Pink ballerinas, freight trains and talking mice; and yet no, this is not a post about drugs

Severe weather had been predicted all day yesterday, but in the morning the news was calling it merely a “slight” chance for tornadoes. So I didn’t worry too much about it, and I even thought that my plan for an evening run probably woudn’t be affected.

I tend to keep the news on in the background while I’m working, and I tend to only half pay attention if I’m working. So it took me a little while to tune into the fact that there was an actual tornado heading our way.

There were two tornadoes, actually, and one seemed to be threatening Mia’s house. I knew Mom was at work and Dad would be there alone, and he may or may not be paying attention to the news. So I texted them both, and Dad said he hadn’t been watching the news but he would now. “Be careful,” I warned him. “Heading your direction.”

I finished my work for the evening, then decided it might be best if I was hanging out on the first floor of my house. I and the dogs migrated down to the living room, where I turned the news back on. When the weather forecaster started talking about streets that are just a few minutes from here, I thought it might be a good idea to get into the hallway. My dogs thought I was nuts but they chose to go along with my strange plan, and we huddled together until the storm passed (which was only about 10-15 minutes.)

I have to admit I felt a bit silly about the whole thing. The news was talking about tornadoes, and I could hear the wind and thunder, but was hiding in the hallway a bit much?

The nighttime news brought the aftermath: people were killed, homes were destroyed, cars were flipped. Suddenly, the hallway hideout didn’t seem so silly, after all.

I couldn’t help but thinking about the first time I remember hearing the word “tornado”. My aunt Nancy had called my mom, and they were talking on the phone about looking for funnel clouds. After she got off the phone, I asked her what a tornado was. She must have said the word “twister” at some point during her explanation to me, because I gazed out the window, expecting to see a ballerina, wearing all pink, twirling around in the sky. A tornado sounded absolutely beautiful! I didn’t understand why Mom seemed so concerned.

However wonderful the tornadoes must look, however, we would always end up in the hallway when they would beckon, waiting them out. No windows in the hallway meant no ballet performance for me to watch. Oh, well.

9.22.1989: Hurricane Hugo knocked down power lines like matchsticks on Hwy 51 in Charlotte near the Hwy 16 intersection. Charlotte Observer photo by Davie Hinshaw

Of course, I’ll never forget 1989, when Hurricane Hugo came barrelling through Fort Mill. I’d known for a while by then that the ballerina story was pure trickery. In fact, Mom described it as “sounding like a freight train, and if you hear it you better get into a ditch,” which seemed pretty freaky to me. So when Mom woke me in the middle of the night to come sleep in the hallway to wait out the storm, I was happy to be away from my bedroom, with its external wall and window.

The 5 of us slept, end to end in sleeping bags, in the hallway all night. Mom on one end, Dad on the other. I say “slept” but what I really remember is watching the ceiling, where the attic fan vents would open wide and then loudly slam shut all night in response to the wind. I never felt unsafe.

Daylight showed how devastating the storm was. Trees were down on our fence. Power was lost. We had no water. Food was transferred to coolers, and we walked back and forth from the neighborhood pond to fill up old jugs and buckets in order to flush toilets. All the neighbors pitched in to help each other clean up the mess. A Duke Power worker was electrocuted and died in Fort Mill. He had been working on our street earlier that day, trying to restore power. A huge tree fell into my grandparents’ bedroom, landing on their bed. Luckily, Mia and Pops had been waiting out the storm in their closet, so they were unharmed (a side note: They totally forgot to wake my Uncle Larry, who was living with them temporarily and sleeping in the back bedroom. We still joke that they ran to the closet and left their son to fend for himself!) The roof was ripped off of the science wing at my middle school. For 3 days, we lived with flashlights and lake toilets and food from the cooler. And then, Dad had a brilliant idea.

“Pack up the car, Brenda,” he said. “Let’s go to Disney World.”

Our first stop, a few hours out of town, was at a Waffle House. It was the first electricity and real food we’d eaten for days. What a luxury! Best. Waffle. Ever.

The waitress asked “Why Disney?”‘ when we told her our plan. “Because they have electricity,” Dad answered matter-of-factly, as if to say, “Why not Disney?”

We spent several days there, and we had a fabulous time. We went to MGM and Epcot and Magic Kingdom. Rode Space Mountain and hung out with Disney characters and spent time enjoying the air conditioning and restaurant eating. By the time we got back, school had been back in session for a couple of days and we’d missed it. All my friends were totally jealous when they found out where I’d been. Score!