My mother never liked the gaudy light post that stands in the middle of our front yard. Its awkward and uneven posture tilts even with the slightest bit of breeze that swarms around it.
Its dusty-grey plastic has chipped away from the years of abuse endured from front-yard soccer goal misses and the family lawn mower.
I rarely give this light post a second thought, other than when dusk hits and its dim light draws in winged insects from the front of my home. I often overlook everyday objects as most people do. Some carry meaning and importance to others based on how it is symbolized to that specific being. The more symbolism an item possesses, the more memorable it becomes. This pathetic light post was just a pathetic light post, and it continued to be until it wasn’t anymore.
Aug. 10th, 2020, was an average summer day in the Midwest. As I awaited yet another day of pool duty at the DeWitt Aquatic Center, I lounged outside, barefoot and makeup-free, daydreaming about which of my friends were going to host tonight’s bonfire. The wooden swing where I sat creaked with every gentle rock. It rested in the cool shade under my balcony. My hair was frizzy from the humidity and my legs stuck to the dry wood.
Smells of freshly cut grass and algae from the nearby pond filled my nose. The vibrant blue sky, that would later deceive us, was still with not one cloud in sight. Birds chirped harmonious songs in far-off tree branches that peacefully sat motionless, relaxing just as I was. I had on my summer uniform made of spandex and a whistle tied around my neck, ready to conquer yet another day lifeguarding.
My phone screen flashed, signaling that I had gotten a text message. I squinted at the bright, mini screen in my hand and read what had been sent to me; it was a message from my boss: “Delaying pool opening today ... chance of storm coming in!”
How could I have anticipated such ferocious storms on a day as beautiful as this? Puzzled by this text, I made my way up the stairs leading me back to my balcony door. The unexpected roar of the storm sirens screeched loudly through the air that eerily felt all too calm.
Taking me by surprise, dark, ominous storm clouds were slowly creeping in from the south. I sprinted to seek shelter in the basement bathroom alongside my brother and worried parents.
No one could have anticipated such relentless winds and torrential rain as it poured down on DeWitt.
Lightning flashed through our windows as if millions of cameras were eagerly trying to capture the moment of terror on our faces. The wind seemed to shake my house with every enormous gust. The vicious blasts of air swept through our luscious fields, our beloved farmlands, and our sizable oak trees. I closed my eyes and ducked my head as the storm took a toll for the worse.
My anxious mom glued her eyes to our downstairs TV as our local weather channel warned us about the danger that was unfolding before us. The weather described this storm as a word I was very unfamiliar with but is now unforgettable: a derecho. The lights flickered off in an instant, leaving my family and me blinded, fumbling around in the darkness.
The thuds of our palms bumping against the walls searching for a light switch we knew wouldn’t work seemed almost rhythmic with the pings of each raindrop — thump, ping, ping, thump, ping, ping.
Petite candles and old, battered flashlights illuminated each room and created lengthy shadows that scattered onto every wall. The fragrance of those candles smelled like powdered lilacs, a calming respite from our current situation. The sound of the ruinous downpour battered on our roof, drumming along with my pounding heart as I hoped for a safe outcome. I cuddled up with a soft, cotton blanket on the basement floor that was cool against my legs as I sat impatiently, longing for this malicious nightmare to be over.
A few hours had passed, and the sounds of whirring winds had come to a close. Stress consumed me as I crept up the stairs out of the basement.
The sun beamed through our water-covered windows which felt odd. Devastation consumed me as I looked down the street at what I had hoped would be a wet, but familiar, cul-de-sac. My neighborhood landscape looked like a foreign, unknown world.
Trees spewed onto the sidewalks and the road, shingles were ripped off roofs, and bushes were stripped naked of their leaves. Our colossal oak tree that once stood proudly in our front yard had tumbled over, lying helplessly with its roots exposed. Beholding the power to destroy everything in its way, the tree did not harm. This large, friendly giant blanketed the grass in front of my house with its flimsy branches covered in rain as if protecting it from any danger the storm may have caused.
The battered light post stood in the heart of the tree’s branches, not affected by the tree nor the inland hurricane.
I stared at the huge trunk of this tree and reached my hand out to feel its rigid, damp bark. I then peered at the light post as if noticing it for the first time. It was astonishing to think a few pieces of plastic and glass survived 120 miles per hour winds while the tree did not withstand. The light post had few scratches along its thin body, yet it was still intact and upright.
My dad and I headed downtown to pick up some bags of ice as if we were heading to a party. This, however, was not a celebration, but rather to keep our food from spoiling due to loss of power. We pulled up to our local Casey’s gas station and noticed an entire army of cars scattered in the parking lot. I unbuckled my seatbelt and stepped out of the car. We made our way across the parking lot full of dark, murky puddles of water. I could hear the hectic shouts of voices coming from inside. I opened the heavy door and saw people scrambling around in a rush. Following suit, I hurried over to the freezer, waiting for the familiar rush of coldness which never came. The bags of ice had been hoarded by panicked customers before me. I shook my head in frustration and slowly stumbled back to the car in defeat.
The car ride home was miserable. Power lines were draped across the streets and crops in nearby fields were all pushed together with limited room to grow. People were outside observing the aftermath of the derecho that blew through our town, and some already had their gardening gloves and chainsaws ready to clean up the fallen trees that decorated everyone’s yard.
All of the stress and misfortune from this summer of uncertainty finished off with our community coming together, showing the goodness that humans behold. The beauty of mankind shone through the grey, nothingness sky and exposed the true meaning of what a community is. Neighbor upon neighbor stepped outside onto their front step and graciously came together to bolster morale.
Endless amounts of helping hands reached out in a collective form of unity and togetherness. We helped clean up the repercussions of the storm and restore our town back to normalcy. The image of the light post peering at me from inside the tree’s arms was engraved in my head, seemingly unforgettable.
The tree was like the derecho: catastrophic. The light post was like the people of DeWitt — standing strong in one piece. We were like the light post that to this day shines in my yard; unable to be broken, no matter the enormity of the storm.
Kennady Donnovan is an upcoming junior at Central DeWitt. This essay was her submission to the Paul Engle High School Essay Contest aimed at Iowa sophomores. The contest seeks writing that describes an“Iowa experience,” drawing on a specific memory to capture the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches of the day.
The author of the essay judged by reviewers to be the best receives one year of free tuition to the University of Iowa.