It was one of those sweltering summer afternoons when it almost hurt to breathe. I had begged my mother for a nickel to walk up the long dusty road to the rickety grocery store in Smith Station, Alabama, savoring the thought of what I was going to buy. Would I get a lime snow cone, and crunch the ice between my teeth, relishing every piece, or sip a cool Dr. Pepper, my cola of choice these days? All I knew was that I intended to make the outing last as long as possible! It was chaos at my aunt and uncle's home where my mother, brother and I were living since "the divorce" as everyone called the failure of my mother's marriage to her third husband.
We occupied one bedroom in an old wooden house on their property. My mother went every day to work at a Colonial Store butcher department in Phenix City, leaving me to help my aunt on the farm. I had to gather eggs, running in terror from the ten white roosters who constantly chased me and pecked at my bare legs. It was also my job to help out in the "main house," as my aunt called it, a cinder block home with five rooms. I dusted and did dishes or whatever chores Aunt Dee felt I could handle. I did like dusting her assortment of salt and pepper shakers collected from her travels all over the world. Uncle Mike had been in the Army and there were little windmills from Holland and geishas from Japan and even Taj Mahals from India. What I didn't like was her constant complaining about my mother and about how inconvenient it was having us live with her. I couldn't wait until school started and we would move away from there.
As I started back down the road, I noticed how dark it had become outside. The temperature had gotten a little cooler and there was even the beginning of a breeze. Red dust swirled in the road and jagged streaks of lightning illuminated the billowy graying clouds. I began to feel a sense of anxiety as cold drops of rain began falling. I hurried up my steps, hoping to reach home before the downpour began. I took a large mouthful of my snow cone and began running. Suddenly, thunder blasted from the heavens so near to me, it seemed like the voice of God. Hail began pelting from the skies and it was almost as dark as night. I began whimpering, as I heard the deafening noise of what sounded like a freight train approaching. I looked and saw a huge funnel cloud headed toward me. I threw my snow cone to the ground and ran, filled with panic, for the drainage ditch on the side of the road. I could hear the roar behind me as I threw myself down the embankment and rolled into a ball, shrieking at the top of my lungs, my head held tight in my arms. I could feel rocks and debris showering over me and my ears felt like they were splitting open. I could barely breathe.
Miraculously, in a matter of minutes, there was silence. I opened my eyes, and, shaken and bleeding slightly from a few scrapes, I climbed out of the ditch. Mr. Parker's house seemed fine but his tractor was in the cow pasture across the road, not by the barn where it had been when I walked by his house earlier. Just before the road divided to go to my aunt's house, only part of the Smith's house was standing. I stopped for a minute, crying with my friend, Janie. She said that no one was hurt but none of us could believe that the wind could do such damage to their house. Mr. Smith told me to get in his car and he drove me the rest of the way home. When I looked toward the spot where I had lived the last month with my mother and brother, there was no house at all, not even a piece of framework. The cinder block home of my aunt and uncle was partially standing. I began sobbing as I saw my aunt and brother clinging to each other. They ran toward me, arms outstretched. They had gotten into the bathtub and that room had been spared. The bedroom was entirely gone. So was half of the kitchen. Strangely enough, however, the salt and pepper shakers were still on display and not even one was overturned!
Copyright (c) 2007 by Carmen Henesy
All rights reserved.