Taking stock of our good fortune and helping those devastated by the tornado damage

Hopkinsville, spared from the devastation of the weekend storms, is now in a position to help people in surrounding communities whose homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed.

Our son Christopher was 10 years old when he planted a cedar seedling in the side yard close to our two-story house. It was 1997, and we had just moved into town. 

Early Saturday morning, the storm snapped our cedar tree in half. It had grown to about 30 feet, well above the roofline. 

Despite its height, that tree was pretty scraggly looking. I’m sure some of our neighbors wondered why we kept it. But it had our family’s sentiment wrapped up in the limbs. The cardinals liked it, too. I’m sad we lost it. 

When John started sawing part of the trunk and the limbs into pieces he could carry to the street, I asked him to save a couple of sections so we can have something made from the wood for Christopher and our daughter Renee. 

The fact that I can indulge in nostalgia for one ugly cedar tree says a lot about how fortunate we are in Hopkinsville this weekend. The damage that our town experienced — mostly minor property damage, temporary power outages and many snapped or uprooted trees — seems like a mere inconvenience compared to the devastation and death that other Western Kentucky communities saw. 

At least one tornado and vicious winds cut a destructive path across a wide swath of South Christian. It will take months, or longer, for people in Pembroke and surrounding areas to repair and replace what has been mangled or lost. 

It’s hard to grasp the wreckage in other towns, including Mayfield, Princeton, Dawson Springs and Bowling Green. And we still don’t know the death toll from the outbreak of tornadoes late Friday and early Saturday. Gov. Andy Beshear said state officials fear as many as 100 lives were lost. 

Saturday evening, John and I went to Hopkinsville’s Christmas parade. I’m glad the city decided to go ahead with the parade but I didn’t want to forget that other communities were still digging out from unbelievable storm damage.

I thought the best part of our parade was the prominence given to pandemic workers who served as grand marshals. For me, it was no small thing to see Beth Campbell, the health department nurse who called me in July 2020 to tell me I had tested positive for COVID-19. Campbell rode in the front of a Hopkinsville fire truck and waved to the parade crowd along Main Street. Another nurse, Summer Johnston of Jennie Stuart Health, was among the honored grand marshals. Johnston has cared for critically ill patients while despite her own cancer treatment regime, the hospital shared. 

I also loved the marching bands from local schools and Fort Campbell — and everyone who sang in the parade. The Music Central float with the rock band playing holiday songs was, hands down, the best!

Second best might have been Santa Claus, who also moonlights as the guy who delivers a Courier-Journal to my house every morning. Some know him as George Fillingham. He’s a helluva busy man, and also a poet. 

I also have to mention what I did not enjoy in the parade. It was the pickup trucks whose drivers gunned their engines in dramatic fashion. They were loud and disruptive — and what they did looked dangerous given the number of spectators lining Main Street. That was my impression. Several people standing around me seemed to agree. It’s something the city ought to think about before next year’s parade. 

But it’s Christmastime, and I won’t dwell too much on that one weak spot in the 2021 parade. 

As a community, we took time to honor the first-responders and the health care workers who continue to help us through this pandemic. 

Now it’s time to help the communities around us, including Pembroke, whose residents face some tough days and nights ahead. Here are some of the organizations offering help to Christian County residents affected by this weekend’s storms — and information on how you can help.

Taking stock of our good fortune and helping those devastated by the tornado damage

Jennifer P. Brown | Hoptown Chronicle

Jennifer P. Brown is co-founder, publisher and editor of Hoptown Chronicle. You can reach her at editor@hoptownchronicle.org. She spent 30 years as a reporter and editor at the Kentucky New Era. She is a co-chair of the national advisory board to the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, governing board president for the Kentucky Historical Society, and co-founder of the Kentucky Open Government Coalition.