BRIMFIELD, Mass. — Stephen Phifer is a contractor and woodworker who lives on Hollow Road in Brimfield. On June 2 of last year, I stood beside him next to his wood shop, or at least where his wood shop used to be.
The air was still, save for the sound of songbirds. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. And there wasn’t a large tree left standing. Across the street, four homes had been demolished in the tornado that hit late the previous afternoon and sheared off a half-mile-long ridge of hardwood forest.
Pfifer had led an old woman from the second-floor stairs of a house without second-floor walls, and he had rescued three women from the apartment that had fallen down around them and circled them in live electrical wires.
As the sun rose on June 2, 2011, the devastation was stunning. Most of Pfifer’s buildings and roofs were down and his life was suddenly up — in the air.
One year later, I talked to him this week beside the old cornerstone of his newly rebuilt workshop. It was dated June 1, 1963, indicating that the shop had blown away 48 years to the day after it was built.