I don’t remember being afraid of storms when I was younger. It was just part of growing up in Arkansas.
The first memory I have of a tornado was when I was three years old. We were visiting my grandparents in rural eastern Arkansas when the storm reports began on television. I remember my grandmother being concerned because my Grandpa Dailey had not returned from town. When he did finally make it back home, we learned of a tornado that had touched down only miles from their home. I can still remember seeing the metal of the twisted main power lines that ran across the farm fields as we made our way home the next day.
Two years later, I sat in my elementary school hallway with my head tucked between my knees as a tornado went directly over the school. It was the last day before Christmas break and the buses were already lined up outside when the tornado sirens began to sound. The teachers lined us up along the inside hallway and covered us with our kindergarten mats. Minutes later, there was destruction on each side of our school, but the school remained untouched. The damage kept the buses from being able to run and parents had to walk to school to pick us up. As my dad carried me back a mile to our car, I remember seeing damaged houses, including a classmate’s house with a roof that had been lifted off the house and propped alongside the front wall in one piece. For many years later, sheet metal and other debris in the trees around the area served as a reminder of that day.
Following that initial tornado, the storms continued to come for several days. We spent a number of nights in our cinder block shop listening to the storm reports on the radio. My nieces and I slept under my dad’s John Deere tractor on a mattress until the warnings were lifted and we could return to the house. On Christmas Eve night as we walked back to the house, my nieces and I asked over and over how Santa Claus would be able to come to our house through the bad clouds but we were assured that Santa’s magic would get him there. Until writing this column, I had never thought about what my parents must have gone through that day the tornado narrowly missed my school. How did they find out? Did they initially think the school might have been hit? Was there a moment of panic? Until thinking back on those memories with the knowledge I now have as a parent, I only saw them from the perspective of a 5-year-old.
Many other storms came and went over my years growing up in southwest Little Rock and we always escaped the damage until my later high school years. Just prior to a Saturday afternoon storm, I remember thinking that the clouds looked like someone was stirring them with a spoon. Minutes later, my mother came running in telling us to get into the hallway. When we came out, 11 of our tallest pine trees laid across the five acres, one missing my bedroom by only a few yards. My dad stood in the shop and watched as a funnel cloud moved overhead, touching down in a neighbors pasture destroying their barn.
With these stories, you would think I would have been afraid of storms, but I never was … until I had children. Before then, my husband and I never went into a safe room. We were usually outside watching the clouds or at least looking out the windows. Now, I prepare our master closet with flashlights, pillows, the radio and any other supplies I think we might need. We head there with the boys with the first sound of a siren. Having two little boys to care for has changed the way I view storms and I now find myself much more nervous about them.
With spring's return, so will the storms. If you need to find me, I’ll be in my closet with Samuel and Tyler pretending it’s a fun new place for story time.