Father's Day Tornado

The phone companies and florists have done a wonderful job in creating Mother's Day. Before cell phones it was easier to trace long distance use and get an idea of how many people were getting in touch with friends or family on particular days of the year. Mother's day was always the winner in the long distance toll charge sweepstakes, an annual windfall for the carriers. Father's day suffers from the comparison since Dad's just have not been able to keep with the long distance bonanza. As a father, I do not mind have the lesser day because really mother's do most of heavy lifting in parenting, from pregnancy to helping with the first grandchild. No what has always bothered me about Father's Day is tornadoes.

I have been through 5 little twisters in my life and not one of them has been in the 20 years that I have lived in the southeast. The first one, when I was 7 or 8 was not really identified as a tornado, it is difficult to see a funnel cloud when it is directly over head, until I heard that noise and felt the air pressure drop for the second time. I know that I have been lucky to have dodged the trees, roofs and natural shrapnel in these storms, but the one that will stick in memory hit in Falls Church, Virginia when my children were just a little younger than I was when I saw my first one.

It was Father's Day. We had been to the pool and done all manner of early summer things as a family and we were getting ready to grill a delightful steak for dinner. An approaching storm just meant that we would wait until it passed before the glowing of the coals. Thunder, lightning and a wet squall are not unusual in that part of the world and all of us were relaxing and letting the storm blow, the kids in their rooms, their mother napping in the bedroom and I was in the family room.

As I said, it is the sound and the pressure drop that are the scary part of a tornado. When you hear it, it is too late to do anything but watch for the train that must be roaring by, but there is never a train, just debris. One of my tornadoes hit while we were in a fast food restaurant after a soccer game. Fifteen 7 and 8 year old girls in shorts, cleats, sweat and mud gathered in the center celebrating a win and their edgy parents looking at the storm raging out side. Just before the roof of the building next door to us lifted up and wrapped itself around the power lines, every door opened at the same time as the air was sucked out of the restaurant. We all heard it, we all looked at the girls, we all looked at the large objects flying across the road and the girls never looked up. It ended as quickly as it started. The doors closed gracefully. The lights never flickered. The celebration unimpaired.

I would like to tell you that I remember the sound and the pressure drop that vividly on Father's Day, but it would not be true. What I remember is the sound of an oak tree snapping, the 5 foot diameter of the trunk torn like a twig, and the sound of that tree falling, each leaf providing its own little whistle. It is remarkable that you remember the sound of the tree falling above the roar of a thunderstorm, but when the tree is coming down on your house, right above your head, you hear it. What I saw were limbs from an oak tree that had been on the right side of my house coming through the windows on the left side of my house. What I felt as a huge shudder as the masonry walls caught that tree and broke the fall.

It is Father's Day and your whole family has just survived a small disaster (even if you have not counted noses) and instead of collecting praise for being a wonderful Dad, you are thrust into the father role, count noses, hug the scared, assess the damage before calmly and carefully deciding when panic is appropriate. You pick up your daughter who is scared and crying so that you can find everyone else. Your son is right behind her and you are glad that you were designed with two arms. You carry them both to the bedroom to find their mother who has taken off her glasses for her nap and can't really see the tree limb that crashed through the skylight but she can feel the cold rain that is now pelting the mattress. Next is the kitchen which is impenetrable. The tree trunk is resting in the sink and counter top with the floor waist deep in roofing and masonry. You go back the other direction to find that the rest of the house is still water tight, but you know that you will have to go outside to assess what is next. I would have been better off to stay in the house. The crown of the roof collapsed under the tree, bowing the walls out on each side. The house itself looks like a picture book of some fairy tale tree that has been hollowed out to put a house in its base. The limbs and leaves drape the windows and doors and require a keen eye to find house beneath it.

Is is Father's Day. Who do you call? Your father? Tree emergency hot line? The tree has settled in the attic where the gas line runs to the furnace. Maybe you should call the gas company? In the end, I called the fire department because I was most concerned about the risk of a natural gas fed fire. I admit that I was a little sheepish that I did not know how to go out to the meter and shut the gas off. One lesson learned for the next time and the hope that you will never need that knowledge.

We collected glasses, a change of clothes and stuffed animals and piled most of the family into a car to get them to a secure house. A father stays behind to go down with the sinking house, no that is a captain, a father stays behind to seal up what ever can sealed and try to figure out what to do next. I did not have that Father's Day steak until later that summer but at 2 in the morning, sleeping in a spare bedroom at my sister's house, I woke up to a second line of thunderstorms. I listened to the rain and heard every drop going into my home with an oak tree roof; hearing the water run across all the things of our young lives; feeling every drop in the pit of my stomach as another worry about things that I could not control.

It is not possible to be prepared for the whim of natural forces, yet we still pressure ourselves to be the father and control the fractal dimensions of nature. You buy the insurance or store some "just in case" things. You think you are prepared. Still you have overlooked having a wrench handy to turn off the gas. You cannot prepare a way to keep that tree standing. You cannot prepare for the terror in your daughter's heart when she finds out that her dad cannot keep the trees from falling on the house. Years later, it is easy to see that you handled the situation about as well as possible. You were fortunate that no one was injured and most of your things were unscathed. It is even possible to laugh about the folly of calling the fire department and yelling “Tree! No, it is not on fire but it might burn.” Instead, you remember what it means to be a father, you hope to remember to accept the things you can not control, but it is impossible to forget the tornado that interrupted Father's Day dinner.

Add your story to this page!

Comment on this Story

Add a New Comment

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License