by Andrea Allison
Previously appeared in the Stories of Strength Anthology
Every summer since I was 12, Mom and Dad sent me to Grandma Jones’s house out in the country. Things that I’d considered cool at 12 were boring at 17. We spent most afternoons sitting on the loveseat, making quilts. Not exactly my idea of fun. When I mentioned this to my parents during our weekly phone call, Mom said that it was important to spend time with Grandma. Privately, I thought they sent me because no one else visited Grandma anymore. Uncle Tom said he had better things to do. Mom and Dad were always working. And no one talked to Uncle John for reasons that I didn’t know. That left me.
“Christina, honey, hand me those squares, please,” Grandma said, pointing at the pile of fabric.
“Here you go, Grandma.” I handed a few to her, then selected one for myself and began stitching it onto the quilt.
“I want to tell you something that my grandmother told me when I was about your age.”
“What?” I stared at her as she shuffled through the fabric, her wrinkled hands shaking vigorously. “There’s not some kind of disease that runs in our family, is there?”
“Oh no, nothing like that.” She paused to take a sip of her iced tea. “Sometimes life puts obstacles in our lives. At first they seem unimportant, but they can become disastrous. These obstacles occur when you least expect them. My grandmother called it Tornado Luck.”
“Tornado Luck?” I repeated, wondering if she was starting to lose it. “Is this a joke?”
“It’s no joke. It has afflicted everyone in this family, and it will happen to you too.” Grandma stopped sewing and looked deep into my eyes. “This is a very serious matter, Christina. You won’t know when, or where, but it will happen to you. You can do everything right, but it will still happen. I know—I’m making it sound like it’s a terrible thing. But it doesn’t have to be.”
How could I not know anything about this? “It sounds like some kind of plague!”
“I’m sorry if I’m scaring you. Just because something terrible occurs doesn’t mean a good thing can’t develop out of it.” She slid closer to me. “Listen, I just need you to understand this so you will be prepared when the time comes.”
“I understand, Grandma.” The words left my lips without any confidence. I didn’t really understand, but it seemed very important to her that I did.
Grandma smiled. “I think we should take a break. How about some milk and cookies?”
After our snack, we put the final touches on the quilt, sharing unsettling glances while sewing the last few stitches. Neither of us said a word. Tornado Luck wasn’t brought up again.
Later that night, I began packing my suitcases. I’m sooo happy to be leaving this place. If I never see another quilt again, I’ll die a happy girl. A warm breeze rushed past me from the open window. I staggered over the piles of clothes on the floor to close it, but instead I found myself admiring the nighttime sky’s beauty. A few flashes of lightning momentarily brightened
the darkness and with it came a feeling deep inside that something was wrong.
The sound of dishes breaking interrupted my thoughts. I scrambled out of the room toward the source of the commotion. In the kitchen, I got my first bitter taste of Tornado Luck.
I called 9-1-1, then Mom and Dad. They met me at the hospital, and talked to the doctors while I sat in the waiting room, staring at the walls. Mom came in a few minutes later and told me the news about Grandma. I felt so guilty. I didn’t know why, but I did.
Mom notified friends and family that the funeral would be Friday. That is, she contacted everyone except Uncle John. She made Dad call him.
A lot of people showed up that rainy Friday. Most of them I didn’t know. After the funeral, some people came to Grandma’s house to eat and talk. I sat on the loveseat next to my Great Uncle Sam; at least, I thought that’s who he was. He talked endlessly about Grandma from when they were kids. I smiled and nodded a lot, not really paying attention. After noticing my mom and uncles going into the kitchen, I excused myself to get something to eat. I actually meant to do a little eavesdropping. With Mom and Uncle John in the same room, nothing good was going to happen.
“Mama left everything to the three of us,” I heard Mom say. “We’re supposed to split it evenly between us. Who said you get to dictate over what we can or can’t have, John?”
“I’m the oldest. It’s pretty obvious I would be in charge.”
“So what? We aren’t children anymore,” Uncle Tom said. “I say we make a list of the stuff we want and meet back here on Sunday.”
Mom said, “And what if we all want the same thing? Or what about the things none of us want? This house has to be cleaned out by next week so the Realtors can put it on the market.”
“We’ll put our names in a hat,” Uncle Tom said, “and the stuff we don’t want, we can sell or donate. Satisfied?”
“Sounds fair to me. What about you, John?” The conversation fell silent, with only the sound of rain in the background.
Uncle John finally said, “Okay. Sure. Under one condition. I’m in charge of Mama’s finances.”
“Are you crazy?!” Mom spluttered.
