Around 35 years ago…
I cannot tell you what year, exactly, but I was around 12 years of age.
My family – Dad, Mom, 5 year old brother and I, piled in the pick-em-over
(work truck, and yes, it was in the days before seatbelt/child restraint/safety seat laws….) and headed to town – to get some shopping done, pick up supplies from the Plumbing supply house and stop by Citadel Mall in Colorado Springs.
A nice day for a trip to town.
We entered the mall as one of the second-to-last stops for the day, and exited it an hour later,
To view a sky wiped clear of blue and replaced by a swirling mass of dark purple and green tinged haze –
Carrying a smell I was not familiar with –
I cannot describe that smell – even after a lifetime later – but I’ve never forgotten it and it is one of the few things that strikes fear into my heart instantaneously…
You know, smells are like that – they have a straight track into the most primitive part of the survival brain –
Dad looked at Mom and said,
“We have to get home to the livestock, Now.”
We headed east – 4 personages in the front seat of a pick-up – – Dad, driving, then my brother, then my Mom, and me nestled close to the passenger door…
We drove Hwy 24, east from Colorado Springs towards Calhan – where we would turn off and cut cross country roads to our ranch –
Hail started to hit – big and violent enough that vehicles pulled off to the side of the highway.
Remember the Green Bridge just west of Peyton, Colorado? That was replaced a few years ago?
Yup, we continued on past it – past all the people who had parked their cars in the ditch/alongside the highway and had scrambled towards cover under the bridge…
Dad had once heard of a tornado passing over a ditch and sucking all the air out of it – those seeking shelter didn’t die from the tornado – they died of asphyxiation, so he had his own reasons for us not to stop….
My Mom held a baby blanket in front of the windshield as the hail hit, trying to protect my brother and I from the possibility of shattered glass, all while trying not to block Dad’s driving-view too much – –
I looked out the passenger window and watched fingers of white and dark, here and there, reach out from the clouds to touch and stir up brown on the earth –
I saw one, after another, of those slim fingers form – briefly connecting Heaven and Earth, only to dissipate in time for my gaze to be captured by a new one materializing against the landscape we traveled through.
(I do not remember the phone company whose slogan was “Reach Out and Touch Someone” – was it before Ma Bell became a thousand other companies? Or after? The slogan must have come out sometime around that time, because whenever I think of that day, I realized the winds of Mother Nature were Reaching Out to Touch Someone –
Attention, Marketing Guru’s – I remember the phrase but not the company you fashioned it for – the phrase you craft today may only be associated with less than pleasant memories and NOT the memory of a company you charged big bucks to craft it for – Think about it – :) )
I watched in fascination as one slim finger formed, traveled, seemed to disconnect from the Heavens, then looked like a massive Dirt Devil on the ground – not visibly connected to anything in the sky – and then once more appeared to be re-connected to the clouds and shape what looked like a huge U,
With both head and tail connected to the clouds – and brown haze below –
“Mom, look at that! What’s it doing? Why is it U-shaped?”
A strangled and panicked reply was all I received,
I, safe behind a baby blanket held by Mom’s arms and seeing my Dad’s profile which indicated a steely gaze on the horizon and road in front of him, with strong, capable hands at the wheel, comforted me, and I decided not to worry – it would all be fine, we just had to do what Dad replied ..
“Hon, we have to keep going…we have to get home and check on the stock”
We made it home – livestock okay – later, I heard that day was touted as “The Day of 100 Tornadoes” – but haven’t located the history records, to confirm if that is really true or not -100 for Colorado? Our local area? The Plains? I cannot tell you –
In our neck of the woods and my memory?
Yup, it’s still logged as the “100 Tornado Day” –
9 or so Years Later…
This story, I’m on better footing for historical fact cross-checking –
Simply search “June 6th, 1990, Limon, Colorado Tornado” and find anything you wish to know – :)
25 years ago, this coming June 6th…
I was 9-months pregnant – and just a few days prior, had moved from my roommate’s home in Limon, back to my parent’s home to prepare for a 6-week maternity leave that was said to commence sometime in the next 2-3 weeks.
Thank goodness I moved.
The uprooted tree that demolished the bedroom where I would have been fast asleep in preparation for graveyard shift would have killed me and the baby both, had I not moved the Sunday prior….
See? I’m Lucky.
Even with the 40 mile commute, I was determined to work up till the last moment possible.
I and my boss had an adjusted schedule in place and plan of action, should I not show up for work in time…
That evening, I left home in a severe thunderstorm, because my boss had my route and if I didn’t call to say I wasn’t coming in, or running late, or show up on time, EMS crews would be paged to find the silly, pregnant woman in labor, along the 40 mile route –
And, I was unable to reach boss to call in ‘sick/not coming’ as my Mom wished to happen –
Dad understood my wish to not scramble EMS crews if it could be avoided – and backed me on starting out, with promise I would call when I arrived safely, if possible.
