It’s really a room in City Hall, but it looks more like the sorting room of a last-stop thrift shop.
Tables are covered with mud-stained photographs of beaming brides, drooling babies and a man in a plaid shirt, a forkful of potato salad an inch from his wide-open mouth. A grandfather’s clock, grimy sock puppet, tattered quilt and baseball glove sit forlorn, waiting to be reunited with their owners.
A few blocks away, a retired middle school teacher and retired nurse have set up shop at a library table where they’re hard at work collecting and assembling stories of their friends and neighbors into a keepsake book.
This is the scene in Parkersburg, Iowa, as reported by Reid Forgrave of the Des Moines Register this week, nearly three months after a powerful tornado ravaged the town of 1,889, killing eight and destroying 200 homes and businesses.
Besides the millions of dollars in material damages, the 200-mile-per-hour twister also swept away countless priceless family mementos, wiping out centuries of family history. Ever since the May 25 tornado those mementos have been trickling back home, including a quilt that was found on a rooftop 35 miles away.
Police chief Chris Luhring, recognizing the value of the items, created the lost and found area at City Hall. “There’s very sensitive stuff,” Luhring told Forgrave. “Stuff that’s priceless.”
Retired schoolteacher Ruth Haan and retired nurse Janet Johnson took on the unofficial role of town historians when they recognized the value of the stories of the townsfolk who had lived through the tornado. In late June they started collecting those stories.
“We gotta collect this stuff,” said Haan. “We’re just going to stick the stories together so 100 years from now someone … can read and learn their great-grandpa was in the tornado.”
Added Johnson: “I don’t ever want this lost.”
Flickr photo courtesy of EckhoffExposures.