year, the magic somehow seemed to be continuing. A miraculous Game 5 comeback in the division series made me believe it was meant to be. I was excited because my kids were getting into it. Jadzia was beginning to get the arcane rules of the game; Joseph was swinging any bat-like object he could find. Ludi was drawing circles on papers and pretending to keep score.

So when the Cardinals went up 3-1 in the NLCS, just one win away from reaching the World Series again, my heart soared. This was my team, on the verge of winning it all. Destiny.

But tonight it came crashing down. The Cardinals lost their third straight game to the Giants, and their opportunity is gone. It was painful, physically painful to watch. The churning in my stomach would not stop.

I had seen it, lived it before. It was 1996 again, and I mourned the loss of something that never happened. The loss of a dream. It was listening to a breakup album, feeling a resonance with past pain.

A girl. A team. Young loves. Young losses. You get over them, even forget them.

“It’s just a game.” “She’s just a girl.” “There’s always next year.” “There’s plenty of fish in the sea.”

Yes, yes, yes, and yes. My heart has already moved on to next spring.

But there’s something about loss. “I need my pain,” a wise fictional character once said.

Maybe we do, Captain. Maybe we do.