Tornadoes in the mid-west blanket the news too often. Whether they’re worse under the effects of climate change in our present day than years ago, I don’t know. One affected me, my sister, mom and dad on May 1, 1948.
My dad told the story often as I grew-up and I have a copy of the Chanute Tribune dated May 3, 1948, which told the tale too. We lived on a farm in rural southeastern Kansas. While outside, taking his car for a spin, or as we used to call it, a joy ride, my dad saw the dark threatening funnel cloud form and coming our way. He went back to the house and yelled for my mom to bring me, eight months old. She was nursing me. Dad grabbed my sister, Linda, age two and a half, and ran to the basement under the wash house outside. They laid me and Linda prone on the concrete floor and then my mom covered us with her body. Then, my dad lay on top of us, afraid the tornado would lift us up and toss us around or killing us when the wash house was gone. He hung on to a ledge to prevent this. The storm hit and blew the wash house away, completely destroying it. My mom suffered a severe laceration on one of her upper left arms.
I can’t imagine the shock they received when the storm was over. The house was gone, including the grass on the land. The shell of bent metal was all that remained of the car. A cow somehow didn’t die and wandered around, I’m sure in a daze.
The tornado cut a path of thirty miles, sometimes the width of one mile, through Neosho County, terrorizing all in its path. I have a picture that was found 50 miles away near Ft. Scott, Kansas. An estimate of half a million dollars in damage to sixty farms and farmland gives an idea of the severity of the storm. I don’t know how that equates to our dollar today. Two people died in the county. However, the storm swept through several states.
My dad was quite the story teller. He told the newspaper reporter that a length of chain he had on a post stood straight out in the strong wind. Perhaps it’s true.
The Red Cross, Salvation Army and other organizations immediately helped those devastated by the tornado. They found places for people to relocate and gave furniture and food too. I have a picture of me and Linda sitting in front of the furniture given to us. Linda looks traumatized while I’m happy to examine a large candy cane.
Growing up, I didn’t understand my mother’s fear of storms. One time she put us under a bed, by then not having a cellar to hide in. My siblings and I wanted to go to the windows and watch the trees sway, uproot and fall down. The rain beat against the windows. The house wasn’t hit.
My dad and mom were alive when hurricane Katrina hit the south. It was only then I thought to ask how he had felt after the tornado. He said he was walking up some stairs in a house and had a hard time making his legs move. He mentioned it to the Red Cross worker. She told him he was in shock.
I often think of his words when I see the devastation on television of tornadoes. Peoples’ lives are torn apart. Too often the question is asked by reporters, “How do you feel?” Sometimes people cry, others say they will rebuild. At least they have their lives. I think it’s a cruel question. Shock sets in at some point and the enormous task of rebuilding emotions and a home must begin. I often wonder if they will be as resilient as my parents were.