Friday, March 27, 2015

The Reality of Tornados

1965 Palm Sunday tornado, as it appeared in
Dunlap Indiana
Recently, I saw the attached (below) video of the April 11, 1965 Palm Sunday tornado damage that killed my aunt and destroyed my folks, grandparents and great grandparents homes.  In addition, the death toll, injuries and property damage ranks this tornado one of the deadliest in history.  Starting about frame 46, it shows a two story white farm house after the tornado between Kokomo and Greentown Indiana.

I thought I'd share that tornado from my perspective.

My folks lived on a farm a mile off Route 31 between Kokomo and Greentown Indiana.  The road was then called "Pumpkin Vine Pike".  I lived in that house from second grade until I married.  At the time of the tornado, I lived in Kokomo some fifteen minutes away.

We had visited mom and dad that Palm Sunday.  I had a toddler, Trent, and we played outside in the yard.  It was sunny, very windy and a bit chilly.  Trent had been put down for a nap in the upstairs bedroom in a baby bed.  Towards late afternoon the three of us had returned home.

Trent's father worked at Kokomo's St. Joseph Hospital.  All medical facilities had disaster plans which included all personal even if you weren't in a medical profession.

After dark, we heard a storm which included hail.  The sky had been a peculiar pea soup green.  Because it was so loud, after it stopped we went outside and found hail balls the size of softballs.  Most had debris embedded and the air had an unpleasant chemical smell.  At about this time, my husband received a phone call to report to work for a disaster event.

Some time later my husband called to say there had been a tornado and it had gone down the road where my folks lived.  He had checked the ER and admissions and they weren't listed.  He knew nothing else about them.

As was typical among most young families during that era, we had only one car and I had no means to go out to check on my family.  I tried to call them and could not get through.  We lost power and I couldn't listen to the radio or TV.  I sat and waited.

Several hours later there was a knock on the door and a neighbor of my folks came to get me.  He said my folks were alive and not injured but their place had been destroyed.  Dad had asked him to come get me to fetch my mother to my house.  I left my young son with my neighbor and we left.

Their neighbor had a station wagon and he'd been taking injured people to St. Joseph Hospital because there wasn't enough ambulances to transport everyone.  He stopped by my house on the way back to the damage sites.

This neighbor also told me the tornado had hit my grandparent's home where a cousin and his family now lived.  They were not injured but the house and outbuildings destroyed.  My great-grandparent's home had also been destroyed.  My uncle & aunt now lived there.  The neighbors and family were currently digging through the bricks to find my aunt.  She was a school teacher and had been home alone in the two story brick home, grading papers at the kitchen table, when the tornado caused the house to implode.  She was eventually found beneath the refrigerator - deceased.

The trip there on that very dark night was a fuzzy mess of tangled images.  It was hard to know where I was because landmarks were so distorted.  Upon arriving it was difficult to tell exactly where things had stood because so much was simply gone.  Dad insisted on staying with the house all night because looting had already been reported at other sites.   Being a tough old farmer, he was not about to be budged.  In truth, he was probably in some kind of shock and functioning on adrenaline and survival mode.  Mom was pretty much dazed and I led her home.  Both were extremely dirty.

Mom shared the events.  She had always been scared of storms and I remember spending a good part of my childhood sitting in the basement waiting for a storm to blow over.  Needless to say, as a group we made fun of mom over these trips.  This day she had gone upstairs to close the windows as it had started to rain and had just come down stairs and gone into the kitchen.

At that moment, the tornado hit the house.  Mom got under the kitchen table and was being thrown around pretty good in addition to being lifted off the floor.  Dad had positioned himself in the doorway between the kitchen and dining room because he knew it was double thickness since the kitchen had been an add-on.  He finally was able to grab mom and hold onto her until the tornado passed.  The entrance to the basement was outside so even if they had thought of going there, it would have been too late.

