Here is the little speech I wrote for the Goderich Trees Project. They hosted a pot luck event tonight before their big 2 day plant this weekend. There were about 100 people in attendance, the majority of whom were from out of town, some from The United States, with ReTREET America. Due to time constrictions at the event I did not say it, but I didn't want it to go to waste so I thought I would post it here :)
My name is Melissa Wormington. I am 32 years old and live just around the corner from here. My husband Jeff is a Captain on the Goderich Fire Department and we have an 8 year old daughter and 4 1/2 year old son. We were home, crouched down in our basement stairwell when when the tornado came through on August 21. We learned that it was only a 12 second event. Before those 12 seconds had even ended, my husband's fire pager went off and he left to respond to the town's need for help, having no choice but to put that need ahead of the needs of our family. When my children and I emerged from our basement, I came to realize just how needy we suddenly were. Our front door had blown from one end of our house to the other. The windows were smashed. Floor joists had separated and broken. Walls had separated from the ceilings adn we could see the sky from our bedroom. There was a maple tree on our truck and our minvan had literally been picked up by the force of the wind and pushed into our garage, the big overhead door of which was now gone. 5 or 6 towering spruce trees in the backyard had snapped like matchsticks, falling through our yard and the yard behind us, destroying everything underneath them as they did so. 2 days later structural engineers decided our house would have to be demolished, which it was, 3 months later in November 2011. The footings for our new house went in the next day, and we moved back home this past March, 7 months post tornado. Of those families most severely affected, we were one of the lucky ones.
They told me I was strong. When I walked through town for at least an hour with my children and a friend, trying to meet up with my mom who drove in from an hour away and had to park at the bottom of the Saltford bridge and walk into town to reach us and take my children out, not knowing what I should be telling my children, not knowing where their Daddy was, what he was doing, whether or not he was safe, and who, of our friends in this town was dead or alive.
They told me I was strong, as I dealt with the insurance adjusters and engineers alone, fighting for what I believed we were entitled to while my husband was still fufilling his civic duties to this town, largely unavailable to me in those first few days.
They told me I was strong as 3 days later with the help of dear friends I packed the house my babies had started out in into boxes before it was condemned.
They told me I was strong as I tried to help my children make sense of what had happened in their lives, while struggling to make sense of it myself, moving them twice within 14 days and then again months later.
And they told me I was strong when I decided to make my family's story a public one, agreeing to speak to various media outlets and blogging our entire story online.
But as I laid awake in the days and weeks after, hearing sirens in my head long after they had stopped, I didn't feel strong. I was traumatized.
As I cried openly during phone conversations, counselling sessions and even daycare dropoffs, I didn't feel strong. I was raw.
As I grieved the losses this town and our nieghbourhoods had suffered, I didn't feel strong. I was sad.
As I stared out the windows watching the wind blow during subsequent storms, fear down to my very core, I didn't feel strong. I was scared.
When what I said and wrote was criticized and even attacked, I didn't feel strong. I felt vulnerable. Exposed.
The thing about this tornado, is that it wasn't a 12 second event that we are cleaning up after. It's a process we are living with. Every Single Day.
Through all of this though, I met some great people. Leaders emerged among normal, everyday citizens. They wanted to help. They cared. They saw, right from the beginning, what I couldn't.
Leaders like Jody Armsteadt and Luke Elliott. I didn't even know either one of them before last August, and now, around these parts they are practically household names.
My house was in the first group of homes to be finished, so my trees arrived last Spring, fittingly the same day as our Housewarming Party. Over the phone Jody discussed my options with me and as soon as I heard her say it I knew. An Oak Tree. Just think for a second - what does an oak tree symbolize? For me, there is one word: strength.
That oak tree stands tall in my backyard, having taken root and grown already over the summer. It's here for the long haul. It's going to live on for many years, growing with our children and with our family. It's strong. And everyday it reminds me that being back on that property, back in our neighbourhood, back in our backyard proves that we're strong too. We made it back. We got through what happened.
Life goes on.
Last weekend I stood at my window watching the parade of trees cross the 5 points and slowly make their way up this street towards Courthouse Park. Unable to stop myself, I cried at the sight of it.
The loss of the trees and the open skylines symbolize that we all lost something that day we will never get back. Something deep within us. And everytime we look up the lack of trees where there had once been so many reminds us - despite all of the rebuilding, all of the healing, something was still missing. When we have a parade for our trees, a convoy that halts traffic and moves people to tears...you know we have been through something remarkable here.
We went through it together. We all fell. We all lost. We all grieved.
But tonight, we're here. We're able to look forward. The group of volunteers with Goderich Trees has been quietly and diligently working for well over a year now to bring something that has been missing, back. The trees brought into the Square last weekend, the trees being planted in Benmiller and in our cemetary....and the oak tree standing in my backyard are there to remind us:
We ARE still here.
We started over.
Like these new trees, we have grown and will continue to grow.
Jody, Luke, and all of you who have descended on our town to help, what you have done and are doing, helps us to see in so many different ways what we the residents of this town couldn't at first...
That all of us, after what we have grieved, shared and experienced...when we come together, when we support eachother, when we work for the future....
We ARE strong.
4 hours ago