THE MIRACLES OF A STORM
by Ella Harlan
I very well remember Sunday April 5th, 1936, a twister storm came and swept through my community carrying with it my precious home, death, misery and heartache forever. I have much to be thankful for even if it took all my worldly possessions and some of my broken health.
I lived in a little white framed house for thirty years where I had reared eight children without a father. All children were grown and married except one, my baby boy.
I had eight boarders in my house trying hard to pay off some debts. Some had gone to see their families, some to town. Three of them, Herbert Rickets, 26 and Bob Carrell, 22 of Hohenwald and G. H. McCurry, 63 of Birmingham spent Sunday night at my home.
Two of my sons & families spent the day at my house. They wanted to spend the night at my house but I didnít have room. I was warned of this storm because when they left it hurt me unusually hard. I put my apron over my face and said children "something is going to happen". I watched them back out through tears and waved my hand all the time. They begged me to go with them but I had to plan and serve meals for the boarders. I became so weak and nervous as they went out of sight I had to sit down on my swing. As dark came on three boarders came in for supper.
Ruth Seelly, 16, a little girl from Honolulu was staying with me to help do housework.
We all went in my room about seven oíclock. One of the boarders wrote two letters. One to his sweetheart and one to his brother and ask us to mail it the next day.
Mr McCurry talked about a storm he was in before. Said he was blown off in a field, a sill from a house was across his limbs.
The boarders went to bed early as they had worked hard all day.
Ruth and I talked for a while. It was lightning some but I never noticed it very much. The three boarders slept in the southwest room, the main direction of the storm. Ruth and myself slept in the northeast room.
Ruth and I talked a little about the cloud and soon retired. I had the shades pulled down. I had always been very nervous about storms so glad I didnít know what was coming.
It kept lightning and thundering and the wind begin blowing strong. I told Ruth we should get up as I believed we were going to have a storm. I jumped up and put on a wool sweater over my gown and ran in the kitchen due south to get a bucket of water.
It was getting rough outside. I ran back turned around several times. I hollered to the boarders to jump up. I never heard them make an answer. I went into my room with this bucket of water, threw it into the fire as I always was afraid of fire. In time storms. I told Ruth to put on her dress. I remember she had it half on. I was standing with my lamp in my hand about 8:15.
I heard a ripping and a tearing of nails. I looked up, I saw a big ball of fire shooting and blasting. It looked like fire works and sheets of ice coming down. It was a beautiful sight, all colors.
I look up, I never saw the walls separate. I believe the house top went off and Ruth and myself were sucked out the top.
I remember sailing in the air and all kinds of objects sailing around me. I saw the barn as I went through the tree tops. I was blown for four or five hundred feet down in a plowed field. How I came through all the objects in the air I cannot tell. As I lowered near the ground I lost my breath in a semi conscious condition. I could see all my neighbors lights. One was at Frank Fiteís. The other at Lewis Joyceís. How I longed for help. It seemed so near and yet so far.
I landed on my side, my elbow in the mud slopping up and down. It was raining lightning and it seemed it was striking all around me. The trees were bending over me. I finally managed to pull my broken body up, my feet were bent under me. There I set for two and one half hours in the coldest rain I ever felt.
The next thing I heard was one of the family cats. It was screaming for life. You cant imagine how a cat sounds at night even in a bed. I said "Lord spare that cat". Finally saw Mr Edd Bolton walking up the railroad. I could see the lantern swinging to and fro . What a beautiful little light. I called him but couldnít make him hear.
I finally heard Ruth cry. I called her several times before she answered. I said "Ruth I am almost gone, canít you see that little dim light, thatís Lewis Joycesí, a good old negro, near by. Go and tell him to come and help me. She said "Mrs Harlan, I canít walk". I said "crawl Ruth". She started by crawling. I gave her all the directions for Lewis to find me. I could see her by the lightning. She finally got on her feet. I wonder how she ever climbed the five foot page[?] wire fence. When she reached Lewisís she dropped inside saying "Save Mrs. Harlan, Save Mrs. Harlan". After that she began vomiting and became unconscious.
