Frizzi: Some Sunday morning

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My wife Heddy and I live right off the town square in Washington, Illinois. We can see the water tower from our house.

I got up about 10:30 on Sunday morning. My Pittsburgh Steelers were coming on local TV at noon. After the game, I was going to rake leaves. Or maybe after halftime, if we were losing badly. This just isn't our year.

It was raining when I woke up, which was fine. It would wet the leaves and make it easier for me to load them into bags.

I no sooner finished brushing my teeth when Heddy shouted upstairs that she heard on TV that we should take cover. I said OK, but since nothing really happens with warnings, I took my time getting dressed. I'd be down in a minute.

When I got to the living room, it was raining harder and the power went out. Since we had no TV to watch, the only thing to do was to go to the basement.

So, we took a radio, some flashlights and went to the basement near the beer fridge. It still didn't seem that bad. I have been in tornados before. The most memorable was when I was moving to Dallas and my car broke down in Little Rock, Ark. I had limped into an Exxon station off the highway and had my car fixed right before the storm hit. The folks that lived in the trailer park across the highway joined us because a brick gas station was their only shelter.

After the storm, the mechanic and his wife (she brought their kids over to wait out the storm) invited me to their house for supper and to spend the night. They didn't know me from Manson. But that's what people do. They help each other in a crisis.

Back to Sunday. With Heddy in the basement, I went upstairs to see just how bad this storm was supposed to be. I opened the front door. My Sunday paper was on the porch. The wind chimes were dancing but nothing seemed out of place.

I looked behind the water tower. The sky was pitch black, not green like you would expect. I saw no lightning. I heard no thunder.

I just heard a dull low steady roar.

It sounded like a freight train. But we have freight trains travel within a couple of blocks of our house, by the water tower and this sounded nothing like your conventional freight train.

So, I got my morning paper, locked the front door and joined Heddy in the basement.

We had the radio on and heard that a subdivision in Washington had been hit. So thoughts start running through your head like, "Which subdivision?" "Jim lives in the subdivision behind us, doesn't he? Doesn't Dave and his family live near there? Then you start hearing street names. "Cruger Road. Mary lives on Cruger Road."

The radio then told us that the Georgetown apartment complex was damaged and the local AutoZone was leveled. So you start running through your head what else got hit. Is the local restaurant where we would belly up to the counter and order breakfast still there? What about our Italian restaurant where I get my chicken parm? What about the high school? That sounds like it hit pretty close to the high school. Do we still have a CVS, a Walgreen's, a Kroger's, a town?

Our cat hates storms and heads toward the basement the minute she hears thunder. She was there well before we were. We knew the threat was over when she emerged and went upstairs. So, we followed her.

I looked outside. Nothing seemed out of place, no tree limbs down, no roofs gone, no homes damaged. But up and down the main streets, we could see fire trucks from Eureka and other surrounding towns screaming their way into Washington.

Then I looked at my street and saw a ceiling tile. And another. I picked up and put them in my trash can. I'll take it out to the curb later on. Trash pickup is always on Monday.

Our neighbor, Rick, is a guy who would give you the shirt off of his back. This is a guy who, the time we had a nasty blizzard, went up and down the street with his uber snow blower, clearing off sidewalk and driveway alike.

Because that's what people do.

Rick had pulled up in front of his house with three passengers. Their home was damaged in the storm and he brought them to his house. I asked him how bad the damage actually was.

He said he was going back over with a chainsaw to help clear away debris. He suggested that I go over and give people rides to wherever they needed to go since many people no longer had cars or trucks.

The subdivision was literally a right hand turn, across the railroad tracks by the water tower, and then a left hand turn. I went up just over a block when I was blocked by a woman sitting in the middle of the street in a lawn chair. She said they weren't letting any unnecessary vehicles through, so I parked the car on a side street and went to see if anyone needed a ride.

As I got closer, you could see bits of damage. A broken window here, some tree limbs there, a twisted trampoline in someone's front yard.

I helped some people clear a path on Devonshire so that trucks could get through. We moved pieces of roof, plywood, framing and trees off the street.

Then, it got worse.

I saw porch with one pillar left. The other one was in the yard.

I saw a mattress stuck in a tree.

