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Continued from The Twister

Mother stayed a conservative three car lengths behind the truck in front of her. It did stink, but its comforting bulk ahead was a moving landmark to keep us on track when the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with the sheeting rain. The truck turned off the main road. Then we were on our own on the straight, flat road. An occasional car approached with its lights on, spraying a fountain of water as it passed. But there were fewer and fewer cars on the road. One car passed us in the opposite lane then slowed to a stop. It turned around and began to follow us. Mom’s knuckles grew whiter on the steering wheel. This was no time to deal with some local yokel. From my vantage point in the back seat, I saw flashing red lights on top of the car. Mom pulled to the side of the road, expecting the police car to go on by, but to her dismay, the flashing lights pulled up quite close behind us and, after waiting for what seemed like forever, the driver’s door opened, and a dark form emerged. The officer’s hat was tipped against the driving rain with one hand clamping it on his head. As he hunkered down to speak, water poured off his hat like Niagara Falls.

“Ma’am, haven’t you heard the weather reports?”

“I don’t listen to the radio. I’m not fond of the music they play.”

“There’s more than music on the radio this afternoon, ma’am. There’s a tornado-watch. No one should be out on the roads. A twister’s on its way right now. It’s not safe out here at all, ma’am.”

“Well, what do you suggest I do? It’s not like I have a root cellar under the car here.”

“No ma’am, I’m sure you don’t. You don’t have kin around here?” he ventured, taking in the absence of a man and the car, stuffed with pillows, suitcases, toys, and kids.

“Nope. I’m on my way to Wyoming.”

“Hmmm, well there’s a little town up the road a few miles. It’s called Osceola and they have a few motels. I’m sure you can find yourself a place to stay for the night. This storm isn’t likely to let up for several hours and it’ll probably get worse before it gets better.”

“Well, I hate to lose so much time, but maybe it’s a good idea. Thanks.”

She started to roll up the window, but he leaned down a bit further, huddling his shoulders together as he did so.

“Excuse me ma’am? I would also suggest that you listen to your radio now and then if you have one. Ya never know . . . and also, it might be safer for you if you turned right on “35” up past Osceola. You could get up to Des Moines and take the state highway nearly all the way to Wyoming. It’d be safer, you know. There’s services, and motels, and . . . ” His voice trailed off as she continued rolling the window up.

We crept down the road, driving very slowly and carefully. Osceola was small and looked as drenched as the policeman had. The first motel had a no vacancy sign as did the second. We pulled into the parking lot at the third one.

“Wait here,” mom growled as she cinched a scarf over her hair and struggled into a rain coat. As she slammed the door shut on her way out, a horrendous clap of thunder reverberated off the parking lot tarmac.

“What’s a twister?” I asked.

Glad to have something to take her mind off the lightening, Joan began explaining what she knew about mid-western weather patterns.

A few minutes later mom scrambled back to the car and threw herself inside. “We got their last room,” she announced victoriously. She parked in front of #4. Carefully planning what bags to take inside, we orchestrated our move carefully and dashed to the front door, which was protected by a broad overhang. Mom fumbled with the key and then we tumbled into the room dripping and soaking. We opened the curtains and watched the rain slashing against the window and splashing off the car. Bright streaks of lightening lit up the sky. In spite of the lost time, mom was glad to be off the road. The wind whipped furiously at the shrubs beside the building.

Mom handed out snacks from her bag of goodies and we played games until howling wind and slapping rain lulled us to sleep.

We woke to a cloudless, pale, blue sky. The metallic smell of the night before was replaced by the just-washed smell of dirt and hay. Delicate bird twitterings filled the still air. The only sign of yesterday’s mayhem was the pond-sized puddle in the center of the parking lot and the broken limbs and battered leaves and trash that littered the ground. I stared at the clean white motel with the pink and turquoise neon strips around the top of the office. Colorful pairs of sculpted metal lawn chairs sat before the window of each unit. The peaceful scene faded from sight, but never from the memory of the four-year-old who had just learned what a twister was.