Life's not fair


Matt Paust

Matt Paust
Gloucester, Virginia,
December 31
Sorry - writer's block... BTW the "birthday" listed above is false. I prefer to keep that day private, but am not permitted to do so here, so I'm forced to lie.


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APRIL 5, 2011 1:51PM

We're under a tornado watch

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As I begin typing this the wind gusts are still tearing at our tall pines and sweet gums and I feel the house tremble on its foundation.  The storm started about 5:30 this morning with steadier angrier winds that bombarded our house with a relentless deluge of rain and hail.  Lightning strobes and rumbling thunder broadened the martial effect.

There was a time when I loved this sort of thing.  Storms were exciting.  The magnitude of their fury distracted me from ordinary worries.  I knew storms were dangerous, but only to others.   The tornado of March 9, 1998, changed my perspective.  It should have been the tornado of summer 1976 that ripped the callow from me as it forced me and my friend to cling to our tent when a sudden night wind fought to convert it into a kite with us as the tail.

We were camping on the Loretta Lynn Ranch at Hurricane Mills, Tenn., a laughable irony that we in fact did laugh at next morning when we discovered one of the causes of the cacophony of crashing around us was the full-length trunk of an adult loblolly pine resting horizontally within six feet of us.  Several of its branches across our Army pup tent had died still grasping at our center pole.  Upon reflection, perhaps those branches helped us stay grounded in the maelstrom.  On our way out of the park, the guard at the gate assured us we'd been in a tornado.

"It's that time of year.  We get 'em."  He informed us the twister had done some damage to a couple of outbuildings on the ranch but, so far as he knew, nobody was hurt.

Adventure, but no post traumatic stressmaker. 

This was to come nearly 22 years later.  I was a news reporter then, and here's some of what I wrote for the paper later that day:

My wife, Angela, was already in survival mode by the time I was awake enough to know the night was still black and the wind was worse than anything I'd ever experienced. [I'd forgotten Hurricane Mills when writing this.]

It was a deep, intense, swelling surge pushing against the house, the kind that comes in gusts during storms.  But this didn't let up.  It grew stronger and louder.  Our wood-frame bungalow was shaking.  I had a sudden notion that if the wind didn't quit our home would blow to pieces.

"Oh,  Sarah," Angela said, sitting up abruptly.  She jumped out of bed and ran to our youngest child in a nearby room.  I got up, too, not thinking clearly but feeling less helpless on my feet.

I stumbled into the next room and peered out a couple of windows.  The constantly flashing lightning gave me glimpses of our yard, where nothing looked obviously amiss - no trees down, no debris swirling by.  But the wind still pounded our house.

Gathering information for my story later that morning, I learned that indeed a small tornado had brushed our house on its howling track from where it touched down at the edge of the river about a block away to a small bay two miles northeast.   It lifted an unoccupied house trailer across the road from us and hurled it straight at our house.  Had it not been stopped by a chain-link fence near the road, the trailer would flown into the front of our small house, where Angela and I slept.  The tornado snapped off  tree tops and damaged a couple of outbuildings along its path.  Once again, no one was physically injured.  

tornado damage

The tips of two chimneys sticking up behind the left end of the trailer are on the house where we lived at the time.

I interviewed probably the only person to see the tornado.  William Jenkins was up early for his job on the water harvesting crabs.  He heard an explosion and ran to a window in time to see what looked like a giant white pillow drifting across the road toward his house.  It slipped between his house and his brother's trailer.

"It was lifting up then.  It took some shingles off our roof and the metal roof from a shed in back, and that was it," he said.

Back to now, the wind gusts have ceased.  It's almost too quiet.  Unfriendly gray clouds still blanket the sky.  The National Weather Service has lifted our tornado watch, but I'm not comfortable.

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I used to live in tornado country, and my sister lives close to Tornado Alley in KC. This is why I have a hard time getting excited about snow.

scary! hope you're fine.
No they aren't fun anymore. We continually have the high winds here and I'm always bringing Mom from her sitting room to another part of the house where the older oaks don't stand. I hope it all blows over for you. No pun intended.
Do you have a NOAA Emergency Radio?

Congrats on the EP!
Yay for your EP!!!! Tornadoes make for great stories like these. We had our turn here in Atlanta last night. Trees down, power outages (not at my house, for a change!) I hope it doesn't get too bad there. Stay safe, Matt.

