Tornado-struck family adjusting to altered lives

Friday, May 9, 2003

Residents of Jackson have seen what a tornado can do to a house, a doughnut shop, a school gymnasium and a dog training business.

News photographs and video clips show a tornado can do to a building what a lawnmower does to a paper cup.

But a tornado can do similar damage to people's plans and routines.

Days that began with work and ended with family time now begin with phone calls to insurance companies and still end with family time. Only, it's with extended family.

Take Paul and Calie Wilson, for instance.

The Wilsons, including Paul's 11-year-old son, Chaz, had just moved into their first home on Lakewoods Drive on April 30. Their first home was a nice one, a brick house near Bent Creek Golf Course. The deck out back served as a place to enjoy the shady back yard.

Wednesday was Calie's first day off since the move and she had made plans to unpack.

Several boxes, many of them filled with kitchen supplies, were waiting in the garage. She'd have a lot of work to do Wednesday.

The Wilsons, as they normally do, were watching their big-screen television in the living room when storm and tornado warnings were issued.

The Wilsons kept an eye on the television warnings and an ear to the outside.

Despite the warnings, they didn't move from their living room furniture until they heard the unmistakable roar of the twister.

They bolted down to the basement, just in time.

Chaz said he could feel the suction of the tornado and heard a deep rumbling sound as the tornado passed overhead.

Once the tornado past, the eerie sounds did not stop.

Baseball-sized hail stones pounded against the kitchen floor.

POP! POP! POP! POP!

"That was the eeriest noise," Calie said. "We heard the train noise of the tornado and the popping of the wood, but the sound of the hail hitting the kitchen tile was the worst."

When they heard the hail, they knew something was wrong with their house. At that point, they didn't know one of their vehicles, a small sports car, had landed in the living room they had left moments before.

Nothing normal

Two days after the twister, nothing is normal. Plans have changed. There is no routine.

A morning that may have begun with a trip to the closet now begins with a trip to the suitcase.

Paul had to go buy clothes for the family late Tuesday night at Wal-Mart. Their wardrobes were hanging in trees instead of closets.

Family and friends have been great about providing food, but meals aren't the same as they used to be. The Wilsons' diet has consisted mostly of fast-food lately.

And the list of errands that need to be done in the days following a tornado seems endless. But Paul and Calie have to bum a ride to go anywhere. Both cars were totaled.

The Wilsons are staying with relatives -- going back and forth between Paul's and Calie's parents --in the short term, but Chaz said he misses sleeping in his own home.

And so much for work. Paul won't make it back to Circuit City for at least another week and Calie said it would be that long before she went back to her work at Tuesday Morning Inc. at the Cape Girardeau town plaza.

Calie was supposed to go to a business trip to Dallas later this month. That trip has been canceled.

Calie's younger brother, Andy Haertling, a student at the University of Missouri, was supposed to visit the Wilsons after finals to help with some landscaping projects.

He'll have plenty of landscaping to help with, all right.

Paul's to-do list is a mile long.

"The first thing we have to do is find a place to stay," Paul said. "We'll stay with our parents for a while, but then we'll look for a place to rent.

"Then our first order of business will be to find some transportation so we can at least go to work. Then we'll start making plans of how we want our new house to look."

The Wilsons don't appear fazed by the disaster.

Calie said her faith in God has been strengthened by the ordeal and she has found a new appreciation for family and friends who have helped in so many ways. Calie's brother, Ted Haertling, works for an equipment company and has provided backhoes and other equipment for cleanup.

Wednesday, Chaz, a fifth-grader at St. Paul Lutheran, couldn't handle being around the mess anymore and asked to go somewhere else. He went to a friend's house, but he has learned a valuable lesson as well.

"It's been crazy," he said. "But we're lucky to have friends and family because without them, you wouldn't have anything."

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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