November 15, 2009

What To Do When A Tornado Strikes

When I was a kid, my family moved around a lot. One of the many places we called home was Papillion, Nebraska. From the ages of 6-8, I spent my time tromping through the cornfield behind our house, playing little league soccer with my best friend, Jacqueline (with our fathers as coaches), and trying to convince my mother that paying $40 for a pair of stonewashed Guess jeans was not a "waste of money".

The most memorable experience from my time spent in Nebraska, however, was the weekend my Uncle Joe came to town. As the youngest of my mother's 4 siblings, he was always the wild one of the bunch and a perennial extended-family favorite as he consistently allowed encouraged us to do things that our parents forbade. Which is why my siblings (older sister, Katie, and younger brother, Colin) and I were amazed that our mom and dad trusted him enough to babysit for a night while in town.

(L-R) My mom, Joe, Katie, my head, some girl,
some other slightly shorter girl, Colin, & my dad

A storm was brewing that night and it wasn't long before the radio deejays were warning their listeners of an impending tornado and encouraging everyone to seek shelter. So Joe took the three of us to the basement, battery-operated boombox in hand, and joined in as we entertained ourselves with school yard games. It took about two hours before Katie, Colin, and I remembered that we were siblings and therefore not supposed to enjoy each others' company and began to complain of boredom. That and hunger. Joe, always the responsible adult, insisted that we remain downstairs, saying "kids, never EVER leave the basement during a tornado... UNLESS IT'S TO ORDER PIZZA!!!", at which point he bounded up the stairs to retrieve the delivery pizza he'd previously ordered in secret.

My mom, Katie, myself, & Joe after Katie and I
completed a week-long soccer camp at the US Air
Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado

I remember being so in awe of my insanely cool, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants uncle. I promised myself that if I was ever to babysit my future nieces and nephews during a terrible storm, I too would order pizza. A promise which holds true to this day.

Joe, hard at work!

To the disbelief of us all, Joe was diagnosed with inoperable cancer in late August. He fought a brave fight, but finally succumbed to the disease just a few months later on November 3, 2009. My mom was such a rock for Joe during his illness. She flew to Arizona, where she spent months caring for Joe and showing him support. I am so proud of and grateful for her willingness to endure such a physically and emotionally draining process.

Joe, Jaden, and my mom

My sister and I, both in grad school and thus broke in both time and money, made the decision to visit Joe in September. We knew that, by doing so, we would be unable to attend his funeral in the event that his treatments were unsuccessful. While I wish that I could be in Wisconsin today with my mom, dad, and brother for the funeral, I know that I made the right decision. Spending time with Joe and his 5 year-old son, Jaden, for a mere 24 hours was such a treat and something that I will always remember.

Jaden's a light weight!

Katie, Joe & myself while visiting Joe in the hospital

Thanks for being a great dad, son, brother, and uncle, Joe. You will be missed!

My grandma, myself, & Joe in Appleton, Wisconsin


  1. What a beautiful tribute to your Uncle. I am sorry for your loss and please send your parents my thoughts as well. Kat

  2. This was a wonderful tribute that brought tears to my eyes while simultaneously making me laugh. (As soon as you mentioned Papillion and Joe, I knew you were going to tell the story of the tornado! So memorable.) I wish we were in Wisconsin but treasure the memories of him alive more. Love you! ~ Deet

  3. Dad and I are stranded in a hotel in Frederick, Maryand during a record-breaking snow storm and I have been reading our dear darling's blog to Big T. I actually got through these stories of Joe with smiles soaking deep into my heart. Joe was blessed by the visit of his two incredible nieces as well!! Thanks for sharing Joe with others.