Tomorrow morning, I am going to have a very surreal answer to the question, “How was your weekend?”
Well, it was great! I hiked and skied Stratton, saw United We Ski, went to an estate auction, and my parents survived a tornado.
Let me emphasize that last bit… My parents survived a tornado.
Six years ago, give or take, my parents moved from their lifelong New England haunts to a town in Illinois. If you’ve seen the news today, you might have heard the names Peoria and Washington. My parents live in Washington. Lived? Is it past-tense already? I mean, the house is still there in that it still has four walls and some roof. But sections of siding were torn off, great chunks of roof are missing, every window in the house is broken. A swing set is in the bathroom. A neighbor’s sock was on the stove. And yet – the picture of sunflowers I painted in 7th grade was still on the wall, hanging at a drunken angle. I hate that painting. I never understood why Mom liked it so much and insisted on having it framed and put on display in the most public room of our house.
My brothers and I, separated on each coast, have no idea the real extent of the damage. We have no understanding of the senseless, random havoc a tornado unleashes. We just have pictures. Mother took a photo from “five houses away,” only there’s no frame of reference anymore. There are no houses anymore. No walls. No lovingly cultivated shrubbery. Just rubble. Two-by-fours broken and sticking out at weird angles. The colorful detritus of their neighbors’ daily lives.
When I was disconnected from my mother the first time, a small voice in me said, “There it is: the end of your good luck.” But even as the voice started whispering, a larger, stronger one interrupted. “No,” this other part of me said, “you are the luckiest girl in the world.”
When I heard my mother’s voice the second time, much calmer, focusing on the foreign sock on her beloved stove, I cried. I cried with relief and thankfulness and love. My parents are alive and unhurt – and so is that goddamn painting.
The third time I spoke to Mom, two of their local friends had already arrived and a third was just pulling in after a four hour drive from Minnesota. They sweet talked their way through the blockade (Washington, Illinois is now a disaster zone, which means limited access) to put plywood and plastic over the gaping windows. When my parents leave home tonight, they won’t know for sure when they’ll be let back in. They don’t know if looters will come in the night and pick through the remains. But I told her it didn’t matter. All that stuff’s just stuff. We’ll get her new pottery, buy Dad a new bicycle. We’ll replace all of those things. The detritus doesn’t matter. What matters is that we have them: Mom and Dad. (And the painting. No one in their right mind would steal that painting.)
This puts me in mind of The Burning House project – a collection of photographic responses to the question “what would you take with you?” The answer: Nothing, nothing. Just this. Just life.
Of course, not everyone in Washington and the surrounding areas were as lucky as my parents. Please keep their neighbors in your hearts.