|Map from New York Times, March 22, 1952|
My mother was five years old at the time, and the storm left its mark on her. I’ve decided to allow her to tell her memories of that night in her own words:
I was not born afraid of storms but developed a real fear after March 22, 1952 when the horrible storm hit Henderson. I grew up in a community where my dad's 11 brothers and sisters also lived, all within three to four miles of each other with my grandparents sort of in the middle. As I remember, our family was always on the alert when stormy weather developed. During the first five years of my life, my parents, my brother and I sought shelter behind a large bank at the edge of our front yard whenever there was severe weather. This always seemed to be enough until that day in l952.
My mother, grandfather and uncle
I remember the weather getting bad that night, but my parents did not realize how just bad it was. This was before weather satellites and tornado sirens. There was often very little warning. I remember how fearful things were that night once the storm got close. It was not raining at the beginning, only thundering. I remember the urgency of my parents. My mother took my eight-year-old brother, my dad took me, and we went to the bank outside. They threw quilts over each of us and we laid in the ditch behind the bank. As the storm passed over, I remember a roaring sound, but at my young age, I did not understand the significance. I remember my parents discussing the roar and how close it sounded.
After the storm appeared to be over, we went back into the house. I shall never forget how eerily quiet everything was. We could hear people in the distance, calling for each other. At that moment, we couldn’t imagine the pain and destruction that lay just across the wood from us, about a mile as the crow flies. Many of our neighbors had lost their homes. Even worse, several had lost their lives. My aunt’s brother, his wife and their child had all been killed as they slept. I can remember the adults talking about how the family never even knew what happened. This same little boy I had just recently played with at a party I attended with my mother. Other neighbors were injured and some had to be helped out of the rubble.
When I was a child, I thought my momma was pretty much invincible. If I thought I heard something in the house, I would always call for her. In my mind, she might as well have been some sort of super ninja. I was certain she would and could protect me from anything. It was because of this that I found myself very unsettled any time my mother was afraid. And if there was one thing she was afraid of, it was severe weather. When I say “severe,” I don’t just mean thunder and lightning. She does fine until someone mentions the “T-word.” When it would storm, my mother would stay up to watch the news until it had passed. When we were very small, my brother and I would often sleep in our clothes, our shoes nearby, ready to leave at a moment’s notice when she woke us up. As I got older, though, I joined her in the living room in front of the television.
That terrible night in March was the last time we sought refuge in the ditch. My dad, along with his brothers, built a storm house behind my grandparents’ home. This was a gathering place for all of us on stormy nights. After that night, I became very scared when stormy weather developed. I think I was the first in the family to hear the thunder. I would jump out of bed and begin dressing, shaking until we went to the shelter. My brother was not at afraid as I was. I think back and laugh when I remember how they would get him dressed, and as we would be ready to start out the door, they would find Roger crawled back into bed.
On stormy nights--even after 59 years –I am still carried back to the horrible sights and sounds that I experienced as a five-year-old. Once I had a family, I passed this on to my own two children. Even when they were young, they both would be out of the bed with me when the weather was stormy, keeping me company while their dad slept until we told him we had to take cover.
When the storms would roll in, we would usually roll out toward my grandparents’ house in the country to spend the evening in their storm shelter [Note: They eventually built their own]. There were times we were actually driving to their house in the storm. Not the greatest idea, but mom just seemed to feel better when we were out there. This in turn made me feel better.
Sometimes we just couldn’t get to my grandparents’ house in time, so we would go downtown to the public safety building’s basement. I’ll never forget the time we parked at the post office where my dad worked and were walking across the street to seek shelter in the public safety building when all of a sudden the tornado alarms began wailing. Suddenly, my mother lost all composure and turned into a manic cartoon character, spinning around with her arms out, gasping, “What do we do? What do we do?” I would have laughed if it hadn’t scared the Mountain Dew out of me. It was the only time I remember my absolutely freaking out.I had my own “storm moment” that stuck with me, which only fueled my existing fears. In 1987, I went to West Memphis, Arkansas with my parents after a tornado hit the town right before Christmas. It was the first time I had seen firsthand the devastation from a twister. As my mother said of her experience, it was very scary (and I had not even been in this storm). I’ll never forget one house we saw. Half of it was standing, but the other half was completely gone. In one room that was left stood a china cabinet, unscathed. Even the china inside was intact. I was only eight, but something about the china made me uneasy, as if the tornado had been very deliberate. This experience just cemented my deep, almost irrational fear of tornados.
|Damage from 1999 tornado|
|Funeral home destroyed in 1999 storm|
|Mother Liberty CME after the 2003 storm|
|Aerial view following 2003 storm|
|Hurt Dorms at Union University|
|Huntersville, where we assisted in cleanup|
|Watters Dorms at Union University|
When I was a little girl, a friend of mine didn’t want to watch Wizard of Oz because she was scared of the flying monkeys. I loved Oz, though I do admit I closed my eyes on one part every time. Bet you can guess the scene.