One year after the tornado, words of gratitude fill a Jacksonville home

It was a Monday afternoon. Anja McCastle was putting the finishing touches on a yearlong remodel of her Jacksonville home. She had done much of the work herself.

After she painted the last baseboard, she took a photo and sent it to her husband, who was out of town on business. “I’m finally done, babe!” she said.

That was Monday, March 19, 2018.

Hours later, a tornado tore through the neighborhood.

“My house was destroyed,” McCastle said. “The tornado just ripped it apart.”

The tornado’s 140-mph winds tore off the roof, lifted up the house and pushed it off the foundation.

McCastle and her cat, Munchkin, had taken shelter with the neighbors across the street. “I wouldn’t be here without them,” she said.

The next day, walking through the remains of her house, she noticed shards of broken glass and jagged pieces of wood embedded in the walls of the interior hallway — where she would have taken shelter if she hadn’t gone to the neighbors’ house.

One year after the tornado, McCastle and her husband have moved back into their home. The rooms are now light, airy and welcoming, decorated in farmhouse style in shades of gray.

McCastle has filled the house with words. There are quotes on the walls, words on the throw pillows, on the mugs in the kitchen.





This is our happily ever after

Eat cake for breakfast

“I’m all about quotes and sayings. I feel like it brings out who I am,” McCastle said. “You decorate and it brings out you.”

Her favorite among the many words in the house is a plaque reading:

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass … it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

Anja and Steven McCastle have been married 25 years. Steven is from Arkansas, Anja is from Germany. Steven is former military — they met when he was stationed in Germany — and he now works for the Anniston Army Depot. Anja works for Academy Sports in Gadsden.

They have a son who is a chef in Germany. There’s a new granddaughter in Germany, too.

The family moved to Alabama 13 years ago, and have lived in the Jacksonville house for 10 years.

McCastle has reinvented the house many times over. “I used to paint my house at least twice a year,” she said. She has always been crafty, and handy with DIY projects.

“Painting and building is what I do to relax. Give me a can of fresh paint, turn on some music … My husband says I’m the only woman he knows who wants tools for Christmas.”

Among the things Anja lost in the tornado: Photos from when she and Steve renewed their wedding vows five years ago. Her grandmother’s oil paintings. Her son’s childhood keepsakes — school papers, drawings, a Mother’s Day poem he wrote for her when he was 10.

“That’s the stuff I can’t get back,” she said. “But I’m still here. Nobody died. My son is 31 now; I told him he can write me a new poem.”

If there is one thing she learned through this ordeal, it is this: “As bad as it was, I have amazing friends. You truly realize how good you’ve got it.

“I’m still here. We had insurance. And dealing with insurance went smoothly.”

They were able to remodel — again — but bigger and better this time. “We basically built a new house from the ground up. New wiring, new plumbing.”

The old enclosed carport is now a spacious laundry room and a new den. They expanded the master bedroom and the master bathroom.

McCastle put her DIY skills to work constructing a wood feature wall near the front door. Pieces of wood in different lengths and colors are pieced together to make a striking statement.

“My husband bought me a nail gun, and I went at it,” she said with a laugh. “I started at 7 a.m., and cut and stained every piece of wood. I got done around 10 p.m.”

After the nightmare of the tornado, there is now a dream house. “Everything I ever wanted to do to this house, I got to do,” McCastle said. “I like to say it’s a blessing in disguise.”

Lisa Davis is Features Editor of The Anniston Star. Contact her at 256-235-3555 or