Tuesday Column — Difficult Anniversary

Sonjia Cornell doesn’t have big plans for next week’s flood anniversary.

“Cry, maybe,” said Sonjia, who lost her home of 27 years at 401 G Ave. NW. “Maybe just go there and look at it.”

I first wrote about Sonjia on Thanksgiving Day. Despite all her floodspawned woes, she kept her spirits up by counting the small blessings she found — her cat, alive, a long-lost ring amid the muck and a bag of donated clothes that fit her husband. Little stuff made the big stuff bearable.

But after a year, the big stuff is taking its toll.

Looking back is difficult. I’m sure she’s not alone.

I’ve got no problem at all with remembering and commemorating. Next week’s scheduled events in Cedar Rapids all seem appropriate and thoughtful. Anniversaries are an important time for a community to take stock.

But I also understand that after only a year, our wounds and pain are still raw. So for some, the videos, bands and speeches will offer little comfort.

You don’t need a special day to remember when every day is a reminder.

“You try not to think about it. But it’s there,” Sonjia said.

Sonjia and her husband are living in a mobile home in Shellsburg.

For a while, things were looking up. They finally got state Jumpstart funding to help make home equity loan and insurance payments on their flooded house. Sonjia said Jumpstart called the morning after my last column about her ran in the paper. I hope it helped.

They also found out that massive damage to their home made them eligible for a buyout. Sonjia said she envisioned using the buyout check to pay off the remaining debt on their home and move on with their lives.

But then they found out the $28,800 in emergency aid they received initially from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the $8,000 in Jumpstart help will be subtracted from the city’s buyout offer. That will leave them far short of what they need to pay off their $45,000 home loan.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Sonjia said.

“I was so happy to be bought out. Now I’m back to ‘Oh, my God.’ This isn’t right. I don’t want to go bankrupt.” So what they thought was a stroke of good luck turned out to be a doubleedged sword. Why the government would offer help, only to transform that help into a burden, is difficult to understand.

Sonjia still is working hard and hoping for the best. She’s planted trees and perennials around her new home, a sign she plans to stay put.

And after a year of being whipsawed between hope and disappointment, she’d rather look ahead.

“I can’t celebrate until I close the book,” Sonjia said. “And somebody is still writing the book.”

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