I survived the Beaver Dam tornado of 1980. Someone actually printed up a bunch of t-shirts with this brag–back in the day.
I was riding my bike home from the Jr. High (Middle School) on this fateful day. As I was riding down Mary Street hill (the same hill from this post). I thought to myself, “Strange how the faster I ride, the stronger the wind blows.” It was like somehow my actions affected the atmosphere. They were correlated…
The sky was darkening to the west. The daylight took on a greenish cast…and then the tornado sirens went off just as I rode past the last few houses before turning into my own driveway.
Was my first response to seek cover and head to the basement? No, of course not. My concern was for all of our pets.
I ran to the phone (landline, of course) and called mom at work. What did the siren mean…was it a warning, or a watch? It wasn’t storming outside… What should I do? Can I take the pets downstairs with me? She was pretty unconcerned…it was sunny and blue skies at her office less than a mile from where I was at home.
With her go-ahead, I quickly and carefully gathered my bird and hamster. Next, I brought down my sister’s bird, hamster, and guppies. Then I gathered the canary from the kitchen and the dog and added them to the menagerie in the basement.
But curiosity was killing me. So instead of staying put, I went back upstairs to look out the window to see if I could see anything happening that was out of the ordinary.
Nothing too crazy except that the house directly across Lakeview park was missing its roof.
This is when a bike comes in really useful. I got on mine and followed the damage and sirens. The tornado had cut a narrow path through our small town. Another house was missing its roof. Pink insulation decorated the branches of trees. Toilet paper fluttered out of the exposed bathroom on the second floor of Mrs. Kane’s house. The lights at the Athletic Field bent over at right angles about 6 feet above the ground–their tops now nearly touching the street.
It appeared that the tornado went past my house and was on a path to my grandma Is’ house.
As I neared her home, all the neighbors were outside inspecting the damage. Grandma’s neighbor’s metal shed that housed their lawnmower and garden paraphernalia was missing. (It was later found several blocks away in a stranger’s yard.)
Since that day, we all know that a siren means “Get downstairs NOW!” People in our little town used to think that somehow the lake would protect us from tornados…nope. So I also have memories of mom waking me up in the middle of the night and the family snuggling in down in the basement with pillows and blankets after hearing sirens.
And only the dog comes with us.
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