Irma Morton and her children spent last Christmas in a trailer, which was so small that they didn't have room to put up a Christmas tree.

    That Christmas was just like any other day for the Mortons, with an undercurrent of sadness because the family couldn't keep its tradition of buying a Christmas tree on Dec. 10 — the birthday of Morton's oldest daughter.

    But this year, the Mortons will spend the holiday in their brand-new home, with plenty of space for their Christmas tree in front of the living room window.


Irma Morton and her children spent last Christmas in a trailer, which was so small that they didn't have room to put up a Christmas tree.
    That Christmas was just like any other day for the Mortons, with an undercurrent of sadness because the family couldn't keep its tradition of buying a Christmas tree on Dec. 10 — the birthday of Morton's oldest daughter.
    But this year, the Mortons will spend the holiday in their brand-new home, with plenty of space for their Christmas tree in front of the living room window.
    "We'll just sit around and lounge, open the gifts and just do nothing," Morton said with a happy sigh. "It's going to be nice."
Losing their home
    Like so many other Greensburg families, the Mortons lost their original home on May 4, 2007, when a massive tornado nearly destroyed the town. They huddled in their basement with their neighbors, listening in terror as the storm uprooted trees and smashed windows.
    When the tornado finally passed, the Mortons' home was still standing. But the storm had punched holes in the roof and broken the windows, ruining the home.
    Morton covered her face with her hand for a minute as memories of that night apparently passed through her mind, then removed her hand to wipe away a tear.
    "It changed everybody's lives," she said. "Not just mine, but everybody's."
    Neither Morton nor her children were hurt in the tornado — although Morton injured her knee in scrambling through the debris after the storm had gone — but they had lost their home and possessions.
    Morton said she thought about moving to another town in the days following the tornado, but she decided to remain in Greensburg because her children attended school there and wanted to stay. Also, she still had a job working for the school district.
    The family lived in Haviland for a while after the tornado, then returned to Greensburg in August 2007 and moved into a trailer supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They remained there for more than a year while their new home at 318 S. Cherry St. was under construction.
    Morton said she was grateful that her family had a roof over its head, but staying in a borrowed trailer just wasn't the same as living in their own home.
    "The cold comes into it everywhere, and the water freezes," she said. "I'm not going to miss that at all."
    During that period, Morton and 10 other Greensburg families worked on their new homes in a partnership with the Wichita-based Mennonite Housing Rehabilitation Services. Participants in the program work with volunteers to build each other's houses, and Mennonite Housing provides on-site supervision.
    Morton was originally supposed to have surgery on her right knee in August, but she kept putting it off in hopes that her new home would be finished first. But that didn't happen, so Morton went ahead with the surgery on Dec. 1.
    The house was finished earlier this month, and Morton received the keys on Dec. 17.
    The family started moving out of the FEMA trailer a couple of days ago, but the move is going slowly because Morton is still recuperating from knee surgery.
    Morton said that she and the children would buy their Christmas tree Wednesday night and spend their first night in their new home.
    "It's going to be wonderful," she said with a chuckle. "It'll going to be nice and warm and toasty. It'll be nice."
    She said that her children are eager to move into the house so they can have their own rooms and invite friends over for sleepover parties again.
'Can't beat that'
    Even though Morton hasn't finished moving into the house, she's already begun thinking about where she wants to put her new furniture. Once she can drive again, she plans to buy a new living room set and place it so she can look out the window.
    She's also started planning her Christmas meal, savoring the thought of trying out her brand-new kitchen. The kitchen, with its new oven and stove, has become her favorite area of the house.
    Morton said she has struggled in the year and seven months since the tornado upended her family's life, but she believes now that the struggle was worth it.
    "I have a new knee and a new house," she said. "Can't beat that."

    Reach Eric Swanson at (620) 408-9917 or e-mail him at eric.swanson@dodgeglobe.com.