When a better today makes the past fade away

Friday, May 10, 2013
MURRAY BISHOFF, news editor

Shortly after Bishop James Johnston finished giving the message at the Mass of Thanksgiving for Pierce City's recovery on May 4, something unusual happened. The gray and overcast day changed. There was a break in the clouds and the sanctuary at St. Mary's Catholic Church was flooded with sunlight.

It was one of those light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel moments. After the commentary that brought back memories of very hard days 10 years ago, here was a true bookend to the experience.

Except for a few vivid reminders, Pierce City doesn't look like a tornado zone any longer. People don't talk about that day much. Former mayor Mark Peters in fact said he has tried to help people forget, rather than remember what happened 10 years ago.

In chatting with several people over the course of the anniversary, an interesting tone emerged in conversations. People tended to speak about the old Pierce City, before the tornado, like immigrants from the Old Country. It was a place they fondly remembered, but it was a land they would never return to, by now only a distant memory.

When it's a change for the better, no one lingers nostalgically to the old memories of town. Think of Thirteenth Street in Monett, for example, when Business 60/Cleveland used to curve around the bend east of Burl Fowler Stadium. Traffic flow is so much better today, the street is much wider and the turning radius at Thirteenth and Cleveland is so good, one wishes it had always been that way.

Or remember how the service road on the south side of Highway 60 looked when the fashion store Pizzazz stood where Taco Bell stands now. The old road running in front of McDonald's, something between a private alley and not exactly a city street, was rebuilt into a real road that will last.

When Julie Johnson, the city clerk in Pierce City, talks about how her community has rebuilt, she says, "I miss the old buildings, but things are better now."

It's reassuring to see recovery on that scale. A quick glance at the website for Greensburg, Kan., the town truly flattened from end to end by a tornado on May 4, 2007, shows scenes the community points to with pride as "stronger," "better" and "greener." The sustainable recovery strategy pioneered in Pierce City took root there.

We can fondly look back at the way things were. It's truly great when it can be said things are better now.