Tri-State Tornado, March 18, 1925

Claire Edens, writer


The smell of fresh, warm omelets filled my nose as I woke from a deep rest. The sun had not been birthed from the horizon and the sky was a continually lightening shade of blue. I sluggishly drug my feet out from under my warm quilts, and they touched the chilled floor.

I made my way down to our kitchen, and I found Papa ready for the day in his usual suit; his hair and mustache properly groomed. He works as a banker downtown. He loves what he does.

“Good Morning, principessa,” he said with his usual, thick Italian accent. My father is an Italian immigrant who moved to Murphysboro, Illinois, with his family when he was only a boy.

“Hi, Papa,” My raspy morning voice spoke to him.

“Omelets hot and ready! Why don’t you go wake your sister and brother?”

“Okay, Papa.” I slowly climbed the stairs as my slippers shuffled mindfully. As I opened the door to my sibling’s room, light flooded into the darkness. I got a glimpse of both of their identical faces, sleeping peacefully. “Leo, Ida. Wake up! Papa made us omelets.”

“Mama? I don’t wanna,” Leonardo mumbled. I sighed.

“No, Leo. Its Flo, not Mama.” They are the only ones I allow to call me that. My full name is Florence. When I shook them from their slumber, their matching eyes and faces groggily looked at me. I smiled. “Hello, darlings.”

Prior to getting ready, I finished my delectable omelet. I remember exactly what I was wearing that day. My dark green dress and a beige cardigan looked smart together. My long, dark brown hair was in curls and it was kept out of my face using a few pins. I rushed out the door kissing Papa goodbye with the twins trailing close behind.

After dropping the twins off at school with a departure of good luck, I arrived at my school, Murphysboro High School: home of the Red Devils. I jogged lazily into my sanctuary of learning, running late. I got to homeroom in the nick of time, just as Ms. Abrams was taking record. I sat next to Dot in a silent scurry, avoiding eye contact with Ms. Abrams. Dot, or Dorothy as her mother calls her, is my best friend and has been since kindergarten. You could call her a queen of fashion, clad with her bobbed hair and impeccable taste of style. She always looks like she walked right out of a magazine.

“It’s about time, Love,” Dot said to me with big eyes that were perfectly lined with eyeliner. She has always used that word when speaking to me. It made me feel warm inside.

Ms. Abrams, our mathematics teacher, was a drag. As soon as she started eyeing the two of us, I took out a piece of paper and scribbled a note to Dot.

Jack called last night, I wrote on the paper delicately. Jack was my unofficial boyfriend; I was the one standing in the way of making our relationship official. Dot says I have commitment issues.

What did he have to say, her perfect penmanship asked me.

The dropping of my pencil abruptly ended my next sentence, when the voice of Ms. Abrams rose in a fury.

“Ladies, please put that away or give it to me.” I flushed as laughter floated in the air. Dot rolled her eyes and set her painted red lips in a smirk when Ms. Abrams turned her back on us.

*          *          *

It was lunchtime. I walked alone down the hallway that was dressed in posters that said things like, Go, Devils, Go! I got a tray full of our school’s below average lunch and proceeded to find my table of friends. I sat down and was greeted with a wave of happy voices. Dot hugged me from the side and told me in a squabble that Jack was on his way to the cafeteria.

Jack almost immediately burst into the room with his signature grin. His shining, straight blond hair was flopped over on one side, secured by gel as it always is. He came over and sat in the seat next to me. He paused and gave me a toothy smile as he looked at me. He is a man of few words, but it is in his silence that he speaks.

The tornado came around 2:30 in the afternoon (Galvin). The sun had just reached its afternoon height when the sky turned strangely dark. There was a green hue to everything, and it made my stomach turn over. Jack and I were in our sixth period class, History. I looked at Jack with uneasy eyes. The sincerity in his green eyes diminished all of my doubts, one by one. When the 73 mile per hour winds came, the building seemed to sway with the pressure (Hyde). When it seemed dangerous enough outside, the intercom crackled and the tired voice of our principal transferred to our ears.

“Students and faculty members, please stay calm, there is a tornado headed our way. Take this time to calmly make your way to the designated tornado shelter areas.” Panic rose in my throat. There were gasps in the room and everyone started whispering fiercely. Our teacher, Mr. Gray, guided us to our area, which was in the stairs. Jack took my hand and squeezed comfort into my bones.

My mother deserted us when I was 11 and the twins were just babies. They dream of what their mother was like, and I try to remember her the best I could for them. I remember her gentleness and the way her hair fell on her shoulders just like mine. Papa says I look more and more like her everyday.

Dot says that being abandoned by my mother is where my commitment issues to Jack stem from. She tells me to love Jack with reckless abandonment, and she demands me to not be afraid.

“Loving is hard, Love. You just gotta give it your bravest and hope for the best.” I always wondered if my heart could ever love like that, like her.

The tornado closed in on our school. It was all a blur to me. I remember the screams, none of them my own. I trembled in fear, tucked my head as directed, and never let go of Jack’s hand.

It was all over 10 minutes later (Galvin). My dress was torn and my hair was in one big knot. I remember seeing the damage of our school, my school, and not believing one bit of it. There were ambulances and blood soaked bandages on my classmates, my friends. It was all a haze of people rushing.

I then saw a peculiar thing. There was a stretcher with a girl that had hair, beautiful blond hair, just like Dots. I saw her face. Dot’s eyeliner ran down her pale cheeks in dark trails. Her abdomen was stained in a crimson color, the color of her insides. The world shifted sideways, and there were black spots in my vision. I screamed, but all I heard was my heart beating against my rib cage. I grabbed her hand and screamed for her to answer me, but her red lips never moved, and her bright eyes never opened. Next thing I knew, Jack grabbed me and shushed my lips. They dragged a white sheet over her beautiful face that stopped her breath forever.

“Dot…they can’t…do something,” My throat burned, and my anger swelled into tears. I cried into Jack’s chest and for what seemed like an eternity, he held me. Dot was only one of the 243 humans that had their lives taken from them in our home town that day (Galvin).

The news that my precious kid sister, Ida, was in the hospital reached us, and another part of me broke. I leaned my body on Jack as we walked through the chaos of our small town of only 37,000 to reach the hospital where my sister lay (The). She opened her eyes for me when Papa told her I was there. I cried and gripped her hand.

“Oh, thank you. Thank you,” I said in between sobs. Leonardo rested his tiny hands on my back, and he comforted me. I told Papa what happened to Dot, and we cried for her together. Ida was only one of the 463 that needed surgery (Galvin).

*          *          *

It has been a year since the tornado, and the wounds of my heart are far from healed. I am now 19. My finger bears a ring, and my name has been changed to Mrs. Jack Finley, all thanks to Dot. She taught me how to love, and how to let myself be loved.



Works Cited

Galvin, John. “True-Sate Tornado: Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, March 1925.” Popular Mechanics.     29 July 2007. Web. February 2016.

Hyde, James. “The Tri-State Tornado of 1925.” U.S. Tornados. 18 March 2014. Web. 25

February 2016.

The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints. “Jackson County, Illinois Genealogy.” Family Search. 9 March 2016. Web. 9 March 2016.


Fishback, Woodson. A History of Murphysboro, Illinois. Murphysboro: The Jackson County  Historical Society, 1982. Print.

“History of Murphysboro.” Murphysboro. 2011. Web. 25 March 2016.

“Murphysboro High School.” MHS. 2016. Web. 25 March 2016.