It was the third Wednesday of June. The year was 2004. The Place was Jellystone Park.
It was also the annual girls/kids trip to Yogi Bear Campground for three fun-packed days of popcorn, snow cones, waterslides, miniature golf, arcades, squirt guns, cap guns, animated movies, bugs, sunburn, calamine lotion, Band-Aids, and enough beer and wine in our coolers to deal with all of it.
The trip started out like any other. My little red Ford Escort was loaded with the youngest boys in the crew, video games and duffle bags. The boys in my car consisted of my grandson, Daniel, and my nephew, Christopher. They were in the backseat. Another nephew, Rupert, the oldest at eleven, was riding shot gun.
Rupert has never been short on words.
“I feel so bad for Ki-Ki and Tram,” he says.
(Ki-Ki, is my sister and Tram is my brother in law. They live in Georgia. We live in Wisconsin.)
“Why?” I say.
(At this point I assume that my mother told Louisa, my sister and Rupert and Christopher’s mother, something twice like, “Ki-Ki and Tram were in an accident and they are both are in the hospital with broken legs,” and she forgot to tell me.
“You haven’t heard?” he says.
Now I am starting to freak out. Maybe somebody died.
“They have been in an unstable weather pattern for three weeks.”
I forgot to mention that Rupert was addicted to the weather Channel.
“Oh.” I say flatly.
“Blatner” (my nickname), he says, “An unstable weather pattern is serious. They can produce tornados.”
The back seat boys, (not to be confused with The Back Street Boys) piped up. “That would be cool to see a tornado.”
“Well, I hope I never see one,” says Rupert.
[one_half]An hour and a half later we arrived at Jellystone Park, drove through the gate past Yogi and Boo Boo and the boys were hanging out the windows yelling, "YOGI!"[/one_half]
We pulled up in front of a brand-spanking new log cabin along with the train of cars and we all jumped out and began to unload and the boys disappeared into thin air.
We’d moved up since the early days when Daniel and I’d made our debut into the Yogi clan. He’d been just four years old at the time and it is not necessary for you to know how old I’d been. The park and all of its accommodations had doubled, maybe even tripled in size since then and so had Daniel. Never you mind about me. There were more pools, more water slides and now there was even an indoor water park under construction. The whole place was under construction. As a matter of fact the sound of table saws, jack hammers and staple guns were a constant reminder of the progress going on around us.
When Daniel and I first came on board the gang was renting doll house trailers. In our trailer all three boys slept in a loft that seemed more like a shelf than a loft and I slept in a room that seemed more like a drawer than a room. Bridgette Luanne slept with her mother, Louisa, in a real but still miniature sized bedroom. And our poor girlfriend Claudette, slept on the fold out couch where she was pounced on every morning about six A.M. by the boys.
[one_half_last]But this year was different. We were like the Jeffersons. We’d moved on up to a deluxe apartment in the sky. Yes, we finally had a piece of the pie. Well, okay, it wasn’t in the sky and there was no pie, but it was on top of a hill. Between our entire group of girlfriends and kids, we’d rented three of these shiny, new, monster-sized cabins, all in a row.[/one_half_last]
Our budget could afford, and just barely I might add, Monday through Wednesday. We made the most out of those three non-weekend days. From the time that sun came up every morning till that clock struck midnight every night we were having fun. That’s just the way it was. Of course there were tears too. You know, bee stings, sun burns, burnt marshmallows, jammed up cap guns, squirt guns clogged with sand, and running out of arcade quarters, but that my friends is just part of life.
So, you can imagine our dismay when all of a sudden it was our last day. But, like any other day at Jellystone Park, we made the most of it. We girls spent as much time as possible floating around in the lazy river while the youngest boys got into as much, not very serious trouble as they could manage. You could pretty much tell where they were by the stop running warning whistles of the life guards. The new to teen life, teen girls sunbathed in their bikinis, rifled through glamor magazines, bitched about stuff and checked out the pimply scenery. At the same time the oldest boys, closing in on sixteen, spent most of their time trying to figure out how to steal our beer or at least score a couple of cigarettes.
The sun had been out all day that day. Our swimsuits were making us nuts. I can only speak for myself, but mine was sticking up my butt. So we packed up all of our supplies and got ready to go back to the cabins.
Patricia was still in the pool with her twelve year old twin daughters, Gretta and Nancy. Nancy was normally in a wheel chair but at this moment she was splashing around in the water with her mother at her side..
“Do you mind if Gretta goes back with you to the cabins?"
“Of course not,” we answer.
About forty-five minutes later everyone except Patrica and Nancy were back at the cabins, hanging out on the various front porches. Our boys were goofing around in our front yard. Claudette and I were sitting at the picnic table on our front porch. Louisa was in the kitchen making hamburger patties and stirring something on top of the stove. The sky was a brilliant shade of blue, but there was one very large cumulus cloud up there that was hard not to stare at. It was just on the other side of the interstate, which was visible from our cabin at the top of the hill.
Magdelina, Maria, Doris and all their girls, as well as Gretta, were next door sitting at their picnic table. I do not know the whereabouts of the older boys, but our cooler had not been ransacked and I had not heard any bitching about missing cigarettes from anybody. They were probably upstairs in the next door cabin.
