I remember my mother’s voice that evening: It warbled.
And though I was only six years old, I knew the warble came from utter terror. We were running as fast as a heavily pregnant woman with three children ages 2-6 could run. She was watching the sky more than the path to the gate, carrying my sister, holding my brother’s hand, and sort of warbling to me, “Oh, run, hurry, RUN!”
I dug my toes into my flip-flops and ran.
I knew it was a tornado up there, whatever a tornado was. I looked up, too, and stumbled.
Mom scolded me sharply. “Don’t look up! Don’t look up! Don’t look up!” She seldom scolded sharply. It hurt my feelings but I knew it was no time for hurt feelings. Her words were like a mantra, a warbled charm against bad omens . . . don’t look up, don’t look up . . .
But, when I had looked up I was puzzled. It looked just like clouds.
Then I had seen a door. And when, disobeying, I looked up again, I saw a tricycle.
We were headed to our neighbor’s house. My mom screamed for them to let us in. We cowered under their huge oaken table, in the dark, with our mother’s arms encircling us. I heard my mom praying, so I prayed too. We cried and pleaded with God to protect us. I did not know what to be scared about, but my mom’s fear was plenty for us both.
The neighbor calmly stood on his front porch and watched the sky. His wife wrung her hands and paced through the house. I remember her shoes and feeling sort of dumb lying on the floor under her table while she walked by. I thought of a Little Rascals episode in which the children hid under furniture.
Then it was over. We went home. My mom talked for days about the foolishness of standing on the front porch to watch a tornado go by, summoning new terror at each telling.
It was over, yes, for us, but for the victims it still goes on. The forty-four dead would be burried. The over 500 injured would tell their stories.
And the RUIN still speaks.
To read a beautiful memorial written for one of the victims, read here.