By Gery L. Deer
Deer in Headlines
In the aftermath of the 1974 Xenia tornado, people in surrounding communities did what they could to help with the cleanup. Although my father was a teacher at the vocational school at the time, he also had heavy trucks so we went to help as well.
Everywhere you looked was devastation. Stunned families cried or stared blankly as broken water mains sprayed the splintered remains of unrecognizable homes. It was horrific. Even as a first-grader, what I saw that first day among the shattered remains of Xenia was inexorably seared into my memory and cultivated a fear of storms that’s hard for me to, even now, put into words.
During my first couple of years of college, I was fortunate enough to live at home and commute. One after class I went home and settled in to watch a movie and scarf down some drive thru before hitting the books. It was a dark, rainy day and the sky had that “look” about it.
Ever since that day in 1974, I’ve been keenly aware of unstable weather, as if I had some kind of built in, biological barometer in my head and this was one of those days when that sense was at its peak.
As I plowed through my burger and onion rings in front of the TV, the power flickered several times, but I did my best to ignore it. I was home alone, and as the wind and rain picked up, the trees in the valley surrounding our small farm it sounded like wild animals roaring in the distance.
At one point, I ventured out the back door and stood behind the house, watching the clouds off to the southwest. The wind became still. The rain stopped. It was dead quiet. I walked to the other side of the house for a better view on the far side of our barn. And there it was. About a hundred yards away, spinning down from the sky to the pasture in front of me – a tornado. It was small, gray, kicking up debris and dancing its way across the field in front of me as if with some kind of purpose in mind.
I was frozen; not with fear, but with fascination. There it was, right in front of me, the thing I feared most; no, more than that. It was the only thing I’d ever been afraid of. Any normal person would have bolted to the nearest cellar. But I didn’t. I stood there, motionless.
A moment later, the funnel met the ancient wooden sideboards of one of my dad’s old farm trucks and they exploded into splinters with a sound like the cracking of a dozen brittle bones. I still didn’t move. I wasn’t afraid at all.
It seemed like it took an eternity for it to cross the 10-acre spread of pasture field, but it was probably more like 30 seconds. It bounced across the road a quarter mile away, circumvented one neighbor’s home completely but then crashed into an adjacent barn, destroying it in the blink of an eye and scattered bits of wood, sheet metal and hay for miles. I stood there, still motionless, taking it all in.
And as quickly as it came, it was gone. After it wrecked the barn across the road, it dissolved into nothing. A moment later, I realized I was being soaked by rain but still staring off across the field. It left a path of small debris along the way and mashed down the high grass as if some kids had tromped a trail through the field. But it was over. And any fear I once felt of these storms was gone.
As I got older, I studied everything I could about tornadoes, even going on a few local storm chases back in school. Over the years, I faced with two more of the swirling monsters but no longer fear any kind of storm. Today I am respectful of their power and unpredictability and still have a sixth sense when things aren’t right in the wind. The best thing any of us can do during Ohio’s tornado seasons is to be alert and prepared.