“What are you having for supper?” Magdelina called over to us.
“Hamburgers,” answered Claudette.
And then it started to hail.
Rupert popped up on the porch.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “It’s just hail. Look at Christopher and Daniel.”
Those two were not only unscathed by the oddity of hail dropping out of a blue sky and being pelted by it. They were pelting each other with it.
Rupert stood on the porch and watched them. Then I saw him courageously take the plunge, jump off and join them.
He came back to us a few minutes later. “This stuff is really cool. Look at this Blatner.” He held out his hands filled with little white marbles.
“Wow,” I remember saying.
And then all three of us, Rupert, Claudette and I watched a wispy little gray thing come out of that puffy white cloud and begin to twirl around in front of it and then almost instantly turn into a long, skinny, pointy finger and begin to head straight for us.
Rupert’s eyes were as big and as black as I have ever seen them.
“What is that?” I heard him say.
“Tornado!” said Claudette and I at once.
“Tornado!” screams Rupert. “A tornado is coming!”
The boys in the yard dropped their hail balls and came running.
We nearly knocked Louisa, who was just heading outside, over.
“Tornado!” we yelled blowing past her.
Claudette turned off sizzling smoky links en route.
“Get in the bathroom!” screamed Rupert.
The boys jumped into the tub. I leaned over the top of them and Louisa and Claudette laid down on the bathroom floor. Bridgette Luanne picked a good year to miss the trip. That bathroom was pretty darn crowded.
It did not sound like a train. It sounded like shit was being ripped out of the earth, like glass was shattering, like trees were snapping, like metal was bending, like shingles were flying and like people were screaming. That is what it sounded like. That along with heavy breathing and Christopher repeating over and over in a tiny voice, “I don’t want to die today. I don’t want to die today.” And Rupert saying, “Everything will be okay.” Then my voice, “Christopher, you won’t die today.”
I might have told Christopher that he wasn't going to die that day, but I was pretty sure that we were all going to die that day. And I was pretty sure that our deaths were going to be terrible deaths, being sucked up into the middle of that big black finger thing and then shooting out the top of it, only to tail spin to the earth from outer space, which is absolutely horrifying to me since I can’t even climb to the top of a ladder without shitting bricks.
And then it was completely silent.
Did we live?
When we emerged from that bathroom, my little red Ford Escort and Louisa's blue minivan were completely buried by toppled over trees.
Patricia’s van was sitting there with a two by four lodged through the windshield.
We learned that the people we'd heard screaming had been Maria and Gretta. Maria had decided she was going to go and save Patricia and Nancy from the pool with Patricia’s wheel chair adapted van. Gretta was hell bent on going with her and luckily her door was locked, because as she was trying to get into that van that board went through the windshield and that board would have also been lodged in Gretta's head. This was enough to cause Maria to jump out of that driver's seat, to grab Gretta and to run back inside their cabin and wait it out.
[one_half]This was also enough information to cause Patricia, who arrived shortly there after with Nancy, on a golf cart driven by a teenaged ranger wearing a uniform and carrying a Walkie- Talkie, to drive out of that place with that two by four still stuck in her windshield.[/one_half]
Magdelina, Maria, Doris and all of their kids including the older boys were packed up and out of there within the hour too.
Us? Not a chance. We couldn’t even see our cars under the debris. Much to Daniel's disappointment, we wouldn't be leaving any time soon.
I don’t know how many vehicles were destroyed or how many cabins needed repair or how many trees had to be replaced, but I do know that there were no serious injuries.
There wasn’t a lick of electricity anywhere. The park grew as dark as dark can be. Fortunately there was lots of firewood available and scattered all over the place since we were situated in a construction zone and a tornado had just come through.
We cooked our hamburgers over a fire in the front yard fire-pit which was now surrounded by uprooted tree roots that lying on their sides, were taller than we were.
Big logging trucks with huge blinding lights worked their way up our street, uncovering buildings and vehicles by chewing up the very trees that were on top of them and turning them into pulp.
Our dented cars resurfaced about ten o’clock that night. Daniel was so excited. “Now we can leave!" he said.
I had to break the news to him that no, we weren’t going anywhere.
"Daniel I don't know if the wheels will even stay on my car."
Between you and me, I wasn't fit to drive home by then. The beer supply was down significantly.
We all slept in the living room with a flashlight left on in the bathroom as a night light.
First thing in the morning we checked out our cars and they appeared to be road worthy. So we packed them up and sadly drove out of that devastated waterpark, with my side mirror clanking along against the car door and part of a tree sticking out of the hood.
On our way home we stopped at a McDonalds for breakfast and we all sat at a table in the restaurant with our Egg Mc Muffins, hash browns and pancakes and we laughed and we laughed and we laughed.
"The Yogi Bear Twister
," is what the boys named that tornado. “We survived The Yogi Bear Twister
,” they said to anyone walking by.
That twister gave us all a special bond. That twister also bought Louisa and I two new cars.
FYI: Rupert is currently twenty one years old and is currently a supervisor at a waterpark.
Rupert is also currently not afraid of tornados.
I currently am.