Today is Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Watertown 'lunch lady' rebuilds

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Last Wednesday they brought little Buffy to Rena Cook wrapped securely in a blanket. It was a surreal nightmare for Rena but she believed the first responders when they said Buffy, her dog, probably didn't suffer.

This painstaking loss was the biggest for Rena, 54, who lost her home in that tornado time in Watertown last Wednesday. They say a Category 1 tornado ripped through the tiny town, but her loss came after a "power surge" tanked the electricity and thoughts now surged a fire that ripped through her double wide on Holmes Gap Road.

She's without little 10-year-old Buffy and buffering between her children's homes that happen to be within a half mile distance of her obliterated home.

She's a widow (Mike) and her son, Keith, passed in a car accident some years ago. Rena knows heartache and wears her heart on her sleeve unabashedly.

"It was last Wednesday when the tornado came through about a half mile away," she recalled. "Some houses, barns and garages were down."

She's a lunch lady at Watertown Middle School and got up as usual early to go to work.

"I cook and serve kids," said this grandmother of 11, 10 boys and one girl.

She works part time because of a health disability and went int that day at around 9 a.m.

"All the kids were in the gym at the school because the electricity went out because of the tornado," she said. "I got a call from a neighbor smoke was pouring out my front window. I left to rescue Buffy."

It took about 10 minutes for Rena to get home and because so many emergency vehicles blocked her path, she ran down the big hill to get Buffy.

"They had to block me," she murmured. "It was too late. They brought her out wrapped in a blanket."

Officials associate the power surge and subsequent fire at this double wide to the tornado nearby. Final results are pending.

"Most things can be replaced, but others can't be," Rena said.

Her husband passed by heart attack a few years ago, and her 17-year-old son Keith died in an auto accident.

"They say what you've been through makes you stronger," Rena said. "If I can make it through Keith and Mike, I can make it through this. God help me so I can."

Her double wide is not livable now, so she lives with daughter Amanda Swan down the road, and she'll switch out with her son. She has three living children that have swept her under their wings.

She's lived at the same address for 15 years and six and a half years ago she and Keith built a double wide.

"I don't really know what I'm doing," she admits.

Adjusters think they can replace her burned home with about $75,000.

While some bedroom suites and chairs are gone with other furniture, it's the Angle Room that most distress Rena.

"When I lost my husband, and son, in the past the community rallied," Rena said. "There was a room, I called it the 'Angel Room' where I had statues and such of Angels for them. They are gone. All my pictures are gone."

Rena said she knows things will get better, the storm before the calm and all that.

"I'm blessed, very blessed," she said. "I have my three children and memories of my husband and child."

She never thought she would "rebuild" at age 54.

"But, I never thought I would start over at age 48 without y husband," she said.

On April 1, there is a chili supper and silent auction planned at the Watertown Community Center. Now, though, Rena needs hygiene supplies and size 12 pants, large size shirt. Her boss at WTMS, Tammy Brewster is taking gift cards. There's a gofundme account under her name and Wilson Bank & Trust has a Rena Cooks fire fund.

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