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Words in the wind: Letter carried away in Ky. tornadoes returns home

Kristy Sisk's family lost many belongings in last week's tornadoes, but they were able to recover a note written to her daughter through a Facebook group for lost items.
Kristy Sisk's family lost many belongings in last week's tornadoes, but they were able to recover a note written to her daughter through a Facebook group for lost items.

When one of the most catastrophic tornadoes in state history set a course for western Kentucky last weekend, Kristy Sisk’s main focus was getting her family to safety.

Sisk, of Princeton, rushed to her parents’ house just outside of Dawson Springs as the storm approached. The entire family found refuge in the basement of a nearby empty house with little time to spare.

“My brother made it in probably two minutes before the tornado directly hit us,” Sisk said. “It was a very powerful storm. It tore the basement door open. And it was just, like, brighter than daylight outside when it hit.”

What Sisk saw when she emerged from shelter took her breath away.

“It was just devastating to see the entire area gone,” she said. “Where it hit, everything [was] leveled — trees gone. It was just completely gone.”

Along with the homes it splintered, the tornado swept away precious personal belongings. Sisk said her family was lucky — they were able to recover many of their most coveted keepsakes, with one notable exception: a box of letters from a decade before.

Sisk’s oldest daughter, Kylie, was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 7 years old. During her cancer treatment, friends and neighbors wrote letters of encouragement to Kylie, who’s now 18.

“She kept every single letter, every single card, everything anybody ever gave her,” Sisk said. “We had it all stored in boxes at my parents’ place. And the tornado took, as far as I know, pretty much every bit of that.”

Possessions like those letters were literally scattered to the wind. People as far away as Indiana started to find photos and other mementos lost in the storm.

They began to flood the Quad State Tornado Found Items Facebook page, hoping to reconnect them with their owners. Strangers from hundreds away were helping those affected by the tornadoes recover their belongings — pieces of their lives they feared were gone forever.

Among the baby pictures, quilts, and family bibles there was a written letter. It read, “Dear Kylie, God will be with you through everything thick and thin. God has his hand on you. Love, Ashlee.”

It was one of the notes written to Kylie during chemotherapy, more than a decade ago. Sisk said the words take on a different meaning in the aftermath of the tornadoes.

“When you’re facing a dark season — a moment that changes everything in the course of your life — if you can just hold on, you’re going to make it through that season,” Sisk said. “You’re going to make it through the darkness, like one step at a time. And you just really have to hold on to hope and know that tomorrow’s another day. If you’ve got the breath in your lungs, you’ve got the opportunity to rebuild and push through anything.”

Sisk plans to continue to keep an eye on social media in case more notes turn up.

But she said, even if the notes don’t make it home, it’ll be okay.

 “You know, maybe they’re gone for a reason,” Sisk said. “Maybe when people do find them, if they do, they’ll read the message, and it’ll apply to them.”

Copyright 2021 WKU Public Radio. To see more, visit WKU Public Radio.

John Boyle is a reporter for WFPL, Louisville's NPR station. He previously spent three years covering Southern Indiana at a local newspaper before transitioning to radio, and has since made appearances on Here & Now and BBC Radio. Prior to his work as a reporter, John worked as a health care consultant at a firm in New York City.