This tornado was one of five super cells that evening.  Our neighboring towns of Kokomo, Russiaville, Alto and Greentown all had much destruction.  At this time, the tornados were F4.  All total, there were 78 tornadoes (38 significant, 19 violent, 21 killers) hitting the Midwest.  In Indiana, 137 people were killed and 1,200 injured (the deadliest in Indiana's history.)  In Howard County the death toll was 18 with 600 injured.  The tornadoes occurred in a 450 mile swath west to east and 200 mile swath north to south.  It lasted eleven hours and in terms of number, strength, width, path and length of tornados, it was one of the move severe ever recorded.  When the tornado destroyed my family's homes, it was a mile wide.

As you can see in the before picture, the front of the house was a two story (left) that held six rooms, the stairway and a front porch.  The one story middle held the kitchen, a bathroom and two side porches.  The back was a two story that held four rooms, a stairway and a side porch.  The outbuildings included a coal shed, garage, workshop, two large corncribs with areas for machinery, an outhouse, some other small structures and the big main barn.  The big barn had two levels of haymows, a large middle machinery portion and sides large enough to feed and house many animals.

The property had many old large trees including a catalpa grove.  After the tornado, the entire back two story of the house was gone, the kitchen was severely damaged, the downstairs dining room furniture was in one of the upstairs bedrooms, and the baby bed mattress was wedged in a window frame.  In the surviving front rooms, even though windows were gone and there were holes in the walls, the pictures were still hanging on the walls as perfectly as before.

All trees were either gone or severely damaged.  We were told the tornado was a combination that would break off into as many as five fingers and then reform into one huge storm.  The damage at my folks gave that impression because the front yard was wiped out, the front of the house still stood, the back was gone, some of the next farm buildings left standing and the big barn gone.

In recent years, farmland across the road had been sold for new homes and they all were severely damaged although no one was killed.  Others before and after it hit my folks house would not be so fortunate.

From walking through my folks house afterward, it became clear survival isn't predictable.  (Although we all granted to mom if they had been in the basement, they would have been much safer.)  As I thought about where I would have tried to hide, I'd soon see it was a place where a huge board was imbedded or other debris would have been a killer.  Why my dad chose that door and how he was able to grab my mother - and why nothing came through that doorway - or why they weren't whisked up the stairs with the dining room furniture and on and on the unanswerable questions occur.

One of the creepy things was the slow moving line of cars that continually passed by the house.  Faces turned toward us, eyes round at the horrible destruction and then not meeting our eyes.  It was like a funeral procession driving by and feeling embarrassed to be staring.  At times it made me angry because we could have used more help and other times I understood the curiosity and I ignored them.

My folks never totally recover from the tornado.  Since they didn't own the land, they bought a house in Kokomo.  It suited mom well but the realization that dad would not be dropping in every so often because he farmed some twenty minutes away made for a more lonely time.  Dad was of an age where starting over someplace else, with the expense of all new equipment, eventually put an end to his farming for himself.  Always busy, he continued working for others but he sorely missed farming all the rest of his life.

My widowed uncle rebuilt a modern home on the same site with bricks from the old place.  His son and family live there now but others farm the land.

My cousin rebuilt a modern home on the same site and had to build all new farm buildings.  They continue to farm the land.

Eventually, the owner where my folks lived razed everything on the property and with the exception of a small grassy plot, I find it hard to even visualize where my home had sat.

The houses across the road have been rebuilt.

Mom and dad lived with us for three months while they bought another house.  Mom continued to wake up frightened every time she heard a train during the night.  (We lived two houses from a main railroad track in Kokomo.)

Because this part of Indiana and this era in time was where neighbors for many miles knew and cared for each other (many related), the miles and miles of tornado damage touched everyone.

This is where I saw for the first time large scale help from neighbors, family, friends and strangers.  One day shortly after the tornado, Amish families showed up, called upon dad and then walked the fields picking up all debris as they went.  This was especially valuable as simple things like paperwork and pictures were scattered.  In a larger sense, they also found farm animals.

Also, destroyed in this tornado was the school in Greentown where I graduated and the grade school in Taylor Township where I went to one through eight.  Both schools were rebuilt.

