The afternoon had gotten grey and dark. Not the strange light grey that means it could snow, but the deep blue grey with billowy storm clouds building across the sky. It smelled like rain, but it was always hit or miss whether they’d get a couple inches or the wind would blow the coming storm on through to the next town.
She was on her way to First Baptist, probably the biggest church in their town, but not even close to the only church. It wasn’t even the only Baptist church in town. They attended Sunday school and Sunday’s morning service at a church down the street, but this was where her mom brought her every Monday for her piano lessons. She was particularly excited for this lesson, not because of the music she was getting to learn but because her Mom had promised they could go to Target afterwards before they went home to have dinner. She’d been looking forward to the little errand for days, having found a sample of a pineapple flavored lipstick in the latest Seventeen magazine. Soon she’d have her very own tube of the shimmery bronze color.
To her disappointment, they didn’t make it to their beauty expedition, but instead found themselves hurrying home. The moment they got outside, they both knew something wasn’t right. The skies had turned a deeper steely grey and the air almost glowed, a massive cloud formation lining the sky. Her mom received a call on the black brick that was a cell phone at that time. Her grandma was at home watching the news, saying the weather man was telling everyone to get inside and underground.
Her papa was still at work up in the city. While everyone wished he was home, typically it was safer to be in the underground tunnels, staying put instead of racing a storm outside in rush hour traffic.
Her grandmother had pillows and blankets piled in the closet under the stairs. It was one of two rooms in their two-story home that didn’t have a single exterior wall or window. The other was a small half bath with barely enough floor space for two people to sit. This closet was under the stairs. The girls loved playing in there like it was a secret hideout with the slanted ceiling and the avocado green shag carpet. They’d never seen anything like it when they moved in, which of course meant it was obviously cool.
This time their hideout under the stairs was different though. The grownups never came in this room, it was just for their friends and kitty cats, possibly an extra coat hung up that wouldn’t fit in the hall closet with the others. Looking back she can’t remember where her mother was…did she drop the little girl off at home or was she there in that strangely shaped closet the whole time? Maybe she was in the living room watching the weather man track the storm, ready to jump in at a moment’s notice; weatherman Gary always kept everyone safe when the sirens wailed through the wall clouds.
The aftermath was a horrifyingly real-life version of that blockbuster movie from only three years before, the interstate appearing like a grey scar up the middle of destroyed neighborhoods and businesses. Despite the most advanced weather technology, that night changed weather as they knew it in her home state. In less than 24 hours, 58 tornadoes ripped through the metro area of central Oklahoma, several of which caused almost 1.5 billion dollars in damages – an amount that seems unfathomable to truly grasp. There were 48 deaths and hundreds of injured, both numbers that could have been substantially higher if it hadn’t been for the National Weather Center and the powerhouse of Oklahoma City meteorologists of the time. As always, true human kindness shown through the rubble, as communities rebuilt what the wind took over the next months and clung to the things it never could.