In the meantime I heard one of the boarders say "O Lord have mercy".
Dear old Lewis, good and faithful who had served me for years, came to me in hour of trouble, the night my husband died, started out again in hour of trouble. This time to save my life. He came up the road to hunt me.
As they came near the house they saw furniture scattered every where. In a few more steps they saw two of the boarders laying dead in my feather bed with the sewing machine near their heads.
Lewis and two other Negroes began hunting me. I could see them with the lantern but I couldnít hollow[?] as I was growing weaker and weaker. The cold mud, wind, and rain was almost too much for my broken body. I had seven broken bones, a stick stuck into the corner of my eye, my nose bleeding , fractured ankle, a collar bone and thumb shot out of place. A stick stuck into my ankle, four ribs broken and my arm broken. Finally the negroes found me. They said I didnít look like myself. I was bruised and scratched all over. The negroes started to pick me up. I heard one of them say, "I feel her bones crushing". They laid me down and went to a neighbors house to get a cot to carry me on. Lewis pulled his own coat off and spread over my face. It seem it was hours before they returned, although it was only a short time. I canít express my feeling while laying in the cold and mud as I heard the negroes say "hereís two dead men" and they left me all alone. Finally they returned with a bare cot. The poor old negroes tried to pulled my gown down and put me in the cot. They carried me to the nearest neighbor Charles Bibb, which was about 800 yards. I almost smoothed several times. A bone was crushing near my heart. I said "Lewis, let me down, I am smothering". When they reached the neighbors, they put me to bed and tried to heat my cold body. They put all their quilts and hot irons to me as I was frozen to the bone.
I heard Mr. Bibb say "I will go call your children". His family was so nice to me. They said I talked all the time and wanted to turn on my broken side. They begged me not to but I didnít realize my side was broken so I turned over on it.
During the next hour, they called all my children and several ambulances.
The neighbors began to gather. They knew that three men spent the night at my home but they hadnít found but two. They looked all over my farm for Herbbie Richet. The neighbors decided to put al the hogs inside the barn for fear they would destroy the dead body. When they opened the door, they saw the boy laying under a trough in his pajamas, hair laying by his side, with his neck broken. The neighbors saw his barefoot tracks all over the field. How he ever landed in this barn with the gates all fastened, no one knows. He as engaged to Ruth Ammans and planned to marry in June. The letter he wrote thirty minutes before he was killed was found about three miles away. We sent this to his girl. His death was a great shock to his people and this girl. It brought great sorrow the them and she was so glad to get the letter.
By this time, my son Clyde and Sister and brother had gotten the news. They started out rushing to me as quick as possible. They lived about a mile away. But before they could reach me they had to come though a small settlement of negro houses, the Harlan Mines. It had been completely swept away by the storm. There was all kinds of confusion here. Two negroes had been killed and twenty two injured. They were running and screaming. The road was full of furniture and tree tops. As my son started through here, some men told him not to go as live wires might be down. He said some one drive this car I will go in front. He and my sister through things out of the road. They finally managed to get to me.
I remember Clyde patting my face and saying "poor old Mama".
Another son heard the news. He drove from Columbia about five miles and left his car about a mile from home. He was excited and started running crying " Is Mamma blowed away? Is Mamma blowed away". As he ran through the mines, he heard a little negro baby crying over in the cold ground. By the time he reached me, he was completely exhausted. When he came inside and saw me, he ask "Whereís Mama"? I said, "Leon, Iíll never cook you another meal". About that time he had a heart attack and my sister fell over and fainted. The neighbors had a terrible time.
I stayed here about an hour before the ambulance came. Five ambulances came. One took Ruth and three took the dead men and the other took me. When I left I said "Goodby Mrs Bibbs, Iíll never be back again".
The trip to Columbia was a nightmare. People were excited and the ambulance had a time getting out thought the mud. I was suffering agony. Cars were coming from every direction and they slipped and slided trying to pass each other. They had to push each other out of ditches until they reached the highway. Another son meet in the mines, he could see me lying in the ambulance. He became so weak he couldnít drive.