My childhood memories are simply that:  memories.  The homes where I lived and visited family are gone.  The schools are gone.  Many of the homes of friends and neighbors are gone.  Granted most have been rebuilt but my memories are sheltered in those pictures of the past.

As a result of this series of tornados, NOAA has changed the way they warn and how they warn the public.  They've also changed their thinking on the tornadoes forming fingers and then going back together - they now think there are tornadoes within tornadoes.

I believe in knowing what's going on weather wise.  I have a weather alert device that has a siren I can hear when out in the yard.  I have weather alert on my cell phone.  For people who think they are too macho or too cool to take shelter during a severe weather WARNING - silly, silly, deadly silly.  Do I run for the basement every time there's a WATCH?  No, but I
I'm more aware.    

So to answer the question:  Am I afraid of bad weather or tornados?  The answer is:  I'm not afraid.  I have learned to respect what nature can do and to take precautions.  And I'm truly grateful when we have a year without a tornado even close to our area.  Really really grateful.

"Death Out of Darkness" Palm Sunday Tornadoes 1965 - is a public safety documentary by the Indiana State Police.  Note: The advice on what to do is not used anymore but the commentary and videos are riveting.

Side Note:  If you're into storms and preparedness I have two other articles:  Storms "Spring Weather" in 2009 and Tornado Warnings "Skirtin' on the Edge of Normal" 2014.

An old photo of our house prior to the tornado.  The two-story
portion to the back (R) was completely gone as were the

 rest of the building you can barely see in the background.

1965 palm sunday tornado howard county indiana pt 1.wmv    Big white 2-story house in frame (seconds) about 56.  

More Garden Catalogs

Check out the flickr stream from the Biodiversity Heritage Library (and their web page) for many MANY catalogs.  They include every page within not just the covers.   The BHL has just completed a social media blitz on their extensive library of old catalogs because they consider it a way to follow America's garden history and what the catalog industry did to make changes.  They also have a web page, are on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and a Blog (and a whole host of other devices I don't use.)

"The Biodiversity Heritage Library is a consortium of major natural history, botanical, and research libraries that cooperate to digitize and make accessible the literature of biodiversity held in their collections as a part of a global "biodiversity commons."

Biodiversity Heritage Library's incredible seed and nursery catalogs

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Historical Garden Catalogs

Garden catalogs are specifically meant to sell a company's product.  They've been around for well over a hundred years and today have expanded from paper to web based.  

Gardeners typically treasure catalogs like they would a new baby in the family.  They hold them, keep them and dream about the future.

I have a place where you can visit catalogs (or basically their front cover page) of years past and enjoy the pure beauty of heirloom plants.  Most of the old ones have plants drawn/painted by famous artists which rival master pieces.  

These catalogs also take you to what plants were popular during those periods in time; many have since been lost.  If you're looking to have a garden full of heirloom plants, a cottage garden or even a little patch of nostalgia, these catalogs are a good place to start dreaming.

I recently stumbled upon a HUGE collection at the Smithsonian Institute's site.  I seriously don't know why I don't research their collections more since they seem to have one of everything and more than I ever knew I wanted to see.  At any rate, check out their web site or if you're a Pinterest cruiser, simply enter in "Smithsonian Garden Catalogs".  

I have noticed most of the old seed companies are Midwest in location.  And most are no longer in existence or they've been gobbled up by some non garden corporation.

In addition to ideas for your own garden, these prints make beautiful wall hangings.  Note:  some are copywrited.

Here are a few of the beautiful catalog covers I've especially enjoyed:

Speaking of the Smithsonian Institute, check out the many gardens on line or while visiting Washington DC.  They have some thirteen different gardens and other smaller venues in addition to their many garden/plant related collections.   

Monday, March 23, 2015

Green With Envy

Chartreuse is my new favorite color - there I've said it and I don't take it back!

"Chartreuse is a French liqueur made by the Carthusian Monks since 1737 according to the instructions set out in the secret manuscript given to them by Francois Annibal d'Estrees  in 1605. 

