A few years ago, I heard a quote that Mr. Rogers had said about what happens when tragedy hits: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping’” (Fred Rogers). This quote took me back to the day of June 1st, 2011. I woke up thinking it would be a normal day. I went to school and once leaving I noticed the greenish eerie tint the sky held. It was an extremely hot and humid day, so a thunderstorm to change this was long overdue. I walked a mile home like I did every day and once home I was greeted with my grandmother rushing me inside. She informed me with a quiver in her voice that there had been tornado warnings.
The weather alert alarm is a noise I will never forget. To this day, whenever I am watching T.V. and the test alarms come on, my heart races, and my mind goes back to the day of the tornado. After a half hour of watching my two brothers and I, my grandmother began to sense our unease as we looked out at the green sky, wondering if the warnings were something we should take seriously. In a panic, we called my mother, who was late getting home due to traffic.
She answered the phone as if nothing was wrong. She said calmly, “We get these warnings every year,— we live in Massachusetts! We have nothing to worry about.” By the time she got home, the calm in her voice had vanished. She had heard that the tornado had formed, and we had minimal time before it came our way. She grabbed snacks and rushed us into the basement knowing we could be down there for a while. From the basement, we heard the roaring winds and loud thunderous sounds. It was as if a God was banging on the sky. I looked out the tiny window we had in the top left corner of my basement and saw debris flying all over and witnessed the windows of my mother’s car shatter. I looked away, hiding my face. We began to pray, “In the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit, Ame– CRASH!” All we could hear was glass shattering, and the crashing of an object into our house. We huddled and attempted to wait for it to all pass, but knew our house was in a fragile state and worried it could not stand any more of the storm.
My mom stood up and told us to follow her. She told us that we were going to huddle, stay together, and run to my neighbor’s house, hoping their living conditions were better than ours. I knew from the sound of the crash that our house was in bad shape, but I never would have thought I would walk up the basement stairs to see a fully grown pine tree taking up the space of my living room. My younger brother yelled, “It smells like Christmas in here!” not old enough to realize the tragedy that just occurred. We were all in shock but came out of it quickly as our adrenaline kicked in. We stuck to our plan and stepped outside to run to our neighbor’s house. Once outside, I looked out at what used to be my neighborhood, now a space covered in huge pine trees, cables, and wires. I looked to my right, to see the Cathedral High School scoreboard on my neighbor’s lawn. We lived a mile away from Cathedral. It was all too much to take in at once, yet we kept running, being careful of downed power lines until we arrived at my neighbor’s house. They let us in willingly, and were relieved we were okay. Once the wind died down, we walked outside again. The whole neighborhood was checking on each other, asking if everyone was okay.
If not for my neighbors’ care and motivation, I would have never left my basement. After seeing the effect the tornado had on my neighborhood, I was afraid it would happen again especially with the unsettled weather in the days following the tornado. Once returning home from my neighbor’s house the day of the tornado, I went straight to the basement and did not come upstairs for two weeks. It was my neighbor George, the kindest man you’ll ever meet, whose words pushed me to leave and go outside. He softly spoke, “Everyone misses you. Let me make you a promise. I promise it will not happen again. I want you to come upstairs one time, and if you hate it, you can stay down here forever. Just come upstairs and see everyone that is helping.”
It was amazing to see people come together immediately after the tornado. Everyone helped each other out in a time of need. I saw families I’ve never seen before pulling wagons filled with bottled water and sandwiches for the neighborhood, along with the National Guard attempting to normalize the neighborhood I used to call home. It took the entire length of the summer for us to be able to see the ground of our backyard. At some points, we had up to thirty people at a time volunteering to help clear out our debris. As for the tree that split our house, our neighbors cut it all up, cleared it out of my home, and used a tarp as a temporary wall. The tornado brought us all together as a community and made us respect each other all the more. Block parties on the yearly anniversary date of the tornado became a ritual and the tornado soon became a story to tell.
Lydia Ryan is a senior at Minnechaug Regional High School. She hopes to be a journalist in the future. She enjoys hanging out with friends, binge watching her favorite TV shows, and spending time with her two brothers.