Wow! I understand your fear. I used to live in Georgia and we had our share of tornadoes and tornado watches, too. But I never had the near misses you did, and I hope I never do. Sending prayers to you guys and to all the people in your area, that this and so many other storms will pass you by without harming you.
Wow. Glad you are safe.~r
I think this might be the first of your "vintage" reporting I've read. Nice! I love storms too, but now with some trepidation.
This one strikes a chord . . . I've had a couple brushes with tornadoes in Minnesota, and helped clean up after one last summer. Scary stuff. Glad to hear this one has blown over.
Batten down the hatches, get in an interior room, and keep your head down Matt. Living most of my life in Texas, I am use to Hurricanes and tornados, or as use to them as a person can get. They still manage to scare me a bit.
Just got home from walking around ina sunshiny day and I heard about the warnings.
Stay safe my friend.. stay safe
rated with hugs
congrats on the EP!!!
I hope you're all alright. Nature's acts are both fascinating and frightening, and she's been angry too often with her children lately. It's hailing here as I write, Matt. Keep safe.

Above the fold too! Nice work eds. Tis the season, have to move the manuscripts and create some room in the northwest corner of the basement. Or is it southeast?
Stay safe! I'm glad you got through that other one, that's a scary photo.
Oh, I hate that feeling when a tornado is ripe to begin, the color of the grey-green sky, the heavy weird stillness.
This is one part of living in tornado country I don't miss...
I've effortlessly ridden out many hurricanes, but the one tornado I survived was so traumatic that to this day when I'm stressed I have tornado dreams, bad ones, where there's a line of one tornado after another...

We did have a hard squall come through here last night. My chow Bowie, the bad-assiest dog of all time...until it starts thundering, woke me up and I moved to the couch so that Mr. Vance could get some sleep without a dog's wet-hot-panicked breath on his face.
I felt like I was riding a tornado just reading this. "ripped the callow from me" - great line and good for Emily to spot an EP when she sees one.
It nearly 6:30 now and the clouds are breaking up. They're still dark gray with ugly faces but the sun is shining through between them and I think we're out of danger.

I hear you, Con. Grew up in Wisconsin where we had both snow and tornadoes. I'll take the snow any day over the wind.

Thanks, Maria. When a thunderstorm rolls in I get a feeling I imagine is similar to the ones war vets get when they hear a loud bang and dive under table. It's probly the same for earthquake survivors when the ground starts to shake. The fun is over.

Dee, the main thing is to keep track of the wind direction. Most violent storms on the east coast, excluding northeasters and hurricanes, roll out of the southwest, like ours this morning. You don't want Mom sitting in the direction those big oaks would fall if they blew down.

Thanks, Leepin'. We have a NOAA radio, but leave it off most of the time. When it looks like bad weather's coming I have to read the manual again to reset the channels. Forgot to do that last night.

Thanks, Maynard. BTW, remember when you met my family outside the studio in 1960 when you arrived to do an episode of Dobie Gillis? You rode up on a bicycle. Friendly as can be. Figured you were gay.

We made it thru another one, Lezlie. You, too. The Leprechauns must be watching over us.

Thanks, Alysa. You're prayers helped. You have some Leprechaun blood in ye, lass?

Thanks, Joan. Me, too.

I think it is, Sharon. At least so far as taking the quotes out of the story. I found the clip this morning when I decided to do this post.

Naive, welcome to the House of Paust. I hope you don't mind all the Packer paraphernalia lying about. I waited until the storm passed before telling you this, just in case. ;-|

Lilapsophobia? Yikes, Holly. I probly have it, too, but what the hail is it?

You're still in Tornado Alley, aren't you, David? When I was a kid my dad and I used to head out in the car during storms hoping to see a tornado. We were near one, though, but didn't know it until next day when we saw the newspaper. Young and crazy, was I. My dad shoulda known better.

Thanks, Linda. All is good, finally.

Fusie, hail usually accompanies tornadoes. You be careful up there, too.

Southeast, Damon. I lost manuscripts in Hurricane Isabel. Sickening feeling. I remember when Mickey Spillane lost a bunch stored in his garage in a hurricane - Hugo, I believe. Lived on U.S. Route 17 in one of the Carolinas.

That sky always gives me the willies, Just Thinking. That and the mottled clouds. You know something bad your way comes.
Damon, I just realized I should have said southwest. As tornadoes usually come from that direction theoretically if the building is going to get blown away it will blow away from where you are. On the other side of the house it could land on you.
I'm in Virginia as well...Fairfax area. We had some wild weather last night too. Storms always seems cool from a distance, but not when you're directly in the mix as you were...yikes!
Bell, I have tornado dreams, too, and, like yours, they usually appear as a gang and they've usually singled me out for punishment. Not jolly dreams.

