Tornado (Interlude)

High Points in the Life of

A.D. Wright

Son of William Halsted and Eliza Wright

The following March 30th this building (A.D. Wright’s Drug Store) and stock was destroyed by a cyclone. Having no cyclone insurance, I had a total loss. I was in the building at the time and when the crash was over, which was a matter of seconds, I found myself between two 2” joists with my left foot fast in the rocks. Pulling my foot out from under the rocks and crawling out between the joists. I came to day-light. I suffered a green fracture of the shinbone and my foot was badly crushed. When I got out there was no one in sight and I could not bear any weight on my left leg or foot. Soon many were coming out looking for and helping those who were injured. I was carried across the street to an office that still had the sides standing which protected me from the wind; I was wet and cold. We were living out on the farm and my brother-in-law, Ed Mascho, who had a grocery store with was also destroyed, went out to the farm and got my team and wagon and took his family and myself out there. I was unable to get out for about two weeks.

Cleaning Up Debris in Joplin, 2011

Cleaning Up Debris in Joplin, 2011

Each Spring growing up, my TV was always tuned to KWTV News 9 to watch renowned weatherman Gary England tell my family when we should take cover.

On Spring days when storms hit, the mornings would often be blue-skied and sunny. The leaves of trees would dance in the sunlight and cast off every shade of green imaginable.

Then, sometime in late afternoon or early evening, Gary England would come on the screen—interrupting the Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy!—and talk about a wall cloud forming. In person, this cloud looked like a black curtain draped over the sky, steadily advancing, acre by acre and lawn by lawn.

Before it hit us, the winds would come. Nothing crazy, but they would pick up inch by inch and tree by tree—the leaves would dance in muted greens.

It was around now the sirens would start, blaring and begging for us to take cover.

Usually we didn’t.

Then, as the wall cloud entered the stage and enveloped our house, the winds would often die completely. The air outside would grow impossibly humid, and the world would exist in an eery green tint—almost sepia toned. Everything was ominous; everything was heavy.

This is when Gary England would blare and beg as well. It was his voice our ears were trained for. Because the red clay of Oklahoma was so expensive to dig, we didn’t install a storm shelter in our house when we built it, so we’d pile couch cushions in the hallway, and I would wear my Oklahoma State baseball helmet, covering the back of my neck with a hard book to protect it from falling debris.

Then we would wait.

One minute.

They say when a tornado hits it sounds like a train.

Five minutes.

They have a habit of throwing debris miles and miles away from the places of origin.

Ten minutes.

I’ve seen tornados tear across pastures and rip open chicken coops like fortune cookies.


Pink insulation is everywhere afterwards, stuck to every tree in sight like cotton candy.


Finally. Nothing.

The sirens would stop, and we would burrow out of the impromptu fort and back to the TV screen, waiting to hear Gary England tell us we were all clear.

The previous section, White, was supposed to end this piece. That was the plan, at least. It would be a piece centered on the Land Run and the problem of white men and the US government encroaching on Choctaw land.

It was going to parallel A.D. Wright’s story with the plight of my Native American ancestors, and it was going to wrap up with clear moral lines: A.D. Wright was wrong, and my Choctaw ancestors were vulnerable and innocent.

However, as I’ve explored more and more of my family tree, the easy conclusion no longer works.

I learned my family’s story doesn’t shake out as easily as that. There are no neat lines.

The pastoral image I wanted to paint of my family had a wall cloud in the background, waiting to drop a funnel and split it in two.