We lived in Lubbock, Texas until I was six. Our house was one of the few in the neighborhood with a storm cellar. The panhandle of Texas has a bit of a tornado problem. I didn’t see it as such in my childhood. To me, tornado warnings meant getting to go down in the cellar I was otherwise never allowed to see, neighbors and relatives coming to our house to join us in the cellar and staying up late watching a tiny black and white TV. It was the equivalent of a hurricane party to a five year old. To this day, I’m not sure why tornados always seemed to happen after my bedtime.
At that point in my life I loved tornados. I was too young to know better.
Fast forward to eighth grade. (I know. Nobody really wants to revisit those years, but it’s my eighth grade year, not yours. You’ll be fine.) It was a sunny day in the piney woods of Northeast Georgia. My younger brother and I were at a neighbor’s house enjoying the dangerously fun adventure known as a Slip’n Slide. (Can we just pause for a moment to recognize the irony of a company called Wham-O creating this oversized banana peel?) In passing, I overheard my mother say to the neighbor mother, “If those clouds were gathering in West Texas, we’d be taking cover.” Until she said that, I had been completely unaware there were any clouds in the sky. The sun was out. We were slipping and sliding to get bruised… um, I mean refreshed. It was summer vacation, and we didn’t have a care in the world.
Until mom shut us down.
Something about possible lightning combined with our front yard water park. I just remember us kids grumbling and going to their respective homes, thinking about how paranoid adults are and how much they must enjoy “ruining” our lives. (It was middle school. Drama happened.)
I don’t remember the exact sequence of events that followed. I think my brother and I dried off, changed clothes and had returned downstairs for a snack. It started raining. It started raining really hard. It started raining sideways. And even though it was the middle of the afternoon, it was getting dark outside. Some of our neighbors were hi-tech and had lights on sensors. Those lights turned on. By themselves. In the middle of the day.
When mom told us to get in the closet under the stairs, I started to get anxious. She brought a battery operated radio and the cordless phone with her. (Dear teenaged readers, Cordless phones were the step between the curly corded phones and cell phones.) I remember the radio because at the most intense part of the storm, when I had squeezed my way under some shelves and behind a file cabinet, the song Everybody Wants to Rule the World was playing. That’s right. Even before the iPod, life had a soundtrack.
I remember the cordless phone for a couple of reasons. The first involved a phone call to our Slip’n Slide neighbors where we learned that they were hunkered down in their hallway under a mattress, but the oldest boy had crawled to the kitchen to retrieve Oreos. (Good survival skills, right?) The second call was to dad’s office to tell him not to come home until the storm had passed.
That call was too late. He had already left and was en route. There were no cell phones. All we could do was wait.