I find myself peering up toward the clouds. The imaginary figures and shapes can't be touched, but their presence exists. Sometimes our truths and memories mingle in and out of these clouds. I begin to see the shape of the beautiful twelve-room house and my mind gathers the pieces of the stories I've heard before. Eldorado, Oklahoma. A father and his sons joining forces to make a farm a family business.. Three Pendley sons marry three Palmer daughters. Eight hundred acres, one hundred cattle, two large family houses - one is Adolphus's, the other, Cicero's. Raymond must live in town.
How can a two-year-old perceive the panic of everyone hustling to the storm cellar that hot August afternoon? She feels the vibrating floorboards beneath her as Momma runs toward her, picking her up like a sack of flour. With Rozelle's hand in their mother's vise grip, they all head for the cellar door. Mavis's tiny arms reach in parallel stiffness over Momma's shoulder toward the cornfields where Daddy and her brothers are trying to harvest the last crop. Behind them in the southwestern sky looms the heavy black funnel heading toward the house. She only knows Daddy and brothers are not with her.
Earlier Mavis had busied herself on the cool front porch on the two-story home. A rag doll and wooden building blocks transformed into a princess and a castle for her five-year-old sister, Rozelle. Mavis only relished the texture of the doll's dress - pretty, and the challenge of stacking one block on top of another. Peace with Rozelle by her side. Calm.
All this child's comfort suddenly ripped away. Destroyed. Running and grabbing and pushing to be shut away in a dark, musty storm cellar. Mavis is witless with fear. Where is Daddy? Where is Carroll ? Where is Taylor?
In the cornfields Adolphus sees the tornado driving its deadly path toward the house, hi a single motion he throws his two sons on the horse, and with a slap on her dappled rump, the mare carries them toward the barn. Adolphus's feet answer before his mind registers, "I've got to get to the house. I've got to beat the tornado." He flies through the rows, the leaves, stalks and husks ripping at his face.
By the time he reaches the storm cellar door, the tornado is tearing through the fields. He screams into the cellar pit, "Emma, Emma, is everyone here?" Once her familiar voice reaches his ears, he turns to seal in himself and his family from the raging anger outside. Focusing his sand-blistered eyes on his wife, small, worn, and fighting her own panic, he hears her urgent reassurance through the darkness, "It's OK. We're all safe, now." The deafening roar outside batters their ears with Satan's cacophony.
How does a man continue to hold on to his strength and courage when he opens that cellar door? The push to open it takes the strength of the two young boys and their father to finally free the family from their safe prison. Emma and Adolphus step out into the yard.
The hail and rain and wind had moved on and the sun spread its rays to the torn earth once again. The smell of the wet ground encourages Mavis to bravely toddle up the rough cellar steps on her own. Wet squishy mud puddles invite her feet and hands to play. The rest of the children emerge from the cellar leaving their fears inside the dark womb. The tall man and the tiny woman walk to the edge of the yard. The funnel had twisted its tail and turned away from the house but splintered the barn into a pile of sticks. In tandem their heads turned toward the field. The last chance feeder crop lay flat, trampled by the hail.
His shoulders, square with inherited pride, quiver from the force to keep them firm. Suddenly aware of his unnatural absence of breathing, he slowly releases the fearful lung air using every ounce of strength to keep the exhaled breath from spewing forth in racking sobs.
On a snowy 1923 Christmas day, the First National Bank of Eldorado foreclosed on the Pendley Farm, taking the two houses, the land, the cattle, and a car to pay the $4000 loan. The families were left with two wagons, two horses, four head of cattle, 12 chickens, and two mattresses. The day after Christmas they load up the wagons and head for West Texas to start all over again.
My cloud is breaking into a whisper of white and blue, and I can no longer see the image, but my soul looks up to capture and hold tightly the essence of memory that remains in my bones. The clouds will return, creating more shapes and memories.