James & Georgia Keeling

James & Georgia Keeling

James is a native Nashvillian who served 29 years in the army. Georgia has called Nashville home since 1972. Both are retired but Georgia remains busy with her bakery business (Miss Georgia Tennessee Carmel Cake). I met them at their Donelson home which was severely damaged during the tornado.

Q: When the tornado hit Were you already awake, did it wake you up?

James: Georgia was asleep next to me. I heard the sirens go off and then the sound of a tree falling on the house. I immediately rolled over to cover her as the tree landed on our bedroom. A glass window shattered on us.

Georgia: James got a small cut on his head and I only had a small cut on my leg. It sounded like a train running over the house. The entire roof of our bedroom was pulled off, except for directly over our bed. We just thank God we survived.

Q: What was going through your mind when it hit? Can you describe what it was like?

Georgia: I could feel debris flying around the room. The noise was overwhelming, and we could hear the roof being ripped away.

James: I think my military training kicked in and all I could think about was protecting my wife.

Q: As soon as it was over, what did you do?

Georgia: The power was out, and it was too dark to see much. Rather than try to exit the house we moved to the sunroom, that was the only room that survived without any major damage. We took shelter from the rain that was pouring into other parts of the house. I remember seeing water pouring in through can lights in the kitchen. 

The next morning as neighbors got out of the homes to survey the damage, did you meet neighbors you didn’t already know?

Georgia: We’ve only lived here since 2018, but we know most of our neighbors and we connected with all of them the next morning. Everyone was checking on each other.
Note: While we were talking a neighbor named Colleen stopped by to say hello and that she hoped they would be back in the neighborhood soon.

Q: Volunteers jumped right into action. How soon after the tornado hit did you have people there to help?

James: Well, the neighbors were all out and starting cleanup that morning. A lot of volunteers showed up the following weekend to help clean up.

Q: Was there anything that stood out to you about the volunteers?

James: Volunteers said nothing was too small or too large to do to help. They were so ready to help with anything that was asked. 

Georgia: Samaritan’s Purse were wonderful. They did so much to help us and our neighbors.

James: A crew came and removed the trees that were covering the yard and home. They came with large CAT equipment. There was a 100+ year old tree that was completely uprooted. It gouged a 1ft deep scar in the yard that was about 2ft wide and 9ft long before landing on our house!

Q: After the dust settled, what were some of the major changes in your life due to the tornado?

James: A newly enriched sense of faith that God is in control. I already believed, but after this I *really* believed.

Georgia: I was so proud to see how everyone pulled together and connected on their humanity. You need people and you realized how connected we all are after things like this. You also remember what's important in life and it’s not the material things. Right now I’m not able to bake, but it’s OK because it’s given her more time to spend with family. The Coronavirus pandemic has also been a factor in that.

Q: Now that we are two months past the event, what are some challenges you’re still dealing with?

James: Getting back in the house has been a long and continuous process. The home is still under renovations. There really is no place like home and we can’t wait to get back to it. 

Q: What are some things you are thankful for that the tornado revealed?

Georgia: Your health, strength, family, faith, and relationship with God. And just the discipline of being thankful and choosing thankfulness. We are so thankful for our family and having a place to stay while we wait for the work to be completed.

Georgia laughed and added: I love shoes, but this disaster made me remember how much I’m OK with not having them. They just aren’t as important as living. These types of experience reset priorities, you know?

Q: What is something you're hopeful for and/or what’s next for you?

James: Living a long life together and spending time with family. Our 15 year anniversary is tomorrow and we’re thankful we get to celebrate it together.

Georgia: We also look forward to investing in a weather radio.

James: I just hope everyone knows God will carry you to it and carry you through it. That’s all I tell anybody, you gotta keep God first.