Since we got home from the clinic, Tim took Seth to the pharmacy to pick up Noah’s refill and I was eagerly waiting for him to return. Our neighbor stopped over and insisted that we put our pickup and Tim’s squad car in his extra garage – he heard there was major hail coming and knew we couldn’t squeeze them in our garage. It was still set up from the other day when Tim and the kids built 3 birdhouses. Once we were all in the basement family room, Tim camped out with his portable work radio next to the window. I was trying to comfort crabby babies as it was nearing nap or snack time or just plain freak out time.
The TV was lit up with warnings and watches and it was difficult to keep the older two busy, calm and quiet. Trying to stay focused and clam, Tim exiled me and the babies to the laundry room with the rocking chair. I so desperately wanted to see everything that was going on outside and on the TV but that wasn’t going to calm the babies down. We heard the disbelief as ambulance workers rushed to the site of an overturned vehicle and saw crossing arms of the railroad mangled. A tornado had just passed Bluffton and it sounded like we were going to be ok. Maybe I could watch the radar now....Tim opened the door so we could talk and I was hoping we could go upstairs and start supper, it was nearing 5 o’clock and nursing time. But according to the rumble on his portable we weren’t in the clear yet, there was still dark clouds brewing southwest of town.
Then we heard a weather spotter’s voice on the portable radio with panic and fear edging his voice “there’s a tornado south west of Wadena heading straight towards Tapley’s Park”. Tapley’s Park was 2 ½ blocks away and one of our favorite summer walking destinations. Tim and I just looked at each other and motioned towards our stairway shoe closet. We threw all the shoes out and the kids crawled in with their sleeping bags.
We told them to get inside their sleeping bags while Tim and I each had a baby and hunkered down next to them. Tim shoved the other baby into my arms and quickly went to grab something. As he came back, he shut the door and sat opposite of me with his knees and baby to his chest. I was surprisingly cool, calm and collect – everything would be ok – Tim was home and not out working. But as those words of the weather spotter echoed through my head, I recalled the tornadoes that swept through Hugo a year earlier and thought with sinking realization that we would be all over the state news. I wondered if I should lay on top of my kids, but with such cramped positions, it was hard to move and part of me was still in denial. Then it hit.
I cannot describe the loudness and the fury that we heard the next several seconds. For the first time all afternoon, even Seth was quiet. I could hear glass shattering and objects hitting the house. We were under our staircase in the interior of our home, but the crashes and bangs were intense. Tim breathed “our house is gone” but even then I thought he was exaggerating. But then my ears started popping and the babies were silenced.
As the loudness continued, Tim reached up to grab the door handle of our wimpy hollow core door as it started rattling and just like that, it was over. For a moment I was confused and considered us to be in the “eye” of the storm…how could it be over so quickly? Tim handed a baby off to me and went to survey the damage. I half expected him to open the door and be able to see the sky. He stumbled over the shoe disaster and headed upstairs and panicked emotion filled his voice “we’re the only house left standing on the block.” It couldn’t be, how could we be so lucky. But as I tripped up the stairs with the older two trailing me, it was unbelievable. It was devastating. Half a block down was a disaster zone.
The sunlight was pouring in on our neighbor’s vehicles, still in their garage and wrapped in debris and insulation. The roof on half of their house was missing, not moved or tipped off like you would bump a Lincoln log building, but missing. Trees, branches, power lines, everything seemed to be where it shouldn’t – nothing looked the same. Our next door neighbor’s trailer was leaning up against another neighbor’s house like Paul Bunyan stopped by and picked it up by the hitch and neatly placed up against the garage. It was difficult to see out our windows, they were still intact, but plastered with leaves, water and debris.
Within minutes of making sure our house was secure, Tim was dressed in uniform and heading out the door, down the block to see who needed help. Minutes after he left the staggering sound of firetrucks, ambulances and sirens flooded the air. The city mechanic from down the street drove up in his van and hollered if we needed help – he couldn’t see that two houses down they were missing their roof. He swung by, picked them up and deposited them in our house. The crawl space they had occupied now reeked of natural gas. Our power, somehow, was still on and I was able to get a hold of my mom on the phone almost immediately. I was too shocked to break down, but she said she was on her way over. Ella stumbled around with her hand over her mouth and it was all I could do to hold it together.
At the farm, I couldn’t sleep. Images, sounds and raw memories kept haunting my head. How were the neighbors? Our Friends? Who was injured? What were we going to do? Finally I called Tim about 6 in the morning. He slept just as well as me...except he had to go back out there again. The southwest was the worst part hit. The tornado essentially followed 7th/8th street north through town. He said it was unimaginable. If I wanted to come back, I’d have to stop and get a pass from the courthouse and he’d lead me the safest way home.
The rest of that summer was a mish mash of packing the kids up and leaving on a moment’s notice. It was hard for the babies to nap when your house is vibrating from a new roof being put on. We escaped to Sunnybrook Park many times, it seemed a world away from the damage. But when you drove in and away you could see the thousands of loads that the dump trucks had deposited, in seemingly orderly fashion.
Our once secluded backyard was now open to the world. Gawkers continued to swarm the streets and planes or helicopters continued to pollute the blue sky. The drone of heavy machinery continued. We brought their bikes to the farm to escape the madness. We also found refuge in a city pool in the next town over. Ironically I had wanted to wait for swimming lessons until Seth and Ella could do them together but Seth was too young yet for the Wadena pool...and then it dawned on me that we no longer had a Wadena pool and the future of that being repaired was very uncertain. So we signed them up in New York Mills and that was a welcome excuse to escape the house every day for two weeks.
One of our most amazing stories, is my robin one. Early in the spring, a robin had decided to turn one of my flower boxes on my deck railing into its home. We watched with eagerness from our house as she would carry sticks, grass and other gems to build her new home. What a great opportunity to watch! Sure enough the nest was created and in a few weeks, three beautiful blue robin eggs appeared. The robin couple took turns protecting their eggs, even after we scolded Seth for his hands on observation. Then the tornado happened and there was chaos everywhere. Our glass patio table top had been sucked off and vanished, there was a large tree coming out of our deck, but those three eggs remained unscathed and unharmed. But mama and papa robin never returned. A blue jay eventually stole those eggs and the unused nest became property of Seth and Ella. But now, a year after that robin started building a nest, we believe she has returned. There’s been a robin scoping out my flower boxes again, but has decided against making it her home again.