Photo-Memories: The 1965 Palm Sunday Tornado

One of my early photo-memories is as a young toddler standing in the front section of our black cab-buggy holding onto the metal hand railing under the windshield. The memory is so vivid because of the sensation pulsing through my being. A sensation like a state of shock or fear, although not for myself. We had just passed Mart Ramer’s lane and were almost at the corner where we would turn onto county road nine and into our driveway. My mom was sitting behind me on my right and my dad on the left.

I have often wondered what could have caused an emotion so powerful that I would still remember the exact moment and the place where I was standing decades later. Also, as an adult I realized that Mom’s position on my right placed her in the driver’s seat and I questioned the accuracy of the memory, because a woman wouldn’t typically drive the horse when her husband is along? I wondered if that was perhaps the moment my Dad had told my mom he had cancer? For years I suspected that was the scenario that had most likely occurred. Recently I stumbled upon the truth.

I had asked my mom about the Palm Sunday Tornado. She told how we were at Emma-Grossdaudy’s and she and Grossmommy had driven up to Wakarusa to visit my great aunts, Nora and Martha.”

“Did I go with you?” I asked.

“No, Dad wasn’t feeling well. He was tired because of the cancer and you and Eugene stayed with him at Grossdaudy’s house.”

“I remember it was eighty degrees which was unusual for April 11,” she continued. “I tied our horse, Nick, to a telephone pole behind Nora and Martha’s house. They had some more company that afternoon and Grossmommy and I went inside and visited with everyone. While we were visiting a storm blew in and we were all peering out the windows at the dark clouds rolling overhead.”

Once the storm blew over and the sky cleared Mom said she ventured outside. She noticed the hazy, pale, yellow sky the storm had left behind as she walked over to where Dick Metzler, Nora and Martha’s neighbor from across the street, was picking twigs out of his yard.

 “It was a tornado,” Dick informed her. Wyatt is flat and a trailer park in Elkhart has been wiped out.”

Wyatt is a small town located ten miles southwest of Wakarusa and Elkhart is ten miles northeast. In shock Mom returned to Nora and Martha’s house.

The Old Order Mennonite Church does not allow many of the world’s technological conveniences. Therefore they did not have a radio or a television to hear the news and weather reports. The rest of the family was, as yet, oblivious about their narrow escape from the tornado.

Mom continued her story, “After returning to Nora and Martha’s house I told Grossmommy I was ready to go home. I untied Nick and on the way home I must have been subconsciously sticking my head out the buggy door to look behind us. I didn’t realize I was doing it until Grossmommy asked if everything was all right.”

Unable to voice her fears, Mom mumbled, “Everything’s fine.”

Shortly after Mom and Grossmommy returned, our family headed for home.

“We were almost at home,” Mom said. “When turned to your dad and blurted out, “There was a tornado and Wyatt is flat. Your dad looked at me in disbelief.”

“Why didn’t you say something earlier?” he asked.

 “I didn’t think about it,” Mom responded.

“Mom, were you driving?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t remember,” was her quick response, than she paused for a moment. “I probably was.” After another moment of reflection she reiterated, “I think I was driving, because I frequently did during those times. The cancer had already started to weaken your dad and I would drive so he could conserve his energy.”

I stared at my mom in disbelief. “I remember that moment! I was standing in the front end of the buggy, holding onto the railing when you told Dad that Wyatt was flat.”

That strange sensation was caused by the anxiety I sensed in their voices. I was only twenty months old in that Palm Sunday Tornado memory-photo. The entire memory was real; it was only cropped too closely within my memory and Mom’s story added the outlaying sections of the picture.

An overwhelming sensation of wowness! pulsed through my veins. Another memory confirmed. Another portion of my life, of my dad’s life substantiated.

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Categories: Childhood, Old Order Mennonite, Photo-Memory | Leave a comment

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