April 3 1974 started off like any other Spring day in North Alabama. I got up and went to Miss Rochelle’s 4th grade class at East Limestone Elementary. The day was so ordinary in fact, I don’t remember anything before 5pm.
I guess I hung out with both David’s and Rapeh during recess. More than likely I enjoyed Alabama History more than cursive writing. Miss Rochelle most likely scared the crap out of me at some point because she managed to do it at least once a day. The only thing I know for sure is what I had for lunch, a peanut butter sandwich. How do I know? That’s what I had every day for 12 years.
I got home from school sometime after 3 and sat down to watch afternoon TV. I don’t remember what I was watching but I do remember Adrian Gibson, the channel 31 weatherman breaking in with a special bulletin. I was nine so my only concern was how soon he’d stop talking so I could watch more TV before we left for church. He said something about a tornado hitting Guin Alabama. I had no idea where Guin was, but Mom and Dad didn’t seem too worried so I wasn’t either.
That’s the last image I ever saw on that TV. Dad turned it off and we walked out the door headed for the First Baptist Church of Athens Alabama. Come to think of it, that’s the last time I ever saw that house.
Baptist love going to church. Sunday School, Sunday Morning Service, then back that afternoon for Training Union, Sunday Evening Service, Wednesday night kid’s choir practice then RA’s. We didn’t miss any of them. If the door was open, we were there. That’s why I left my house for the last time even though I didn’t know it was the last time, on April 3, 1974.
That day/night turned out to be one of the two deadliest tornado outbreaks in US History. Because this was pre-twitter, pre-facebook, and pre DOPLR radar, we didn’t know how severe the storms were.
The next memory I have after Adrian Gibson is someone breaking into kids’ choir practice telling us to get to the basement. This had never happened before but I wasn’t scared. I was happy for the escape from kids choir practice. No nine-year old boy wants to sing. At all.
The rest of the night is a blur. At some point my parents scooped me up and we went to spend the night with friends. I didn’t know why but I didn’t really care.
The next morning my mom told me what had happened. Our house had been destroyed by a direct hit from a F5 tornado. But a nine year old can’t process that kind of information, my house was gone? It didn’t become real to me until we were driving to where my house was supposed to be. We topped the hill on hwy 72 and the only thing left were my house was the night before were piles of rubble and two giant Oak trees laid over like toothpicks.
We didn’t use words like this back then, but at that moment I was living in a new normal.