In honor of the No. 9 and No. 8 all-time weather events of my lifetime — and one of the Top 5 — here’s something to get your pulse pounding. (Until I learn how to embed video — or until some tekkie gives me some schoolin’ — you’ll have to open the link).
–No. 9: Tornado, Clay County, Mo. (Kearney/Holt), summer 1969 – My maturation as a writer and storyteller has led me to an inescapable, humbling conclusion: I might be prone to embellishment. Just a little. Most of these recollections have landed in newspaper columns or were actual news stories that I penned at some point over the last 32 years. But when it comes to creating a digital record via the internet, let’s just say I’ve paid extra close attention to the accuracy of the most trivial details.
All-time weather event No. 9 presented a challenge unique among this rambling Top 10: I needed to use a lifeline, so to speak, in order to craft a summary. In other words, I asked my brother and sisters to verify and elaborate on my memory. My actual memory of the tornado that chased away a crowd of people assembled for a youth league baseball game in Kearney, Mo., is part snap shots – kind of like decades-old still frames from an old movie projector – part embedded family lore that has been passed down through the years, and possibly snippets of other storm-related memories from my earliest days of childhood. The only “moving video” part of the memory is about 10 seconds of chaos, where I’m watching my youngest sister, Kathy, running off in a panic down a path or sidewalk.
It was a month or two before my sixth birthday, so this is going way back into the memory vault. I can recall only two or three memories that are older, so this is truly vintage stuff. Thanks to my sis, Kathy, and brother, Robert, for providing authentication. My oldest sister, Sharon, says she can’t remember being there, but since she is my OLDEST sibling, it’s also possible that memory was simply erased. Thanks to the collaborative effort of the youngest three Jackson siblings, here’s what happened:
My brother, Robert – seven years older than me – was playing in a baseball game at a field in Kearney, Mo. An ominous, black-blue curtain of clouds appeared on the horizon just beyond left field; there were sirens going off; and everyone made a mad dash for their vehicles. Robert’s recollection: “Everything got real cool and the sky turned green … we could see a tornado forming way above in the sky.” I can’t tell you for certain that I did or didn’t see the tornado. (Let’s say I did for the sake of argument). A police car drove by and the officer told everyone to leave, that a tornado was coming.
I see Kathy sprint away or, as Robert recalled, “went bonkers a bit.” Kathy remembers it well enough to still express embarrassment over her reaction, but if I was not yet 6, then she was 7. (We’re 21 months apart). No shame in a little kid freaking out during a tornado.
We were in a white station wagon. Dad drove fast through a driving wind and rainstorm to our home in Holt, about eight miles to the north. We went to the basement. Can’t recall how long we stayed down there, except that I felt safe. We had a huge black-and-white TV (I was a little-bitty 5-year-old, so everything was huge) and we must have watched weather warnings. I also remember watching Red Skelton on that TV, but can’t say for sure that Red was making us laugh the night of the tornado. I like to say he was.
The next day, we drove around and looked at some of the damage. I distinctly remember the Howard Johnson Hotel billboard on Interstate 35 being wrapped up like the lid of a sardine can. And there was a flooded cornfield. (Might have been another storm another time, but the dots have been connected in my head for so long that it’s one memory stream).
Thanks to Kathy for filling in a few other storm-related memories, including:
– A Sunday School picnic at Watkins Mill State Park that was interrupted by a storm (tornado?)
– A heavy snowfall on Easter Sunday, either 1968 or 1969, and Kathy and I found a kitten in the snow. We named her Missy. I remember mom giving her a saucer of milk.
– I was probably 14 or 15 when a violent windstorm and tornado warning made me take cover under my bed with my terrier-mutt, George. My little buddy hated storms and I think he went into shock or something. I thought he’d died.
No. 8: Tornado outbreak, central Missouri/Renick, all day, March 12, 2006 – More to come …