published Saturday, February 18th, 2012

Gardening for hope: Volunteers plant flowers in tornado victim's yard

  • photo
    Briley Taylor, left, and Anna Kimball prepare the ground for new flowering plants at Cordia Natalizia's home in Trenton, Ga. Sixteen students from Silverdale Baptist Academy arrived early Friday to plant the garden at Natalizia's home that has been replaced since the tornadoes of April, 27.
    Photo by Tim Barber.
    enlarge photo

TRENTON, Ga. -- Cordia Natalizia leaned on her walker, watching as more than a dozen seventh-graders energetically wielded shovels, hoes and rakes in her back yard, preparing to plant daylilies and other flowers.

"It will be beautiful," Natalizia said.

The 72-year-old huddled deep inside her brown coat, the early morning sun not warm enough to break the February chill.

She added, a bit wistfully, "I wish I could be out there with them. I love the dirt."

Last April, Natalizia was sitting on her couch when an EF-3 tornado ripped across Interstate 59 and, like a giant wrecking ball, decimated dozens of homes in the heart of Trenton. Debris rained down around her as the wind twisted away her home; the only thing that protected her was the walker she had over her knees.

In the days after the storm, Natalizia moved in with her sister and made plans to rebuild her home. But every time she stopped by to see the progress on it, she grieved for the flowers she had spent so many years nurturing.

Every tree on her small lot on Walnut Avenue was gone, and contractors scraped clean most of her yard before they began building. A few crape myrtles survived.

Natalizia moved into her new home in August, but infections in her right leg confined her to a wheelchair for much of the year. Even after she began to get around with her walker, she wasn't able to replant her flowerbeds.

That is when Sandy Harris, who lives in Dade County, heard about Natalizia and contacted Silverdale Baptist Academy. The Chattanooga private school does several service projects every year, and Harris asked if it could plant flowers for Natalizia.

Harris gathered plants from her yard, and friends contributed. Someone bought more than 150 daylily bulbs, Natalizia's favorite flower.

On Friday morning, Ed Rawlston, a seventh-grade history teacher at Silverdale, arrived at Natalizia's home with 16 students, several parents and plenty of garden tools.

They soon had dirt-stained hands and muddy spots on their knees as they dug up a plot in the back yard. A few tulip spears that survived the tornado and the construction work poked up in the bed. A lone purple grape hyacinth, looking the worse for the last year's wear, already was blooming.

Anna Kimball, 13, pushed white bulbs into the soft brown dirt. Several of her friends and their families had tornado damage from the April storms, Kimball said, and she is happy they can help someone who lost so much.

"It helps us remember how blessed we are to wake up every day and have a house," Kimball said. "It's a great experience to be a part of other peoples' lives and change them for the better."

"God bless them for doing this," Natalizia said. "It will be wonderful when the weather gets warmer and I can sit back here and look at the flowers. I got something to look forward to."

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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