With tornadoes whirling about our children who live near Moore, Oklahoma and just off Interstate 40 in Yukon, the leisurely time to write packed up and fled to parts unknown. There were other things of far greater importance. The good news is our children are fine, the bad news is not everyone is fine.
I lived in a suburb of Oklahoma City in 1999 and on May 3rd that year I huddled with our Swiss exchange student Manuel in the safest spot in our home; John’s closet. We sat in stark shivering fear and waited to see what, if anything, would be standing after this F5 tornado had its way with us.
I wrote a column about that and the sentiment still holds true today.
I awoke this morning to the sound of slow rain. I could hear it on the skylight and through the open window. I drew in a breath of the cool dampness, shifted under the blanket and let that soft steady rhythm lull me back to sleep.
On May 3rd, 1999 a warm May afternoon I watched the evening news in horror as the largest tornado ever recorded roared toward us from the south side of Oklahoma City. Flinging cars across Interstate 40 in its 300 mile per hour sustained winds, it obliterated homes, businesses, hotels; smashed cargo trucks, exploded transformers and flipped railroad cars off their tracks. Cars from an auto dealership were sucked up and flung across the interstate into a hotel swimming pool.
Estimated at a mile wide, this gargantuan monster gulped houses into its whirling center– spewing debris as far away as Kansas. Spawning a dozen more tornadoes, this one barreled down on us; lifted up and over our house before plunging down again in a neighborhood across the road.
It was ‘code black’ in the local hospitals with forty-four dead and hundreds savaged with unimaginable injuries. Those of us who escaped the wrath of that night felt a sense of survivor’s remorse as we surveyed the carnage around us.
In Tornado Alley, the weather can be raw, unpredictable and often dramatic. Roiling yellow clouds spit hail in a fury that demolishes cars, and beats crops and livestock to their deaths. An ominous wall cloud drops its funnel while thunder rumbles like an avalanche from the sky. Lightning strikes illuminate the blackest night when a bolt hits a tree– and the pop and crackle smells of smoke as it sizzles to the ground. Statewide, there were eight thousand strikes that night.
Which brings me back to this morning and the beauty of a soothing rain. With a hat and jacket I wander among my camellias; watch them nod to shiny hostas who tip their leaves to feathery ferns. An azalea proudly puffs out her blooms toward the lolling hydrangeas. I sit down for a moment on a towel on the wet tile step and let the rich moistness seep into my soul.There is a quiet joy in the weather here, a place where gentle rains let me smile myself to sleep. I do not take this for granted.
It is difficult for some people to comprehend what keeps Oklahomans tied to a land where the weather can turn on them like a rabid dog. I know why. Home and hearth have bound their roots generations deep into the red earth. There are no tornadoes or other violent acts of nature that can rip that away.