Biographical Non-Fiction posted April 25, 2020 Chapters: 2 3 -4- 5... 

This work has reached the exceptional level
A February storm strikes a small town.

A chapter in the book Viewing the World With Fresh Eyes

A Warm Day In February

by BethShelby

Brett Matthew West Prose Challenge Contest Winner 

The day was incredibly warm for February, and a brisk wind was kicking up leaves. Sand from our driveway prickled my face causing me to close my eyes and turn my head. The atmosphere rippled with a strange sensation that caused me to feel excited without knowing exactly why. It was Friday, and I had an unexpected day off from school.
I was ten years old and in fifth grade. Tomorrow would be Valentine's Day. We were supposed to have our school Valentine's party today, but there had been a change of plans. The County Commissioners had an emergency meeting with the Mississippi governor, and the only spot big enough to hold everyone was our school auditorium. Just yesterday, we had been given a mimeographed sheet to bring home, alerting our parents that school was canceled for the day.  

I got out of bed, tugged on my faded jeans and favorite shirt, anxious to start my day. Any day without school was a good day, and I didn’t want to waste it.

“Mom, It’s not cold outside. Can I go barefooted?”

“No, you may not! You know it's too early. You don’t ever go barefooted before May. Besides, it looks stormy outside. You need shoes with rubber soles in case there is lightning. I want you insulated, if you’re going to be running around outside.”

“I was going to ride my bike to Grandpa’s house. Can I go? I won’t be gone long. Please!”

“Okay, I guess so. But I’m counting on you not to be gone long. Daddy will be home from lunch soon.”

My grandparent’s house was just over a small rise. I could be there in five minutes. I jumped on my bike and pedaled up the gravel road. I spent more of my waking time there than I did at home. 

I loved their old house. They lived frugally, in an unpainted frame house that must  have been built around the turn of the century. It had tall ceilings and a tin roof. They had no electricity or running water. The house was partially heated by a fireplace in the front room. Water came from a well pump behind the house. Grandma cooked on an iron wood stove. There was a front porch with a swing and a small back porch. Outbuildings littered the property. Grandpa had a gristmill where he ground corn on Saturday. There was a barn, a shed, a blacksmith shop, a smoke house, an outhouse, a chicken house, a potato shed, a pigpen and a storm pit, dug into the side of a small embankment.

In the fenced pasture, there were two cows, with calves, a mule, and a horse. Grandpa kept a hive of bees. He also had a V-shaped structure filled with yellow dirt where he distilled a strong acidic mineral, which he was convinced was capable of curing any illness known to man. People, who knew about it, often stopped by to purchase a bottle of it.

When I arrived at my destination, it was apparent no one had time for me today. Grandpa was rarely sick, but he’d once contracted malaria, and occasionally he had a flare-up, causing him to have chills. Today was one of those days. Grandma was trying in vain to keep him in. He was sitting on the edge of his bed attempting to put on his brogans, and Grandma was yelling at him.

“Ebb, you don’t need to be out in that wind. You should stay in bed, so you can get better. Let that mule go. You can’t go chasing no mule in the shape you’re in.”

“Ahh, Woman, be quiet. I’m gonna get that mule in the barn if it kills me.”

Grandma turned her attention to me and said. “What are you doing here? It looks like it’s going to storm any minute. How come your mama let you come off in this weather. You need to go back home and tell your mama she better come over here. We might all need to go to the storm pit. Eva’s already at the pit, trying to get all the spider webs down and make sure there are no snakes in there.

Eva was my grandma’s old maid sister who lived with them. She was especially afraid of bad weather. She had taken it upon herself to see to it that the pit was ready in case it was needed.

I took the hint. “Okay, I’m going home. I know when I’m not wanted.”

I jumped back on my bike and took off pedaling as fast as I could. The sky had gotten darker, and the rolling clouds had taken on a strange yellowish tint.

Mom was glad to see me. “Good! You're back. I think we’re about to have a bad storm. Go in the back bedroom and get down between the two beds. I’m going to turn the stove off, and I’ll be in there in a second. I'm afraid there may be a tornado in that cloud. If the roof caves in, maybe the bed will protect us."

The tone of her voice told me she was serious, so I went. Mom opened the back door to look out, and the wind tore it from her grip. The door slammed shut with a loud clap. Mom wasted no time getting to me. She dropped down onto the floor beside me. Placing her arms around me, she lowered her head onto my back. She was not a second too soon.

The double windows over the bed tore loose from their frames and sailed across the room, crashing into the opposite wall and sending glass shards slithering across the floor. A deafening roar filled the room, and the floor tilted beneath us. I watched in horror as the dresser toppled over, and two big balls of fire rolled across the room. Dust filled my eyes, and I squeezed them shut, as Mom and I went airborne. “Pray,” Mom yelled in my ear. I had the sensation of being sucked up as by a giant vacuum cleaner.  

I must have gone out for a brief period, because my next memory was of Mom and I, still together, but this time we were actually sitting on a thick wooden beam, with our feet in a puddle of water. Rain was pelting down on top of us.

“Are you all right?” Mom asked.

“Yes, are you? Where are we?"  I looked around, completely bewildered by what I was seeing. There was no house, no trees, just rubble everywhere. We stood up. The beam on which we were sitting was full of nails, except for the one spot where we sat.

“How did we get here?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I have no idea how we got here. I must have been unconscious for a minute. The last thing I remember is I felt like we were floating. It felt peaceful. But we’re alive. Praise the Lord. It’s like a miracle. There’s the road. Let’s go see if your grandparents are okay. You need to be prepared. They may not have made it.”  I heard the fear in her voice.

Since Mom knew where we were, she led the way up the road, until we reached my grandparents house. Mom started calling them before we got there. Two heads appeared at the door looking out over a ripped off porch. Twisted tin was everywhere. The roof was missing. Somehow, they managed to pull us into what was left of the house.
Grandma was crying. “We’ve lost everything,” she said, wringing her hands. Aunt Eva walked in looking dazed. Her dress was splotched in red. Mom thought it was blood, but it turned out she picked up some red crepe paper. No one was hurt.

My mother tried to comfort my grandmother. “You’re alive and you’re not hurt. We're all alive. Things don’t matter. Things can be replaced. Just thank God, we’re all alive."

About that time, Dad came running up the road. He’d been on his way home for lunch when the storm struck. He could see his house was gone. He was so afraid we’d all been killed. When he couldn’t find us around where our house had been, he had kept going hoping to find us here.

"We have to go somewhere and get some dry clothes. It's cooling off, “ Dad said. Dad had left his car a half a mile down the road when he could no longer get past the downed trees.

it wasn’t long until the neighbors began to show up and offer help. We went with them, and they helped us find dry clothes.  Everyone helped, even strangers, and in a couple of months, we were in a new house, and things had settled down to a more normal pace.

We learned that twenty-nine people died in that Friday the thirteenth storm. More than eighty others were injured. We weren’t even bruised. Mom said we were spared for a reason. I don’t know. I just hope we haven’t let anyone down.


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