The Moments that Define Us

This week marks the first of November, and we are now over seven months into the unpleasant reality of a pandemic. None of us asked for our lives to change so drastically in this way, but such events are the nature of our humanity. Bad experiences will come and go throughout our lives, and we must carry on. Times such as these are the moments that will shape the people we become. And when this pandemic does eventually reach its inevitable end, we will look back on the experiences we have gathered in these consequential months with a new perspective. In 10 years, we will look back and see how the pandemic made us more resilient as people. The fortunate thing about unfortunate events is that with each new bad experience, we become better prepared for the next. With this in mind, I wrote a reflection on such an experience I encountered 10 years ago.

The date was June 5, 2010, and my family was celebrating my sister’s third birthday. As far as my seven-year-old memory can recall, the day started out very typically of early June. It was relatively sunny and hot, and downtown Elmwood was sprawling with the life of the annual Strawberry Festival. But as the day progressed, meteorologists were calling for a cold front to move through the area, and the mixture of the warm, humid air could possibly cause severe weather. These warnings were very typical of any summer day in central Illinois, so my family didn’t think much of it. We continued with my sister’s party and paid little attention to the predictions on the television. 

Later that evening, all of my relatives but my grandparents left. The time was approximately 7:30 PM, and a severe weather pattern was marching its way across the entirety of west-central Illinois. As this pattern moved through, a tornado warning was issued due to very favorable tornado conditions in southeastern Knox and western Peoria counties, with Elmwood in the square center of the warning. And finally, at 7:56, it was confirmed that an EF-2 tornado had touched down northeast of Yates City and was barrelling towards Elmwood. My family and I ran down to our basement, switched on the radio, and paid close attention to the updates being given to us. The National Weather Service ordered all residents to shelter in their basements as the tornado passed within a quarter mile of my house and tore through Elmwood’s downtown with its vortex winds of approximately 130mph. After many terrifying minutes had passed and the National Weather Service gave us the clear, my family and I emerged from our basement and went to bed. 

Naturally, I didn’t sleep too well that night. But in the morning, we went downtown to survey what had happened to Elmwood, and we were devastated. The hardware store, the movie theater, the park, local eateries, the pharmacy and the Strawberry Festival tents were all badly damaged or destroyed. Although my youthful mind may not have been the most attentive at the time, it is still embedded in my memory how trashed the streets were with debris. Downed trees, power lines and pieces of buildings littered the roads and sidewalks throughout the town. 

Later that day, we were fortunate enough to hear that miraculously, no one was killed or injured by the tornado. And Elmwood’s most iconic landmark, “The Pioneers” statue by noted Elmwood sculptor Lorado Taft, was also unharmed as the people depicted in the statue seemingly surveyed the destruction in front of them. But the community, seeing the town destroyed, was determined to rebuild. After the tornado, the community saw many people volunteer and host fundraising events for the town’s swift recovery. Upon seeing some of this community action, my seven-year-old self, following the lead of a friend, also decided to do my part. With some help from my parents, I hosted a roadside lemonade stand and donated the funds to help the town’s recovery. And due in part to community action, Elmwood has rebuilt their downtown. It now features a new Subway restaurant, a remodeled movie theater and other miscellaneous businesses. Just as the saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” states, Elmwood emerged from the tornado better than before. And although the week of June 5, 2010, will forever stand as a traumatic week of my childhood, I can now look back and see how that week and the recovery that ensued shaped the person I am today.