July 24th…“SHARE A STORY OF A TORNADO OR DESTRUCTIVE WIND STORM.”
The barn, on that stranger’s family farm, had literally exploded into match sticks, yet there, in the very center of that mass of shredded wood, stood a horse in its stall…..still alive and untouched by the massive power of the tornado that plowed through south central Minnesota on April 30th of 1967. Actually, there were a number of tornadoes that had hit the area that fateful day and one even did damage to my Uncle Del Sletten’s home in Albert Lea, Minnesota. My family had been visiting our grandparents in Albert Lea earlier on that powerful day and had to head home for the evening milking our dairy herd. I recall our father, Russell, taking a different route home that day…..and it’s a good thing we did. Southwards we drove from Albert Lea and then turned to the west towards our hometown of Kiester. Maybe Dad, in his wisdom, foresaw the potential peril of following our regular highway home that day. The puffing winds buffeted my face from the rear window of our car being rolled down. As I batted my eyes from the wind, I was taken by awe of the menacing look of the clouds that were to the north of us in the area of Albert Lea where we had just been minutes before. They looked menacing and maniacal in their strange coloring and billows. Not long after that, I later heard, all pandemonium broke loose on farms and communities along a path of massive destruction and death for man and animal alike. So much so, that a half century later, locals of that area still call that day ……..BLACK SUNDAY.
Nothing struck a deeper terror in my teenager heart than the word TORNADO!!! These super powerful windstorms were prevalent in the humid summers across the farmlands of the Midwest. Coming from the Latin word, “tornare” and the Spanish word, “tornar” (which both mean “to turn”) we get the transliterated word “tornado”……a turning, spinning and very powerful wind storm.
In the days long before fancy satellites and radar technology, meteorologists did the best they could to warn the population of these potentially killer storms by either issuing a “watch” (conditions MAY generate a tornado) or a “warning” (a tornado is imminent soon in your area and take action to protect your family). These alerts would interrupt regular programming and were broadcast across local television and radio stations repeatedly until all danger had passed from our vicinity.
On a lighter tornado related vein, I smilingly relay what happened the previous evening at our farm. Even as a teenager, who enjoyed getting dirty on the farm, it was not an easy task for my mother to get me into the tub for a bath. Since this was Saturday night and there’d be morning worship at church the next morning, I relented and climbed into that porcelain puddle play place to get clean AND to get cooled off from the oppressive summer’s sticky and muggy heat. Being a wild child of the 1960’s, I took along a clean pair of shocking yellow and blue plaid slacks to put on after I was squeaky clean. The skies around our farm, on that late afternoon, had taken on an aura of blackness and a foreboding power of what was looming above us as we tiny humans, down below, could only cower and hope that we would escape the illimitable power of a tornado coming down up us and obliterating our entire farm AND us.
Well, there I was, playing in the tub after a cursory attempt at washing, when all of a sudden Mom pounds on the bathroom door and yells, “GET OUT OF THAT TUB RIGHT NOW!! THERE’S A TORNADO COMING!!!!” Within a nanosecond, and completely soaked with bath water, I jumped over the edge of that tub and began trying to yank on my clean plaid slacks over my soaking wet teenage carcass. Haste makes waste, because the slacks had clung to my dripping wet legs like glue. Worse yet was, in my terrified haste, I had neglected to put on underpants first. This blunder caused a painful situation as I almost “zipped up” any future family possibilities!!! 😉 YEEEOUCH!!! Once somewhat publicly presentable, I ripped open that bathroom door and raced with Mom out the southwest porch door of our house to see where this monolithic funnel cloud of death was coming from.
Mom pointed to the south of our farm and to the hill just to the west of our dear neighbors, Chet and Violet Ozmun. Chet had a contract with a local road maintenance company to dig and crush rock from his tall hillsides to provide gravel for maintaining the many gravel roads of our farming country. The crater, from all their digging, looked like a mini-Grand Canyon.
In reality, Mom’s “tornado” was nothing more than a giant “dust devil” that had been stirred up from the loose gravel at the bottom of that gravel pit by the crazy winds of that evening. Oh true, the funnel cloud of the “dust devil” WAS sky high, but that was all……….no tornado. I couldn’t help but tease our sweet mother for her version of what she THOUGHT was a tornado. I had a good laugh when the alleged danger was past. This had been a close call, both for the “zippered zinger” that I endured and for the imaginary tornado witnessed by this now relaxed Norwegian Farmer’s Son.