During the course of our lives we all have those special days that are seared into our memory banks. It is always because of some extraordinary event that occurs like the attack on Pearl Harbor (which I do not recall as I wasn’t quite here yet) or your wedding day, birth of children or 9-11. Then there are those that are more unusual that are caused by some weather event. I bet each of you has endured some weather event that sticks in your mind even though it might have occurred years ago–a snow storm, hurricane or flood. In my case it was a tornado.
We had been in a drought for 7 or 8 years. It started in the late ’40’s and was still ravaging the southwest and parts of the midwest in ’57. We always got some rain each year but it was never enough. We would get 20 to 25 inches of rain but our norm was 34 so things continued to dry out year after year. The ground had huge cracks in it. The playground at the school would have cracks that were several inches wide and there was a lot more dirt than grass. Watering was very restricted at that time because of the shortage. We were even pumping water from the Red River to towns and cities to meet the basic needs. One large lake in the City was over 200 acres and it was completely bone dry; it had become a vast mud hole. Every Sunday in Church we would pray for rain and we had been doing so for years. They were even trying to seed the clouds during this time but it never produced any rain. Mostly we just baked.
In April of ’57 I had been working out for track and had arrived at home. Some dark clouds had built up and I was hoping we would get a good rain. We always needed one. Spring training for football was right around the corner and I wanted the field to soften up some and maybe even a little grass to grow on it. I was piddling in the kitchen with my mom when dad came running through the front door telling all of us a tornado was coming and to get ready to get in shelter under the kitchen table. Dad did let me go out and look. I was not sure what I expected to see. But I guess I envisioned a big rain cloud and one of those little funnels hanging down. When I looked though it was not what I expected. It was huge and vee shaped. We watched it few minutes to see if we could determine its direction. It was probably 3 to 4 miles away when we first saw it. My mom called my best friend who lived a few doors down because his parents never were home that time of day and he came to our house. It loomed larger and larger as it neared and you could see the debris in the sky. You really couldn’t see a funnel because it was so large that as it pulled up debris from the ground it was a mass of darkness and objects floating around the incredibly dark and greenish center. It wasn’t raining yet but you could see the sheets of rain off to each side of the tornado.
It got nearer and that is when I got scared. I wasn’t very nervous when we first started watching it even though it was so ominous. It was the sound that finally scared me. It was a soft but steady purr at first. But the sound changed and it became like being in a tunnel with 10 locomotives roaring past your ear. The sound literally took my breath away. That is when I realized just how powerful this thing was. I will never in my life forget that. By now it was within a half a mile or so and we went into the house and me, mom, my brother and friend got under the kitchen table while dad watched out the back door to see if it was going to move right over us. It missed us by about a quarter of a mile but the debris it picked up and then flung outward came raining down on our house. That was weird. It was sort of like hail pounding but much louder and sometimes with a real thump when a tree limb or larger object banged into the house or backyard.
It passed and we went up on the roof to watch for a while. From there it was easier to see and we could see the explosions every few seconds when another electrical transformer was blown. It would light up the dark clouds when the flash came and you could hear the booms. Shortly after we helped out directing traffic through the neighborhood. The cops let us keep doing it because there was sightseers and emergency vehicles and friends and relatives coming to check on their families and friends. Dad went to help those who may have been injured. The storm only killed 11 people. Two of them about 3 blocks from our house. I am still amazed that the deaths were so low as it passed through heavily populated areas of town. To this day I still have occasional dreams about tornados.
Hang fire is the expression used when a artillery shell jams or fails to ignite in the tube of the gun. It is a very dangerous situation and more than one artilleryman has been killed under such circumstances. The shell has to be cleared, carefully or else you are shelling yourself. Today you will still hear that expressions sometimes when a dangerous or pecarious situation arises and there is a need for caution and care..