Lubbock, Texas at 6020 Orlando
July 9, 2006
The day was May 11, 1970, a typical day, with everyone going about their routine. I had to take an English test that afternoon at 4:30 p.m. at Texas Tech. It had been hot all day and there was no wind, very still. Everybody was at home except me. Mom and Linda picked me up from Tech after class, which was about 6:30. After I got out of class it had become cloudy; rainy looking. As Linda drove home in Daddy’s old yellow pickup we all talked about how hot it had been and how muggy it had become. We turned down Sumac (the road we lived on) to go to our house and we saw a funny looking cloud hanging just above us about a 45% angle to the northeast of us and thought nothing of it. We just said, “Hmmm, look at that weird looking shape”. We learned later that it must have been a funnel cloud. When we got home it began sprinkling. The sun was shining and it was raining. I could smell that cool, wet rainy smell. It always smelled good just as it was going to rain. I very seldom smell that rainy smell today. Anyway, the dirt was very dry so when the rain hit the dirt, you could see the raindrops make their marks on the ground. It sprinkled every now and then and afterwards we got some pea size hail while the sun was shining. I thought that was strange. There is an old saying that Mom and Daddy always told us that when it rains while the sun shines ‘it was the devil spanking his wife’.
Mom fixed supper that evening. I never did like to work in the kitchen so my job was always setting the table and that was bad enough. I also put ice in the glasses for iced tea. Linda and I were always fussing about who was going to do what. I can see the kitchen now--Mom fixing the potatoes and Linda at the stove stirring the food being cooked. The kitchen window was probably open letting out the heat. We had a lot of windows in that house. We probably had all the windows open. I don’t remember having the window air cooler at that time. We had about 3 big windows on the north side of the dining room right next to the dining table. Supper was ready and everybody gathered around the table. Mom was always the last one to sit down, because she was always getting something, maybe the biscuits or the last glass of iced tea. Or, Mom may have gotten up to get Daddy another fork, because he didn’t like eating with a small fork and since I set the table, I didn’t think it was all that important for Daddy to have a big fork. I would always make him irritated. “Mom would say to me, ‘Carolyn, you know your Daddy likes a big fork’ and I would always say ‘What difference does it make.’ I was pretty sassy then. Mom always said, ‘I was the most stubborn of all the kids.’ Tom, Henry and David were probably outside playing football and we had to call them in for supper. Jenk was in the service stationed north of Seoul, Korea near the DMZ. Mom always worried about him. She wrote to him every day so he would get a letter everyday. But, Jenk said later that he did not get one everyday but got several in one day every few days or week. He would read them in order of the date. Anyway, everybody gathered around the table and ate. It sure was good. Mom was a good cook, so was Linda. I never could cook and had no interest. Mom would always say, ‘If you don’t learn now, how are you going to cook for yourself later?’ I always said ‘I would get by.’ We would have fried squash from our garden, black-eyed peas, potato salad, a salad made with fresh cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden and sometimes fried chicken and hot rolls made with yeast. (Mom always made the best potato salad.) Most of the time we ate around 5:00 or 6:00 pm, but since Linda and Mom had to come and pick me up from Tech, supper got started a little late. Daddy always wanted supper on the table at 5:00 p.m.