It is composed of distilled alcohol aged with 130 herbs, plants and flowers. The liqueur is named after the Monks' Grande Chartreuse monastery, located in the Chartreuse Mountains in the general region of Grenoble in France. 

Chartreuse gives its name to the Colour chartreuse, which was first used as a term of colour in 1884."  This historical description totally misses the garden wow factor.  And WOW is what chartreuse is in the plant world.

Chartreuse will become the background for other colors; allowing them to shine while giving it all a clean background.

Chartreuse will become the support for other colors; helping to make them brighter and enliven the whole.  It blends with most any other color giving it the title "the new neutral".

Chartreuse will become the focal point of the show by glowing and drawing the eye.

Nature has provided chartreuse and hybridizers have engineered others and I can't get enough.  From flowers to leaves it is everywhere and in many species.  Some of my tried and loved:

I have a big beautiful lemon yellow spider daylily (top) 
with a glowing chartreuse eye.   
The other is an unknown variety that simply 
punches out in partial shade. 
They must be the focal point.  

These powerfully fragrant chartreuse nicotiana flowers 
play a support roll for other flowers. 
Hosta "Golden Sceptre" 
Hosta "Chartreuse Wiggles"
Hostas have many beautiful varieties with partial or full chartreuse leaves.  There are varying degrees of yellow in the green of chartreuse.  Some shades depend on the amount of light bouncing off the petals or leaves.  In bright sun they may look lemon or light yellow.  In shadier situations, they go chartreuse.  Or they may fade to a medium green in the shade.  It's an experiment worth blending.

Petunia "Crazytunia Star Jubilee"

Hybridizers have really been going crazy with chartreuse petunias.  
This little wren  house actually is a soft chartreuse.
Then there are all the non-plant accents to add punch to your gardens.  Consider a little or a lot of chartreuse this summer.  The nurseries are full of beautiful examples just waiting for you.  

Coleus moments after being set in the pot.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

30 Signs You're a Midwest Gardener


You consider salvaged barn boards a decorative essential.

You’ve hung more “vintage scrap” in your trees than birdhouses.

Snow on the ground in February is a sign God really does want you to spend another evening looking at seed catalogs.

You’ve made a sitting bench out of an old door, horseshoes, cement blocks, hay bales or other handy stuff and been proud of your work.

You consider it a competitive sport being able to sneak extra zucchini to other people without their knowing it was you.

The first bite of the first tomato from your garden actually brings tears to your eyes.

You still plant some things every year because they remind you of your grandma’s garden.

Part of every garden party is a game of “bags”.

You’ve spent some time on a “fine” afternoon looking up at the sky and just being.

You learned to spit a watermelon seed in grade school and still feel the pull when kids are doing it today.

Using antique hand wrought square nails on a garden project is like gilding a project with gold.
Flooded spring fields

You have tried herbal and natural fertilizers as they become the “in” thing and still prefer the number one natural fertilizer: horse manure.

You can talk about manure as enthusiastically as some folks talk about their new game box.

You understand the power of weather will always trump the best garden plan.

You’ve actually shed tears when a neighbor’s crops have been damaged by hail or wind.

 If you love God, you praise Him with wonder every time you see some magnificent work of nature unfold.
After an ice storm

You’ve spent some time watching an insect do it’s thing.

You’ve taken advantage of the cycles of nature to explain life to a child.

You are more proud of your work worn hands than if you were a hand model for an advertisement.

You smile when you see a little spilled corn or beans along a roadside knowing it will feed some critters tonight.

You’re proud to know a farmer who donates part of their family’s grain to feed the hungry. 

You’ve taken a chance on something new for the garden and been blown away at how great it turned out.
Morning fog and frost

Your Pinterest page is full of different kinds of handmade row markers for gardens.

You know how to hitch one foot up on the bumper of a pick-up truck and talk about the weather. 

Work boots are so essential you have a special place to put them so they’ll always be ready for any job.

You know what it’s like to nurse a little newborn animal when you’re all it has between life and death.

