Friendship crosses class lines in tornado's wake

Katrina Finley stands in front of what is left of the duplex she was about to rent before it was leveled in the May 20, 2013 tornado in Moore, Oklahoma.

Sherry Plumlee returned to her house in Moore, after spending several days at a local Red Cross shelter.

Katrina Finley and her son Joseph.

Sherry Plumlee and Katrina Finley talk on the phone a lot these days. They schedule appointments to fix tornado damage to their cars together. They pick up donated clothes for their families together. And yet, until two weeks ago, they had never met. 

“We might’ve run into each other at the store, but we wouldn't have known each other to say ‘Hi,’ or nothing,” Finley says.

As destructive as tornados are, they also bring unexpected things together. Mattresses wind up in tree tops, and people from different walks of life wind up at the same Red Cross shelter. 

Sherry Plumlee is a school cook who lives with her husband and two kids in a home that they own.

“We're about mid-class,” she says. “We have nice furniture. We have a Wii and an XBox and the kids aren't lacking anything.”

Katrina Finley is a single mom with three kids. She's unemployed, and she says after a car-wreck 10-years ago left her with spinal injuries, she’s been on disability. The checks are “enough to pay the bills,” she says, “and then we are sunk.”

The two women each came to the shelter the night after the tornado. But Plumlee says it was not love at first sight.  Finley was anxious and talkative and “kind of irritating at first,” says Plumlee, "and I told her that.” 

But their kids started hanging out, and the moms started talking -- about life, about the tornado. Plumlee had ridden it out in a high school gym and was waiting for her neighborhood to reopen so she could see how her house had fared. 

Finley had been signing a lease at a low-income housing project when the torrnado hit. It had leveled her new home.  As they shared stories, Plumlee realized how scared Finley was and wanted to help.

“I tried to kid her,” Plumlee remembers. “If you don't get somebody to smile, they're going to stay that way.” They went to Taco Bell. “That cheered her up,” Plumlee says.

But two weeks into their new friendship, Finley and Plumlee don't see it in exactly the same way. Finley, the single mom on disability, focuses on how much they have in common.

“We were in the same disaster. We all got affected by it. And we all bonded,” she says. 

Plumlee, the middle class homeowner, focuses more on how they have bridged their differences. 

“You have all this money,” Plumlee says, reflecting on herself and her relatively well-off position. “Hate to say this but God knocks you down. He wants you to see the other side of having nothing.” 

Now their paths are starting to diverge again. Plumlee's house survived the storm, and she's moved back. Finley is still figuring out where to live. Once she does, “we'll be inviting everybody over and having little cookouts,” she says.

Plumlee is a little more ambivalent. “They all know where I live at -- Lord help me!” she jokes. “No, I'm just kidding.” 

She pauses, thinking about the possibility of attending future cookouts with her new friend. “I think we will.”

Finley says she's already found a donated grill. 

About the author

Krissy Clark is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Wealth & Poverty Desk.

Sherry Plumlee returned to her house in Moore, after spending several days at a local Red Cross shelter.

Katrina Finley and her son Joseph.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...