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National

The Tornado And The Christmas Ornament

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And now our latest story about Christmas ornaments - this one about a Christmas ornament lost and found. It comes from Cindy Hornberger of Lawrence, Kan. Her favorite ornament is one her Aunt Carol made for her by hand.

CINDY HORNBERGER: On one side, it's Mrs. Santa Claus in red on a sled, sliding. And then as you turn it over, it's a multicolored block print of my name, Cindy.

SIEGEL: So of course when she got married to her husband, Steve, in 1980, it was proudly hung on their first Christmas tree. After the holidays, Mrs. Claus and the rest of the decorations were stowed in the attic of the Hornbergers' brand new home. And that's where they stayed until June 19, 1981.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

That day, Steve and Cindy spent the morning painting the windows of their new house. Then Cindy headed across town to the hospital emergency room where she worked as a nurse. While she was there, a thunderstorm rolled into town, dumping huge hail on the hospital. Not long after that, the sirens went off.

HORNBERGER: And we had a little, old fashioned red phone in the nurse's station of the ER, and I picked that landline up which was directly connected to the emergency operation center. And I said, why are the sirens going off? And they said there's been a tornado sighted at 27th and Lawrence Avenue. And my address was 2733 Lawrence Avenue.

SIEGEL: Cindy listened to the ambulances on the dispatch radio, hoping for news about Steve. But soon, tornado injury victims started coming into the ER, and she had to get to work. She didn't hear anything more until two hours later when her mother-in-law called the hospital.

HORNBERGER: She said Steve is OK. And she said Zach is OK, which was our little cocker spaniel. But she said, Honey, your house is gone. And I said, what do you mean? And she said, it's completely blown away.

SIEGEL: After her shift, she got a ride home from a highway patrol officer.

HORNBERGER: About a block away, things didn't look too bad. But as I turned the corner, there was just a path where the houses were destroyed. And there was Steve in cut-off shorts and two different kinds of shoes on. And by then, my family was there. And they were all helping trying to collect what was left of our home.

SHAPIRO: Cindy and Steve spent the next six months rebuilding their house. They also got to work taking stock of what they lost for insurance claims.

HORNBERGER: So what we would do is we'd go out to dinner, and we'd take a room. We'd say, OK, tonight we're going to talk about the north wall. And we would just try to remember what we owned.

SHAPIRO: Cindy says they lost about 80 percent of their possessions, including that special box of ornaments.

SIEGEL: But then, not long before Christmas that year, Cindy Hornberger's doorbell rang.

HORNBERGER: I opened the door, and there was a woman standing at my door with a box. And she said, is your name Cindy? And I said, yes. And she said, well, believe it or not, I think I have your Christmas ornaments.

SIEGEL: She opened the box, and there they were, including the Mrs. Claus with Cindy's name on it.

HORNBERGER: And she said, these fell in my front yard after the tornado. I've been looking ever since for somebody named Cindy so that I could give them back to her.

SHAPIRO: Thirty-five Christmases later, that ornament is still on Cindy Hornberger's tree. She says it reminds her of her Aunt Carol and also how lucky she and Steve were then and still are now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.