With all the terrible tornadoes in the news, I can’t help but remember my own frightening experiences in tornadoes. I’ve survived several tornadoes both in my home state of Iowa, and also in my current Denver home.
Growing up in Iowa, we learned at an early age the warning signs or tornadoes. We learned to keep an eye on the sky. We knew to take cover in a basement, away from windows. We heeded the alarming sounds of tornado sirens.
The first tornado I remember hit my uncle’s farm when I was a child of elementary school age. My siblings and my cousins and I played at the farm while the adult men and a veterinarian helped a cow with a breech birth.
I remember the winds coming up, tossing dust and straw around the farm. Curious, I watched the poor mama cow struggling, heard her bawling. My dad and my uncle nervously watched over the shoulder of the vet. The vet had his arm inside the cow, blood soaking his shirt all the way to his armpit.
The humid day turned cool. Winds whipped harder. I remember a piece of tin flying by, nearly hitting my father.
“That could have decapitated you!” my uncle said.
I wasn’t sure what “decapitated” meant, but I learned from context.
I don’t remember the storm. I do remember all of us gathered around the television—probably black-and-white in those days. We listened to a special report about tornado touch-downs.
“Could that be J.L.’s farm?” I asked my grandmother.
“No,” she said, but she balled up her apron in her fists.
The next thing I remember, my aunt burst through the door in tears, shouting, “It’s all gone! It’s all gone!”
The storm devastated their home and barn, we saw the next day. I remember seeing oddities: my cousins’ toys strewn everywhere in the rubble. I remember hearing of livestock flying, breaking legs. My uncle’s Budweiser cans wound up at a neighboring farm.
Subsequent tornadoes were not as damaging, but I learned in my first tornado to respect storms.
Tornadoes in Denver left such an impact upon me that I decided to open my first novel with a tornado. In Glass Halo, the tornado destroys priceless stained glass windows in a historic Denver cathedral.
The storm also forces a meeting of the novel’s two main characters, driving Nora Kelly—a stained glass artist—and Father Vincent DiMarco—the cathedral’s rector and pastor–into the church basement for shelter.
The tornado kicks up a stormy love story with many twists, but the destruction in the novel’s beginning results in creation and rebuilding both of the cathedral and the characters.