by Ralph Jones
In the 1930s, a tornado (or cyclone, as many called it) came across north Mississippi, through Tupelo, our town of Pontotoc, across Alabama, and eventually wound up in Georgia. The storm was severe, and hundreds of people were killed. It was, to say the least, one of the “biggies” to come through that part of the country. For some decades, any time the makings of a storm approached, the people in my hometown became overly concerned.
Many years afterward, the old folks sat around on porches and talked of “The Storm” and the devastation it brought. You may have heard some of the stories: Sage grass straw stuck through tree trunks. Tablecloths sucked out from under dishes sitting on the table – some stories added a lit kerosene lamp that miraculously still burned. Entire houses picked up and moved far away without so much as turning over a chair. Large farm animals found in trees, or never found at all.
I do not doubt many stories were true. Some very strange things happen in tornados. With my own eyes I have seen, from this very storm, pieces of heavy gauge roofing tin wrapped around tree trunks and limbs like aluminum foil around a fried chicken leg. My parents lived through this storm and were very cautious of storms.
Mom had Dad and me to build her a good sturdy concrete “Storm House.” She furnished it with chairs, a bed, a kerosene lamp or two, and some reading materials. This was a place we could hole up all night and not be too inconvenienced. However, one night a storm was coming, and I was miles from home and the storm house. As folks in the country would say, “I was afoot.”
The time was almost nine o’clock on a Saturday night in 1953. My job at Prewitt’s hamburger place was over for the day. Having stood all day on a concrete floor, my feet did not want to motivate me any longer. Besides, I smelled to high heavens from cooking all those hamburgers and such. All I wanted to do was get over to the picture show to sit and relax while the movie played itself out.
“Did you hear about it?” he said in a shaky voice. He was scared out of his wits.
“Did I hear about what?” was my exhausted reply.
“The Highway Patrol just came through town telling everyone to get out of town because there’s a huge storm headed right for us.”
Now, a word from the Highway Patrol was almost as good as an audible voice from God himself, as far as most of us were concerned. If the MHP said it, we could bank on it.
“What-cha-gonna-do? You got a car?” he wanted to know.
“Naw, I’m walkin’, but I’m gonna go to the ‘pitcher’ show before I go home.”
“Man, this storm is acomin’ – we gotta git outta here quick. Don’t you know?”
He was definitely shaken; however, about this time he saw someone he knew and flagged them down for a ride home. As they scratched off, he urged me to hurry home instead of going to the show.
“Well, if it’s going to blow me away, where I leave from won’t matter much anyhow,” I shouted back as they drove away. Besides, my feet and legs were too tired to walk, much less run, and they were my only transportation at the time. The legs did manage to take me the two or three blocks to the Joy Theater.
“Folks, the Highway Patrol has informed us that there is a severe storm coming this way. If you have just come in, your money will be refunded; however, if you wish to stay, the show will go on as usual,” he said in a loud voice.
No sooner had the words left his mouth than everyone stood as if in one body and surged toward the exits. I had already grown to my seat and was not about to move. Besides, the popcorn was warm and tasty and the wind might blow it away if I went outside. After they had gone I looked around – there was only one other person left in the entire theater, and he was seated directly behind me. We spoke and determined if we were to be blown away it could happen just as well here as on the road home.
In a while the movie started, and that one other person and I watched until the film was finished. If the storm came, it did so while the movie was going on and we never knew it.
Evidently, the storm missed our little town altogether. Mom did not get the news and since there was no evidence of an oncoming storm, she never went to the storm house.
As I walked home in the pitch-black night, my concern was not of the storm but for my cousin and his friend. Their terrified attitude made me wonder if they might have had an accident and crashed the car in an attempt to beat “The Storm that Never Came.”
Read another of Ralph's stories: DDT ~ Yum, Yum!
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