I was around 8 years old when Grandma & Grandpa bought a brand new brick home in the nice part of town. They had snagged one of the bigger yards in the area and spent many a day in their gardens as they babysat us during the summer months.
The greatest novelty to their house, though, was the 12-person large storm cellar. When a wall cloud appeared in the sky or there were high winds, my grandparents would lead us out into the backyard where the storm cellar was. They’d lift the heavy metal door, and we would head inside.
I remember that it was a kind of game, how quickly we could load ourselves into the cellar. We set up blankets, flashlights, and a handheld radio on the concrete benches during the non-tornado season months.
We’d get the neighbors involved during some of our drills. We understood that when the time came, not one, but two families would come to this cellar to hunker down. (Anyone who lives in tornado alley has had their fair share of confined spaces during the months of May to July.)
In 1982, our NE Texas little town was hit by a mighty F4 tornado. 10 people lost their lives, 170 people were injured, 435 homes were destroyed and a thousand people were left homeless. It’s the kind of tragedy that brought people together back then. Not long after that, storm cellars were required across every 3 homes built, because if another tornado like that hit, we were not willing to take the human losses like that again.
I’ve been thinking about that storm cellar this week and what it signifies about the human spirit. About how when catastrophe strikes, humans inevitably try to help one another and work together towards a common goal.
In 2011, on the other side of the world, I was around to see another natural disaster and its effects, in the Queensland floods. Thousands of homes flooded in the span of a day. In the days following, thousands of people returned to homes to empty it of all their contents. It was quite the sight to see friends and strangers come together to help with recovery efforts.
Fast forward to 2020, and things seem so different. That belief in the inherent goodness of people has faltered. Social media may have had its part in building the divisions amongst us, but how much of that has been social engineering? I want to believe that this darkest timeline will end sooner rather than later, but until that happens, I’ll keep dreaming about that storm cellar and all that it represents.