I once chronicled an entire wedding on Twitter, 140 characters at a time. The nupitals took place at center ice between periods of an Ontario Reign home game. Much like the other thousand-plus people in attendance, I didn’t know either the bride or the groom, but it was an interesting diversion from the game I was covering. And if the backdrop of an ECHL hockey game can’t get a marriage off on the right foot, we’re all doomed.
Ray Kaunisto didn’t tweet his entire wedding Saturday, but the Kings prospect did share some interesting tidbits with the masses that allowed his Big Day to come to life:
All of which reminded me that I’ve been sitting on a most interesting What-I-Did-During-My-Summer-Vacation story, courtesy of Mr. Kaunisto.
The story is hardly uplifting. In fact, it’s tragic (why did I lead with a vignette about a wedding again?).
It begins on April 27 in Alabama, when warm, moist air rose and mixed with colder, dry air at higher altitudes — the “perfect” conditions for a massive tornado that ultimately killed more than 200. Scenes like this were not uncommon across the state.
As little as four days earlier, Kaunisto was still playing hockey. The Manchester Monarchs’ season ended April 23 with a 6-5 loss to the Binghamton Senators in the Calder Cup playoffs. But his focus soon changed.
Kaunisto’s 78-year-old grandmother, Helen Bright, lives in Scottsboro, a small town roughly two hours north of the Alabama state capital of Birmingham. Her home sits on an island in the middle of the Tennessee River just outside the town proper.
“It’s kind of the boondocks,” Kaunisto said.
It’s the kind of remote locale, planted in the middle of a major river, that seems ripe to be plucked out of the Earth by a record-setting twister. The miracle of this story is that Bright and her home survived.
But surviving a natural disaster can be messy, and to call the surrounding area “messy” would be a massive understatement.
“I’ve never seen the power of anything, that Earth can make that happen,” Kaunisto said, after he and the other Kings prospects packed up from development camp in El Segundo. “Trees were down everywhere, houses blown all over the place. It makes a huge path of destruction. You can’t imagine the power.”
Maybe the best way to imagine how Kaunisto spent his summer vacation is to picture a regular residential neighborhood in which the streets are covered by a thick layer of fallen trees.
“I was dragging trees off the road,” he said. “There weren’t enough people to clear the road. There was just so much to do. There were tree crews there that were getting maybe 50 yards done a day, there were so many trees. They were getting dump truck after dump truck of trees.”
The Scottsboro area wasn’t as badly damaged as some neighboring cities like Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and Huntsville. (Coincidentally, Kings prospect Nic Dowd is originally from Huntsville, and also visited the area in May to help family affected by the tornado).
The Birmingham News recently reported that “major relief organizations” raised more than $22 million for disaster relief. Musicians Taylor Swift and Kings of Leon also personally promised relief money.
After more than a week of dragging trees, Kaunisto returned home to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. His grandmother came, too. “I think she’s going to permanently live up in Michigan,” he said. “I think we’re going to sell the place. It’s more of the age factor.”
The memories of that week in Alabama aren’t likely to go away.
“When I drove by an old town — I forget what it’s called, just outside of Huntsville, on the west side of Huntsville — a couple days after it happened there was this old man sitting outside,” Kaunisto said. “You could see him sitting where his house used to be, just sitting in a chair crying by the side of the road. it was kind of tough to look at.”