Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore

Most people who never grew up around tornadoes equated them to what they saw in the Wizard of Oz.  Dorothy on the bed, knocked on her noggin, seeing visions of scary things outside the window.  She landed in a fantasy land inhabited with little people, a talking lion, a scarecrow, and a tin man.

Then came Twister.  Then people got a more realistic look at the devastation a tornado can cause.  Special effects were able to bring people inside the funnel clouds; showing them what the Fujita scale actually was, and the difference between an F-2 and an F-5.   But even then, “That’s a Cow”, doesn’t quite portray what it’s really like to be in the path of the hammer.

Growing up in the Midwest, we knew what tornadoes were.  We practiced drills all the time.  Everyone that didn’t live in a mobile home or an apartment pretty much had a basement.   It was just a way of life.  When the sirens came on, you hit the basement.  You opened up the windows in the front and back of the house, grabbed the flashlights, and descended into the dark; waiting to see if something actually happened.  Most of the time; nothing did.  But sometimes; sometimes something came.  Sometimes, what came was so terrifying that you never forget it.

221_2922598When I was little, I thought tornadoes were scary, but not super scary.  I remember when I was in kindergarten having my babysitter usher me down the stairs and thinking how cool it was that she gave me Oreo cookies and Kool-Aid (because those were things I pretty much never had) while we sat under the stairs.  The pressure drops, your ears pop, and everything gets eerily silent.  Not a sound.  Not a bird chirping, no wind, no rain.  Silence.  Then it does sound like a freight train.  Not the chugga chugga sound, but a whooshing sound that you never forget.  It seems like it lasts forever; then it’s over.  Then you go back upstairs, look outside, and see if everything is still the same.  But it isn’t.

I’m overwhelmingly blessed to have been spared the massive damage of the tornadoes that have hit this country.  I’ll never forget talking to a friend who drove non-stop to Alabama a few years ago to find her son, when the twisters hit there.  Seeing the devastation in Missouri.  Arkansas.  Texas.  And Oklahoma.  My heart is aching for those families out there.  Knowing that there is only so much you can do.  Mother Nature packs a hell of a punch, and sometimes you just have to take it on the chin.  You can’t duck.  You can’t evade.  You just brace for it and  hope it doesn’t knock you the hell out.

The not knowing has to be the worst.  Not knowing where your family is.  Not knowing if they’re ok.  Not knowing if you’ll ever see them again.  I’ve only felt an iota of that panic, and that’s enough for me.  When my daughter was in Kindergarten the city was hit with an ice storm.  I wasn’t at home but my neighbor went to get her off the bus like she often did for me.  I will never forget the phone call where she asked me, “Where’s Jordyn?  She wasn’t on the bus.”.  I frantically called the school and they told me that they didn’t know if she’d been there that day.  The sheer panic I felt knowing that I’d dropped off my child at school that morning; watched her walk in the door; and then someone telling me that she might not have been there all day literally stole my breath.  I broke land/speed records getting to the school, and there she was.  They didn’t put her on the bus due to the inclement weather.  I’ve never in my life, before or since, felt the same sense of relief that I felt when I saw her little face.  That was only 30 minutes.  30 minutes of not knowing my child was OK.  30 minutes of not knowing where she was.  30 of the longest minutes of life as a parent.

It’s tornado season right now.  A large one recently hit Illinois.  And in my hometown of Bloomington, Illinois, there was a plane crash that was attributed to the weather and strong winds that killed seven people.  Tornadoes are nothing to mess with.  Even in the South, where we don’t get them often.  We need to be prepared and know what to do.


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Melissa McAtee

Melissa McAtee

I'm a single mom of 2 originally from the Midwest. How many people can you say that you know from the Town of Normal? I have one son, age 14 and one daughter, age 17. I'm also engaged to be married in June, 2015. We also have 2 furbabies, Tinkerbella Pixiedust, a 9 pound Chin-Tzu, and Jack Sparrow, our rescue Boxer. I have quite a few nicknames; including Mama Mack, Wonder Woman and Chocolate Mary Poppins (all of which are totally true....).