I drove through the storm that would wreak havoc on Limon a short time before I arrived at the eastern portal to the town-
I drove on muddy roads and through rain that felt more like driving through one continuous waterfall –
I hit a ‘good spot’ where the wind, rain, everything, became eerily quiet and calm – only to see the wall of water ahead that looked like a grey wall –
I kept going – I reasoned I could get to Limon sooner on the paved highway than I could make it back home on muddy ones – and I only wished to be somewhere to lay down and ease my aching back and frayed nerves –
(Yup – if I had been aware, fully, at the time, of what that 1/2 mile of dead calm really indicated, I probably would’ve gone into labor, right then and there from the stress/fear of it, luckily, Mother Nature made sure my brain was blissfully ignorant of all the logic routes – and with late night storms, you aren’t as aware of what is going on around you – you can’t see what’s coming, unless lightening illuminates it for you)
I finally arrived on the last curved stretch of the paved road journey, and wondered,
“Where are the lights? I can’t see the lights of Limon! Is the storm that bad? I can always see lights here…”
And then stopped on the eastern Hwy 24 bridge
The Portal-to-rest, guarded by one lone Colorado State Trooper, and his car, replete with blue/red, silently whirring, lights which cut through the darkness, who approached my car and quickly moved his flashlight between my face and pregnant stomach, once I stopped and rolled down the window –
He didn’t seem very friendly, at that moment:
“Where did you come? This highway closed. Why are you here?”
After some conversation, he decided I wasn’t a law-breaker –
Turned out, I had cut in to the highway at a cross-country road point that had not yet been manned/closed at the time I reached it. :)
I told him I was going to work – that my graveyard shift cook was waiting for me to pick him up at his residence located on the south side of town –
And tried to formulate the information when he said,
“There’s been a tornado – it hit the south side pretty hard – there are power lines down and I can’t let you go down there – where do you work? Rip Griffin’s Truckstop? Okay, it’s still standing and you are to go there and stay until someone says you can go.”
I informed him I was turning around to go home, sure no one would wonder where I was at and just wanted to be home – safe – and resting my aching back –
But I was not allowed to turn around and head home – when he said “No, you can’t leave” and I pleaded, then argued, bless his patient, customer service heart, he dealt as kindly as he could with this scared, unreasonable, illogical, pregnant woman –
“Lady, I’ve been through a tornado tonight – I ain’t delivering a baby on the highway too – You will go to Rip Griffin’s and there you will stay until you are told you can leave.”
I arrived at place of employment to find my old roommate and her boyfriend, the graveyard shift cook, safe and sound. And sketchy information as to how so many others had fared – and a boss that said,
“We assumed you stayed home – what are you doing here?”
And the story of why I started out nearly 2 hours before began again –
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch –
Dad and Mom have the radio on and receive (not wholly correct information) that the town of Limon has been leveled.
No phone contact possible –
Cell phones not to be had by anyone involved, just yet…
They wait, listen and worry (Mom worried earlier than Dad – but give Dad any concrete information and he’ll suit up and be ready to go…)
They left home, in less than stable weather, to find me –
In the same work truck…
Weather/Danger be damned…
Dad, watching the bar ditches as best he could to see if I had wrecked off the side of the muddy country road sat across the truck seat from a very ticked-off/worried Mom, who had earlier that evening been outvoted by a husband-daughter team that obviously just don’t know any better and she plans to do her own brand of arse-chewing, sometime in the future – but not right now…
I was rescued and taken home around 3am –
Dad and Mom arrived to a much bigger blockade than I faced –
Fortunately, the same Colorado State Trooper who greeted me was still on-duty and since there weren’t any other immensely pregnant women who had showed up at that portal, he was able to immediately calm their fears and told them where I was at – and gave permission for them to come get me and take me and my car home.
While I waited for rescue (though I didn’t realize I was just waiting – I figured I was there for the long haul and hoped Mom wouldn’t worry too much…
I had spent some hours crouched in cramped spaces, and managed to worry friends when I experienced massive muscle cramps and chose to stand upright to ‘walk it off’ – outside of approved shelter areas –
Or when the younger brother of a friend chose to walk with me up and down the external, glass plated hallways of the complex, when I demanded –
“I can’t take it anymore! I don’t care! My back hurts, my legs are cramping and I have to walk – NOW!”
