A Survivor’s Mindset
The night before they planned to return home, the young family had taken a 90-mile trip to see her folks. Although it was time to return, the young wife said to her husband, “Oh, that cake Mom made was so delicious. I think I’ll have another slice of it and some tea.”
It was a chocolate cake, true, but it was also time to return home. Besides, she would probably fall asleep, leaving him to drive the distance without any conversation to keep him awake. But the husband knew that no matter how much she loved him, he couldn’t compete with chocolate cake.
He agreed, but with a scowl, so that she would know he was not pleased to be made to wait for the trip home.
Just as he figured, almost as soon as they hit the interstate, she fell asleep.
Then the storm began. At first it was just a lot of thunder and lightning, and heavy rain. The windshield wipers couldn’t keep up, so he slowed down. But the fury of the storm increased. He was finally traveling at five miles an hour, and still the wipers couldn’t keep up. Lightning flashed about every other second. Thunder punched the air with steel fists.
His wife woke up. Wide-eyed, she took in the ferocious storm. The only time they could see was when the lightning lit the night sky. No lights shown. Anywhere. Even the headlights failed to show more than a few feet ahead of the car. Although they were nearing their destination, they couldn’t identify the exits, so they counted. Yes, this one was the town just before theirs, then the next three exits would be to their little city, with the third leading to their neighborhood.
The storm had pounded out all the electricity. Even when they got off the Interstate, the world remained very dark. So they kept counting streets. The wind eased up a little, leaving only the pouring rain, and the lightning lessened as well. At least with the headlights they could see a little better now.
The husband finally edged onto the street that led to their house. He was going very slowly. As he turned into their drive, the headlights shone on the tree in their front yard, or what was left of it. The whole top of the tree was gone, the shattered trunk pointed up at a forty-five degree angle.
“Oh, my!” his wife said. “The tree!”
Then his headlights illuminated their house. The roof was gone. Completely. All the walls were on the ground as if they had exploded outward, which he later realized, was probably true. They had shut the house up tight before they left, and only the uneven pressure caused by a tornado would have caused the house to explode from the inside out.
When she saw the rain pouring on what was left of their home, she said, “Oh, my! The house!”
He gave her a worried look, wondering if she was going to be the kind of person who fell apart in emergencies. She hadn’t seemed to be when they first met, but her courage had never been tested before. Well, neither had his.
Just then the baby fussed, and she pulled him to her. Their daughter, just a year older, was still sound asleep. “We’ll go back to my parents tonight,” she said, her voice very calm, not even the slightest sign of hysteria.
Relieved, he agreed, and backed out of the driveway.
But as they turned onto the main thoroughfare that led to the Interstate, a power line blocked their way. He slammed on his breaks, and the baby flew from her arms into the dash, cutting his head on a rough corner. Blood began pouring out of the gash in his forehead. The baby began crying. His wife simply made soothing noises and held him close. She then pulled out a diaper and pressed it onto the gash in his forehead, stopping the flow of blood.
“Maybe,” she said in the same calm voice, “we should go to the hospital instead. I think this might require stitches.”
Again, he agreed, and turned at the next street.
When they reached the hospital, they began to explain what had happened, that after the tornado took their home…
“There wasn’t a tornado last night,” the admissions clerk informed them.
“Oh really?” his wife said, in that cute, sassy tone she used when she was making a point. “Well, yesterday, when we left, our home was there and now it isn’t. Something took it.”
While they waited for their baby to be treated, people from the trailer park, and later campers from the local reservoir began pouring into the waiting room for various injuries. It seemed that a tornado had destroyed both places. He felt justified, hearing that.
By the time their baby had his forehead treated, he realized it was far too late to go back to her parents, so he decided that they would go to the police station instead. He had heard that there was a shelter in the basement there for emergencies. She agreed, and they headed that way.
When they got to the police station, the desk sergeant informed them that the shelter was for emergencies, not for people needing a place to stay. “But we have no other place to go,” he told the sergeant. “A tornado took our house last night.”
“There was no tornado last night,” the policeman informed them.
“Oh really?” his wife said.
This time he almost grinned, because he knew what his wife was going to say.
“Well, yesterday, when we left, our home was there and now it isn’t. Something took it.”
The man behind the desk gave them a strange look, but he led them to the shelter. Not too long later people from the destroyed trailer park began to arrive. The police brought out cots and set up card tables so that people would have places to sleep and places to sit.
But neither the man nor his wife could sleep. Their baby had no trouble falling back to sleep. Neither did their little girl.
They pulled a card table next to the cot where their children slept and began making plans. A young divorcee joined them, going over everything that had happened to her before the tornado had destroyed her house in the trailer park.
“Y’know,” she said kind of wistfully. “All I wanted from our marriage was the crushed velvet bedspread, and I got it. And now, with the trailer on its side, and rain pouring through the window, I think it’s ruined.”
They all laughed at the irony of it all, that what they thought was important wasn’t even close. They were alive, and for that, all three adults felt joyful. They laughed a lot that night.
But a reporter, touring the room, wanting the real nitty-gritty, avoided their table. They weren’t either sad or shocked enough for him. They thought that was funny too.
The next day, the husband took his wife to one of their neighbors whose house had not been destroyed and asked permission for them to stay the following night.
“Stay as long as you need,” they offered. But the husband hoped it wouldn’t be for very long. He knew how quickly someone could wear out the warmest welcome.
He left to inspect the damage.
By this time, the whole state knew what had happened in their community. His parents were there, as were his in-laws. Even the governor of the state arrived for his political moment.
He returned around noon, pleased to find that their neighbors had fixed them a nice lunch.
His wife listened to his story about everything he had seen, and how little remained of their things. “If we had been home, like I wanted,” he said, a little mollified, “our baby would have been dead. His room was destroyed, and I only found pieces of his baby bed.”
“Then I’m glad for one more piece of chocolate cake and another cup of tea,” she told him. “Guess what I did?”
“I found us a house.”
“You did? Already?”
“Yes. You see, I realized there were a number of other families who would be homeless too, and I wanted to get the first choice. So I got the paper, and began making calls until I found something the right size and the right price. We can see it whenever you’re ready.”
So soon, the husband realized. No, he had been worried for nothing. She wasn’t the kind of person to succumb to hysteria. She had all the right instincts—survivor’s instincts.