Mama was always afraid of a storm. My daddy worked the second shift at the mill so whenever it would “come up a bad cloud” at night, my sister and I would huddle in the living room with my mother, candles and matches and a battery-powered transistor radio at hand — just in case the power went out — and help her worry.
I did not inherit her fear of storms. Quite the contrary. I have always enjoyed a good storm and watching the power of the universe unleashed. To this day my wife chastises me for sitting on the front porch and watching nature’s light show when a lightning storm approaches. She insists that I will reach my eventual demise by being struck by a bolt of lightning, and she says it will serve me right.
I’ve always been a weather geek and when foul weather threatens any part of the country — be it a hurricane, a blizzard or a line of powerful tornado-spawning storms — my attention is fixed on the weather reports. I sit in my recliner, playing the remote control like a Stradivarius, switching from station to station to see the most dramatic footage.
Honesty compels me that I thought of my mother throughout Wednesday’s sleepless night and was comforted by my belief that she now resides in a place where storms don’t threaten or destroy. She would have been a basket case before the night was over. I almost was, and I have never been afraid of the weather.
I used to hear my daddy talk about the terrible twin tornadoes that tore through downtown Gainesville in 1936. I believe he was living in Winterville at the time — which was probably too close for comfort. I was in a tornado myself in Starkville, Miss., in 1971, with the entire Georgia basketball team. We left Oxford on a Sunday morning, just before that town was hit, and then rode out the storms that hit the Mississippi State campus that afternoon in the basement of the building that passed for a basketball arena for the Maroons of that era.
I was a student at UGA when violent tornadoes ripped through Athens in 1973. My friends and I hunkered down for the night and held our own storm party. I will not relate any of the details of that event as some of the participants still live in the area and their children, as well as mine, are known to read this column from time to time.
The remnants of Hurricane Opal passed right over my house in 1995, knocking over more than 100 trees around our farm, one of which crushed most of my back deck. That storm sent my family and me scurrying to the safety of the basement for the night, and trust me when I tell you that I didn’t stand on the porch and admire nature’s power that time.
Judging by the tragic events that I have seen reported on the television and online, I am certain that the terrible tornadoes of April 27, 2011, will be remembered every bit as vividly as any of the above-mentioned weather systems.
Weather forecasting has become a more exact science nowadays than it once was, and since Sunday prognosticators had been warning us that Wednesday’s weather had the potential to turn dangerous — and they were right as rain. There was an eerie feeling in the air all day Wednesday. The air was unseasonably warm and the wind was whistling. Through Twitter and Facebook and the magic of television, we saw the storms devastate Tuscaloosa. We saw a giant mile-wide tornado hover menacingly over Birmingham. We saw the killer storms approach Northwest Georgia and relentlessly pound Rome and Cedartown and communities in which most of us had friends and family, and we wondered and worried that we would be in the storms’ destructive paths.
It was almost 1 a.m. when I determined that I wouldn’t need to spend the night in the basement, and I woke up Thursday morning to reports of more death and destruction than I had imagined possible. I was lucky. All I lost was a little bit of sleep. I had friends in Alabama and in Georgia who lost their homes and all their material possessions and more than 200 people, none of whom I did know, lost their lives.
The cleanup will last for months. The restoration will last for years. The memories and the stories — well, the memories and the stories of the great tornadoes of April 27, 2011 — those will last forever.
Darrell Huckaby is an author and teacher in Rockdale County. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/darrellhuckaby.