Tornadoes, or How I spent my Childhood in a Bathtub Covered by a Mattress. June 14, 2012Posted by #4 in Everything but the kitchen sink.
Tags: Atmospheric Sciences, California, Earth Sciences, Hail, Meteorology, Oklahoma, Tornado, Washington D.C
I live in California. One of the reasons I live here is there are no tornadoes. At least not the big, menacing, scary, wipe-your-house-off-the-foundation kind of tornadoes. A few months ago I was watching a live newscast with video footage of a “tornado” and the anchor people were fairly spewing forth all kinds of dramatic tones and words to describe this horrible occurrence, right here in California. The helicopter pilot that was getting the live tornado footage even managed to fly in a very nervous fashion. Give me a break. The “tornado” was a wimp. Where I grew up we would chase those kind of tornadoes and toss loose grass up into it and watch the grass spiral up into the air. It was a lot of fun.
Where I come from has real tornadoes: Oklahoma. Specifically Tornado Alley. That’s right, the birthplace of real tornadoes! These babies don’t play, they just slide right in and wipe the slate clean.
I remember when my wife and I first moved to California, everyone took great pleasure in taunting us with the word earthquake. As if simply moving to California guaranteed that you were going to die in an earthquake because California is the worlds largest producer of earthquakes like Brazil is the worlds largest producer of coffee beans or Washington D.C. is the worlds largest producer of corruption. But since we’ve lived here going on 18 years I’ve never felt the earth move due to a quake. But all those years I lived in Oklahoma it seemed like I was constantly dodging tornadoes; of course by dodging I mean lying in a bathtub covered by a mattress. I nearly spent my entire childhood covered by a mattress while hunkered in a tub. Must be one of the reasons I only take showers now.
I still have family who live there and every year I get nervous for them because they still live in that blasted alley and have to dodge twisters. Another thing that must be dodged in Oklahoma, right along with tornadoes, is hail. Have you ever been caught in a hail storm? Momma get the broomstick! It’s bad. I would hate to be an insurance adjuster in Oklahoma just for the car windshields alone. Hail and twisters, both very good reasons to move.
My earliest memory of seeing a tornado happened to be the most traumatic one of all. It all started with air-born chickens.
We lived on a farm outside of a little town called Pryor, Oklahoma and my brother and I were almost never inside the house; we were always running the farm looking for something to kill or something to discover. One day, we each had a pair of stilts made out of 2×4 lumber that had been ripped in half with wood blocks nailed on for foot supports and leather straps to hold our feet on the blocks, and we were learning how to walk in them using the storm cellar as the easiest way to start. A storm was moving in but we were tough farm boys and didn’t let that stop us from playing outside. It wasn’t until the lightning started that we got distracted from the stilts.
Oklahoma produces big lightning, just like it produces big tornadoes. We would spend hours lying on our backs watching lightning streak across the sky, only moving if some decided to hit the ground. Somehow I really miss watching lightning, we don’t get any out here in California. Anyway the lightning distracted us but it wasn’t until the hail hit that we decided to go inside the house. Little tiny pea sized hail wouldn’t move us, this was head-conking hail and we knew better.
Once inside we quickly forgot the hail and the storm and just started watching TV , but the wind was getting pretty strong and shaking the house so I went to the window to see what was going on. The trees were whipping about like mad and suddenly chickens were flying by the window. Well, they were flapping their wings but they weren’t really “flying” unless you consider upside-down and backwards to be normal flying for chickens. I knew something was wrong. I started hollering for mom and showed her the trees and chickens and then we all ran for the back door.
The back door of our farm house looked out over an open area that led to several barns and sheds and there was a gravel drive down the side of it. This back door was the main door for all comings and goings in the house and it had a screen door on the outside. Jammed up like rats in a storm drain we all looked out through the screen door on utter chaos. The wind was ferocious and there was hail all over the ground and our step-dad and older brother were out working in that. I guess we feared for them because we opened the screen door and stepped out… and looked up.
The image is burned into my brain. I will never forget it unless God decides I don’t need my brain anymore and shuts it off. What we saw was stunning. It was a tornado and it was so close to the house that it consumed nearly our entire field of vision. It was so big we had to tilt our heads way back just to see all of it. Not only was it big and loud but it was an angry red.
In the manner of all children who really don’t have a clue what their parents do, I had no idea my step-dad was out in the field plowing that day. The reason the tornado was red was because at that very moment it was in that freshly plowed field of red Oklahoma soil, and my step-dad was hunkered down under the tractor with our dog Corky. This tornado was literally sweeping that field clean of plowed soil and sucking it up into the atmosphere.
We ran for the storm cellar, forgetting that it was flooded, like it always was, so we had to make a mad dash back into the house and – you guessed it – into the bathtub and under a mattress ( I actually think I spent more time under a mattress than I ever did on top of one).
Later, after the storm was gone I finally learned everything that had happened. I believe it was this storm ( I could be wrong, so don’t get all worked up about it) that killed 4 of our cows because they were sheltering under a big tree that happened to get struck by a bolt of lightning, cooking them on the spot; also my oldest brother was milking cows during this storm and he recalled that the tornado actually started in the lot next to the barn and he watched huge rocks getting sucked out of the ground; one of our barns lost a corrugated tin roof; I already mentioned my step-dad hiding under the tractor but he came out okay; this very same tornado eventually made it’s way to Joplin, Missouri that year and tore into the town; I believe the year was 1971.
I had many more encounters with tornadoes over the years but the last one I remember was around 1980. I was working at JCPenney at the mall and I couldn’t leave to go home because of tornadoes that were at that moment ripping up neighborhoods in Edmond. I eventually moved to Colorado and then California to finally get away from them (okay – not really, but allow me a few exaggerations, please). Every time I talk to one of my relatives who are hunkered down in a tub under a mattress because of a tornado I am reminded of what a great decision that was.
My childhood was filled with stories of the strange things that would happen during a tornado; stories of straws of hay driven into the trunks of trees while remaining unbroken; garage doors removed from their tracks and then put back on – upside down; chickens stripped of their feathers (ours lost a few but none were stripped that I know of); Horses lifted and set back down miles away, unharmed; fish and frogs and birds raining down from the sky; one home destroyed and swept away and its neighboring house untouched; brick homes destroyed while the wood siding homes survive; and on and on. You can read more strange stories here.
The tornado that last year tore up Joplin, Missouri brought back many memories for me. I have two uncles who lost their homes in that storm, one uncle having survived the destruction in his closet. Thankfully the other uncle was out of state at the time. The destructive power of these twisters is amazing, and I don’t miss having to dodge them, but it’s unnerving knowing my family is still in the path.
There are many things in life to be thankful for, number 1 being the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ for this fallen world. I’m thankful for my family, distant and close; I’m thankful for good coffee and good food; I’m thankful for a good days hard work and a good days pay; I’m thankful for this country and the American people who are my neighbors; I’m thankful for my church and the freedom to worship our Savior and to study His Word; I’m thankful for freedom from debt, freedom from fear, freedom from oppression, and freedom from poverty that are blessings from God…
and I’m thankful for those old cast iron tubs and those old feather mattresses that covered my scrawny butt so long ago.