Now I know why they were so worried
I used to think my family was crazy when it came to the weather.
If you were at my grandparent’s house on Neely Road when a tornado warning was reported for Yazoo County, you were going to be headed for the storm shelter next door whether you liked it or not.
We’d sit on a couple of benches in that dark shelter that was buried in the side of a hill until the storm passed.
Nothing ever happened, and so according to my child logic that meant it was all just a waste of time and an unnecessary interruption of my very important duties of playing with my GI Joe toys, watching Different Strokes, Dennis the Menace and Sanford and Son or finding some new creative way to aggravate my little brother.
If we were at home, Mama would always insist that we get in the hall. I can remember nights when we had pillows and blankets in the hall. My brother and I would sometimes fall asleep in there while Mama worried and Dad snoozed in the bed totally unconcerned.
Dad didn’t share our mother’s fear of storms, and I didn’t either. After experiencing what I thought were overreactions so many times without a single tornado, I eventually became totally fearless (and clueless) when it came to severe weather. I can remember when I was in college at Delta State walking out and looking around every time the tornado sirens sounded off.
When I got my first reporting job at a newspaper in Cleveland, I remember my editor looking at me like I was crazy when I came back with a photo of a funnel cloud descending from the sky. He was happy to have a good front page photo, but he also expressed concern that I was crazy enough to stand there and take the picture.
It wasn’t until later in life that I learned about the 1971 tornado that hit Little Yazoo and made my family so afraid of tornadoes. It killed nine people, people they knew.
I was looking at pages of photos from that tornado in The Herald’s archives a couple of years ago, and I really started to understand why my family always took so many precautions in severe weather.
After April 24 I truly understood. I’ll never take severe weather warnings lightly again. On Monday night my two-year-old son James seemed to think that Dad had lost his mind as he watched me toss every pillow and blanket in the house into the closet. I even added a few of his stuffed animals for good measure.
Like his father 30 years ago, James didn’t understand why his cartoons were being interrupted because Mom and Dad were glued to the weather reports. Even when it appeared that we weren’t going to get any significant damage in our neighborhood, we were still worried sick about our fellow Yazooans.
Jamie and James were getting in the bed Monday night as I left to document what had happened in Yazoo. I was filled with dread as I drove into town, remembering how it felt in April after arriving on the scene.
Fortunately Monday’s storm wasn’t in the same league as April’s monster, but it was bad. In fact if the April storm hadn’t happened, this one would have probably been the story of the decade.
As I walked down Main Street in the darkness Monday night, it was shocking to see the damage to buildings I’ve walked past my entire life. Seeing Grace Hardware with the roof missing and most of the metal on the front of the building torn away was particularly shocking.
But one thing that didn’t surprise me at all was the reaction of the people on the scene.
Folks were already out picking up the pieces. Mrs. Esther Cartwright stopped and spoke to me a minute about the store. Here we are right in the middle of their biggest shopping season, and everything was damaged. But Mrs. Cartwright wasn’t complaining or asking “Why me?” She just told me what happened and went back to work.
That’s a perfect example of the spirit of the people of Yazoo, and it’s why even the worst of storms can’t keep us down.