“Racing the Tornado,” New Era, Feb. 1997, 12
I had learned how to “line fish” just a few weeks before from my old fishing buddy, Howdy. His real name was Wesley Howdyshelt, but I called him Howdy for short. I was 12 years old, and he was a retired auto mechanic who lived just a short distance from my house. Howdy used to tell me over and over again, “Bobby, only throw out enough line to hold 15 hooks and make sure it is tight before you leave. Make sure you check it every day.”
I smiled as I thought, So, here I am, following Howdy’s advice.
I carefully reached down to take hold of the line. But just then, the town’s emergency siren went off. The shrill sound could be heard for miles around, and it was used only for emergencies.
If there were several short blasts, followed by several long ones, it would be for a fire. If it were sounded for a tornado, it would be one long, continuous blast.
It was one blast. I froze in my tracks.
Now what am I gonna do? I thought. If only I had listened to my mother …
My mind raced back to less than an hour before, when I had been sitting at the kitchen table in our home, eating lunch, with the television on in the background.
Just then, a deep, rough-sounding voice came over our television set.
“We interrupt this program to issue a tornado warning from the National Weather Bureau for all of Van Buren County. You are advised to be alert for possible tornadoes and if necessary seek immediate shelter for your own protection. Please stay tuned to this station for further information.”
Yeah, yeah, I thought. We hear that all the time. In fact, I had lived in Keosauqua, Iowa, for more than seven years and had heard the tornado warnings over the TV more times than I could count, and not once had I ever seen a tornado. Not once.
I got up abruptly from the kitchen table and started to go outside.
“Where are you going?” asked my mother.
“Oh, nowhere. Just outside for a while.”
“Please stay close to the house and remember the tornado warning,” Mom reminded me as she put the last dish into the sink.
Outside, I ducked around the corner of our house, whistled for my dog, Tricksy, grabbed my bike, and started coasting down the steep hill in front of our house.
I wasn’t really disobeying my mother, I rationalized. After all, I would stay close to home. The river wasn’t that far away.
When I got to the river, I hopped off my bike and looked at my watch. Nine minutes flat. Not bad.
I inspected my line and was pleased to find that no one had bothered it.
And then I heard the siren.
My heart was pounding fast and loud. I dropped my fishing line and turned and ran as fast as I could back towards my bicycle. As I ran, I kept thinking about how worried my mom would be when she heard the siren and couldn’t find me.
I leaped onto my bike. The sky was pitch black, and a brilliant lightning bolt flashed across the sky as it started raining and the wind began to blow. I could hear and feel the crash of thunder all around me.
As I reached the bottom of the last steep hill that curved its way up to our house, I thought, Good, only a few hundred yards left to go. But I was already soaking wet and out of breath.
The wind was so fierce, that for every forward step I pedaled, the wind seemed to blow me two steps back. My eyes stung with pain from the rain and hailstones being driven into my face. Hail covered the ground, and I began to slide. I fought hard to maintain my balance and to keep going. It was then that I knew I could not make it back home by myself.
“Oh, Heavenly Father,” I prayed as I pedaled. “Please help me! I disobeyed my mom, and now I’m in real trouble. Please help me. I promise to obey in the future.”
The warning siren blocked out the sound of a tree crashing just in front of me, forcing me to ride around it.
I kept telling myself over and over again, “You’ve gotta keep going. You can’t stop now. Heavenly Father will help you.”
I finally reached the front yard of our house. Suddenly, the wind stopped, the hail stopped, and the rain became a drizzle.
Waterlogged from head to foot, my hands and face stinging from the severe pelting by the hailstones, I almost laughed out loud. It had just been a bad summer storm. I had been worried over nothing.
I dropped my bike and started for the back door when I heard a distant noise, like an approaching freight train. A strong gust of wind came up and the back door almost flew out of my hands as I frantically tried to open it. The sound of hailstones beating against our house sent chills up my spine. I yelled out for my mother, but there was no response.
“Mom, where are you,” I called out. Still no response.
I began to shake with the terror of being alone when, out of the corner of my eye, I could see her standing at the bottom of the steps leading into our cellar, motioning to me. I scrambled toward her, taking two steps at a time.
Quickly we walked to the northwest corner of the cellar, sat on the cold, damp cement, and threw a blanket over our heads to protect us from the flying glass and debris.
I could hear Mom praying, “Father in Heaven, please protect my family and our home. Please watch over us.” I didn’t hear the rest of her earnest prayer, because of the roaring thunder overhead.
Our home began shaking from the immense power of nature’s mighty destructive forces. I clung desperately to my mother’s side, and together we held each other close. Never in my life had I felt the closeness and love of my mother more than while we huddled there, during that tornado.
Suddenly the noise and the shaking stopped, just as quickly as they had started. I was almost afraid to look out from underneath the blanket. Mom and I just sat there in the dark for several minutes. Then, with the help of a flashlight, we made our way through the debris that covered the floor in the cellar. Holding hands, we walked up the rickety cellar stairs.
The back door was gone, the kitchen in shambles, all of the windows broken out, and glass and wood fragments everywhere, but miraculously the roof was still intact. The old cherry tree that had stood only 20 feet from our back door was gone, and the three oak trees that had lined our front yard were twisted and broken like matchsticks.
Our prayers had been answered. Our home still stood and we were alive.
I learned valuable lessons that day—lessons that I will never forget. I learned that Heavenly Father loves me and answers prayers. I learned that I needed to use wisdom in all my decisions and obey the commandments. And most importantly, I learned to listen to my mother.