The Last Windrow: Hailstorms on the prairie
Gramps spent the hailstorm in the bathtub.
Last week's severe thunderstorms brought back memories of the storms that crossed our small farm in Lincoln Township, Plymouth County, Iowa, so many years ago - the days before modern radar was invented and we had to rely on our wits to determine if we were about to get blown off the earth or not.
One learned early on to respect weather on the plains. It could kill you.
I wasn't old enough to remember the first tornado that affected our farm. I was told by my dad that the clouds darkened in the southwest and he and my mother headed for the house after morning chores. He said he was staring out the southwest window of the house when he saw debris flying through the air. He grabbed me by the back straps of my bib overalls and headed for the cellar just outside the kitchen door. Before he reached the kitchen, it was all over. The aftermath left the hog house destroyed along with part of the chicken coop.
Somehow the twister had threaded its way across the farmyard and missed the house and a garage that stood nearby. How it missed the house, only God knows. But we were spared only to have to replace the hog barn and chicken coop later in the summer.
It was a hot, sultry Iowa summer day in early August. Anyone who has spent time in the mid-corn belt knows how hot and humid it can get. This was that kind of day when one could feel "something was going to happen." The corn stood a full seven feet high, and freshly mowed alfalfa lay in windrows in the fields. The season had been great for growing crops, and a bumper crop was expected.
But then the sky turned black and the wind came up from the east.
Having experienced one tornado already when I was a kid, the family headed for the root cellar directly behind the house. All six of the kids, Mom and Dad and Gramps were expected to join us. My dad found Gramps lounging in the bathtub for his weekly dousing. He yelled to him that we were headed for the cellar and he should climb out and join us.
Evidently Gramps was enjoying his soaking and he yelled from behind the bathroom door, "You guys get down there. I've lived long enough. I'm staying here."
No amount of coaxing could pry him out of the tub as the wind grew stronger and lightning bolts lit the farmyard like a thousand flashbulbs. The family was all huddled in the root cellar among the jars of jelly and canned vegetables when Dad finally came down the stairs with leaves and rain following him down after the steel door was closed. We all worried about Gramps in the tub.
The sky turned a wicked green and then the wind suddenly went totally silent. I thought the storm must be over, but no, it had just begun. Within minutes we could hear the sound of large hailstones pounding against the cellar's door. The din continued until we could not hear each other's voice. Water began to run down the cellar steps, and we heard branches from the nearby cottonwood trees breaking and crashing to earth.
The storm bashed the countryside for 15 or 20 minutes. When the thunder and lightning finally subsided, Dad creaked open the cellar door for a peak outside. He was greeted by mounds of golf ball sized white hail so thick it formed drifts much like snow. Green leaves covered the ground, and there was a smell in the air much akin to chopped corn silage.
Little did we know right then that our corn crop was totally gone for the year. So was the recent cutting of alfalfa.
The questions in all our minds was Gramps. Was he still alive? Would we ever see him alive again?
We climbed out of the cellar and went into the house to find him still in the tub. "Nice rain," he said through the door. "I'm too old to worry about being killed in a storm. It's been a good life."
I thought to myself, "Well, if you had to go to meet your maker, the bathtub wouldn't be the worst way to go."
Last week's storm made me think of that time on the Iowa prairie.
See you next time. Okay?