Sunday Evening

Sunday evening, before the onset of the cruel aftershocks that continue to pummel our devastated city with remorseless storms and rescue-impeding rains, my youngest son and I undertook a journey to a destination he—a high school student and baseball player—seemed desperate to see.

He wanted to go to his school.

He had heard it had been destroyed and he wanted to see for himself, see if his home away from home—the school and the ballpark—were still there.

Just an hour after the historic tornado hit, we began our walk to Joplin High School. We stepped over thick, once-pulsating power lines; we listened to a natural gas main hiss an awful hiss as it filled the air with that unmistakable odor and imminent danger;  we stepped on and over shards of civilization—the wood, glass, and other fabric that make up a life-home; we passed by pummeled, twisted sheet metal no longer confined to driveways or cowering in garages, but like wildly wounded or dead tin soldiers on some strange and dreadful battlefield, they testified to the power of a fearsome and formidable opponent, in this case a monstrous whirlwind of nature.

In short, we walked through the rubble—how terrible it seems to call it that—and we watched the landscape, once so familiar, disorient us with its new unfamiliarity, the product of an appalling but natural disregard for our pattern-seeking and sense-making needs as human beings.

And that smell.

The stale smell that no CNN report can convey, no matter how detailed or how crowded with images. That wet-wood, musty, gassy smell that democratizes the neighborhoods, the poor and the middle-class and beyond, as it wafts through the scene.

And the sounds.

The unrelenting sirens, of all kinds, with their Doppler effects and with their piercing seriousness.  But the most amazing sound of all was the quasi-silence, the eerie effect of the shocked and shaken as they made their way to loved ones, or to be loved.

And then we turned the corner and there it was.  Our Hiroshima.

The school, and the surrounding landscape, was now a victim of nature’s Enola Gay, which dropped a Fujita-4 tornado in the middle of our city, and in the heart of the familiar, and in the education commons, the place where rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black and white, came together to learn, to socialize—and to play high school baseball.

From the elevated soccer field that overlooks the ballpark, the inspired geometry of the diamond was still discernible, even though the place had been leveled and the ground was littered with pieces of the neighborhood.  A four-wheel drive pickup made its way across the outfield to get to the street beyond, the fence no longer an obstacle, no longer a fence.

To the west, the houses were gone.  The houses whose windows and roofs had been the targets of years of foul balls, duds bounding off the bats of too-hopeful Major League aspirants. Those familiar houses were gone.  All of them, and all behind them, and behind them. 

And to the south, all gone.  And to the east.

And the boy, becoming by necessity that moment more manly, spotted a figure below, standing near the field, behind what used to be the visitor’s dugout.

“Coach Harryman!” he shouted.

And the stunned coach, whose attachment to the field and school is measured not just by years but by a career, turned around and greeted us, making his way up the hill to where we stood, his tearful wife soon by his side.  We shared our disbelief, exchanging inquiries about loved ones, standard practice around here these days.

Then it was time to get back home, before streetlight-less darkness made getting back home even more dangerous, the getting back home now even more necessary, after the sights we had seen.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Advertisements

23 Comments

  1. Duane, I”m glad you and your family came through it – whatever that means in the new world you’ll be inhabiting for a while.

    My heart is with your wounded city.

    Like

    • Moe,

      Thanks much. I have a feeling that the folks around here who lost their homes and possessions are still in shock and won’t feel the total brunt of this tragedy until they’ve picked through the piles and watched the national media move on to the next crisis.

      Those who have lost loved ones, of course, are already in touch with the reality of the thing.

      Duane

      Like

  2. Duane

    I’m glad to hear that you and your family are well, but saddened that so many others paid the ultimate price for the misfortune of living in the path of nature’s fury.

    Like

    • HLG,

      Thanks for that. As I have tried to tell others who haven’t been here, there just isn’t any way to describe or present in pictures the complete feeling one gets when confronted with the real thing. Nature’s fury, indeed.

      Duane

      Like

  3. Glad you and your son are well, Duane. Your description of the devastation is graphic. I was particularly struck by your description of the smell, a sense often omitted in such disaster descriptions but impossible to ignore in the reality:

    “The stale smell that no CNN report can convey, no matter how detailed or how crowded with images. That wet-wood, musty, gassy smell that democratizes the neighborhoods, the poor and the middle-class and beyond, as it wafts through the scene.”

    It conveys a sense that events are out of control, as of course they are. Your scene stands in stark contrast to that here at my house, a scant three miles north of the high school. Nothing to the eye here is changed. Such is the arbitrary character of natural disasters.

    As you say, it is human nature to try to perceive some meaning in it all, but the only message that’s really there is that nature is capricious. It is up to the tribe to survive the unpredictable, and from all accounts the tribe is rallying to help.

    Jim

    Like

    • Thanks, Jim. We were about six or seven blocks from the thing and thus didn’t have more than trees uprooted or broken off in our neighborhood. Your comment about the tribe is right on, of course. I have seen it firsthand.

      I am troubled, though, that the Republican tribe, which is part of the larger American tribe, will give us trouble in securing funds to help in the recovery. I hope those reports yesterday are wrong.

      Duane

      Like

  4. D.I.D.

     /  May 24, 2011

    Strength to you and your devestated community in getting through this horrible ordeal.

    Like

  5. Joplin is in my thoughts and prayers.

    Like

    • Bruce,

      Thanks Bruce. By the way, I discovered some great economic sites through your blog, especially Statistical Modeling, which I have just lately begun to read. Thanks for those, too.

      Duane

      Like

  6. I am glad you, your son, and Coach Harryman are OK. I hope they find more survivors. Prayers for the healing of Joplin.

    Like

    • Spinny,

      Thanks. The weather hasn’t been cooperating with the survivor hunt. It stormed again on Tuesday night and more is in the works it looks like. It will take a long time, measured in several years, for Joplin to recover from this hit. It’s bigger than most people can put their minds around right now.

      Duane

      Like

  7. Terrance H.

     /  May 24, 2011

    Duane,

    I am glad you and your kid are all O.K. That’s a relief.

    Like

  8. Terrance H.

     /  May 24, 2011

    I just found out something interesting.

    Apparently, my wife’s cousin lives in Joplin and their house was destroyed. They were hiding in the closet when the twister hit, and luckily, that was one of the only sections of the house still standing.

    I didn’t know she had family down there. I can only imagine the devastation and hopelessness the people feel. I’m sorry. I hope things work out all right.

    Like

    • Terrance,

      Thanks a lot. Your story about your wife’s cousin I have heard in some form or another dozens upon dozens of times. If you walk through these devastated neighborhoods, you will see parts of the structures, small parts, still standing. One hopes that if there were people in those homes when it hit, that they were in those pockets of relative safety. We know that many of them, like in the case you mentioned, were.

      Duane

      Like

  9. With every report about this event, I’m stunned. Prayers and strength to everyone there.

    Like

  10. We brought our grandkids to Parsons from Joplin so the parents can deal with the mess. The grandkids lost some young friends, ages 5 and 10.
    They also lost their home and vehicles,….but that’s just stuff.
    I wish I was big enough to hug the whole damned city.

    Like

  11. Nice sentiment, but the idea is a little scary.

    Like

  1. Blogfriend in Joplin | Whatever Works
  2. Blogfriend in Joplin…Whatever Works…. - Politicaldog101.Com
  3. I never forgot his post from Joplin, a year ago | Whatever Works
  4. Opinions in the Shorts: Vol. 141 « A Frank Angle
  5. East Coast storms and Oklahoma storms: totally not the same thing | Whatever Works
%d bloggers like this: