Sunday, February 23, 2014

"To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another." ~ Katheryn Paterson


I walked into the "Women Teachers' Lounge" during my conference period at the junior/senior high school where I was teaching, only to find the whole room was giddy with laughter! One of the teachers had intercepted a note floating around her classroom, and, as was the "rule," she'd saved it to pass around for all of us teachers to have a good laugh.

A girl had written to her friend, "i finnaly did IT with Johnny last night! im scard (spelling and punctuation wasn't this girl's forte). will I get pregant now?"

Her friend had scribbled, "how long did you do IT?"

"about five minutes i guess!!!!!!"

"don't worry!!!!!!! Jenny told me as long as you don't do IT more than 15 minutes you can't get preggers!!!!!!!"

Well, I wasn't laughing as hard as they were. Shouldn't someone tell this poor girl more of the facts of life than the hear-say of life? Of course, with that "information" traveling all around, I was SURE of having a teaching job for the next 100 years at the rate that children were going to be spawned!

When I was young, we saw a movie on "reproduction" in school. I never could figure it out. There was a big happy round circle floating in some kind of lake. It seemed to be a girl circle because she had a ribbon in her hair. Coming toward her were these little fish. They seemed to be boys because they had caps on. When the fish saw the circle, they all wanted to pop her! Most of the fish just bumped their heads on her and then swam away, all sad. One fish made it into the circle, though, and she didn't explode like a soap bubble... she just smiled! Then, for some reason, there was a baby bubble inside the girl-circle! The teacher turned off the projector, and said, "And that's how babies are made!" She DIDN'T add, "Any questions?" I had plenty of 'em...

When Mike and Cathy, my cousins, came to our house one day, Mike and I left the two "youngsters" behind by walking down the alley where a horse lived in a very long backyard. Cathy and my little brother never did have the stamina to keep up with us all the way there. As we ate the wild raspberries that lived at the bottom of a fence along the alley, I asked Michael about the whole deal... what were the fish and the circle all about? Mike told me, in no uncertain terms, EXACTLY what that all meant.

"My Mother and Father never did such a thing!"

" Yes, they did, too!" he said. 

"Did NOT!"

"Well, they did it two times for sure!" Mike laughed. 

"NO SIR!"

"They got you and Jack, didn't they?" He had me there...

"The Day of the Faculty Room Note" was the same day that Doris, the shy old-lady teacher ventured into the "Women Teacher's Lounge." Thank heavens she hadn't walked in about 20 minutes earlier! Doris taught English, and she wasn't the sort of lady to read that letter or to listen to our laughter. She was a sweet, long-time teacher who'd never been married and was from a tiny little town about midway in the state. Doris told me that she lived on the same long, long street I drove down to go back-and-forth to school everyday. We talked for a while, and it was settled. I would pick her up in the mornings and drive her home in the afternoons. She was pleasant company, and we could tell our teaching woes to one another on the way home...

One day as we drove home, I noticed that cloud-filled sky was the color of mustard! I'd never seen that before! Doris said, "Terry, we're going to have a tornado! That mustard-sky is the sign of it!" California and Connecticut where I'd been raised don't have such things as unruly tornados... I mean, it just wasn't DONE! 

When I got home, I hugged Clancy, our Old English Sheepdog, took him out for his walk and fed him. Then I called the pizza-delivery man and told him to deliver the biggest, cheesiest pizza they made, ASAP! Richard was on a business trip to Chicago, and that automatically made it "Pizza Night for Terry!" After changing my clothes, I went into the living room of our first house, a little brick Tudor home, and cuddled up with Clancy to wait for my dinner.

Suddenly, there were sirens! Not police sirens... No! Sirens that could be heard across the whole of Omaha, Nebraska! TV shows were subjugated to news flashes screaming, "TAKE SHELTER NOW! TORNADO SIGHTED! TORNADO TOUCHED DOWN! TAKE SHELTER NOW!"

I grabbed Clancy, a blanket, a pillow, a radio, and down the kitchen stairs we ran to the basement. Our little home was built on a steep rise, so the basement was underground on one side, but it was nearly ground level at the other side with a small window high up on that wall. 

