My fourteenth summer, twin funnels descended from the mildewed sky and barreled across the field behind our house. We didn't know it until after we'd watched the news, but they were the same funnels that obliterated the home a quarter of a mile from ours, killing its sole occupant -- a woman in her forties, named Tina -- and spewing insulation and siding across a fifty mile radius. When I was walking over the fields a few weeks later, I discovered a laminated index card with a recipe for corn casserole. In curly script, the top read, "From Tina's Kitchen," and I realized how easily those twin funnels could've turned in our direction rather than hers.
On Tuesday of this past week, my fear of tornadoes heightened until it reached the level of that summer afternoon ten years ago. My sister-in-law and I were in the back of our store's warehouse, looking up prices for items, when the warehouse's garage-style door started shuddering beneath the power of lightening strikes and straight-line winds.
I said, "Maybe we should check it out." My sister-in-law nodded, and we walked out into the store. Our cashier was holding onto the double doors with all her might, but they were still whipping back and forth.
Fearing that Susan would be swept out into the storm, my sister-in-law cried, "Susan, let go of those doors!"
Our cashier immediately released them, and the double doors flung wide. A monsoon of water streaked sideways, and the wind howled like it had lost something. The hair on my arms and the back of my neck stood. My sister-in-law and I just stared at each other with huge, horrified eyes, then she quietly said, "Let's wait it out in your bathroom."
I nodded, and we took off running past the aisles, up the steps and through the office. Slinging open the apartment door, I gasped. Joanne came up behind me and did the same.
One of the two 6 x 8 window panes in my husband and my 1,100 square foot apartment had exploded, and glass -- acting like pieces of shrapnel -- had gouged the wood in our kitchen floor and table. The row of variegated plants below this window had been decapitated by the glass shards or at least mortally wounded. Their chopped leaves had been blown as far as the glass shards (the latter were discovered beneath our office door), and the few seconds we stood there, surveying the damage, felt like we were standing in the eye of a hurricane. Rain lashed through the hole where glass used to be, fluttering the few blinds that had survived the blast, and the wind's power had forced up numerous tiles of the drop-down ceiling, exposing strands of pink insulation throughout the apartment.
As another gust of wind sprayed the floor with water and glass, I yelled at my sister-in-law, "We need to go to the store's bathroom!"
We charged out of that apartment like it was on fire. Joanne shouted out into the store, "Everybody needs to go up to the store's bathroom--now!"
Our dear cashier hoofed it up the ramp along with two moms and their passel of children. All eleven of us crammed into our public bathroom. One curly-headed little girl sat on the closed toilet seat and swung her chubby legs. The children weren't alarmed at all and neither were their mothers. But they hadn't seen our apartment, and I was secretly wondering if our store still had a roof.
I called my husband's cell phone. Making sure to keep my expression and tone neutral for the children's sake, I said, "Honey, where should we be during a tornado? Would the store's bathroom be a safe place?"
Those are certainly not the words you want to hear from your spouse, but Randy reassured me that I had chosen correctly. When I explained about the window, he asked if both 6 x 8 panes were broken or just one because he would need to get plywood to cover the area up. I told him I would check.
Mashing the phone against my ear, I exited the bathroom, sprinted through the store and up into the apartment. I picked my way over the carpet, which sparkled like it was embroidered with glass. I had just made it into the kitchen when a piece of glass toppled off of the broken window and splintered across the floor.
Up until this point, I'd kept my head, but now I let out a blood-curdling scream...right into the cell phone.
My husband screamed in return, "Get out of that glass!" Then, more gently, "Did you cut yourself?"
"No, it just scared me."
Sighing, he said, "Don't try to clean anything up. I'll be there soon."
Being the obedient wife I am, ten minutes later I was scooping up glass shards with a shovel and dumping them into an industrial-sized trashcan. The mess was worse than I'd thought. Not only was the wood floor and carpet saturated with water, but dirt from the planters had splattered across the counter tops, walls, and founds its way into the cupboards, fridge, and even the microwave.
I invited our cashier up to survey the damage. "Well, Lawd!" she exclaimed, hands on her hips. "If you woulda been up here, you woulda been cut in two!"
Grimacing at that image, I just nodded. Once she left, I sat down on the couch where I sit everyday to type on my laptop and found that it was also speckled with glass.
My husband returned a few minutes later with plywood for the window. When he saw the damage, he didn't say anything, but while we were moving the couch to the side so we could vacuum behind it, he looked up at me and quietly said, "I'm just glad you weren't here."
"Me too," I whispered.
That evening, as we continued to mop up the water and vacuum up the glass and dirt, I recalled how I had stood in a field ten years ago while holding a dead woman's recipe in my hands, and I realized -- for the second time in my twenty-four years -- how very blessed I am to still be alive.