April 7th, 1980. I was 9 years old and was heading to Grandma Is’s house after school. Grandma’s house was only 2 blocks from school and I made the journey without any challenges. It was a beautiful spring day. Not a cloud in the sky. At least not yet.
When I got to grandma’s house, she wasn’t there yet. She was at ceramics class or bowling or doing one of her afternoon activities. I grabbed my usual snack of doughnut holes and sat down to watch some tv.
Suddenly, grandma came hustling in the door and asked me if I heard the tornado sirens. I hadn’t. I was so used to hearing them every Saturday, that it didn’t even register in my brain that they were going off during the week. She told me that a big storm was heading our way and she needed to go put her car in the garage. She said that she’d be right back.
About 2 minutes later, the wind started howling and the back door blew open, gusting strong winds into the house. With the back door open, my escape to the basement was futile as the basement door was now blocked. Grandma still wasn’t back inside.
I was terrified of what was happening and didn’t know what to do now, so in my brilliant 9-year-old mind, I grabbed the local newspaper, went to the middle of the living room, and covered my head with the paper. Thinking back, I’m not exactly sure what I thought that was going to do for me.
The winds outside sounded like a freight train was coming right thru the house. Still no grandma.
It was over in seconds, but to me, it felt like hours. And then it was done. Grandma came back into the house. She had been on her way back inside when the tornado hit and she had been hanging onto the garage for dear life.
We were fine, and the house was fine, but areas of Beaver Dam were not. We did have to leave the house though because of a gas leak somewhere on the block, so grandma and I got into her car and proceeded to drive around town to see the destruction that had happened. At the Athletic Field down the block, the light posts had been completely bent over and now lay across the road.
According to the National Weather Service, seven tornados were sighted on April 7, 1980, in Dodge and Washington Counties, all apparently appearing without warning. Damage from that afternoon’s tornados easily exceeded $1 million in Dodge County alone, Dodge County Sheriff Ted Meekma said. 24 persons were injured in the tornados. “It was at least two tornados and possibly three that did most of the damage, Dominic Scaffidi, a forecaster with the National Weather Service said.
Thinking back on this as an adult, I still don’t know where I should’ve gone. In grandma’s house, the front room was covered in windows. The dining room had large glass patio doors and because the kitchen door blew open, spewing in branches and debris, the kitchen was off-limits. So, a newspaper over still sounds pretty good to me!