With the advent of recent tornadoes, especially in the area where this story takes place, our tornado experience and extreme good fortune is not far from my mind.
In June of 2002; my mom, my husband, and children headed to London, Kentucky for my cousin's (first cousin once-removed to be exact) wedding. We drove from Florida and arrived in London, KY the day before the wedding. We checked in at the hotel where our extended family was staying and then headed to the rehearsal dinner. We had a chance to visit with family and my children had the opportunity to meet cousins that they had never met before. As the night came to a close, we discussed what time people were planning on arriving at the church and we were given directions to the church.
The big day arrived and the Hatch family was dressed in their finery and on their best behavior. On the road to the church we passed by beautiful countryside. We saw lush green grass across rolling hills. Tall skinny pine trees lining a creek near a baseball park and a former red brick college stood stately nestled among trees. It was a bright, mild, late-spring day; a perfect day for a wedding.
The wedding was lovey and we hung around and watched as pictures were taken by the photographer. Slowly we headed off to the reception site. After much food, dancing, and wedding cake; clothing was being shed (ties, coats, and shoes) and that best behavior was slipping. It became evident that we needed to head back to the hotel for some R &R. The kids we anxious to get back to the hotel and look for a pool.
As we headed out to the van a couple of big fat rain drops began to fall. My mom and my cousin-in-law followed us outside and I stopped to talk to my mom and Cousin Gale. We were discussing plans for the evening and next day before we all departed and went our separate ways. My kids were pulling on my arm to hurry up and get to the car. They know that when I start talking that it won't be just a minute. I was a bit aggravated with their pushy insistence and had Doug take them to the van. They could then drive to the front parking lot of the reception hall and pick me up. A few minutes later the van pulled up and off we went.
We followed the same route back to the hotel that we took to get to the church. It was a quiet Saturday afternoon in what seemed to be a small town and there were no other cars on the road with us. As we drove down the road I saw the traffic light ahead of us. It was at the bottom of a dip in the road glowing with a shiny bright green light. As we began the descent downhill the traffic light disappeared amid the leafy trees and from my line of sight. When we came up on the intersection, the the traffic light was no longer working. I remember telling my husband that that was weird because the light was working less than a minute ago. I put it out of my mind as a great variety of circumstances could have caused the light to quit working. We continued driving, heading back up the hill and out of the dip.
We continued our drive and I began to notice that there were pine trees that had their tops chopped off. The cuts were jagged and had a fresh look to them. I again made a comment to my husband, mostly speaking out loud to myself, that it looked like a twister or tornado had come through this area recently (meaning in the last couple of weeks or months). I also notice damage to the chain link fencing at the ball park and damage to signage. I began to wonder how I had not noticed this on our way to the church or reception.
All of a sudden this huge tree was in front of us completely blocking the road. Across the road on the driver's side of the van, I saw people running out of a church. The first thought that crossed my mind (post 9/11) was that of a threat to the people within the church. I assumed that someone had posed a life-threatening danger to the people gathered and they were running from the building. Very soon it became apparent that they were running and pointing to the sky. As my eyes followed their fingers, I too saw what the "threat" was. In the distance there was a tornado swirling in the sky. We were horrified and momentarily paralyzed with fear!
What do you do when you're traveling in a vehicle and come across a tornado? Of course, in school they teach/tell you to leave your vehicle and seeking the lowest area laying flat on the ground. Let me tell you in reality that does not seem very appealing, wet, muddy ground, laying face down in a dress, panty hose, and high heels. I don't think so. Luckily we realized that the tornado was moving away from us and not towards us. So the need to evacuated was not necessary.
What to do next? Grab your camera, roll down the passenger window, shimmy out, and using the roof of the van as a tripod to begin taking pictures. The kids began yelling at me to get back in the van and someone was pulling on my leg as I kept saying O.K., O.K., just one more picture.
As the shock and adrenalin began to wind down a young woman emerged from behind the downed tree. She lived next door to the church and the tree was in her yard. She was pretty shaken up by events. The tree had done what appeared to be minimal damage to her home and she was physically fine. She used our cell phone to call family and assure them that she was alright and arranged for family members to come be with her.
The thought of the rest of our family entered our minds and Doug turned the van around so we could head back to the reception to find our family. Those were some terrible minutes as we worried about their safety. None of us had any idea that there was any severe weather forecasts for the area and we certainly never heard any tornado sirens. (These were the days before everyone had a cell phone and technology brought the world to your cell phone. These few phones were just used for making phone calls.) Amazingly the building of the reception and the area surrounding it was untouched by the tornado.
Our family was fine. With that knowledge Doug began driving us around town to survey the damage. There are no words to describe what you feel as you see all that destruction around you. Semi-trucks were upside down. Some of them were laying on their side having been "blown" across the parking lot. Cars were smashed, toppled, and overturned. Water was spraying from building as pipes had burst. Pink insulating was strewn all over the parking lot, across the grass, and in trees. Building were stripped bare. Amazingly we would later learn that there were no deaths directly related to the onslaught of the tornado.
It was a humbling day as we came face to face with the reality of our mortality. The plain facts were that we were less than a minute or two from the tornado as it crossed ahead of the road we were traveling down. I'm positive that as we were drving down the hill to the lowest point of the road (where the traffic light was) the tornado was crossing the upper portion of that road. We could have easily been swept up in that swirling funnel of wind.
The huge old oak tree that laid across the road right past the church, where we first sighted the tornado, had to have fallen a few minutes, at the most, before we halted to a stop in front of it. We could have easily been crushed by that falling tree.
I like to tell my husband and children that those few minutes of conversation I had with my mom and cousin saved our lives. The next time and next time and next time ... that I stop to talk to someone they better not moan and groan or complain. But they do.
Two years ago my sister sent me the following e-mail. It's one of those "chain mail" things that gets passed on person to person by e-mail. I usually hate these things and trash them or check them out on snopes.com to debunk those crazy urban legends. But this one resonated within me and reminds me of the blessing bestowed on my family in June of 2002.
The LITTLE Things
As you might remember, the head of a company survived
9/11 because his son started kindergarten.
Another fellow was alive because it was
His turn to bring donuts.
One woman was late because her
Alarm clock didn't go off in time.
One was late because of being stuck on the NJ Turnpike
Because of an auto accident.
One of them
Missed his bus.
One spilled food on her clothes and had to take
Time to change.
Car wouldn't start.
Get a taxi.
The one that struck me was the man
Who put on a new pair of shoes that morning,
Took the various means to get to work
But before he got there, he developed
a blister on his foot.
He stopped at a drugstore to buy a Band-Aid.
That is why he is alive today…
Now when I am
Stuck in traffic ,
Miss an elevator,
Turn back to answer a ringing telephone ...
All the little things that annoy me.
I think to myself,
This is exactly where
God wants me to be
At this very moment.
Next time your morning seems to be
You can't seem to find the car keys,
You hit every traffic light,
Don't get mad or frustrated;
It may be just that
God is at work watching over you.
May God continue to bless you
With all those annoying little things
And may you remember their possible purpose.