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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

After the storm: Joy for when the worst doesn't come

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Jamie Barrand
I talk a lot about growing up in Michigan, but the truth is that's not where I started out.

I was actually born in Sussex, N.J., and I lived there until a few months after my eighth birthday.

Before I came to the Midwest, I didn't know anything about severe thunderstorms or tornadoes. We didn't have them on the East Coast. We'd get the last little bits here and there of what started out as hurricanes, but that was it.

The storm that blew through downtown Greencastle this morning reminded me of my first tornado experience.

The first big storm I remember in Michigan happened in the spring of 1979, almost a year after we had moved to Michigan. My mother was a New Jersey native, so she, at 32, had never been through a tornado. My dad grew up in Michigan, so he was a whole lot less freaked out than my mom, my twin sister Jodi and I were.

I remember everything about the day, right down to what I was wearing (a lime green and lavender striped T-shirt and denim overalls). I was in the chicken coop feeding the chickens when it all the sudden got very, very dark. A few of the chickens got confused, and, thinking it was nighttime, got up on their roosts.

I went outside to see the sky had turned a very bizarre shade of milky green. The air was very, very heavy and very, very still, and the smell of it had changed somehow.

I looked over to where my sister was feeding the rabbits, and she was also stopped in her tracks and staring at the sky. We knew something was happening, but we weren't sure what.

It was at that point my mother came out on the porch and yelled for Jodi and I to get into the house "NOW!"

We did as we were told, and sprinted toward our mother. As we did so, the wind started picking up, blowing dust from all directions and snapping branches from the trees in our yard.

An alert on the television was trumpeting a "tornado warning" -- and I had no idea what that meant.

My father herded us all into the basement, which had a dirt floor at the time. He instructed us to sit on paint cans with our backs up against the heavy, concrete walls.

Then he went out to watch the storm, causing my mother to go into hysterics.

My sister and I sat on our paint cans, paralyzed with fear. I was holding our black Labrador puppy Teddy in my lap, and Jodi was clutching our new Tabby kitten, Cream Puff.

It was probably about a minute later when my dad came barreling back down the basement steps, slamming the door behind him.

It sounded like a train was coming past our house. My mother, sister and I just sat, wide-eyed, waiting for my dad to tell us what to do next.

The whole thing probably lasted all of two minutes. When my father gave us the all clear to go upstairs, my mother, sister and I peeked outside to survey the damage.

The weeping willow tree in our front yard was uprooted. Garbage from the outside cans was strewn all the way down the driveway, and the lids were gone forever. The rabbit hutch was upended.

The coonhounds were cowering under the porch, and tons of limbs from the maple trees were littering the yard. The walnut tree in the middle of our circular driveway had snapped in the middle.

I was dumbstruck by the destruction. It took us days to clean up.

I've been through other storms since then, but that one -- the first one -- was the worst. I was a nervous wreck for the rest of the spring, and for many springs after.

Whenever the weather forecast is dire, people become Chicken Little. We hunker down and prepare for the worst, but it very rarely comes.

When I remember back to that day in 1979, I remember why I'm glad it doesn't.