Clancy and I, with backs against the wall, faced that menacing window across the basement from under the blanket, where I could peek out. If the tornado came close enough, that window could shoot glass at us, but I was sure the blanket would protect us... uh huh!  

...nothing happened! ...more nothing happened! ...even MORE nothing happened!

SUDDENLY TEN TRAINS ROLLED OVER OUR ROOF! I've never heard noise like that before or since... NEVER! Then, all at once, came the quietest quiet I've ever heard in my life............  an eerie absent of any sound......... 

Then the phone rang! Should I... or shouldn't I.......? I SHOULD... it might be Richard calling...

Up the basement stairs I ran to answer the phone at the top of those stairs! "Hello?"

"Lady........  lady....... lady....."

"Yes! Who IS THIS?"

"It's me, lady, the pizza guy! Lady... Lady.... Lady, I'm sorry, but I won't be able to deliver your pizza tonight......  a tornado just hit our building..."

"PIZZA?????? PIZZA?????? HIDE! HIDE! HIDE!" 

"OK, lady... I just wanted you to know..."

As I slammed the phone down, I could see white mist outside of each of our kitchen windows! Our house was very close to the house behind us... but there was no house there... just white mist! White mist and no sound whatever...

As I flew down the stairs to the basement, Clancy was looking up the stairs at me, tilting his head, wondering... I grabbed him, and shoved him under the blanket with me... well, as much of that 85-pound dog as I could hide. And right then the TEN TRAINS rumbled over our heads again! The sound was louder than anything ever in my world!

When it was over, I turned on the radio, to hear another human voice, mostly. The tornado had hopped this way and that, over the 4:30PM homeward-bound freeway traffic, above the race track with the horses still running, stopping to flatten the post office, and then headed for Happy Hollow where we lived! It had hopped over us, landing 8 blocks a way, though, before it went back to its home in the sky!

They said no one should venture outside that night. The lights were out in many places and there was danger... You know what I did? Like the fool that I was, I got into my car to see what the aftermath of a tornado looked like! I did! 

The first thing I saw in that black, black night was a flipping, flopping, fireball at the end of an electric wire. It had been torn in half, and looked like an angry, injured rattlesnake. That was also the last thing I saw, because I backed my car up, and drove it into the garage, closed the door, and tried to call Richard again. That was before cell phones. A recording said that no one could call out or receive calls because "the lines were full! The telephone could only be used for emergencies."

The next morning I got in my car to look at the neighborhood. One of the fir trees in our front lawn had a piece of cardboard driven half-way into the bark of that tree... cardboard... into a tree! The galloping electric line had been lassoed, and I drove past it, hoping against hope that it wouldn't come to life again. When I got to the housing development 8 blocks away (new houses NOT built with brick), all I could see for blocks were toilets and chimneys standing alone on top of what looked like pillow stuffings! There was nothing else standing!

The TV announced later that the tornado was bigger than any tornado since the "Tornado of 1913!" Only one person had been killed. A man who had decided to climb up on his roof to see the tornado better was killed. Imagine... only one person during the rush-hour, home-bound traffic, and kids coming home from football practice, and people shopping... only one!

For a week, every morning as I'd drive to school and when I came home, too, I had to stop at the command of National Guards toting Army machine guns, asking to see my driver's license to check that I actually lived in our neighborhood. It seems at about midnight the very night of the tornado, the looting had started! The National Guard was guarding us well.

The most amazing thing to me was what happened to a friend of mine across Pioneer Park about five blocks away from us. On Sunday she'd had a birthday party for a relative, and she'd made two kinds of punch for the party. One she'd put into a priceless crystal family punch bowl. The other punch recipe was in a cheap glass punch bowl at the other end of her dining room table. She was planning to wash those bowls when she got home that day, but she had to take cover because of the tornado. When it was over that night, she was escorted out of her house by the police, along with the rest of her neighbors, because they had been hit hard by that whirlwind. 

When she was allowed to return, she went right to the dining room... what was left of it. After crying at the sight, she found the remains of one punch bowl. It was just shards and dust. The other was across the room, so carefully wrapped in the tablecloth that it was like she had readied it for a birthday present. When she unwrapped it, you know what she found, don't you? The perfectly wrapped bowl was the cheap one, and the splinters were what was left of the family treasure!

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