It’s growing dark. The clouds have completely gobbled up the occasional stream of sunlight; it’s going to rain, no doubt about it. It’s muggy outside, even muggier inside; it’s going to storm.
But tornadoes? Surely it won’t be as severe as the weather forecasters are saying. Tornadoes? It’ll just be lightning and the first thunder of the year. Tornadoes?
But as the evening wore on, the reports came faster and more urgent— hail big as baseballs in Cullman, trees down in Southside. My neighbors, Joyce Hooten, Dianne Vanco and Karren Arnold, quietly wandered into the room and watched the hideous, pitch-black darkness wreck havoc on our world. But we could only imagine; it was dark, you understand. Not even a candle to light the way.
So we did the only thing we could do: We laughed, we told stories of other storms and trials in our lives, we put the TV on mute so we couldn’t hear the hail crashing on metal roofs.
Finally, they stopped giving updates on Channel 6, declaring “all seemed well.” One by one, my visitors drifted off to their rooms. I was alone with my memories, not exactly the best place to be. I closed my eyes; I awoke to the news.
There had been storms, right where the weather reports had said they would be. There were reports of horrible straight-line winds, destroyed cars, three-story buildings now decapitated in wild fashion into macabre, Edgar Allan Poe design.
My beloved Jacksonville State was devasted! I could hardly recognize my campus. Buildings, treasured pillars of knowledge — gone. But on closer look, Bibb Graves Hall stood through the morning fog. In the 1960s, when I studied there, Bibb Graves held most of my classes. Every room held illumination for my darkness — Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau.
I saw from history the scene of John C. Calhoun’s collapse on the Senate floor, gasping his last sorrowful pronouncement, “The South! The South! What will become of her?” My history teacher Mr. Moncrief, turned his back to the class and motioned for us to leave. Overcome by his emotion or the story, we left without a sound.
Then there was the time that my English III teacher, Dr. Rainwater, chose me to read aloud a paper I had written. Bibb Graves would always be there — always a symbol of learning.
And the library! The best place in the world to dream; high up on the top floor, where the fiction books were. There’s where I met Ray Bradbury and “drank my fill of dandelion wine”; read the most obscure poems of dear Emily; snuggled in a corner and whiled away the hours between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., when I could go to Dr. Rainwater’s class.
Those memories will remain long after the most devastating tornados have blown away the most perfectly built buildings. They will be the lights in the darkness, as they were for me. A single candle to light the path! Where they are needed, ‘round town.
Glenda Byars is a correspondent for The Gadsden Times. Send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.