Thursday, April 21, 2005

Tornado Season

It's here, the spring tornado season. I always make note of this, having lived in Gary, Indiana and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma....both in "tornado alley" I have seen a thin funnel cloud come out of the sky in Dallas, Texas and the night of my baby shower in Oklahoma City, the sirens went off eight times in three hours. But the tornado that made the biggest impression on me as a child was actually an August tornado.

We always had tornado warnings in Indiana. I remember the time before the "tornado watch" system, we just had the warnings. It was so commonplace I usually didn't take notice. My dad grew up in southern Illinois and he had lived through several tornadoes including one that took the chicken house up(with the chickens inside) and over the main house and set it down where it still is today. He would tell the stories, then go out and look at the sky and say, "I believe we're ok, doesn't look like a tornado sky." I felt safe. I had no idea what a tornado sky was supposed to look like but if he said it was ok, then it was.

It was early August, time for the district church camp and business meetings. We were building a new church building on three acres of land. The parsonage was finished and we had moved in. The walls and roof of the educational wing of the church were up and the side walls of the sanctuary were up. It was L-shaped and they were getting ready to put on the sanctuary roof. Dad realized that they had not insured the building yet, so he called the State Farm man and had him write up the policy. Dad needed to go by and sign the papers but he had to wait until the following week because of the camp.

Thursday evening both parents went to a preacher's dinner and meeting leaving me with my brother. I was about 12 or 13 years old and Stephen was 3 or 4 years old. I remember that it was hot, very hot, stifling hot, even after least 85 degrees. The television weather would break in to tell of tornadoes in Illinois or south of Gary. It was quiet, really quiet, not just the ordinary still night. The rustling of leaves was absent; there was no breeze. But more significant, the usual night sounds of birds and insects was gone. The house was next to an empty field; the crickets and songbirds usually kept up a symphony of sound all night, sometimes making it hard to sleep with open windows. That night it was totally quiet. I noted it but didn't recognize the significance.

The folks came home around 11 PM and I told them about the weather in Illinois. Then I went on to bed. Maybe the stillness bothered my dad, because he decided to stay up and listen to the radio and television. Around 2 AM he got us all up and told us we had to get down to the basement quickly. It was still really quiet. We had a large basement where they were having church until the new building was finished. We had a laundry room in the back. There were two small windows at the top of two walls there, right at the foundation level of the first floor. Mom got between the dryer and the wall and held Stephen and dad put me under the big wash tub. Then we waited.

Dad told us that a tornado was reported on the ground in our area and the street name given was very close. We still had a radio plugged in and were listening to the reports. About five minutes later, the electricity went off. We were in the dark. Suddenly, we started to see lightening through the small windows and heard thunder, but more than that, a sound louder than thunder, more like a train. We could see the grass near the windows blowing when the lightening flashed. Then the rain and hail started and my ears started to pop. Stephen's eyes were big, and he was quiet. I don't think he had ever been that quiet for that length of time before or since.

I don't know how long it lasted but it seemed like hours. Surely it was over in a few minutes at most. The lightening continued and the rain and hail. I think we stayed down there for at least one hour. Dad went up first and found the battery radio. It was over.

Our house was ok. Nothing damaged, no glass broken. But when dad looked out the garage window at the church, he could see with the lightening flashes that it was gone. Flattened. Totally lost. He was sick. He had not signed the papers for the insurance.

The next morning he called the State Farm man expecting him to say there was no insurance. Instead he told dad that he had already put the policy in and it was in effect; he would come over with adjusters that morning and get it checked out. Dad signed the papers for the policy and State Farm issued the check the same day. Dad had his miracle.

Later, I asked my dad the question I should have left alone, "Have you ever seen an actual tornado?" He said, "No." I was shattered, then how could he know what a tornado sky was? Well, from that day on, if there was any news of any tornado within a hundred miles or if a tornado watch was out (they started them after that storm), I would get the dog and head for the basement with a book. If they were out, I would leave a note that read...TORNADO WATCH....DOG & I ARE IN THE BASEMENT.....WILL ONLY COME UP AFTER WATCH IS CANCELLED....Love r.

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