About 11 oíclock we reached the hospital. I didnít know when I went in but I remember Dr. John Hart setting my arm. He looked down and my thumb was lying back on my hand. He said "look at this womanís thumb". I remember one of my sons came in and said "mama speak to me one more time". The nurses pushed him back.
The next morning as my children came in to see me, I knew every one of them.
My children knew that I had always been troubled with bronchial trouble and couldnít stand any kind of exposure. So they didnít think I could possibly live.
My only daughter came in to see me and I said "Sister, I am going to get well if I donít have pneumonia". She kissed and kissed me and said Mama that the sweetest work you ever said. The next afternoon at four my two sone from Detroit arrived. There were excited and couldnít be satisfied with one doctor. They had Dr. Ragdale to watch me also.
The children would say "Dr, how is Mama"? He would say "Of course your Mother is suffering but if pneumonia doesnít set in, I believe she will pull through. The third day was dreadful and every precaution was taken but I never had a sign of cold or pneumonia.
I suffered agony for two long months before I could turn on my broken side. I couldnít feed myself or drink water. I had my hands plastered up and could see out of one eye.
The nurses couldnít comb my hair, they shook sand out of my hair for weeks.
A year from then I was in the hospital with bronchitis and they had to take every precaution to guard off colds. I slept in outing[?] gown until June.
Everyone expecting pneumonia, but I never took a cough. Occasionally I would chock [choke] and the nurses would elevate my bed. The third day the Dr reported everything normal. The Lord had something to do with this after staying out in the rain 2 or three hours and never take a cold.
I tell my children they could find where I landed as my cat died near me. They found it and drove a post there.
I left the hospital after three weeks and came to my sonís. How I longed to go back to my little room but instead I had to go to my sonís home.
My daughter nursed me carefully for two months. The first week she turned me every hour in the night. The next week every two hours and etc. It was about six weeks before I set up. I had to learn to walk all over .
I was very brave all through my misfortune and never give up which help me pull through. But one night I heard the song about "The lamp in the window" and "the old rocking chair". I thought of my precious things I once had at home so I broke down for the first time and cried. Mrs Hinch the superintendent of the hospital said "Now whatís the matter with you"? I said Mrs Hinch, "The cup runeth over". I felt better after I taken a big cry, she said you know it wasnít done by hand, that the Lord knew best.
Bur after two long months I went back, every thing was gone. Not a thing but rock & brick everywhere. One thing I notice was 7 foot of flue that blow down the hill, below where I lay & it look like it was picked up & laid down by hand, not a brick loose. Fruit jars, meat & everything was scattered north south east & west. One of my skillets was sitting over on the hill on a post. A bucket of milk that I had churned the day before was sitting in the yard. The lid didnít even come off. As my children told me all about it.
My sonís neckties was up in a big oak tree, I had 41 jars of fruit that didnít even break, blown four or five hundred feet.
I loved this home, had all my troubles & pleasures there after striving thirty years at one place. Everything in a twinkle of an eye. I looked every spot & crack & can see it just now, just as it stood. I will never forget & I hope someday that something will come my way & I will have another home for my dear children to come to.
I remember one day I went to my sonís a year after my home was gone. I looked out in the field I saw a cat that was spared out of the storm. I said to my daughter, do yo have a big yellow cat? She said no, So I called "Kittie, kittie". Here he come running to me and rubbed against one of my limbs & went around on the other side and rub the other limb. I said this is my tom cat, poor thing, where have you been all this time? One of my boys had split one of his ears while he was sleeping one day on a block of wood. He knew me. When I call for the children to see him, he threw up his head & left.
My poor dog went home for a year & would howled & howled as my neighbors would tell me. So some times we would go home, we would blow the horn on our car. Here he would come & leaped and leaped up on us. I would say mama will be back some day & you can follow me.
I was raised in Muray County, Columbia Tennessee... The temple of the universe... the biggest mule market in the world. That first Monday after I was blown away on Sunday is also known as homecoming & Will Rogers day because Rogers who was to the show that year gave Columbia a place in his syndicated news paper column which did much to publicize a great day of mules.
Who wouldnít want to live in the temple of the universe?
Signed..... Mrs. A. C. Harlan.