I assume I was most likely in the early stages of labor, just then, but didn’t know any better at the time – to me, labor started the next day, around 1pm –
I’m still grateful for those who walked the halls with me while I marveled at the swirling mass overhead – and braved life outside of shelter because of unreasonableness – W – you know who you are :)
– I also listened to a battery radio AM channel report that said the whole town had been leveled, when I knew, at least in my immediate vision, it had not been entirely leveled – cuz I was inside a standing building at the time and looking at other standing buildings –
And I remember thinking,
“Every day, somewhere in the world, in war zones, disaster areas – this is what people do, every, single, day – somewhere – hide, worry, crouch, listen to reports they know aren’t completely right, but have no way of knowing how much is really right/wrong in the report of what is happening 1/2 a mile away.”
Escorting Me Home –
As Mom drove my car and Dad followed us in the truck, I looked out the window, – lightening illuminated the swirling clouds I now new better to fear –
We arrived home and I tried to rest –
And went into “OMG! The Baby Is Coming” about 15 hours later – while Dad was at work –
When he got the message of where Mom and I were, (remember, no cell phones…) he asked what he could do.
I asked if he could get word to my friend/Lamaze Coach – who lived in Limon – not really expecting it possible – –
Pregnant women aren’t always thinking of all the ramifications of requests…just saying…or maybe it’s just this pregnant-first-time-mom….
Dad drove and made his way through a National Guard blockade to carry word to Mary Kay
(Yup, her real name – but not the cosmetics guru …)
And she, with intact house, family support and a hubby who gave his blessing, jumped in her car and drove 70 miles only to arrive about 17 minutes after my oldest son was born – without her purse, driver’s license or anything else on her person –
She was rattled, too…
The whole story and requests/actions could have been handled much better –
- I should not have started out or asked for messages to be delivered next day-
- I should not have underestimated how much the people who loved and cared for me would risk to fulfill an unreasonable request, that I didn’t know was unreasonable, given my imperfect knowledge at the time, but, still, was….
Yes, If I could go back in time, I would do so many things differently – – – to better protect those I love…
My mom called and said there was a tornado on top of Simla…
My alert option on the cell phone only showed flash flood alert –
I looked out my northwest kitchen window and saw a finger of white, connecting heaven and earth – in amongst dark, swirling clouds –
The man-child and I grabbed the essentials and made our way to the cellar – which hasn’t been recently peppermint oiled and so, also had to deal with fear of spiders – :)
We had to half-drag/then carry, the dog down, because I was in a hurry and stressed her out in commanding her to “Come here, NOW!” without focused assurance –
I didn’t fulfill my Alpha Pack leader duties very well, yesterday, I must admit –
And the baseball sized hail that hit about 10 minutes later, along with increasing winds, and created sounds that made the man-child more fearful someone was looting our home than a storm hitting –
We all have our fears – and our memories – and what we are afraid of –
I waited out one siren, went up to confirm no one was in the house, to ease the man-child’s mind – grabbed a few more items and headed to the cellar again – –
Forgot to use the bathroom, once again, while I was wandering around top-level –
And then we Waited
Holding hands and I told him about all the near/far tornado calls I had been through –
- What to do – when – to the best of knowledge
- What it sounds like as it bears down on you and how to smell the air –
- About the day before and after his brother was born
- Why, since we are together, it will all be fine and things can always be replaced – somehow, someway –
We looked at the Smarter-than-Me-Phone map and saw all the red “T”s that indicated spotter info –
We talked to my Mom, 10 miles south east of us, who periodically came out of her safe space to look at what was going on, for she had no sirens to warn her –
We crawled out of the dark and watched the dark column move toward her – and called to say – “We are Fine – It’s Headed your Way”
Fortunately, we didn’t have to monitor Hurricane Evacuation routes, Flash Flood Routes or Earthquake notifications –
And, as far as I know – no wild fires were started by the lightening anywhere near us –
I do Know – with every fiber of my being –
Whether you wait and breathe a sigh of relief, later –
Or grieve just as so many have done during our history as a species –
- There is always, always – someone, somewhere, who loves you – who worries about you – and will brave whatever comes, to find you –
- Mother Nature is so much more appreciated if you capture or watch video of the storm cell from far away than wondering what is going on while you hide in your cellar and listen to the storm/sirens – and breaking news reports may not always be correct, in their entirety.
The Severe Warnings have started again, today – bit by bit, friends call to check on us and to report on them and their neighbors – how everyone has fared – so far, I have no direct knowledge of anything more than a couple minor injuries, property loss and only 1 report has reached me yet of downed livestock –
I’d rather drive through a white-out winter blizzard than endure late afternoon spring/summer storms –
I’m hopeful, because today’s weather report currently has the danger ending before sunset –
I’m always better when I know what I’m facing, rather than getting surprised from a direction of the dark I didn’t realize I should be keeping an eye on…
This post is my own way of coping –
With the past, with Now, and reminding myself of the multiple possible Futures –
Thanks for listening –
June holds so many memories for me – births, deaths, close calls, etc….
And now, one more memory logged of what I want to do better –
Because I’ve been blessed with multiple chances to learn…