On Good Friday when our daughter, Laurie, called to tell us to look for shelter at a Cracker Barrel, the middle Tennessee sky looked overcast, but not threatening. Within minutes after we hung up large pellets of ice that sounded like rocks hitting a tin roof pounded our gray Avalon. But there was no Cracker Barrel in sight, so we stopped under a bridge behind several other cars and a van. My husband, Rick, got out his laptop and pulled up a map that showed massive splotches of red and yellow all around the area where we were parked. While I stared at the grass flattened by strong wind an eighteen wheeler with its trailer waving passed by; after it, an ambulance with its siren blaring. After the hail stopped I said, “Rick we have to move to a safer place.”
Staring at the computer, I noticed a tiny sliver of green, indicating rain between one of the storm markings. Almost simultaneously, the sky cleared to a drizzle and the grass returned to its normal position. “The Cracker Barrel.”
“O.K., they’re bound to have one in Murfreesboro, but how can I pull out with all these vehicles speeding past us?”
“You’ll have to move up there.” I pointed to a spot beside the road that had turned to mud while we had sat behind it. Our tires spun in the mush momentarily, but then we merged safely, seeing the Cracker Barrel within the next three minutes.
After we parked Rick said, “I’m going to get out the laptop again and see what’s happening, but you can go inside if you want.”
Needing to stretch my legs, I put on my black raincoat and sloshed through the parking lot. When I entered the restaurant, a group of customers meandered about in the gift shop. Thinking they probably had come in to get out of the storm too, I joined them, strolling to a clearance rack of jackets and blouses. Soon the room grew dead silent. I let go of the beige shirt I held and looked around. Everyone had disappeared as though they’d suddenly been scooped up. I poked my head out from behind the display to see a concerned looking manager in a burgundy tee-shirt, who held a cell phone or an I-pod. (Technically inept, I’m not sure which). He spoke to another fellow in a matching shirt. “On radar, it’s close,” he said. Then he spotted me. “Ma’am, if it hits us you’ll be better off in the hall with everyone else.” He pointed to the area between the men’s and ladies’ bathrooms.
I couldn’t believe my ears. “Is one coming our way?”
“All right, but I need to tell my husband. He’s in the car in the parking lot.”
A pleasant looking waitress with salt and pepper colored hair, who wore a light blue shirt and black pants said, “No ma’am, you go back where it’s safe in case we get debris from the roof or our merchandise. We’ll get your husband.”
I got a sinking feeling in my gut, but I joined the crowd of men, women and children. I must have looked as confused as I felt, because a slender, young blonde-headed woman said, “Hi, the manager says we’re okay here if it touches down again. We were in the bathrooms when the tornado hit downtown Murfreesboro.”
Clearly understanding the danger for the first time, I was stunned. “I guess I was under the bridge.”
“You’re better off here.”
“Yes, I think I am.”
Finally, Rick entered the hallway, where we waited until the manager said, “All right, they’ve closed Interstate Twenty-four. However, if you’re going to Eight-forty you probably can make it now. It won’t be safe here until about 4:00 p.m., but you all can get ahead of the twister.”
Rick quickly thanked the managers. While waiting for him I heard an elderly man giving the young blonde directions to take her around Twenty-four. Then, strolling by others chatting on their way outside, we left.
The hazard we narrowly escaped now swirled behind us, but more headed toward us -- getting to Eight-forty to turn northwest out of its path our only hope. Just one and one-half miles north of the Cracker Barrel trees snapped part way up hung helpless along the side of the road, behind them a house with no roof. Farther up the highway more pines were cracked in half, branches strewn. Additional homes barely stood on damaged structures with exposed pink insulation draped over fragile fragments of boards while dozens of police cars flashed blue lights. An ambulance sat near an overturned eighteen wheeler that blocked the south side of the road. With traffic backed up for miles behind it people walked around their vehicles, looking at the devastation of limbs, boards and bricks. We passed by a wrecked car that apparently had rolled across the north side of the road and turned upside down in the grass just beyond the shoulder. “Rick, it looks like a bomb exploded here. When do we get out of its path? Do you think we’ll make it before this thing strikes again?”
“The exit can’t be too far.”
Within five minutes after I asked we turned into safety. We later heard that the EF-4 tornado had hit downtown Murfreesboro at 170 miles per hour while we were under the bridge; then, started its path of destruction southeast toward Chattanooga. It destroyed 700 structures, killed two people and injured forty. One twister stayed on the ground for thirty-five minutes, covering over twenty miles. It was nearly one-half mile wide at its broadest point.
But we were in America’s Bible belt, where we found refuge with kind people who took care of us. Later that night when I turned on the news, I learned so many people had volunteered to help in Murfreesboro some had to be sent away. One lady interviewed said, “Somebody had food delivered to my house, and I don’t even know who it was.”
When actions spring from Bible based beliefs, we take care of each other. I hope when I see a person in one of life’s tornadoes, weather related or otherwise, I can respond in a way pleasing to God.
Matthew 25:40: “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”