On Tuesday morning Mike and I boarded a helicopter to fly over some of the tornado ravaged areas of Ohio to assess the damage.
We landed first in Celina and walked through the neighborhoods. Already friends and neighbors were helping each other — clearing downed trees, removing debris, trying to find pictures and special possessions that were scattered around. Then we went on to Trotwood where more than 400 homes were badly damaged or destroyed. We talked to many residents and heard story after story about how after hearing the sirens or alerts or warnings on TV, people took shelter. And just in time. One man told us that as he was going down his cellar steps, his ears popped, and his house collapsed. A mother told me that she had no basement so she put her children in the bathtub and covered them with her own body, and prayed. Nothing was left of her house except the bathroom walls.
It was so strange to see one house totally untouched, and the houses surrounding it totally destroyed. Trees were down everywhere. Some were just broken in places but many were totally uprooted. Cars were smashed, or just had every window blown out. And the walls and car surfaces that did remain were covered with splatterings of mud and leaves and pink insulation. But everyone was working to clean up and help.
We saw more devastation in Harrison Township, and in Beavercreek. We learned in all there had been 19 tornadoes that night. Mike and I thought back to the 1974 Xenia tornado. Mike was a young assistant prosecutor then, and he and the others went to the basement of the prosecutor’s office after they actually saw the tornado coming straight toward them. The top of the building was lifted off, but they were safe. In the aftermath, we all worked together to help move our friends who had lost their homes. But the big difference was the large loss of life in the 1974 tornado. I am so thankful for warnings and sirens and TV stations interrupting shows to make us take cover! Our great communications certainly saved many lives.
As we talked to people, there was such a feeling of thanksgiving — that these things could all be replaced, and they were just thankful to be alive.
I went back to Trotwood on Friday and took some water to the fire department and supplies to a Red Cross shelter. There were many children staying there so I brought some books and toys, too. At the shelter there were many volunteers to show them how to get help, and even some counselors. A steady stream of cars and trucks drove through to unload water and supplies, or to pick up what they needed. And volunteers were there to help sort it all.
Mike and I went back to Beavercreek Sunday afternoon. It was a hub of activity — people repairing roofs, cutting up trees. In the shopping center nearby, Rotary members were grilling hamburgers for volunteers. The Police Wives were unloading and sorting donations. They were happy to get the baby formula and diapers we brought. Police Chief Evers, as well as City Manager Pete Landrum, Mayor Bob Stone and Rep. Rick Perales were all working hard. And they told us neighbors just around the corner were making brisket and other great food in their front yard for all the volunteers.
It made me proud to be an Ohioan as we went from community to community and heard the great stories about neighbors helping neighbors. It seemed like no one was a stranger; we were all neighbors.
I believe food is a big part of this process of healing. I’m including a couple of recipes to make just in case you need to feed the people around you that are helping. I like to make a batch of Sloppy Joes. It’s just a good hearty hot sandwich to feed a crowd and you can put it in the crockpot to keep it warm. I have made it with ground pork as well as ground beef. And of course it’s nice to have some good chocolate chip cookies to offer for dessert or just a snack, so I’m including my daughter Jill’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe. I took some to my Trotwood stop and my Beavercreek stop as well.
3 pounds ground beef
1-2 onions, chopped (about 1 cup)
½ cup chopped green pepper (if desired)
1 cup catsup
¾ cup water
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons vinegar
3 tablespoons brown sugar or maple syrup
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper sauce (more or less to taste)
Cook and stir ground beef in a Dutch oven or large skillet until beef is brown. Drain off excess grease. Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 to 25 minutes. Can be kept warm in a Crock Pot. Serve with fresh buns. Makes about 16.
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Jill’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 cups butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
5 cups oatmeal, measured, then pulverized in blender or food processor
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Mix all ingredients together. Add:
2- 12 ounce packages chocolate chips
3 cups chopped nuts (optional)
Bake golf-ball sized cookies 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 6 to 8 minutes. Makes 10 dozen.
First Lady Fran DeWine is a Cedarville resident, Yellow Springs native and guest columnist.