Sarah, as you know, Wisconsin's just north of Tornado Alley and we had our share of "thrills." In Columbus the the police dispatcher would blow the emergency siren atop city hall - we called it the "fire whistle" - if it looked like a tornado was headed our way. We never got hit, but some farms just outside the city were destroyed during several tornadoes when I was growing up.
Thanks, Disco. We get hurricanes here, too. Sometimes they bring tornadoes with them. Trailers are definitely not the place to be when the big winds blow.

Babe, I know you did. I looked at the regional radar map and a storm system moved through the entire southeast U.S. last night and today. It's that time of year. I'd settle just for the April showers.
Quite a tale, Matt! I lived for decades in the Midwest, but I don't miss tornadoes one bit. In the Phoenix area, we get microbursts during "monsoon season" which are scary enough for me! Ugh. I still have nightmares about tornadoes.
Matt, you can thank me for the weather!! We got it yesterday and the day before!!!

You're welcome!! ;D

Glad to know you're okay, Matt...good coverage...great to see you with an EP! Sorry it took so long to get here...the
I have been in one, an early spring one
my house stood with only a few holes in it
but many around me
were leveled
A very scary thing those tornadoes.
rated with love
Third time trying to comment, hope the third time is the charm. A really great piece Matt especially for those who don't understand how scary a tornado can be. I've lived in a tornado area most of my life -- seven years ago a tornado came within half a mile of our house. More than twenty people in our community died from the F5. I know to be very, very afraid. Good reporting and reminder during these spring season.
"Several of its branches across our Army pup tent had died still grasping at our center pole." I like that and also the randomness of it: they might have protected you yet if they'd been a little closer they could have hurt or killed you, too. Well-deserved EP Matt.
No, that is not fun at all. Congratulations on the EP, Maestro, very well deserved. R
Perhaps it is God's will and she is sending you a message.
Just Kidding!
I feel like we are going to see more of these events. However, I am very happy you are safe and typing, dear!
Snip - Microbursts are even scarier, as you can't see them coming, but they can be just as damaging as a tornado. I've seen the results of several of them. Like a sudden backhand from Mom Nature with little warning.

Tink - Next time we have a hurricane I'll try to return the favor. What's your address again?

Bonnie - The silence, when it's unnatural. Too suspenseful for my blood.

Thanks, Robin. I was thinking maybe a tornado hit OS Central yesterday afternoon. Seemed like it froze up and then crashed.

Talk about luck, Poetess, you had Someone keeping an eye on you that day.

Bea, I am grateful for your persistence. An F5, yikes. That's a mini-hurricane. I imagine you saw the funnel cloud?

Margaret, we were no kid then, but we still had that sense kids have that they're immortal. We laughed at our narrow escape and at the irony of the name of the park, took a few photos and headed on our journey. I might still have those photos, but no clue as to where they would be.

Thanks, Thoth, but please, buddy, I ain't no maestro.

I hope you're wrong, Alison, but I fear you're right. Thanks for the visit.
I'll tell you, Matt, here in MD all they have to do is announce a warnin g and the electricity goes for days at a time. Nowhere else I have lived, including in China, was like that! r.
well this one went over like 99 red ballons~~~America is Exceptional

I'm with you, Matt: these things leave me just a door or two down from being totally corrugated with fear. The sheer power, the implacable force: absolutely frightening.
Captivating my man. While Hurricanes don't frighten me much anymore, tornadoes are a different animal. You have no idea when and where they are going to hit. Congrats on the EP!
We live in an active tornado belt here. I've seen a few and been closer than I ever wanted to be to a couple. I am torn though, the thrill of a storm is hard to resist but, my common sense leads me to put on clothes and shoes whenever there is a tornado warning. I think I've seen one to many videos of people in torn underwear with bloody feet after barely escaping a tornado. I get laughed at every time too.
I grew up in KS, so familiar with these after-scenes but I've never seen a tornado although one passed over our house once. I'm always in the basement, like the other women and children. Men are usually on the porch. And which is the wiser sex? ;-) I'm amazed that a chain link fence stopped the trailer. You were lucky. R
Jackson, GA. was hit by a tornado-like storm two night ago. Trees down everywhere, electric power not yet restored. Hope no homes were damaged, no people hurt.