MUSCODA - Recent pictures on television showing devastation left behind by tornadoes in the South got me thinking about a storm that swept through northeast Nebraska, leaving several farmsteads flattened, many years ago. They were farms my dad served on his rural mail route.
The most detailed of my ”memory pictures” is the remains of a farmhouse that had completely disappeared except for an undamaged piano that was left standing on the floor of what had been a living room. There were no walls or ceiling remaining, just the wind-swept floor and an apparently undamaged piano – with some sheet music still on it.
The farmer told about the roar of the storm and how he hung onto a cave door to keep it from blowing open.
There were at least four sets of farm buildings destroyed by the wind that afternoon – but no persons were injured. The families saw the storm funnel coming and they all ran to “the cave.”
At that time, REA electricity had yet to arrive to that area so just about every farm had a “cave” or a “root cellar”. It was a cool place where food items were stored and it also served as a storm shelter.
Vi remembers disliking being sent to the cave to bring back a couple of quart jars filled with homecanned tomatoes. It was dark, rather spooky, and was home to a few spider webs. It was not a place a kid liked to go.
In the little village where the Smiths lived there was electricity to power refrigerators and freezers, but several property owners also maintained a cave – for a place to go in the event of a storm.
On the day of the tornado, dad had finished his mail route before it struck. But he and mom remembered that our Shetland pony had raced around and around in her pasture at about the same time the storm was hitting the farms about three miles away.
The little one-room schools in that area often included a cave, available if needed. There was even a little-kids’ song that included something about a “rain-barrel,” plus an invitation for friends to “come slide down my cellar door – and we’ll be friends forever more!”
Now, many of the farm homes and outbuildings in that area are no longer there. Probably the caves are also just a memory.Current storm safety recommendations include going to the smallest room in the house and hiding – in the bathtub. That’s not much protection if the roof is blowing off ! Sometimes old ways may be better.