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Recalling the terror of a twister

When I was in the sixth grade, a small tornado crossed over our home in the country.

There were no weather advisories in those days, nothing that warned you of approaching danger except a corner of the sky that might suddenly deepen into a demonic shade of bluish-black.

It was mid-summer. I don’t remember much about the hours before the storm except that things seemed perfectly normal. The sun was shining. Chickens scratched and pecked in the sandy soil under the four peach trees inside their fenced yard next to the barn. Our three horses lazily grazed in the pasture while our dogs, Shortie and Archie, were simply hanging out, sniffing about, doing whatever dogs do.

Mom called us in for lunch about noon and when the sky began to grow dark, didn’t let us go back out.

As the wind picked up, she went to the windows several times, watching the clouds. Although she said nothing, she looked  worried. The sky grew even blacker and the wind blew harder, gusting crazily around the house. When Archie and Shortie began barking and whining outside, Mom opened the door and they shot in like bullets.

At that moment the wind began to roar in a strange way and the entire house shifted on its foundation. Alarmed, she stepped outside, just for a moment, struggling to hold onto the door knob. The world beyond the open door now glowed with a weird greenish hue. A sudden volley of hail swept the yard, then a wall of rain blew across horizontally. Mom bolted back in, shouting as she slammed the door.

“It’s a twister! Get away from the windows!”

 

Like most kids, I’d seen The Wizard of Oz. I knew exactly what “twister” meant and the vision of our house, lifted and spinning wildly in the air loomed up in my imagination.

Mom was yelling and grabbing at us, trying to herd us to a safe place. My little sister, clinging to Shortie, began to cry.

“Get in the hallway and lie down!”

Terrified, we hit the floor, clutching each other. I thought of our house, reduced to piles of splintered rubble, then of my 4-H poultry project, my hens and roosters raised from peeps.

“My chickens!” I shouted in distress.

I grieved for our horses and our many cats. Would they survive? Did they have time to find a safe place to hide?

The wind died down and stopped. Sunlight again filled the yard and everything was eerily silent.

In the kitchen, mom found puddles of water on the floor the wind had forced beneath the bottoms of the closed windows.

Tentatively, we ventured outdoors. Not a single chicken remained in the hen yard. No cats could be seen. In the barn we found the horses safe, huddled in a corner, understandably skittish.

Tree limbs and debris were everywhere. Lawn furniture, potted plants, the wheel barrow and bicycles were overturned and scattered. The clothes line was stripped of its laundry.

Cats warily began to emerge from unknown places where they had secreted themselves to ride out the storm. Then, unbelievably, we found the chickens. Most of them.

They were in the peach trees, hunkered among what was left of the foliage, sodden as wet cotton, but alive. How they held on through the fury of that small but violent twister is a miracle.

The real miracle is it didn’t actually touch down but passed directly over us. No lasting harm was done.

I tell this to underscore how lucky we were. The folks in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and most recently, Joplin, Missouri were not. The destruction in Joplin is beyond imagination. Entire neighborhoods are now gone and people are dead and missing. The storm has passed but the nightmare will last for years.

Countless videos from the event are already on the Internet, but none more astonishing than the one referenced here. It’s not what you see but what you hear that is so stunningly horrific.

Go to www.huffingtonpost.com and type in “Horrifying video from inside the twister” in the search box at the top.

Listen and then count your blessings.

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