Oh boy, it is here already!! Tornado season is upon us and has been unkind already to many in Oklahoma and Arkansas. We live in what is known as "Tornado Alley" which is most of the middle section of the United States. A fact of which I have lived with all my life!
I know there were many tornadoes before the first one I ever actually recall, but the first one that really stuck in my head happened on May 21, 1957. We were outside playing hopscotch and waiting for "I Love Lucy" to come on television. I shall never forget the grim look on my father's face as he told us to go get some blankets off our beds and get some clean clothes and our pajamas. We asked why and he told us to just do what he said to do..as we watched him and Mom gather up some things like cereal, milk, bowls, gallons of water and candles and flashlights and proceed to put them all in the car. What the heck was going on we wondered, were we going to Grandmothers? to the lake, camping, what and where?? We could not leave Lucy was about to come on!! Come on Daddy, you got some splaining to do!! We simply can not miss Lucy!!
But we did miss Lucy..off we went with the car all packed up to Mr. and Mrs. Ritter's house down the road. Why? anyone, please why? Well the Cotter kids were there too, so maybe this was not going to be too bad what ever the hay was going on.
The rains began to pour and thunder and lightning was everywhere..we had been shuttled off into the root cellar which was completely underground with a huge mound of earth over it. A place I hated as it was full of potatoes and onions and I was sure it had rats and mice and all other kinds of vermin in it as well. There were bins kind of like bunk beds and that was what they became, our beds. Yuck!!
All the sudden the rain stopped and it became very still..my father went into some kind of survival mode and I recall him saying that this was it..WAS WHAT?? He grabbed a hand saw and about threw us down the stairs back into the root cellar, making sure the Ritters and the Cotters were all inside and closed the big heavy door. As he did you could hear the wind begin to howl, but it was somehow different from the usual sound of the winds. It sounded almost like a train was passing close by! I still do not think I was really scared, as I had no real idea what was taking place! The sound of the wind became deafening and there was a loud crash against the cellar door. Daddy looked at Jim Cotter and they both looked very grim. As the sound of the wind lessened, the two of them began to try to open the door. The door was at an angle and something seemed to be against it from the outside. The two of them managed to get the door open enough that one of them could get outside. We heard groans and grunts as my father pushed a huge maple tree off the door. It was calm outside now, so we were allowed to come outside. Good as I was sure a rat had run across my feet already!!
The world was a different place as we came out of that cellar. Trees were everywhere, parts of the roof of the houses were gone, the windshield of the Cotters car was smashed from a tree limb..what was going on? Then I heard Daddy say that tornado was close..well I knew what a tornado was and now I was scared.
He sat me and my sister Gwen on the hood of our car and Denny Cotter joined us there. Denny was a year older than me and both myself and Gwen thought he was a cutie. A few years later we actually fought over him!
As we sat there on the hood the lightning lit up the sky and you could clearly see three tornadoes, side by side. There was a huge one in the middle and two smaller ones on either side. I shall never ever forget that and that suddenly as the lightning hit again it made a outline that looked like the USA map..Denny and I looked at each other and we had such terror in our eyes. we both thought the same thing, that the entire country was being destroyed!! After all we were children of the "Red Devil" era and Nikita Khrushchev eras and he scared us to death! Was this a warning we were all about to die??
My father and Mr. Cotter stood a few feet in foot of us and I heard my father say it was over the Jackson County Hospital now, my aunt Pauline lived close to there and my good friends Russell Swall and Donald Case and Nancy Ramsey all lived over that way too and I was so frightened for them. As it turns out my aunt's house was totally destroyed. They were okay except for a few minor cuts and bruises. They had taken a mattress and all got into the bathtub with it over them. When the house was blown apart the tub fell into the basement with them in it, so they were okay.
That was one of the longest nights I ever remember as a child. What we were to witness in the next few days has left an indelible mark on me. We saw chickens with no feathers strutting around..dogs with fur gone in patches..splinters of wood driven straight into huge telephone poles!! Houses moved from their foundation and actually set upon the foundation of the house next to them!! The Truman Corners Mall, which was fairly new was almost all gone! Many people were dead and many more injured, it was so sad. One thing that still sticks with me is a tape was found in the debris of a house that this lady had taped as she watched the tornado approach her home in Hickman Mills, her husband had called her and told her to leave and go to a neighbors basement, she did not feel she needed to, she was pregnant and she died in that tornado. So sad, I never knew her name but can still see that tape in my minds eye.
I never saw a flying cow as in the movie "Twister", but what I saw gave me total respect for a tornado and what it can do!! Heed warnings, even if you think it might not happen, don't be like that lady with her video tape!!
Until next time, stay safe and God bless you all!
Link to what tornado alley is and where it is:
Link to the May 21, 1957 KC, Missouri area tornado: