Editorial 5/2/2014

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 2, 2014

Fortunate that tornado tales are told from distance

The first I ever remember knowing anything about a tornado came in 1953 when a deadly twister hit Vicksburg, killing 38 people. We lived in nearby Fayette at the time, I was five years old.
Our house was not far from Highway 61 that led to Vicksburg, some 48 miles away. Nowhere in Fayette was far from Highway 61 then.

Early on an unseasonably warm December Saturday evening, we began to hear sirens on vehicles racing north through Fayette. After the first two or three times, my dad realized that something unusual had happened, some major catastrophe.

My dad began to tune the radio — an old, table top AM model where I recall listening with him to programs like Gunsmoke and The Lone Ranger that within a few short years would metamorphosis into TV programs.

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I remember the sound of Marshal Dillon’s boots walking down Dodge City’s main street.
And years later I was disappointed to learn that the theme music that seemed to have been tailor-made for the Lone Ranger had not been inspired by the legend of the masked man himself but had instead been gleaned from the public domain (mainly because it was free). The stirring music was actually the March of the Swiss Soldiers finale from Rossini’s William Tell Overture written in the early 19th Century.

But I digress. That night my dad was not looking for entertainment. As he twisted the tuning dial looking for news, he learned about the tornado.

Details of devastation were broadcast in tiny bits and pieces as broadcasters struggled to learn more. I don’t remember much of what he told me, but I remember that it was dark, serious and scary.

One story that would soon emerge told of children at a birthday party in a downtown movie theater that stood directly in the tornado’s path. Five of those children, all under age 10, would be among the 38 fatalities.

I am fortunate that my tornado stories are mostly told from long distance experience. Water Valley just marked the 30th anniversary of twin tornadoes that killed eight people there in 1984.
Phillip Anderson and I recently recalled that year.

The close call that wrought such death, injury and destruction to the beautiful town in neighboring Yalobusha County, had left us all on edge.

Those scenes of devastation in Water Valley were on everyone’s mind a few days later when another front brought a tornado warning to Panola County, a warning soon accompanied by the wailing of the Batesville Fire Department’s emergency sirens.

Anderson, known by his deejay name, “The Spoiler,” was on duty by himself that evening at Batesville radio station WBLE when everyone tuned in to hear more about the approaching storm so that we could evaluate proximate personal doom.

As the Spoiler watched the station’s radar, his voice sounded increasingly anxious, finally broadcasting to all his warning that yet lives in the memories of those who heard:
“Peoples take cover!”

And we did. In hallways and bathrooms, under pillows and blankets. But the storm just seemed to pass over. There was wind, lightning and rain but no tornado.

The next morning, sleep-deprived and bleary-eyed, we compared stories about what we did when we heard the sirens and how it really got scary when the Spoiler got so shook up.
“I guess that was my 15 minutes of fame,” Anderson said, laughing, during our recent conversation.

Again this week, we realize that we are indeed fortunate.