After the Storm

May 31st, 2011 at 11:03 am

Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:

(File photo – taken in 2007)


Residents of Reading are now part of a group that no one joins willingly, the tornado-survivor’s club.

Reading is one of Emporia’s sibling cities. Holding down K-170, this Lyon County town is part of our extended community. We hate that our friends, acquaintances, and family in Reading have been hit by this disaster, and we are saddened that the tornado took the life of Don Chesmore.

For Reading residents, their normal, everyday lives have been put on hold while they are forced to attend to basic needs. Many are now dealing with housing issues – a place to sit, sleep, and prepare meals. They’ve lost vehicles, furniture, and treasures.

While most of us in Lyon County are able to continue with our daily activities of work, dental appointments, and mowing the lawn, Reading residents have spent recent days avoiding rusty nails as they gathered belongings into boxes, cut up downed trees, and removed the rubble of broken glass and plaster. Many are living in temporary housing and will try to reshape their lives from those borrowed and rented rooms.

I can’t pretend to know what this feels like. I’ve never lost a home, have never had the walls of a house pulled away from me by a twister.

There are individual losses that residents will face, but they also will feel the loss of Reading as it was.

The tornado has tattooed upon this town the date May 21. That date will be used as a reference point from here on out; locals will think of the town as “before” and “after.” May 21 will be an anniversary to be noted in years hence. It will be the date when life turned a devastating corner, but it will eventually be remembered as a time in which they prevailed over tragedy, a time when people came together to help.

When all of the wreckage is hauled off, residents will be left with the sadness of vacant lots and too many tree stumps. The shade that they used to depend on is no longer there.

Meanwhile, the rest of us will do what we can: donate money and bottled water, paper products, or whatever is on the list of needed items. Many area folks have put on gloves and work shoes and helped clear the debris.

I can only imagine that the people in Reading are doing calculations in their minds, adding together hope and blessings, subtracting their losses, and with any luck, coming up with a positive balance that gets them through each day.

When I hear of the widespread help that is being extended to residents, an image keeps coming to my mind. Several years ago, at a brother-in-law’s graveside service, I watched his widow, my sister-in-law Deb, as she stood under the green funeral tent. Her friends waited in line to give her a hug. And it seemed to me that as each friend hugged her, a tiny bit of Deb’s grief fluttered up into the blue Kansas sky and it drifted away on the breeze.

Perhaps our small gestures of money and assistance will be like hugs to the residents of Reading. We hope that our reaching out will have some sort of healing effect for their hearts and their minds and their souls.

Here on the plains, the tornado is our nemesis, an opponent we cannot contain or conquer. We’re unable to reroute tornadoes away from farmhouses, away from towns, away from cities. In the spring, clouds turn eerie, sinister, murderous; we are left to the mercy of the sky, which sometimes offers no mercy at all.

Because our towns in Kansas have long-standing buildings, many of which are 100 years old or so, we have a sense of stability and feel immune somehow to tornadoes. So it’s easy to think that we’ll never actually experience something as tumultuous as this, that we will never have the wind toss our furniture out onto the lawn or send our roof sailing down the street. But, we are actually all just one storm away from disaster ourselves.

May our compassion and good will for Reading residents be visible and tangible. May we all share in the aid and assistance for this Lyon County town, helping in whatever ways we are able. This is our community.

Copyright 2011 ~ Cheryl Unruh



United Way of the Flint Hills announced that it has established a tornado relief fund for the long term recovery efforts in Reading. The United Way Tornado Relief Fund will serve as a central collection point for anyone wishing to make a monetary contribution to help the victims of the tornado in Reading.

Disasters such as these require the services of many organizations, especially for on-going assistance in the future. This United Way fund will provide a vehicle for that help.

The fund will be administered by United Way with no administration charge; 100 percent of each gift will go to disaster recovery assistance. Donors should make checks payable to United Way Tornado Relief, and mail to United Way of the Flint Hills, 702 Commercial Street, Suite 2-E, Emporia, KS 66801.

columns, life on the ground, small towns, weather

  1. heineken160
    May 31st, 2011 at 20:01 | #1

    Cheryl, this column is valuable regardless of state, Joplin, elsewhere. Regardless of where a tornado touches down, your reasoned and realistic point of view gives bearing for those whose lives are forever changed and must recover, move forward and move on from a new starting line. Your column contains strength against odds.

  2. Steve Scott
    June 1st, 2011 at 11:44 | #2

    Thanks for publishing the United Way Tornado Relief info…we’ll be forwarding a check to them soon…hope others will consider doing the same. My sister made it through the Joplin storm undamaged physically, but I sense it’s taken its’ toll on her psychologically. I’m sure the residents of Reading will suffer long after the clean-up and rebuilding in like fashion. Good wishes to all of them.
    Thanks for your work. Steve and Carla Scott, Lindsborg, KS

  3. June 1st, 2011 at 11:57 | #3

    Well said. You’ve pointed out a lot of things people reading a newspaper account would not realize.

  4. June 4th, 2011 at 21:35 | #4

    I just caught this in the Gazette. Really well written, Cheryl.