Death is naked before God;
Destruction lies uncovered…
I was in 5th grade and proudly walked into school wearing my new red and orange multi-pleated skirt; there were so many pleats in it that I could almost have drawn it in a full circle over my head! Of course, I never did that, but I could have. I chose the skirt at the Red Cross emergency relief store. I loved it. My three sisters and I selected all the clothes we wanted and did not pay one penny for them, just because we had survived. In fact, the whole neighborhood was fine. We were all living miracles. Absolutely everything else had been lost. The only thing we had left was each other and a memory etched into our lives forever. And to think, it had the nerve to happen on that gorgeous Palm Sunday afternoon!
The day was picture-perfect for outdoor gallivanting in the woods with our buddies. I was eleven years old, and we, the girls of the neighborhood, were dressed up in outlandish outfits from Aunt Katy’s dress-up box. We were playing pioneers in the backwoods of their house, making grass huts from long wild dried grass. I loved the way the wind blew my hair and long dress. I felt like a sailboat bobbing on the waves. It was eerily windy that day —we could have been pirates on the sea, or marauders in a desert storm. A smoldering orange dusk was looming and nightfall was settling in sooner than usual. Aunt Katy shouted from the porch, “Girls, you better come in now, there are some weather warnings out. Time to go home.” Reluctantly we left our wind-whipped thatch huts and moved towards the house.
“You’d better skedaddle home now,” Katie cautioned.
We threw our clothes into the dress-up box and waved goodbye. Our house was furthest away, but Betsy and her sister Susie walked with us for a while. We dropped them off at their house and then it was only my sister Bessie and I walking down the road.
It was time for our Sunday evening T.V. program, Walt Disney’s The Wonderful World of Color. That was our “allowed” program and it always came with popcorn. Mom and Dad joined us in the basement where the TV. was already on. Weather warnings began interrupting the show. There was a chance of tornadoes; not a concern to us. We used to live in Kansas where tornadoes were rampant —the land of Dorothy and her Wizard of Oz. Muff Potter, our beagle, lay faithfully at my father’s feet, oblivious to everything happening around him. The TV. began to blur and make static noises and all kinds of squiggly lines stretched across the screen. We gave up trying to see the program. Bessie proposed, “Let’s go outside!” Unanimously we agreed and scrambled outside to enjoy the wind.
Two houses down, Betsy and Susie were also outside on their driveway. Betsy trotted over and excitedly told us of the white cyclone they’d seen in a field in the distance; they even saw it take a board off the neighbors’ barn roof! As we talked, a mouse fell out of heaven and landed kerplunk in the driveway. Strange things were happening. The sky was raining mice! As we talked the wind rose and Dad ordered us to the basement.
“Frieda, go and get some candles in case the lights go out, I’m going to drive Betsy home.” That meant things were serious —she only lived one-minute walk away. I grabbed two long, red Christmas candles from the kitchen cupboard still assuming that Dad was overly worried. The rest of the family headed to the basement. Dad led Betsy to the garage which was at basement level. Half a minute later, Dad was back and Betsy was still with him. He’d driven down the driveway and looked to the right; an enormous black wall was heading straight at them … it was about to come down our road. Reversing at full speed he and Betsy sprinted into the basement. He commanded in his powerful, but panicky voice, “Get into the basement! Fast!”
I was coming down the stairs with a long red candle in each hand when I intercepted him and Betsy as they came from the garage. He pushed me in line behind Betsy, but I was still unsure of how serious to take him, even though his voice was bellowing like a fire alarm. We all, including Mom, galloped obediently ahead of him as he herded us like sheep, propelling us into the farthest corner of the basement behind a double bed. He then fell down across us the best he could, creating a human shield. Dad was not a small man, so his body made an extra heavy shield on the pile of bodies underneath. Betsy and I were first in the parade; we were squished far into the corner and remained standing on our own where Dad couldn’t reach us.
Dad saw the twister and knew where it was heading. Thinking clearly and speedily, he calculated that the safest place would be where the tornado would hit first. It was that amazing that his diagnostic spilt-second decision saved our lives, for the tornado hit immediately and raged furiously above our heads causing an unbelievable, indescribable din. Dad later called it the noise of a hundred freight trains. The sound was literally that of our house being pulled off its hinges with mighty creaks and groans; a noise we’d never heard before, and hopefully will never hear again. But at the time, we didn’t know what was happening. Because no word sufficed to describe it, I called it that moment, that sound, “appostrogetic.” (A word must be invented when there is none.)
*The photo is actually the tornado that hit our house, taken just after it ripped down our road.
~Follow next week’s story as it continues in Appostrogetic Part 2~