Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Slice of Life #52Stories 15/52: Tornado Memories

I'm attempting to write 52 stories from my life during the year 2020. One story a week, in no particular order, to remember and document some of the memories of my life. 

Last week I called Stephanie Burns, an old college roommate and dear friend. She answered the phone with her customary dry wit, "Are you calling to see if I'm alive?" 

We chatted for a long time.  About her college students who have become more needy during this time of "sheltering in," about her interest in genealogy, about my project to write a story a week in 2020, about books, about her animals. It was a delightful, meandering conversation and just writing about it makes me want to call her again. I mentioned that she might appear in one of my weekly stories. Today's memories are prompted by the recent tornadoes in the South over Easter weekend. 

I grew up in Oklahoma and tornado warning sirens were a staple of my childhood. It's easy to become complacent about frequent warning sirens until you drive through an area devastated by a tornado, as we did in Tulsa once. Those images are permanently imprinted on my psyche. 

Aunt Edna and Uncle Alvin had a storm cellar when they lived on Van Buren street. And so we sometimes drove to their house when we had a tornado warning and descended into the creepy, underground cellar in their backyard. It was dim, it was damp, and I shuddered remembering the time that a snake had been discovered as our companion in the dark. Despite my ever present fears of what might lay inside, it was the remembrance of the tornado scene from "The Wizard of Oz" that propelled me down the narrow stairs to sit in this damp, dim sanctuary.

My cousin, Carol, (never a fan of the cellar either) made sure when she was grown that her home in the country had a safe room. I thought of her when I saw the photo of the safe room that protected the Mississippi family from a tornado. I'm not sure if her current home in Arkansas has a safe room, but I hope it does. 

If you grow up in Oklahoma without a cellar or safe room, you learn how to determine the safest place to be during a tornado. It's the basement, but not many homes in Oklahoma have basements. So you look for rooms that have interior walls, or closets, or bathtubs. Here's what I found about sheltering in a bathtub: "Seeking shelter in a bathtub can help save your life during a tornado. The bathroom has strong framing and the pipes in the walls could help hold them together . . . While a bathroom can provide protection during a tornado, the basement is still the best place to go if you have one."

And so the bathtub is where Stephanie and I sheltered during the Stillwater tornado of June 13, 1975  (and in case you're wondering, that day was a Friday). We should have been at a party scheduled for our church group at the Institute building (which had a basement) near campus. But we had been waiting so that we could arrive fashionably late, when the party was in full swing. Before we could drive the short distance to the building, we heard the tornado warning sirens and knew that this was not the time to hop in the car. So we sat in the bathtub, armed with pillows, singing hymns together, while an F-3 tornado passed nearby. The only damage to our immediate vicinity was a tree down in the apartment parking lot which narrowly missed landing on the car. Surprisingly, once everything quieted down, we went to the party!


  1. Such a powerful description. I can imagine it happening just as you describe! Glad you were/are safe and both still alive to remember and talk about the event.

  2. I am sure you and Stephanie must have been scared with an F-3...yikes! When we built our house, the one requirement I had was a basement because I am petrified of wind. And last week's storm found me in the basement! I love your idea of 52 stories!

  3. What a memory, Ramona! It must have been frightening at first but then you went to party afterwards. Now that is amazing.

  4. Party, bathtub and tornado don't seem to fit in one story, yet in your life they did.

  5. Your story project is preserving a lot of great memories! Only someone who grew up in a “tornado alley” could say... once everything quieted down, we went to the party!

  6. Your story project is preserving a lot of great memories! Only someone who grew up in a “tornado alley” could say... once everything quieted down, we went to the party!