Betsy Williams stands on First Avenue in Nashville, outside the apartment she has been unable to return to since leaving shortly before a bomb exploded Christmas Day. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Betsy Williams stands on First Avenue in Nashville, outside the apartment she has been unable to return to since leaving shortly before a bomb exploded Christmas Day. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Nearly two weeks after fleeing in only her pajamas on Christmas Day after hearing bizarre warnings from a parked RV that a bomb would be detonated, Betsy Williams was allowed to return to her Second Avenue building escorted by fire personnel.

Williams and her partner, Kim Madlom, weren’t able to enter their own apartment, where joists had separated from the wall making it unstable.

But they were able to enter an empty short term rental apartment they manage facing First Avenue, where they had planned to celebrate Christmas with family. It was where their 11-foot Christmas tree stood surrounded by presents they hadn’t been able to share.

A few cupboards were flung open, light fixtures had been dislodged from the ceiling, a window pane was shattered and some crystal candlesticks were broken, but the presents were OK, she said. So too were her Santa figurine collection and Christmas stockings — the stocking Williams’ mother made her when she was born and the one Williams made her adult son when he was born.

  We are all in favor of preserving Second Avenue. But the bottom line is the bottom line. What you receive from insurance is what you're going to be able to do.   – Betsy Williams

They’re now in storage until the couple can celebrate Christmas in a more permanent home than the hotel where they are living now — except for one present of jeans and a sweater from Madlom. The couple have had to buy clothes to wear since the blast.

A firefighter retrieved Williams’ computer, some medications, some jewelry and a cast iron skillet passed down by her grandmother.

“He asked me if there was one sentimental thing I wanted. That was it. I made cornbread that very night. I’m getting ready to give Mike (the firefighter) a lifetime supply of cornbread. He risked his life to do it,” she said.

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Dec. 28 - A shot from a garage adjacent to downtown Nashville's Second Avenue captures the scope of the damage done by a Christmas Day suicide bomber. (Photo: John Partipilo)
NASHVILLE, Tenn., Dec. 28 – A wide angle shot captures the scope of the damage done by a Christmas Day suicide bomber on Second Avenue. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Madlom and Williams have not seen their own home. A search and rescue team the night of the Christmas Day bombing reported a small fire in the apartment, which was extinguished with the aid of carton of buttermilk and sweet tea in the couples’ refrigerator.

The pair face a long and complicated process in moving forward.

Their business as managers for short term rentals in the Second Avenue building has been decimated. They are dealing with insurance claims while city officials, including Mayor John Cooper, have pledged that rebuilding will preserve the historic character of the downtown street.

Williams, whose brother is part-owner of the building, has hired a structural engineer to assess the damage. The city is requiring property owners to submit reports from engineers.

“We are all in favor of preserving Second Avenue,” said Williams. “But the bottom line is the bottom line. What you receive from insurance is what you’re going to be able to do. We can look at SBA loans and any other funds out there, but it’s going to fall on the owners to decide what’s possible.”

Williams said she is optimistic.

“I hope in 12 months I’m going to be back in our home,” she said. “But we’re really sad. I love our apartment. I love where we lived. We live in a great city. We have a great business. This is extreme disruption. I’m 64 years old and you don’t think about that as a time to start over because you’ve been forced to start over. But Kim and I have been together 34 years and we’ll get through this. I can’t imagine going through this without being able to lean on each other, and to laugh.”