I saw two cars that used to be in a garage. The left tail light was still flashing.

I saw a man walking down the street holding a crying cat.

I saw a aluminum extension ladder twisted like a piece of licorice.

I saw the end of a dog chain.

I saw a woman standing in the doorway, the only thing left in the front of her house. She was putting her belongings into a trash bag. Then, she looked around, shrugged her shoulders, dropped the trash bag and walked away.

I saw an end table from someone's living room stuck in an open manhole with yellow police tape wrapped around it.

I saw street signs that were bent so bad, the tops touched the ground.

I saw a damaged Christmas wreath.

I saw a kid's wagon full of clothing.

I saw a parakeet chirping in a cage in the back of a SUV.

I saw some kids hanging out in between two houses.

I saw a guy on a 4-wheeler offering people bottled water.

I saw broken toys and bent bicycles.

I saw a guy putting some dress shirts into his car and then slamming the car door in disgust.

I saw person after person going from house to house asking if they could help. I saw vans and trucks from businesses in the area move in to assist. It was like an army. They were set with ladders and tools, ready to do what they could.

Because that's what people do.

I walked by a house on Hampton Road and met a man who was helping his son salvage some clothes for his granddaughters. His son was standing on the rubble that was his daughters' bedroom. The room was tilted at a 30 degree angle. The little girls' father was pulling wet, soiled clothing out of drawers and closet, putting them into any type of container he could find, handed it to his father, who handed it to me and another person, who walked it out to a pickup truck. Footing is bad when you walk on rubble. I picked up a scraped scale model Dale Earnhardt car and put it into a bag with some laundry. The Tony Stewart model was badly damaged, so they told me to leave it. The son's van, I assume it was his, was now parked onto the far side of his pile of house.

I was looking for salvageable pictures. On the news, victims of Hurricane Sandy were happy when someone found their family pictures. On Devonshire, I found a picture of two ladies celebrating a past Christmas. Next to an overturned beat up tool cabinet on Hampton, I found a slide projector canister full of slides. Both are now at my house. I'm looking for a place to take them.

I saw my neighbor Rick and his chain saw. He was concerned that there may still be people buried in the damage. I told him that I didn't see any police, fire fighters or paramedics anymore so everyone was probably accounted for. I also didn't see any cadaver dogs.

Then, I thought to myself, "What did I just say? You only hear dialogue like that spoke in the movies or in the news." Not in real life to a neighbor!

I walked along Westgate where more homes were flattened. When you got to the edge of the mess, you could see where other homes, literally next door, were fully intact.

I stood in the middle of an intersection. I looked down each street and saw nothing but what used to be homes. Everything was leveled. A four block-by-six block area was completely and totally wiped out. It was uncanny. TV does not do a disaster like this justice.

It was starting to get dark and someone mentioned that they heard of people looting, so I decided to go home. I walked by a woman coming from her pile of splinters carrying a trash bag to her car. Trash bags do make good luggage in a pinch. I asked her if I could help. She laughed somewhat and said, "No thanks, I think I've got it all." Her whole life was in trash bags in the back of her car. But she still had her whole life ahead of her and she seemed to know that.

After Katrina, I heard many people question why anyone was crazy enough to live in New Orleans and why those who lost their homes would ever want to rebuild there. It's the same for those who live here and will rebuild here, smack in the middle of Tornado Alley. It's their home.

Heddy and I were very lucky. All we lost was power, which was back on just after 24 hours of the storm. That, in itself, is a phenomenal feat by the men and women who keep our lights on. And 24 hours later, I'm sitting in my easy chair and writing this, listening to the baseball channel on satellite radio. Heddy is watching a movie on DVD. We had a nice supper. Our cats are quite content.

It's a far cry from our neighbors who used to live just down the street.

About the Author
Donn Frizzi is a well-traveled man, if you consider Pennsylvania to southern Indiana to Texas and finally Peoria to be the definition of well traveled. But in each of his stops he gained certain insights that make him who he is — including a Pirates and Rangers fan who must travel to St. Louis to watch quality baseball without buying a plane ticket. Poetic justice, perhaps? A talented writer, Donn also can make a good point by putting pencil to paper and drawing with satirical splendor. We’re hoping to persuade him to grace our website with an occasional toon, as well.