Our family had an ulterior motive for cruising Route 66 on Day Eight besides meeting Mater. It was the most straightforward path from the Little House Museum to our relatives who live across the Kansas/Missouri border in a town called Webb City. After so many days on the road with just our trio keeping each other company, it was a relief to unwind and chat with other familiar folks. My wife’s sister, her husband, and our irrepressible li’l nephew have called it home for several years, at a distance hard from us to traverse under normal circumstances. Luckily for us, this year’s itinerary provided a convenient excuse to veer in their direction for a visit.
Times in the area hadn’t been easy over the previous fourteen months. Webb City neighbors a nationally recognized city called Joplin, which occupied headlines in May 2011 when an F5 tornado wrought over twenty-two miles’ worth of obliteration and sorrow.
After our first home-cooked meal in a week, my gracious sister-in-law offered us a status update of Joplin via personal guided tour. Even though fourteen months had elapsed, I hoped we wouldn’t be ghoulishly gawking at a DMZ of too many sobering sights.
Lingering destruction comprised a minute portion of what we encountered. St. John’s Hospital was the only major structure we saw with any daunting ruination remaining. Wrecking crews were on the scene continuing the dismantling process while a replacement hospital is in the works elsewhere — with plans for a considerably reinforced structure, as one might imagine.
The recurring theme of our evening drive: reconstruction. Recovery from grave tragedy.
Those left behind, moving forward. Standing still is an option, but we saw evidence of perseverance among those who’ve chosen otherwise.
At one point my sister-in-law pointed at an open field by the roadside and said, “That used to be an apartment complex…” A little further down, another was popping up to take its place.
Some business owners have been more patient than others. The local Walmart was rebuilt and reopened in a matter of virtual seconds. Home Depot had just finished their reboot shortly before our arrival. On the other hand, the tornado wiped out the last remaining Burger King in town, and the company has voiced no immediate plans to return, though the Store Locator at bk.com insists that exact ex-BK is still ready to serve you as of this writing.
In this scene, Commerce Bank maintains business continuity with just a trailer and a flagpole. I have no idea if they crammed a working vault in there, but I applaud their commitment to service.
We were two months late for the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Joplin High School, but we were in time to see the spirit of anticipation in those awaiting its relaunch in 2014. The letters J, L, I, and N were swept away in the chaos, but some noble soul turned the remnants into “HOPE” with the saving grace of judiciously applied duct tape.
I had expected our tour to be a mournful passage through Joplin-That-Was. Instead we saw the framework of a city working on its comeback, with no small amount of help from other organizations, states, cities, hands and feet.
Joplin may not have been at full strength yet, but it was nonetheless heartening to watch a new day rising.
To be continued.
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for previous and future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Thanks for reading.]