Last week (in Tornado: Part One) I told the tale of the day the tornado struck and the
And now here is the aftermath of that storm.
Rural areas around Hickson, 13 km north of Woodstock, and a wide swath south and east of the city showed only too clearly the devastating damage left by the tornado.
What happened to your father’s car?
We found out where it was and went to the auto body. It didn’t look horrible. The windows were all knocked out, dents all over the car, but it looked damaged enough. We got the insurance and the things we needed out. I am not sure what ended up happening to it.
What did you and Dad do the next morning?
We went out to the farm and I was just shocked. By then already there were chainsaws going, people were cutting up the trees.
I don’t think I did anything but walk around that day from the barn to the house to the driving shed, everything was just completely gone.
Back then they still let you go through all your stuff. I wandered through the rooms. Today they would bring in crews and would need to check the structure of the house before they would even let you go in.
There was broken glass all over and shards of glass were driven right into the kitchen counters. The walls upstairs were completely torn off. My old bedroom was completely open to the sky. My wedding gown had been in one of the spare bedroom closets. We found it stuck up in one of the pine trees. shredded and dirty. Somebody else must have taken it down already because I don’t think I did that.
The little kids swing set was still standing unharmed with pine trees ripped out on all sides of it, from when we were kids. We had that swing set.
(I used to swing on this set with my cousins when we were growing up. My youngest uncle would live on this farm for many years, after my grandparents retired and passed the farm to him.
My grandfather gave a swing set like this to each of his children for their children. Ours stands there still and now my nephews and niece play on it. It is a strong structure, as strong as the man it came from had been.)
What did you and Mom do and see that next morning?
We drove out and as we got there we could see how much damage was done. All the trees were down…tuns of people already, chainsaws going. Mom met her family…lots of hugs and crying, surveying the damage, driving shed gone and debris all over the place.
It was only nine or nine thirty and there were already probably one hundred people there, people…people showing up all the time. Family and friends just kept on showing up.
What damage was there to any vehicles?
The freezer had fallen against your uncle’s car. It had been in the garage and the garage had been attached to the house by a little breezeway. That wall had fallen…on his car, which was in pretty bad shape.
What other damage did you notice?
Outside I looked up and could see the bathroom wall was gone, you could see the bathtub and toilet. The house was quite damaged, especially the top, a lot of water damage. The staircase was damaged with bricks all over the place. I thought I walked upstairs. Sometimes…it’s thirty five years ago and it’s pretty traumatic. Some of the finer parts…I might have forgot. Chaos all day…people working, doing this or that. I don’t know what we did all day. I don’t remember me doing anything all day either…people bringing food.
When you first saw it, did it still look like the house you grew up in?
There was a nice stained glass window in the living room, it was all shattered to pieces. Most of the downstairs windows were all blown out. The stairs were all full of bricks.
How long had that house been there?
It had previous owners. It was built somewhere around nineteen-hundred. It was already almost eighty years old when this happened, but it had a double brick layer, a beautiful old farm house.
What did you say and what did they say when you finally saw your parents?
They both explained where they were and what it felt like.
The loud roar of everything being torn up above would have been frightening I’m sure.
She didn’t know where grandpa and bruce were. She had no idea. She stayed crouched beside the oil tank in the basement, next to the furnace.
They were out in the barn milking cows at the time.
They went over to the milk house because it was buried in the barn bank. two walls were buried in the bank and the third wall was against the barn, figuring that would be the safest place. The doors blew open and it got really really windy in there so they moved just inside the barn on or underneath the steps. As they did that there was a horrible loud sound and the silo broke apart and fell down on top of the milk house. If they had stayed where they were they would have been crushed by huge slabs of concrete.
(Grandpa and my uncle laid there, my grandpa covering my uncle and the dog somewhere in there too.)
Was her name Lassie? Didn’t you have several dogs named that growing up?
Quite a few. Grandma liked to name her dogs Lassie. The poor dog. She went deaf after that tornado. She never heard again. Whether it was just stress or the pressure of the wind.
