Sharing My Storm House Memories
Just what is a storm house? Most people who have a rural background know this right off the bat. A storm house is a place built adjacent to your house (in timeframe of late 1950's to early 1960's in the rural part of the south) that you and your family could get to in times of severe weather--thunderstorms and mainly dangerous tornadoes.
Storm houses were not uncommon in my childhood in 1960, at the age of seven, near my hometown of Hamilton, Alabama--located in the northwest corner of Marion County near the Mississippi State Line going West. This was in a time prior to homeowners building basements for storage room or even for use in time of severe weather.
Most storm houses, like the one I remember, was not a masterpiece of engineering design. Our family had a storm house that was atop ground made from several loads of clay-based dirt, packed down tight, and huge logs were cut to use as support for the ceiling as well as the walls--but the moist, naked earth could be seen in our storm house with no problem. Daddy didn't care if our storm house looked good, because to him, looks never saved a life from a killer storm.
Storm houses had to be inspected regularly in the spring and summer months for many types of snakes that loved the cool atmosphere of a storm house and the quiet dark space that the storm house provided for the reptile's safety. It was up to the man of the house, my dad, to keep our storm house free of all snakes--poisonous and non-poisonous. He had more guts than I ever did.
My family consisted of my dad and mom and my sister who was not married at the time. The only time our family was together was at night when daddy came out of the fields where he had been tending our crops and my sister was home from high school. Family dinners (suppers, to ruralites), were a thing of beauty and blessing. Our family was poor, but the funny thing is we didn't know that we were poor, so it was of no consequence to us. We enjoyed what life we had and took each day as it came. I am speaking of course, for my mature sister and adult parents. Me at age seven, only had sense enough to know that my two pets dogs, Frank and Button were to be fed morning and night. And I confess, many is the time when Frank, Button and me, would play Cavalry where I was defending our storm house which was a "fort," and Frank and Button were my prize Army horses that the wild Apaches wanted to take back to their camp.
One summer evening after supper, I caught my daddy standing on the back porch of our house that faced West, toward Tupelo, Mississippi, and in the middle of Tornado Alley. He was restless. He shifted his weight back and forth as he looked at the darkening sky. Suddenly he turned and came through the house. "Storm's-a coming. Get to the storm house!" he said. And when my dad spoke, we listened. He was not a man for foolishness. He was our protector and provider and our good friend all in one man.
Daddy was right. My mama, sister and I barely made it from our front porch to the storm house door, made of planks, when the horrible tornado was making its way toward our house and over our property. The air was stilled with an eerie silence. I was almost tears laying under one of the many homemade quilts that my mama had put in the storm house in case we had to spend the night hiding from storms that often ravenged our part of the country. Daddy was sitting by the door--holding it with a piece of wire he had designed into a latch. "Sounds rough. Let's just be still and get ready to get under these benches," daddy advised. Mama in her motherly-strength and wisdom held her hand over my trembling body and somehow that eased my fears instantly. My sister was sitting behind mama holding to her for dear life as the storm went over, but as soon as that storm passed, another storm had formed and was coming our way.
I found myself escaping with my imagination and watching a few huge brown crickets that were clinging to the ceiling of the storm house. The kerosene lamp's light made the crickets appear on the far wall as monsters, dinosaurs and aliens from Pluto. Funny. I wasn't scared of the crickets as much as the howling winds outside. If mama was scared, she didn't show it. And daddy, being from the "old school," depended on his natural abilities he had learned as a boy to keep us settled down and ready to take necessary steps to save our lives.
As fast as the tornado and thunderstorms had appeared, they were gone just as fast. There is no proper way to describe the peace that filled that raggedy old storm house with the huge brown crickets, kerosene lamp and homemade quilts. Words are not adquate. I do remember us all looking at each other and watching daddy slowly open the storm house door to make absolutely sure that the coast was clear before we went back to our house.
Memories like these I have shared with you are still with me today at age 57. I find myself reliving that night and many nights like it when tornadoes and thundestorms come my way today in my hometown of Hamilton, Alabama, still in Tornado Alley. I can see daddy, mama, and my sister all in one place and one time--in an absolute sense of not being in that timeframe again. And for some mysterious reason, I suddenly grow sad as I see television ads for modern-day plastic-types of storm cellars that companies sell to people and install them for hundreds of hard-earned dollars. Yes, the primitive storm house has definitely experienced its own evolution.
But for my money, if I were to own a storm house, I'd much rather have one like the one that my daddy built because between his "rural engineering" and the grace of God above, we survived many terrible storm and lived to have another day when I was seven years of age.
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Thanks . . .
and peace . . .!