You consider yourself Blessed every time you can give away produce from your garden to someone who no longer can garden or hasn’t the opportunity.
Somewhere over the rainbow

You would no more get Botox for sun squint wrinkles than throw away your grandpa’s pitchfork.

Man, woman, child or baby - you own at least one pair of overalls.

You touch some tools with reverence because they belonged to someone you loved.

Bonus points:  You shook your head several times while reading this article. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Pot of Gold!

I have a cute little daylily "Leprechaun's Wealth" and it seems the perfect way to celebrate St. Patrick's day.

Some Leprechaun facts:  

It was hybridized by Hudson in 1978.  It was a free gift from Oakes Daylilies back in 2009.  (Oakes always sends a free daylily with my orders and the picks are a nice surprise.)  

I have a rather large yard with lots of green and always think I need big dramatic flowers or they get lost in the mass.  When this little guy arrived I was rather disappointed.  Not one to "look a gift horse in the mouth", I planted it on the "other side" of my clothesline support arbor.  The "other side" is where my not so favorite plants go since I seldom can simply not use a plant even if it isn't a favorite.  It's in the same bed as that beautiful pink rose that only blooms once every five years and who knows why, the white daylily I divided into one too many clumps and an unknown gold & red daylily I planted with no knowledge of how it would look.

Back to facts:  Leprechaun's Wealth has 2 1/2 inch flowers.  They are round and sturdy and a little cone shaped.  The color is a bright gold/apricot self with ruffled edges and crepe texture.  These little golden nuggets are atop 24 inch scapes, leaves are long thin bright green straps and it's well-branched.

It's a Diploid, semi-evergreen, blooms mid-season and may rebloom although it seems mine just continues to bloom.  It proliferates.  Oakes offers for $6 for a double fan and this week it's on sale for $4.  Seriously cheaper than a big bag of potato chips. 

The flowers never suffer in bad weather because the petals are so substantial.  It's the perfect little workhorse.  Because of the tall scapes, it's perfect for planting lower growing flowers all around.  

I've come to love this dependable little guy; he was really a lucky charm for my garden. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Use the Delete Key

I am “friends” on some of the social media sites with several teens.  I don’t monitor their daily comments or interactions with others because I don’t have the same interests.  Perhaps this is the gardener in me or maybe just the grandma, but instead of debating, arguing, or trying to out talk someone who is obviously not good for/to them, I’d suggest they simply delete them from your friends list on the social site and in your personal friends’ circle.

It’s amazing how fast an on line social media discussion can turn ugly when someone has no personal restraints.  Teens seem reluctant to offend any of their thousands of social media close friends by the simple act of pushing the delete key (even those who offend others with tirades, insults, bullying and narcissism.)  I’ve stopped following people if their social media comments are more about their need to make everyone miserable, frightened or angry.  Call it my “serenity now” delete button.  Angry and ill-informed bullies are the weeds of our social and public media sites. 

And here’s the gardener’s life lesson:  Get rid of the weeds or they will destroy your garden.  Weeds end up killing the beautiful plants you enjoy.

It takes work to keep the weeds at bay in your garden and it takes work to keep negativity out of your life.  We all have enough daily real worries and life events that we don’t need to import someone’s manufactured drama.

Every gardener has had that one little weed we didn’t catch in time to prevent a major invasion.  Think “Creeping Charlie”!  Our yard had no Creeping Charlie until I imported a nice plant from someone else’s yard.  Today, I couldn’t get rid of all the CC in my yard short of a nuclear event.  It’s the same with those inadvertent or intentionally invasive “friends” on social medial.  They seem so innocent when you “like” them in the beginning.  Slowly their comments begin to creep into something that doesn’t have your best interest at heart.  It’s more about their opinionated aggression and/or whining.  Creeping Charlie looks almost like a dainty little flowering vine at first glance. But, we all know given free reign in our garden, it’s a thug that kills any plant not strong enough to withstand its shadow and nutrient sucking roots.  The parallel is strong in our social media contacts.

My garden and social media advice:  

"Keep those friends and plants that enhance your life in a positive way; use the delete key for those that don’t."