Surviving Triple Twisters in Canton


“First Monday” Trade Days in Canton, Texas.

We knew today would be the last time we would get to attend “First Monday” Trade Days in Canton, Texas. But little did we expect it to be, possibly, the last day of our lives when triple tornadoes flattened Canton, that afternoon.

Since we will soon leave the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, Jeff and I got up early, this morning for the hour-and-a-half drive East. Although the Weather Channel had predicted thunderstorms, we didn’t expect them to be a problem, since we planned to spend most of our time inside the  Marketplace, on the hill.

After spending two to three hours in the building where we sampled  salsa, coffee, and wine coolers, visited with vendors, we bought our second Bionic Bands from our friend, Jackie Blalock  of Cross-b Sales who sold us our first bands, three years ago. Since we bought the bands, they have helped us “vintage youngsters” maintain our balance when, otherwise, the slightest little trip-up might have sent us straight to the floor. Other than  the time I tripped over the dog and went flying through the air on New Year’s Eve 2016, the bands have been well worth the expense.

Now with two of these bands, one on each arm, we were feeling pretty indestructible. We ventured out to the grounds where we found a turquoise RV mat. Wearing our bands, and dreaming of our plans, we felt invincible. That is, until rain pelted the roof overhead , forcing us to head back to the building where we were greeted by officials bearing sobering news: A tornado was coming.

“Y’all go the bathrooms, now!” they urged. .

“Go ‘head on, babe,” Jeff said. “I’ll stay with Jackie in his booth. We’ll be okay.”

Heeding  my husband’s advice, I made a beeline for the restroom where I crowded in with a gaggle of fifty-some women and girls all talking at once. At first, we were simply waiting out a storm, as instructed by a calm but vigilant woman in charge. In her hand, a cell phone showing  a weather map showing an area colored bright red.

“Everyone get away from the mirrors. Go back to the stalls, instead.”

Now, up to that moment, I had never been in a tornado, so I never knew how I would react until it actually happened. I was amazed at how calm I was able to stay, even though my heart was doing somersaults and backflips. Fixing my eyes on the bathroom tiles, I bowed my head and sent up a prayer before texting my husband and posting to friends about the event on Facebook.

You will get through this, Kim, I whispered to my frightened self. Hang tough, ol’ girl.

“The tornado has turned north!” someone suddenly announced.

I looked up to see women leaving the restroom.

So it’s over, already. This is good news, right?

“Thank you, Lord,” I breathed, as my pulse raced.

Only an hour earlier,  the same women had been strangers to each other hugs before we wandered out to be reunited with our husbands, only to be shooed back into the restroom long  when someone yelled, “Get back in there! Another tornado’s on the way!”

So back into the bathroom we bustled. Teenaged girls, blowing off steam, engaged in horseplay until they were sobered by our solemn faces. One woman quietly breastfed her baby from a chair in the corner. A white-haired woman riding a mobility cart, brought her little dog inside with her. Still, another woman held a tiny, recently-rescued kitten to her chest. Some standing on toilet seats and peered over the top of the stalls. Others who were limber enough sat on the floor. Children wept into their mothers’ laps. When the nursing  mother her got up from the chair, I plopped down in it to relieve my back that suddenly ached from trudging all over the grounds.

In an instant, the room went dark. Collective breaths caught as we listened for the characteristic “freight train” roar signalingtwister would soon bear down upon us.

“Hit the floor! Cover your heads!” someone yelled. Knowing that if I got down on the floor, it would take a crane to hoist me up, I bent over and covered my head my purse. Again, I prayed until I broke down and wept as a woman stroked my back and prayed  over me.

“We’re all going to be all right,” she whispered. In spite of the  terror in my heart, I nodded. I knew that, even at that moment, God was still  in control. We would indeed be safe.

“Are you here by yourself?” she asked.

“No,” I replied. “My husband is out there with our friend in his booth. But our car is out on the lot. I’m so afraid that –.”

About that time, someone walked in swinging a lantern that lit up even the darkest part of the bathroom. Meanwhile, the air grew really hot, muggy, and eerily still. We could have heard a proverbial pin drop.

Eventually, I began to hear that the second twister had shifted direction. Only for a third to follow close on its heels. I began to wonder when we would ever get to leave the building.

How long is this going to go on? Are we going to spend the night here? 

I thought of our little dog back home and whether the weather was as deadly in Arlington as it was where we were. There was nothing I could do about Russet, other than to trust she would be okay.

