Monday, March 21, 2016


    It was evening on a day when everything just felt right. I was in the back of a parked truck in our driveway with my two sisters, Vicki and Lori. Like most times when we played with Lori, Vicki and I were more than willing to go along with the games she made up for us.  This time, we were playing “One Tin Soldier”. We spent an hour memorizing the song then sang it together over and over while acting out the lyrics. Lori was the leader, and I was eager to please her. It was easy, however, to get distracted with Vicki constantly pecking me on the arm to get my attention—always to show me the current color of her new mood ring. Okay, I pecked her couple of times too. The rings were so amazing, and mine had stayed a brilliant blue the entire day. Blue meant that I was happy. Still, I felt a bit cheated when it didn’t change colors often the way theirs did. At least mine was stuck on blue and not black, the color that revealed anger or fear. We must have acted out “One Tin Soldier” twenty times before Mama called us in to eat dinner. It was hard to go inside with the strong, warm breeze just now blowing in, adding to the drama of our little plays. We were having pizza for dinner, though, and pizza was as good a reason as any to stop playing and go inside. Vicki and Lori tumbled from the side of the truck bed and started racing each other just as I stepped over the tailgate, pausing long enough to take a quick glance at my ring. A light green color hung onto the edges of the blue, and I had to reign in my joy for fear of chasing the new color away.
    Mama was just taking the second pizza from the oven when I made it inside.  My grandmother, her Mama, was bustling around the house like she always did. I raced Vicki to the bathroom to wash up for dinner while Lori lingered in the kitchen to sneak a pepperoni from one of the pizzas. Just as I pulled the towel from the rack to dry my hands, I heard her scream.


Then, Mama’s usually-calm voice, now laced with fear, cried,

    “Mama, come here—quick!”

Vicki and I ran from the bathroom to see what was happening just as our grandmother made it to the patio door and screamed.

    “Mama!  Where are you?”  My great-grandmother was the oldest of us all—four generations of women with no men to protect us from the monster outside our patio door.  Daddy was away, working on the pipeline in Alaska.  Had I made it to the window, I would have broken the chain.  I would have called out, “Daddy!”

    My grandmother pulled us all into a tight huddle in the middle of the dining room, like football players planning our next move.  I tried to hear what the adults were saying but could hear nothing over the loud roaring in my ears. It was a deep sound that I could feel as well as hear. It grew louder in direct proportion to my fear until I could feel nothing else. Just when I thought we would stand clinging to one another until we were killed by something I didn’t even have a name for yet, my grandmother began tipping over chairs in the living room and pushing us beneath them, as if mere pieces of furniture could save us. My great-grandmother stood, pressed into a corner across the room, unable to get to the floor.  I was trying to make eye contact with her when the air was suddenly sucked from the room and everything went black.  I feared it would be the last time I would ever see her alive.  Now, in total darkness, I tried to picture what the approaching monster must look like, but the image of Mama’s terrified face was all I could imagine.  The roaring in my ears was now a living, breathing thing, passing over us.  Still, I could hear my grandmother pray and Lori, whose only knowledge of tornadoes came from years of watching “The Wizard of Oz”, cry out,

    “Mama, is our house in the air?”

    The roaring finally stopped and was replaced with an eerie silence. I thought for a moment that we must be the only people on earth still alive—until the neighbors were screaming and pounding on our front door, jammed from the strong suction of the tornado as it passed. Someone eventually kicked the door in, and Mama ran to our linen closet to grab sheets and blankets for the cold, bleeding neighbors. My sisters and I were moved into Lori’s room where we sat huddled together until the cries from the living room stopped and everything went silent again. I should have been comforted by the fact that it was over, but all I felt was confusion from the knowledge that there were things in the world larger than the safety of our home—things that could bring terror into the faces of those who were not supposed to be afraid. Our uncle, who had shown up to make sure we were okay, entered the room.  A thin ray from his flashlight brushed past us then returned and rested.  Tightly clasped hands were still in prayer on my lap, and my mood ring displayed its new color proudly. My eyes snapped shut. I didn’t want to see the color for fear that my desire for it had caused the storm. Still, the image of what my eyes were too quick to miss burned behind closed lids. The brilliant blue was gone, replaced with the boldest black I’d ever seen.