The Tornado of 1961

It was the spring of 1961. Springtime found my dad watching the weather reports very closely, as this was the time when tornadoes came from out of the southwest. Dad showed me where the southwest was, and I also keep an eye out in that direction. As this was the era of the cold war, he had made a fallout shelter in the basement of the house. It was a great place to play, and doubled as a tornado shelter.

It was the 1960/1961 school year and I was at kindergarten class in the old one room school house building that I had talked about earlier. I am not sure exactly what we were doing at the moment, in class. Coloring, playing with modeling dough, I just can’t remember. I noticed that it had become very dark outside. Almost as dark a dusk. Miss White gathered us up and told us that we were all going to get out of school early today. Buses were already lined up outside. I did not take a bus, as I lived within 1 mile of the school. In those days you walked to school if you lived in that range from the school. Rain, snow, or shine!

So off I went for the ½ mile walk home from the school on Wattles Road to my home on Jono rd. As I walked, it became darker and darker, and just before I got home it became more windy, and hail began to fall. I have to tell you I was frightened! I burst into the front door of my house, and at once searched out dad. “Is it time to go down to the shelter yet dad?” I asked. “Not yet” he replied. I was scared. The wind was whipping around the house. I could see leaves and other stuff flying in the wind outside the window! Again I asked dad “Now dad?” “Not yet son” he said. “ I will tell you when”.

The only grandparent I ever met, my grandmother, my mothers mom, was here from Pennsylvania. She was about 80 years old and had a stroke some years back. Her entire right side was effected. She could walk, but very slowly, and with a kind of shuffle. Dad was attending to her, and getting ready to take her down to the basement. All of a sudden, the weather stripping on the house picked up enough wind speed to give out a great sound! It sounded like 20 people blowing whistles at the same time! Goosebumps rose on my arms and again I asked dad “Is it time?” “Yes” he said. “Head for the basement” Before he could get the whole sentence out I was down the basement stairs, like a greased pig, and in the shelter! By the time dad got grandma down the stairs, it was all over. The tornado had hit the DeFrances house 5 doors down from us. It had took the garage of the house, lifted it off its foundation, and moved it over about 2 feet and set it back down. Then the tail of the tornado lifted up over our house and the rest of the neighborhood, and set down again in the woods at the end of the street, tearing up a lot of trees.

Meanwhile my mother was on her way home from work at the Kellogg company of Battle Creek, where she worked as a packer. She was driving east on US 12, about to turn right onto Wattles rd, when her car lost control and was spun around. Evidently the tornado had whirled her car around. When she got home dad calmed her down. I think he made her a drink.

No one was hurt in all of this. It did however leave a lasting impression on me. The power of nature if you will. And later that year, when I viewed The Wizard of Oz, for the first time, it really sunk in! I felt the goosebumps on my arms once again when the tornado came! All through the years I would keep one eye out, looking to the southwest, and be ready to raise the alarm, once again if needed!