That Was a Tornado

by Willem Lange

EAST MONTPELIER – Back in the 1950s, during a sojourn in west Texas hill country, I was shown the cyclone shelter, into which all of us who were able would tumble in the event of an approaching tornado. One quick look at the creatures already down there – scorpions, black widows, and (I presumed) rattlesnakes – and I allowed that I’d trust my heels instead. But I’ve always wondered what it might be like, after the roaring had passed, to emerge from that rough hole in the yard with its rickety door to survey what might be left of the house, the barns and sheds, and the corral.

I think now that I have some. Two of my kids, plus one spouse, just spent five days going through my house in an effort to sort its furnishings and “stuff” into categories. That was the tornado. I could hear them talking in other rooms as I tried to keep up with my routine. It sounded rather like a radio somewhere, tuned to a cooking show. Occasionally there was a question for me or the rumble of something heavy being moved. They were not only sorting; they were disposing.

Many hand truck loads rolled down the tenth of a mile to the road – tables, chairs, file cabinets (an item going the way of the buggy whip). They advertised a “nearly-free” garage sale, and reported later their joy at giving things to people who clearly needed them. They set aside a few “mountains” of stuff that a younger daughter either wanted or promised to get rid of (think “collector dolls,” which apparently nobody collects anymore).

There was no way I could keep up with them. Like the old-time bootlegger who lamented that the telephone could get ahead of him, I watched them work their cell phones to determine where to take what. My wife left behind a pair of VCRs, hundreds of videocassettes, CDs, and vinyl records, as well as probably half a ton of books. Most of the books were religious and inspirational, and not my favorite reading. An old farmer I knew for years once turned down a book on modern farming. Assured it would improve his methods 100%, he demurred. “Heck,” he said, “I don’t farm now half as good as I know how.” I’ll leave the inspiration to others. I don’t believe I could raise my game even if I knew how. At any rate, all that stuff is gone, and I really don’t want to know where.

Then there was what the kids called “the Tupperware.” Over the years my wife had collected over a hundred boxes, cartons, and bins and stored them between the studs of a knee wall in the attic. Successive seasons of heat and freezing cold (it’s too hot up there today, with the outside temperature nudging 90º, to remain for more than a few minutes) had sapped their flexibility; they were quite brittle. Dozens of trips to an attic window looking over the back yard produced a huge pile of containers in bad shape. Dozens more trips across the yard deposited them in a large dump-body trailer (it’s lovely to have a heavy equipment owner in the family!) that made two full-to-the-brim trips to the landfill.

The tornado wasn’t able to get to a row of cabinets full of Christmas stuff – she collected crèche sets that popped up all over the house and under the tree in season. But the once-cluttered spaces now open to suggestion are helping me breathe easier and fear the future less.

The sorting and jettisoning unearthed a pair of items: financial records that needed to be shredded (they saved her shredder), and a poster I didn’t know we had, listing the schedule of a week-long celebration of Our Lady of Grace in Nettuno, Italy, in 1990. I won’t save it – bad precedent – but what a flood of memories! The esplanade was blocked off for the “solemn procession” of the Lady; but my wife jumped out, moved a barricade, and we were on it, only two blocks from our hotel.

An Italian cop, obviously trained under Inspector Clouseau, stopped us. “One way! You no canna go!” he shouted. “Parade come!” I didn’t see any parade; so I asked if I might back up the two blocks to our hotel. He chewed on that a moment, and nodded, “Si.” That was the beginning of a day that convinced me Federico Fellini’s films were actually documentaries, and that my wife should have been in them. The kids’ lovely discoveries remind me what a game gal she was.