I spent a lot of time in the cellar in my formative years. Most people who grew up in the Great South Plains of Texas did. I can remember Mama, my mama’s mama (I know… that’s a LOT of mama’s in one sentence) telling me when I was a boy that she had seen a tornado pluck all the feathers off a chicken and not even hurt the chicken! I don’t doubt it, but hey… at least the chicken was halfway prepared for Sunday dinner!
I can still remember seeing a picture on the front page of the Plainview Daily Herald of cars parked at Hale Center High School for graduation in 1965. If one couldn’t read and was just looking at the pictures, you would have thought that someone had come along and rolled down the front windows of four or five cars parked side by side, then took a telephone pole and carefully maneuvered it through all of those car windows and left it there as a prank.
Tornados do strange things.
When I was in high school, a tornado hit Plainview. At the time there was a super slide on 5th St. For those unfamiliar with a ‘super slide’, it was a huge fiberglass slide approximately 50’ high with several lanes and two moguls for lack of a better word. For fifty cents, they gave you a burlap bag and you could slide down on said bag as many times as you could climb the stairs for 20 minutes or so. Honestly, it was a lot of fun for a small-town kid whose biggest thrill was getting into the high school ‘after hours’ so to speak. That tornado took the super slide on a trip towards Oklahoma. Parts of it were found in Clarendon, around 100 miles NE of Plainview. I’ll never forget the destruction, mostly on the west side of town. It was no different than what you witnessed on the news today… neighborhoods were unrecognizable.
When I was a young man, I was employed by Southwestern Bell Telephone. In the big boss’s office in Lubbock, which I visited only a couple of times (possibly for disciplinary reasons or maybe just to say hey), there was a piece of telephone cable from the May 11, 1970 tornado which took out a large portion of downtown Lubbock. It had a splinter of wood around a foot long and no thicker than a number two pencil driven right through the middle. This piece of cable was, I believe, a 2,400 pair cable which means it contained 4,800 copper wires encased in a stainless steel sheath and a polypropylene cover. It was as thick as a grown man’s arm. You could not have drilled a hole through that cable and put that splinter of wood through it no matter how hard you tried. Totally amazing.
Just last week, all the national news outlets featured a video of a teenager from Elgin, Tx driving home from a job interview at Whataburger and driving THROUGH a tornado crossing the highway. The tornado flipped his truck on its side, spun it ‘round like a whirligig, set it back on its wheels and the young man continued on his merry way! My initial reaction to seeing this was “HAVE YOU LOST YOUR FRICKIN’ MIND”!!! Now, you CAN NOT get more Texan than this story, especially with Whataburger involved. Whatever drove (no pun intended) that boy to drive right through the tornado is beyond me, but because of his lack of judgment, a Chevrolet dealer in Fort Worth GAVE him a new Chevy truck!
Yep, tornados do strange things, and apparently so do Chevy dealers.
Generally on our frequent springtime trips to the netherworld, on the way to the cellar I would grab whatever money I had (which probably was never more than $1.35} as well as the cookie jar on the way out the back door. My dad would go get my grandmother, but my granddad refused to come. He always said, “if it’s gonna get me, it’s gonna get me”. I came to understand his reasoning. There were certain members of our family who became fanatically frantic at the mere mention of a tornado. Eventually, I realized my granddad’s preference of a tornado to an hour couped up in a hole in the ground with such distress.
So, it is indeed “Tornado Time in Texas” and as Guy Clark states in the chorus of one of my favorite songs of his… “tornado time in Texas; take the paint right off of your barn; tornado time in Texas; blow the tattoo off of your arm”…