The Long Road – Prelude: April 27, 2014
I was flying home from the annual spring meeting of the Society of Professional Journalists board of directors in Indianapolis.
I was supposed to arrive in Little Rock some time after 6 p.m., but my connecting flight out of Chicago had been delayed.
I’d called my wife Linda from O’Hare to let her know I’d be late, but didn’t know how late.
She had already left our home in west Pulaski County, headed to Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport. She mentioned that she might turn around and go back home. I suggested that she not do that because the delay might not be that long. So she continued on and ran some errands before heading to the airport.
As it turned out, the delay wasn’t that long – no more than half an hour, and the plane took off not much later.
The flight to Little Rock was a little bumpy, but nothing out of the ordinary.
The trip did take longer than usual, though, as the pilot took a wide swing to the west before heading east again to avoid significant thunderstorms that were passing through Arkansas.
We landed behind the storms a little before 8 p.m.
Linda and I got in the car, and I drove on wet streets to P.F. Chang’s, a favorite Sunday dinner stop.
We had just ordered our food when Linda started getting email from neighbors asking where she was and whether she was OK.
Neighbors knew I was out of town and that she would likely be home.
I got a phone call from a colleague at the newspaper office who also asked if Linda and I were OK and said that a neighbor and suburban police chief was looking for us because our house had “incurred extensive damage” from a tornado that had passed through the area around 7 p.m.
The police chief and a neighbor who is a volunteer firefighter wanted to be sure Linda had not been at home when the tornado ripped it apart. They’d worked their way uphill through downed trees and power lines to the house and worried that they could not find her.
We assured our friends and neighbors that we were OK, but expressed concerns about our cats.
One of the neighbors said he’d seen a gray-and-white cat lying on the foot of our bed in the master bedroom, which he said appeared to be the only intact room in the house.
That left three cats unaccounted for.
Linda had the restaurant staff put our food in to-go containers, and we dashed off toward home, about 15 miles from the restaurant.
We got as far as the intersection of Kanis and Ferndale Cutoff roads, where sheriff’s deputies blocked all from traveling further except for first-responders, power company trucks and tree-cutting crews.
While parked in a restaurant parking lot at the intersection, we learned that three members of a family that lived in the valley just below our ridge-top home had died in the storm.
We could learn little more – not even whether our nearest neighbors had made it through the twister – so we turned back toward Little Rock in search of a place to stay that night.
Linda slept very little, anxious about the cats: geriatric, female Pretty Face, the bed-dweller; Foots, a 19-pound orange male tabby; Mycroft, a 12-pound gray male and the youngest of the clabber; and Spot, a sleek but crabby white female with orange splotches.
My own anxieties about the house, and its contents, kept me up for a while, but exhaustion from the trip finally won out and I slept fitfully in the hotel room we’d found.
Hotels would become our home for the next month.
(To be continued)