The first three days after the tornado, we literally spent hours on the phone trying to find a rental car and a place to live. The entire state had been hit so hard, that neither one of those things was to be found anywhere. Finally, on the fourth day, we moved in with our oldest daughter and her husband. They had moved into their new home the day of the tornado and now we were moving in with them. I can’t tell you how badly I felt for them as a newly married couple, having all of us living there with them but we were thankful just the same. A week later, we found a used Suburban to purchase. It was over-priced but we were desperate and sadly, many people saw this time as an opportunity to make money.
The next three months were a whirlwind, almost as crazy as the original tornado. Our insurance agent who, just months before the tornado, had talked us into policy changes, now informed us that we were under-insured and not eligible for a full policy payout. I quickly woke up from my misery. Pissing me off when I am already an emotional wreck is never a good thing. I threw him off our property and began looking for an attorney. It was one thing for a damn tornado to take my crap. It was a whole different drama for an insurance company to try and mess with me. It was on!
By the end of those first three months, we had found a trailer, an attorney and a contractor. It was like the beginning of a bad joke. Seriously! The trailer was a thirty year old beauty. Ok, not really. It was an old nag that had been ridden hard and put away wet but at least we would have a place to live and be back on the farm. The goal was to live in The Nest, as we named the trailer, for about six months. Just long enough to rebuild the farmhouse from the frame up. There had been so much damage to the house that it had to be torn down to the studs and rebuilt, according to the inspectors. It would take us an additional two months of depositions and gathering evidence before we would see an insurance payoff. They actually had the nerve at one point to ask if we were sure we had been hit by a tornado since FEMA did not show one in our area that night. “Ummmm…let me think about that Mr. Harvard Attorney. You are so much smarter than us dumb Okies that I am just sure you must be right. How in the world could I have possibly thought a tornado did this to my farm? It must have been something else. Something that was our own ignorant fault. Something like ….oh I don’t know….a barn dance that got out of control, gosh darn it!” Yep, I pretty much said that to the attorney, all while glaring between him and the insurance adjuster. The deposition immediately ended, they cancelled Bob’s depo and made payment in full by the end of the week.
Five months after the tornado, we were finally ready to begin rebuilding. We had looked for a contractor for months with no luck until one day, one found us. He had heard about our troubles and drove out to the farm to offer his services. He specialized in restoring old homes and was really excited about helping us. He became an instant friend. That should have been our first red flag. There would be plenty of other warning signs along the way. We like to think we were just too desperate, tired and shell-shocked to notice them. The truth is, it aint easy being that stupid. So, eighteen months after the tornado, our house sat worse off than before, our contractor was gone and had conveniently taken our insurance money with him. We would find out later, this man was never a contractor and in fact, had a criminal record from another state for fraud. I hate to admit it now, but the truth is, I went into a serious depression after realizing how foolish we had been. I entered counseling, cried a lot and tried to focus on finding happiness as the Queen of a Single Wide.
One day while I was sitting in our living room, just waiting for Jerry Springer to knock on the trailer door any minute, the phone rang. The largest and most prestigious law firm in Oklahoma had somehow heard about us and was calling to offer their services … AT NO CHARGE! At first, I thought, yeah right but I agreed to meet their assigned attorney the next day. Once I sat in that incredibly beautiful office and realized they were serious about helping us, I fell apart. That blubbery cry did more for me than weeks of therapy. So, Crowe and Dunlevy went after the “contractor” getting back $45,000, about half of what he took. There was nothing else left to get. The cost to rebuild our home was about $150,000. We had no idea how this was ever going to happen or if it was ever going to happen. Life seemed fairly bleak. We decided to take the money we had, and at least put the roof back on along with all new doors and windows. We also had enough to have all the plumbing and electrical replaced. We took out a loan to have Sears put siding on the house and to hire a real contractor to finish the drywall that had been started but never finished. Then, the house just sat. With no money to complete the project, we went on living in The Nest, watching the farmhouse watch us. The last straw was when a snowstorm hit, lasting for days, freezing our pipes and leaving us with no water. I finally yelled at God, “Ok, I get it! Whatever it is You’re trying to teach me, I get it! Enough already!”
It wasn’t a day later that a man named Jerry showed up at our door. He was the husband of a woman from our church. Jerry didn’t attend and we had never met. He had heard we were without water, so he loaded his car with jugs of fresh water and drove the forty-five minute drive to our house…in a snowstorm. So many people had done so much for us over the last two years, that I was worn out with being helped. That sounds so awful and ungrateful and I am ashamed to admit it. But, it is the truth of how I felt. I wanted to help myself and help others. I was tired of being the needy one. I am pretty sure this is when God probably laughed saying, “You don’t get it yet. But you will.”
After Jerry dropped off the water, he asked if he might walk through the farmhouse. I told him sure, and he left. I watched him walk across the field and go into the house. That’s when I turned and went back to my day, not giving Jerry another thought. Hours later, when the kids arrived from school, they asked who’s car was in the driveway. I looked outside and saw Jerry’s car. Panic hit and I ran to the farmhouse thinking something awful must have happened to him. What I found once inside, was Jerry, a man we didn't know before that day, sweeping and cleaning and preparing. He had gone all the way back home, picked up his tools and kerosene heaters and was working on our house. I stood there with my mouth open not knowing what to say. He started asking me questions about colors and flooring and what kind of bath fixtures and light fixtures did I want and…..
“Wait. Stop. We have no money. We can’t pay you. We can’t buy anything. We’re done.”
That’s when Jerry let me know even though we were done, he wasn’t. He was going to put our house back together with his own two hands and with his own money. He was retired and needed something to do was the big, fat excuse he gave. But I knew better. I smelled the mercy of God and instead of being thankful, I walked back over to the trailer, sat on my bed and cried angry tears. I did not want any more hand outs or helps up. I wanted my life back on my terms. My terms. God laughed.
Over the next month, I watched Jerry show up at the farmhouse day after day. He would arrive early in the morning and be there until evening. I rarely went over to see what was happening….at first. I convinced myself I just didn’t care anymore. Then one day, I walked over. There was Jerry, working, happy, talking my ear off as soon as he saw me. And it hit me. This man, who didn’t know us, didn’t owe us anything, didn’t go to church with us, this man was the perfect picture of how much God loved us and wanted to restore everything to us….including our joy. The most valuable thing I had lost over the last two years was my joy.
So, for the next five months or so, I walked over to the farmhouse in the mornings to meet Jerry. We had coffee and worked and talked. He taught me how to lay flooring and put up wallpaper and how to paint. He also taught me how to receive that which I have not earned and do not deserve. He taught me about love.
We moved back into our home April 2001. The old farmhouse went back to hosting Christmas Parties ....
(that's Jerry sitting on the floor to the right of the piano)
and wedding showers....
and exchange students...
and new babies at Thanksgiving time.
As for my joy. It never really left me. It just got lost in all the rubble for a bit.