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

Tornado reconstruction continues

Spring has come to St. Louis early, and things are moving again at our house. Among the projects we still need to have completed are:

  • rebuilding the bottom of driveway where the tree’s root ball came up

  • fixing our yard … Probably needs some grading in places and some sod

Well, today we got a surprise. The driveway guys arrived ready to do their work. (I guess that’s what happens when you don’t top up your cell phone account right away)

Check out this video of the action.

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.

Waits and measures

Maybe waiting is the measure of a man. We have done our share of it.

Today, I daydreamed back to a sweltering Bolivian night eight years ago when we made pizza for Yoli’s family and I got down on one knee to propose. Not many days afterward, I boarded a plane bound for St. Louis.

I knew we would be separated for a while, working in two countries on the paperwork to obtain a fiancee visa. But I didn’t know how long.

How long turned out to be nine months. At the time I called it ‘the interminable wait.’

It seems to me that the waiting was hardest at the beginning (where the elation of getting engaged was followed by the loneliness of returning home alone) and near the end (though we never had a clear idea of when exactly “the end” would come).

My mind wandered, remembering those months of waiting, then returned to the present. I thought of our eighth wedding anniversary, just around the corner: Nov. 22 and 24.

But even sooner, I thought, our family will move back into the little brick house that was shattered by the Good Friday tornado.

Then it struck me: we have gone through another “interminable wait” this year.

In some ways it’s been harder. There was little joy at the outset, except maybe the solace that comes from knowing nobody was hurt and many of our possessions could be saved. There were so many unknowns: how do you pick a guy to cut down your tree? We chose one, and it went badly. Our temporary housing moved us farther away from all our usual places. We couldn’t walk Jadzia to kindergarten as we had planned, nor could we walk to the farmer’s market, or the bank, or the library.

But in some ways it’s been easier. Yes, we were separated from our house — but not from each other. We’ve been in exile, together. The rental house where we’ve lived was actually bigger than our own home, though it lacked some things (dishwasher). Our friends and family rallied around to help us. And our wait has lasted only six months, not nine.

Still, there’s no getting past the waiting. As with our engagment eight years ago, we had a vague notion of how long this reconstruction process would take. But the ending proved to be elusive. We would get close, and things would drag out.

At last, though, the finish line is in sight. Today our little house was full of people: cutting tiles, running pipes, painting walls, tracking in mud.

Tomorrow our long-stored belongings will begin to arrive at the house. Before the end of the week, we hope to be sleeping in our own beds again.

I would like to think that this “interminable wait” helped us, strengthened us inside.

Time will tell.

Progress reports

This week Jadzia brought home her first report card — or rather “mid-quarter progress report.” Her teacher had very nice things to say, and of course we are proud of how she is doing in school so far. Last week, Jadzia even got to host her grandpa for the school’s “Grandparents Day” festivities.

And I suppose it’s time for a progress report of a different kind: an update on our house. Keep reading for some more photos.

Continue reading “Progress reports”