Susan Spess Shay

Still playing make believe.

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Twister Tales

Aftermath of the Tornado that hit Pryor Creek ...

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The rash of earthquakes and the tornado (or two) Okie-Land had a few weeks ago brought comments from people in other states. “I’d rather deal with an earthquake than a tornado.”

Really? At least, in a tornado if you have warning, there are places you can go where you’re safe.

Of course, we don’t like them.  We’d give all our twisters to a sister state, if she’d take them. (Hey, Kansas? How about you?)

But until Big K steps up to take the killer twirls from us, we’re stuck with them.

Tornadoes and their warnings are dark shadows in most Okies’ memories. One of my first was the night of the circus that the Williams family went to with our fam. You can read about it here.

Another time, the warning siren woke us in the middle of the night. Mom sort of panicked, which gave at least one of my sisters a real fear of storms. Even thunder storms give her the jitters.

(I kind of enjoy them as long as I’m not driving.)

The spring after my middle son was born, we lived in a house about a mile west of C-Town. Because north-east Oklahoma has a high water table, and that makes it hard to have a cellar or basement that doesn’t have a foot or two of water in it, I’ve never owned a hidey-hole. That spring, I was sorry I didn’t have one.

It seems that every week, I got a phone call from one of my sibs, telling me the siren was blowing. The entryway of my house, where the stairway was, had several large windows on both sides. I didn’t want to navigate those stairs with glass crashing all around and a five-year-old as well as an infant in tow, so we’d sleep in the family room, right next to the under-the-stairs closet. (We figured it was the safest place in the house.)

A tornado cut a swath next to highway 412 near C-Town once. It started somewhere to the west of where I live right now, and plowed a path through the trees and houses built around the lake.

One family, who’d all built houses near each other, had a cellar they shared. While the twister damaged their homes, they were snug and safe underground–until a car got rolled on top of their cellar and the gasoline inside it drain into the cellar with them.

They were lucky enough that nothing sparked and set off the fumes.

Just about every house on the block where I live now was damaged or destroyed by that same tornado. When things cleared, my mom and dad loaded up their car with things people might be able to use and drove to the lake to help their neighbors clean up and dig out.

Like the good Samaritan, we learn being able to give is much more blessed than needing to receive, don’t we?

So what do Okies do when a tornado heads our way? Most of us go for cover and prayer. Emphasis on prayer.

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Wowed Wednesday

Old Ruby Tuesday logo and slogan

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Wowed Wednesday–Rain!

G-Man and I ate in T-Town at Ruby Tuesday the other night. As we waited for our food, we noticed a beautiful light show going on to the east.

“Do you think we’ll get rain?” I had all my fingers crossed. And my toes.

“There’s only a twenty percent chance.”

We happened to be seated in the restaurant between two very interesting groups.

One had fifty people (yep, 5-0!) in it. A wedding that had come to town. Several of the men had tattooed sleeves and one had the greatest beard. It was just on his chin, kind of skinny, hung about six or eight inches  and every 1/2 inch or so had a rubberband holding it together.

The other group (of only ten or so) was at the horse show going on at the Fair Grounds. One had a National Champion jacket. Another was kind of young and just a little bit loud and proud of the job she’d done.

Very entertaining! 🙂

So between the pictures being taken on one side (wedding) and the brags being shouted on the other, we had quite a night.

It started raining about the time our food came. (Steak for my man, Louisiana Fried Shrimp–soooo good!–for me.) First the windows got wet, then the thunder and lightning started overhead and the wind started blowing.

The delicious garlic-cheddar biscuits had us half full already, but we dug right in. Then the lights flashed. Ack!

We didn’t want to be caught without electricity in a restaurant full of people, so we paid up and took off. When we got to the door, we could see the rain coming down hard and thick and fast. Kind of like a generous waterfall during a wet spring.

My man told me to stay put and went for the car. While I waited, one of the wait staff came up behind me. “Is it scary out there?”

I laughed. How could rain scare someone? Maybe it had been so long since we’d seen it, she didn’t know what was happening. “It’s only rain. The lightning is what’s scary and it’s pretty much past us.”

