Two days before my sixth birthday, I was sitting in the living room with my family. We were having family devotions, something my mother had just instituted following a two- week revival at our church. Somehow one of my brothers had been excused from this and was out on the front porch just outside our living room.
Suddenly, my brother called out to our father, “Daddy, come look at this funny cloud!” My father went out and the next minutes are a blur. Clueless as to what was going on, I found myself tossed under a mattress in the hallway. I’m not sure where everyone else went. There were only two tiny closets in the house and a small bathtub with an exterior window. We actually had a basement, but my mother was so frightened she forgot we had one.
We on the southwest side of our small town were largely spared. The northeast side was devastated. Milli, a girl who would later become my best friend in grade school, lost her mother in the storm, as did a boy in my class named Greg. As an adult, Milli shared with me the horror of that night. There were makeshift mortuaries and she and her family could not find where her mother had been taken.
All the following summer, we kids played “tornado,” running to hide from the storm, intuitively seeking to recover from the trauma. You can google “Blackwell, Okla. Tornado 1955” and find photos and reports of the storm. The tornado proceeded on to Udall, Kansas, where it caused equal devastation.
This led to some improvements in developing storm tracking and in tornado sirens. However, four years later, I recall no warnings as I walked to school. Arriving a little late, I heard the tardy bell as I crossed the playground. Despite the beautiful May morning, I remember being aware that not one bird was making a sound. No breath of air stirred the trees. Eerie silence took hold.
I had just gotten to my seat in the classroom, which was by a full-length glass window, when apparently the sirens went off. I really don’t remember that. I just remember the teacher demanding we get under our desks. That window next to me went crashing into the room, cutting my hand and arm. Our classrooms were arranged in three parallel wings. The wing in the middle totally lost the roof, soaking everyone there. We were all crying as we waited for our parents to come rescue us.
Years later, as a recent high school graduate, I had been out one night with a girlfriend getting pizza. We sat visiting in the car after I drove her home. As it began to rain, the tornado sirens erupted. She urged me to come inside. Foolishly, I said “No. My mother will freak out if I am not home in a storm.” I can remember vividly driving away from her house, just as every streetlight in town went out. Such inky darkness I have never seen. I couldn’t tell if I were in an intersection and I feared someone else as foolish as I would plow into me. I crept along but eventually crashed into the back of a parked car. My father worked the night shift at the newspaper. Over the police scanner he heard the report about the crash and was distressed to hear the driver was me!
The reason my mother was frightened related to her own experience with tornadoes. When she was four, living in Shawnee, Okla., my grandmother gathered her and her two-year old brother on either side of her as she knelt on the kitchen floor, my mother’s baby brother in my grandmother’s lap, as my grandmother prayed for their safety. That memory was embedded in her. She had always preached to us to get home whenever there was a storm coming. I just overreacted to her admonition without thinking.
I have lived through many tornadoes since then. Once my husband Terry was in Texas helping our daughter and son in law prepare to move to Georgia. Because I had had back surgery, I elected not to make the trip. When tornado warnings were issued one morning, I gathered our two Great Pyrenees, and one of the cats and headed to the bathroom in the indoor basement. That made for quite a cozy arrangement! One of our dogs and the cat I had managed to get downstairs, were very anxious creatures but stayed amazingly calm with me. I myself was quite calm.
On the other hand, Terry was beside himself in Texas. He couldn’t reach me because I had no cell coverage due to the storm. He had good reason to be alarmed. We lived on one side of White Oak Mountain. On the back side of the mountain there was not a tree left standing. Homes within a few miles of us were totally destroyed. We suffered only a few trees down. Our house was entirely spared.
My calm in that storm must have enabled my normally anxious animals to remain relaxed as well. There is a saying: “You can’t calm the storm, so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.” (Timber Hawkeye)
May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter. Shalom, Kate
Hope’s Cafe Bonus: Imagine the difference we might make in the world if we all practiced and projected a sense of calm.