Thursday, April 2, 2009

Spring Storms and Storm House Sitting

Tonight's weather forecast is for tornadoes for our area. This is close to the anniversary of the Tupelo, Mississippi, Great Tornado of April 5, 1936 so everyone is taking it very seriously. Even though that tornado was long before I was born it has been talked about all my life. Papaw would stand on the porch at Pearce Chapel and point to the Northwest and say,"Now right in there was where it got so red and we could hear the noise of it ripping Tupelo, Mississippi, off the face of the earth." This conversation happened every time the sky got dark and when we were headed to a storm house at the neighbors when I was a child. Back then there was no TV weather telling us when to go. The neighbor's storm house was cut back in a bank and was always damp and it was small. Sometimes the rain would catch us before we could get there. I was bad about having to go back and get a doll or blanket and would drag the process out as long as a child could. I knew it would be sit still time a long time and I dreaded it. I enjoyed listening to the adults talk but the talk about who all went to see were Tupelo had blown away and who died there was so sad. It was the same conversation every storm. It didn't make me too happy being confined either. Then we would have to get out after the storm was over and walk back up the red muddy hill home.

One morning, probably the spring of 1960, Papaw called me out in the yard and said,"Young lady, we fixing to build us a storm house today." When he said "young lady" I knew it meant business! He set out measuring a spot of on the hillside right out the front door below the pear tree. First it was a small square. Then he got the straight chairs off the front porch and sat them side by side inside the string he had pulled from stakes at the corners. It wasn't big enough to suit him. The stakes were pulled up and the space doubled and the chairs replaces. Then we set in shoveling. With the help of a neighbor who showed up with his pick ax we go the hole dug. Well, the ground was sandier than he liked for straight cut dirt walls. Papaw got a little notebook out of his overall pocket and started figuring and measuring again. We were going to use cinder blocks and have a real nice dry storm house since we had it dug already. He hired some one to bring the blocks and pour the floor of the storm house. He put in a fancy drain hole so water wouldn't stand if the rain got in it. Seems like we laid concrete blocks for a week. It was spring break from school and I helped as much as I could helping tote the blocks. We got the doorway built and Papaw wasn't a bit satisfied with the direction it was facing because he wasn't going to be able to see in "that direction of Tupelo" so we added a curve in the dug out walkway so he could walk out and look toward the house and barn and "in that direction". After the blocks were all laid he formed a roof and had it poured with reinforced concrete. Care was taken to add a hook in just the right spot out of the way of people's heads for a kerosene lantern. In the roof he installed tin can vent holes to allow fresh air as ventilation. These were covered with larger cans that could be removed for fresh air and pulled back on from the inside with a string.

We finally had the storm house finished and instead of straight chairs he built benches along the sides. Ma maw folded all the old quilts for cushions. We were ready for a storm. Soon the occasion arrived and the whole neighborhood was invited to try Mr. Marvin's new storm house out. The first time in use there were 18 people in it and he was so proud it was big enough.

During the winter months it was just right to hold all the flower pots that Ma maw wanted to keep things growing in all winter and a few jars of dried apples were always there. When I got older it was a favorite reading place in the summer because it was always cool in there and with the door open the light was just right for reading or napping.

The only critters that were ever in it that I remember were jam crickets. They were clear bodied crickets that loved the damp cool concrete walls. This was after the storm house was getting old. My son has memories of a jam cricket on Papaw's hat when we had to go to the storm house on April 3, 1974. He was not a happy little three year old camper that day at all. Papaw had on his old brown felt hat and this big old gray monster sized cricket landed on his head just as we got in the storm house and Sean stopped crying and started laughing about it getting Papaw and didn't shed another tear. When we got out that night we found out Guin, Alabama, had blown away while we were safe and secure in the "new storm house".

The house at Pearce Chapel is gone but the "new storm house" is still there. I hope someone is using it tonight.


  1. Tornado weather is still scary time. I'm so glad you wrote about your Papaw's storm house --- it sounds like youall built a good 'un! And at one point this afternoon when that storm passed through, I thought we all needed one. Maybe this weather system will pass through with no repeats of yesteryear's tornadic activity.


  2. You have wonderful stories for your grandchildren and, us, the readers. Enjoyed! Barbara

  3. Hi Rita,
    I miss reading your wonderful stories and looking at your beautiful pictures and hope you return soon.
    John Vines

  4. Rita, your blog is truly a "lovely" one, and I have awarded you with the "One Lovely Blog Award." Please visit my blog, Mississippi Memories,to read today's post for instructions on picking up your award. Congratulations!

  5. I am so sorry I missed seeing these nice comments for a month. I do not know what happened. THANKS!