Last Wednesday afternoon, I arrived at Will Rogers Airport in Oklahoma City,
for a speaking engagement at my friend, Rene's, church.
It was a bit of bumpy landing due to the storm coming in.
When I got off of the escalator at the baggage claim, Rene was waiting for me.
Which was beyond kind...I always do curbside pick up.
I said, "Rene! You are so nice! I can't believe you came in to meet me.
Rene hugged me and then said something like, "Well, Sue, we have a tornado coming."
To which I said, "What? Right now?"
I have fond memories of tornado warnings as a child in Illinois.
To me it meant good snacks and a sleepover in the basement.
But as an adult....the fondness for a good tornado has waned. I have seen the news.
And I have seen Twister. I am no Helen Hunt. I prefer to leave storm chasing to the experts
The storm was moving towards us.
So we were staying put at the airport in case we needed to take shelter.
Taking shelter is not something we do in California.
In fact, since the drought, we don't even do rain in California.
And thus began my schooling of words like "severe weather" and
"watch vs. warning".
It was also the beginning of my knowledge of flash flood lingo like
"turn around...don't drown" and hail terminology as in
"hail the size of pennies, quarters, dimes" vs.
"hail the size of golf balls, ping pong balls and baseballs."
As the storm closed in the tornado sirens started going off.
It is not a good sound. It's a kiss-your-mama-good-bye kind of sound.
We were evacuated into the tunnels below the airport with about 500 other people.
Rene was talking me through the drill.
Usually you are down in the tunnels for about 30 minutes until the storm passes.
As she tracked the storm on her phone radar like a seasoned meteorologist,
I sent frantic texts to my family for prayer.
I was basing my level of fear on the look on Rene's face. I told her this.
I was going to be reading her expressions like a book.
If she wasn't freaking out...I would try not to freak out.
Try is the operative word here.
This is a picture we took between evacuations.
Rene is happy. Calm. At peace. Really lovely, actually.
Her look says, "We are okay. I have done this before."
My look is more of a, "We might die today but I will try to smile for my last picture"
kind of look.
So she proceeded to keep a look of absolute serenity on her face throughout
the eight hour ordeal.
Yep. Eight. Hours.
Even when we got re-evacuated for a second time down in the tunnels.
Even when I was laying flat out on the ground trying to use the cold tiles to ice my back.
Even when the only food we had between us was a small bag of almonds.
Even when there was a tornado sighted on the runway.
Even when the storm decided to sit on top of the airport and linger for the evening.
The only time Rene almost lost her cool was when we came up from the tunnels
between tornadoes and the guy at the coffee kiosk wouldn't sell us any coffee or muffins.
You should never withhold muffins from people who haven't eaten in 8 hours and
have been forced to smile a lot to keep their friend from California from freaking out.
There may have been a moment when Rene thought about looting a croissant.
But we found our way to some vending machines and proceeded to eat Cheezits, Ruffles,
Snickers and M&Ms for dinner.
Gross, I know. But desperate times call for desperate measures.
I have been not eating sugar or flour for the last month.
That second bag of Cheezits? Not a good call.
It was at this point when the flash flood emergency warning was issued.
So even though the storm was passing us at the airport, we couldn't make it to
Rene's house without renting a motor boat.
I think it was then that I asked,
"Are there tornado shelters at the hotel?"
"Then I will be staying with you...at your house....the entire time I am here."
She didn't even flinch.
In the face of so many looming dangers, Rene took every weather change in stride
like it was just another other spring day.
Like there wasn't the possibility of drowning, being concussed by sports ball sized
hail or being sucked up into the vortex of tornadic storm at a moment's notice.
Certainly hosting someone at her home for 4 days wasn't going to shake her.
And I was not going to leave her side. She is the bravest most level headed person I know.
With the threat of the tornado passed, we just had to wait until the flood waters
receded so we could get home.
We went up to her car to recharge our phones and listen to the radio for the all clear.
With the sound of tornado sirens going off to the east and the terrifying bleat of
the emergency broadcast system echoing through the car, a final emergency warning
came over the radio,
"Breaking news, a safari park has been hit and there are tigers and exotic animals on the loose.
We looked at each other.
In what reality do you have tornadoes, hail, flash floods and tigers?
At this, Rene's calm began to waver.
And then she cracked.
"Tigers? You have got to be kidding me!"
She started laughing so hard she was almost crying.
I had to laugh with her.
"Tigers? Exotic animals? I've got nothing."
There was no way she could spin this one for me.
It was possibly the best moment of the night....once we were sure the tigers
were far away and weren't trying to catch a flight out of Will Rogers.
We made it home around midnight.
None the worse for wear (except for the giant cheezit ball lingering in my gut.)
We will have a tale to tell our grandchildren.
We can literally say we survived the craziest storm of 2015.
And going forward, I know one thing to be true....
when the apocalypse hits?
I want Rene by my side.