Not long after that,  I noticed that women began to filter out if the restroom. I got up to walk out to look for Jeff. Was I ever relieved to find him sitting in our friend’s booth. I ran out to him, buried my face in his chest, and cried from relief on his strong shoulders.

After we stayed with Jackie a little while longer, he began to shut down his booth for the night. After the three of us shook hands and excahnged one-armed hugs, Jeff and I wandered out to the parking lot where our car appeared none the worse for wear and headed straight home, as emergency vehicles whizzed toward the scene of destruction and drivers huddled underneath bridges to shield their cars from hail that sounded like cannonballs when it hit the windshield.

Around six-thirty p.m., as we were nearing Lancaster, the rain stopped and the skies began to clear up. Although we had considered grabbing a bite on down the road, we decided to grab a few groceries at WinCo and head home, instead, where we heated  some soup, held each other for a long, long time before falling fell asleep in each other’s arms.

On Sunday morning, as we rode to church, I looked down at my gleaming silver-and- gold Bionic Band. I couldn’t help laughing at our human tendency to place our trust in “stuff”. Up to about three o’clock or so, on the day before, Jeff and I had placed our trust in two pieces of metal on our wrists until three tornadoes in rapid succession bore down on the city of Canton and left it in shock after many of its people were injured or killed  and many businesses demolished.

After living through my first tornado, I realized, even more than before, that they are no respecters of persons or places. They don’t make sense in the people they randomly injure or kill or the property they wipe out.

Whoa, but neither do they make sense in the people and places they spare. Among them, folks like us who happened to wander into Canton for one last hurrah.

Bottom line: we survived. We are safe. And, once again, we realized that we are blessed.

So, dear readers, here’s the question I have for you: have you ever wound up in the middle of a dangerous situation?

Many thanks to the Storm Chasers for risking their lives to produce this YouTube video of the in Canton, Texas tornadoes.




New Year’s Eve. On the last day of the year, many of us are buying champagne for “watch” parties. Stocking up on black-eyed peas. And counting the hours, minutes, and seconds until that little diaper-clad rug-rat, Baby New Year, arrives on 01-01 at 12:00 a.m. But, first, as the Circle of Life dictates, we must wait for  Father Time to breathe his last at  11:59:59. Birth is fun to celebrate; death, not. Still, death is a part of life and each of us has a date with it. In the vernacular, death creeps us out. So, if we just don’t talk about it, it won’t happen. Right?

Whoa — think again. Like other topics we avoid at dinner and cocktail parties, Death remains a lumbering, orchid ‘elephant’ in the room.

Yesterday, a friend on Facebook shared a link from Martha Atkins, a death educator and researcher, delivered a talk titled  “More to Dying Than Meets the Eye”. In her speech,  she related the happenings of people in their last hours and the metaphors they use — such as going on a trip or catching a train — when their time draws near.

As I listened to her speech, also available on, I remembered my own experiences with my grandmother and my mother. In February 1984, my eighty-five-year-old grandmother developed pneumonia. It was the final blow after falling out of her bed and breaking a hip. Although my parents had told me that Great Mom was unresponsive, my  sons and I tried to say things to rouse her, just one more time. Although she never responded, her eyeballs moved  under her eyelids and her eyebrows bobbed up and down as though she was talking to someone.

That was Friday, February 17. On Sunday morning, February 19, my mother called to tell me what the nurses told her: that the mottling of Great Mom’s skin indicated that she was in the process of passing away.

“If you want to see her one last time, you need to get here as soon as you can.”

As we expected, Great Mom passed away around three in the afternoon, with her only child — my daddy — my mother, and me at her bedside. To this day, I will never forget the pain I felt when I heard my Daddy break down and weep out loud as he laid his head on her body  and clung to her fragile hand.

That was my first  introduction to Death.Although I had worked in hospitals and even cleaned up a patient whose body was  going through the “death act”, watching my grandmother die was another matter, altogether.

Fast-forward to March 3, 2004. My mother, who had been diagnosed with Stage Four colon cancer, was in hospice at a local nursing facility. As I got ready to have lunch with one of her friends before meeting her at the facility so they could visit,  the phone rang.

“Ms. Terry? This is your mother’s nurse. I’m just calling to report that her hospice nurse has found her unresponsive.”

After postponing the lunch, I raced over to the facility. Surely enough, I couldn’t rouse her, either. The Director of Nurses called me out into the hall and pulled me aside.

“If you know anyone who would like to talk to your mother, one last time, this is the time to call them.”

