Love, Sweat and Helping Hands

Awesome crew: recovering and retrieving from the rubble

We climbed out of our storm shelter and wandered in a daze- not recognizing the strange landscape or the utterly destroyed house and belongings around us-there were no landmarks to guide us. It was like being a tourist on an alien planet. Every tree was torn out or broken off in the middle of the trunk, there were swirling patterns in the grass where mini-vortices plowed pathways; what looked like a disemboweled cow wrapped around a tree turned out to be our brand-new heat pump torn open and flung 100 yards. An oak tree was shoved halfway through a pear tree. The debris field continued in a wide swath, paper and metal and plastic and parts of our house having flown halfway to the county line. We walked quietly with our heads down, looking for things we could pick up and wonder at. Mike drifted over and handed me a scrap he’d found in the rubble: a tiny photo of me as a toddler, wide-eyed and surprised.

One of our neighbors came by in his truck to check on us. He drove us to a shelter set up at nearby Little Axe High School, which had been hit and mostly destroyed by the same tornado, but which had a concrete storm shelter. Terry had just lost his house too, and had his own concerns, yet he packed us into his cab, drove down  a ditch and under a fallen tree, and got us the hell out of there.

Little Axe School. Gizmo is wrapped safely in a bath towel. I had forgotten to put a cat carrier in the storm shelter and had to improvise. The towel was a lucky find. It was hanging from a 2x4 somewhere near the guest room bedframe; I found it in the immediate aftermath.

Friends arrived to take us home with them. More friends were there when we arrived, showering us with clothing, toiletries, kitty things, love and concern. Calls and emails came in from everywhere. The response was huge, overwhelming, magnificent, and humbling.

My studio has fallen onto the bedroom below, crushing the first floor of the house. The flatfile drawers at the upper left was filled with drawings. They are right now laid out flat and drying on the floor of our friend's garage.

Disaster brings out the greatness of a community. After the shock came an outpouring of support; there were heroes all around us. I’ve now seen angels with chainsaws, driving forklifts, filling out paperwork and bearing lasagna casseroles.

In the morning we waited for word of when we could return to our home. Our neighborhood had been hard hit by the storm- torn up, with one fatality and several critical injuries- It had been declared a disaster area. Not even homeowners were permitted through the barricades. In the meantime we did whatever we could in town, going down a long long checklist.

Mike locates his home office, which was not where he'd left it. It had moved several feet to the south. Rich Broughton stands by with axe, ready to chop anything that needs chopping.

Mike had gone into the storm shelter without taking his wallet (I had the foresight to take my purse, along with my cat and husband, so the morning after was a blur of re-establishing identity, ordering new credit cards and canceling checks (we pictured them floating lightly over Pottawatamie County like little pigeons). We stopped utility services, filled out change-of-address forms in the post office, and ran a dozen other errands. My great friend Becky Way drove all the way from Yukon, north of Oklahoma City, and became my defacto brain that day; mine was numb and faltering. At one point she took me to Starbucks for a coffee break. When my phone wouldn’t stop ringing, Becky gently placed it out of reach, put a sketchbook in my hands, and gave me the splendid gift of a few minutes of peace and calm. What a wise woman she is.

The wise and wondrous Becky Way, helping with salvage operations.

In the afternoon we heard residents were being let back in. We got a convoy of helpers and roared out to the sheriff’s checkpoint, where we met our insurance adjusters. They had inspected the debris, declaring our house a total loss; their eyes widened when we said we’d been home when the tornado hit. Our convoy moved slowly down the road and onward to tackle the huge task that lay ahead.

Bill Matthews, aquatic ecologist and Academic Chair of OU's Zoology Department, wields a mean chainsaw.

We are enormously grateful to so many people who have stepped forward to help- spending a day digging and salvaging, hauling and storing, simply being there for us over and over. There are so many to thank but I especially want to send out a huge thank you to Rich Broughton and Rosemary Knapp (and Vickie and Andy and Zorro!) who took us into their warm and happy home and made us feel like family; to Bill Matthews and Edie Marsh-Matthews, who were there Day 1 and thereafter; to Bill Shelton and Kiki Hiott who brought us things to wear and rescued our goldfish and many plants from my beloved garden, to Ola Fincke, who lent us the sanctuary of her beautiful house while we got our heads back on straight again. We owe a great debt of gratitude to Becky and Michael Way, who provided brain-power, strong backs, and the loan of a Jeep Cherokee to get around in and haul our muddy, wet, salvaged belongings.  A great thanks to countless OU graduate students, who took the intiative and helped in any number of large and small ways that touched our hearts. Looking from here, we see a future that’s in very  good hands.

There are many, many more, and we thank you all. We are fortunate  souls and have been blessed. I especially want to say a big thanks to you who have left so many heartfelt comments here at Drawing the Motmot. Both Mike and I have taken comfort from your well-wishes and the two of us are deeply grateful for the support of this online community. We thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.

9 thoughts on “Love, Sweat and Helping Hands

  1. Carol says:

    From Minnesota – many thoughts and prayers going your way. I’ve been shocked and amazed by your account of all this and very grateful you survived. I’ve been reading your blog for years and have always thought of you when hearing of storms in OK. Thanks so much for sharing this and thanks to all who have been such a help to you. Much love to you all …

  2. Ellen Q says:

    Debby. I know of you only through my friend Tim Ryans comments on facebook etc. But my heart goes out to you and your family. You. Are truly blessed with wonderful people around you and your response to such a tragic event is uplifting. I pray that you recover your artwork and that you are able to rebuild quickly!

  3. Ashira says:

    I am so, so sorry. D:

    At least you got your family and your kitty out safely. That’s what matters most, right?

    It ate your forest. ;___; That’s so sad.

  4. Sara says:

    Continue positive thoughts from Michigan. May life get easier and the way clearer with each passing day. Peace to you.

  5. Lynn Van Gundy says:

    Words are not enough in a disaster.

    Action matters.

    I am sending a check for Debby and Mike Kaspari in care of:

    Rebecca Renfro
    6024 SE Cornell Dr.
    Bartlesville, Oklahoma 74006

    That way the funds can go to whatever they feel they need the most.

    PLEASE consider sharing ANY amount too. A little bit of something can add up and be a big help.

    All the best,


    Oregon Coast

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