Tornado Windfall

I eagerly anticipated starting college at Bowling Green State University, but had no idea how I was going to pay for it. The total cost: tuition, room and board was a whooping $1,100 my first year, lightened slightly by a $100 scholarship from the university. Living in the country so far from any city, offered few work options for summer work. Most of my friends worked on their farms. But in a primarily Catholic community, families were usually quite large. So, few needed extra labor.

Mom did line up one job for me – cleaning out a neighbor’s cistern. It was dirty work, with some real disgusting stuff down there. Maybe, I got $10 for the day. A long way to go to pay for a full year.

A few weeks later, a tornado swept through the county. We were just returning home, and could see the winds becoming fierce. A mass of debris was beginning to swirl around us. As we pulled into the lane, a large barn door ripped from its track, landing ten feet in front of our little Renault Dauphine. Dad wanted to get the car out of the way in case the rest of the barn went; so Don and I jumped out to move the door.

As we lifted the door from the ground, I grasped the handle. Just as I firmed my grip, a strong gust of wind swooped it into the air like a kite. Before I could let go of the handle, the door swept me backwards and flew over my head, leaving me flat on my back. I was stunned, but not injured. The four of us ran to the basement. The storm was loud and very spooky. When the storm passed, we climbed up to inspect the damage.

The edge of the storm had caught our farm, cutting wheat and corn crops to the ground like a giant scythe had swept past. Barn doors had been ripped from the hinges and smashed. The screens were all shredded and some windows broken. Rubbish and branches covered the yard. The paint was beaten off the metal roof of the house. It could have been worse, but the whole farm was a mess.

Fortunately, insurance would cover most of the damage — except for the crops. Few farmers could afford crop insurance then. My ever-resourceful mother saw it as an opportunity. She negotiated an arrangement with the insurance agent that allowed me to do much of the repair work and they would pay me for the labor. Of course, all the family pitched with the work. The few hundred dollars windfall helped kick start my education.