Greg Retsinas is back in Alabama, where he held his 8-year-old daughter tighter than he ever had before.
Greg is a Press Democrat colleague, the paper's online and interactive editor. He previously lived and worked in Tuscaloosa and his daughter, Isabel, and former wife, Meredith, live in Tuscaloosa. Or they used to.
Wednesday afternoon, Greg was at the PD when he received a text message from Meredith that made his heart stop.
A monster of a tornado had hit Tuscaloosa and Meredith and Isabel shut themselves in a closet and listened as their house was ripped apart. In the first text, Greg's ex-wife and daughter were trapped in the wreckage.
He later learned they had escaped the remains of their home, which was partially destroyed, but many of the possessions were intact.
Greg arrived Thursday at his former in-laws' house in Birmingham and opened his arms to Isabel. "I gave her such a hug I thought she was going pass out," he said.
He discovered that as Isabel had headed for the closet she'd grabbed her first possession, a teddy bear she'd been given at birth and sleeps with every night.
As I spoke to Greg by phone, he watched Isabel play on the lawn of her grandparents' house. "She's a real resilient kid," he said, full of gratitude for a silver lining in Alabama.
LACEY & ADVIL: Every day, another far-flung friend sees 2004 Montgomery High grad Lacey Calvert on TV and calls or texts to ask how she got her own commercial.
Lacey replies that, really, it was about the easiest thing she ever did.
At 24, Lacey lives in the Marina District of San Francisco and works both as a master instructor at CorePower Yoga in Berkeley and a self-employed athletic trainer.
One day in March, she and her roommate walked out of the Marina Safeway and two women approached and asked if they used any pain relievers.
Lacey answered that she carries Advil because she or the professional athletes she trains sometimes need one. One of the women used a small camera to shoot a bit of video of Lacey, then the two strangers thanked her and gave her 10 bucks for her time.
"That's all I thought I was going to get out of it," the ex-Monty cheerleader said.
But soon she heard from a producer who asked to meet her and talk a bit more about her life and occasional reliance on Advil. Lacey was blown away by the request that a camera crew meet her at CorePower and shoot her testimonial about the pain reliever.
Even after that, she didn't expect the commercial to make the cut. But recently her TV was on and she heard somebody say, "Hi, I'm Lacey Calvert."
Friends and former schoolmates all over creation are spotting the ad and grabbing their cellphones. "I hear about people seeing it on TV seven or eight times a day," she said, still incredulous at the chain of events.
Lacey thought the $500 she received after the shoot was wonderful, and now she's told she'll receive a residual check every two weeks for the next three years.
Amazing, the things that happen.
SUNDAY DRIVE? If you're out and about Sunday, May 1, you might enjoy stopping by the Sam's For Play restaurant on Cleveland Avenue where Gary Faull is doing something from the heart.
Shelters for Pawnee fire evacuees
Lower Lake High School, 9430 Lake St., Lower Lake, is the official shelter established for people evacuating from the Pawnee fire. It is equipped to handle animals.
The Clearlake Oaks Moose Lodge, 15900 E. Highway 20, Clearlake Oaks, is not authorized by the Office of Emergency Services but is also sheltering fire evacuees, mostly people in campers and RVs who want their animals with them.
There is an authorized Lake County animal services station in an open field at Highway 53 and Anderson Ridge Road in Lower Lake.