You never forget the roar.
I was 8 years old when a tornado terrorized my family as we tried to survive in perhaps the worst possible structure to shelter us.
I was tucked under the covers when the bedroom light came on, and the next thing I knew, my mother had pulled me out of bed, yelling about a tornado. I heard my father in the hallway, trying to wake my brother. I slipped Mom’s grasp to get my teddy bear. Before I could reach it, she’d latched onto my arm and yanked me through the door.
The four of us arrived in the living room simultaneously. Dad flung open the first door, but on the other side of storm glass, debris flew across the yard, threatening to impale us if we set foot outside. My parents discarded Plan A.
Instead, they crammed us into the nearby coat closet. Mom sat on us, presumably to keep us from being blown away. Dad stood facing us, his hands bracing against the door frame.
“Hold on,” he yelled. “Hold on.”
The mobile home shook.
Tornadoes Rip Through South, Midwest
A monster storm system that ripped across the South and Midwest a few days ago took me back to 1974. My husband and I had returned home only a few days earlier from Little Rock, Ark., where one of the deadly tornadoes hit.
According to The Daily Memphian, the National Weather Service called the tornadoes in Mississippi the deadliest in the state in more than a decade. Mississippi is my home state.
More storms are headed this way this week. In fact, it looks like the weather has it in for us all in a bad way right now.
The most recent preliminary statistics from the National Centers for Environmental Information show that the 3-month period ending Feb. 28 had more tornadoes in the contiguous United States than at any time during the same months since at least 1951. Officials believe 315 twisters struck, compared to a final count of 280 between December 2022 and Feburary this year. See more stats here.
Grief After the Tornadoes
As twisters powered through the South on March 31, my husband and I watched the weather on TV while our quivering dog sat next to us on the couch. I monitored social media, and the next morning, I checked with friends in Little Rock. They were safe. Everyone I knew was safe.
Olive Branch, Miss., one of the cities I cover for the Memphian, immediately began collecting donations for survivors. It’s beautiful how people reach out to folks who’ve lost so much, including people they love.
The grieving will mourn the dead, and the victims will rebuild. None will ever forget the sound in the night.
Cleaning Out the Tornado Shelter
Many years after the tornado miraculously left our home intact, I was cleaning out the closet where we had sheltered. My parents had died three years apart, and I had inherited the house. (You can read more here about the process of cleaning out a parent’s house.)
As I sorted through the artifacts of their lives stored there, I realized I had overlooked the significance of a simple fact – that my father had been outside of the closet the night of the tornado. There had been no room for him. In the doorway, he had used his body as a shield.
Tears came to my eyes. He’d offered his life for his family.
I cried out of gratitude. I cried out of regret.
I had not fully appreciated what he had done until he was dead. But as my face got wetter and wetter, I felt his love across the span of death. That comforted my grief-stricken heart and showed me our bond could outlast any tragedy life offered.
I will always remember the roar, but I now treasure the love that had been on display that night long ago, humanity at its best in the midst of nature’s terrifying, destructive power.
Is there a scary event from your childhood that illicited an incredible display of love from your parent or an important person? I would love to hear about it. Tell your story in the comments or message me here.
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