So I called my sons and placed the cell phone on Mama’s pillow while they said good-bye to Grandma.

Because her roommate had been discharged, a week earlier, the extra bed was available in Mama’s room where she shared  with me her last seven days and some-odd hours and minutes. And, as it turned out, the heartbreak of not having any classes to teach in Sprng 2004 turned into a blessing, as I was able to be “present” for her.

Yesterday, as I listened to Atkins talk about death metaphors — going on ‘a trip’, catching a ‘train’ — I remembered Mama’s last week. After I rushed to her bedside, she rallied long enough to pet a therapy dog, munch an egg-salad sandwich, and visit with two friends until she got tired and  shooed us all out of there.

“Y’all get on outta here. I have to  work tomorrow.”

Unaware of what she was really doing, we chalkedit up to Mama’s personality and laughed. As it turned out, Mama didn’t “go to work” until a week later.

Atkins also talked about how the dying behave as their time draws near.They “reach” for things. They talk to or track people only they can see. Two days after the nurses told me that Mama was not responding, I fed her for the last time. Although she ate very little of the plate lunch and spat out the creamed spinach, she wiped out two Dixie cups of “fortified” vanilla ice cream. While I was spooning the treat into her waiting mouth, I couldn’t help feeling like Mama Bird feeding her baby a worm.

As it turned out, that ice cream  was the last thing Mama ate. Hours later, she started calling out to people.  Once a tomboy who rode horses when she was young, Mama raised up in bed and yelled, “Harse! harse!”. As she rocked her bed back and forth and chanted, “gliddom, gliddom, gliddom” as she galloped along..

That night was the last time she spoke. After the nurses dosed her with morphine drops ,they sent me home where I collapsed until the phone woke me again, on Saturday,  March 6.

“Your mother’s wedding band fell off her finger,” said the nurse. “If we put it back on, now, it would only fall off,  again, and get lost. We’ll just hang onto it and give it back for the viewing.”

The viewing. Of my mother. In a casket. The visual rendered me numb and forced to sit before I fainted.

Knowing I was too rattled  to drive myself over there, I called our go-to friends, a couple who had helped me take Mama to doctor’s visits and the hospital, no matter the time of day.

Mama lingered four more days. On Wednesday, March 10, she started talking to “someone” she saw near the top of the curtain that surrounded  her bed. While I couldn’t make out what she was saying, she was plainly answering someone — Jesus? Daddy? Or, perhaps, both?– as her gaunt face became rapturous and she moaned and nodded.

While the dying have their own metaphors, I had mine as well. The image of a plane leaving  the hangar and lifting off the runway. Having written some poems about the experience, myself, I shared them with her nurse. As Mama continued to nod and moan, the nurse and I shared meaningful looks.

“Is Mama doing what I think  she’s doing?”

“Um-hum. She’s getting orders from the Control Tower as we speak.”

At 1:00 p.m., my mother started making fish-out-of-water faces, as I was told she would do when her pacemaker started to run down. At 1:30 p.m., it quit. And so did she. At 2:00, the nurse who had registered us with the hospice rushed into the room, signed the death certificate, and sat quietly beside me as I waited for someone to pick me up.

As I sat beside Mama’s wasted  body and gazed at her jaundiced face, I felt awed at the gift she had bestowed upon me: allowing me to be there at her death.

Weeks later, I signed up for grief-recovery classes at my congregation. One  night, during the session, a facilitator told us about a book  called Final Gifts. I read it cover-to-cover and then turned around and read it again. As with Martha Atkins talk, the book was invaluable for anyone dealing with the death of a loved one. Months later, when my aunt passed away, I gave the book to my cousins. Since then, I have found out about the companion book,  Final Journeys..

I feel deeply honored that my grandmother and my mother allowed me to witness their passages from this world. As I read Callanan’s Final Gifts and listened to Atkins’s talk, “More To Dying Than Meets the Eye”, I treasured the information that each presented, in a matter-of-fact way, about a subject people dread. More and more often, authors such as Maggie Callanan and educators such as Martha Atkins are managing to  de-mystify death, the lavender ‘elephant’. Some experiences we live through change us. My parents’ deaths are two of them. Daddy went suddenly, the only way he would have wanted to go. Mama lingered, passing away four months of her diagnosis.

For people caring for family, The Caregiver Space site is a  treasure trove of resources and Atkins’s presentation informative and even entertaining.

After you check out the links, please feel free to offer your thoughts, experiences, and even suggestions in caring for a family member headed for the “final approach”.