She looked relieved when another girl came up. “I hope the rain doesn’t hurt.”

That one stumped me. Maybe she thinking about acid rain. “Hurt?”

“You know. Sometimes it comes down so hard, when it hits you it hurts.”

Wow. I don’t know where she was from, but I’ve been in hundreds of rainstorms over the years and I’ve never had a raindrop hurt unless it was sleet and I was riding a motorcycle wearing a helmet without a face shield.

I did my best to make her feel better. “It’s not hailing, so I don’t think there’ll be much pain involved.”

“I hope not.” She still looked worried so I decided to change the subject. A little.

“I’ve just been saying, ‘Thank you, Jesus!’ for every bit of rain we’re getting. We really need it. ”

“Uh-huh,” was her only answer, so I stopped trying.

G-Man pulled up about then, and I opened the door. No pain, but the rain fell so fast, I nearly drowned. The water was top-of-my-shoes deep on the sidewalk, so I took a deep breath and ran. I didn’t have to swim, but I thought I might have to.

On the way home, we passed two dead cars, flooded out by high water. Who knew it could rain so fast that the dry ground couldn’t soak it up fast enough?

 I just wish it had gone on and on. 🙂

I hear the people at Oktoberfest had even more fun.


Tornado in old ‘Ford

A tornado near Seymour, Texas

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A couple of days ago, #6, my nephew and I drove to Newkirk with Dad. That place seems like it’s a million miles away, but we made the time pass by getting Dad to tell stories.

The weather turned stormy as we drove. “Hey, Pops. Tell us about that tornado you went through in the topless cellar.”

He chuckled and shook his head. “Well, Daddy was working with another man, pulling pipe outside of the Ford near the cemetery. They looked up and saw that twister on the ground, nearly on top of them.

The other man jumped in his pickup, but Daddy laid down flat in a low place and held on to a tree. He looked over at the pickup with the man in it, and the tornado was making it rock and bounce so hard, the guy couldn’t get the door open to escape.

“The tornado went into the Ford, skirting it on the north side. It caught one woman up in it. Later she said all she could see was dirt, flying around her. It put her down about a mile away with cuts and bruises, but not much worse for the wear.

“One of my brothers and I were working out on the farm, hoeing the garden. We looked up and saw that tornado coming at us. It looked like a limp rope, hanging out of the sky with the end flopping around. We ran to the only place close by–an old cellar with the top gone. When we stood in it, we could just see over the top.

“That tornado came right straight at us. We watched it until it was not too far off, and just when we thought it had us, it turned and went around us. Sure was a relief.”

I might not have chosen the best day to ask Dad to tell that story since the sky was full of lightning and dark clouds, but it made the trip to the Kay County Farm Service Agency seem much shorter. I’m looking forward to our next one!

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F5 damage example

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Where were you May 3, 1999?

Do you remember the day? Most Okies do. That’s the day sixty-six tornadoes killed 36 people (36 according to News on 6 this morning, and 44 people according to other sources) and destroyed 2300 homes. And one of those cyclones was an F5–some of the fastest winds ever recorded on earth–261-318 mph!

An F5 causes strong frame houses to be lifted off foundations and carried considerable distances to disintegrate; automobile sized missiles fly through the air in excess of 100 meters; trees are debarked; steel re-inforced concrete structures are badly damaged.

G-Man and I were in the big city on that May 3rd. As we listened to the radio, we kept hearing about the tornadoes hitting our state, and I couldn’t help but think about the people I know in those towns. So many of the writers I’ve met over the years at the Oklahoma Writers Federation conference were from that area or close by.

How many of them would lose their homes? Their belongings? Their lives?  

Lots of people prayed hard that day. I know I stayed at it for most of the afternoon and evening, petitioning for people I knew and those I didn’t.

Remember that old saying, “There are no atheists in fox holes?” I have a feeling the same goes for tornado shelters–what ever, when ever and where ever they might be.  

Very easy Movie quote.

“Is there an F5?”
[Everyone goes dead silent]
“What would that be like?”
“The Finger of God.”

Can you name it?