Monday, September 10, 2012
When I was 16 we lived in Illinois and that summer I got to go back to Alabama, my home state, and visit -- with a car! While I was driving between my grandmothers' homes, they live about 100 miles apart, I passed my Great-great-aunt Darthuley's home. She was in her 90s and was working out in her garden. I stopped. I had to stop. She was wearing a faded pink "house dress" and a bright blue bonnet.
She knew who I was as soon as I spoke. I helped her gather her vegetables and among the bounty, I carried a full basket of peppers into her kitchen. Her stove was on the "screened-in" porch and the big white enameled triple bowled sink was in by the stove. Out in the yard, on a table made of tin roof sheets, she had about a 1000 drying peppers. As I washed the tomatoes and beans and onions and okra and carrots and turnips and peas and peppers, as I was told to do, I watched though the window as she was scurrying around in the yard closing up the barn and tool shed. She called out,"a cloud's a coming!, Come gather up these peppers so they don't get wet." I ran out with a basket and we gathered them up. As soon as we got on the porch, the sky turned black, hail started pounding the house and barn’s tin roof, and the wind rolled in. The table roof sheets flew across the yard and hit the pump house. "Thumb bolt the door!," she cried and I saw a black funnel across an 80 acre field. It was about 40 ft. wide full of dirt, trees, and stuff. A tractor umbrella was floating around it in a pure tilted spiral.
Clinging to “Aunt Darthuley’s” tiny frail body, I watched in amazement as the tornado whipped behind the field and was gone! The rain came and stopped in short time. The Sun was setting and golden rays pierced the scattered clouds behind the storm and made the just passed east bound storm glow an unforgettable green.
Nothing was hurt too much, a tree fell across her drive and the power went off. We hugged in thankfulness and she pulled me to my knees and whispered a beautiful prayer. I couldn’t leave, we had no phone or power, and we had vegetables to tend to.
She got out candles and found a “coal oil” lantern. I was tasked with the peppers and started to thread the dried ones on an upholstery needle and package string. At some point I interrupted my stringing and went back to the basket of fresh peppers and separated the varieties. It wasn’t long until my eyes started burning!, Oh God!, did they burn. As the pump was off we didn’t have water except a plastic pitcher of cold water in the refrigerator. Aunt Darthuley poured the cold water across my eyes and wet a dish cloth and I covered them the rest of the night. We sat in the dark, me in the double dark, and she told me stories. She told me about growing up with my great-grandmother and about my great-great-grandfather and my great-great-great-grandfather that was in “the War,” the Civil War.
In the morning my eyes still burned but I was able to help my uncle clear the trees and soon I was on my way with a precious terrifying memory.
On her death bed, Aunt Darthuley told that story and laughed and laughed about the eye burning part. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.