Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Tupelo Tornado 2014

Dear readers,

On the day after the 3 year anniversary of the storm system that demolished Smithville Mississippi and inspired the writing of one of my novels, a tornado landed a few miles from my home and ripped through the town of Tupelo. Tupelo is no stranger to this kind of storm. The town was destroyed by a similar storm in the 1930s. Somehow, this storm left only one fatality (over 200 died in the 1930s). Like in my novel, the siren near our home did not go off. My husband and I were in the yard with our sons, watching the clouds. I had just viewed a photo of the storm chasers' armored vehicle parked downtown and read that Jim Cantore was here. Until that moment, we had been unworried about the weather.

Standing in the yard, looking up, we could see clouds pouring in from three directions. The tree limbs were blown in circles. All of the clouds were white, except one big round cloud that brewed a dark purple. It was far enough in the distance that we kept standing, watching it swirl.

"That's the one," my husband said. "That one will drop to the northeast of us."

I was not scared. I could see the cloud and see that it was moving away from my home. When I first moved to Tornado Alley, the slightest clap of thunder sent me crying into a hallway or closet. On Monday, I walked calmly into my home and went back to work. When Corey said it would land northeast of us, I truly thought it would be far northeast of us, many towns distant.

It dropped about two miles away.

It dropped and it ate our town for lunch.

No. I take that back. It did not eat our town. It ate our buildings. It ate homes and businesses and trees and roads. It changed the landscape indefinitely. But our town stands stronger than ever.

The people of Tupelo amazed me in the aftermath of my friend's husband being shot in the line of duty, and they amazed me again this week. My husband has spent almost every moment holding a chainsaw and sweating through his clothes. My sons, at 9 and 12, spent an entire day sawing limbs. They freed one woman from her home and have been clearing roads and yards for church members. I haven't seen the damage firsthand. I've followed the rules and stayed home, out of the way. Our power is spotty, but the issue seems so unimportant in the face of so much devastation.

Two of our teens had a tree come into their basement right where they'd been standing seconds before. My friend's 91-year-old great aunt survived the 1930s tornado, on her 13th birthday, and survived this one as well, despite it tearing her house up around where she stood clinging to her walker. Somehow, we had only one fatality here in Tupelo. Looking at photos and listening to stories, I don't know how this is possible. I refuse to be one of those people who claims our safety as God's blessing. What does that say about those who were not so lucky? I don't believe God ignored other towns and protected lives in Tupelo because we are some kind of special. But it does seem supernatural, the chances of only one death from this storm.

Our town lost a young man in Alabama as well. A Tupelo boy pushed his girlfriend out of the way and died saving her.

We are a town in mourning this week. I struggle to focus on my manuscript or on reading or on anything much, other than staring out my window at the sky. I can't stop studying the clouds, as though there is a message there, an answer to so many questions.

I wanted to check in here, because many of my readers know my family lives in Tupelo. We are safe. Please pray for those who have lost so much, in Tupelo and across the nation.

Remember what matters today, friends. Remember that your house is only walls. Your family… they are what matters.


The following photos were taken by Katie Grace, one of our youth. What I learned from the Smithville tornado, however, is that photos cannot show the truth of the destruction.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

My Heart is in Third Grade

Pre-3rd grade, but as close as I could get.

In third grade, I sat next to Jeremy. I can't recall his last name. He had spiky blond hair. He was skinny. I think he might have had freckles. If I could find a yearbook from my school for that year, I could tell you for sure, but I only have Kindergarten and 5th grade, and he moved away in 3rd.

I had a crush on Jeremy. He was cute.

This was different for me, a crush on a blond kid. From 1st grade until high school, I was head over heels (not-so-secretly) enamored by a dark haired boy sometimes mistaken for my brother by our bus driver. It was the midnight hair that did it, I think. We were neither Hispanic not Asian, yet our hair was like the wings of ravens.

But I digress.

One day, I looked over at Jeremy's desk. He had been trying to get my attention, nudging my arm or motioning. I can't remember. Whatever the method, it worked, and I glanced his way. His Trapper Keeper was open and, on the cover nearest me, I could read his writing.

"I love Heather."

That's what it said. My little nine-year-old heart fluttered to my throat. I'm sure I blushed. I looked away, looked at my hands, screamed silently with excitement.

But I didn't say a word. I did not write anything on my notebook in way of reply. I just held his message inside and felt happy and nervous and like the whole world was a beautiful place. My life might just work out like my heroine's.

That heroine would have been Jessica Wakefield. Don't judge me.

Within a few days, the words were erased from Jeremy's notebook. He walked into class with my friend, Ashley. He called her his girlfriend.

My oh-so-romantic third grade love affair had ended. I felt deflated. Why didn't he like me anymore?

In hindsight, it's sort of a duh situation. As far as Jeremy could tell, I had completely ignored his childlike advance. I must have seemed uninterested in playing the role of girlfriend.

The pessimist in me thinks it also could have been a joke, never true in the first place. Later years yielded plenty of those kinds of events. Kids found torturing me a fun distraction. By middle school, I held no hope that ANY BOY would ever write "I love Heather" on his notebook again. Yes, at thirteen years old, I already knew I was romantically doomed.

Why am I telling you this?

I don't know. The memory has been replaying in my head all week. I've chased it around by the tail, trying to figure out a meaning.

I want it to mean that things will be different. That, as a writer, I am putting myself out there. One day I will have a book on a shelf in your local indie bookstore and you will be waiting in line so I can write my own name on the title page. I no longer need anyone else to write my name, in truth or in jest.

But maybe it is the opposite. Maybe I am afraid it is happening again. That I have an agent and editors have praised my writing, but soon the tide will turn and I will see my own beloved career waltzing into class with another writer on its arm. What if the cosmos are playing a horrible joke on me?

Maybe my heart is still in 3rd grade.

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