My dad had just gotten home from work and we were sitting down to have dinner. It was about 7:30 pm and the evening started out just like every other evening. As we were finishing dinner, we could hear the thunderstorms begin, far way, but very loud. After dinner, my dad kept going outside and looking at the sky. He carried a transistor radio that was the size of a large lunch box as he moved from the front yard to the back yard, listening to the weather report. We were under a tornado watch, which is nothing unusual in the panhandle and something Lubbockites are quite use to. He came inside and sat at the kitchen table, looking tired and looking concerned. Mama came and sat down next to him. I'm not sure how long they sat there listening to KLLL, the country and western station, it seemed like a really long time, when suddenly the radio started beeping and blaring THIS IS A WARNING, and then the radio announcer came on and said, “A tornado has just hit downtown Lubbock, take shelter immediately”. Daddy picked up my little sister and mama pushed me and my brother out the front door to the neighbor's house who had a cellar in their backyard. The cellar smelled of dirt as it had dirt walls and I hated going in there, afraid the walls would cave in. The cellar filled quickly with other neighbors, mama and me sitting on a bench, my sister in her lap, my brother in mine, but my dad was still outside at the top of the cellar with John, the cellars owner. The sound of the thunder and the wind was scary, but I think what was scarier was the sound of a neighbor praying a rosary. Though Catholic, at that age I myself never prayed the rosary, and only recalled hearing the rosary at funerals. It seemed like a long time but finally daddy and John came down and closed the door. The smell of kerosene and dirt was strong, fear filled the cellar and the rosary lady got louder. I was so happy when all we heard was rain and the door at the top of the stairs was opened and we were able to come out. The neighborhood seemed the same, just a small section of fence between the two back yards was down. I thought we would be going back to our house but daddy headed for the station wagon Rambler sitting at the curb. We all climbed in and headed north on Ave A. We got about 5 miles down the road to 4th Street, when we were stopped by a policeman. Daddy told him that his mom was about a half mile north and he needed to get to her. The policeman told daddy no traffic was allowed in and told him to turn around and come back tomorrow. Daddy got out of the car, told mama to take us home and started walking toward my grandmother's house, over the objects of the policeman. There were no lights on in the direction daddy was walking and we watched as he became a spec and then disappeared into the night.
This is what I recall of that night. The next part of the narrative is from conversations I heard between my dad and mom and other relatives. Besides my grandmother, I had 2 aunts, an uncle and other relatives who got caught up in the storm.
My aunt Frances and her son Jimmy lived with my grandmother. They lived in a corner house and just behind them across the alleyway was the home of my aunt Feliz, my uncle Raymond and their five kids. My grandmother had a root cellar so my aunt Frances was on her way to my aunt Felizs house to help her get the kids in the cellar. She walked outside and saw that the sky was green and suddenly everything became very still. Then she heard a train, a very loud, very big train. She ran back into the house and pulled my grandmother and Jimmy into a nook between two beds and pulled a mattress over their heads. The wind kept trying to pull the mattress off but she held tight and suddenly she felt a big weight on them. Afterwards, she pushes off what turned out to be the south wall that had collapsed on them. She ran over to my aunt's house but there was no house left except for the space where the front door used to be, part of the living room and a closet. Inside the closet were my aunt, uncle and all five kids, huddled together, wet, but safe. When my aunt Frances turned around she realized her house was gone too. The tornado had spared the house next door and the house across the street. Several other distant cousins also had their homes destroyed, luckily none of my relatives lost their lives or were seriously injured.
We did not see my dad for several days. Mama did get a call from a family friend who told her daddy had asked him to call to let her know everyone was okay. When daddy finally came home he brought my grandmother with him and she came to live with us after that. Before the year was over my dad and his brothers built a cement storm cellar in our backyard to give my grandmother some peace of mind. Thankfully we never had to use it again.
It turns out that two tornados hit Lubbock that night, one right after the other. The second tornado was devastating, destroying a 25 square mile area or roughly a quarter of Lubbock. The Guadalupe neighborhood, where my grandmother, aunts and other relatives lived was one of the hardest hit and was almost completely leveled. Twenty-six people lost their lives, over 500 families lost their homes and thousands more were affected. But just as with other disasters, the city of Lubbock rebuilt, neighborhoods filled with new homes, freshly planted trees and hope.