Crossroads of remembering, recovering

Jennifer Cohron
Posted 4/27/16

About a month ago, Zac and I had a Friday night to ourselves. When he got off work, I asked him to meet me at Long Memorial United Methodist Church, where I was taking pictures of the Good Friday cross draped in a black shroud.

He waited …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Don't have an ID?

Print subscribers

If you're a print subscriber, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one.


Click here to see your options for becoming a subscriber.

Crossroads of remembering, recovering


About a month ago, Zac and I had a Friday night to ourselves. When he got off work, I asked him to meet me at Long Memorial United Methodist Church, where I was taking pictures of the Good Friday cross draped in a black shroud.

He waited patiently for about half an hour while I tried to get the shot I wanted — a close-up of a single white bloom growing in the shadow of the cross.

I took dozens of pictures of the cross from every possible angle, but I kept coming back to that unmistakable juxtaposition of life and death.

The day before, I had attended a classmate’s funeral. With mortality so much on my mind, maybe I needed a visual representation of Easter to put the events of the week in perspective.

The walk back to our cars took us past the site of the old Pig. For most of the last five years, there has been a mountain of dirt either in front of the store’s foundation or on top of it. The city finally cleaned it off a few months ago, and Zac wanted to walk out and look around at what is left of where he worked from the summer of 2004 to April 27, 2011.

He didn’t go to work that day. The first tornado knocked out the electricity, and there wasn’t much he could do in the dark.

We didn’t know how much damage there was downtown until later that night. I remember standing on School Street with him trying to make out what was still standing and what wasn’t.

“At least the Pig looks OK,” I told him. I think I was in a state of denial. A terrible thing had happened to our town, but surely it had not happened to us.

“No, you just can’t see it from here. That whole back wall is gone,” someone near us said. That’s when I knew that my husband didn’t have a job anymore, and our lives were never going to be the same.

Zac went back to the store a few times to help clean up, and I stopped by for pictures once that summer, but that evening a few weeks ago was the first time that he and I had been back together.

He lingered at the corner near the front where his produce section used to be while I walked to the back where he kept a picture of Wyatt tacked to the wall in his prep area. He looked for it after the tornado but never found it.

“You know, it’s been five years, and I still remember how I had everything laid out,” I heard him say. After he finished going over the imaginary produce section shelf by shelf, he walked around the rest of the store pointing out where each aisle had been and rattling off what had been stocked on it.

While he was lost in thought, I took out my camera again and started taking pictures of him bringing that place back to life for both of us.

Unfortunately, I never got any pictures of him at work in the old store, so these black and white images are the only ones I’ll ever have. He looked at home there, even with nothing but cold concrete and broken glass at his feet.

The man in those snapshots also looked older than he did five years ago and more than a little tired from carrying an invisible weight around on his shoulders.

The guy I married didn’t have the kind of worries that I see etched in his face now. We both struggle with some things these days that we didn’t back then. Maybe life really was easier for us before the tornado, or maybe it’s just easier to be nostalgic about a past that you know isn’t coming back.

As we walked back to the car, the spell we had been under was broken, and we weren’t at the Pig anymore. We were just looking at a hole in the middle of a city still caught between what used to be and what’s next.

I know it’s silly to get so sentimental over a building that leaked every time it rained and was downright ugly in comparison to the one that is now open for business.

But this column isn’t really about the Pig or the two of us.

It’s about loss on the anniversary of a storm that took so much from so many.

It’s about a date that divides our lives into “before the tornado” and “after the tornado.”

It’s about bittersweet memories and long goodbyes.

It’s about five long, hard years of recovery.

It’s about destruction and disillusionment and looking for symbols of hope and signs of resurrection in the shadows.

Jennifer Cohron is news editor at the Daily Mountain Eagle. She can be reached by calling (205) 221-2840 or by email at