It took their farm but the farm north of them and the farm south were perfectly fine. Then it went over to the next road. It hit the river bed and kind of followed along the river. Then jumped out…there’s one woods along the highway and it went through there and all the trees were just wrecked.
(For a while during my conducting of these interviews my two parents spoke of their memories and recollections together. Mom remembered what was necessary to protect the ruined property early on and Dad chimed in with what they both recalled of a particular situation.)
My uncle stayed over night to make sure nobody came out to steal anything. The telephone still worked. Well, I think you could call out but you couldn’t call in.
Wasn’t there some guy? my father reminded her, not having to finish his sentence.
When they were chopping up white birch trees…some guy started loading it in his truck. “Hey! This isn’t a free-for-all!” My mom recounted.
A lot of people were helping out, weren’t they? I asked naively.
Yeah, a lot of people but not strangers putting in their trunk to take home. HE was taking wood. Why would you take wood. You’d chop that up.
(Both their memories intersect and overlap and one had a picture of the details of those days that the other did not or which did not match up at times.
My father still recalls the tornado falling on a Tuesday while my mother does not recall the actual dates, him being better with those sorts of details. That is a trait I inherited from my father. He remembered details such as where the holidays were spent that first year after the tornado.)
We had Christmas dinner down there that first year, Christmas of seventy-nine.
What other damage did you and Mom notice as you wandered around that next day?
The chimney had fallen on top of Grandpa’s car.
How were you involved in the days that followed?
We were there constantly, back and forth everyday. I was off work for a couple days.
How did Grandpa seem to be holding up to you?
Confused, in a bit of a daze with everything that had just happened to them.
When did the rebuilding begin?
Grandpa had to decide if he wanted to even rebuild. Someone down the road might have sold their farm to him if they had been ready to retire…I remember him talking about that.
Finally they decided they were going to rebuild and by the next week there were men working to rebuild the top of the barn.
Mennonites are Christian Anabaptists who follow the teachings of European religious leader Menno Simons (1496-1561). They believe in pacifism, non-violence and simplicity. The Anabaptists (meaning “re-baptizers”) arose from the Protestant Reformation. They rejected the idea of infant baptism, believing the practice should be a voluntary expression of faith. Their descendants include the Amish, Baptists, Hutterites, Mennonites and Quakers.
. According to their website, The Mennonite Disaster Service was first organized in Kansas in 1950. It was an extension of the Mennonite practice of mutual aid, and the belief that their faith is best expressed through daily caring for one another. When church members or neighbours lost a barn in a fire, flood or tornado, the Mennonites would raise a new barn “to represent the love of Jesus Christ and the power of collaboration.”
. The Mennonite Disaster Service now claims the involvement of more than 3,000 Anabaptist churches and districts. They organize and manage volunteer labour, but do not provide direct material or financial donations to victims.
How did your parents find out about their car and all that had happened at home while they were away?
A week and half later mike (his brother/my uncle) and I went to meet them. Obviously, we had to pick them up at the airport and we told them what had happened. They said they remembered seeing something in the paper about a tornado somewhere around here, not if they knew where. Back then you didn’t have the same news as today. They didn’t realize it had hit at home here.
Even your father helped out didn’t he?
My dad was still working, but he came, as a brick layer. He helped fix some of the barn, pens and around the windows and doors. He would come sometimes after work.
There were people milling around, not as many people as the first few days, but it was a lot of mess around to be cleaned up still.
Where did your parents live once their home was practically destroyed? Did they stay with family?
They did for probably the first week or so and then their friends lent them a Winnebago they parked on the farm so they could stay right there because they had cows to milk and people were there all times of the day and night.
Did all the animals survive?
All the cows were fine. There could have been some pigs lost. I don’t know if there were some sows outside probably.
But most of the animals inside the barn…the tornado took off the whole top. The top of the barn was full of both straw and hay. It took the barn walls and roof and most of the hay and straw were blown away, but the floor of the barn was left in tact and therefor all the animals below it were protected.
There aren’t that many windows in a barn and they are all solid stone and concrete sides.
What other damage and destruction was there?
