Friday, June 19, 2009

Flashback Friday: Twister

Way back in the day, when we lived in High River, before my sister lived next door, and before the Olsons had moved in, our next-door- neighbour friends were Hollis and Harley. (No really...those were their names. Didn't I ever tell you that I lived in a "Modern Town with a Western Tradition," whose population didn't hit 10,000 until 2005, and that I not-so-secretly think is the Canadian equivalent to Hicksville, USA? Well, I did.) I can never remember what their last name is; I always want to say it's Davidson, but I'm pretty positive that's not right.

They were fine neighbours, but they were boys. That meant that we ended up playing street hockey and other boyish activities lot which, as the only girl on my street, meant that I had to fight to be included in anything my brothers did after school.

Their parents were nice, too, but they weren't the type of people we had over for dinner and we weren't the type of people we had over for dinner. Apparently, because we never did. But they were good "fence neighbours" like Wilson on Home Improvement. Our moms would chat if they came home from work at the same time. Sometimes we'd knock on each other's door looking for stray children.

Their dad would sit outside on his "smoking chair" and smoke because he wasn't allowed to smoke in the house. He'd just sit outside and watch us play while getting his fix. Sometimes he really looked like he was enjoying himself, like when he'd come out to smoke during a beautiful late evening sunset in the summer. Other times he didn't look so comfortable, like when he'd go out to smoke during a beautiful early evening sunset in the dead of winter. Even we weren't outside playing then; we'd just peek out the windows and wonder if he really thought it was worth it. Apparently he did because he kept doing it.

Our yard was an interesting shape. My dad always described it as "pie shaped," but I never understood that. I suppose it could be considered "wedge-shaped," although that makes me think of triangles and our yard certainly wasn't a triangle, either. It was definitely narrower in the front than in the back, like how a triangle might look if you cut off one of the tips. Wouldn't that be called a trapezoid? I think so. Our yard was shaped like a trapezoid. It was a very long trapezoid and probably would have turned into a triangle soon after crossing the street, if we followed our property lines.

There was a time when we didn't have a fence, so the combined space of our neighbours' (Harley and Hollis, remember?) yard with ours made an excellent mini-field for games like tag and jackpot and catch. The backyard was big, but with the balcony, swing set, trampoline, and garden there were too many obstacles to avoid, so mostly we stuck to playing between our houses. Unless, of course, we were making use of the trampoline or swing set.

One summer afternoon, things got eerily quiet and the sky turned a dark purplish-grey color. We ended our game and went inside, unsure of what the weather had in store for us.

Southern Alberta is prone to rather surprising weather. Freak snowstorms and killer hailstorms in the summer; warm Chinook winds or blizzards in the winter. The weather is anything but constant. It can be -20 one day and +10 the next. You can go to bed in June, expecting to run in the sprinklers the next day, only to wake up to a few inches of snow. The weather just isn't something you can count on.

Wikipeida has this to say about the weather around Calgary (emphasis added):
General seasons (not well-defined in Calgary due to highly variable climate)
  • Winter: mid-October to mid-April
  • Spring: mid-April to May
  • Summer: June to August
  • Autumn: September to mid-October
After retiring indoors, we sat by our bay window to watch the storm clouds gather at an alarming rate. The sky was swirling, the wind was howling, thunder was crackling, and soon the yard was covered with hailstones. We thought it was a pretty good storm.

And then it got worse. The sound was deafening and the force amazing. My dad instructed us to close the windows and let out the drain pipes, so we quickly ran outside to let down the pipes to the gutters, and then ran back inside to close the windows. Our windows were hinged and swung open to the outside. To close them you had to crank a little handle. As hard as we cranked, no one could get the windows to close. The wind kept sucking them open.

The weather was absolutely raging.

Later, our neighbours' mom would describe it to the local newspaper. "It sounded like a train running between the houses," she said. Or at least, that's what I remember her saying. I didn't want to pay the $15 required to look up the article in the archives (lame!), but apparently a tornado went right between our house and next door. Our rooftop was featured in the local news because our neighbour had run outside to snap a picture of the funnel after it had passed.

I suppose it wasn't exactly a full-blown tornado when it was going between our houses, though. It had already touched down by the train tracks and ruined a few steel grain silos. It touched down again (or a second tornado from the same storm did) on Highway 2, after it had passed our house, and basically landed on a semi-truck, completely mangling it and the driver inside (who happened to be one of my mom's cousins). He was rescued by the jaws of life, and miraculously made a full recovery. His company, however, fired him for damaging company property, or something lame like that. I can't remember quite, but at a family gathering in Raymond, some of the grownups were talking about it and everyone was pretty upset about it.

We were lucky it didn't touch down by our house. I imagine would would have had some pretty hefty damage if it had. All it did was throw Patrick's little teeder todder across the yard and blow another neighbour's outside furniture around.

Still, it was the scariest storm I had ever witnessed and made me rethink the thrill of being a "storm chaser" (this was back in the mid-1990s and the movie Twister had either just come out or was about to). Oddly enough, I can't find any record of this happening (in the news (Calgary Herald only has online archives through 2004) or on wikipedia), although I know it did and I know it was reported about. I wonder if I'll ever find real documentation about this...


  1. Oh, and it did damage at our house. It twisted my cemented-in basketball hoop so it was no longer completely straight with the driveway.

    Even more disconcerting was that Patrick and I (and maybe a few others) were at the park 5 minutes or so before the tornado. I looked up and said, "looks like a storm is coming" and we ran inside. Then, in the pelting rain and hail immediately preceding the tornado, Dad and I ran outside to lower the storm gutters. About a minute later, Mrs. Jacobson was rushing out to get her camera and take the pictures. So yes, I was outside during a tornado as it was tearing through our town and going over our house. At least it was only F1-2.

  2. Um I remember it just a little differently, because YOU all were inside and I was outside trying to get it. I couldn't open the front door, I couldn't open the back door, and I was luckylily under the patio/porch/balcony/massively unstable thing trying the basement back door... So yeah I was crying trying to get inside while you were trying to get the windows closed. It was horrible (this is patrick if it doesn't work)

  3. Isn't it interesting how we all remember things differently?

    I'm sure that someone was taking care of you, Patrick, although I'm also sure you were scared. We didn't have a back basement door in High River...we had a side garage door and a door that lead onto the massively unstable thing we so bravely called a balcony. Oh, and a front door.

    You must be combining a nightmare with the real memories or mixing up houses. Our house in PoCo had a back basement door under the more-stable back balcony that lead onto the cement pad where we kept the cat house...

  4. To really add confusion to this, I remember watching funnel clouds from your back door. I only remember because I learnt the word from your parents. I don't remember much else, I don't think I was there for the worst of it. But I remember mom talking about your house afterwards.

  5. Wasn't our house the one that was in the picture which appeared in the paper? I think it was--did Mrs. Jacobson take that picture? I think she did...

    Anyways, all I know is that I was in Calgary at the downtown library at a meeting and missed the whole thing!