I SURVIVED THIS TORNADO
I was 10 years old and was playing on the front porch of our home with my friends. Grandma came outside with Lemonade for us children and stopped in the doorway, she was looking at the sky which had turned a sickly greenish yellow. She calmly said; “Children, let’s go have our Lemonade in the basement.” My best friend Bobby Boyce said that he had to go home. Grandma said; “Run, don’t walk. When you get home tell your parents to look outside and then go and play in your basement.”
Just as we got to the basement the sirens sounded. Grandma rushed upstairs to the second floor where she rented out 3 apartments. She got the tenants to the basement while my Mom got my dog Buster inside. We lived at 7th and Western, 4 blocks from downtown. When mom opened the outside basement door to let Buster in it sounded like a freight train.
As we huddled in the corner Grandma and Mom kept us children calm. They turned up the radio to drown out the outside noise. We listened to a reporter out at Ballard Airport describing the planes being flipped over.
When the all clear sounded Mom escorted my friend’s home. Grandma, who was the Manager of Pelletier’s Department store walked downtown to assess the damage from the storm and to see if the store needed to be secured. One of the tenants, a girl in her mid twenties, walked downtown to sight see against my Grandmas advise, and ended up being the first injury recorded at Stormont-Vail when she ended up stepping on a nail and driving it up through her foot.
In the days following the Tornado Mom, who was a PBX Operator working for an answering service over by Washburn University, put in long hours coordinating emergency calls for Doctors and emergency personnel. National Guard Troops escorted her through the devastation daily as she walked to and from work.
Grandma coordinated food and clothing drives through our church, First Church of the Nazarene. She also worked soup lines with the Red Cross and she urged other Pelletier’s employees to do the same thing.
Before the Tornado I had been taking Saturday Morning art classes at the Mulvane Art Gallery at Washburn University. But now that the roof of the Mulvane was parked in the parking lot our classes were moved to homes of the instructors. I still remember the unearthly feeling of walking to my art classes and seeing what had been being no more.
Our house did receive damage. A maple leaf blew through a storm window in the exact shape of the leaf. Our home got listed as the house that had received the least amount of storm damage. Grandma kept the piece of glass, leaf and article in a frame for years.
I do not think that there was one living soul who was a resident of Topeka at that time that was not touched by this monster in one way or another. I thank the Lord for those that survived and pray that he took those who didn’t into his Kingdom that day.
The days that followed were life changing for me. For the first time in my life I truly understood beauty from ugliness, calm from turmoil and peace from horror. My art in the days that followed reflected this. Even now, all these years later I see things in a different way and it translates into my art.
I have a healthy respect for the forces of nature and never take each day or moment for granted.
“Art Must Evoke An Emotion In Order To Be Art. If It Only Evokes Indifference It Is Not Art It Is Garbage.”