Trailer Park Nirvana image created by Stefany Kleeschulte.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tornado Thoughts

Growing up in Missouri we didn't need a weatherman to tell us a tornado was coming. The skies turned green and then the world around us inhaled, as though taking a deep breath before plunging into water. Us kids would stop playing and be as still as the air. Then all hell would break loose although I'm not going to use that phrase. Elmore Leonard writes in his ten rules for writers - never use "all hell broke loose." Look for it; you'll see that phrase in just about every book or essay or blog entry that deals with some tense situation. So...first there's those green skies, then that deep breath followed by exhalation. Our baby tree in the front yard would bend as though bowing to the queen. My brother Tony's tricycle would roll down the driveway. The siren would sound and we'd head for the basement.

The most exciting tornado warning happened in the middle of the night. All six of us kids were roused from our beds and sent to the basement with pillows and blankets. Any time you get to party in the middle of the night in your pj's is fun. We sat huddled around the radio, flashlights at the ready. Every once in a while our dad would go upstairs to check on the action and report back with things like "I think I just saw John's carport roof fly by." After the all-clear the party would continue in the kitchen with hot chocolate and then at first light we saw that, sure enough, John's carport roof was lying in Harold's backyard. That may have been the storm that took off the roof of the St. Louis Blues ice arena and leveled a part of downtown that subsequently became the housing complex Laclede Town (where I lived after my divorce) that subsequently got torn down because of man-made disasters like crime.

As a grown-up tornadoes kind of lost the fun factor. Especially when I lived in a mobile home - Bull's Eye! - with a three-month-old baby. Where do you go when the sirens sound? The bathtub? I think that only works in real homes. The ditch on the edge of the mobile home park? Well, okay, but when do you grab the baby and head for the ditch? I stood at the door, watched the sky turn green, watched the trees come to a standstill...nothing. Whew. False alarm.

The scariest tornado I encountered was on I-70 driving to Kansas City to see my college friend Space Woman. I had the radio on as I drove through a downpour so heavy I couldn't see the road in front of me. Whatever town I was nearing was being pummeled by a tornado. At the next exit I pulled off the highway and went inside the Ramada Inn. In the hotel bar I stood at the picture window with all the other travelers watching the rain, the hail, the wind. (I'm sure we would've moved away from all that glass at some point.)

After the recent tornadoes in the south and now this one in Joplin, Missouri (not too far from where I went to college in Springfield) the fun factor is totally gone. Did you see that Weather Channel weatherman get choked up as he first surveyed the damaged town? I got choked up watching him. The images on TV and the internet are those out of some Hollywood disaster movie. To emerge from the basement and see a displaced carport roof is one thing. To emerge from the basement and see nothing...yep, tornado fun is gone.

[image from CBS news]


  1. Great post, nette. I too remember the green skies and the hush that came over everything. My mother would send me down the basement where I would either get on the phone or take a nap. She would get pissed off because I wasn't watching the weather. dg

  2. were you in the basement by yourself? way more fun with five siblings.

  3. That's why I was on the phone!

  4. Annette, yes, tornado fun is gone. I remember one in central Illinois. I was teaching and we herded all the students into a central hallway. I swear the brick building rocked and rolled.
    In the aftermath, we learned the tornado had headed directly toward the school, then jumped over it to land on a laundry facility. Hotel linens littered the town.
    Beautiful, beautiful post.

  5. cool blog girl, guess if you are in an Airstream in Kino the best thing to do is get to a cinderblock restaurant that serves good margaritas. this is bisbee jmc speaking from salt lake city.

  6. Great entry.
    I wondered what was in LaClede Town before LaClede Town.
    And what happened after that.

  7. thanks for the comments ya'll.

    leeann, if i remember correctly, all the laclede town buildings were razed and the property belongs to Wash U. i'll have to ask my mom.

  8. Incredible description, Annette.
    I had forgotten that you were originally from that part of the country.
    Watching the news these days has been choking me up too.
    xoxo Kim

  9. ac, this is great!!!! You forgot to mention how we usually had to run back upstairs for something we forgot--like the bird, or one of the kids.
    Washington u has taken over all the land that was once Laclede Town.LT was a sucess for a long time. A lot of well known people lived there. awww, memories. Anyway, love you and your blog. gsc

  10. thanks mom...i mean gsc. i'm so glad you're not living in that glass high-rise building any more. seriously.