Mom had been listening to the weather all afternoon. Mom listened to the radio a lot. She was always afraid of thunderstorms and had the news on to stay alert. We lived in Tornado Alley and tornadoes were common in our area. After we got through with supper the boys went back outside to play and Linda and I fussed over who was going to wash the dishes. I don’t remember who won out, but they got done anyway. I remember going out to the front yard and watching the clouds to the east of us. We could see the many tornadoes dip down and go back up. There were a lot of them coming down and going back up and we talked about them. That cloud started out in the west, moved to the south, moved to the southeast and finally to the east seemingly heading in our direction. We also had a cloud building up in the west. It began to get dark because of darker clouds moving in. Thunder got louder and it began raining harder. Mom was beginning to get worried. We had a thunderstorm warning out and we were already under a tornado watch. At about 8:30 p.m. or 8:45 p.m. Mom decided we needed to go to the cellar that was just northeast of the house about 20 feet. We got our flashlight and raised the cellar door. Daddy went down into the cellar and lit the lamp that we kept down there along with a hoe. We all scampered down the dirt steps moving cobwebs aside and watching for spiders and snakes. Daddy closed the door and went back in the house. Of course, that didn’t make Mom too happy. Daddy said he was going to stay in the house for awhile and he would be back. We all begged him to get in the cellar. Mom got the transistor radio turned on and we listened to Paul Bean on KFYO. The radio station was in the basement of the Great Plains building downtown Broadway. The wind was picking up and about 20 minutes later Aunt Grace and Uncle Charlie came down to get in the cellar. They lived just on the northwest end of our property in a trailer. Uncle Nath and Aunt Jewel lived on the Southwest end in a trailer. I don’t remember where Uncle Nath was (could have been out of town-either driving a payroll truck or playing his fiddle somewhere) Aunt Jewel came down with Aunt Grace. Joe Nathan was not there-so I assume he was with Uncle Nath. Daddy and Uncle Charlie stayed in the house for a little while. It began hailing large size hail, the wind picked up more and the lights went out in the house so Daddy and Uncle Charlie came to the cellar. The wind was blowing so hard that Daddy and Uncle Charlie was holding the cellar door closed using a rope that was tied to the door. The rope was long enough to reach the floor of the cellar. I remember seeing the door bump up and down and Daddy and Uncle Charlie holding it. The wind was loud and the rain was coming down in sheets. At about 9:50 p.m. or so the radio station blanked out and we couldn’t get anything on the radio but static.
After about a couple of minutes Paul Bean came back on the radio and said that ‘A tornado had hit downtown Lubbock.’ He was using power from a generator. He was the only one there at the station. He heard broken glass and lots of wind. We were shocked and couldn’t imagine what had happened. Aunt Jewel was worried about Uncle Nath. At about 10:30 p.m. we came out of the cellar going back in the house. Uncle Charlie, Aunt Grace, and Aunt Jewel went on back home. The lights in the house had come back on so we turned on the television. Reports were coming in about the destruction of downtown Lubbock. Some pictures were being shown and the reporters were telling the public that it was too dangerous to come into town and for everybody to stay home. There were power lines down and debris everywhere. We stayed up late listening to the news trying to learn more about it. After a long scary evening the storm was gone and all was clear. We found out later that Uncle Nath was driving back in town and he had heard about the storm on his radio. We finally went on to bed.
The next day we walked around outside to see what the damage was and all we found was a few pieces of tin had blown off the barn and our cherry tree to the southwest of the house had been pulled up by its roots. Other than that I don’t remember any other damage. I remember Daddy driving into town a few days later and came back and told us it was pretty bad. We all went into town together about a week later and all I could do was just shake my head in disbelief. It was bad.
Twenty-six people died that night and over 200 people injured. The National Guard had been called out to help with moving debris and guarding stores from looters. Electric companies from Abernathy, Amarillo and other places had been called to help with power lines. Jim Granbury had been our Mayor for just a short time and now was in charge of a massive clean-up. We learned later that there were two tornadoes; one from the east and one from the west. The two tornadoes met and merged into one. It was a mile wide. Jenk told us later that he read about the storm a few days later in the Stars and Stripes paper. He said he could tell from the location that we were probably ok. Many people don’t know this, but the mounds of dirt piled up at the Texas Tech Ranching Heritage Center is covering massive amounts of debris from the Lubbock tornado. To read more about the Lubbock tornado anyone can go to www.lubbockonline.com or go to Google and type in Lubbock tornado.
Rosalyn and Bill Gilliland were living in northern Lubbock at that time. They were just about ready to eat supper when the tornado hit. Rosalyn heard what she thought was a train but Bill yelled out, ‘It’s a tornado ’Get in the hall!’ Bill grabbed a mattress off the bed and held it down over them. Rodney (their son) was in the bedroom and had no time to get anywhere but under his bed. A beam from the roof of the house went through the mattress and missed hitting him by a few inches from his face. They said it was over in just a few minutes. They crawled out from under debris and insulation. That insulation was all over their faces, clothes and in their hair as described by Rosalyn. Even though their house was destroyed, they were thankful to be alive and we were too. Rosalyn is Daddy’s first cousin. After that night, Rosalyn and her kids were at our house every time a rain cloud came through, but we understood why and we didn’t blame them.
Lubbock pulled through and has now grown to a population of 206,000. The Lubbock Memorial Civic Center, which was built later as a memorial, is dedicated to those who lost their lives. For those who were there that night, we will never forget.
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