Growing up in the 1960’s in the infamous tornado alley of south central Kansas, we experienced numerous severe thunderstorms and tornadoes every spring and summer. As a young girl, I was terrified of tornadoes and as soon as the siren sounded across the street from our modest home on Main Street, I sprinted to the basement for safety. I always arrived the first of my family and worried until all of my kin was safely in the basement. This was a problem because my father was one of those units that needed to stand out in the backyard looking up into the sky for the twister hiding in the ugly greenish clouds lit up by strikes of lightening versus the risk averse type of padre that wished to stay in the safe basement with Me. My brothers teased me unmercifully because I was so frightened and insistent that every one get in the basement the moment the alarm was sounded. My mother was more tolerant and tried to comfort me to little avail. I was certain that a twister was going to march down Main Street and blow us all away. This fear was well-founded as many small towns in Kansas have experienced horrific destruction in just this manner. I had seen numerous black and white pictures in the newspaper as well as National Geographic color photographs to substantiate my beliefs. My brothers, on the other hand, had that “devil may care attitude” about Mother Nature and entertained themselves downstairs waiting for the all clear signal with games of ping-pong, basketball and other distractions found routinely in the basement of a family with four very active kids. I huddled in the corner of the cellar like I was practicing for the duck and cover civil defense drills. These drills were intended to protect me in the event of both an unexpected nuclear attack, which, we were told, might come at any time without warning. Under the conditions of a surprise attack, immediately after we saw a flash we had to stop what we were doing and get on the ground under some cover—such as a table, or at least next to a wall—and assume a prone like position, lying face-down and covering our exposed skin and back of our heads with our clothes, or if no excess clothes such as a coat was available, to cover the back of our heads with our hands. I applied the same techniques to surviving childhood growing up in tornado alley as I did to surviving an atomic bomb.
One summer night, the Hauck family piled into the station wagon and drove to the drive-in to watch a double feature. We had our lawn chairs, our brown grocery bag full of popcorn, and lots of excitement about a family night out on a warm, summer evening. We watched the first feature and then the adults began to murmur about the lightning off to the south in the sky. Some concerned souls listened to radio reports about the weather but there was nothing definitive to report except for a tornado watch – not a warning – so nothing to worry or cause us to go home early from the fun night out. The wind kicked up, the trees started swaying and the rain came down in sheets. We piled into the wagon and made for the exit along with all of the other local cars and trunks. The line moved slowly and our car started to rock with the force of the wind. My dad drove the wagon down into a culvert that lined the side of the two-lane highway back into town. My mom covered my body with blankets and pillows that we had brought along with us to pad the back of the wagon. She was worried the windshield would blow in on me. The wind grew stronger and wild and I remember thinking that a train was screaming down a track that must be right beside the wagon. Two teenage girls banged on the outside window of our vehicle and my brothers struggled to open the doors to let them in. They were drenched, frightened and had somehow lost their ride out of the drive-in. We waited the storm out and the wagon became very steamy with kids, heat and nerves. The storm passed and we looked out the windows and began to creep toward home base. Barns on the other side of the road were blown to bits, fences were down as well as electrical lines. We were alive and I had made it through the storm, not in the basement, but out in the elements with my family. From that experience on, I was never so afraid again. I still took caution but I came to terms with my elements and surroundings. It was like facing one of my biggest fears and coming out still standing.
So, I now live in Texas in homes with no basements, no cellars. The ground is just too rocky. RM watches the weather better than the local meteorologists and I have a weather app that alerts me to any change in climate. Let’s hope that we are alerted to severe weather in time to take the necessary steps to take care of ourselves and our love ones. And when the sirens blow, please take cover!
You may not know that Kansas is full of missile sites which we were told would protect us but were also the enviable targets of our Cold War enemies, the Soviets. While you think that it would be unlikely the enemy would target a rural Kansas community, the locations of these missile sites made me worried. I discussed this issue with my Mom and Dad often to no satisfaction. It did not help that often there were sonic booms going off overhead as the United State Air Force was in a routine test pattern over our little community. Today, these old sites are for sale for residential homes for the security minded or those that like to live below ground.