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Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Tornado Chronicles

Storms are a turbulent necessity. The grayness is nonnegotiable; that long weeping cloud is a component and ligament of the bright golden-clad days. And there’s nothing to be anxious over a bit of rain. But Thursday, I had no idea that a full-blown tornado was kicking about my hearth and homelands like a drunken giant in a fist-flinging fury.

I had been at work down in the famous Selma, Alabama; doing my job; being a rep. When out of the forests, pastures, and swamps of L.A. (Lower Alabama as we like to say) a massive storm, whirls of winds and dust, comes waltzing through the land. A tornado is a sad plight. It’s a rain cloud that wants to dance instead of weep. And somewhere deep inside, this horrendous black-biled giant can never shake off its melancholic nature fully. Its attempt at dancing turns into a furious salsa of wind and rain, of heated lightning, of perturbed frolic. This titan’s fancy footwork is heavy-heeled…and how the neighborhoods brace themselves in its ricocheting steps. The striving for jollity transforms into a clumsy rampage. Anger is its drumbeat and chaos is its only rhythm.

On Thursday, I found my knuckles wrapped around the steering wheel of my new car driving on roads permeated with this solemn-storm sounding music. I didn’t want to drive through Montgomery at 5 o’clock in the afternoon with a storm raging, so I opted on one of the greatest ways to travel…county roads. A person in this day and age can pull onto the pot-marked back roads of Alabama and wonder if he will ever emerge back into civilization still intact. And that’s under normal circumstances; add onto it the adverse situation of a tornado ravaging the countryside and ones chances are slimmed considerably. That traveler is no longer a mere civilian passing through; he or she becomes a sojourner on a quest to get out the other side of these enchanted lands.

The sky was a somber purple color. It always is when something tremulous is afoot. It’s that gloomy, yet splendorous hue of dusk suspended in time. It’s as though the sun wishes to depart from what it sees, while the moon and stars delay their entrance, reluctant at setting their night-piercing eyes on what is waylaying the land. So the cosmic stage is left barren, no stars, whether by day or night wishing to shine any limelight on the pervading scene. And here I come rip roaring through the countryside. Eyes open and alert at any spiral formations of cloud, and jaw set determined to make it home to Dothan alive and without a scratch on my brand new Honda. The sights that unfurled before my eyes were beyond eerie. I saw power lines down and trailers demolished. This surge of havoc took off entire walls from houses while still leaving the furniture untouched. People assembled out on church doorsteps and the rain splintered down like a sparks off a frantic torch burning somewhere not on earth. Bedazzled and perplexed the crickets that normally began to warm up their songs for their nocturnal serenades gapped in awful silence. Cemetery stones glowed more in the subtle dusk than the light of the sky dared. Old church steeples pointed towards the ominous skies in stoic prophecy. Things were not right in Alabama.
Some sheds I’d pass by wondering if that was the footprint of the tornado or if that was just a shed of Alabama, a common sight…a lop-sided attempt at carpentry. But, I reckon for the most part, much of the devastation that I saw was the wake of this raging giant. I pressed on as the sky grew darker and more electric. Nearly all the radios were centered on the personage of this dark and wind-wielding tyrant, the tornado. I had found out that it had hit Enterprise (my actual birthplace although Dothan is what i claim to be my hometown) and entirely demolished the high school there. I journeyed on and at Troy, I knew I had a straight southwards shot down to Dothan….one hour. But on this stretch of highway…in between Dothan and myself lay that dastardly tornado playing tackle football with barns, trailers, and schools. I gritted my teeth and continued my course. Why, you may ask? Well, I knew that the tornado was heading east and not north. So the chances of the tornado and myself, both of us traveling at a fast rate, our two points converging at an intersection, were very slim. I distrusted staying in one place more than moving in the direction where the tornado was. (notice past tense here). I got home without a single brush with the whirling monster. Just the awful view of what it did to the unfortunate others. That night I went to bed…Praise be to God. The next morning I awoke to the news of another storm…this one more personal; my grandmother was on her deathbed. (Entirely unrelated to the tornado.) So I will drop this story now and pick up both parts later. My grandmother who has now passed on is a woman who deserves a note by herself. And then the actual reconstruction effort and result of the tornado is definitely worth mentioning as well. Until then.


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