Every so often Mother Nature has to throw a fit. That’s just the way it is and the havoc can come in the form of floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados and many other disasters. Sometimes these weather occurrences make their way into our stories.
Living in Tornado Alley, I’m most familiar with tornados. I survived an enormous North Texas twister on April 10, 1979 that took 52 lives when three vortexes merged into one. Meteorologists still refer to that day as Terrible Tuesday because of the immense devastation and the sheer numbers. There were 59 reported tornados on the ground in the area on that Tuesday. The F-5 monster that hit Wichita Falls left a path of destruction 8 miles wide and 47 miles long.
Pretty unbelievable and so frightening.
The impact it made on my life remains 42 years later and to this day get very emotional when I talk about it. The sirens had been going off all day so I didn’t pay any mind to the last one that went off a little before 6:00 pm. I was cooking supper and the kids were playing as normal. It was my first husband and my wedding anniversary and we’d planned to go out to celebrate.
Our kids were 7, 5, and 8 months old—much too young to learn about life and death and the kind of terror that freezes the screams in a person’s throat.
My husband went out to look at the sky and saw the massive thing coming. It resembled a hungry beast gobbling up everything in its path. The rumble was one of the most terrifying sounds I’d ever heard before or since. We had no time to pull mattresses off the beds or blankets over us. We rushed the kids to a narrow hallway that ran the length of the three bedrooms and laid down on top of them. My baby daughter laid under me so very still. I had my eyes clenched shut, praying. I didn’t know of anyone who’d lived through something like that with minimal protection. Here are some pictures. The camera wasn’t very good.
It tore right through our house, our neighborhood where we’d felt so safe. I heard when the roof went and boards and debris reined down on top of us. I never felt anything though and thought that was odd. I was just too terrified and in shock. I’m sure that’s probably the way soldiers are in war. You just never think anything like that will happen to you.
Time moved in slow motion and seemed to take hours for the tornado to pass on when in reality it only lasted a few minutes. Then hail the size of golf balls pounded us as we climbed out from under the pile of debris on top of us. We checked the kids and the only injury was a minor cut on top of the baby’s head. So miraculous, especially when we got the first look at our flattened neighborhood. In each direction we stared, it looked like a bomb had gone off and a pungent, sickening smell hung in the air. The smell lasted for months afterward. So did the roofing tar embedded in our scalps. This picture is of me in bell bottom pants with Baby Girl.
But then, we didn’t know what to do next. Did we hang around and wait for someone to come tell us something? But if we left, where did we go? Our car was sitting on top of a tree, besides we had no close relatives. It was getting dark and the baby was hungry.
We started to set off walking, then realized the older children were barefoot. The tornado had sucked the shoes off their feet. My husband carried our 5-year-old and our son had to pick his way very carefully. Trees and power lines were down everywhere. Thankfully, a man with a carload of others like us stopped and picked us up. We went to a woman I worked with and spent the night with her.
People have asked over the years why I’ve never written my account, but the truth is I couldn’t relive that horror. Or the year of homelessness after that. It had stolen far too much of me. It took everything we owned.
However, I did insert a tornado scene in Once Upon a Mail Order Bride. But, the only way I was able to do it was by putting Ridge and Addie in open country, somewhere totally different from my experience. They had to run for their lives and leap into a ravine to beat death. But the horrendous sounds, smells, heart pounding fear that rose in their throats, strangling them came from what I remembered and felt.
Have you ever had something happen so powerful that it left a lasting effect on you and maybe altered the course of your life? Or have you read about a big weather event in a book? I know Sharon Sala has written about Hurricane Katrina. I’m giving away a copy of Once Upon a Mail Order Bride to someone who comments. I wish I had room for the excerpt of that scene but this post is getting really long.