Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tornado makes for memorable vacation

The horrific events in Oklahoma recently have brought back some memories of my own personal encounter with a tornado.
How did a born-and-raised B.C. boy end up staring down the business end of a twister? Let's just say it was not on the vacation brochure.
I witnessed the raw power of Mother Nature when I was about 12 years old and the family was venturing out on one of our annual marathon road trips into the United States.
We were heading to Lousianna because my parents actually knew some people down there whom they had not seen in many years.
It was the first time I had ever heard a Southerner speak (this was long before Duck Dynasty or any other southern red neck show) so it was interesting to hear people say, 'Y'all.'
Appearantly, when you are down south certain vowels are optional when you speak. Why? Beats me, but that's the way they did it.
We spent a couple weeks with our American bretheran, and to this day I still say Y'all. It is just something I picked up and it stuck with me like a language tattoo. I also occasionally say po-lice, with an emphasize on the 'po' part. Other than that, I remained a true Canadian, eh.
Anyway, on our way to the land of gumbo (whatever that is), we ended up in a campground in the middle of Tornado Alley.
We were a family of six in a big blue van hauling a tent trailer and as we were setting up for the evening, we noticed the sky looking rather ominous. And by ominous, I mean apocalyptic kind of ominous.
We went about our business as the heavens grew darker, and eventually the wind and rain became a concern.
Then my dad heard someone say two words that sent us into a near panic -  'tornado watch.'
We were from B.C., so what did we know about tornados? Nothing, that's what. We dialed in to the emergency radio station where the announcer said if you hear what sounds like a freight train, that is a tornado.
We had been hearing that sound for the last 20 minutes. We all looked to dad for guidance, not considering this was his first tornado as well.
But he knew what to do and we were ready to abandon camp and head for cover.
The announcer confirmed a tornado was on the ground and we spent several tense minutes listening to the radio and trying to figure out exactly where the twister was. Being tourists, we had knew few reference points and had a hard time pinpointing its location.
It turned out to be a lot closer than we thought. The tornado broke up less than two miles from our campsite. It was heading straight for us.
It wasn't a huge tornado and fortunately no lives were lost, but it was one of the most memorable and definitely the most terrifying family vacation moment ever.
It wasn't until many years later I started to wonder what dad was thinking as we huddled in our van listening to an emergency radio channel while a storm unlike any we had ever seen raged nearby.
I remember my little brother looked terrrified, mom sat in prayerful silence and my two sisters were on the verge of tears born of fear and stress.
But somehow dad looked calm. 
Perhaps I saw the situation through they eyes of a pre-teen who knew his dad was the biggest and strongest person alive and he would never let anything bad happen to us.
I can recall a look of conern, but not fear on his face. On the inside, he was likely as scared as any of us, but with all eyes upon him, he did not show it.
He told us of his plan should the tornado get closer and I found great comfort knowing Dad had everything under control.
Eventually the radio announcer said the storm had broken up and our moment of tornado terror was over.
I am sure no one was more relieved than my father.

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