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The tornado, my neighbor Tom and the miracle on Van Ness Road

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

The tornado, my neighbor Tom and the miracle on Van Ness Road

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1994, The Syracuse Newspapers

My neighbor Tom is the kind of guy you want to live next to when the earth shakes and things start to go wrong.

Ordinarily, Tom is one of those fortysomething guys you find in any American neighborhood—the kind who show up with an extra case of beer at barbecues, tell fish stories that are too good not to be true and lean out the window when you're sprucing up the fence to announce that you've bought the wrong kind of paint.

Tom grew up half a generation later than me, at a time when the high-tech gadgets that delighted me as a kid were becoming just another set of interesting toys. This gives each of us different perspectives when I write about computers and video and things like that in Stars magazine.

But the things I usually write about had to wait last week. A tornado came through our part of Van Buren, followed by a force of another kind: My neighbor Tom, armed with a chain saw.

It was not David against Goliath. It was David against 32 Goliaths—32 of my tallest pines, some more than 140 feet tall, all pulled up and pushed over as if they were straws.

A meteorologist stopped by to look at the damage and pronounced it the result of a big wind—no tornado, he said. Tom and I knew better. At the back of my house, the kids' inflatable pool rafts still rested, undisturbed by even the faintest zephyr. Less than 30 feet away, in a tangle of pinewood and bark, 15 giant trees had crashed to the ground in one area alone.

The tornado had passed right over Tom's house and my house, taking whatever it wanted and leaving the rest unmolested. Tom and Loretta lost only three trees, but Reggie and Marie, Tom's neighbors on the other side, lost 16. Reggie's garage snapped and buckled, its timbers wrecked, when five trees fell on the roof.

On the other side of me, Bob and Cindy had only three or four trees down, but their lawn told a deceptive tale: Nearly all the trees on my property that were uprooted had fallen on their side of the line. Their yard looked like a lumberjacks' vision of hell.

My wife, Nancy, came home from work that afternoon, looked frantically for the dogs, the cat and the parrot, and, after finding them cowering in the house, began to cry. I had no time for that; I was hauling away the logs that Tom was already cutting at Reggie's house. A few hours later, we started on the trees next to my house. We worked until the sun went down—with 31 trees to go.

The next morning I walked out on my upper deck fresh from a dream about wind and noise and trees falling, not yet fully awake. I turned to look at the garden and saw our pines again, and I realized I was crying, too. It wasn't just from sadness—after all, trees will grow again and buildings can be put up anew. I was crying as much from weariness as anything else. The task of cleaning up was immense, and I was already tired.

But Tom never blinked.

"C'mon," he said, when he showed up again with his chain saw. Then he disappeared into the thicket of horizontal trees and started cutting.

The saw had barely begun to sing when Bob and Cindy came out with gloves and a wheelbarrow. Reggie and Marie arrived with a garden tractor and trailer. Cindy's friend Delores showed up, and Cindy's mom and dad came over, too. Nancy hooked up the red trailer we had bought years ago for hauling brush to the back of our garden tractor and chugged out into the pile of logs that Tom's saw was depositing.

Reggie quickly arranged for a sawmill to take the biggest logs and turn them into boards so he could rebuild his garage. That made our jobs easier, and we rolled the logs destined for the sawmill out of the way.

And so our Fourth of July weekend block party began. We hauled and cut and hauled again for three days, stopping only for a picnic at one house on Saturday and a barbecue at another on Monday. We had two piles by the end of the Fourth of July—a long row of brush four to six feet high running 100 yards along Van Ness Road, and a double row of firewood logs along the front of our property.

Tom made a sign: "FREE WOOD!" The pile was half gone by Tuesday morning.

We were sore and bruised, but nobody cried again. Something good had happened on Van Ness Road.

"God has a purpose," Nancy said.

And so, bless the lord, has Tom Werth.

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