Are Heaven and Hell right here on this earth? I have experienced a life of sufficient length to have many times asked myself that very same question.

And I asked it again and again and again this past Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. With it, too, came the many times, in my lifetime, the infernal unanswered question, why? Why? and Why? How many kicks in the head does one need to endure before enough becomes enough? And at the same time, the accompanying thought skewers both mind and soul: Do we or do we not have Guardian Angels?

It all started mid-afternoon this past Thursday. My son called to let me know that he could pick me up early the next day to go up for an extended weekend. He went on explaining to me that he had finished replacing the ugly old fence between the side lane and barnyard, along which we had planted the hollyhocks that were now over head height and in full bloom. “And you won’t believe this, but I have already got the new flagpole painted white and up. It looks great, you can see the flag flying from all directions,” he said.

Then he went on to state, “The many hosta we had planted circling each of the 60 or more trees flanking the length of both main and side road lanes were coming into bloom. The heavy mulch that we had applied and the many rains had thickened their healthy foliage to such an extent that there remained little or no room for weeds.” To a gardener, having spent three years in preparation, that is a perfect picture of Heaven. He ended with, “The boys have just finished cutting the grass, the place looks really great. See you tomorrow.”

But it was a look forward to tomorrow that never came. Less than two hours later the phone rang again. The quivering voice that spoke when I answered, said, “Dad, you won’t believe this; a damn tornado has just gone through. We are all OK. We headed to the basement, but before we got to the bottom step, it was all over. It didn’t last more than thirty-seven seconds. The dogs are not hurt, though their kennels are mangled and the one was trapped between twisted wire. The barn is flat, the big shed is gone, the four big pine in that group by the lane are down across the drive, the big maples that shaded the house, which we tapped in the spring, are completely mangled. We can’t get out of either lane for both downed trees and scattered debris. The roof of both barn and shed are spread over acres. There is splintered wood and twisted metal all over the place. We’ve just called 9-1-1 to have the hydro disconnected to the destroyed buildings. The phone box is torn off the outside wall, but thank God the phones in the workshop and house are still working.”

I have shed tears at too many gravesides not to appreciate the fact that no one was injured. The Guardian Angel has done a good job. So since, my emotions have bounced up and down like that of a rampaged yo-yo. When the chainsaws were cutting up the irreplaceable trees, my heart sank deeper than the hubs of Hell. But when I looked around and saw the 34 volunteers that showed up on Saturday and an almost equal number on Sunday, my feelings of appreciation rose to  places higher than the max. There were friends and neighbours and relatives and strangers, from near and far, hours away. The ripple of “help needed” travelled almost as fast as the tornado itself.

To see families, old, young, and especially the children working, shoulder to shoulder and hand to hand, helping each other wherever they could, clouded my eyes with appreciation each time I looked over the scene of destruction. Never before have I witnessed such a mammoth clean-up in such a short time.

How could these people be possibly thanked? I’m at the age where my help was limited. I’m at the age where names evade my memory. But I’m also at the age where faces and favours will not be forgotten – they’ll surface in my mind each day of my remaining life. How could such kindness, in such quantity, not? To each and everyone I owe not only a handshake in thanks, I owe as well a tremendously big bear hug. I hope each and every one will consider himself or herself hugged and hugged again. And, yes, too, I know that I speak for Earl, Kelly, Jeffery and Alexander as well. Thank you. Thank you. From the bottom of our hearts, we thank each and every one of you.

When I left at sunset Monday evening, the replacement kennels were up and the three sled dogs were coming back home from the boarding kennel in the morning. Life must go on.

Take care, ‘cause we care.              



Barrie Hopkins