Uncle Tom said, “Caroline—”
“You know I’m right, Tom,” Mom said, cutting him off. “When we were growing up, all John ever did was steal money from Mama. And for what? To pay off gambling debts, alcohol, and cigarettes. Now that she’s dead, he’s still trying to do it.” I could hear the years of anger and resentment in her voice. She stopped talking, maybe to turn to Uncle John because she said, “David was named executor of her will. You will get your share of the estate. After that, I never want to see you again.”
I couldn’t take the arguing anymore . . . I had to get out of there. I dashed out the front door onto the porch. Rain pounded steadily on the house, and thunder echoed in the sky. I peered up at the angry sky—and what I saw made me shiver.
I bellowed, “Mom! Dad! Get out here—quick!”
My folks rushed outside to see what the emergency was. When Dad saw the active clouds swirling in a circular motion, he grabbed me and Mom, then raced us to the storm cellar, yelling, “Tornado’s coming!” The rest of the family followed close behind. We crammed into the underground cement room, shutting the steel door behind us. Dad nearly tripped over an old lantern as we made room for everyone. Then he pulled a box of matches from his pocket and struck one, using it to light the lantern. Soon, the rain halted, and everything grew calm.
A slight rumble like a distant train filled the silence. The sound seemed to roll forward, approaching rapidly. The shelves vibrated, and I squeezed between my parents as we huddled in the back corner.
The sound swelled, becoming deafening. The shelves continued to jolt, canned food and other supplies dancing on them. I cringed against my parents when I saw how wildly the door shuddered. I prayed it wouldn’t fly off its hinges.
As the rumbling subsided, everyone relaxed, except for me. With my arms still clenched tightly around Mom, I shivered uncontrollably. She held me and gently ran her fingers through my hair as she repeated, “It’s all right.”
Ten minutes later, we came out of hiding. I blinked as we exited the storm cellar, trying to get my eyes to adjust to the light shining down. Everyone stayed pretty close to one another as they examined the damage in disbelief.
The house was gone. The one thing left untouched was the foundation. Shattered glass covered the unrecognizable debris.
At least now no one would argue over Grandma’s stuff. Just like her, it was no longer there.
Emergency vehicles soon arrived, and officers escorted us to the town shelter. Like us, other people were first showing up. Volunteers set up cots and arranged tables to hold donated food. Pain and heartache surrounded me; I just wanted to go home and forget about all of it.
“I know what Grandma meant now,” I whispered, sitting next to Mom.
Her face stained with tears, she looked up from her coffee cup and asked me, “What’s that?”
“The day she died, Grandma told me about Tornado Luck. I didn’t really understand what she meant until now.”
At first, she only stared into her coffee cup. Then she replied, “Your grandmother always meant well, but there were times she would over-exaggerate things . . . Tornado Luck being one of them.”
After all the times Mom high-praised her, now Mom was telling me that Grandma was crazy. What is wrong with this family? “How would you know if she was off her rocker or not? When was the last time you visited Grandma?” I felt anger building up inside, and I let it get the best of me. I shouted, “You made me visit her every summer for years. You told me to get to know her, that she was this incredible person. Now you’re saying she was crazy? Look around, Mom. Of all things, it was a tornado that did this. Maybe she wasn’t as crazy as you think!”
“Young lady,” Mom said, her voice grief-stricken, “don’t you ever speak to me like that again. You’re my child—but she was my mother.”
We stayed for five hours—the longest five hours of my life. When the police finally let us leave, we all checked into a nearby hotel. That night, I didn’t get any sleep. Why didn’t Grandma tell me about Tornado Luck sooner? Was Tornado Luck the reason why our family was so screwed up? Why did Mom suddenly label Grandma as a crazy person? I had so many questions, and no one to answer them.
The next morning, we took cabs back to what remained of the house. The roads had been cleared, and servicemen were working vigorously to get the town back up and running. When we got to the site, the men began hauling debris to a single pile. The rest of us gathered what could be salvaged and separated them in boxes.
When my uncles removed a large piece of wood, I noticed an undamaged package. I picked it up and spotted my name written on it. I tore open the paper and found a quilt. Unfolding it, I saw it wasn’t the one Grandma and I had made together. This one was white with a navy blue trim. Embroidered in the center was Home Is Where the Heart Is. My name was stitched beneath it.
It wasn’t original, but I liked it.
We spent several weekends clearing out all the junk. A unanimous decision was made to use Grandma Jones’s money to rebuild the house. It was the first thing Mom and her brothers had agreed on in years. The new house was used for special occasions. Family reunions were added to the list of family holidays. Uncle John was even invited after a few mediated conversations.
It turned out that Grandma had been right about Tornado Luck. I may have lost her, but I regained my family.