Tornados in the news always remind me of that spring day when we frantically planted flowers anticipating the storm. Flower beds, lilacs across the back, raspberries up the side; like at the old house. Everyone contributed to the effort as the clouds loomed. We wanted to take advantage of the coming rain. Dad had bad knees from the war so he directed traffic while we all carried plants, dug holes and planted.
As we finished up word came of a tornado watch. Exciting! Cool! We stowed tools and set to securing a safe shelter in the southwest corner of the basement. Like a family campout with blankets, snacks, flashlights, sodas. Everything. The emergency PSA admonished us to open some windows a crack to equalize the inside air pressure to the outside so the house wouldn’t explode. Unreal, intense, mysterious.
Mom and little sister retired to the shelter while my Dad, my older brothers and I stood sentry on the front lawn, scanning the glowing green sky for a funnel cloud. Suddenly, Dad said, “There it is. Let’s go!” And we ran inside and flew down the stairs. Steve and Jeff out raced me but I flew down the stairs and it took mere seconds to get to our redoubt on the far side of the basement. It was dark but Mom’s flashlight guided us.
“Where’s Dad?” Mom was frantic. I couldn’t hear her. In those brief seconds the wind rose to such a pitch all I could hear was the howl of the tornado. She yelled again, her voice a glass shattering in a jet engine. Her face said it all. I looked around in panic. Chaos. No Dad. He made sure we were safe but he didn’t follow. I left him behind.
“I don’t know! He was right behind me.” Mom couldn’t hear me either but she understood. She turned away, alone.
I’ll never forget that sound, the low growling howl, the lost chord sung by the damned; calling me. What song is your house tuned to–would it hum in sympathetic harmony while being ripped apart at the seams? The air was alive, dancing, enticing anything that would come.
That afternoon, preparing the house for the storm, stowing papers from the desk top where do you stop? How do you secure a whole house from a tornado? It seemed futile and silly. We opened windows. Is two inches enough? Six too much? The clouds roiled. The air was electric. Surreal.
There was nothing to do. It was over us. Nothing but wait and hope. We were enveloped in chaos and sound, indistinguishable, one grotesque sound wave.
It faded. It was only the most hellish seconds. And now stark, silence. What next?
“I’m here! I’m safe!” Dad was ten feet away from us. Ten feet– three strides– a dive. Slower coming down the stairs, when the wind hit, he hit the deck under something solid, the pool table. He rode it out alone with God. Tears of joy. We ran to him. All safe.
The house was intact. Curtains lay neatly on the bed, in the wrong room. A gap on the wall where once a picture. Furniture at random. One crystal glass plucked from a set of four. Gone.
The garage slightly off its foundation. The house was intact.
Our newly planted flowers stripped of leaves. They came back. Trash strewn everywhere. Some girl’s doll. For years after, whenever we dug into the earth shards of glass and broken shingle, driven inches into the clay in parallel pattern. Eight tornadoes sighted that night.
The next day my teacher scolded me for not having my homework done. She wouldn’t believe a tornado ate my homework.