The scene was not easy to comprehend. People walked in a daze through their former neighborhoods. Not a house stood in any direction. The smell of rotting refrigerator contents made an almost unbearable stench, and broken glass, nails, and other dangers were everywhere. But the young men and young women of the Norman Oklahoma Stake never complained or quit. After the most deadly and destructive tornado in Oklahoma in 50 years, the youth were ready to work.
“This is my grandma’s house. She’s 71 years old,” said a woman who was overseeing the beehive of activity where her grandma’s house once stood. “She’s still so confused by it all. I didn’t even bring her out here. All she wants to find is her cat, purse, wedding ring, and a coin collection.
“I’m so grateful you all came,” she continued. “It’s too big a job for me.”
“How did your grandma get out?” we asked.
“Don’t ask me how,” the woman said, slowly shaking her head. “She crawled out of there.” She pointed to a pile of junk, and we all knew that Heavenly Father had preserved her grandma’s life.
We got to work. “Found some coins,” someone yelled. I watched as the young men and women dug on their hands and knees through the rubble. The Arden brothers said something about needles in haystacks, which was a pretty accurate statement. We started filling a couple of boxes with papers, birth certificates, and anything else that looked important.
The youth and their leaders were covered in grime and dust, but no one seemed to give it a second thought.
“Found a ring and some pictures,” said another girl. She handed it to the woman.
“That’s it! She’ll be so happy to have her ring back. I don’t know that we’ll find the cat, but if we could just find that purse it would be such a comfort to her.”
We started silently praying that we could locate her purse. “It has to be in there somewhere,” called the woman anxiously. The sun was starting to set. The longer we worked, the more grateful we became for the comfortable homes we would return to that night.
“This looks like it might be important,” said Kendall Michaelson, holding a piece of jewelry. You could tell the granddaughter was trying to save everything she could, trying to recover 71 years of her grandma’s memories.
Finally, someone pulled out a battered purse buried in the debris. “Is this it?” she called out, holding up the symbol of our efforts.
“That’s it! That’s the purse!” The woman almost tripped as she walked over boards to get the purse. She opened it, rummaged around, and then happily called her grandma on a cellular phone. “I have it. We found the purse and everything is still in there,” she said excitedly.
It was only a small thing, but we had made a difference. The woman was obviously happy, and so were we.