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Take Us All or Leave Us All
Pounding in hollow tolls against the wooden steps, momma’s feet hurried down into the darkness. Sleep encrusted the delicate corners of my eyes, trying to pull be back to comfort. To my parent’s warm bed. To the gentle hum of the fan. To the nap I had just been awakened from. We were heading down to the garage. I didn’t need to keep my eyes open for this. I had been up and down theses stairs a hundred times. I buried my face into momma’s chest. The usual soft beat that had lulled me to sleep many nights was now frantically slamming into my four year old mind.
My eyes opened again when the rhythmic jostle of being carried subsided. Shards of eerily syphoned light peeked through the small upper windows of the garage door. My ears sifted through the air when the deep bass of my daddy’s voice came from behind and weighted down the already thick and heavy atmosphere with concern. Fear gripped me as tight as mom was holding me now. What was scaring the strongest beings known to me? My mom. My dad.
A siren sliced the air like a fine-toothed surgical saw. Its incision remained precise, yet cutting as it penetrated through existence. We crouched in a corner. Dad was with us now. He braced himself in front of us like a Spartan shield ready for battle. Mom grasped the nape of my neck--the place where chills starts to scurry down the spine--pressing my head against her shoulder. Hershey, our chocolate lab, panted in shallow quickened breaths as she burrowed into our compacted trio.
Striking staccato’s of matter hit metal as objects were launched into the garage door. “Take us all or leave us all. Take us all or leave us all.” Momma whispered to God.
Peeling loudness ripped apart the sky as the wind seized the earth around us. Its as if a freight train was tunneling through our home. Nails screeched as they were plucked from the wood that was being splintered into toothpicks. A suction of wind pulled my skin taunt against my frame. Mom and I were jolted against the wall. Objects were hitting me, but I didn’t feel the pain. For six eternal seconds, the wind reigned above us.
Then, there was silence. Everything remained tense, defensive, ready as if in disbelief mother nature was pleased with her work--her destruction.
We were buried. Trapped by jagged boards, slabs of concrete foundation and twisted metal.
Dad was the first to break the silence. He must have been thrown a bit, because he was lodged a few feet from us.
“We’re both o.k.” momma says. “Are you hurt?”
The voice that answers wasn’t daddy’s. The stranger’s voice was growing closer and more audible from outside.
“Hello?” the man keeps repeating. “Its Alan.”
Dad answers, “Whatever you do, don’t let anybody come around here smoking. I smell gas. There’s a leak. It’d blow us up!”
About this time, Hershey stated crawling toward this small opening of light. Mom tells me, “Callie, honey, follow Hershey, ok? It’s going to be ok. I’m going to be right behind you.”
Belly pressed against the ground, I crawl over boards with jutting screws, under metal, and around immobile pieces of cement. My socks snagged on these objects, but I kept going. When I reached the light, Alan was there to pull me out. As promised, mom came through right after me--but not unharmed. Blood ran down her arm, which again reached to hold me.
Devastation was everywhere, the entire landscape had been dismembered, strewn and twisted. Mom was quick to cover my eyes, but I had already seen the horrors.
I could get glimpses of the ground as she walked up the driveway. Her bare-feet walked over broken glass. She kept telling me everything was ok, but I knew, that in some way it wasn’t.
Daddy didn’t join us until a little later. The small escape we crawled out of was less willing to let him out. A long slice of flesh had been torn open down his back. But we were all alive. Together. Safe.
March 1, 1997 had aged by thirteen years, but I will never forget the tornado that destroyed my home that day. For a few weeks, we stayed at my grandparents’ house. I wasn’t allowed to go back to the remains of our house until much of the debris had been cleaned up. Like falling ash that carries whispers of the flame, my parents would drift in the door overcome by destruction. Mom’s wedding dress was mangled in limbs of trees and telephone wires. Water-damaged photographs that held moments never to be recaptured were strewn everywhere. Dad’s Bat Masterson pistol--his single heirloom from his grandpa--stolen by the winds. The Fisher-Price Kitchen where I cooked many meals of plastic peas and ice-cream was eaten up in debris that swallowed the rest of my baby-dolls and children’s books. The loss of our home gouged an important part in all of our hearts.
During the many months of rebuilding and reconstruction, mom kept reminding us that “Its all just stuff. It can be replaced.” When the new foundation was laid and the wooden frame started to form the skeleton of our new home, I began to believe mom’s words. The destruction began to dissipate as brick by brick the new house started to become our home. The sheer magnitude of the tornado’s strength became clear to me as I watched how much time and labor it took to build a structure that the winds destroyed in a matter of seconds. How much more defenseless is human flesh and bone?
Occasionally I’ll be working outside in the yard and find a shard of glass or a rusted nail. Once, I unearthed a tarnished brass colored picture frame that had a faded picture of a family of four smiling faces I didn’t recognize. As I held the dirt encrusted frame in my hands, I hoped that this was all this family had lost of each other. I hoped that the father and mother lived to grow grey hair and the three young children got to grow up and go to college. I hoped that the tornado had spared their lives just at it had ours.
A small scar just below the crook of my elbow remains as the only visible physical mark from the 1997 tornado, but the winds buried shards of its presence in my heart that will never fade from my life. I know that I could be lying beneath a gravestone that reads: December 19, 1992 - March 1, 1997. Or placing flowers on the graves of my parents thinking how much I wish I knew them. This life, like our home, could have been take from us. God answered momma’s prayer.