It came down like a spinning top. The air was heavy, then darkness fell, finally the atmosphere became an envelope sealed with destruction. The people of North Texas are not strangers to those twisting clouds of madness as most have grown up with them or watched them from afar, gyrating along our flat plains like twirling time bombs. This infamous date stands out like flagship of carved time in my memory, forever frozen. This is not just because I threw off the purple garb and bid adieu to the milestone of high school, but also because I inhabited Whispering Falls Texas when The Tornado came through.
I was frying pork chops because that’s what all good southerners might be doing on a sticky, black weather day, at least those who aren’t drinking beer which is what my now ex-spouse was doing with his cousin on the evening of Terrible Tuesday. There I was, making dinner for them, meticulously turning the chops when the sirens sounded. The weather had been weird all day, and all of that was so old hat, but in this place you never know what just might fall out of th sky and smack you.
Terrible Tuesday had becun like any other day, just me running around listening tot he Knack belting out “My Sharona” on the radio while driving my gold Trans-Am with big bird on the hood like some sort of female Burt Reynolds. I had driven to work where I helped run Xerox machines all day. A fulfilling job for a newly high school graduate, taxing the limits of my intellectual capacity. One copy or two? How about two hundred of these? Yes indeed… It was 1979, and I had finally given up on adapting a Charlies Angels’ hairstyle for myself, and was trying to get at the business of grown up and being a much too-young wife. Then the tornado cam and blew away half the town. What was it? Where do we go?
“Do you see THAT?” asked cousin Murphy.
My eyes followed his fingers as he pointed upward. There in the clouds above the overpass where we were now huddled, were at least five tornadoes, small in the distance, tipping, dipping, spinning in a macabre dance of death.
“Look at all that dirt!” said my Then Husband. I thought it was dirt too, but later we discovered that the entire darkened side of town was one giant tornado measuring 1.5 miles wide. Afterward, chaos reigned. The town was a dense, grief-strickened catastrophe pit. People were driving around with doors blown off their cars. The televisions stations were nothing but static. We went home to no lights and grease-soaked pork chops. Everything looked wrong. I don’t remember when Murphy left, but we decided to pack some clothes and get out of town, just go back home to the country for a few days until we could figure hout what was next and when the power would come back on and if there would be anything left.
It looked like a bomb went off, and the path back to normalcy was due to be long and tedious, whole neighborhoods were destroyed. The tornado killed 45 people, and even after the power came back on, I didnt’ want to stay.
Back at the copy machine hut, we compared horror stories we had heard:
“Sand and gravel INSIDE cans of grean beans?” asked Joy bewildered.
“That’s what I heard,” I said.
“The steak house cow found in DENTON?” she asked.
“Yep,” I said. “And don’t forget the pieces of paper through the tree trunks.”
Joy turned toward the copy machine, a Xerox 8500, which also weighed about roughly 8500 pounds and as large as a small room.
“Darn it!” she exclaimed.
SORTER JAM!!! The Control Panel blinked at us.
“Again?” I asked weakly.
She frowned, tilted her head to examine it from the top of her glasses. We had two rows of sorter bins behind the Control Tower of the machine where the paper ran through and dropped down neatly, at least sometimes, into the bins and collated the printed documents. This was the first job I had, and really the best about it was driving the Bird Car every morning while listening to rock radio and pretending I was really somewhere else besides here. It was definintely a rock’n roll car, demanding Heart or Van Halen while being driven at a higher rate of speed. Unfortunately the Bird Car and I would be trapped in Whispering Falls for decades to come with all the mysteries, intrigue, and subtle little traps that are inherent in small towns everywhere.
Photo Credit: Russell Jennings @ Newstalk 1290 Radio