Tuscaloosa: A Story of Resilience and Grace After One of the Worst Tornadoes in History


My Grandmother's neighborhood last summer
It's the trees.  To the naked eye thats what we notice first.  In a city whose moniker is THE DRUID CITY, Druid meaning trees, thousands of trees missing changes our view that we loved forever. Trees hundreds of years old, snapped in half like matchsticks, now jutting up like spikes from the ground. It looks like a wasteland.  Hundred year old homes, small homes from the 40s and 50s, neighborhoods that are on the National Historic Registry, like my grandmother's in Glendale Gardens, wiped out like an atomic bomb went off.  Future generations will have a different Tuscaloosa to look at.  It will be a NEW normal.


My nephew Corey and me last summer
In the minutes following the F5 tornado that ravaged my precious special home town, the one who plays muse to all my writing, my literary inspiration, I called my nephews and heard horrific stories.  One of them went to check on a friend and found him dead under rubble.  He is only 20.  My other nephew described how he will never ever forget hearing the piercing silence, then the dead air filling with the screams.  A deadly deafening silence falling over the once bustling city of about 90,000, home to my Bama Crimson Tide, and for miles around, only the screaming could be heard.  That's what he said he will never be able to get out of his head. The broken bones, broken bodies, and broken hearts will mend over time.  But we will never be the same... the landscape has changed, and we are missing family members.  Neighborhoods shaded for hundreds of years in tree tunnels are gone. Lakes are drained as the search for bodies thrown intensifies. I am heartsick.  I cried for several days, weeping for my city and  called frantically and checked on my friends.  Thank God for FaceBook...it helped keep everyone in touch when the phones went down. Tuscaloosa is home to The famous University of Alabama, the Crimson Tide, and is filled with college students from all over the world.  Some of them still among the missing, though the campus itself was spared. Some of them beautiful smart young adults with graduation coming, and their lives stretching out in front of them reported among the dead. And some, calling Tuscaloosa home nine months out of the year have blessedly decided to stay and help rebuild.  They get it.  Tuscaloosa is special.  The youth and strong bodies, now so appreciated.  The students of The University help create the magic of this town. They are woven in the fabric.  The hospital was spared major damage, with windows blown out, but ran out of body bags the first night.  I have friends working all over town.  Just because I don't live there, doesn't mean Tuscaloosa doesn't live in me. It does.  Every minute of every day.  I have friends who are police officers, nurses, teachers all who worked round the clock in the immediate aftermath helping trapped victims and injured people.  I love these people.  They are the salt of the earth.  I heard accounts from them and some so horrific, it would be impossible to re-tell.  I think of them every minute now as they work tirelessly still trying to make sense of it all.  Why?  Someone told me not to ask why, just know we will get through it...together, like always, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, neighbor to neighbor and strangers to stranger.  No one is a stranger now. We are all each other's keeper.  My sister in law has worked and cooked and delivered and bagged snacks and not slept....in days.  She does what she does best, feed people. And heal people.
My sister-in-law Joyce

A disaster like this could wipe some cities off the map. Not my city.  When I say Tuscaloosa is like no place else on earth, I'm not joking.  Remember, I have lived nearly every place else and it's Tuscaloosa that pulses through my veins.  Why?  Most of my family is long gone from there now. Could it be the meandering Warrior River and it's misty liquid  sunsets?  The historical BAMA campus and their National Champion Football Team? The lyrical downtown, with it's fabled old movie palaces are the stars twinkling in this bright magical city.  But it's none of these things that keep me falling in love and now weeping for my town. Though all of these are stars in it's crown, what keeps me so mesmerized is the people here.  Filled with different races, different political beliefs and different religions, hell it's even got a few Auburn fans... its a diverse small town.  You don't find that very often unless its a world renowned college town like Tuscaloosa.  And as different as everyone is, the very fabric, the nature of Tuscaloosa is to exhibit great togetherness.  We help each other no matter what.  So they will not be down for long here.  No, Tuscaloosa is resilient to put it mildly.  And filled with grace under fire. A quiet Southern grace.   They have set up, organized and neighbors are helping neighbors.  Church volunteers riding through the ravaged neighborhoods and handing out power bars and water bottles to people who were total strangers last week...that's my Tuscaloosa.  Tuscaloosa is not just any city. The people who call it home and those who have left and still call it home, like yours truly, know this.  I find it hard to describe to outsiders.  It's the fact that generations of families have all lived here for a hundred years and so what for me is a thing of pure myticism, we have all become FAMILY.  And what do families do when one is in need or hurting, we all hurt together, and then we pull together like nobody else on earth.  So I know we will not be down for long.  It is not the way of Tuscaloosa to accept defeat on any level, not just on the football field. It will take time...and hundreds of millions of dollars...but the people that call Tuscaloosa home..ALL of us, will do anything in our power, to put us back together...as best we can. Because we understand the speacialness of this place.  The businesses will rebuild, probably in the same spots.  The homes lost will be rebuilt, new subdivisions will form.  AND FOOTBALL SEASON will come like a beacon in a darkened sky to give us all something to cheer for,  to smile about, something to help us feel normal again. Never before will football season be looked forward to like it will  be this year!   I saw Coach Saban visiting fans in the hospital in some pictures the other day.  They needed that more than he knows.
The helplessness one feels when so far away is painful beyond description.  I wanted to run home immediately and volunteer. Flights out were the most expensive I have seen.  I decided to raise as much money as I can and I will come home soon and be part of the re-building. I have to.  I am running home to hug and soothe and be soothed and help.  My job of raising my son is changing as he heads to college in August and when I kiss him goodbye, I will drive the 2300 miles to my sweet home Alabama and help Tuscaloosa.  Because I love this place like no place else on Earth.
The Alabama Crimson Tide "A" hangs is window of a destroyed car near campus
Please help Tuscaloosa rebuild.  Here are some places to send donations http://www.givetuscaloosa.com and another http://www.helptuscaloosaschools.com
Please give generously.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.