Tornado forces reflection on life's mementos

As weather predictions for last Friday became more intense, Oklahoman reporter Carrie Coppernoll searched her home for things her family holds dear.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL ccoppernoll@opubco.com Published: June 6, 2013

Friday afternoon I packed my family's lives into a duffel bag.

The skies were sunny, but we all knew something sinister was brewing.

I waited for my husband to get home from work so we could shelter with friends who have a basement. I had a few minutes to gather whatever I thought we might need.

Seeing the wake of the May 20 tornado in Moore, I was reminded how random these storms really are.

Homes are turned into giant piles of rubble, but a China cabinet is left untouched. Trees are stripped of their bark, but day lilies still show their bright orange petals.

We have absolutely no control.

I looked around my living room.

What could never be replaced? What could I buy again some day if I had to? What could fit into this bag?

I wept into my hands.

Our homes are the backdrops of our memories. My husband and I began our life together in this house. Our daughter took her first steps on this living room floor.

Moms are often the family secretaries and historians. I had to get this right.

I said a prayer out loud: “Lord, help me get it together.”

I stopped crying and sized up the duffel bag.

I limited myself to the books that were irreplaceable. My grandma's Bible. My grandpa's prayer book. The baby journal my mom kept after I was born. My childhood copy of “Peter Rabbit.”

Nearly all our photos are stored online somewhere, so I tried to grab only the pictures I couldn't replace, like the photo booth strips that my husband and I take every year on our anniversary. I plucked my 3-year-old daughter's birthday photos off the wall. Why haven't I scanned these things already?

I tried to think of what my husband would want. A shiny, black ceramic bowl he made in high school. A photo album. A rumpled picture of him as a toddler with his grandparents.

I scanned shelves and cupboards for other things. I found my aunt's bracelet. I gathered the medals from my half-marathons.

I couldn't find the tiny shirt my girl wore home from the hospital after she was born.

I tucked a Dora the Explorer doll into the side pocket with a pink and orange Dr. Seuss doll, whom our daughter inexplicably named Marjorie. I thought maybe Dora and Marjorie would be the most comforting to her if she was afraid. I brought “Where the Wild Things Are” in case she wanted to read.

I brought just a few practical things, like medicine and clothes for our little girl.

I stashed a few small things in my purse — our passports, rings from my mother and grandmothers, a locket from my great-grandmother. I put a ceramic fish we bought on our honeymoon into a side pocket.

I did one last walk-through and left the house.

The tornado that crashed into Oklahoma City was about a mile from our house — not far considering it was 2.6 miles wide, the widest ever documented.

When we got home, we had standing water and a few branches down.

Most importantly, all of us survived.

I haven't unpacked the duffel bag yet. Maybe it's because it is the only thing I can control about these storms. Maybe I want to hold on to memories just a little tighter.