There was corn out in the field and it looked like someone just took a big roller over it and flattened it right to the ground. It was just pushed over sideways from all the rain and wind. Most of it wasn’t broken off. It was just pushed over sideways and flat.
One of my old report cards…up in the attic already…it blew to Drumbo, which was ten miles away. Somebody found it in their field. I got it back. Somebody eventually recognized my name and returned it to me. It was a little tattered, but it was still very legible…probably had gotten wet but had dried out and laying in a field. You didn’t know whose stuff was whose. We could have been picking up debris from the neighbours. A lot of it was broken pieces of things. Very few things were left in tact.
What happened next?
And then the clean-up began. I used to go out there every day and bring a basket of laundry home with me every night because everybody’s clothes would be filthy dirty.
Then we started knocking the mortar off, to reuse some of the bricks. Grandpa sold the bricks from the house. The whole structure was torn down. First, salvaging what you could, taking out all your personal stuff, Grandma’s photo albums were in cabinets right in the interior of the house inside closed doors so most of them were okay. She had a lot of her personal effects like that still kept. Anything out oven a room or upstairs was taken away pretty much.
It was a matter of taking all that stuff out and then where to put it. It got taken to a lot of different places. For months and months afterward, when they finally moved into their new house people were returning with boxes and boxes of the stuff they had taken to keep for them.
Many different people came and helped and then those people would take boxes of stuff to their own homes because there was no place to store it. There were no buildings left to put it into.
How long before they got their belongings back then?
It took probably almost a year after before they got all their stuff back. You didn’t know what all you were missing initially because so many people packed it into boxes and took it away. That way a lot of people cleaned up stuff for grandma so she didn’t have to do it all. For months after even food from the freezer was returned, stuff they didn’t even remember they had had.
Grandma dealt with pain and fatigue from fibromyalgia for years at this time. was all the stress hard on her condition?
Yeah she did. I’m sure it was. Sometimes you go on adrenaline initially but yeah Im sure it was hard on her too but she did well considering. Sometimes you don’t really get a chance to think of yourself. when you’re caught up with so many different things and
that was why it was good to be right there. She could go lay down anytime she wanted to.
How long before they could move back into their house?
They didn’t get into their house until almost Christmas. They were just thrilled when they could move into the basement. They just set up sheets to divide and separate the room for privacy.
One couch was rescued but their living room furniture was ruined. They had to buy a new living room set after they moved into their house.
(Years later the surviving couch was still in use in the family room of their little house. The arms were ripped, but at least it was well-worn.)
How long before the new house was totally rebuilt?
It would have probably been Feb or March before they actually moved in upstairs.
By spring all the rest, all the outside was done.
They had insurance so that paid for the majority of stuff. They had someone come in and paint and do all that stuff so Grandma didn’t have to.
How did this affect them financially?
The community, they had a tornado fund. I can’t remember if they got seven thousand dollars or how much they got.
What did Grandpa do going forward?
He took all the pine trees that were wrecked and took all the tree trunks and sawed them into 2 by fours to build the barn. Had to buy some but that really helped with the lumber, to keep down the cost too.
You were pregnant and then a first-time mom when all of this was going on. What was that like?
We spent that whole fall and into spring…almost every day I would go out to the farm. There’d be something to clean up…work at.
I felt fine…I felt good. I would take some days off, but spent a lot of days out there.
Paul and I went out fairly often in the spring.
It’s strange finishing the interview with her with Raffi on the television while my nephew sleeps in the next room, reminding me of a time on our old home movies with Raffi on in the background as children. That was only a few years after all this, but now it has been thirty five and I try again to imagine what it was like that day for them all and over the ones to come.
All I and many people imagine of a tornado when we try to picture one is that famous scene from The Wizard of Oz, on that Kansas farm in the thirties, a time long gone. That is even what I use as a visual in my own head.
I wanted to look back on what it was really like, with the only two people I can now ask. I want to thank my wonderful parents for telling their story and for the life they made for my siblings and I after that day that changed everything.
Some of the quotes from immediately after the fact I took from the following sources:
Kitchener Waterloo Record
Written by Sheila hannon