The house Billy Capps’ granddaddy built over a 100 years ago stood on a slight rise off of Lee Road 100. That is until Sunday, March 3, 2019. On that day a hungry and angry tornado chewed into it and tore most of Billy’s house away.
Still hungry the funnel moved to Lee Road 36. Alina Smith and her two daughters huddled for safety in the bathroom. When I met her on March 6, Alina told me that she held her daughters, said her prayers, was at peace, and accepted that it was time for them “to go.” But we don’t pick our time. Alina and her daughters were spared that day.
Twenty-three others were not.
Not far away Alina’s boyfriend, Curvin Robinson, scrambled from his yard and made it to the kitchen before he hit the floor and curled in a fetal position in front of his refrigerator. Curvin would find out that of the 23 dead, seven were from the same family. His family. What do you say to someone who peacefully looks in your eyes and tells you that death scooped away seven members of his family 48 hours earlier? I did not know then. I don’t know now. But I know that Alina and Curvin share a bond forged from misery, stronger in love.
Relying on information from news reports I navigated Lee County roads to Smith’s Station and Beauregard, both hard-hit. Sheriff’s deputies from Lee and Calhoun Counties were pulling double duty to block roads leading to the most heavily damaged areas. I respected those restrictions realizing that searches were still underway for missing persons. On roads that were not blocked the powerful force of destruction was evident. Force that in an instant turned a peaceful pre-Lent Sunday into devastation and death. Force that lifted and smashed a trailer into trees as if the home had been a blowing leaf in a spring-like wind.
On the morning of March 7, I saw Billy Capps again. Billy and his wife, Jane, were up early for another day of salvaging what they could out on Lee Road 100. They weren’t home that terrible Sunday. They were enjoying a Mardi Gras weekend in Auburn when the call came from their son. I asked Billy how he felt when he saw the remains of the home Jane and he shared for 41 years. I saw the answer in his face. He didn’t need to say anything.
Billy told me about a private cut-through off of Lee Road 166 that cut across the back of his property. If I could find that road, he welcomed me to come out to make photographs. He somehow understood that I needed to see more. I think he saw that in my face as I had earlier seen what he felt in his.
Why did I go to Alabama?
Truth is, I’m not sure. Maybe I wanted to bear witness. Maybe I wanted to see things I had never seen before. Maybe I needed to be reminded of just how small I am. Maybe I needed to see just how strong other people are. Or maybe I wanted to know that there is more good in the hearts of women and men than we are led to believe. I wanted to know that humanity prevails.
I’m going back to Alabama to see Alina, Curvin and Billy at Easter; a time for resurrection and rebirth.
A time to record the next chapter of their story.