I can't believe it's been five years. He would have been 73.
One of my fondest memories of my Dad involved a tornado. I was 12; it was May 18, 1995. I remember the date precisely because it was the day of the "Anderson Hills Tornado" that swept through much of northwest Madison County in North Alabama.
I grew up in the Deep South, in an area colloquially called Tornado Alley. Sure enough, my home state of Alabama ranks as having some of the most tornadoes in the nation each year. The chaos in the spring time can be unreal.
Back in 1995 - and as it still rings true today - heeding a trusty tornado siren could mean the difference between life or death. And when you hear tornado sirens, you better run for cover. A siren can mean a funnel cloud has been spotted or a full-on tornado is in the area. Once you hear that definitive alarm, there's no messin' around. You can’t outrun a tornado.
So on that fateful spring day, the sirens went off. They could be heard like a sentinel throughout our small home. My dear sweet Momma ushered me into the hallway. I knew the drill. Same procedure as last time. We needed to take shelter in the bathtub, with the pillows and the portable radio and the cat. However, just when my feet were crossing the bathroom's threshold, Daddy slung open the patio door and hollered, "Betty! Candice! You wanna see a funnel??!"
I was 12. Of course I wanted to see a funnel! If a funnel cloud touches the ground, it becomes a tornado – and what kid doesn’t want to witness that? I took off running towards my Dad, trying to get outside as fast as I could. Momma lunged after me, yelling both my first and middle name. In the South, y'all, this means you’re in trouble and the belt is 'bout to come out.
I got to the back porch with my Momma not far behind. My young eager eyes impatiently scanned the ominous horizon. The sky was almost black. To this day, I've never seen the afternoon sky that dark. And the air was eerily still and quiet. Its stillness was alarming.
"Where, Daddy, where??!" I exclaimed. He turned his back to us, reached down to the ground, and in one fell swoop, turned around and showed off a big ol' red funnel used for motor oil. I was stunned. This was not the funnel I was looking for!
"DAYUM you, Jayyyyyy!" hooped and hollered my Momma like a miffed cockatiel. It was beyond hilarious. Daddy was tickled pink. Mom and I knew he had gotten us good, and none of us could stop laughing. We breathed a big sigh of relief that he wasn't showing us an actual funnel (though a funnel cake would have been nice), and we made our way back into the house, back to our bathroom shelter and pillows and cat.
Mom and I still laugh about it to this day. Daddy took the stress and scariness out of the moment. He added his jolly laughter to an out-of-control situation. He did what he did best - and I'll never forget it.
It's been five years, and I still miss those silly practical jokes. I miss the silent bonding, the hearty Santa Claus laughs, the way he’d tell me “take your time” if I was running late. I miss chasing storms together and the way he’d cut my hair and the smell of his coffee each morning. Five years from now, no doubt I will still miss all these things - and more.