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Sunday, April 10, 2011



The year was 1991 and for starters, we had one blizzard after another to ring in this year. One was so bad that none of us had an electric for a week and the temperatures were below freezing. It seemed as if the snowstorms would never end as they were relentless through some of March. All of us were so glad the snow was over to say the least and welcomed spring with open arms!

Spring was joyous and as it can do, it gave all of us a sense of well-being and hope. And yes, I was teaching school—second grade and I had two co-teachers. We had spent one year prior to this year of writing units for our “Whole Language” reading program as there were none for our grade level. There were many times when the three of us didn’t leave till well past 8 p.m.—mostly like every single week night. We would find poetry and short stories that fit out units [such as Homes, March, Weather and so forth] and then make copies and I had to type what we had written. The three of us made such a good team as we got along great and really concentrated to make the units a success.

Came May and we had just finished the “Weather” unit: To culminate it, all three of us showed the movie, “The Wizard of Oz” that specific day. The students loved it as did we and the main purpose of it was to watch for weather in it. When dismissal time came, it was sunny and hot and almost a cloudless sky. But we couldn’t leave for we had to work on another unit; that meant another long evening of work.

My classroom was on the back of the building and we were all across the hall in one teacher’s room that faced the street. I had to go to my room to get a book and saw a substitute janitor running the sweeper on the carpet in my room. All of a sudden, I heard a noise that sounded like a freight train was coming: I ran to my windows only to see a huge black cloud come crashing by. The janitor jerked the cord out of the wall and ran out of the school, leaving us all three stranded. Rushed across the hall where my two co-teachers were only to witness something I had never seen: A tornado! The trees were bent down the ground, little dogs that lived down the block from school were flying in the air and trees started crashing everywhere.

I could look way up the hill and see my house! And I saw my forty foot pine tree crash on my house, watched my fence go down like toothpicks and told my friends that I was leaving right then! “No way” they echoed. And they grabbed me and forced me out into the hall with them. [In retrospect, I am so glad I didn’t attempt to go home!] So here we were out in the hall for what seemed like an eternity. Curious me wanted to go to my room on the back and look and they came along with me. The destruction that we saw was unbelievable! The heavy swing set was knocked down, trees were everywhere and the electric had gone off in the school and elsewhere.

The tornado was over and although it lasted several minutes or longer, it seemed like it had gone on forever and ever.

The three of went down the stairs and out of the school to see utter chaos and the parking lot and street littered with trees and other things. I’m not sure how they got home but I couldn’t get up my hill to my house: I had to drive around and around till I could get my car through a small path. There was no electric but all you could hear was the sound of chain saws that men were using to cut up the trees that blocked the streets. This sound would go on for weeks upon weeks.

School was out for a week as there was no electric and downed stop lights, power lines, trees and massive damage in Charleston. It was determined that the wind was well over 100 mph and the first tornado to hit our town [we would have another one several years later but not as bad] and all people could do was to drive around, if possible, and survey the damage. Some neighborhoods were spared while others got the full impact of the tornado.

When things returned to some normalcy, we were back in school and people were back to work. I will never ever forget the look on my students’ faces when they entered the classroom for like me, they too had been in a state of shock the week before. The first thing I said was,” I think that it was a very bad idea to show that movie, “The Wizard of Oz!” One little girl said, “No you shouldn’t have and I don’t ever want to see that movie again!”

What a strange twist of fate that my two co-teachers and I would have shown that movie at the end of the “Weather” unit and then be caught at school during a real live tornado. We were the very first teachers in Kanawha County to have “sheltered in place” and I never wanted to live through that again ever nor did they.

Our next unit was “Animals:” We were extremely afraid to start it as the circus was in town. After all, you never know what might have happened!

Sherry Hill

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