At points along Ga. 53 from Calhoun to Sonoraville there are reminders of it: that horrible storm, that EF3 tornado that smashed its way through Gordon County on Jan. 30.
There are still tall trees lying on their sides like vanquished giants, their clay-covered roots hardening in the sun. For the trees left standing, many of their cracked and battered branches dangle like trail markers on the path to disaster.
Stewart lives not far from it all on a side street near the Sonoraville school.
On Jan. 30, Stewart was babysitting her great-grandson, 2-year-old Zane McFarland, at his house when the tornado came. It struck the house, smashing it to bits — spilling Stewart and McFarland out into the yard.
They were buried under rubble for an undetermined amount of time before rescuers came and found them. Stewart was severely injured, with two broken bones in her back, broken ribs, a broken femur, major skin lacerations and bleeding on the brain.
She spent 31 days in the hospital and underwent a multitude of procedures, including brain surgery and intensive therapy
Her relatives were in agreement: a 79-year-old should not have survived that. But she did and so did McFarland — thanks to Stewart’s efforts, relatives said.
McFarland suffered a broken femur and the break was severe enough to impact his growth plate, his mother Carley said Wednesday. He was in the hospital for several days and came home in a half-body cast. Doctors told the family that several things could happen with Zane’s development, including a leg that grows severely crooked or too long or not at all.
“I fully believe he will be fine,” Carley said.
On Wednesday, Zane sat near his great-grandmother’s chair playing with toys, but he was very interested in Stewart’s emotions.
When Stewart began recounting the story of tornado, she wiped back tears.
Zane crawled over to a box of tissue, pulled out a few and handed them to Stewart, who is still nearly encased in a back brace.
They just grinned at each other.
“I just worship him,” she said. “I always have.”
The emotions are raw for the family, who very nearly lost two members they clearly treasure.
“We’re a very close family,” said Carley, who is married to Stewart’s grandson.
“Very close,” Stewart echoed, tears welling in her eyes.
They are now close in proximity as well.
After the storm, Zane, Carley and her husband Darren lost everything. They had some renter’s insurance, but are still trying to climb back to their feet.
Carley, who was forced to drop out of college temporarily, said the community has donated generously to their cause.
Having no home to return to after the tornado, the McFarlands moved in with Stewart, who would have it no other way.
“I told them to go over (to my house),” Stewart said. “It had furniture.”
It’s a house filled with memories; photos of every size are placed throughout. She and her husband built a life there until his death more than a decade ago.
Today, she is building a new life with those who will be forever linked with her.
“She’s always taken care of people,” Carley said.
Leaving Stewart’s house, one might be overcome by the suffering that befell them on that dark day. After all, both still face a long recovery and the lives of all involved are changed forever.
Yet a sign on a church nearby serves as a reminder to push ahead.
It reads: “You can’t have rainbows without rain.”