- Associated Press - Saturday, April 5, 2014

GOSHEN, Ala. (AP) - Written in brass on a plaque at the Goshen memorial are the names of brothers and sisters, husbands, wives, fathers and sons.

There are no asterisks to identify who lived, and who died, when the tornado hit Goshen United Methodist church north of Piedmont on March 27, 1994. The 146 names of those in the congregation that day are all of one body.

It’s that way in Mary Watson’s heart, as well.

Watson, a longtime Goshen United Methodist church member, lost her 9-year-old daughter Amy, and Buddy Woods, her husband of 18 years, that rainy morning 20 years ago. The tornado that struck the church took 20 lives, six of them children.

Last weekend, Watson joined other survivors and others at the rebuilt church for a special service to remember those who died.

In all, 29 tornadoes tore across the Southeast that day - six in Alabama - killing 40 people.

The tornado has become a part of the lives of those in the little church in Goshen Valley that day, the current pastor of Goshen United Methodist Church, the Rev. Joe DeWitte, told The Anniston Star.

The service was a time to remember those lost, but it isn’t hard for Watson to remember her late husband. She sees a lot of Buddy in her grown son, Marcus - in the way, for example, he plays ball with his own children. Standing recently at the memorial just north of the church on Alabama 9, she recalled that Palm Sunday.

Marcus was 13 the morning he found his sister lying on a pew, pinned underneath cinderblocks and heavy rubble.

He tried, but was unable, to free her, and his pleas for her to wake up did nothing. Someone saw Marcus struggling and walked him out of the church, Watson said. Buddy suffered severe head trauma and died at the hospital the next morning.

“The sky just looked different that morning, but the kids were going to be in a play,” Watson, now remarried, said.

Amy was supposed to sing a solo in the service, and the church was packed with friends and family.

Not long after the music began the sound system shut off and the church lights flickered, but the singing carried on.

“Then it just happened so fast,” Watson said. “I never did get to hear her sing it. I will one day.”

Watson was hit by something that morning and fell to the ground, trapped underneath bricks and splintered wood, her legs drawn underneath her. The crushing weight of the debris broke both her legs, six ribs, crushed her pelvis and tore her stomach.

From under all that rubble she could hear people crying and praying.

Something had happened, and though she wasn’t sure just what, she knew she wasn’t alone.

Through tears, Watson said that in that moment all the bad in her life up to then - past fears, the feeling of being lost, of being hurt - felt as though it were happening at one time all over again.

She spent 73 days recovering in the hospital. Doctors feared telling her she’d lost her husband and daughter would hinder her recovery, and so they kept her in the dark.

It was a confusing time for her, her body battered, and her mind in a fog of pain and medication.

“It was like I was cocooned when I was in the hospital, and everybody here had to live it,” Watson said, referring to the other survivors from Goshen.

Amy had never worn dresses, but her mother had bought her one the Friday before Palm Sunday.

Watson missed Amy and Buddy’s funerals because of her injuries.

Watson’s sister found the dress she had bought and buried Amy in it.

“I’ve tried and tried to think of what the dress looks like, and I can’t. That’s bothered me so much,” she said.

In the years since the tornado things haven’t always been easy for her husband, Paul, she said. The couple live in the same home that she and Buddy lived in, just over the hill from the rebuilt Goshen United Methodist Church.

Paul and Buddy had known each other; it took time for Paul to feel comfortable in the home, Watson said.

But years ago Paul planted muscadines in the side yard, and since then those vines have grown up around their poles and down the lines that stretch between.

Walking along a path at the memorial site, Watson said she feels at ease there. She pointed to the original church foundation, the smooth lines of concrete that mark the outline of where the congregation had gathered 20 years before.

She feels a connection too with the first stanza of a Carl Sandburg poem, written on a plaque at the memorial: “If I should pass the tomb of Jonah, I think I would stop there and sit for awhile, because I was swallowed once deep in the dark and came out alive after all.”

She has rods in her legs, and though she does well, she said her body is forever changed because of the tornado.

“I feel like I’ve been old for a long time,” she said. “But I have good days.”

She’s kept the same job at Farmers and Merchants Bank that she had before the disaster, and she still attends Goshen United Methodist, where, she said, there is a special bond among church members.

In the years since the tornado Watson has volunteered at hospice facilities and visited with the elderly at nursing homes, things many might think difficult for someone who’s been through what she has, she said.

“But I look for the good. You have to look for the good in things. You’ve got choices to make,” Watson said. “You have to push through. I guess the main thing is, you just don’t want people to forget them.”

___

Information from: The Anniston Star, http://www.annistonstar.com/

Copyright © 2017 The Washington Times, LLC.

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