The Post Office Was Gone

Spring                Full Seed Moon

The folks at the Strib have asked those of us who blog for their weatherwatchers page to write up a storm story or two, a reminder of the forces of nature coming at us in the next few months.  As I’ve thought about this task, my own patronizing wonderment at folks who live on fault lines, in the path of hurricanes, or build homes in fire prone forest areas came to mind.

So, I’m going to start with a proper dose of humility, admitting that I, too, live in a place where nature can play havoc and let loose the dogs of war from time to time, yet I stay where I am.   After all we frequently get those 20 below zero or worse bouts of cold weather, often driven further down the temperature scale by high winds.  In the summer tornadoes and hail storms pound our area, so much so that we have a new roof and new siding after a bout with hail and tornadoes touched down within two miles of  our home, pretty damned close if you ask me.  That’s not to mention the weather that can and has punched us up the worst:  derechos.  These straight line winds reach speeds in excess of 58 mph.

Sorry about all those sarcastic comments southern California, west coast of Florida, San Francisco.

I’ll write one story today and few others over the week.

The first storm memory I have comes not from Minnesota, nor from Indiana where I grew up, but from Oklahoma, where I was born and still have family.   In 1956 or 57 my parents sent by Greyhound bus from our home in Alexandria, Indiana to Mustang, Oklahoma, then a rural community a good ways from Oklahoma City.  My uncle Rheford had the post-office attached to the front of his house and served as the rural mail carrier for the Mustang area.

Uncle Rheford and Aunt Ruth had, as many Oklahoma homes still do, a storm cellar located in the back yard, a dug-out with a cement floor and heavy barn doors covering the entrance.  During calm weather, most of the time, the storm cellar serves as a root cellar and a place to store canned goods, so it always smelled of stored produce and damp earth.

A few nights after I’d arrived, around 3 in the morning my cousin Jane came into my room, shook me awake, “Come on, Charles Paul, we’ve got to go to the storm cellar.”  Her urgency and the hour got me up fast.  I followed her out into rain and wind, crossed the few feet from the back door to the storm cellar and hurried down the four or five steps into this small, artificial cave.  My Aunt Ruth and two other cousins were already down there and Uncle Rheford followed quick behind Jane and me.

Uncle Rheford closed the doors with a thud, threw a large cast-iron bolt to lock them and put a cross piece into two metal brackets made for that purpose.  He also grabbed a chain and passed it through two eye-bolts, big ones, sunk into either door.  The end of the chain went around and hooked into another bolt that was part of the cement floor.  A little too sleepy and a little too young to be awed by all this preparation I sat down on a bench near a basket of potatoes.

The wind came.  The tornado must have passed right over us or very close because those heavy barn doors bowed up, called from their position by the voice of the storm.  The chain thrummed tight and the air left the cellar.  Then, just as it had come, the wind passed on by, the doors slumped back to their usual shape, slack came into the chain and sweet air rushed back into the cellar and to our lungs.

I don’t recall now how long we were in the cellar, probably an hour or so, maybe more.  After we got out we came up to a wet, distressed scene with leaves, tree branches, parts of buildings and machinery scattered in the  lawn.  The big surprise though came when we looked around the house.  The post-office, basically a long addition to the side of the house that faced the road, was gone.  Disappeared.  The rest of the house was intact.

In the days that passed I saw straw driven into telephone poles and other flotsam thrown up on the shore of this small Oklahoma town.  From that day forward I have always heeded instructions to go to the basement, remembering that night in the storm cellar in Mustang, Oklahoma.

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