May 2, 2010 12:16:00 AM
Something just wasn''t right about that Sunday back in February 1971. It was too warm and humid for a winter day. I was home in Rolling Fork for a weekend getaway from school and a taste of Mama''s home cooking.
When we walked out of church it started to rain. I hated traveling on rainy days. It was not going to be a good ride back to school later on that afternoon. A few hours later, what we in the South like to call a "good rain" turned into a storm.
The electricity went off at exactly 4:11 p.m. I know because that''s when the clock stopped in Mama''s kitchen. Mama made sure it was right in sync with the radio station that she and Daddy listened to every morning.
The rain was hard and the wind even stronger. Suddenly, as if someone unplugged a fan, everything stopped. Have you ever noticed how when it snows and you walk outside, you experience a peaceful quiet? That''s what it was like -- silence -- but the atmosphere had changed; you could feel the energy.
The silence didn''t last long. We heard the "train." My Dad and I were standing at the kitchen window looking south. We never saw the funnel cloud. What we saw looked like an explosion as the storm literally rolled across the cotton field about a mile and half behind our house.
Soon after the freight train left the station the quiet returned. Nothing was moving. The temperature began to plummet. What started out as a warm, balmy day quickly turned into a cold winter afternoon and night.
We made a quick spin around town to see if there had been any damage. Fortunately, other than a few fallen limbs and the like, Rolling Fork was no worse for the wear. We had dodged the bullet, or so we thought.
It''s hard to explain to youngsters, but back in those days in the South Delta, we were lucky to have a good picture on the RCA, not everyone had a telephone (and that''s of the land line variety) and most folks had never heard of a computer. Folks got most of the local news by word of mouth.
Terrible reports began circulating around town, news brought in from our neighbors down in Cary and south Issaquena County, who were ferrying the injured to the Sharkey Issaquena County Hospital out on the west side of town.
The tornado crossed the Mississippi River in the Tallula/Fitler area and, rather than bounce in the air when it hit the levee (a myth that many still hold on to as gospel over that way), instead stuck to the ground like a vacuum cleaner.
Three physicians from Greenville were traveling back home up Highway 61 from a meeting they had attended in Jackson. When they passed through Cary and saw the damage, they headed straight to the hospital in Rolling Fork. I don''t know their names. However, let the record show that those guys were heroes. Our two local docs couldn''t have handled what faced them alone.
A gasoline distributor sent a loaded tanker truck that night and parked it in front of the courthouse. They filled up cars and gas cans -- no charge.
Calls went out to neighbors for help: blankets and sheets for the hospital, men to clear roads and, sadly, search for the missing. We all lost friends.
Mama gathered up some sheets that I took out to the hospital. When I walked in, I''ll never forget a lady that I had never seen before sitting quietly on the floor resting against a wall in the dark hospital hall, a hollow look on her face. She held her blood-soaked baby in her arms.
Last Saturday, No. 1 Son drifted in to ride the storm out with me. He was amused at my making sure that our vehicles had gas and were secure under the carport, and that we had water.
I told him about that Sunday afternoon back in 1971, when Mother Nature reminded us that she was still in charge. When the storm finally played out up around Oxford, it left more than 100 of our friends and neighbors dead and scores more injured.
As No. 1 and I watched WCBI report the storm track, I was engaged. I was there. I knew how the folks down around Eagle Lake, in Yazoo City and over in Choctaw County felt. It was Sunday afternoon in a small Delta town all over again.
Some things you never forget.
Roger owns Bayou Management, Inc. and is also a semi-pro guitar player.
Cal Carter commented at 5/2/2010 9:58:00 AM:
I was at the Joy Theatre at 4:11 PM when the lights went out. When we got outside there were whitecaps in Deer Creek. All the rest was a bit much for an eleven year old to take in. I understand why some people freak out when storms approach and why No. 1 Dad stays prepared.