Published in the Rains County Leader on January 13, 2020:
Strong storms covered Rains County with torrential rains accompanied by lots of thunder and lightning Friday night. The winds were not as strong as predicted, but the forecasts had many residents talking about the weather all week. At the Senior Center on Wednesday, I heard a woman at the table behind me ask if anyone had a storm cellar. Only one of her lunch companions had one, but she said that, in the nine years she had lived in her home, she had never been into the dark hole in the ground with its rotting, shutter-style doors. I wasn’t surprised that no one else had a cellar. The shallow Texas bedrock makes the cost of digging prohibitive. But the conversation brought back memories of my very early days in west Texas.
I was born in a tiny town about twenty miles west of Abilene called Merkel. We moved
from there to Snyder, about fifty miles further west, just shy of my fourth birthday, so my memories of Merkel are limited. I’m sure some of them are things I’ve been told rather than things I actually remember. I know that we lived in a rented house behind Miss Johnnie’s house, our landlady, but I don’t remember much about her. I remember eating pinto beans at her house once – they needed salt. I remember learning to brush my teeth with tooth powder. And I remember the storm cellar.
We didn’t have a television, in fact, I never saw a TV until several years later in Snyder when our neighbors invited us over to watch the Ed Sullivan Show on a dim, round tube set in a big wooden cabinet. I’m not sure if we had a radio, either, and if we did, I don’t know if regular weather forecasts were available. Dad was our weatherman, standing out in the yard and watching the clouds if he felt a storm coming on. There must have been lots of threatening clouds because he seemed to spend a lot of time out there.
I don’t remember any storms, but I remember one night when I woke up when Dad lifted me out of bed. The electricity must have gone off, because Mom was holding a coal oil lamp. I’m sure my brother Jim was hovering somewhere in the background, but the only other thing I remember was being carried down the steps into the cellar. I had never been in there, probably because it was in Miss Johnnie’s yard, so I was probably curious to see what was in there. Not much as I recall – an old wood and canvas cot and some jars of green beans and other garden produce lined up on shelves against the wall. My guess is that I was more sleepy than curious, because that’s all I remember. I don’t know how long we stayed underground, but knowing how Mom felt about small, airless spaces, probably not long.
The monthly breakfast at the American Legion Post was this past Saturday, and a lot of the conversation centered around the previous night’s storm. No one had sustained any damage unless you count pets who were upset by the thunder. Before talk moved completely off the subject, I brought up storm cellars and asked if anyone had one when they were younger. Our neighbor Dirk was the only one who had an experience to share. He was raised in Holland during World War II, and although his country was neutral, most of it including his little village was invaded and occupied by the Germans. Anti-aircraft artillery was set up within sight of his home, but his family never came under fire. Still, as the end of the war neared, Dirk’s father feared the German’s might take out their frustrations at their approaching surrender on residents by using up munitions that might otherwise fall into Allied hands. So he dug a hole.
Dirk said the hole was very simple – more like a foxhole than a cellar – and it was covered with wood and dirt to conceal its location. The fear was greatest on the last day of the war, and everyone in the house was herded into the shelter. Throughout the war, Dirk’s family had hidden, sheltered, and fed refugees, and that day the count was about twenty. Entry into the hidden shelter had to be made by crawling on hands and knees, and once inside, everyone had to sit shoulder to shoulder. Like our storm on Friday night and the storm in Merkel, the feared danger never materialized for Dirk’s family and friends, and he said he was really glad to get out of that hole.
Too many of us spend way too much time and energy worrying about bad things that never come to pass. However, it’s always good to be prepared. And it’s always good to remember and rely on the greatest shelter of all.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.