I can’t say that I have PTSD or any other effects from my traumatic experience from 36 years ago. I do admit I do get nervous when the weather alerts start beeping and squealing to alert us of a tornado watch. I think anyone who went through what I went through would get nervous. People that didn’t go through what I went through get nervous. Tornado watches scare me, warnings make me start thinking of my plan of action in the event a tornado heads my way. My main worry is keeping my Fur Babies safe. How could I do that? If a tornado would come through a campground, the tin cans on wheels we live in would not stand up to the winds.
Heck, a three story hotel didn’t stand up to the winds when my tornado came through. I remember it like it was yesterday. This coming May will be 36 years since that awful day.
Back in 1984, my first husband of nine years and I divorced. I didn’t work those nine years and really didn’t have any hireable skills. I worked part-time in a craft store one of my girlfriends owned. I had a bunch of girlfriends. We were very active. We bowled, we golfed, we played Euchre tournaments, we traveled and we played Bocce at several of the clubs. I was what they called a pointer when playing Bocce. I was pretty good at it.
Each week when we showed up at Bocce, a man that owned a bar down in the flats of Wheatland would pester me to come and bartend for him. I told him I knew how to drink mixed drinks, I did not know how to mix them. This bar was not even the type of bar I would go to. It was on the first floor of a very old hotel. People rented rooms on the top floor. Weekends were busy at the bar. A DJ would play on Friday and Saturday evenings. Week after week, the bar owner would ask me to bartend for him, and week after week I would say no. On his last attempt, he asked if I would just come down to the bar on a Saturday afternoon and just go behind the bar and just see if it would be something I would like. He said if I didn’t like it, he would quit asking.
Fast forward to May 31, 1985. Apparently, I had a good time on that Saturday afternoon because I was working at the bar on May 31, 1985. I worked from 3 pm to 8 pm six days a week. When I first started working that shift the bar was empty. After a few months of working that shift, the bar was packed. All bar stools were taken and it was standing room only. I must have been doing something right. I was so busy that the owner hired one of my best friends. Janine and I enjoyed working together.
It was around 6 pm, when the neighborhood cop came in and told us a tornado wiped out Atlantic, a small community an hour from Wheatland. I turned on the TV in the bar hoping I would hear about the tornado. Nothing was said about the tornado. It was a Friday afternoon and the bar should have been packed but it wasn’t. We had the doors open in the bar. It was very windy that day. The doors kept slamming shut so I remember wedging a chair against the door to keep it open.
Remember I said the bar during our 3 to 8 shift was full and standing room only. Well, this Friday evening, there were only around 12 of us in the bar. Janine and I were having fun because we didn’t have a crowd in the bar. We were laughing with our customers.
Around 7:10 pm the electricity went out. I couldn’t get the cash register open. I know there was a button to manually open it but I didn’t know where it was. Some of the guys went outside to the side courtyard and came in throwing hail at us.
Around 7:15pm, Albert, the owner called. The guys that were throwing hail balls at us were outside getting more hail balls. They came running in yelling tornado. Janine answered the phone and when she heard a tornado, she hung up on Albert. I remember asking Janine why she hung up on Albert because I needed him to tell me how to open the cash drawer. I was not real concerned. We were in a huge building. No basement but we would be fine. So I thought! Albert called back, I answered the phone and all Albert heard was me screaming “HELP ME ALBERT”. Then the line went dead. The building was coming down on us. The tornado was an F5, 300+ mph winds a mile wide.
The tornado that I call “my tornado” was an F5 Killer Tornado.
During the tornado, Janine and I were holding onto each other. As I was screaming that we were going to die, Janine was screaming out for Hail Mary to save us, and that she did. When it was over the hotel, all three floors were leveled to the ground. Nothing was left. The Hotel was gone. Wheatland was destroyed.
I don’t like to talk about it because I don’t like to think about it. I lost 5 friends.
Mike was in the bar with us. He was crushed under two walls.
Dave was at the ball field. He saved his niece and her friend, but he didn’t make it.
Bobby was a paraplegic that lived across the street from the bar. His family tried to get him to the basement. Didn’t make it.
Tony was an elderly man that got hit in the head with debris. He passed away a few days later.
Herb was an elderly man that got blown out of his second-story bedroom. He passed away a week later.
No, I don’t have PTSD but yes, tornado watches and warnings do make me nervous. Yes, living in a tin can on wheels can be very scary when the wind gusts get strong.
This is a picture of the hotel back in 1905 and it looked the same when I was a bartender there.
The day after. This was all that was left of the hotel. My car was a really neat TransAm.
The owner’s son Brett sifting through the rubble the following day. Yes, that was all that was left. A bar stool.
God Bless, Stay Safe, Be Kind to Every Kind and always remember prayers are heard.