Susan Spess Shay

Still playing make believe.


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Under the Stairs Hidy Hole

It’s Tornado Season in Okieland.

And you thought there were only four seasons–Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring–in the year, didn’t you? Actually, Tornado Season is sort of synonymous with Spring. Except when it’s not. 🙂

Some years we have only a close call or two.

Some years, it feels as if we’re dancing with tornadoes. 😦

The spring after Middle Son was born, we had twisters about every-other-night, all spring long. (At least it seemed like e-o-n!) We lived in a two story house with all the bedrooms upstairs and big windows on both sides of the stairway. Not the best choice on our part, but who thinks about nighttime tornadoes when choosing a house plan?

Our house was just about a mile outside of C-Town. Most of the time I could hear the tornado siren if I was awake (do towns in states outside the middle of the nation have those?) but just in case I missed it, I made a deal with one of my sisters to call me when the sirens blew.

We didn’t have a ‘fraidy hole. But because of the way our staircase was built–very, very sturdy–under it was even better than the inside room the big boys recommend you to hide in. G-Man worked twenty-four hour call at that time. Often, he was gone on a job when storms hit.

#1 son was five then, so he had a pretty good time under the stairs. (Actually, we waited in the small hallway next to the door that went UTS.) If the baby was sleeping, he had all of our attention and we would color or play games with him.

We had a small wooden cradle that I kept downstairs for Matt to snooze in next to the stairs.

We never had an actual hit from a tornado while we lived in that house. In my life, I remember very few times when a tornado got very close to us. There’s an old wives’ tale that because of the way our town is situated in the bend of the river and beneath South Hill, we’ll never be hit. While I don’t trust old wives’ tales, so far it’s proven true.

Of course, I don’t live in the city limits of C-Town now, so I keep a weather eye. (The house I live in was destroyed in 1991 by a twister.)

Funny how those frightening experiences turn into fond memories, isn’t it?

 

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The Deceptive Month

I hope everyone whose birthday is this month will forgive me but . . .

Did you ever notice what a sneaky month May is? If you think about it, you’ll probably agree with me that it’s one of the most underhanded months on the calendar.

First the name–May. Three short letters intended, I’m sure, to make us believe it’s going to be a quick month. Ha! There are thirty-one days in this month. And as many weeks as a month can possibly crowd in.

There’s so much that goes on in May, creating so many emotions that hammer us. There’s Mother’s Day, when even rotten kids do something nice and bring sweet tears to their mama’s eye. Or their aunt’s, depending on the kiddo. 😉

Then there’s graduation–which can bring joy or sorrow, also depending on the kiddo– birthdays, anniversaries, the end of school, the beginning of summer, vacations, Memorial Day. Weddings, weddings, weddings and, of course, so many funerals.

May’s days are warmer and longer, intended to deceive us into thinking we’re going to be able to kick back, climb into a hammock and swing away summertime, ♫ when the living is easy♫.

But then grass jumps up and everything starts growing and creeping around and we have to work harder than ever, just to beat it back.

May gives us flowers as if she’s trying to be sweet and friendly and niiiiiice. But remember when the most destructive (in my memory) tornados happened. May 3, 1999 and May 22, 2011!

The year my second son was born, we slept under the stairs more nights in May than we slept in our beds. (Under the stairs is where we hid from tornados.)

We even saw on the news where a wedding in Kansas had a tornado for an uninvited guest. Only in May!

I think I’ll start a movement to change the name of May to Might. Think about it–Might says it all. It’s longer, so no deception there, and it tells you that all kinds of things could happen. Good and bad. Happy and very, very sad.

May MIGHT be a good month, then again, it MIGHT not, so why don’t we just get it over with and call it that from the get-go?

Might 23, 2012. Has a very nice ring to it. 🙂

 

 


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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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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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Twister!

F5 damage example

Image via Wikipedia

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?