tornado memories

I was reading recently how people love the personal essay. They enjoy reading true stories about real events that happened to someone else. I wasn’t overly surprised by this information. It just reminded me that it has been a while since I posted a snippet of my life. I should pen a series Growing up Tiffany, but I’d run out of stories before it had even begun. So, your stuck with them all to yourselves. Aren’t you just the lucky ones?

borrowed the way back machine

Earlier today, as the skies turned gray and threatened to open up with the downpours the weather channel promised, I found my mind wandering back to when I was young. Mid eighties I suppose. I was maybe five or six at the time.

My mom babysat out of our house. I don’t think it was an official daycare. It was all kids my older sister and I went to school with. For some reason on this particular day a group of us were all down the street at a neighbor’s house being watched by her instead of my mom.

It was a hot day. Summer. Near summer. I can’t be certain. I was only five or six, remember? We’d all changed into our suits. I can picture it. I almost feel like I’m back there again.

mother nature had different plans

Eric, age 12, and the oldest of the kids threw open the door and led the pack running towards the pool. Following directly behind him is 6-year-old Brian from down the street. Hot on his heels, giggling with excitement are 6-year-olds Katie, Eric’s sister, and her best friend, Tiffany. Tiffany’s sister, 10-year-old Teena is trailing behind with much less enthusiasm than the others. Brian’s 3-year-old sister is crying from the doorway because she wants to swim, too.

The group has made it about halfway across the yard. They drop their towels and ready themselves for a swim. Without warning, they are being pelted by hail larger than a tennis ball but smaller than a baseball. One strikes Eric in the chest, leaving a red welt.

He shouts at everyone to get inside. The tornado siren begins blaring. The sky has turned a sickening shade of yellow. Tiffany stumbles as she runs. Somehow she manages to stay on her feet.

Inside the house, they are directed to the basement. They all seek shelter against a far wall. Old mattresses are brought out and leaned against the wall above them, forming a tiny, smelly fort.


I can’t remember how long we stayed in that basement beneath those smelly mattresses. I vaguely recall the sound of hail and rain pelting the house above us. I feel like there was damage to the pool that made us so Woah, we were almost in there, but I can’t be certain if that’s memory or childhood anxiety leftover from a traumatic experience.

Photo by Ralph W. lambrecht on

tornados still scare me

That’s actually not my only tornado story. I was probably about that same age when my ballet recital was put on hold because a tornado was raging outside the convention center where we were performing. I can remember all of us kids, scared and wanting our parents, being kept down the same corridors we’d lined up along while waiting for our turns to perform.

That was less than 50 miles outside of Chicago in a town called St. Charles. My husband grew up about 50 miles outside of Detroit. He remembers the tornado that stole one of his mom’s trees right out of the side yard. He doesn’t understand my visceral reaction to the tornado sirens. He says tornadoes rarely make it out here.

Okay, maybe it’s true that Michigan doesn’t see nearly as many tornadoes as I grew up dodging. You see, St Charles, Illinois is listed as high tornado risk with 139 tornadoes recorded in the last 70 years. After that, I lived in Plano, Texas which is listed as very high tornado risk and reports 185 tornadoes in the last 70 years. Then, I looked up his little town of Lenox, Michigan where he grew up. With only 66 tornadoes in those 70 years, the risk of tornado activity is low there.

there was that time…

Almost 20 years ago, now, when my boy was just a tyke, I was getting ready for work not far from that little Michigan town. I had a dinner shift at Big Boy and was due to clock in at four. We were living down some dirt road in a house converted into an upstairs and downstairs apartment. Beside the house was a carport. Beside that was a thick trunked tree.

About 15 minutes before my dad was supposed to pick us up (he would drop me at work and keep my son for the night), the tornado siren began blaring. I pulled everything out from a closet and ducked in there with my son. I used a blanket to cover us.

The wind screamed outside. Howling like it was angry. There was a loud crash above us. We waited for the sirens to stop.

When we emerged from the closet, everything appeared as it had been. The place was mostly clean, but everything I’d ripped from the closet was strewn about. Outside was a completely different story.

The roof of the carport was gone. Most of the poles still stood. That thick trunked tree was uprooted. It was leaning into the upstairs apartment directly above the closet my son and I had sought shelter in.

That’s a few of my tornado experiences. Do you have any tornado memories?


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