As a news reporter for more than a half century, I have observed devastation of many tornadoes. I have seen twisting funnels dip from wall clouds, highlighted by jagged lightning and crashing thunder. I have seen broken timbers, houses scattered and lives forever changed.
But nothing is so indelible on my mind as the twisting eye of a tornado which passed directly over me when I was a child. I was eight, maybe nine years old, huddled in what we called a bathroom. I was sitting on the commode.
It was storming. Suddenly the wind roared, reaching a crescendo. A driving rain pushed at the side of the house. I was scared.
Dad rushed to the back door. The next-door neighbor's doghouse spun through the air, slamming into an old barn at the back of our place. The wind picked up the barn and shifted it back about three feet. Our chimney crumbled and fell to the ground.
Frankly, friends, I didn't know what was happening. I thought I had done something bad wrong.
The doghouse flying across our place belonged to Fido, our neighbor's dog. Fido was a mutt, and mean. He would bite. However, our neighbors apparently thought he was a French poodle; they spelled his name Phydeaux.
Maybe I need to explain why I was sitting on a commode instead of a one-holer. Until we moved to town, an outhouse was all I had ever known.
Yes, at this point we had a commode, one that would flush. We had starved out on the old farm in the Muldraugh Hill section of northeastern Taylor County where I was born and Dad got a job as janitor at Campbellsville College, now Campbellsville University, and brought us to town. He made $60 a month and we thought we had arrived.
Dad rented a house at 205 Underwood Street just off the campus at the rear of the girls' dormitory. Walls were papered with old newspapers and the house was heated with a cast-iron stove. Frankly it was not a lot better than the old log house we left on the farm.
Our rent house did have things that bordered on modern, like door knobs, first we had ever seen. The old log house in which we lived back on the farm had wooden latches that would barely keep the wind from blowing the door open. My brother and I ran through the house at 205 Underwood Street, excitedly opening and closing the doors.
And it had indoor plumbing although we would have preferred an outhouse. Dad started to build one, and somebody from City Hall came out and put a big red tag on it that said, as I remember, CLOSED BY ORDER OF THE CITY.
We're talking about a family who had come to town once a year if it didn't rain. Dad would hitch up Beck and Jenny to a wagon, usually after it got warm in the spring, and we'd ride the six or seven miles to town and hitch the horses at the courthouse.
That is, if it didn't look like rain. That's when I learned the difference between cancel and postpone. If it looked like rain, we cancelled the trip to town; we didn't postpone. The trip was put off until next year. I think I had been to town twice before we moved to 205 Underwood Street.
We didn't want to use that commode. I think we were afraid of it. When we pulled the handle and water came rushing out, and swirling, we had no idea where it was going and we certainly didn't want it to grab a unbuckled gallus and take us with it.
Mother was a clean freak and she insisted that Dad, brother and I sit down when we used the commode for fear we'd mess it up. You might say the commode had a sacred place in our house. It was sort of magical. No wonder, when the tornado hit, I thought I had angered the gods.
The lean-to in which was the bathroom had no heat. When it got below freezing in wintertime, the water ---- yes, the house had running water, another first ---- had to be shut off to keep the pipes from freezing. Since the city wouldn't let Dad build an outhouse we had to resort to a slop jar in cold weather.
The house at 205 Underwood Street was my home, off and on, until I was grown, and working. I vividly remember when the house burned.
I was a disc jockey at WTCO in Campbellsville. Local firefighters didn't have radios and fire alarms were called in to the radio station. We would broadcast the address of the fire and volunteer firefighters would respond.
The morning shift, playing records, was my job at WTCO. The fire alarm came in and I announced the location as 205 Underwood Street.
Wait a minute! 205 Underwood Street is where I live. Jimmy Wooley, the announcer to take the next shift had just arrived. I yelled for him to take over and I rushed home.
Everything I had was in that house. All the clothes I had were on my back.
Flames were shooting from the roof. I jumped out of my car and started to go in. A firefighter, thankfully, stopped me.
You never forget watching your childhood memories and all you have go up in smoke right before your eyes. I'll always remember the house at 205 Underwood Street.